20 beautiful weekend bike rides

More of us than ever are getting on our bikes. And what may have started as a desire to get fit while getting to work — the proportion of people cycling to work in the UK has increased by 300 per cent over the last couple of years, according to British cycling charity Sustrans — has become so much more.

“Over the past 20 years we’ve seen a cycling culture flourish in the UK,” says Claire Francis, head of policy and campaigns at Sustrans.

“Across the UK, people from all walks of life are getting on their bikes,” she says, “from middle-aged men competing in sportives to families taking weekend cycling trips and women commuting to work.”

Cycling gives you a chance to escape, to regain a sense of freedom. It is a precious chunk of the day where you are completely cut off from electronic devices.

And five years since the UK market research firm Mintel first coined the term, the Mamil (Middle-Aged Man in Lycra) is flourishing. According to the Office for National Statistics, there are still around twice as many men as women cycling regularly.

Ian Whittingham, CEO of the racing bike retailer Sigma Sport, says: “Road cycling is a great combination of things for the middle-aged man. It’s a fantastic way of getting fit without the injury worries associated with running, you can be competitive with your mates on hills and sprints during the ride, and can indulge yourself with all of the kit when you are off the bike.”

These 20 cycle routes will give you a chance to indulge in all the benefits of bike riding. They are taken from the National Cycle Network and are some of the most beautiful in the UK, ranging from rugged Highland mountains to tranquil lakeside paths.

The cycle routes:

1. Garden of England, Kent and Sussex

2. Drake’s Trail, Devon

3. Colliers Way, North Somerset

4. Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, Wales

5. Red Squirrel Trail, Isle of Wight

6. Burgh by Sands, Cumbria

7. Shropshire Castles Cycleway, Shropshire

8. Rutland Water, Rutland

9. Cotswold Line, Honeybourne

10. Tarka Trail, North Devon

11. High Peak to Tutbury, Derbyshire

12. Cambridge to Ely, Cambridgeshire

13. Luton and South Beds Way, Bedfordshire

14. Calder Valley Greenway, West Yorkshire

15. Windermere to Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria

16. Callander to Killin, Stirling
Driffield to Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire

18. Great Glen Way, Scottish Highlands

19. Berwick-upon-Tweed to Alnmouth, Northumberland
20. Newry Cana Towpath, Northern Ireland
1. Garden of England
Kent and Sussex
Distance: 56 miles
Difficulty: Moderate; mainly flat with a mixture of quiet lanes and off-road sections.
Start: Dover Priory train station
End: Hastings train station
The route: Starting at Dover station, join regional route 17, a quiet on-road route which joins the Garden of England cycle route outside the Dover Museum. As the route travels all the way down the Kent coast, you’ll pass the famous White Cliffs, with fantastic views across the Channel to France. After leaving Dover you can take a short detour to Samphire Hoe, a land mass created from the material left over from digging the Channel Tunnel. From here the clifftop path descends to Folkestone Harbour and Hythe, where it follows the Royal Military Canal, which was built as a supply route and line of defence in the Napoleonic Wars. You then travel inland, taking in the pretty village of St Mary in the Marsh before heading to Rye, the medieval gem of the Cinque Ports. From here you head to the historic village of Winchelsea before travelling on into Hastings on minor roads. When you reach Hastings Pier it is a short ride to Hastings train station through the quiet back streets of the town.
Points of interest: Dover, Camber and Hastings castles are all worth a visit.
Loops, links and longer rides: From Dover you can head all the way to Greenwich in London, or at Hastings you can pick up National Route 2 to Brighton.
Stay: The Ship Inn at Rye (theshipinnrye.co.uk).
Eat: The Tuscan Kitchen (tuscankitchenrye.co.uk); the Mermaid Inn (mermaidinn.com), all in Rye; in Hastings: Petit Fi (01424 272030); The Crown (thecrownhastings.co.uk).
Cycle hire: Dover White Cliff Tours (doverwhiteclifftours.com).
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/garden
2. Drake’s Trail
Distance: 47 miles
Difficulty: Moderate; a steady climb for much of the first half with a gentle descent in the final five miles to Tavistock. Tarmac path and stony trail with some short on-road sections at Clearbrook, Horrabridge and Tavistock.
Start & finish: Laira Bridge, Plymouth
Getting there & away: There is a train station in Plymouth
The route: The path undulates beside the River Plym in the opening miles, taking you through Plymbridge Woods and over the Cann Viaduct. More views and viaducts follow, with the villages of Bickleigh and Shaugh Prior visible on the hillsides and the first glimpses of Dartmoor’s open moorland. At Yelverton you start a gentle descent that leads to Magpie Viaduct and the fantastic Gem Bridge. From here you reach the edge of Tavistock via the riverside meadows. To break up the ride, spend a night in Tavistock and return to Plymouth the following day.
Points of interest: National Trust’s Saltram and Tavistock Pannier Market.
Loops, links and longer rides: Drake’s Trail is part of the Devon Coast to Coast route from Plymouth to Ilfracombe.
Stay: The Elephant’s Nest Inn, Tavistock (elephantsnest.co.uk)
Eat: The Cornish Arms, Tavistock (thecornisharmstavistock.co.uk)
Cycle hire: Plymouth Bike hire, located near the start of the route (plymouthbikehire.co.uk)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/drakes
3. Colliers Way
North Somerset
Distance: 24 miles
Difficulty: Moderate; hilly country lanes from Frome to Great Elm, flat Tarmac path from Great Elm to Radstock. A short on-road section approaching Radstock.
Start: Frome train station
End: Bradford-on-Avon train station
Getting there & away: Frome and Bradford-on-Avon train stations
The route: Rolling country lanes and some of Somerset’s prettiest villages make this a wonderful ride through the heart of the old Somerset Coalfield. Starting at Frome train station, the route will lead you through the town on a mixture of traffic-free cycle paths and some short on-road sections. Leaving the town, the route follows a wooded trail alongside the River Frome that rises and falls steeply in places. At the village of Great Elm the route joins the former Radstock to Frome railway line, now converted into a cycling route, and there are fantastic views over the Wadbury Valley. Picnic areas are scattered along the path but a mile detour to Mells, one of Somerset’s prettiest villages, is recommended. Back on the trail there are views over fields and forests, before you slice along the steep edge of the valley and on to Radstock. There’s a short on-road section of the route through Radstock town centre, and also on the way into Freshford. The traffic-free sections into Freshford follow the path of the River Avon. Continue on to Bradford-on-Avon.
Points of interest: Radstock Museum
Loops, links and longer rides: Continue from Radstock to Dundas Aqueduct using National Route 24.
Stay: Old Parsonage House (oldparsonagehouse.co.uk)
Eat: The Inn at Freshford (theinnatfreshford.co.uk); if you detour to Mells, The Talbot Inn (talbotinn.com).
Cycle hire: Bath and Dundas Canal Co, Monkton Combe (bathcanal.com, 01225 722292).
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/colliers
4. Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal
Distance: 26 miles (or 52 miles if cycling there and back)
Difficulty: Moderate; a mostly flat, traffic-free tarmac path and stony trail, which is rugged and narrow in parts.
Start: Abergavenny train station
End: Brecon
Getting there & away: There is no train station at Brecon, but a bike bus operates between Brecon and Cardiff on Sundays and bank holidays. A daily bus service runs between Brecon and Cardiff during the week (bikes can be stored in the luggage area). Alternatively, ride the route in reverse to return to Abergavenny train station.
The route: Turning right out of the train station in Abergavenny, cycle down Station Road and follow the road until it leads into Holywell Road. Upon reaching the Gavenny river you’ll pick up National Route 46, which will lead you to Llanfoist where the beautiful riverside path and canal towpath begins. Following the path alongside the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, there are breathtaking views of the surrounding hills towering above that reach 1,000ft. It’s a pleasant, flat ride to Brecon with moorhens and ducks bobbing across the water and rushes lining the path.
Points of interest: Brecon Castle and cathedral
Loops, links and longer rides At Talybont-on-Usk, there’s an opportunity to leave the canal behind and head for Talybont Reservoir, along a section of the Taff Trail.
Stay: The Coach House Brecon (coachhousebrecon.com)
Eat: Bridge Café, Brecon (bridgecafe.co.uk); The Coach House (coachhousebrecon.com)
Cycle hire: Hopyard Cycles, Abergavenny (hopyardcycles.co.uk)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/brecon
5. Red Squirrel Trail
Isle of Wight
Distance: 29 miles
Difficulty: Moderate; mostly flat with some gentle gradients. Tarmac path and stony trail with road crossings and short on-road sections.
Start & finish: High Street, Cowes
Getting there & away: Ferries leave every 60 minutes from Southampton to East Cowes. Start and end the route in Cowes, cycling to Sandown and back.
The route: Rolling hillsides, wisteria-covered tearooms, thatched cottages and traditional pubs are all quintessentially British, but the golden beaches, sapphire seas and balmy climate are more akin to the Mediterranean. Arriving by ferry, you’ll land in East Cowes and can catch the chain ferry with your bike to cross the water to reach the start of the trail. Following the edge of the marina you’ll soon reach the beginning of the trail, which follows the course of the river to Newport — a great place to stop off for an ice cream or a piece of cake. Continuing on towards Alverstone, you’ll pass woodland and marshland rich with wildlife, all part of the Alverstone Mead nature reserve. Cycle downhill into Sandown before finally reaching the sandy shore. Return to Cowes via the same route.
Points of interest: At Newchurch, the shop and restaurant at the Garlic Farm (thegarlicfarm.co.uk) is worth the short detour.
Loops, links and longer rides More experienced riders should try National Route 67, a challenging 64-mile loop of the island.
Stay: The Caledon Guesthouse, Cowes (01983 293599, the-caledon.co.uk).
Eat: The Island Bakers in Newport is an artisan bakery stocked with delicious bread, cakes and sandwiches (01983 400450,theislandbakers.com); Blue Door Café, Newport (01983 532568); the Anchor, Cowes (theanchorcowes.co.uk)
Cycle hire: Isle Cycle is in Sandown (01983 400055), and in Cowes (01983 299056, islecycle.co.uk).
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/squirrel
6. Burgh by Sands
Distance: 60 miles
Difficulty: Easy; gentle terrain with no hills — only a few steeper sections near the coast. Mainly quiet roads with traffic-free sections between Allonby and Workington.
Start: Carlisle station
End: Workington station
Getting there & away: Carlisle and Workington train stations
The route: From Carlisle station, follow National Route 7 until the River Eden, where you turn left on to National Route 72, which runs all the way to Workington. As you leave Carlisle behind you will come to Burgh by Sands, a village that lies within the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This is the end section of Hadrian’s Cycleway route, which stretches the length of Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site in the north of England. It takes you through beautiful saltmarsh and farmland and arrives at fantastic beaches. After travelling through the town of Silloth the route follows the coast down to Workington along a mix of traffic-free and on-road routes.
Points of interest: Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site.
Loops, links and longer rides: Follow the coast using National Route 72 towards Whitehaven. The route continues on to Ravenglass where there is a train station.
Stay: The Halston, Carlisle (thehalston.com)
Eat: The Greyhound Inn, Burgh by Sands (thegreyhoundinn-burgh.co.uk)
Cycle hire: The Border City Cycle Hire (bordercitycyclehire.com; 01228 808253)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/cumbria
7. Shropshire Castles Cycleway
Distance: 41 miles
Difficulty: Challenging; this is a hilly route, mainly on quiet roads but could be difficult for less experienced cyclists.
Start: Craven Arms train station
End: Shrewsbury city centre, next to the train station
Getting there & away: Shrewsbury and Craven Arms train stations
The route: This ride leads you through south Shropshire’s beautiful countryside. Leaving the train station, head left on to the A49 taking a left turn on to Long Lane. From Craven Arms the route is surrounded by miles of rolling hills covered with patchwork fields, so expect some fantastic views. Cycling along to Bishops Castle, you’ll pass traditional farms and grazing cattle, and the impressive Mellington Hall. The roads continue to wiggle through valleys and gradually climb uphill between Church Stoke and Pontesbury. It’s flatter on the approach into the historic town of Shrewsbury, where you can explore the lively street market, art and craft galleries, and a storybook castle.
Points of interest: Shrewsbury Castle, Museum and Art Gallery
Loops, links and longer rides: At Shrewsbury, by the Kingsland Bridge on the River Severn, you can pick up National Route 81 to Wellington. This is a 16-mile route that takes you alongside the River Severn and old canal.
Stay Lion and Pheasant Hotel, Shrewsbury (lionandpheasant.co.uk)
Eat: Mellington Hall Country House Hotel (mellingtonhallhotel.com)
Cycle hire: Stan’s Cycles, Shrewsbury (stanscycles.co.uk)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/shropshire
8. Rutland Water
Distance: 24 miles
Difficulty: Moderate; gently undulating with some short, steep gradients in parts
Start & finish: Oakham train station
Getting there & away: Oakham train station
The route: The ride begins in historic Oakham, which, with a market every Wednesday and Saturday, is a great place to stop off and pick up picnic supplies. The route leads you to Rutland Water, one of England’s largest man-made lakes, and skirts the edges of the reservoir for 15 miles. Roughly a third of the way around, you’ll come to Rutland Water Visitor Centre; this is a great spot for families as there’s a man-made beach and swimming area in the summer. There are steep climbs and descents along the northern shores of the water. Once you’ve passed the village of Edith Weston you’ll enter the Rutland Water Nature Reserve, which stretches across the western part of the reservoir. It’s worth stopping at one of the 31 viewing hides to try to spot some of the rare wildlife here.
Points of interest: Normanton church, Rutland Water Visitor Centre, Rutland Water Nature Reserve.
Loops, links and longer rides: Near Oakham, you can follow signs for the Hambleton Peninsula. This is a 7-mile, traffic-free ride out and around the island in the reservoir.
Stay: The Hornblower Hotel, Oakham (hornblowerhotel.co.uk)
Eat: Wildwood Kitchen in Oakham (wildwoodkitchen.co.uk)
Cycle hire: Rutland Cycling at Whitwell (01780 460705)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/rutland
9. Cotswold Line
Distance: 43 miles
Difficulty: Challenging; this route involves a number of steep climbs, mainly on quiet roads.
Start: Honeybourne train station
End: Long Hanborough train station
Getting there & away: Train stations at Honeybourne and Long Hanborough. There are also stations in Moreton-in-Marsh and Charlbury.
The route Showcasing the beautiful Cotswold scenery at its best, this route leads cyclists through quiet villages and picture-perfect countryside — much of which is part of the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Between Honeybourne and Moreton-in-Marsh the route is quite hilly and the mile-long climb out of Mickleton is the steepest on the route. From here you head to Chipping Campden, a pretty town that once housed a thriving wool merchant trade, which will give you a taste of old England. In the late spring and early summer, the landscape around the town is transformed with fields carpeted with bright red poppies standing out against the blue skies. There are a few steep climbs as you leave Draycott, and the route continues to undulate through Charlbury and Finstock. A steep climb leads to East End and its Roman villa. The route then joins the A4095 shared-use cycle path through Hanborough village, to the station.
Points of interest: Batsford Arboretum, a 55-acre arboretum and botanical garden near Batsford, is worth a detour (batsarb.co.uk).
Loops, links and longer rides From Long Hanborough station, it is possible to cycle on and connect with the West Midlands Cycle Route and cycle into Oxford. A local map would be recommended.
Stay: Seymour House in Chipping Campden (seymourhousebandb.co.uk)
Eat: Chefs Dozen in Chipping Campden (thechefsdozen.co.uk); the Ebrington Arms, Chipping Campden (theebringtonarms.co.uk).
Cycle hire: Cycle Cotswolds in Chipping Campden can deliver cycles to your starting location and then collect them at the end of the rental period (cyclecotswolds.co.uk).
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/cotswold
10. Tarka Trail
North Devon
Distance: 50 miles
Difficulty: Moderate; a steady climb to East Yarde, then a steady descent to Torrington and flat for the remainder. Tarmac path, fine gravel track and stony trail with some road crossings.
Start and finish: Barnstaple
Getting there & away: Barnstaple station
The route: This popular trail along one of the longest railway paths on the National Cycle Network crosses unspoilt north Devon countryside and follows the magical Taw-Torridge Estuary. Starting in Barnstaple, it’s three miles to Fremington where the estuary scenery is sensational. You’ll pass the seafront village of Instow with Appledore across the water. Taking you between meadows and crop fields you join the River Torridge and follow it along to Bideford station. This is a lovely place to stop for cake; Bideford Railway Heritage Centre also has a café. The path continues along the river and crosses onto the other bank just outside of the town. On the outskirts of Great Torrington you’ll cross the river twice, and be led through beautiful woodlands and valleys. It’s up to you to decide how far you want to go because you return along the same route; the route comes to an end in the small village of Meeth where you’ll find the Bull and Dragon, a charming 15th-century pub and a great spot for lunch before the return journey to Barnstaple.
Points of interest: Bideford Railway Heritage Centre
Loops, links and longer rides: From Barnstaple you can continue a couple of miles on to Braunton, where Route 27 links up with Route 278, a beautiful 7-mile ride through Georgeham that takes in Woolacombe Beach.
Stay Yarde Orchard, East Yarde, has yurts with beds and wood burners (yarde-orchard.co.uk)
Eat: The Bull and Dragon, Meeth (thebullanddragon-meeth.co.uk)
Cycle hire: Tarka Bikes, Barnstaple train station (01271 324202,tarkabikes.co.uk)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/tarka
11. High Peak to Tutbury
Distance: 52 miles
Difficulty: Challenging; a long-distance ride with a mixture of off-road and quiet on-road cycling.
Start: Whaley Bridge train station
End: Tutbury
Getting there & away: Whaley Bridge and Tutbury train stations
The route: Starting at Whaley Bridge train station, it’s a short cycle ride down to the River Goyt, which you cross to join the Pennine Cycle Way, a long-distance route which runs between Derby and Berwick-upon-Tweed. This section takes you through the Dovedale National Nature Reserve. Leaving Whaley Bridge there are several steep climbs on the route into Buxton with views across the limestone countryside of the White Peak. Buxton is a lovely spa town and it’s worth stopping off. As you leave Buxton, you’ll cycle along country roads though farmland, with many more wiggles and climbs to come, particularly into Ashbourne. Continue along the country lanes through Longford and at Etwall join National Route 549, which will lead you through the suburbs of Hilton and on into Tutbury.
Points of interest: The Pavilion Gardens in Buxton make a lovely picnic spot
Loops, links and longer rides: At Etwall the route connects with National Route 54 of the National Cycle Network, which runs from Stourport to Parsley Hay.
Stay: Dog and Partridge Hotel, Tutbury (goodnightinns.co.uk)
Eat: The Old Sun Inn, Buxton (theoldsuninnbuxton.com)
Cycle hire: You’ll need to bring your own bike on this route
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/pennines

12. Cambridge to Ely
Distance: 31 miles

Difficulty: Moderate; flat tarmac paths, gravel track and stony trail. The route contains a bridge with 12 steps that has a steep ramp to push a bike over.
Start: Cambridge
End: Ely
Getting there & away: Cambridge and Ely train stations
The route: Starting in the elegant surroundings of Cambridge and ending in the wild fens, this route is one of extremes. Begin at King’s College and head to the River Cam using National Cycle Network route 11, joining route 51 near Ditton Meadows. From here the city is quickly left behind as you enter the Cambridgeshire countryside. As you get to Bottisham, rejoin National Cycle Network route 11. Take a rest on the benches at White Fen Community Woodland near Lode with Longmeadow or a short while later alongside the steel figures of the “portrait bench” near Reach Lode. After this travel on through Burwell Fen. Towards the end of your journey you will pass through Adventurers’ Fen and Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve. Wicken village is a short ride along a quiet road after this. From Wicken there’s a short on-road section before joining a traffic-free path which follows the course of the River Great Ouse and into Ely centre.
Points of interest: Anglesey Abbey, Gardens and Mill (nationaltrust.org); there’s lots of wonderful architecture in Cambridge to explore.
Loops, links and longer rides: Continue on National Cycle Network route 11 along quiet country lanes to Downham Market and King’s Lynn.
Stay: The Old Hall, Ely (theoldhallhotelely.co.uk), or the National Trust has an area for wild camping at Wicken Fen.
Eat: Benets Café in Cambridge is great for ice cream (01223 329068); The Royal Standard, Ely (theroyalstandardely.com)
Cycle hire: City Cycle Hire, Cambridge (citycyclehire.com), or from the National Trust at Wicken Fen (nationaltrust.org.uk)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/cambridge

13. Luton & South Beds Way
Distance: 16½ miles

Difficulty: Moderate; tarmac path and gravel tracks with some road crossings. A short on-road section at Dunstable and a long on-road section between Stanbridge and Leighton Buzzard.
Start: Luton station
End: Leighton Buzzard
Getting there & away: Luton and Leighton Buzzard train stations
The route: Turn right out of Luton station and join the traffic-free path to Wardown Park. After travelling through the park, climb through the residential edges of Luton into Houghton Hall Park. More climbing follows, taking you to the edge of the white chalk hills of the Chilterns. Dunstable marks an approximate halfway point and the pretty Grove House Gardens make for a good picnic spot. Leaving Dunstable you will get on to the old Leighton Buzzard to Luton railway line where you’ll go through the stunning Sewell Cutting Nature Reserve. After the railway line the route goes on-road to Leighton Buzzard, passing through little villages, including Stanbridge with its 19th-century windmill. If you like, you can extend your ride to Milton Keynes and beyond.
Points of interest: Houghton Hall Park, Sewell Cutting Nature Reserve
Loops, links and longer rides: When you’re on the old Leighton Buzzard to Luton railway line you can take a diversion and join National Cycle Network route 574. The 3-mile, traffic-free route ends with incredible views across the Dunstable Downs.
Stay: The route passes through Stanbridge, where you can book a night in a self-catering cottage on Bluegate Farm (bluegatecottages.co.uk).
Eat: The Five Bells pub, Stanbridge (fivebellsstanbridge.co.uk)
Cycle hire: The Bike Loft, Redbourn (hubcoffeebikes.com)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/luton

14. Calder Valley Greenway
West Yorkshire
Distance: 16 miles

Difficulty: Moderate; tarmac path and stony towpath, cobbled in sections. Some short on-road sections.
Start: Halifax station
End: Walsden
Getting there & away: Halifax and Walsden train stations. There are also train stations at Hebden Bridge and Todmorden.
The route: Starting at the train station in Halifax, you have a short cycle through the town before joining the National Cycle Network near the Shay Stadium. At Phoebe Lane you’ll join the traffic-free Calder and Hebble Navigation through the densely wooded Calder Valley. Locks and arches of the imposing Copley Viaduct all feature in the opening miles of the ride, it’s recommended to stop for a breather at Sowerby Bridge, from where you’ll have a breathtaking view of Wainhouse Tower. Joining the banks of the Rochdale Canal it’s a relatively flat ride through the valley, with a route fringed by lush green meadows and rugged Pennine hillsides. When you reach Todmorden, the landscape becomes craggier, and there are a few steep climbs to Walsden.
Points of interest: Cromwell Bottom Nature Reserve between Brighouse and Elland is a great place to spot wildlife
Loops, links and longer rides: Hill-lovers should take a detour at Mytholmroyd to cycle up Cragg Vale — the longest continuous gradient in England climbing 286m over 5½ miles, which was part of the Tour de France route last year.
Stay: Holdsworth House, Halifax (holdsworthhouse.co.uk)
Eat: The Stubbing Wharf, Hebden Bridge (stubbingwharf.com)
Cycle hire: Bike and Go at Halifax, Hebden Bridge, and Todmorden train stations (bikeandgo.co.uk)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/calder

15. Windermere to Grange-over-Sands
Distance: 27 miles

Difficulty: Easy; tarmac roads and canal towpath (which can get a bit muddy in bad weather), mainly flat or rolling terrain.
Start: Windermere
End: Grange-over-Sands station
Getting there & away: Windermere and Grange-over-Sands train stations
The route: From Windermere to the Edwardian resort of Grange-over-Sands, with views across to the Arndale and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A wonderful traffic-free path takes you from Windermere and out into the stunning landscapes of the Lake District. The route remains traffic-free for a few miles, and is back on quiet roads as you head into Staveley. Follow the signs for Kendal, and you’ll pick up the route at the old canal head, which is directly below Kendal Castle. You follow the cycle path along the old canal for a couple of miles. Follow signs for National Route 6 to Lancaster until you reach Sedgwick, where the signs change to Route 70. Here you’ll pass Sizergh Castle, a National Trust property that includes a medieval house. Coming into Witherslack, avoid the busy A590 by using the parallel minor road. Take the road which tunnels under the carriageway, this will take you Meathop. Follow the route into Grange-over-Sands, past the golf course. To your left there is a footbridge to the station.
Points of interest: 12th-century Kendal Castle has great views over Kendal.
Loops, links and longer rides: At Kendal you can pick up National Route 70, which will take you to Sunderland or Whitby.
Stay: Cedar Manor, Windermere (cedarmanor.co.uk)
Eat: The Strickland Arms, Sizergh (ainscoughs.co.uk); Cedar Manor, Windermere (cedarmanor.co.uk)
Cycle hire: Country Lanes — Lake District Cycle Hire Centre (countrylaneslakedistrict.co.uk)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/windermere

16. Callander to Killin
Distance: 44 miles

Difficulty: Challenging; mixed surfaces and some steep climbs
Start & finish: Callander town centre
Getting there & away: There is no train station in Killin, so this is a there-and-back route. There are regular buses to Falkirk (where there is a train station) from Callander thoughout the week and on Saturdays.
The route: From the pretty town of Callander, you head north, following the River Garbh Uisge through the forest of Strathyre and past the Falls of Leny. You then cycle along the shores of Loch Lubnaig where, half way along, there is a short section of zigzag slopes and rough surfaces. After leaving the loch, you can take a break at Strathyre. As well as shops and restaurants, there’s a Forest Centre here with a picnic area. It is then three miles along a minor road to the village of Balquhidder, where you can visit Scottish folk hero Rob Roy’s grave. From here you head to Kingshouse and then through the spectacular Glen Ogle. You cross the A85 at the top of Glen Ogle and the final descent is through the Acharn Forest to Killin, where you can rest at the Falls of Dochart, surrounded by magnificent scenery. Return the same way to Callander.
Points of interest: The impressive Falls of Leny are a great spot for a picnic.
Loops, links and longer rides: At Killin you can join National Route 7, which links Sunderland and Inverness.
Stay: Poppie’s Hotel, Callander (poppieshotel.com)
Eat: Falls of Dochart Inn, Killin (fallsofdochartinn.co.uk); Callander Meadows, Callander (callandermeadows.co.uk)
Cycle hire: Wheels Cycling Centre, Callander (wheelscyclingcentre.com)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/callander

17. Driffield to Bridlington
East Riding of Yorkshire
Distance: 31 miles

Difficulty: Moderate; mainly on lanes, with rolling terrain through the wolds
Start: Driffield station
End: Bridlington station
Getting there & away: Driffield and Bridlington train stations
The route: Exit Driffield station, turn left along River Head, then left into Wansford Road, following signs for Way of the Roses and you join country lanes out of Driffield. The lanes gently roll through the pretty villages of Nafferton and Harpham. Just out of the village of Burton Agnes, a gate on the right marked “private” is the cyclist’s entrance to Burton Agnes Hall. As you cycle on to Bridlington you’ll be welcomed by the smell of the sea — follow the Way of the Roses signs to Bridlington promenade and harbour, a traditional working harbour which also hosts an excellent sea food festival in the summer (July 11 this year). Hop on a train at Bridlington station or, if you’re feeling energetic, extend the ride southwards along Bridlington’s North Promenade, around the harbour on to South Promenade or northwards to Bempton village taking in clifftop Sewerby Hall & Gardens.
Points of interest: Elizabethan stately home Burton Agnes Hall; RSPB Bempton Cliffs is a good spot for wildlife
Loops, links and longer rides: This route forms part of the Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Route, a long-distance, 146-mile circular route from Beverley to Market Weighton and Pocklington, as far north as Malton, across to Bridlington in the east and then back through Driffield. Beverley and Malton, both with train stations, make good start points.
Stay: Marton Grange Country House, Bridlington (martongrange.co.uk)
Eat: The Courtyard Café at Burton Agnes Hall (burtonagnes.com); St Quintin Arms, Harpham (stquintinarms.co.uk)
Cycle hire: Bell’s Cycles, Driffield (01377 253 070, closed on Mondays)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/driffield

18. Great Glen Way
Scottish Highlands
Distance: 66 miles

Difficulty: Challenging; fine gravel canal towpath, tarmac path and forest roads alongside Loch Lochy, where there are some steep gradients.
Start & end: Fort William train station
Getting there & away: There is a train station in Fort William but not in Fort Augustus, so you will need to cycle the return journey from Fort Augustus (or, alternatively, continue on The Caledonia Way for 32 miles to Inverness station, along the south side of Loch Ness).
The route: Breathtaking views of mountains and lochs provide a stunning backdrop for this ride through the Highlands. Starting at Fort William train station, follow signs to Corpach through the residential suburbs. Crossing the River Lochy, you’ll be able to spot the Old Inverlochy Castle before joining the towpath to Banavie. A highlight of the ride is the climb up Neptune’s Staircase, the longest staircase lock in Britain, on the Caledonian Canal. From the top of the lock there’s a stunning view of Ben Nevis if you’re fortunate enough to be there on a sunny day. The path then follows the towpath alongside the western shore of Loch Lochy, where there are a few challenging climbs. From Laggan, it’s a pleasant ride alongside the towpath which, after a few miles, links in to a four-mile path along a former railway line. Approaching Fort Augustus, you’ll ride past another series of lochs, which lead you to the edges of Loch Ness.
Points of interest: Visit the Ben Nevis Distillery in Fort William to pick up some top-quality whisky (bennevisdistillery.com).
Loops, links and longer rides: National Route 78 of the National Cycle
Network currently runs from Campbeltown to Fort William. By summer 2015 the route should extend to Inverness.
Stay: Inch Hotel, Loch Ness (inchhotel.com)
Eat: Take a picnic to eat on the banks of Loch Ness, or try the Loch Ness Boathouse (lochnessboathouse.co.uk).
Cycle hire: Nevis Cycles, Fort William (neviscycles.com)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/glen

19. Berwick-upon-Tweed to Alnmouth
Distance: 48½ miles

Difficulty: Moderate; a mixture of on and off-road paths but no hills. The section at Spittal is exposed and can be windy.
Start: Berwick-upon-Tweed
End: Alnmouth
Getting there & away: Berwick-upon-Tweed and Alnmouth train stations
The route: Berwick-upon-Tweed is a fantastic, historic town worth exploring. From the train station follow signs for National Route 1 which take you through the town and out to the quayside. Using the old bridge across the River Tweed you travel along Dock Road through Spittal — here you pick up the coastal path along the cliffs to Cheswick. Travel past the golf course and out towards Beachcomber House and on to a stony path to the causeway road which will take you to Holy Island. The area is a National Nature Reserve, with grey seals and a wide variety of migratory birds. From the island the route heads back inland behind Brunton airfield, but then gradually back out again to the coast with a lovely traffic-free section taking you behind Dunstanburgh Castle. You’ll stay on the coast path from here all the way down to Alnmouth.
Points of interest: There are lots of fantastic castles to visit including Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh Castle.
Loops, links and longer rides: It’s a beautiful 3-mile ride out to Holy Island, which can only be reached via a causeway. Check the local tide tables before setting off.
Stay: The Queen’s Head, Berwick-upon-Tweed (queensheadberwick.co.uk)
Eat: If you go to Holy Island, try The Ship Inn (theshipinn-holyisland.co.uk), otherwise The Jolly Fisherman in Craster has wonderful seafood (thejollyfishermancraster.co.uk).
Cycle hire: Wilson’s Cycles (Bridge Street), Berwick-upon-Tweed (01289 331476)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/berwick

20. Newry Canal Towpath
Northern Ireland
Distance: 20 miles

Difficulty: Easy; the route is flat and mostly traffic-free, occasionally using quiet, minor roads.
Start: Portadown
End; Newry train station
Getting there & away: Portadown and Newry train stations
The route: This cycle route from the Bann Bridge in Portadown to the Town Hall in Newry is a 20-mile trip on part of route 9 of the National Cycle Network. The route follows the towpath on the western bank of the Newry Canal. Starting at the station in Portadown, cycle alongside the Portadown People’s Park until you reach the River Bann, from where you can join the Newry Canal towpath. The canal leads you through the town’s quiet suburbs and into the lush green countryside; the canal banks are bright with the colour of daisies and buttercups in the summer. You’ll continue cycling along the path for the next 18 miles, until you reach the outskirts of Newry. Keep following the path until you reach the town centre.
Points of interest: The Craigmore Railway Viaduct, Newry Cathedral.
Loops, links and longer rides: From Scarva you can pick up the National Route 91 which runs west from Portadown to Tynan, via Armagh. It also joins the Kingfisher Trail, a figure-of-eight route based around Enniskillen. Mostly on peaceful country lanes, the trail skirts the edge of Lough Erne, where you can see local flora and fauna including wading birds and wildflowers.
Stay: Cherryville House, Portadown (cherryvillehouse.co.uk)
Eat: Rice’s Hotel Restaurant (riceshotel.com)
Cycle hire Craigavon Watersports Centre (craigavonactivity.org, 028 3834 2669)
Online map: sustrans.org.uk/newry