3. Great North Trail
Cape Wrath, Great North Trail (photo: Rob Spanring / Cycling UK)
Not for the faint hearted, but if you’re looking for a multi-week epic, then the 800-mile Great North Trail could be for you. Starting in foothills of the Peak District, you follow the Pennine Bridleway and just keep heading north until you hit Cape Wrath or John o’ Groats – riders’ choice.
Using existing trails such as the John Muir Way and An Turas Mor, you’ll pass through dramatic landscapes where often you could be the lone soul for miles. You’ll want to be prepared mentally and mechanically before tackling the GNT, but those who finish up at Cape Wrath will have the added benefit of being about to join the Cape Wrath Fellowship, begun in 1949 to reward those with the spirit of adventure.
You could try it on a gravel bike, but most people firmly recommend a mountain bike.
4. The West Kernow Way
The West Kernow Way (photo: Jordan Gibbons / Pannier / Cycling UK)
The West Kernow Way was launched at the tail end of summer in 2021 as part of the wider European Regional Development Fund EXPERIENCE project, and is designed to encourage off-season tourism in Cornwall. It can of course be ridden in the summer, and is a perfect way to see the region away from the crowds. A 150-mile loop route, it follows a figure of eight heading west from Penzance to Land’s End on the Penwith Peninsular before dropping down to Lizard Point and looping around Redruth.
You’ll travel along quiet roads, byways, bridleways and lost ways on an adventurous route which will give you the very best experience of Cornwall on two wheels. Best travel light as the hills can be brutal, but you should be fine on a gravel bike for most of the route, unless there’s been a long spell of rain.
5. South Down Way
Chanctonbury Ring on the South Downs Way (photo: Sam Jones)
The 100-mile South Downs way is a beautiful bikepacking adventure which will take you through some of the finest countryside in the south of England. This route is my no means flat and you'll spend the majority of your time up on the downs, which only means one thing - fantastic views!
Along the route you'll find water taps, bike stations where you can pump your tyres and a handful of places to eat and stay. However, it's still worth dropping down now and again to fuel up and enjoy the quaint villages below. The route is easy to navigate and the terrain varied; chalk paths, forest trails and some road. For an extra challenge, try cycling up Butser Hill!
As beautiful as it was completing the SDW on a touring bike (above) it is not recommended! (photo: Helen Newman)
A shorter option to get you started
This 8.7-mile route is for cycle historians, and celebrates a ride undertaken in Wales’ Berwyn Mountains. Walter McGregor Robinson aka Wayfarer in a famous article titled “Over the Top” describes a cycling adventure as the clocks sprung forward in March 1919. On single speed steel bicycles, likely dressed in tweed, Wayfarer and two companions rode and pushed through snow and fog as they rode up a drover’s track that goes over the top at Pen Bwlch Llandrillo.
The account captured the imagination for a generation of riders and still inspires today - there’s even a memorial to Wayfarer now at the pass left by the world’s first and oldest off-road cycling club, the Rough-Stuff Fellowship. While the tweed and snow are optional extras for your ride, it’s the perfect start for an exploration into the wonders of riding off-road in Wales.
Add these epic cycle routes to your bucket list and off you go! If you're planning on carrying paper maps (always a good idea) then OS Landranger Maps are the best for long-distance cycle adventures across Great Britain.
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When Sam Jones is not out riding his bike, he works at charity Cycling UK. As well as providing information, resources and routes for cyclists of all abilities – from beginners to round the world adventurers – the charity aims to make cycling better and safer across the UK. To find out more and how you can support this charity visit: cyclinguk.org/join