Looking to get stuck into some long-distance cycling this year? We’ve put together this list of some of the most iconic challenge routes in all of England to get you inspired.
From the majestic hills of the North to the otherworldly expanses of the South East, these National Cycle Network routes provide plenty of opportunity to push yourself while enjoying some of the most arresting landscapes in the country.
But if you’re looking for a more relaxed getaway or a fun day out with the family, not to worry: these routes can also be enjoyed in shorter sections and feature many cultural and historical places of interest to stop off at along the way.
Many riders begin this challenge by dipping their back wheel in the Irish Sea off the Cumbrian coast. Then, after having travelled through parts of the northern Lake District, taken in the stunning Pennines and explored the old railway paths of County Durham, they celebrate journey’s end by dipping their front wheel in the North Sea. Hot spots include the picturesque market town of Keswick, Black Hill – the highest point of the entire Network at 2,000 feet – and the art trail that adorns the Consett-Sunderland railway path.
Named after the railway designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, this route begins in Bristol - home to the great industrialist’s Clifton Suspension Bridge and SS Great Britain - reaching its terminus at Rotherhithe’s Brunel Museum. Taking in Bath, you’ll pass through the Wiltshire countryside (via the Caen Hill Locks) and the market town of Newbury before entering Reading. Windsor Great Park and Richmond Park give an injection of greenery before hitting the capital, and don’t worry about big-city cycling: the route from here is made up of traffic-free paths and quiet roads.
History and natural beauty combine in this route. Linking Lancashire with Yorkshire, its name references the Wars of the Roses, the conflict in which the two houses of those counties vied for dominion. Fittingly, the route is steeped in heritage, from Lancaster Castle and Fountains Abbey to York and Stamford Bridge (site of a decisive Viking battle). A lot of the route is high-up and exposed, but it’s a small price to pay for the natural wonders you’ll encounter along the way including the Forest of Bowland and the Yorkshire Dales.
While the rivalry between two of the UK’s most prestigious universities may not be as bloody as the Wars of the Roses were, it’s arguably just as fierce. This route sends you through of both university towns and the countryside between them, beginning at the banks of the River Thames and ending alongside the River Cam. With a number of manageable climbs, this route is perhaps the gentler of the challenge routes and, passing by Stewartby Lake and Grafham water, you can check out some wildlife along the way.
While coastal routes can mean rolling hills and tough climbs, they also bring stunning landscapes and sea views. This challenging route not only takes you through the East Devon and Dorset Areas of Natural Beauty and the New Forest National Park, but it also includes the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. There’s abundant natural beauty through the Dorset Downs and the Isle of Purbeck before you catch a ferry across to Sandbanks and cycle a stretch of Bournemouth seafront. A flatter ride from Christchurch through to Brockenhurst gives a relaxed end to the journey.
Starting in Brockenhurst and finishing at Dover, this route is full of maritime grandeur. After some water travel via four ferries, it’s on to the rich history of Chichester, with its Norman Cathedral and nearby Fishbourne Roman Palace. Through Brighton and Hove and then Eastbourne, the route largely hugs the coast, with views across the English Channel. The open expanses of Romney Marsh are irresistibly eerie, and the Kent Downs are the final challenge of the route before you arrive at Dover’s chalky cliffs.
This challenge begins near the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon - the town where the Bard was born and where he spent the final years of his life - and ends in London by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the 1997 reconstruction of the original Elizabethan playhouse where many of his major works were presented. There are plenty of rural delights along the route, from the hills of Warwickshire to the Chilterns (no blasted heaths, luckily), along with more urban stretches through Oxford and Reading.
Wherever you are in the UK, and whatever your cycling ability, the National Cycle Network can take you on your next adventure.