8 Beautiful Cycle Routes That Show The Best Of British Scenery

With UK holidays back on the cards – it's time to dust off that cycle helmet and enjoy the great outdoors.
Peter Cade via Getty Images

Cycling has boomed over the past year, as more people opted for two wheels to get around – the Covid-friendly (not to mention, planet-friendly) transport solution.

Bike sales in April and June last year soared by 63% year-on-year, according to Bicycle Association market data. And in London, the number of cyclists grew by nearly 120% as people turned their backs on Tube and bus travel.

With UK holidays back on the cards and a little more freedom to explore further from your home, what better time to dust off your helmet and try out a new route on that bike of yours?

We asked the cycling pros from British Cycling and Cycling UK for their recommendations of Britain’s most beautiful routes – and they didn’t disappoint.

1. Ambleside, Lake District

Tommy Morrisroe, lead programmes officer for communities and travel at British Cycling, recommends avoiding the tourist hotspots on the opposite shore of Lake Windermere with this 17.5-mile route, which starts at Miller Bridge pay and display car park on Rothay Road, Ambleside.

The route provides the perfect opportunity to explore the beautiful Lake District National Park by bike, taking in local landmarks including Wray Castle and the quaint village of Hawkshead. There are a number of modest climbs offering great views across the lake and Esthwaite Water, too.

2. Whinlatter forest

As England’s only true mountain forest, Whinlatter offers amazing views of Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite Lake, and the imposing Skiddaw and Helvellyn mountain ranges. The forest boasts three cycling trails and the opportunity to spot rare wildlife during your climb.

“The red Altura run is shaped like a big figure of eight, so there’s the option to complete half and then nip to the visitor centre for a cheeky piece of cake before completing the second half,” says Morrisroe. “The blue route is just challenging enough to let a beginner feel a sense of achievement.”

3. North Downs Way, Surrey

For more gorgeous greenery, check out North Downs Way, suggests Rob Kingston from Cycling UK. In 2018, Cycling UK launched a ridable route there, with bike-friendly alternatives to the stretches of footpath that are off-limits to two wheels. It stretches for 150 miles, but you can break the route down into manageable chunks.

“The 50-mile section from Farnham to Oxted is a glorious ride through Britain’s leafiest county, passing picture-perfect village greens, rolling pastures and sun-dappled forests,” says Kingston. “Stop off for refreshments at Denbies vineyard – and perhaps buy a bottle to slip in your saddlebag for later – before tackling Box Hill, which featured in the London 2012 Olympic race but is all the sweeter for being tackled at a leisurely pace off road.”

4. Cannon Hill Extreme, Birmingham

If you’re looking for something not too far from the city, you can expect plenty of lovely scenery along the leafy lanes of the Cannon Hill Extreme route, which starts and finishes at Cannon Hill Park, just off Edgbaston Road in Birmingham.

Don’t be put off by the title, says Morrisroe. “The climbs aren’t as severe as it suggests and there are plenty of flatter sections in between them. For the more experienced riders, there are great hairpin bends to hone your technique on, and the 31-mile distance makes it an ideal route if you’re training for a longer ride.

“Once out of the city, the leafy lanes and complete tree canopy make the miles go by effortlessly, you’ll have to try not to stop to take in the beautiful scenery! Encountering wide roads, narrow roads, long straights, hairpin bends and sharp climbs with fun descents, this is a perfect challenging route.”

5. Cape Wrath, Scotland

If you’re looking for a challenge, Cycling UK’s Rob Kingston recommends The Great North Trail, an 800-mile epic stretching from the Peak District to the northern tip of Scotland, which is perfect for experienced riders. “There’s a choice of two finishing points, John o’Groats and Cape Wrath, and it doesn’t get more remote than the final push from Durness to the latter,” he says.

“No tourist tat and camera-happy throngs here, just wind-whipped moorland, wave-battered cliffs and a solitary lighthouse.”

This route will require some organising if you cycle it in its entirety (alternatively, you could just opt to cycle a small part of it). You’ll need to check the ferry across to the peninsula is running and that the firing range is not in use.

“Make it to the end and you will qualify for membership of an exclusive club: the Cape Wrath Fellowship, set up in 1949,” says Kingston. “Don’t forget to snap a selfie with your bike and then send it to Cycling UK for your certificate.”

6. Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire

For something a little shorter, try Cycling UK’s newest off-road route. King Alfred’s Way is a 220-mile loop through southern England, but Kingston suggests an option for a day ride is a 37-mile route from Salisbury to Amesbury.

“Starting in the shadow of Salisbury Cathedral, with the tallest spire in the land, the route passes the ancient hill fort of Old Sarum and the mysterious circle of Stonehenge, via the wild landscapes of Salisbury Plain – protected by its status as a military training area (so watch out for red flags),” he says.

“The finishing line is Avebury, less famous than Stonehenge but the largest stone circle in the world.”

7. Red Squirrel Trail, Isle of Wight

Dubbed “heaven for cycling”, the Isle of Wight boasts quiet roads, an abundance of off-road tracks and pretty nice weather to boot. The Red Squirrel trail runs along old railway lines down the centre of the island for 23 miles, linking Cowes, Newport, Sandown, Shanklin and Wroxall.

“Expect a scenic mix from the yachtie bustle of Cowes to the sculptures of the Troll Trail at Merstone – plus wildflowers, dragonflies, birds galore and perhaps even red squirrels, which have largely been pushed out of the mainland by greys,” says Kingston.

For the more hardened cyclist, try the 65-mile Sustrans Route 67, which circumnavigates the island.

8. Otterspool Promenade, Liverpool

Morrisroe recommends a cycle from Otterspool Promenade to Sefton Park – a scenic ride through some of south Liverpool’s loveliest places.

“The ride begins at Otterspool Promenade where you will see some of the finest sights the city has to offer: the River Mersey looks spectacular on a sunny day and you will see plenty of sailing boats and kites,” says Morrisroe. “You will take a ride through the Festival Gardens which boasts the beautiful Oriental Gardens and lake, cycling through Sefton Park past the boating lake which is full of swans and ducks.”

From there, you basically loop back to Otterspool Park – at which point, it’ll be time for a picnic by the river.