What are the best bikepacking routes in the UK?
LE JOG: Land’s End to John O’Groats
Where: The length of UK | Distance: 1,400km+| Days: 10-14
Less a route and more of a legend, our archetypal UK bikepacking route has to be this point-to-point challenge that takes riders from the southern-most point of the UK to the most northernly, (or vice versa if you don’t fancy the help of the prevailing winds). There is no prescribed route for this feat, some decide to take more scenic routes and others who are time-poor or going for records take more direct routes following main roads. The world record for cycling the UK is held by Michael Broadwith in a mind-blowing time of 43hr 25min in 2018, but tourers will usually take around two weeks to comfortably complete this. Broadwith’s route covered a total of 1,353km in a speed of 31km/h, a more scenic route for this challenge will usually be around 1600km.
Starting at Land’s End in Cornwall, cyclists will first tackle the merciless yet stunning rolling Cornish hills. They may pick to cover the heather-lined, long wind-swept roads through Dartmoor, winding up through Cheddar Gorge and continuing through the Cotswolds and Mendips. Wizz past the gothic Tintern Abbey along the Wye Valley into Wales. Hugging the western side of England, cyclists may then choose to delve into the Lake District’s rugged landscapes, past the renowned Windermere and under the shadow of Scafell Pike. Enter the land of the Scots via the illustrious Gretna Green, not forgetting to pose with the sign of course, then onwards towards Glasgow. The lochs are calling, roll along Loch Lomond and keep an eye out alongside Loch Ness, towards Inverness. The final push now and the choice is yours, keep to the east coast through Wick or branch out cross-country to Thurso to your final destination, John O’Groats. Don’t forget to take a picture with the sign and stop your bike computer, because if it’s not on Strava, did it really happen?
The Highland Trail 550
Where: Scottish Highlands |Distance: 885km | Days: 12
Off-road, overwhelmingly single track and very technical, this trail is for experienced MTB bikepackers only. Rugged and untouched, if you have the guts to take it on, this trail will not disappoint. The 550 is known as an off-road self-supported route with over 16,000m of ascent. Inspired by long-distance hardcore events like the Tour Divide and CTR, the 550 is adventure in its purest form.
Where: Ravenglass to South Shields | Distance: 274km | Days: 2-4
A stunning, history-rich route from Sustrans that takes riders alongside the famous Hadrian’s Wall, past Roman forts and market towns. Riders start in Cumbria and skirt the coast up to Carlisle before traversing the country to the opposite coast in Tynemouth. Follow National Cycle Route 72 as it takes you past Carlisle Castle before joining the C2C route into the east coast, this route is mainly on quiet country roads.
C2C: Coast to Coast
Where: Whitehaven to Sunderland | Distance: 225km | Days: 1-2
Traverse the width of the UK at its narrowest point with the popular original coast-to-coast route. Most travel west to east with the prevailing winds and more merciful gradients. To do this, start at the old port, in Whitehaven and roll on into the Lake District, through Keswick, Penrith and up onto the North Pennines, before descending back to the coast, this time on the east side, finishing at Tyneside or Sunderland. There are several different C2C routes, another of which is called the Way of the Roses.
The South Downs Way
Where: Eastbourne to Winchester|Distance: 160km | Days: 1-2
Explore the rolling South Downs on two wheels with stunning views all around across Sussex and Hampshire. On a clear day along this chalk ridge, you will be able to see all the way to the English Channel. Along the droveways, you’ll have the chance to visit ancient monuments including Iron Age hill forts, Chanctonbury Ring and Devil’s Dyke. To top it all off, why not take a visit to the medieval Winchester Cathedral at the end of your journey? Thanks again to Sustrans for the route, most of which is off-road and non-technical.
King Alfreds Way
Where: Winchester loop | Distance: 350km | Days: 3-4
Discover the historic region of Wessex, the kingdom of King Alfred the Great, with this iconic loop. Starting and finishing at Winchester where Alfred is buried, you will do a dot-to-dot of monuments, including the wold-famous Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circle. For more into, check out the route from Cycling UK.
The Great North Trail
Where: Peak District to John O’Groats | Distance: 1,289km | Days: 20
A great route option for those wanting to do an off-road LE JOG, this route starts in southernmost part of the Peak District and takes riders along off-road trails and paths. Developed by Cycling UK, this route is designed to be a mountain biking adventure with diverse terrain and scenery.
The New Forest
Get a feel for gravel and off-road riding with the copious cycle paths within the New Forest, a stone’s throw from Bournemouth. Experience nature’s playground, discover ancient woodland and coastline, with many suggested routes available from the New Forest website that will take you through quaint villages and along meandering trails.
How do I find good cycle routes?
Though not best known for its cycling infrastructure, the UK is lucky to have cycling support in the form of the National Cycle Network, which is a nexus of routes and paths with the thematic blue and red signage, for walking, cycling and all-out exploring the great outdoors. Check out this online OS map of the network to see a detailed breakdown of each route and connections.
Sustrans is also a great resource for all things cycling, they are a charity dedicated to encouraging cycling, walking and exercise in the UK’s green spaces. They are ‘custodians’ of the National Cycle Network and work to maintain outdoors routes and enable accessibility for all.
How do I find the best bikepacking routes in Europe?
Fancy going further afield? The Eurovelo routes form a comprehensive network of cycle paths across Europe. Some are more established than others, and you’ll have to check the Eurovelo site for segments and terrain type. It’s worth taking into account that each country has its own cycling network, so do your research before you set-off. For instance, the Eurovelo 1 follows Europe’s western border along the Atlantic coast: from Scandinavia to Western Portugal, via Norway, Ireland, the west coast of France, through the middle of Spain and looping up through Portugal to finish. Most will only do sections of each route, the French part of the EV1 is called la Vélodyssée and covers Roscoff to Biarritz/Hendaye across roughly 1,200km of stunning coastline.
In the weeks leading up to her first Ironman in 2018, 220’s editorial assistant, Kate, cycled the infamous LE JOG, bikepacked the length of France, and bikepacked along the French Med solo. She has since bikepacked across Europe solo, and recommends the sport to all and anyone looking for a life-changing adventure.
Thumbnail photo credit to David Sear, source Cycling UK.