Five cycling experts share their favourite routes in the UK
Cycling is a great way to get out and explore, but if you’re tired of riding along the same well-worn paths, here’s some inspiration from five adventurous cyclists.
As the Olympics edge closer, Team GB’s cyclists are nervously gearing up for their time in the velodrome. But cycling isn’t solely the preserve of track titans — the sport is more popular than ever with amateurs, too, with 22% more bikes sold in the UK this year compared to 2019. Over the various lockdowns, it appears people have discovered the joys of jumping on the saddle, from its myriad health benefits to the thrilling sense of freedom. But perhaps best of all, cycling offers an incredible way to explore the local area and beyond, be it on a slow-paced ride through the city or a challenging climb through the ripples of the landscape. From the wilds of Scotland to London’s leafy parks, we take a two-wheeled tour through the UK as five cycling experts share their favourite rides.
1. The Pennines, recommended by Joanna Rowsell, MBE
Having spent more than 10 years as a member of the Great Britain Cycling Team, I’ve had the privilege of travelling all over the world to ride, but one of my favourite places to train is in the Pennines north of Manchester — I’ve lived in the city for most of my career, in order to be close to the velodrome there. The Pennines has a bit of everything, from the brutally steep ‘The Rake’ climb in Ramsbottom, famous locally for an annual hill climb event, to the cobbles of Heptonstall. My favourite ride is Cragg Vale, which climbs out of Mytholmroyd towards Littleborough, crossing the border from Yorkshire back into Lancashire. Cragg Vale’s claim to fame is the longest continuous gradient in England, rising 968ft over 5.5 miles, and on a clear day the views at the top are stunning. I’ve had plenty of training rides battling crosswinds and horizontal rain as I’ve reached the summit, gripping the bars to stay upright. Whenever I’ve conquered the climb, I’ve left satisfied I can then enjoy a nearly-all-downhill ride back home.
Joanna Rowsell MBE, two-time Olympic gold medallist and holder of five World Championship titles
2. North Coast 500, recommended by Mark Beaumont
I first heard about the North Coast 500 when I was training at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow in 2015 with the Scottish development squad, desperately trying to keep up with 18-year-olds (at that point I was in my mid-thirties). Soon after returning from breaking the Cairo to Cape Town world record, I set off at 6am from Inverness Castle on Monday morning, and didn’t stop until 8pm on the Tuesday evening, riding the 500 miles non-stop. While memorable, and painful, my favourite stretch is by far the west coast, from the famous Bealach na Bà — many times voted as the best cycling climb in the UK — to Durness, and the lesser-known road to Lochinver; a road that few motorhomes or caravans dare to take. This is adventure cycling at its very best, with views that take your breath away.
Mark Beaumont, endurance cyclist and world record holder
3. Wessex, recommended by Sam Jones
It’s hard to put a finger on what makes King Alfred’s Way so special. I first rode it as lockdown eased in summer 2020, and the feeling of freedom and fun that came from a unique situation will forever be entwined with this route. Look at where this 220-mile route passes through, and you’re riding with world-famous sites, such as the stone circles at Stonehenge and Avebury, as your backdrop. The route takes in parts of the Ridgeway and South Downs Way, routes both steeped in history, and landscapes that have inspired writers and artists, such as Thomas Hardy and Paul Nash. Just be sure to leave the clip-on shoes at home — you’ll want a chance to hop off the bike and take in the route’s many sights.
Sam Jones, communications director, Cycling UK
4. London, recommended by Mani Arthur
I’ve been fortunate enough to ride my bike in some beautiful places, but every time I’m away for more than a week, my heart longs for London. There aren’t many options for keen cyclists in London, unless you’re willing to take an hour-long ride out of the city but turn up in Regent’s Park at 6am on a weekday and you’ll find hundreds of cyclists riding the three-mile loop inside the park, which is usually closed to all motor vehicles until 7am. Similarly, you’ll find a crowd of cyclists swooshing around the 10-mile loop of Richmond Park before 7am, finishing off at Colicci, a little cafe near Roehampton Gate. The thing I love about riding my bike in the parks so early is the atmosphere and sense of community — there’s always a group of people to ride with.
Mani Arthur, founder, Black Cyclists Network
5. Mid Wales, recommended by Emily Chappell
I grew up in Mid Wales, near the northern edge of the Cambrian Mountains, and although I’ve had the privilege of riding some of the world’s great roads, I often declare that if I had one day left on Earth, I’d spend it riding the steep gradients and smooth tarmac of the Tregaron mountain road. Anywhere else in the world, this route would be permanently clogged with sightseers, but I’ve had it to myself even on sunny bank holiday weekends. My best memories are of bad weather though: my first visit was on a rainy night in 2010, when a friend and I were nearly swept away by the flooding River Irfon as we attempted to reach the remote Dolgoch Hostel. And I’ll never forget battling through an unseasonal snowstorm in April, shivering through the whiteout down to Tregaron, and warming myself up with the finest baked potato I’d ever tasted.
Emily Chappell, long-distance cyclist and author of Where There’s a Will
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