EVERY TIME I set off on a cycling adventure and there have been a fair few over the years – I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway’s words: “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best.” Not once have I ever had reason to disagree with him, even if some of those contours have been considerably more challenging than others.
Cycling allows us to go faster and see more of our beautiful world than walking, but not so fast that we fail to submerge ourselves in the landscape.
It’s not just the sights, but the scents and sounds that arouse our senses and add texture to experiences that become etched into our minds in ways simply not possible when passing through any part of the world in a vehicle.
We see colours more vividly and we feel the rhythm of life around us more intensely when on two wheels.
Granted, here in the UK we may not have mountains on the same scale as the Alps, Pyrenees or Dolomites; but, what the country lacks in grandeur, it more than makes up for in the beauty and diversity of landscapes available to those willing to saddle up.
Some of my favourite memories on two wheels have been from trips in the UK. With the right weather, there are few places in the world where I would rather be riding my bike, freeing my mind from the rest of the world and exploring the place we call home.
Recent events have also ensured that two-wheeled adventures are growing in popularity, as people of all ages and abilities dust off their trusty steeds, or splash out on new ones, and take to the roads and trails in search of – above all else – a sense of freedom.
While we have had to stay at home for such a long time, I believe cycling represents what it did when we first had bikes as children – freedom and escapism. Never have we craved open spaces as much as we have this year.
Sense of freedom
Now, with responsible travel very much back on the cards, there has never been a better time to plan a trip with cycling in mind.
From the Lake District, Cambrian Mountains and Scottish Highlands to the Brecon Beacons, Peak District and Yorkshire Dales (and many more places in between), we really are spoilt for choice when it comes to finding cycling-friendly destinations.
And in case you think these sound overly hilly, there’s also a plethora of places perfect for those with a less masochistic disposition than myself, for whom the joy of cycling has always been in riding up steep roads.
As with most other aspects of life, having children has changed my perspective on cycling. Although I still love heading off for long jaunts on my own, there is no greater pleasure than heading out riding as a family, even if that does mean a little extra weight, pulling our baby daughter, Dorothy, in a trailer behind me.
So as you start to plan a new trip, why not load the bikes onto the ‘van and prepare to enjoy the hills of home?
1 Applecross Peninsula
Those familiar with the west coast of Scotalnd willknow that this has to be, without doubt, one of the most strikingly beautiful parts of the UK.
The marriage of rugged coastal roads and quintessential highland landscapes makes for some dramatic riding, with the bonus of the challenging climb of Bealach ne Bà for those f you who like heading upwards on their rides.
The peninsula forms part of the famous North Coast 500 route and while it is not the easiest plae to get to, it should be on every cyclist’s bucket list.
Stay at Kinlochewe C&MC Site
2 Camel Trail
Cornwall is blessed not only with miles of stunning coastline, but also with one of the country’s best family-friendly cycling trails.
The Camel Trail, which runs from the picturesque seaside town of Padstow to the foot of Bodmin Moor, is perfect for riders of all ages and abilities.
The route, on a disused railway line, runs through some of Cornwall’s most breathtaking countryside, and is a ride of contrasts and changing scenery.
Rocky shores and golden sandbanks give way to enchanting woods before morphing into granite-studded moors, all the while offering numerous places where you can stop off and enjoy one of Cornwall’s finest ice creams.
Stay at Trewethett Farm C&MC Site
3 New Forest
The delightful, gently undulating landscape of the New Forest National Park is best enjoyed on the network of off-road cycle routes that criss-cross the region.
With more than 100 miles of clearly signposted traffic-free trails, there are few better places for a family-friendly cycling holiday. In addition, those of you seeking a rather more strenuous challenge will find plenty of excellent routes from which to choose.
Brockenhurst, regarded as one of the region’s most picturesque villages has an independent bike shop where you can hire all manner of bicycles, and stock up on any supplies you might need before setting out to lose yourself (figuratively speaking) among the trees and the wildlife.
Stay at Hollands Wood
4 Lake District
My introduction to cycling in the Lake District came one Sunday morning in 2016, when I agreed to join friends to take on the Frd Whitton Memorial Ride, which at the time, sounded fairly innocuous.
Little did I know that it is regarded as one of the toughest rides in the UK, taking in the region’s most revered, and feared, climbs. As hard as it was, that day ignited my passion for riding in this majestic corner of the world, despite seeing my heartbeat go over 200 at the summit of Hardknott Pass.
Although the region is best known for its mountainous routes, there are also several family-friendly options available, so don’t be put off by the contours you can see on the map.
Stay at Park Cliffe Camping
5 Kielder Forest
Kielder has something for everyone, from short leisurely rides with the little ones in a trailer or on their first bikes, through to black run bike trails.
What’s more, it is traffic-free, with lots of trails and Forestry Commission tracks offering vast areas to explore. The adventurous can step back in time with a (challenging) ride to the border with Scotlands, where the Bloody Bush Toll, dating back to the early 1800’s, still stands. The huge reservoir and miles of forest also provide loads of activities for those not keen on cycling.
Stay at Kielder Waterside Caravan Park
6 Isle of Wight
It may not be a particularly obvious destination for cycling, but the Isle of Wight should not be overlooked. It is home to some of the UK’s most varied landscapes, with half of the island designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Combining quiet roads (if you avoid the peak summer months), pristine trails and stunning views, this is a must-see. One of the most popular routes is the full loop of the island, totalling 65 miles, although there are many shorter alternatives.
Stay at The Orchards
Top tips: Cycling Gear
Marcus has some key advice before you head for the hills
1 The bike
As growing numbers of cyclists seek traffic-free routes away from the roads, there has never been a better time to have a bike that covers all terrain. Ribble’s CGR, for example, is an excellent option, and what’s more, it is available as an ebike, too, if you’re looking for a little assistance. Haibike also has a great range of ebikes, suitable for everything from gentle touring, right through to downhill mountain biking.
2 The kit
At a time when the traditional coffee and cake stop might not always be possible, why not carry your own with you? The Apidura Racing Handlebar Pack (don’t be put off by the name) is perfect for taking plentiful supplies of cake and a flask of coffee with you, with room enough for keys, phones and even some spare clothes.
3 The route map
I love just heading out and seeing where the road, or trail, takes me, but sometimes we all need a route to make the most of our time and ensure we see the best of an area. In my opinion, there is no better mapping service than komoot, which combines state-of-the-art technology with user-generated recommendations to allow you to plan the perfect ride.
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Cycling allows us to go faster and see more of our beautiful world than walking, but not so fast that we fail to submerge ourselves in the landscape