The Mail on Sunday’s Neil Simpson picks 12 of the best British cycling breaks
Cruising on two wheels down country lanes, along coastal paths and over forest tracks will get you to vistas and idyllic picnic spots that few other holidaymakers reach. But you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to enjoy a cycling holiday in the UK, as there are a wealth of companies that specialise in making sure everything goes at your pace, however leisurely that may be.
They will provide top-quality bikes – including e-bikes which have an electric motor to give you a boost when hills are looming or the going gets tough – and, once you’ve chosen an area, will set out a route that showcases its highlights as well as matches your fitness level. Accommodation is then booked in hotels or B&Bs along the route. For those who don’t travel light, you’ll be relieved to know your suitcases are not strapped on your back – they are transported to that day’s destination, so all you have to do is concentrate on getting there.
With guided bike holidays, you join a group of about 16 people and a guide who runs the show and takes charge if you have problems en route, or even just a puncture. A driver in a support vehicle looks after the luggage and, if you falter, may even be able to give you a sneaky lift.
With self-guided holidays, you are provided with detailed route maps to follow. Taxis take luggage to your next hotel each day and you are given a phone number to call in an emergency. Beyond that, bike holidays in the UK can be as varied as the landscapes they pass through. Some suit families, including first-time riders. Some are perfect if you want luxury and a spa treatment each night. Others are pitched at serious riders wanting to raise their fitness levels and earn bragging rights, such as by completing an epic coast-to-coast route.
Here are 12 of the best British cycling breaks.
Roamin’ along Hadrian’s Wall
Hop on the saddle at the Solway Firth and head towards Carlisle as you pedal roughly parallel to Hadrian’s Wall (pictured)
This coast-to-coast adventure takes you almost 100 miles in four glorious days of cycling. Hop on the saddle at the Solway Firth and head towards Carlisle as you pedal roughly parallel to the old Roman wall. Choose stops at Carlisle Castle, or see where 1,000 soldiers once lived at Housesteads and Vindolanda Roman forts.
You pass Sycamore Gap, where what’s said to be the most photographed tree in the country stands starkly against empty skies. End the trip with a burst of sea air as you reach the crescent-shaped beach and the ruined priory and castle in Tynemouth.
From £545pp for four nights (explore.co.uk).
A picture-perfect Cotswolds meander
Take an enchanting (and relatively flat) six-day, self-guided ride that meanders through farmland, lavender fields and some of this country’s most picture-perfect villages.
Distances range from 15 to 25 miles a day so you can set your own pace as you pedal past the honey-coloured stone houses and thatched cottages of Bourton-on-the-water, Burford, the old market town of Chipping Campden and the ancient Saxon capital of Winchcombe. Staying in well-chosen B&Bs, take time to explore the independent shops of Moreton-in-Marsh and visit Sudeley Castle, the Tudor jewel of a house where Henry VIII’s sixth wife Katherine Parr lies in a marble tomb in the chapel.
From £969pp for five nights (exodus.co.uk or headwater.com).
Queen Victoria’s Isle of Wight
Ride of your life: Cyclists cruising quiet roads on the Isle of Wight
Fuel up with a lunch of fish and chips in the seaside town of Ryde before heading around the island where sightseeing complements the cycling. Tour Osborne House, beloved holiday home of Queen Victoria where you can wander the immaculate walled garden and see the private beach with the view that her husband, Prince Albert, said reminded him of the Bay of Naples.
On this trip you’ll stay in gems such as the 16th Century Bugle Coaching Inn, with great food. Add extra miles by following The Tennyson Trail on the third day, or take a short cut to save your legs. End as you began with delicious fresh crab and lobster in pretty Bembridge.
From £470pp for four nights (responsibletravel.co.uk).
Whisky and the Western Isles
Mix cycling with island-hopping and enjoy a breathtaking week fully immersed in western Scotland’s most stunning scenery.
After a transfer from Glasgow, ride across the Isle of Arran, passing standing stones, caves, castles and crags. Winding roads and ferries take you to Isla (look out for dolphins, minke whales and basking sharks). Tour an RSPB sanctuary before heading along ‘the whisky coast’, then make for Jura and yet more white-sand beaches. A fast boat ride back to Glasgow takes you past the Corryvreckan Whirlpool, one of the world’s biggest.
From £1,995pp for six nights (wildernessscotland.com).
Relaxation and ruins in Sussex
Pass the ruined Norman remains of Bramber Castle, take afternoon tea in the cathedral city of Chichester and follow nearly 1,000 years of history at Arundel Castle (pictured)
Luxury is what it’s all about here, with wine tastings at two beautiful vineyards and rooms in spa hotels where tip-top treatments will iron out aching muscles. The route is mainly along peaceful country lanes and a network of riverside and coastal paths through the South Downs National Park.
Pass the ruined Norman remains of Bramber Castle, take afternoon tea in the cathedral city of Chichester and follow nearly 1,000 years of history at Arundel Castle. The Spread Eagle, one of the oldest coaching inns in the country and now a glorious hotel, is on the schedule. Three-course dinners are part of the package on most nights.
From £1,315pp for five nights (cycling-for-softies.co.uk or bspoketours.com).
The Lake District for beginners
Pit stop: The riverside 13th Century Brougham Castle, above, makes a perfect picnic backdrop
Any nervous cyclists in the family? A short and very relaxed ‘bike skills’ trip in Cumbria could be the perfect mini-break to boost confidence while taking in wonderful sights. The friendly bike guides in Penrith will get everyone settled in their saddles and are on hand every day during the ride. You’ll follow bike paths and minor roads, stopping in idyllic villages such as Greystoke. The riverside 13th Century Brougham Castle makes a perfect picnic backdrop.
Then, after lunch you’ll pass Neolithic earthworks and what is said to be King Arthur’s jousting area. Fancy an ice cream? Pedal to Abbot Lodge, a working dairy for a delicious afternoon treat.
From £325pp for two nights with discounts for children (skedaddle.com).
Fish, freewheeling and top food in Cornwall
All the ingredients for a blissful break are on offer as you ride the Cornish Way and the Camel Trail.
This week-long trip takes you across the moors from Bodmin to the fishing village of Mevagissey, then freewheel on to Truro, trendy Newquay and the foodie hub of Padstow. Daily rides are short – averaging 18 miles – so there’s plenty of time to stop off at the Eden Project, the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the National Trust’s Trelissick Garden.
From £565pp for six nights (macsadventure.com).
A New Peak District adventure every day
Pictured is the Ladybower Reservoir, one of the country’s biggest man-made lakes, in the Peak District National Park
If you don’t fancy sleeping in a different bed each night, this trip could be for you.
The Derbyshire village of Castleton is your base and you head out on different routes each day, which gives you time to try the area’s best attractions. These include Speedwell Cavern, an ancient cave and lead mine where boats take you across an underground lake known as the Bottomless Pit, and the epic vistas of Ladybower Reservoir, one of the country’s biggest man-made lakes.
From £520pp for three nights (intrepidtravel.com).
Titanic tour of Northern Ireland
Torn between cycling and the sights? Do both on this cleverly arranged three-day trip. Ride out of Belfast along the Comber Greenway, a seven-mile traffic-free route to the birthplace of Thomas Andrews, the Titanic designer who went down with his ship in 1912.
On riding days you pass the fairytale Killyleagh Castle, tuck into pub lunches in fishing towns, visit distilleries and have a Game Of Thrones photo-stop where filming took place at Scrabo Tower. There’s also an open-top bus tour of Belfast and a day trip to Giant’s Causeway.
From £750pp for six nights (bedandbikenorthernireland.com).
Coast-to-coast thrills in Wales
Pedal power: Combine cycling and stunning scenery in the Nantlle Valley in North Wales
This lesser-known coast-to-coast route departs from Chepstow and takes in the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia. The scenery is magnificent, but the long weekend is more about cycling than sightseeing. Serious fitness is needed, with steep climbs and thrilling descents, but there’s back-up from the ‘magic van’ that follows the group.
From £575pp for four nights (pedalbritain.com).
Norfolk and its nice, flat Broads
Head to Norfolk and along with a flat landscape, there’s Marriott’s Way to coast down – a traffic-free former railway line. This week-long route starts in the charming market town of Thetford, then heads out through ‘the beautiful Brecks’, one of the driest parts of Britain. Pass moated Oxburgh Hall, the grand yet romantic Tudor house run by the National Trust, to the highest point of Norfolk – an easy climb to little more than 300ft above sea level – and visit places such as Holkham Bay and Wells-next-the-Sea.
From £872pp for seven nights (cyclebreaks.com).
The long way to John O’Groats
Serious fitness is needed to tackle the ultimate bike ride, which takes you over 1,000 miles to John O’Groats (above)
The ultimate bike ride takes you over 1,000 miles from Cornwall to Caithness. Start with Cornish pasties and end with haggis, and much else between. Most routes dip into Wales, and several specialist travel companies offer small-group, fully supported trips, normally ranging from 14 to 21 days in the saddle. Firms such as discoveradventure.com can help if you want to raise money for charity as you ride.
From £2,325pp for a 15-night tour (skedaddle.com).