Back in October we wrote a blog highlighting the 6 most exciting races or long distance Bikepacking Adventures cycling routes you needed to check out for 2020. However, with foreign travel restricted for the foreseeable future we decided to look at 7 Bikepacking routes or ride ideas in the UK that you shouldn’t ignore.
7 Bikepacking Adventures
Great North Trail
Out of the 6 we suggested in our previous blog only one was in the UK, so let’s kick things off with that. The Great North Trail (GNT). Undergoing final stages of development now the GNT aims to link the Pennine bridleway with the northern tips of mainland Scotland through some of Britain’s most stunning upland areas and four National Parks.
The 800-mile trail will hold something for everyone, whether that be exposed moorland mtb trails to flatter stretches along canal towpaths or next to lakes. The project is part of a larger movement for increased off road cycling access across the UK and is something Breakaway can definitely get behind.
You can never rely on Scotland for sunny weather and in fact it is almost always a surprise when the sun does come out but riding the trail in the summer should see your chances of a dry and pleasant ride improve significantly.
Obviously to attempt this route in one go start to finish will rely on several lockdown restrictions easing, but as long as you’re happy wild camping and social isolation then fingers crossed this could be on the cards for later in the summer. It is certainly top of our list so watch this space for more about the Great North Trail.
Trans Cambrian Way
In a similar vein the next route on our list is pretty much all off road and looks totally awesome. The Trans Cambrian Way (TCW) is a 100 mile off road route traversing the middle of Wales from Knighton on the English border right across to Dovey Junction on the Welsh coast. It crosses the Cambrian mountains which are some of the oldest mountains in Europe.
In the 1970’s a proposal to make the Cambrian mountains a national park proved unsuccessful ultimately meaning it has never seen the same popularity as national parks such as the Lake District or the Snowdonia national park to the North.
This means that a traverse of the TCW is a proper adventure. Wild upland areas and technical descents make it a very exciting proposition for a close to home adventure. Again we haven’t ridden it but from what we’ve heard it isn’t something to be sniffed at. Just because it doesn’t reach heights as seen in the Alps or Dolomites doesn’t mean it can’t be a challenge and heaps of fun. It’s definitely high up on our list.
National Cycle Network
An oldie but a goodie. You can’t go wrong with the National Cycle Network. Whether it’s using parts of a route within a longer tour or looking for a new route to ride start to finish the National Cycle Network is a great place to start. It’s how I got into long distance riding. All you have to do is choose a route and go do it.
You don’t need to be good at route planning or have an expensive head unit, just follow the numbers. The terrain is often mixed, with some towpaths, small lanes and re-purposed railway tracks thrown in. This variety keeps your ride interesting and unique.
A few of my favourites include the number 16 from Dover to Canterbury with a cheeky add on if you take route 1 up to Whitstable for some oysters. Other notable rides have included the 24 from Bath to Salisbury with a delightful coffee stop in Frome.
One particular route that has definitely caught my eye is the 780. Otherwise known as the Hebridean Way. It travels the length of the outer hebrides from Vatersay in the South all the way to the Butt of Lewis in the North.
Just shy of 250 km’s it is mostly on paved roads and includes a fair amount of island hopping on ferries. So although not the longest of routes in terms of distance by the time you factor in time on the water between the islands and some obligatory bird watching (think puffins and sea eagles) you could definitely make it a good multi day trip with lifelong memories chucked in for good measure.
One way to spice things up along the 780 could be the inclusion of packrafting between the islands. It has been a weird fantasy of mine to do this for a while and would definitely put me out of my comfort zone as I don’t find myself at home on a boat! Whether or not this is possible probably comes down to the strong currents between the islands. I am no packrafting expert so don’t take my word for it but keep an eye on Breakaway as it’s something we would love to get into.
Keep it local – Byways, ancient highways and a fair few bridleways
Now for something a bit shorter and at times sweeter. You don’t have to travel somewhere wild and ride all day and night to feed the adventure bug. Try searching for a local restricted byway or long distance riding route that is closer to home. If you like riding off-road then the UK certainly has some low key hidden gems. Criss crossing the land are hundreds of old roads. Some of them such as the Fosse Way were built by the Romans. They are often found on the top of escarpments and were old trading routes. Most of them radiate out of London in some form or another as people used to drive their livestock to market in London.
What you need to do is grab yourself an OS explorer map (the orange one) and have a look for restricted byways nearby. In the key you’ll see they are marked similarly to bridleways but have a criss cross pattern alternating along them.
I have a peculiar fascination with riding down old byways, turnpikes, drovers roads or upland ways. There’s something amazing about trundling along a ditch that has been carved out over hundreds of years by our ancestors. The routes are public rights of way and don’t have many gates making them perfect for lockdown exploration as there are no metal surfaces you need to touch!
A local favourite of mine is the Salt Way in the Cotswolds. Salt was, for a long time, a very valuable commodity as it was extensively used in the preservation of food. It was often produced up in Cheshire and needed to be transported to London. Salt merchants travelled over the high ridges of the Cotswolds on their way to lechlade where a boat took the salt into London down the Thames.
So before you go straight up to Scotland for a big off road ride then why not check out what your local paths have to offer. If you don’t have any restricted byways near you then look out for bridleways which are just as fun if not slightly less predictable.
Second city divide
Glasgow to Manchester or Manchester to Glasgow, this route has a bit of everything. The 600 km off road extravaganza includes gravel roads, forest tracks, bridleways and much more. Billed as a Torino-Nice rally closer to home (depending on where home is) the route can be ridden as part of a more official ride in September with the finishers ending up in Manchester, beer in hand and stories being shared. Alternatively it can be ridden as a standalone bikepacking trip whenever you want with the route available to download from the second city divide website.
If you live nearby then why not check out your local section of the route. As we are sadly based in the South this might need to be saved for a multiday trip or maybe even a return journey South following completion of the Great North Trail. One thing is for sure though, we’re doing it oneday!
Coast 2 coast
The beauty of this route is that you can do it anywhere! The premise is simple. Ride from East to West or West to East across the UK. The former lets you race the sun from rise to fall just make sure you don’t get a stinking headwind otherwise that’ll be a tough gig and the latter means you should encounter a tailwind!
The shortest coast to coast we know of is to ride from the West end of Hadrian’s Wall North West of Carlisle to the English East coast near Druridge in Northumberland. Here the crossing is only 70 miles so definitely doable in a summer’s day or you could choose a much longer route and ride from East Anglia across to the West coast of Wales. This is more like 300 miles, but like I said the beauty of this route is you can make it as hard as you like, even do it there and back for maximum punch.
RPM90 – South Coast Overland
Now for something closer to home (if like us home is in the South/South East of England). You don’t need to slog up to the outer hebrides to have an adventure. In fact adventure starts on your doorstep. The folks over at RPM90 cycling have put together a great 3 day trip along the south coast that encompases everything great about local adventure. At 220 km it is a great middle distance teaser for the longer adventures RPM90 can take you on.
The spirit of RPM90 is that adventure doesn’t have to include sleeping in a hedge for 30 minutes before riding through the rest of the night, smashing huge miles and never stopping to enjoy the view. The focus is on the whole ride experience which is something we love.
This particular voyage involves one night in a bothy in Sussex (I know it sounds rare!) followed by a night in a hotel in the New Forest and another day of riding at the end. Wide tyre all road bikes are recommended and so is a hip flask to sip whilst gathered round a fire in the evening.
The scheduled dates for the South Coast Overland have had to be shifted due to lockdown but keep checking out the RPM90 news feed for updated arrangements as they look to reschedule as many trips as possible this year.
So there you go, 7 ride ideas that we hope will get you excited for all the potential bikepacking adventures that can and will happen this summer. They might not be overseas but that isn’t going to stop us from exploring locally and making the most of an unusual situation.
Stay tuned for part two as we explore some clothing and kit designed to keep you outdoors for longer in the all too unpredictable British summer.
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