If your usual summer cycling plans involve jetting off to an iconic cycling destination in France, Spain or Italy to ride some classic climbs you may (like us) be feeling a touch frustrated so we have rounded up five great British bike rides to fulfil your need for a cycling challenge.
Land’s End to John O Groats
A classic route for UK cyclists to cover the length of the country, from its most south-westerly tip at Land’s End to its most north eastern point at John O Groats. There are several different routes to choose from, with very minor variations. The shortest route, avoiding motorways, is 890miles but for a more leisurely and scenic approach, sticking only to minor roads and cycle paths, expect to cover something in the region of 1000miles.
Thousands of cyclists, along with walkers, runner’s, classic car drivers and all other manner of charity fundraisers cover the route every year.
As the journey meanders north-eastwards, you can see a broad range of scenery and culture from your saddle, indulging in local specialities to keep up your energy levels and supping a locally brewed beer every night, if that is your tipple. Watch out for the very steep and narrow roads of the south-west as many riders get caught out by its tough start. By the time you reach the long climbs of Scotland, such as the legendary Lecht your legs will be tough enough to tackle anything! Find out more about routes and where to stay here.
If your summer should have included an epic event such as La Marmotte in France or the Maratona dles Dolomites in Italy then the Fred Whitton route will be right up your street, or rather mountain pass. The Fred Whitton Challenge consists of a 113-mile sportive around the Lake District, now a World Heritage Site, it starts at Grasmere and takes in the climbs of Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott, Wrynose and Blea Tarn passes. It was created in memory of local rider Fred Whitton, and all money from the event goes to charity. The route is on open roads so you can tackle it when you choose, but obviously without event support and marshals you will need to be well organised, self-sufficient and safety aware.
With similar distance and altitude gain to some European events the very top riders complete the event in just under six hours. This is a very tough route undoubtedly and one of the hardest one-day rides in the UK. With dramatic scenery and brutal climbing, it is a memorable day out and the sharp sting in the tail of a 30% gradient at 98 miles ensures it is a true challenge just to complete it. To find out more about the route and the event visit the Fred Whitton website here.
Etape du Dales
Another rival for the title of Britain’s hardest one day ride is the Etape du Dales. The Etape du Dales is an extremely difficult ride, covering 110 miles of Yorkshire’s finest hills and requires an excellent level of fitness. The route has been ridden in both directions and at the last event riders were faced with the northern ascents of Buttertubs and Fleet Moss, the summit of the latter coming at just 20 miles to go! The event raises money for The Rayner Foundation which supports aspiring young cyclists to live abroad to pursue a professional cycling career.
This route covers some of the climbs, such as Fleetmoss and Buttertubs, famous from professional racing so it is a guaranteed tough but enjoyable day out. With the start of the Fred Whitton just 65 miles north of the start of the Etape du Dales in Grassington there would be time in a week’s holiday to tackle both! Find out more here.
North Coast 500
The NC500 launched just five years ago but rapidly captured the attention of cyclists with thousands already completing the route. The North Coast 500, naturally follows the main roads along the coastal edges of the North Highlands of Scotland, taking in the regions of Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Easter Ross, the Black Isle and Inverness-Shire. It is used by many different travellers as the basis for a road trip to explore the North Highlands of Scotland so expect to meet motorists and walkers along the way.
The route begins and ends in Inverness at Inverness Castle which, perched on top of a hill, is the perfect starting point to the route and offers unparalleled views from its viewing tower over the capital city of the Highlands. It’s easily accessible by train and thanks to the rapid popularity of the route there are great places to eat and stay along the way, you can create your own itinerary to ride as little or as much as you like each day, we recommend taking your time and absorbing every moment of the glorious scenery. There are some great resources for planning your trip on the North Coast 500 website.
Sea to Sea (C2C) or Coast to Coast as it’s also known, is the UK’s most popular long-distance cycle route. It’s 137 miles distance is manageable by a very strong cyclist in one-day but for a more relaxed and enjoyable tour the route can be split into two, three or even four sections with ease. Usually ridden from west to east to make use of the prevailing wind and slightly easier gradients the route climbs through the Lake District and over the Pennines, so there is no shortage of stunning scenery. There are also some public artworks to watch out for, commissioned by active travel organisation Sustrans, including Tony Cragg’s ‘Terris Novalis’ and four steel cows by Sally Matthews at Consett.
Traditionally riders symbolically dip their wheels in the sea at the start and end points but we’d recommend celebrating your arrival in Tynemouth with a great big portion of fish and chips! Find out more about the route here.