Beyond London – On Your Bike
Britain is enjoying a spectacular cycling revolution, with 2.7 million people cycling at least once a week and British riders collectively covering 5.6 billion kilometres each year by bike. From smartly dressed commuters enjoying London’s popular bike- hire scheme, to Oxford and Cambridge students gliding through their historic university cities on creaking vintage bikes, cycling remains the classic British way to navigate urban areas.
But the recent UK cycling boom has been largely inspired by the huge success of British road-racing cyclists such as Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish at the Tour de France, encouraging recreational riders to venture out of the cities and explore Britain’s numerous beautiful country roads, lanes and hills. Here are four of the most popular and scenic hotspots for visiting cyclists to explore, offering up a winning mix of stunning views, cultural sights and delicious café pit stops.
At weekends, the Surrey Hills teem with road cyclists who nod and wave to each other as they dash around the green hills, country lanes, pretty villages and forests of southern England. The cycling scene focuses on Box Hill, 30km south-west of London, where cyclists huff and puff up Zig Zag Road to the 224m-high summit, gobble scones at the National Trust-run café, and enjoy sweeping views of the Surrey Hills. The nearest train station is Box Hill & Westhumble. Box Hill was the star attraction of the cycling road race at the 2012 London Olympic Games, but other destinations popular with cyclists include Leith Hill, whose 18th-century tower is the highest viewpoint in south-east England, and the tranquil village of Shere, with its Tudor cottages. Cyclists who fancy a sweaty challenge can whizz through the Surrey Hills during the London to Brighton bike ride (17 June).
Don’t miss: An outdoor summer swim in the National Trust’s family-friendly Frensham Ponds
Blessed with quiet roads that weave between upland pastures, heather-clad moorland and glacier-carved valleys, the Yorkshire Dales are a must-visit destination for road cyclists. Local riders – including the world-famous Rio 2016 gold and silver medal-winning triathletes Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee – have always known about Yorkshire’s cycling pedigree, but the region’s popularity soared when it hosted the Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de France, taking in the route from Leeds to Harrogate.Easily accessible via a three-hour train ride from London, the Dales offer challenging climbs such as Buttertubs Pass and Fleet Moss (the highest road in Yorkshire) as well as historic sights including Skipton Castle and the eerie, 12th-century ruins of Bolton Abbey. Visiting riders can sign up for a host of one-day challenges, including the White Rose Classic (with its three routes: 48km, 83km and 112km) on 24 June. Tea rooms are the refuelling venues of choice for local cyclists, so replenish your energy with a mug of something warm and a toasted teacake at the Wharfe View Tea Room in Burnsall near Skipton, or a seasonal fruit tart at Betty’s in Ilkley.
Don’t miss: The beautiful circular hike of the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail.
In 1951, the deep-green valleys and gritstone and limestone crags of the Peak District became the first region of England to be protected as a National Park, and today cyclists flock to this vast playground in search of adventure. Located in the heart of England, and accessible from London in three hours by train or three-and-a-half hours by car, the Peak District serves up characterful rides which combine the best of Britain’s natural scenery and heritage. Cyclists can enjoy the picturesque climbs and panoramic views of Winnats Pass, Burbage Moor and Holme Moss. There are also historic locations to visit, such as the 16th-century Chatsworth House, situated beside the River Derwent and the seat of the Duke of Devonshire. The Peak District’s alluring blend of nature and history is perfectly encapsulated in the Eroica Britannia vintage cycling festival (15-17 June). More than 3,000 cyclists dressed in old-fashioned clothing ride classic bikes, before indulging in the festival’s music concerts, barn dances, sundown cinema screenings and street food.
Don’t miss: The pretty town of Bakewell, home of the famous Bakewell tart.
The rugged hills of South Wales have served as the training ground for some of Britain’s best professional road cyclists, including Olympic champions Geraint Thomas and Nicole Cooke. But recreational riders can also enjoy the region’s windswept mountain passes. Accessible from London in two-and-a-half hours by train or three-and-a-half hours by car, the Brecon Beacons is an isolated region of grassy, heather-covered mountains in South Wales, where riders can test their legs on climbs such as Devil’s Elbow and Heol Senni. Lycra-clad visitors to the region should also make the most of the winding roads of The Tumble near Abergavenny, as well as L’Etape Wales Dragon Ride (10 June), which offers a selection of one-day challenges (100km, 153km, 223km and 300km) to test experienced riders. Many visiting cyclists make a pilgrimage to the National Cycle Museum in Llandrindod Wells, which houses more than 260 bikes, from 19th-century ‘Hobby Horse’ designs to cutting-edge carbon-fibre machines.
Don’t Miss: Chepstow Castle, the earliest post-Roman stone castle in Britain.
Classic British Cycling Festivals
TweedLove Bike Festival
With rides in the Scottish Borders, bike demos, film and photo competitions, expert talks and local food and drink, the TweedLove Bike Festival, held in May and June, is well worth the journey to Scotland.
Bradford on Avon Cycling Festival
Popular with families, this festival (14-15 July) hosts rides through the beautiful Wiltshire countryside for beginners and experts. There is also a fun mix of children’s circuit races, scooter races and family cycling trails.
Chiltern 100 Cycling Festival
Dubbed ‘the ultimate cycling Sunday’, Chiltern 100 (15 July) features musical shows, Tour de France screenings, vintage and gift stalls and beer tents as well as challenging cycling routes through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.