1.King Alfred’s Way, Winchester
We made the mistake of thinking bikepacking was purely a world of CAMRA and canal paths, panniers and pub gardens, before taking on the new King Alfred’s Way in late 2020.
While you won’t be short of country pubs, in reality it’s a 350km loop punctuated with calf-shredding climbs and hair- raising descents. It takes place on nearly every surface known to man – mud, gravel, sand, tarmac and white chalk, to name but five.
The multi-terrain, largely off-road route was launched in 2020 by Cycling UK and links the existing routes of the Ridgeway and South Downs Way.
It officially begins and ends in Winchester, with highlights including Stonehenge, scaling Butser Hill and riding alongside tanks on Salisbury Plain.
We’d advise a gravel bike from April to October and an MTB for the depths of winter, traversing it clockwise and at least four riding days to fully enjoy the historical highs on route – expect progress to be slow.
2. Great North Trail, Peak District
Another recently launched Cycling UK corker is the 1,287km Great North Trail, starting at the Peak District, linking the Pennine Bridleway and concluding at either Cape Wrath or John O’Groats at the northern tip of mainland Scotland. A mountain bike is recommended, as are serious waterproof and windproof clothing.
3. Hebridean Way, Vatersay
Two ferries, six causeways and 297km make up the Hebridean Way, which commences at Vatersay and finishes on the Isle of Lewis.
The island-hopping Outer Hebrides challenge takes place on the National Cycle Network Route, making it friendly for road bikes, and you can also keep your swim training intact on any of the wonderful sandy beaches.
4. C2C, Cumbria
This 220km ‘Sea to Sea’ route from Sustrans begins on the west coast of Whitehaven in Cumbria and ends at Sunderland or Tynemouth on the east. It’s 45% traffic-free, 84% on tarmac, and can be done in a day.
The nearby Hadrian’s Way route is a close alternative option that can be done on the trip home to Whitehaven.
5. Lôn Las Cymru, Wales
Three mountain passes – including the mighty Snowdonia – and two national parks are the highlights of the Lôn Las Cymru, which stretches through the entirety of Wales.
The 600km-long mix of quiet lanes and traffic-free bike paths starts in Anglesey and concludes in Cardiff or Chepstow, before a most welcome train journey home.
Key bikepacking kit
GPS bike computer
One wrong turn can add an hour onto the route when bikepacking. To prevent this, a GPS bike computer where you can upload routes and follow them on the move is essential. Our pick is the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt (£249.99).
A waterproof seatpack is a must for long bike adventures. The Altura Vortex 2 (£70) comes in at 12l so there’s plenty of storage, while the neat strapping system keeps everything clamped in place. It’s also easy to wipe down.
As we found to our cost on the King Alfred’s Way, a puncture can ruin your day. Spare tubes and repair kits (plus the ability to get your tyre back on) are mandatory, as is a decent mini pump – the Topeak Pocket Rocket (£20) is just that.