UK cycle routes – 11 top suggestions to get you started

UK cycle routes – 11 top suggestions to get you started

28th May 2020 4 By Biggsy

Last Updated:

Reading Time: 8 minutes

It’s the summer of 2020 and we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. However slowly but surely the “lockdown” will be eased and the UK will open up once again. At which point we’ll be able to explore areas further afield than just our local surroundings. So check out some of these UK cycle routes for starters. Do any of them happen to be near you?

Exercise is key during this time for both physical and mental health … and there’s nothing more rewarding than a local bike ride. I delved into my recent archives to pull out some of my own bike routes around England, with fellow travel bloggers suggesting their own favourite routes too. Some of these might be right on your doorstep, while for most they might be something to look forward to visiting in a few months time.

From Kent in the SE to Rùm up in the NW, with all the rest lying somewhere in-between. So in no particular order here they are …

1. Cycling the Camel Trail to Padstow – Cornwall

If you’re down in Cornwall in SW England then check out the ‘The Camel Trail’. It’s a beautifully well-kept, 18 mile traffic-free cycle path that links Padstow and Wenfordbridge. It runs alongside two disused railways – the ‘North Cornwall Railway’ and the ‘Bodmin & Wadebridge Railway’. A few sections date back to 1834 making it one of the oldest bits of railway in the world too! The trail has nothing to do with camels, but instead is named after the Camel Estuary, the route of which it follows.

The trail is a wide-gravel track and is ideally suited for hybrid and mountain bikes. Better still it’s all fairly flat! It’s also one of those UK cycle routes you might just stumble upon during your holiday. With ample hire facilities along the trail you can just do it on a whim too, but it’s always best to book ahead just in case.

Read more >> Cycling the Camel Trail to Padstow.

The Alantic Coast Express food stop along The Camel Trail near Padstow
The Atlantic Coast Express food stop along The Camel Trail near Padstow

2. Cycling Portsmouth around Portsea Island – Hampshire

Cycling down on the south coast in Portsmouth can be extremely satisfying. You can cycle round the entirety of Portsea Island in about 14 miles; the perfect loop distance if you don’t want to end up cycling too far.

During lockdown this became a favourite route for Vicky Flipflop which happens to literally be right on her doorstep. This route starts out at Milton Common and can be cycled in either direction.

Vicky Philpott is the founder of ‘Day Out in England‘. Find out more about her ride at 8 Steps to Cycle Portsmouth (Round Portsea Island).

Vicky Flip Flop circumnavigating Portsea Island on her bicycle
Vicky Flip Flop circumnavigating Portsea Island

… already realising you might not have all the right cycle accessories then look no further than Amazon.co.uk

3. Cycling from London to Dover – Kent

Cycling from London to Dover is a fun idea and can easily be done in a day. It’s one of those UK cycle routes that serves as a great stepping stone to the continent, with many people then taking the ferry over to France. Literally, Dover is the start of cycling holidays throughout Europe for British cyclists. If Dover is your preferred end destination then follow Mansoureh’s guide to reach the beautiful white cliffs of Dover.

Take the optional take a 30-minute train ride from London to Lenham to avoid cycling in the city of London and get a little cheeky head start.

Mansoureh and Bruno are the founders of ‘Travel with Mansoureh‘. Find out more about their ride at Cycling from London to Dover.

Cycling from London to Dover
Cycling from London to Dover

4. The Greenway & cycling a circuit around Letchworth – Hertfordshire

The Greenway is a 13.6 mile (21.8km) circular trail route circumnavigating the garden city town of Letchworth up in North Hertfordshire. It’s short enough to allow cyclists and capable walkers/runners alike to navigate it without too much effort required. It’s well signposted and in normal times The Fox pub in Willian makes a great starting, and more importantly finish point for a well-deserved beer/orange juice.

95% of the trail consists of gravel tracks like in the image below. There are a few road crossings but they are all well signposted and safe to navigate across.

Read more >> The Greenway – cycling a circuit around Letchworth.

The Greenway at waymarker 47
The Greenway at waymarker 47

5. Peak District cycle routes and bike trails for kids – Derbyshire

Blind corners and steep hills mean that the narrow country lanes of the Peak District are not generally suitable for a family bike ride. But thanks to the many old railway tracks criss-crossing the National Park a lot have been transformed into gravel paths like the one below. There are a handful of traffic-free flat(ish) trails that make for some easy Peak District cycle routes for families.

Jenny is the editor behind ‘Peak District Kids‘. Find out more about their rides at Peak District cycle routes and bike trails for kids.

The Monsal Trail with Peak District Kids
The Monsal Trail with Peak District Kids

6. Top short cycling routes around Newcastle – County Durham

Melissa Jane Marshall happens to live near Newcastle and has found some great cycling routes that are pretty flat and not that busy. When the dreaded Coronavirus hit a lot of people starting getting out on their bike for their daily exercise. But now people such as Melissa are doing a few journeys that they’d usually do in their car instead.

Check out a round up of some of her favourite cycling routes around Newcastle on her own post. Here you will find five short cycling routes that are all below 10 miles but can be made even shorter that that if you need them to be. Or longer if not! These routes are perfect for beginners, families and children alike.

Melissa is a NE lifestyle blogger. Find out more about her rides at Top short cycling routes around Newcastle.

Derwent Water bicycle shot
Derwent Water bicycle shot

7. The New Forest – Hampshire

As a former New Forest National Park ranger, Vicky thinks there’s no better way to explore the New Forest than on your bike. Getting around on two wheels is so easy; the gently rolling terrain hides no extreme hills to challenge your fitness and endurance. The New Forest is ideal for beginner cyclists to build their confidence, and for families to explore together, with more than 200km of car-free cycle routes crisscrossing the open forest, connecting picturesque villages, railway stations, and campsites to cosy country pubs and delightful tearooms.

After just a few minutes of pedaling, you can leave behind the bustle of town for the peace of cool, shady ancient woodlands, vast lawns grazed by free-roaming New Forest ponies and donkeys, and the scenic, wildlife-rich heathlands so distinctive to the New Forest.

One of my favourite circular routes starts and finishes in Brockenhurst, using forest tracks to go via the giant redwood trees of Rhinefield, to the Blackwater Arboretum.  The route can be extended northwards Boulderwood, where there’s a great chance to see the fallow deer that gather around the forester’s cottage.

Or perhaps you’d prefer the cycle ride along the beautiful New Forest coast, following the old sea walls between Lymington and Keyhaven, beloved of the smugglers of old, with views over the sparkling water of the Solent to Hurst Castle and the Isle of Wight.

Vicky is the writer and photographer behind ‘These Vagabond Shoes‘. Her website is https://thesevagabondshoes.org/.

Two cyclists enjoying The New Forest
Two cyclists enjoying The New Forest

8. Grafham Water bike hire mini adventure – Cambridgeshire

Saddle up and head to Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire to enjoy a pleasurable hour long bike ride around the lake. Enjoy circumnavigating its 1,550 acres along a purpose built 9 mile long trail. Either take advantage of the Grafham Water bike hire facility or take your own like we did.

The trail is flat around the lake but slightly undulating when you veer away from it. Don’t expect to hug the lake all the way round though as many bits veer away from the lake taking you through some beautifully wooded nature areas.

Read more >> Grafham Water bike hire mini adventure.

Grafham Water lakeside view
Enjoying the view as we circumnavigate Grafham Water

9. Cycling in and around The Cotswolds

If you’re looking for an all day cycling route that runs through some beautiful Cotswold villages, the 29 mile Burford Circular Ride West is a perfect choice. Start at medieval Burford, perched on a hill and steeped in history, then wind along the Windrush Valley through Little Barrington & Great Barrington, stopping off at the delightful Sherbourne.

Follow the A40 to Northleach then make your way through small lanes and tiny hamlets before reaching Bibury, named by William Morris as ‘the most beautiful village in England’.

Enjoy a pub lunch in the Catherine Wheel and snap selfies on Arlington Row, then leave Bibury behind and ride towards the picturesque Coln St Aldwyns. Head onwards to pretty Westwell before ending up where you began, back on Burford’s sloping high street. This route offers a lovely cycle out and ensures some of the UK’s prettiest villages are ticked off your Cotswolds bucket list!

Jessica is the founder of ‘Journeys with Jessica‘. Her website is http://journeyswithjessica.net/.

The pretty town of Burford in The Cotswolds
The pretty town of Burford in The Cotswolds

10. Cycling to Kilmory Bay on Rùm in the Inner Hebrides

A mountainous wilderness, the remote Scottish island Rùm has a population of around 30. While most visitors are not allowed to bring vehicles, bicycles are welcome and there is even a somewhere to hire them in the main village Kinloch.

In the far north, Kilmory Bay is the island’s finest sandy beach. A nine mile return route starts beside the extravagant Kilmory Castle and follows a rough track through woodland and a moorland glen, with Rùm’s dramatic Cuillin hills dominating the skyline to the south. Near Kilmory, you cycle through a protected area managed by the ‘Isle of Rùm Red Deer Project’; tamed by generations of scientific study, this is the easiest place to spot gently grazing red deer.*

Kilmory Bay itself is a sheltered sweep of sandy beach, with some interesting sea stacks and caves on the west side of the bay. Sometimes ponies are roaming around here, and you should always look out for sea eagles, otters and larger marine mammals, as well as birds such as curlews and eider duck. Just above the mouth of the river is the old ruined settlement of Kilmory and its churchyard. This village was inhabited before the Clearances and is thought to have been a religious site from around the 7th or 8th centuries, if not before. 

*For their and your own safety, please don’t approach them.

Katie Featherstone is the author of Bradt Guides’ Inner Hebrides. Her website is www.featherytravels.com.

Off road tack on the island of Rum
A delightful track on the island of Rum

11. Cycling out and back to Parkhead Station – County Durham

From the centre of Newcastle you can go on a great “out and back” adventure over to Parkhead Station in the North Pennines AONB (area of Natural Beauty). The journey will take you over moors, through woodland, villages, past valleys, down old train tracks and even along the Tyne.

This journey happens to be the final part of the ‘Coast to Coast cycle trail’. Each year thousands of cyclists arrive at the Parkhead Station knowing they have almost arrived at their final destination. Maybe a little excursion like Jen’s can be a recce for a bigger trip such as that?

Jen Lowthrop is the founder of ‘They Stay At Home. Read more about her bike ride at Biking Adventures with Saddle Skedaddle.

Jen on her way to Parkhead Station in the North Pennines AONB
Jen on her way to Parkhead Station in the North Pennines AONB

UK cycle routes – in conclusion

There are literally thousands of routes out there, from designated loops like The Greenway, vast expanses of natural beauty that can be criss-crossed like The new Forest … to all your own personal favourite routes out there too. Please add some of your own UK cycle route suggestions in the comments section below 🙂