It's National Bike Week next week, and to celebrate we thought we'd get out our wheels and find some of the best UK scenic routes for cyclists who don't spend every waking hour in lycra – in other words, circular affairs, not too long, that take in lots of nice scenery but not too many hills and hopefully pass a couple of pubs along the way. Naturally we asked an expert to tell us about his secret faves, in this case Matt Carroll, author of Escape Routes, a hand-picked selection of stunning cycle rides around England (Punk Publishing, £16.95).
Near to London
Berkhamsted to Aldbury Hertfordshire 15 miles
It's only half an hour by train from London Euston, yet 'Berko' is the gateway to untold biking riches, following the tow-path along the canal as far as Aldbury, where you can break for refreshments at the picturesque Greyhound Inn before moving on to take tea at the Alford Arms in Frithsden. Sitting here in the sunshine on a midweek afternoon, life doesn’t get much better: even the climb out of the village feels like a doddle after this.
Hills and Water
Along Lake Windermere Cumbria 15 miles
This scenic ride begins at the bottom end of Lake Windermere outside the Knoll B&B, taking you along the lake to High Stott Mill and then inland along some impossibly small lanes to Far Sawrey, where you can tuck into shoulder of lamb in the Tower Bank Arms and peek into Beatrix Potter’s cottage. Then it’s off up to Hawkshead and back through Graythwaite to the lake. Joyous cycling in wonderful countryside.
Pubs and Food
Tetbury to Sherston Gloucestershire 13 miles
The great thing about biking is that you can eat and drink as much as you like. This ride is brilliant for pubs, with a first stop at Shipton Moyne and the wonderfully named Cat & Custard Pot, where you can have a pint and watch the horses clip clop by from the nearby stables. Back in the saddle and it’s only 4 miles before you reach the Rattlebone Inn, where they serve sumptuous sausage and mash, before finishing up at the excellent Hare & Hounds Hotel for tea and their rather delicious lemon drizzle cake. Food and bike heaven.
Seaside and Stately Homes
Wells-next-the-Sea to Wighton Norfolk 14 miles
A slightly longer ride, this one, but nice and easy. Starting off at the excellent Crown in Wells-next-the-Sea, you pick up the coastal path at Holkham Beach, where you edge between the shady pines before the path heads inland to Holkham Hall. You can stop off here for a touch of culture if that's what you crave, or continue across the fields to the excellent Carpenter’s Arms in Wighton, where a pint of ale and some crayfish tails await in what is one of the best local boozers for miles around.
Hilltops and Views
High Keeney Fell to Allendale Northumberland 9 miles
It’s not every day – in Britain at any rate – that you get to see 50-odd miles of uninterrupted countryside in one fell swoop. But that’s the view that greets you on High Keenley Fell, gazing across the north Pennines as far as the Scottish border. If you can tear yourself away, the ride from here to Allendale is relatively straightforward, and it feels like you're crossing the roof of England. Freewheeling into the village, you can stop to catch your breath at the tearooms here before heading back up the hill via a different, uphill route to savour the views once again. Even if you end up getting off and pushing, the views are worth the huffing and puffing...