5 epic UK cycling adventures
This summer, why not discover the best of Great Britain on two wheels?
So you’ve picked out your new ride, and now you’re ready to take it on an adventure. Luckily, the UK’s full of them, from thigh-burning off-road epics to short-but-sharp slogs up steep mountain passes. Here are five of our favourites.
LEJOG (or JOGLE), England and Scotland
Lands End to John O’Groats (or the reverse) is the biggie – the most famous point-to-point ride in Britain, weaving across England and Scotland from the far South West point to the extreme North East. You can, obviously, start from either Cornwall or Scotland, and there are decent arguments for both – some say follow the prevailing winds from South to North, others suggest leaving the toughest hills and (theoretically, at least) the better weather to last and go the other way. However you do it, because it’s point to point, there’s no one route – you can tweak it to take in particular roads or landmarks – though a lot of people like to avoid busy main roads. Or all roads – needless to say, some people do the whole thing off road. Madness.
Distance: The sign says 874 miles but expect to do at least 920…
Difficulty: The cycling itself isn’t not too hard, but almost 1,000 miles is a challenge for anyone.
What to ride: A touring bike’s the traditional LEJOG/JOGLE weapon, but we’d be tempted by a bike-packing steed like this.
Hardknott Pass, Lake District
If you like your cycling with a spectacular backdrop, you won’t find a better place to go than the Lake District, which is spilling over with great riding both on and off road. For a proper test, though, you need to head to the Hardknott Pass in the West Lakes – at less than 1.5 miles long it’s hardly Everest, but the gradient hits 33% in places as the road snakes its way up the mountain. Ride between the Eskdale and Little Langdale valleys and you can take in the barely-less-brutal Wrynose Pass in the same ride – and you can keeping piling on the punishment by extending the ride East to Ambleside. That way you can enjoy a short-and-sharp climb that’s cheerfully called The Struggle; good luck with that, particularly if it’s raining. Which, this being the Lakes, it probably will be…
Difficulty: How strong are those legs?
What to ride: The lightest road bike you can get your hands on…
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South Downs Way, Hampshire and Sussex
Stretching from the coast at Eastbourne to the historic city of Winchester, this mostly off-road trail spans the full width of the South Downs National Park – a 100-mile journey that takes in almost 13,000 ft of climbing along the way. While 100 miles doesn’t sound a lot, most take two to four days to cover it – though a 24-hour attempt is a lung-busting challenge for those with legs of steel. The pretty scenery’s pastoral rather than full-on mind-blowing, but there’s loads to see on the way, from Iron Age forts to towns and villages – crucially, you’ll find plenty of decent pubs where you can kick back at the end of a tough day in the saddle.
Distance: 100 miles
Difficulty: You’ll need to be fit – and you’ll need to be really fit if you want to crack it in a day.
The 2012 Olympic cycle Route, London and Surrey
Though it feels like ancient history now, the 2012 Olympics changed British attitudes to cycling forever – and you can relive the road race by recreating the route. Starting and finishing in central London, it takes in cycling mecca Richmond Park before heading into the Surrey Hills and the gruelling Box Hill. The race itself took in nine 9.6-mile loops of Box Hill before heading back to the capital, which means you can minimise or maximise the suffering by doing just one or the whole lot. It’s not the longest ride, or the toughest, but even the strongest cyclist will be suffering by the time they hit the finishing straight on the Mall.
Distance: Up to 149 miles
Difficulty: Not too tough for most cyclists, but the full distance will test your endurance in a big way.
What to ride: A fast, lightweight road bike.
The Hebridean Way, Scotland
You want an adventure? Ok, how about riding 185 miles across 10 islands in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, with incredible beaches, loads of wildlife and gnarly hills. The route starts at Vatersay and finishes on Lewis, going from south to north with the prevailing wind, taking in Barra, Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist and Harris in between. Unless you’ve mastered the art of cycling on water, you’ll need to take ferries and causeways from island to island, and it makes sense to break the trip up. Scottish cycling adventurer Mark Beaumont did the whole thing in 24 hours, but six days is probably better for appreciating the astonishing, rugged scenery – and for finishing the trip in one piece.
Distance: 185 miles
Difficulty: Pretty tough in places, though you can make it easier by taking longer to do it. You’ll need to plan carefully.