8 UK bike rides that will inspire you to plan better cycling routes

Tackle these stunning UK bike rides to improve your own cycling routes and see the best of the countryside

Since the early 2000’s we’ve cycled all over the country exploring the best bike rides the UK has to offer.

There are a couple of simple rules that we follow when planning a cycle route for a fun and enjoyable UK bike ride.

Stick to B roads, take the scenic route even if it’s longer, embrace the climbs, trust local intel, shoot for 60 mile /100 km per day average, look for a natural feature such as a river or head for the coast.

These loose principles have seen us right over the years. They’ll help you to plan your own awesome cycle routes for epic UK bike rides.

Mash Up & District in the Lake District

8 UK bike rides that will improve your cycle route planning skills and inspire your next bicycle adventure

Our bike rides are often planned by Adrian. He’s a whizz with a map since he spent the early years of his career working at the Environment Agency modelling flood risk in rural places.

Adrian has a penchant for ending the day with a rapid descent. This often means that the morning promises a steep climb.

It’s the perfect way to warm up the legs and lift the heart rate.

This selection of UK bike rides represent a near decades worth of cycling routes that we’ve ridden in a group as Mash Up & District, as a pair or occasionally, just me as a solo rider.

Here’s our top UK bike rides to inspire your next cycling adventure:
Dunwich Dynamo
Tour of Staffordshire
London to Colchester
4 Day Devon Loop
London to Southend on Sea
Harrogate to Leek
Hardnott Pass Loop
Stafford to Clitheroe

The Dunwich Dynamo – the ultimate night ride

Beginning at London Fields in Hackney, the Dun Run is a turn up and ride, 196km sojourn into the night towards the lost city of Dunwich on the Suffolk coast.

Participants usually arrive to The Pub on the Park at around 8pm. There’s plenty of time for a pre ride pint and a fistful of peanuts before setting off.

I’ve ridden this iconic night ride three times; 2011 with Adrian as preparation for our charity ride to 20 countries in 100 days, 2013 solo and 2014 with my mate Fabian and our girlfriends.

Stick together

There’s often up to a 1,000 riders taking part so it’s recommended to stay close to your group if you have one. Make a plan to leave together and keep a steady pace.

Mash Up and District Cycle Touring Club at London Fields

Lights are essential, obviously. A reliable front and rear, a head torch is useful and spare batteries should be among your spares.

Pack a light tool kit and a spare tube as a bare minimum. There’s a great spirit of camaraderie but all riders should be self sufficient.

Along the way there are a couple of organised pit stops. The first is at the White Hart at around 10pm. It’s a great chance to catch up with other riders and share a pint and some snacks.

Around half way there’s a village hall serving hot food. Pasta, hot soups and sandwiches are available. This is first come first served.

Tasty treats

I always take a flask of hot sweet Earl Grey tea, a bag of jelly sweets and a Tupperware of mixed nuts, dried fruits and seeds as snacks.

For a ride of this duration its recommended to pack some calorie dense treats; Soreen, bananas, peanut butter and jam sandwiches and a few Snickers fill my panniers.

Roadside stalls sometimes offer chocolate bars and hot drinks along with the opportunity to refill water bottles.

fueling up at the White Hart on the Dunwich Dynamo

During the early hours of the morning it gets cold. Long trousers, base layers and a light jacket are advised. Comfort is king on the long road to the coast.

Once at the beach, it’s a quick dip in the North Sea, a can of real ale and a Full English at the cafe.

London to Dunwich to London by bike

Some hardcore couriers and club riders will ride the route back home. For everyone else, there’s coaches or the train. You can prebook the coach at London Fields before the start.

On a sunny day it’s tempting to laze on the pebbles for a few hours before enjoying a roast at a local pub.

This UK bike ride requires zero route planning (it’s signposted most of the way) but it does follow our golden rules; B roads all the way straight to the coast!

A great template for a rural cycling route for a bike ride directly out of East London..

The Dunwich Dynamo is the ultimate night ride.

end of the road at dunwich, the lost city

Tour of Staffordshire – a canal-side ride for an off-road adventure

This short two day UK bike ride follows the NCN5 through the Potteries into the glorious canal-side countryside. A short tour across the county of Staffordshire.

Starting in the principal town of Stafford I followed the NCN5 (National Cycle Network 5) along a dedicated cycle path behind the town.

Then onto a couple of rural B roads before joining the canal network at Stone. I stopped here for a lunch of bread and hummus and a flask of chai.

The NCN5 follows the Trent and Mersey canal to the city of Stoke on Trent.

The Potteries by bike

Stoke is the principal town of the Potteries, a collection of five towns that constitute a linear city in the north of the county.

This area is famed for its pottery industry, hence the name, and the bottle kilns used to fire the china were once a common sight across the city.

From here I joined the Cauldon Canal which traverses the countryside towards Shardlow in Derbyshire.

Taking a fork in the towpath I took the seldom traveled Leek branch of the canal into the Ladderedge Country Park before cycling a few miles into town on the main road.

After a short rest stop in Leek where I bumped in to my mates’ mum and sister (hey Ange & Shell), I spun up a couple of rolling hills to Tittesworth reservoir.

With an epic view of the Roaches I took a quick dip in the water, cooked a quick supper of homemade dhal served with leftover bread and hummus.

I read a book (The Log from the Sea of Cortez) for an hour, then pitched my tent and drifted into a deep, refreshing sleep.

My cycle touring kit list may make useful further reading for those planning a multi-day tour.

cycling routes along the canal make for easy UK bike rides

Homeward bound

The next day I had planned to ride to Glossop and loop around to Uttoxeter for an extended two day trip.

However, the rain that started in the early hours showed no sign of relenting so I ambled into Leek for a spot of brunch.

I figured to wait for the rain to stop before making a decision on which way to go.

In the end the rain just got worse. I stocked up on treats from Lawtons Pies (my favourite bakery in Staffordshire) and began the return journey to Stafford.

I followed the same route in reverse: Stoke, Stone, Stafford. All via canals except the final stretch between Stone and Stafford, which is a pleasant B road.

The canal tow path between Leek and Stone is quite rutted in the early section. Be prepared to navigate some challenging sections in muddy conditions.

London to Chichester – an impromptu microadventure by bike

For our next UK bike ride Fabian & I decided to head out to the South Downs for a night of wild camping and a brisk cycle to the Roman town of Chichester.

Our initial plan was to cycle to Winchester and camp out in the National Forest but let’s just say that Google Maps’ beta cycling maps are less than ideal.

Fabian outside Blacks

Having set the map to standard car functionality we set a course for Godalming.

Making brisk progress in the crisp winter sunshine we got into a comfortable rhythm gliding through the chilly miles.

Chiddingfold

The aim for the day was to find a suitable wild camping spot within easy reach of a decent pub. That box was ticked by the beautifully sleepy village of Chiddingfold.

Just a few miles shy of the South Downs National Park, Chiddingfold boasts a choice of three pubs, and our recommendation for the evening was The Crown, an 800 year old inn.

The Crown at Chiddingfold

Our camp for the evening was a rather damp field a couple of miles outside the village.

We pitched up next to a majestic tree towards the top of the hill where the ground was slightly firmer underfoot.

We made a roaring fire and prepared our camp. Fabians MSR stove making light work of cooking supper.

While lounging on oddments of logs and cardboard earlier procured from the friendly Aussie barman at the pub we quaffed a smashing bottle of Malbec.

“You fellas heading out in to the bush?”

Breakfast at campBreakfast of champions

At first light we broke camp and ate a simple breakfast. A bowl of giant couscous, topped with a hearty slab of butter kept from the previous days fry up, a strong coffee and a wedge of Soreen.

By 10am we were on our way to Chichester. Stopping after 20km at the town of Midford we enjoyed an early lunch and a natter with locals in the café.

One chap had been visiting Chichester for over 25 years so much did he love the natural beauty of the area. We quite agreed.

Which way to the pub?

After a time and many photographs, we arrived in the Cathedral town of Chichester. As we arrived into the town we again bumped in to a couple from the café in Midford.

A happy coincidence indeed and a chance to get a tip for the best place to visit for a pint and a pub lunch. The Dell Key appeared to be the place to go.

Fabian goes to Church

A bike based microadventure

We had hoped to get down to the coast for a pint and a breath of sea air.

Alas light was fading and with many miles to do once back in London we decided to hop on a train back to the capital.

This cycle route from London had been a good one. We were pleased with the outcome. A total break from the usual weekend routine.

A reinvigorating cycle adventure taking in beautiful countryside, encountering friendly strangers, and just a few miles out of the city.

All planned last minute on a Thursday evening, a brilliant weekend.

Awesome graffiti on a wall of Chichester College

4 Day Devon Loop – a challenging UK bike ride over steep terrain

It’s the first week in April, a season notorious for rain but capable of any kind of weather.

The destination – Devon. Famed for it’s spectacular coast line, picturesque cottages and bad ass cream teas.

The perfect four day UK bike ride itinerary

As is the norm for many of our UK bike adventures we were riding with MashUp and District Cycling Club.

Last minute phone calls to other members of our elite touring club revealed that some riders were several hours into a late night drinking session.

No one could get hold of the guy with the train tickets.  A guy who was no longer coming with us due to a lame excuse.

Jim was going to be delayed until Sunday because he was on a stag do. And a severe snow warning has been issued for most of the country. Hmmm…

Stormy weather

By hook or by crook we eventually made it to Exeter, in varying degrees of inebriation.

We had the great fortune that one of our top riders, Tom ‘The Hen’ Hennessy, is a proper Devon lad.

Tom had a detailed local knowledge and offered his parents pad for us to crash in for the weekend.

So, we started the proceedings with a couple of Hen’s favourite day rides out of Exeter, day one we headed to the eastern villages.

We ended up with a fish supper at a cracking chippy in Exmouth, then pottered back along the recently completed cycle route.

The cycle path took us up the estuary to Exeter, to Tom’s local pub, where we got to work on strong cider and tasty cheese plates.

The shenanigans rolled on

Day two, we headed up on to the notoriously bleak Dartmoor. Remarkably, despite the forecast, the weather was still on our side.

There was no sign of the freezing blizzards that were battering the north of the country.

We soon found ourselves lounging about in the sunshine drinking tea in Morten Hampstead.

Ten minutes out of the village we hit a killer climb. This steep ascent was closely followed by a mechanical issue.

Bleak weather cycling Dartmoor

Dave, our rookie mascot and newest addition to the Mash Up & District Cycle Club had snapped the chain on his bike.

Six riders and no chain tool, talk about amateur hour.

We rode back to the village to ask a favour from the locals. Soon enough a knight in shining armour came over with a chain splitter.

Meanwhile Steve, the MashUp and District food and drink advisor went off to interrogate the local cafe.

Crumpet-gate

Within minutes a raging argument spilled out of the door and into the street.

Steve had offered some friendly advice about customer service and the correct temperature of toasted crumpets. The owner had blown his top and thrown Steve out of the cafe.

Our chain splitting friend gave us an insight into village politics while I fixed Dave’s chain. The job quickly done with the right tools.

Back on the road ‘crumpet-gate’ had given Steve a huge adrenaline boost and he led the charge for the rest of the day.

So, after our two day warm up it was time to get to business. Jim arrived with the rest of our camping gear and we got fully loaded up with a superb curry on Sunday night.

The plan was to camp for the rest of the week so we could do some distance. We wanted to see what the North coast had to offer.

The rest of the Mash Up crew decided to join us for the first day which took us up onto Exmoor with spectacular views over mid Devon.

We enjoyed a delicious pub feast just outside of Barnstaple with the rest of the lads before they set off for London by train.

Alone again

Jim and I, rolled off into the night to become reacquainted with the world of wild camping.

While technically illegal, wild camping is pretty safe in England.

We found a perfect spot and got a fire going as quickly as we could. It was starting to get pretty cold!

If I could sum up our tour of Devon with one word it would probably be ‘diverse’.

Over the next 4 days we rode in wind, rain, fog, sunshine, sleet and snow.

We cycled through the desolation of snowy Exmoor. Down to the picturesque North coast villages of Lynton and Porlock.

Through forests and farms, cutting down canals and racing along the dramatic cliff tops of the southern ‘Jurassic’ coast.

We couldn’t resist a stop off in the best named village in Britain. We had to pose for a photo. It’s not just the name that’s impressive either, the Captains Cottage tea room rocks. Call in for some fresh crab sandwiches and cream tea.

We heart Devon

The weather conditions were far from ideal. It was pretty nasty at times but you’re never too far from a welcoming pub and an open fire.

Some of the climbs, particularly those along the cycle routes which follow the north and south coast are incredibly steep and narrow.

I wouldn’t recommend it for a leisurely introduction to cycling.

But, if you like a challenge then this has to be one of the most rewarding places to ride in the UK.

If you’re not up for wild camping there are lots of small camp sites too.

We stopped at a cracking one in the middle of Porlock village. There were piping hot showers with a stunning sea view.

You can’t say fairer than that. We heart Devon!

London to Southend on Sea – an easy day ride to the coast

For a leisurely day ride out of London there’s nothing quite like a bike ride to Southend on Sea. An easterly journey of just over 70km, through Essex suburbs along country roads to the coast.

Getting an early start was always going to be a relative concept given Ade’s proximity to the brewery (Ade is the Ops guy at Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick).

At length, I arrived at the Peanut Factory (Ade’s house) at a leisurely 10am.

The few miles cruise down from Highams Park were some of the best of the day.

Joggers jogged, teams assembled on the playing fields poised for imminent battle and cyclists in great numbers headed out in the opposite direction bound for Epping Forest.

Narrow boat on the Lee Navigation, Hackney Wick

Narrow boat on the Lee Navigation, Hackney Wick

In these few peaceful miles the bare naked trees lining the sleepy streets of Walthamstow Village cast deep shadows across the brightly sunlit buildings and parked cars.

The mottling effect a natural camouflage for the day to come.

Soporific

Along the towpath of the Lee Navigation lines of nameless narrow boats two abreast rested calmly upon the glassy waters.

“Ellesmere”, “Soporific” and “Wind Shadow” puffed smoke from their tiny chimneys in effort to warm their occupants.

Opposite this tranquil scene lay a vast construction site, the legacy of the Olympics being built into its new environment.

Communications buildings repurposed as centres of learning, trees planted in neat rows and bridges sprung up from the earth across the water connecting the old to the new.

Here East, building the Olympic Legacy

The road out of London proper is an A road we’d rather not cycle again.

The motorists of Romford, Ilford and Basildon are not particularly tolerant and seemed to be out to get us.

We were involved in too many near misses for our liking.

The behaviour of a vocal minority is frankly embarrassing. Telling a cyclist to use the pavement is clearly foolish.

Calling a cyclist an expletive because they’re in the road where cars are parked in the cycle lane is just a joke isn’t it?

Thanks for your kind words douchebag guy in the Renault Espace.

An English smock mill in Upminster.

An English smock mill in Upminster.

The suburbs

Things improved as we left behind the squat local authority blocks and entered the semi-detached suburban sprawl of Upminster.

The roads, if not quieter, then the drivers were certainly more considerate. The highlight of a very short hill was a wonderful windmill at one end of a long green.

We used this as a marker to see how far we’d come in the hour and a bit we’d begun cycling.

As we pushed on through fen like flatlands we focused our intentions on a summit known as One Tree Hill.

At 10% gradient this is a punchy little ascent that had us up out of the saddle and breathless for the first time on the ride.

We loved it. The view from the top was a pretty good one. Not bad for 90 minutes out of East London.

View from the top - One Tree Hill, Basildon, Essex

View from the top – One Tree Hill, Basildon, Essex

With no sign of a cup of tea occurring any time soon (Pitsea is short on cafes, big on fast food) we cracked on towards the coast.

B-sides and seasides

The promise of fish and chips with a giant cup of tea providing the motivation to keep moving.

We cycled out of the rural roads and back into a built up area following the old A13.

It wasn’t a bad road, but the drivers were erratic again. There was nothing we could do but keep our wheels turning and heads down, with a course set for sea.

The final run into Southend was tidy.

Wide open roads banked steeply down to the promenade. The safety of the green two way cycle path that hugs the coastline made for a speedy descent.

We picked up the cycle route at Chalkwell and followed it through to central Southend and a long awaited brew.

We arrived at the beach in plenty of time for fish and chips and a lazy Sunday sunset.

A highly recommended day ride to the coast.

The coast in Southend on Sea

The coast in Southend on Sea

Harrogate to Leek – buying our new touring bikes and riding them home

This two day ride from Harrogate to Leek was the perfect opportunity to test drive our new touring bikes.

Friday we took a train to Harrogate. It was possibly the most exciting day of cycling since Tom Simpson competed in the Tour de France.

We were at Spa Cycles to pick up our brand spanking new Dawes Ultra Galaxy 2011 touring bikes.

A new bike is the cheapest bike you’ll ever buy – John, Spa Cycles

new touring bikes from Spa Cycles

Andrew the clown

It transpired that my bike had been assembled by a clown. Andrew was a part time bicycle mechanic and full time joker.

His top tip for touring was to forgo a proper camping bed and instead collect cardboard from supermarkets to make a new cushioned mat each night.

I made sure to double check all the nuts and bolts before leaving the shop. Andrew’s ideas seemed a little flaky.

After much faffing about, adjusting my shiny black Brooks saddle, positioning of panniers and bell ringing, we set off from the shop around lunchtime, headed for Holmfirth.

Around 70 kilometres of cycling was ahead of us and it had already started to rain, a dubious omen for sure.

Not that I mind the rain, but still, we’d only just picked up the bikes, they were still shiny and lovely and… ha!

That’s cycle touring, rain or shine, you’ve gotta eat the k’s.

Cycling in stormy weather in Kirklees

Pennine Punishment

We settled into a decent rhythm for the early part of the day. The rain had held off to a light shower for the most part until late afternoon.

By which point we were lost near the M62 and it was just bucketing down. Full tilt.

Wet and slightly miserable we continued on out of the the deep valley that we were caught up in and followed a path across the motorway bridge.

Let it be said now that no amount of rain will ever break the spirit of a true cycle tourist. A decent waterproof is all you really need.

Grit and determination and an unrelenting sense of optimism even in the most bleak of situations are prerequisites for any cycle tourist worth their salt.

No such thing as bad weather

A slight temper tantrum or grumble about the weather are part and parcel of the job but never will the weather defeat a proper tourer.

There’s no such thing as bad weather – Alfred Wainwright

Headwinds. Well, now headwinds are a different kettle of fish. If you’re traveling without moving you have full permission to get off the bike and take shelter in the nearest permanent structure.

Bloody headwinds.

We made it to Holmfirth wet and tired and with a hot roast chicken. Camp was set up in super quick time, we showered and made it to the pub for last orders.

Adrian climbs high in the Peaks

Leekshire

Next morning we were up and rolling early doors. The sunshine shone brightly through thin wispy clouds.

The storm had broken. We were grateful for a reprieve from the rain. It had dampened our spirits the previous day.

We’d arranged to meet friends at the pub to watch the football. This meant we had a 3pm deadline.

The route from Holmfirth took in the whole of the Peak District National Park. Top to bottom.

Surprisingly, this stunning bike ride through the most popular national park in the UK was a mere 40 odd miles.

It’s a gloriously rural cycling route that delivers big on nature.

UK bike rides - Harrogate to Leek

Peak perfect

Our route went via Woodhead, Glossop, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Buxton, Flash, finishing in Leek.

We stopped for a breakfast bap in Glossop – there are a fine selection of cafe and cake shops – hard to believe that Vivian Westwood could leave such a place.

We arrived in plenty of time for the big game. Our mate Dave offered us to use his place for a hot shower before stepping out for a well earned pub lunch and a few pints of real ale.

Harrogate to Leek is a cracking UK bike ride that ticks all the boxes. There are so many great cycling routes around the Peak District.

It’s possible to plan day rides and long weekend loops from and to a local train station for visits from other areas. Highly recommended.

Hardnott Pass Loop

This was a classic ride indeed, with some of the toughest climbs in the country, including Wrynose Pass and Hardnott Pass. This UK bike ride is not for the feint hearted.

We started out from Penrith and headed for a fine hostel somewhere in the hills.

With members of Mashup & District Cycling Club up from as far south as ‘that London’ and some from Stoke.

The scene was set for an epic weekend of bike riding up hill and down dale.

Adrian leads the pack for a selfie

Cumberland Classic

We planned this ride using the 100 Greatest cycling Climbs as inspiration. Adrian had gifted me a copy and we were keen to get out on the bikes to test our mettle.

Buy 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs on Amazon.

We like to train properly in Mashup & District. Our club rides are often deliberately challenging and ideally somewhere that we haven’t cycled before.

This UK bike ride fit the bill perfectly. A group ride in the Lakes was just the ticket since there were so many awesome cycling routes.

Mash Up & District Cycling Club in the Lake District

Higher and higher

Our itinerary for the two day ride was all about the passes: Honister, Whinlatter, Kirkstone, Wrynose and Hardnott.

We arrived by train into Cockermouth and made a loop. We stayed at YHA Borrowdale and Hawkshead.

This was one of the toughest bike rides in the UK that I’ve ever done.

Hardnott Pass is savage. I was riding an old school vintage Raleigh racing bike. It has a huge chain ring 42 / 52 – set up for time trial and triathlon.

It’s the only climb I’ve ever dismounted for – I had to push most of the way up.

I plan to return on a more suitable machine for a rematch.

UK bike ride in the Lake District

I’d recommend this UK bike ride for more advanced riders. It’s a very steep cycling route in unforgiving terrain.

There are easy day rides to be had in the Lakes. This is not one of them.

Stafford to Clitheroe – a world cycle warm up!

In 2015 I set off from my parents front door to cycle around the world. As things were I was lucky enough to have the time to travel via the Cycle Touring Festival in Clitheroe.

The Cycle Touring Festival is an annual celebration of long distance bike travel.

There are inspiring talks, useful workshops and a few hundred like minded bicycle tourers keen to share stories over a pint.

The two day route I took to commence my world bicycle tour began at my parents house near to Stafford. I first made my way to Leek to visit friends for dinner on the Wednesday evening.

Snake Pass

From Leek I climbed up into the Peak District to Edale, over Snake Pass towards Glossop. I camped in a field close to Snake Pass.

Then onwards to the NCN6 through Manchester up past Bury, through Accrington and finally, to Waddow Hall in Clitheroe.

This UK cycling route enjoys a varied terrain including B roads in the National Park, canal towpath through Manchester and proper cycle path up beyond the city.

You don’t have to be embarking on an around-the-world bike ride to enjoy this route. Each year many attendees cycle to the CTF. Why not join them next year?

Looking for more advice on planning your next UK bike ride? Try this guest post on practical route planning and mapping software from MadeGood.bikes.

7 thoughts on “8 UK bike rides that will inspire you to plan better cycling routes

  1. Sarah Jame

    Those are some impressive rides; not for the fainthearted. I think that I’d want a nice hotel bed at the end of the day rather than camping! Some beautiful scenery on those trips too. Do you think that you appreciate it more from the bike?

    Reply
  2. Rudy @ Backpack & Snorkel

    Taking the scenic road is very true for traveling by car, too.
    I used to bike a lot until I graduated from university. Then I moved to a big city where driving a car was the best way to get around. A few years ago, we rented bikes in Caye Caulker, Belize and my butt hurt after riding the bike. I guess it rakes a long time to get used to biking again.
    Your descriptions sound interesting, I wonder if I would enjoy the rain that is possible in he UK at any time?

    Reply
  3. Catherine

    This looks like such an adventure. Cycling through the UK is definitely the best way to experience the landscapes! I’m so jelous – I’d love to tick something like this off my bucket list one day

    Reply
  4. Eric Gamble

    What an interest list if bike rides across the U.K. I am not going to lie, I love cycling but these cold and wet overnighters you guys have seem kind of miserable to this cuban boy who loves the son! I am an avid backpacker too so I guess I don’t mind a bit of rain and cold outside in the elements but I keep imagining the cold rain and fog slapping me in the face while riding!
    Either way, I do have to say of the 8 I think for my first attempt at any of these organized UK Bike Rides, I would have to or want to start with the Tour of Staffordshire! The idea of the ride with a camp in the middle sounds right up my alley and the views sound great to me!

    Reply

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