Cycling is a wonderful way to explore the countryside, but busy roads can be intimidating, and finding good, traffic free cycling routes can be tricky. Fortunately, Scott Snaith, founder of electric ‘ebike’ retailer 50cycles, has shared his top seven predominantly off-road cycle trails in Britain – and one of them even starts in London!
According to the British Social Attitudes Survey released in 2016, a whopping 69% of Brits aged 18 and older never cycle. The dangers presented by busy roads is one factor contributing to this, with 59% of respondents saying they thought it was ‘too dangerous’ to try. But with summer on the horizon, now is the perfect time to get on your bike and pedal across some of Britain’s most beautiful landscapes.
Cycling guru Scott Snaith, director and founder of 50cycles – the longest running electric ‘ebike’ retailer in the UK – has compiled his top seven cycling trails in Britain that are predominately off-road.
‘From sweeping coastal vistas to muscle-straining mountain missions, the UK really is one of the greatest places to cycle, particularly when it comes to our amazing off-road trails,’ says Snaith. ‘You don’t need to be super-fit to enjoy these routes, either, as they can be broken down over several days so you can savour the views.’
1 South Downs Way (Hampshire-East Essex)
The South Downs Way runs 100 miles from Winchester in Hampshire to Eastbourne in East Sussex, and the vast majority of it is off-road. Superheroes can do it in a day. But for mere mortals, three or four days makes the journey more pleasurable. Some of the climbs are challenging, and you’ll probably have to get off and push, but the downhills are fast, smooth and straightforward. And don’t underestimate the distance – you’ll need to be prepared for long days in the saddle. But the views are worth it – especially near the famous ‘Devil’s Dyke’ beauty spot.
Don’t miss: Meon Springs, a picturesque fishing lake just off the trail with a well-stocked honesty bar. A perfect place to stop and refresh.
Further information: The South Downs Way Mountain Bike Guide
2 The Rhayader Loop (mid Wales)
Weighing in at just 19 miles, this can be tackled in a day and most of it is blissfully off-road. You’ll head out of Rhayader, near Powys, and off the beaten track, following the line of an old disused Birmingham Corporation Railway line. You’ll then climb through the Cambrian Mountains, taking in waterfalls, a series of dams, huge reservoirs and hundreds of wind-swept hill sheep. It’s family friendly but still a big day out. But if that sounds too easy, you could always try the ‘Elan Epic’ a 37 mile mission packed with big climbs and technical descents.
Don’t miss: The Rhayader Tunnel, a Wildlife Trust Reserve and home to a number of bat species.
Further information: Cycling the Elan Trail
3 Grasmere, Loughrigg and Langdale Loop (Lake District)
This tough 20 miler has some 3,150ft of ascent on mainly off-road trails. But it’s also described as a great introduction to riding in the Lake District, and has been specifically designed to showcase the very best the Lakes has to offer in terms of incredible views, picture postcard villages, and quiet trails. You begin in the village of Grasmere, famously once home to poet William Wordsworth, before crossing Loughrigg Fell and descending to Skelwith Bridge. You’ll take in the hamlet of Little Langdale while also visiting Elterwater. Expect cattle grids, black moors and fast descents to have you grinning like a big kid.
Don’t miss: Elterwater is a popular location for wild swimming… if it’s hot enough, or you’re feeling brave enough, to take a cooling plunge.
Further information: Pedal North’s Guide to Grasmere Loughrigg and Langdale & Go Lakes Cycle Guides
4 The Great Glen Way (Scotland)
The Great Glen Way is a 79-mile coast-to-coast mountain biking and walking trail, between Inverness in the north and Fort William in the south, that sees you pass some of the most iconic landscapes in Scotland. The route is mainly off-road tracks, forest fire trails and canal tow paths, and most adventurers plan to do it in two days, with an overnight stop at the half-way point in Fort Augustus, on the western flanks of Loch Ness.
Each starting point has its pros and cons, too. Those who choose to begin their journey in Fort William are said to have the wind and sun behind them. But starting in Inverness means you get the big, tough hills climbs over and done with on the first day, letting you roll along the relatively flat sections of the Caledonian Canal on the second day. There’s also an alternative ‘High Route’ section between Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit, which avoids some of the forest tracks but will be more of a test for your tired legs.
Don’t miss: A short detour from the trail is the ruined 13th century Inverlochy Castle
Further information: Visit Scotland’s Great Glen Cycling Guide
5 Thames Valley (London to Oxford)
If you ever fancied escaping London on two wheels, this is the way to do it. This popular route covers 99 miles, and 40 of those are entirely traffic free. The fit can do the route in two days, but three gives you a more gentle pace, with overnight stops along the way. The route meanders on riverside paths, country lanes, off-road trails and quiet residential streets. It’s also well signposted, as the National Cycle Network route 4 from London to Reading, and route 5 from there to Oxford. The official starting point is Greenwich Foot Tunnel, but most people pick it up in Putney where it gets altogether more leafy.
6 Devon Coast to Coast (Ilfracombe to Plymouth)
Forget the famous coast to coast – which runs from Whitehaven, Cumbria, to Tynemouth in the North East – because this Devonshire alternative is arguably more fun, and 71 miles of its 99 mile length are off-road, too. The route covers the beaches and estuaries of North Devon before skirting round the western flanks of Dartmoor. And because the trail is largely made up of former railway lines, you and your two-wheeled steed will whizz through long tunnels and across viaducts and bridges built by Victorian engineers.
Giving yourself three days to cover the distance is plenty, but you should be able to do it in two. The climbs are gentle, too, so it’s a good introduction to the art of multi-day cycle trips.
Don’t miss: The picturesque ‘Tarka Trail’ section of the route at Petrockstowe, which is dotted with perfect pubs.
Further information: Sustrans’ Devon Coast to Coast Route Map
7 Kennet and Avon Canal (Bristol to Reading)
This is one of Britain’s most popular weekend waterside cycle routes, and for good reason – it’s long and flat but never boring, and has numerous watering holes en route. Most of its 100 mile length is made up of canal towpaths as country lanes, with a few quiet roads thrown into the mix for good measure. Factor in two of three days to complete the journey and bear in mind most of the route’s surface is light gravel, so you’ll need to a mountain bike or hybrid bike with chunky off-road tyres.
All photography courtesy of 50 cycles