Britain’s best cycling routes: 20 great summer rides

From easy trails for all the family to challenging routes for the more adventurous — try these spectacular bike rides around the UK

August 20 2016, 12:01am, The Times

The road to Settle in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

The road to Settle in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

1 Settle to Appleby, Yorkshire

  • Start Market Square, Settle
  • End Market Square, Appleby
  • Getting there and away Stations at Settle and Appleby

The route A stunning ride through Yorkshire’s rolling hills and dales, and a chance to travel back along the scenic Settle-Carlisle railway route. Your journey will take you through the Yorkshire Dales National Park under Whernside, through Dentdale, the Lune Gorge and the edge of Howgill Fells, and across Orton Fells to Appleby-in-Westmorland.

Start out on the Pennine Cycleway 68 on quiet roads to Clapham and Ingleton, with great views of Ingleborough Fell, one of Yorkshire’s three peaks. Then travel on to the picturesque village of Dent, and through a patchwork of colourful moorland to Sedburgh. You’ll be in new sections of the national park, riding to the village of Orton, then after a final climb, arrive at Appleby-in-Westmorland. Take the train back from Appleby to Settle (bikes go free and you don’t need a reservation).

  • Nearest cycle hire 3 Peaks Cycles, Settle (3peakscycles.com)
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Reculver Towers are a key landmark along the route

2 Margate to Canterbury, Kent

  • Distance 25 miles
  • Difficulty Easy, mainly flat on quiet paths
  • Start Margate station
  • End Canterbury West station
  • Getting there and away There are railway stations at Margate and Canterbury
  • The route This ride takes you from the seaside town of Margate, along spectacular chalk cliffs, sweeping sandy beaches and beautiful woodland to the cathedral city of Canterbury.

From Margate, look out for signs to Route 15, which will take you along the coast to the pretty Victorian resort of Westgate-on-Sea. Continue along the coast through Reculver Country Park, a great picnic spot and an internationally important site for migrating birds, and where you’ll find Reculver Towers. Historians believe that Reculver was likely to have been one of the places the Roman army landed in AD43. The path sweeps past scenic Herne Bay and into Whitstable. From Whitstable pick up Route 1, which leads you down an old railway line to Winding Pond — another great place to picnic — and Harbledown. Continue to follow the signs on roads for Route 1, which will take you into Canterbury.

  • Nearest cycle hire Ken’s Bikes, Margate (kensbikes.co.uk)

3 Fort William to Gairlochy, Highlands

  • Distance 20 miles
  • Difficulty Fairly easy, on quiet roads and towpaths
  • Start and end Fort William
  • Getting there and away Station at Fort William
  • The route A beautiful Highland adventure with glittering views of lochs and mountains, as well as rivers, canals and a castle.

Start from the station in Fort William. Take an off-road path behind the supermarket and continue on quiet streets to a footbridge over the river near Inverlochy Castle. Follow the cycle lanes along the B8006, turn left on to a shore path and follow it around Neptune’s Staircase. (Take care when crossing the A830.) Continue on the eastern towpath to Gairlochy where this section of the canal ends and Loch Lochy begins.

From here, cycle back the way you have come to Fort William or, if you are after a challenge, extend the route on to Fort Augustus (some sections will require mountain bikes). If following this leg, take the Caledonia Way along a Forestry Commission track, old railway line and back on a canal towpath into Fort Augustus.

  • Nearest cycle hire Nevis Cycles, Fort William (neviscycles.com)

4 Lias Line, Warwickshire (Easy)

  • Distance 23 miles
  • Difficulty Easy, fairly flat
  • Start Rugby town centre
  • End Warwick station
  • Getting there and away Stations at Rugby and Warwick
  • The route Ride through pretty villages, wildlife reserves, reservoirs and canals on this attractive route from Rugby via Leamington Spa.

Start at the centre of Rugby and travel along the Great Canal Way. You will pedal past the Wildlife Trust nature reserve of Cock Robin Wood where you might get a glimpse of moorhens and dragonflies, residents of a newly established pond. Ashlawn Cutting, a leftover from the railway, is known for its flowering plants — if you’re lucky you might also spot grass snakes. At Draycote Water there’s a five-mile path around the perimeter of the reservoir, home to rare migrating birds in the winter and a great picnic spot.

Pass by Draycote Meadows nature reserve, with another fantastic display of wildflowers in early summer, and the picturesque village of Birdingbury. The route comes in to Leamington Spa, before joining the Grand Union Canal and passing the Leam Valley Wildlife site. The route then passes by Warwick station, which will let you return by train. Alternatively, lock up your bikes at the station and stroll through Priory Park to Warwick’s historic centre, where you are moments from the castle.

  • Nearest cycle hire None available on the route
The pier in Llandudno, the Victorian seaside town

The pier in Llandudno, the Victorian seaside town

5 Llandudno to Prestatyn, north Wales

  • Distance 20 miles
  • Start Llandudno Promenade
  • End Nova Centre, Prestatyn
  • Getting there and away Stations at Llandudno and Prestatyn
  • The route This classic, relaxed seaside ride, suitable for all abilities, goes through some of the famous coastal resorts and long sandy beaches of north Wales. Most of the route is coastal promenade and stretches from the Victorian seaside town of Llandudno in the west to Prestatyn in the east. It can also be extended to Talacre to take in the dunes. Enjoy huge views of Liverpool Bay, looking out towards clusters of offshore wind turbines.

Attractions include Porth Eirias at Colwyn Bay, which has a marvellous beach, watersports centre and restaurant, Kinmel Dunes nature reserve, Rhyl seafront and the Dee Estuary-Point of Air RSPB reserve.

It is a mostly traffic-free, open, coastal route, which means that it can get windy at times.

  • Nearest cycle hire GogCogs, Colwyn Bay (gogcogs.co.uk)
Pocklington canal

Pocklington canal

  • The route This varied ride takes you on a historical journey from the minster in York to the smaller of the two minsters in Beverley along the edge of the rolling Yorkshire Wolds, mainly following Route 66 of the National Cycle Network. Set off from York Minster and look out for Route 66 towards Stamford Bridge. Then follow quiet roads to Pocklington and Market Weighton. The route goes on to a traffic-free path at Cherry Burton village into Beverley’s North Bar — a 13th-century gateway into the town’s walls — and through the Georgian quarter to Beverley Minster.
  • Getting there and away Stations at Beverley and York
  • End Beverley Minster
  • Start York Minster
  • Difficulty Moderate, quiet roads and traffic-free paths
  • Distance 38 miles
  • 6 York to Beverley, Yorkshire
  • Nearest cycle hire Cycle Heaven, York (cycle-heaven.co.uk)

7 Trans Pennine Trail, West Merseyside

  • Distance 35 miles
  • Difficulty Mostly flat on traffic-free trails
    Start Princes Park, Southport
  • End Warrington
  • Getting there and away Stations at Southport and Warrington
  • The route Southport, one of Britain’s top Victorian seaside resorts, is the start of your ride for this section of the long-distance Trans Pennine Trail. Follow signs for Route 62 on a beautiful coastal route that will take you along a dismantled railway of the Cheshire Lines, through Ainsdale, Lydiate and Maghull. Join the Liverpool and Leeds canal to Aintree. Then take the Liverpool Loopline in to Liverpool city centre. Travel southeast through the Liverpool Docks and turn east, riding along the banks of the River Mersey through Widnes and into Warrington, from where you can get a train.
  • Nearest cycle hire Manchester Bike Hire (manchesterbikehire.co.uk)
The Kennet and Avon Canal, near Bath — much of the route has been improved for cyclists

The Kennet and Avon Canal, near Bath — much of the route has been improved for cyclists

8 Kennet and Avon Cycle Route, West Country

  • Distance 75 miles
  • Difficulty Flat, on canal towpaths
  • Start Canal towpath at Beckford Road, Bath
  • End Reading
  • Getting there and away Stations at Bath and Reading
  • The route Start your cycle at the beginning of the canal in the beautiful city of Bath, stopping off to see the Thermae Bath Spa and Bath Abbey. You can cycle the length of the canal, except for a few short bits near Reading. Long sections, including from Bath to Devizes, around Newbury, and between Thatcham and Reading, have been improved for cyclists. The route passes through some of Wiltshire’s quietest countryside. Between Devizes and Marsh Benham you leave the towpath and follow quiet lanes through the Vale of Pewsey, with fine views of the surrounding hills and the Pewsey White Horse. From Marsh Benham the route is again generally along the towpath and into Reading.
  • Nearest cycle hire Green Park Bike Station, Bath (greenparkbikestation.co.uk)

9 Marriott’s Way, Norfolk (Easy)

  • Distance 30 miles
  • Difficulty An easy, flat ride along old railway paths
  • Start and end Norwich
  • Getting there and away Station at Norwich
  • The route This path travels along old railway tracks through farmland, woodland and water meadows. It is named after William Marriott, who was once the chief engineer and manager of the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway. There are some on-road sections through Norwich, but otherwise the route is traffic-free and flat, running close to the River Wensum. Since the railway closed, flowers and plants have flourished, including wild primroses and wild strawberries. Look out too for butterflies, green woodpeckers and wrens. Sculptures positioned after every mile will help you to mark your progress.
  • Nearest cycle hire Bicycle Links, Norwich (bicyclelinks.org.uk)

10 High Weald Ride, Kent

  • Distance 42 miles
  • Difficulty Moderate with some hills
  • Start Lansdowne Road, Tunbridge Wells
  • End Ashford station
  • Getting there and away Stations at Tunbridge Wells and Ashford
  • The route Hops, apple orchards, oast houses and picture-postcard villages characterise this path through quintessential Garden of England scenery. For those who want to tackle the full 42-mile run, which forms part of the well signposted National Route 18, dedicated cycle lanes run alongside main roads in Tunbridge Wells and Ashford. Other than this, the main traffic-free section is through Bedgebury Forest. If you are interested in some challenging mountain bike routes along the way, try the 12-mile circuit around Bewl Water at Lamberhurst.
  • Nearest cycle hire Quench, Bedgebury Visitor Centre (quenchuk.co.uk)
The promenade at Morecambe marks the start of the cycle route

The promenade at Morecambe marks the start of the cycle route

11 Morecambe Bay Cycle Way, Cumbria

  • Distance 70 miles
  • Difficulty Fairly flat and easy, on quiet roads and paths, with one or two climbs
  • Start Morecambe Promenade
  • End Walney Gap, Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness
  • Getting there and away Stations at Morecambe and Barrow
  • The route The Bay Cycle Way takes riders on a peaceful route around scenic Morecambe, with expansive views of the bay and rides through native woodland. This route can be done as a challenging day ride or at a leisurely pace over several days. Begin the ride at Morecambe, stopping off along the way if you have time to take in Conishead Priory, Birkrigg Stone Circle and pretty Cartmel — the home of sticky toffee pudding. The area is great for spotting wildlife. The RSPB’s wildlife haven at Leighton Moss is home to rare birds such as ospreys and red kites, while seals can be seen at Walney island.
  • Nearest cycle hire Silverdale Cycle Hire, near Morecambe (it will drop off and collect bikes) silverdalecyclehire.co.uk
The path along the coast near Llanelli, a prime location for bird-spotting

The path along the coast near Llanelli, a prime location for bird-spotting

12 Celtic Trail, south Wales

  • Distance 29 miles
  • Difficulty Quiet lanes with several hills
  • Start Swansea station
  • End Kidwelly
  • Getting there and away Stations at Kidwelly and Swansea
  • The route The Celtic Trail is a 220-mile route through scenic Carmarthenshire. It’s suitable for experienced cyclists as well as families with children, and includes some great attractions and coastal spots threaded together by quiet roads and lanes through the countryside.

Start off in Swansea and cycle around the bay towards Swansea’s seaside resort, the Mumbles. Look out for National Route 4 signs and cycle mostly on off-road paths towards the estuary of the River Loughor. Follow the path through the wetlands of Llanelli, looking out for black-tailed godwit, curlews and little egrets, which are common visitors to the Llanelli Wetlands Centre, as well as the centre’s colourful resident flamingos. Follow the coastline through the saltmarshes of scenic Burry Inlet and into the small coastal town of Burry Port. Then cross the headland towards Kidwelly, famous for its 12th-century castle.

  • Nearest cycle hire Bike Hub, Swansea (swanseabikeshop.blogspot.co.uk)
The Pyramid sculpture in Ferry Meadows Country Park

The Pyramid sculpture in Ferry Meadows Country Park

13 Peterborough Green Wheel, Cambridgeshire

  • Distance 45 miles
  • Difficulty Generally flat and easy
  • Start and end Bridge Street, Peterborough
  • Getting there and away Peterborough station
  • The route This circular route around the city of Peterborough is a relaxed trip with lots of variety. West of the city, the watery hues of fenland bank-tops give way to rolling limestone country with attractive stone-built villages and pubs, and the peaceful waterfront of the River Nene. Former brickfield quarries along the way are now quiet nature reserves.

There are fine buildings to explore when you get back to Peterborough, particularly the city’s magnificent medieval cathedral, which is built from nearby Barnack limestone and is famous for its three high gables known as the West Front. Other attractions along the route include Peterborough Sculpture Park, Ferry Meadows Country Park and the Nene Valley Railway. The Green Wheel is signed throughout, so it’s easy to follow, and the city’s extensive cycle network lets you choose many alternative routes.

  • Nearest cycle hire Rutland Cycling, Peterborough (rutlandcycling.com)
Bowling Basin, Clydebank, where the trail starts

Bowling Basin, Clydebank, where the trail starts

14 Clydebank to Edinburgh, Scotland

  • Distance 60 miles Difficulty Easy, flat, canal towpaths
  • Start Forth & Clyde Canal, Bowling
  • End Edinburgh Quay, Fountainbridge
  • Getting there and away Stations at Clydebank and Edinburgh
  • The route This is a canal ride between Scotland’s two largest cities. To follow the full length of the canal, start on National Route 7 at Bowling, where the Forth & Clyde Canal enters the Clyde. Pass through Clydebank, where Route 7 heads off alongside the River Clyde towards the centre of Glasgow and Route 754 continues on the canal, passing the imposing Maryhill Locks.

Take care at Stockingfield canal junction as it’s easy to miss. You need to leave the canal, passing through a short tunnel (on road), and climb back to the towpath on the other side. After Stockingfield, you reach Glasgow Road bridge, a bustling boating centre. From here, you come to the beautiful Kelvin Valley with the Kilsyth Hills to the north and Falkirk, now famous for the beautiful Kelpies statues and the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift. Follow the path up beside the wheel until you pass through a short tunnel on to the Union Canal. Take care through the Falkirk Tunnel, which can be slippery. A bit farther on, watch out for the pretty, stone Laughin’ and Greetin’ bridge. After crossing the River Avon, with fine views of the Bathgate Hills, you reach Linlithgow where there is a palace and a boating centre. Enter Edinburgh through Wester Hailes where the old canal was reopened as part of the Millennium Project. At Slateford join Route 75, which follows the canal for another 2.5 miles to its end at Edinburgh Quay at Fountainbridge.

  • Nearest cycle hire Billy Bilsland Cycles, Glasgow (billybilslandcycles.co.uk)
The ruins of the medieval Dunluce Castle in Co Antrim

The ruins of the medieval Dunluce Castle in Co Antrim

15 Causeway Coast Cycle Route, Northern Ireland (Easy)

  • Distance 46 miles there and back (31 miles if returning via Portrush station)
  • Difficulty A mix of quiet roads and traffic-free paths, with several short climbs and two longer climbs. All routes are tarmac, apart from the railway path to the Giant’s Causeway.
  • Start Castlerock station
  • End Portrush or Castlerock stations
  • Getting there and away Castlerock station, with stations along the route at Portrush and Coleraine
  • methode%2ftimes%2fprod%2fweb%2fbin%2fde077be2-646f-11e6-a774-ff13af5d13cbThe route This beautiful linear ride along the coast is a well-signed route (number 93) that starts at the pretty seaside village of Castlerock. Follow the route inland along quiet roads and across the River Bann into the town of Coleraine. Continue on the route, back towards the coast, where you’ll pass through the towns and expansive beaches of Portstewart and Portrush. There are fine sea views from Barmouth viewpoint across the mouth of the River Bann and over the sandy beach at Portstewart across to Scotland and the Mull of Kintyre. After Portrush, look out for the ruined medieval Dunluce Castle. From Bushmills you can follow a railway path to the Giant’s Causeway, a geological formation created by a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago, which is a World Heritage site. Cycle back to Portrush for the nearest transport link to Belfast.
  • Nearest cycle hire Causeway Cycle Adventures, Portstewart (causewaycycleadventures.co.uk)

16 The Chester Railway Path and Wirral Way, Cheshire

  • Distance 30 miles
  • Difficulty Flat and easy, on quiet roads and paths
  • Start Chester city centre
  • End New Brighton station
  • Getting there and away Stations at New Brighton and Chester
  • The route Start in the pretty city of Chester. Look out for the towpath of the Shropshire Union Canal, which links to Route 5, an old railway path that follows the former Mickle Trafford to Dee Marsh line. At the airfields just before Hawarden Bridge you’ll pick up signs for Route 568, and follow paths and quiet roads to the Wirral Way (Route 89) towards Neston and Heswall. Hug the Wirral peninsula to West Kirkby, Hoylake and New Brighton.
  • Nearest cycle hire Chester Cycle Hire, Chester (chestercyclehire.com)
The Water Rail Way alongside the River

The Water Rail Way alongside the River

17 Water Rail Way, Lincolnshire

  • Distance 48 miles
  • Difficulty A flat, easy route. The bridleway section southeast of Bardney can be muddy.
  • Start and finish Waterside South Bridge, Lincoln
  • Getting there and away Station at Lincoln
  • The route Open views of fenland and expansive skies characterise this beautiful route, which follows the old Lincoln to Boston railway line. The path leads along the River Witham and passes Washingborough, Bardney and Southrey on the way to Kirkstead Bridge. From there you can go by road to Woodhall Spa village or continue on the Water Rail Way to Langrick Bridge and Boston. This route through the fens has lots to discover, including Tattershall Castle, Southrey Church, and the railway museum at Bardney. You’ll be following in the footsteps of the former poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson, who was born in Lincolnshire more than 200 years ago.

Look out for art along the way as part of work commissioned by Sustrans, including Sally Matthews’s Lincoln Reds and Lincoln Longwool Sheep, and sculptures inspired by the poems of Tennyson. There are also two viewing platforms high over the River Witham, created by the Belgian architects Robbrecht en Daem, that open up lovely views over the fens and the historic city of Lincoln.

  • Nearest cycle hire Bardney Heritage Centre (bardneyheritage.com)

18 Carlisle to Workington, Cumbria

  • Distance 52 miles Difficulty Easy, flat terrain with a few steeper sections
  • Start Carlisle station
  • End Workington
  • Getting there and away Stations at Carlisle and Workington
  • The route Wide open views of the Solway Firth characterise this route, which skirts along Hadrian’s Wall. Pick up Route 7 at Carlisle station and cycle to the River Eden, where you turn left on to National Route 72 all the way to Workington. Travel on quiet roads to Burgh by Sands, a village in the Solway Coast area of outstanding natural beauty. Once on the Cardurnock peninsula, the route takes you to Bowness-on-Solway and Campfield Marsh, a RSPB nature reserve that is a mosaic of saltmarsh, peatbogs and grassland. Look out for birds, including lapwings and redshanks.

After the town of Silloth, the route follows the coast down to Allonby, where you’ll find a long sandy beach, with lovely views across the Solway Estuary and Maryport, which you’ll reach next. It is home to a great Roman museum and a maritime museum.

  • Nearest cycle hire Border City Cycle Hire, Carlisle (bordercitycyclehire.com)
Durham Cathedral, a World Heritage Site

Durham Cathedral, a World Heritage Site

19 Three Rivers, northeast

  • Distance 30 miles
  • Difficulty Fairly easy, mainly flat, traffic-free paths and riverside paths
  • Start Newcastle upon Tyne quayside
  • End Durham
  • Getting there and away Stations at Newcastle and Durham
  • The route You’ll travel between two of the northeast’s great historic cities on this route, named after the three rivers of the Tyne, Wear and Tees. Start your ride on the bank of the Tyne and cross over the Gateshead Millennium Bridge to ride along the river following Route 14 past Sage Gateshead, the arts and music centre, and continue on paths alongside the water until you cross the River Derwent. The route then heads towards Swalwell and snakes down towards Rowlands Gill, through Consett, Lanchester Valley and on to picturesque Durham, home of beautiful Durham Cathedral, a World Heritage Site.

If you want to explore further you can continue the Three Rivers route along Route 14 and Route 1 to Sunderland, and north along the coast to Whitburn and South Shields.

  • Nearest cycle hire The Cycle Hub, Newcastle upon Tyne (thecyclehub.org)

20 Eastbourne to Crawley, Sussex

  • Distance 44 miles
  • Difficulty Generally flat and easy along trails and riverside paths
  • Start Sovereign Park, Eastbourne
  • End Three Bridges station
  • Getting there and away There are railway stations at Eastbourne and Three Bridges
  • The route Follow old railway tracks, riverside paths and parkland along this section of Avenue Verte, the international cycle route that runs from London to Paris. This section, from Eastbourne to Crawley, takes you along Route 21 following the Cuckoo Trail and Worth Way. Start at the Royal Parade in Eastbourne and follow Route 21 along the coast and then inland through Eastbourne Park. Continue on towards Heathfield, Mayfield and Eridge. Then continue along the route to Groombridge, following an old disused railway line with wonderful views over the River Medway. At East Grinstead you can pick up the Worth Way through Forest Way Country Park to Crawley.
  • Nearest cycle hire Let’s Bike, Eastbourne (letsbike-eastbourne.co.uk)

All routes are part of the National Cycle Network, created by the charity Sustrans (visit www.sustrans.org.uk for more details and to buy pocket cycling maps). Times readers can save 20 per cent onTraffic-Free Cycle Rides from Sustrans using the code SAVE20

Use saddle bags to spread the load as you ride

Use saddle bags to spread the load as you ride

Before you set off

Get set up correctly
“If your saddle is too high, then you’re going to be stretching too much, which can lead to knee problems,” says the former Olympic cycling champion, Dani King, who is now a cycling coach (roweandking.com). “The wrong saddle height can also lead to back problems.” The knee of your long leg (the one on the floor) should be slightly bent, and your foot horizontal when you are sitting on the saddle.

No backpacks – only panniers
“Rucksacks can affect your posture, causing back pain,” says Sam Jones, of the charity Cycling UK. “Saddle bags, a pannier or bar bags that sit on the front of a bike are perfect for spreading the load.” Try to ensure that not everything is at the back or front, which can cause instability, and evenly distribute it on each side.

Carry a spares pack
“You won’t need a backpack full of emergency gear, but an inner tube, pump, spanner or multitool and a tyre lever should be the minimum you carry on any reasonable bike ride,” Jones says. “Make sure either you or someone in your group knows the basics of tyre repairs.”

Take it steady
Most accidents occur when novice cyclists head downhill too fast, and the Insight Zone coaching team at British Cycling urges caution. Don’t go too quickly or lose control, and “maintain a consistent pace and direction if you overtake”.

Choose an appropriate route for your type of bike
“If you have a hybrid bike with no suspension, then there’s no point going off-road or on anything other than good paths, such as those on most Sustrans routes,” says the cycling coach Andrew Rackstraw, from Saddle Safari. “If you have a mountain bike, it’s worth booking in for a skills session that will teach the basics of navigating more challenging terrain before heading on a lengthy ride. Most specialist bike shops will run them.”

Don’t forget safety checks
It may sound obvious, but you’ll be surprised to hear this is the most neglected aspect of preparation. “Cover the basic safety points — that your brakes are working, the tyres are pumped up and chains oiled,” says Jones. Give your bike a free checkup at the Big Bike Revival clinics held around the UK this summer (bigbikerevival.org.uk)

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