Top ten lists are opinions, and you’ll never find a top ten list on any subject that everyone agrees with. This list is my opinion – you may have a different opinion, and that’s OK. In fact, I sincerely hope you’ll tell me about other rides that you consider to be better, in the comments. To qualify for this list, a ride should be long enough that most people would consider it a multi-day ride. The routes I listed are effectively leisure-routes, and I tried to give a higher weighting to routes with more traffic-free segments, as those tend to be far nicer to ride. There are some usual suspects in there, but also a few you might not know.
Top Ten UK Bike Rides
- C2C. This is an iconic British cycle touring route, and for good reason. It crosses the island of Great Britain, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, and can be cycled west to east, or east to west. Assuming a west to east ride, it has two possible starting points, either Whitehaven or Workington, and two possible ending points, Sunderland or Tynemouth, and the route is almost 140 miles long. Most people ride it from west to east, to benefit from prevailing winds. As it crosses the Pennines, there is a fair bit of climbing involved. You can basically ride it on any bike (yes, including a road bike) as there are on-road and off-road route options along the way, but I’d suggest a hybrid, gravel or touring bike, if possible. As this is a linear route, it presents logistical problems, either getting to the start, or getting back from the finish. It’s possible to combine the C2C with Hadrian’s Cycleway, to turn it into a 350 mile loop.
- King Alfred’s Way. KAW is a 220 mile route that is quite challenging in parts. Handily, it is a circular route, so as long as you complete it, getting back to the start is not an issue. The official start is in Winchester, but you are of course free to start it anywhere along the loop. Ideally, you want a gravel, or perhaps even mountain bike for the route.
- West Kernow Way. The WKW is another Cycling UK off-road route, and again is circular. As anyone who ever cycled in Cornwall will tell you, the hills are rather memorable, and this 145 mile route has over 4 200 metres of climbing. Especially if the weather is wet, be prepared for some very muddy segments. You will want a gravel bike, or mountain bike for this route.
- The Grand Union Canal. At over 140 miles long, the Grand Union Canal links London with Birmingham. It’s NOT an easy ride, and is surprisingly technical in parts. Most of the way you can stick to the towpath, but there are a few places, mostly around tunnels, where you will be diverted. Ideally, you want a gravel bike, or mountain bike, and ensure you pack your luggage in drybags! This ride is not for everyone.
- Hadrian’s Cycleway. Though it takes its name from Hadrian’s Wall, the route doesn’t actually follow the wall exactly. Instead, it meanders a bit, usually remains close to the wall, and you’ll have ample opportunity to visit arts of Hadrian’s Wall along the way. At around 170 miles long, it suffers from the same drawback as all linear routes: getting to the start , or back from the finish can be challenging, but can be combined with the C2C, to form a far bigger loop.
- The Caledonia Way. A stunning 235 mile route that will take you through breathtaking scenery. A combination of on-road and off-road cycling, be prepared for muddy segments along the way, as well as some hills, though parts of the route follow a disused railway line. You’ll want a hybrid, touring or gravel bike for this route, and do bear in mind that it’s a linear route, with the usual logistical challenges that represents.
- The Somerset Circle. Probably the best weekend cycling break you’ll have, this 100 mile route is circular, so getting back to the start is easy. Roughly half of the route is traffic free, with the remainder mostly on quiet rural lanes, all through a stunning landscape. It offers a curious mix of perfectly flat cycling, as well as a few challenging hills, with some gravel droves and a number of tunnels thrown into the mix. You will want a hybrid, touring or gravel bike for this route.
- Devon Coast To Coast. The Devon C2C route is iconic. At just shy of 100 miles, with over 70 miles traffic-free, this route is simply gorgeous. As it crosses Devon, be prepared for a few challenging climbs, but the views more than make up for that. In North Devon, a number of miles has a compacted gravel surface, which can be cycled even on a road bike (though you’ll find it a bit bumpy). In Mid-Devon, there’s a 200-odd metre stretch of bumpy single track, but aside from that, the surface varies from acceptable to decent throughout. I’ve cycled it on a road bike several times, but it is more comfortable on chunkier tyres. Like all linear routes, it does present some logistical challenges.
- Way Of The Roses. The WOTR is a stunning route that crosses Great Britain from Morecambe to Bridlington and is around 170 miles long, with some challenging climbs. Most people ride in west to east, due to prevailing winds. A hybrid, touring of gravel bike would be best, and do take care the level crossings. Again, it suffers from the logistical challenges associated with a linear route.
- Trans Pennine Trail. The TPT is a serious challenge, at almost 345 miles long, with many climbs. In some parts the weather can be an issue, depending on the time of year, as you’ll be very exposed. The route includes dragging/carrying your bike up/down stairs. Starting in Southport and ending in Hornsea, as the name suggests, it crosses the Pennines, so there will be some serious climbing to do, but equally, parts of the TPT follow canal towpaths, offering idyllic, flat cycling.
Happy adventuring and cycle touring!