British cycle routes: The best of the best
The success of British cyclist Bradley Wiggins – Tour de France winner and Olympic gold medallist – has done so much to raise the profile of cycling in the UK, but do you know where to go to have an adventure on two wheels?
It goes without saying that the UK is blessed with some stunning scenery. Biking around can be an incredible experience; not just because of the beauty surrounding you, but also due to the freedom that you feel on a bike and the physical challenge that comes with it.
Iconic US author Ernest Hemingway may have said it best: ‘It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.’
But enough about the theory, let's put that passion for cycling into practice...
Level of difficulty
Whether you are a fledgling cyclist keen to take on your first cycle route or a true veteran, there will be a route nearby to suit you. The convenient thing about cycling is that you can vary the difficulty of the challenge by simply altering one of the following factors: route, distance and pace.
For beginners, this means you can take on any of the most beautiful routes but just adjust them to suit your ability; perhaps change the route to avoid steeper hills, only cover a shorter distance within a longer trail, or give yourself plenty of breaks and ride at a more leisurely pace. Conversely, more advanced cyclists can step up these factors to give themselves a tougher challenge.
With this in mind, use the following routes as inspiration for your next cycling trip – it need not be a full weekend ride, just use a map to pick out a convenient section and set off on your adventure.
The best of...Scotland and Northern England
Loch Katrine – ride along the shore of this stunning loch in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park in central Scotland, just an hour's drive from Glasgow. Between the water feature, the stunning hills and the architectural oddities, you will struggle to find a more beautiful cycling spot.
Longniddry – quiet roads and incredible scenery – think castles and beaches – make a ride around this East Lothian area a real treat – try cycling there from Edinburgh.
Coast-to-coast – there are two cracking ways to cross the breadth of Britain. The more famous one takes you from Whitehaven in Cumbria to Tynemouth in the North East of England through the Lake District and the Pennines; a route known as the 'Way of the Roses' runs through Lancashire and Yorkshire.
Pennine Cycleway – sponsored by the cycling charity Sustrans, the 355-mile Pennine Cycleway boasts varied scenery and largely quiet roads and trails from Derby to Berwick-upon-Tweed.
South Downs Way – running from Winchester in Hampshire all the way across to the cliffs of Eastbourne, this famous trail along the South Downs takes in all manner of countryside.
Isle of Wight: round the island – this varied 62 mile route is moderately hilly and covers some of the best scenery on the island. It is signposted clockwise and anti-clockwise and can also be done in shorter sections.
Kennet and Avon Canal – this beautiful waterside route takes you from Bath to Reading and is another fairly flat option – lots of pubs to explore along the way too.
West Country Way – at 240 miles, the West Country Way is a handful, but it includes some stunning sections between Cornwall and Bath or Bristol – the landscape in the South West of England can be spellbinding.
...the English Midlands and Wales
Mawddach – at just 10 miles in distance, Mawddach in North Wales is easily manageable even for beginners but its beauty puts it up in the big leagues of Britain's best trails.
Rutland Water – the Rutland Water reservoir – the largest lowland man-made lake in Western Europe – offers a mainly off-road challenge that takes in some lovely trails on the edge of the water and through woods – pick the right time in spring and you could see a huge number of bluebells.
Celtic Trail – another Welsh trail, this one runs across the lower half of Wales, offering routes from the western coast to the eastern border with England.