The popularity of cycling has soared during lockdown and it’s easy to see why – life on two wheels is not only great for your fitness, it also wonderfully eco-friendly and gives you the chance to explore some of the UK’s most beautiful spots. Ready to grab life by the handlebars? Here, DK Eyewitness editor Rachel Laidler rounds up seven of the country’s best beginner-friendly rides, from rolling through wooded valleys in Wales to cruising along Cornwall’s stunning coast.
Cycle the Tudor Trail, Kent
This short 9.6-km (6-mile) route is a relaxing trip through the lush Kent countryside. Starting at historic Tonbridge Castle – one of England’s best examples of a motte-and-bailey fortification – the route weaves around pretty Barden Lake, known for its abundance of birdlife, before rolling along a mixture of broadleaf-lined bridleways and hedgerow-fringed country lanes. Expect to drop your gears as you cross the gurgling River Medway and climb up to Wells Place Farm – from the top you’ll be treated to bountiful views over the “Garden of England”. Eventually, you’ll reach the medieval Penshurst Place, set amid beautiful flower-filled gardens. Haven’t had your fill of history yet? Extend your ride by pedalling on another couple of kilometers to reach the spectacular Hever Castle, the childhood home of Tudor Queen Anne Boleyn.
Following an old railway line, this relatively flat route extends for 19.5 km (12 miles) through Cornwall’s picture-postcard countryside. Pedalling away from the pretty seaside town of Padstow, you’ll skirt the Camel Estuary, passing through pockets of tranquil woodland and over sheltered creeks. As you pootle, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife: everything from sleek-furred otters and jewel-bright kingfishers to fluttering bats and scampering dormice call this area home. From here, the trail passes through the leafy and vineyard-dotted Camel Valley as it heads towards the quaint town of Bodmin, before ending at Wenfordbridge, a diminutive hamlet on the edge of windswept Bodmin Moor.
Cycle the Causeway Coast Cycle Route, Northern Ireland
Breathe in the salty tang of the sea on this 37-km (23-mile) cycle route that tracks the edge of the Northern Irish coastline. Running from the tiny village of Castlerock all the way to the otherworldly Giant’s Causeway, this spectacular route follows a well-signposted and largely traffic-free path, making it a great choice for beginners. There are a handful of climbs to tackle along the way, but don’t worry: views of Northern Ireland’s dramatic coastline and the endless Atlantic Ocean more than make up for it. Plus, there are plenty of places to rest your legs, including the golden sands at Portstewart – from here you can even catch a glimpse of Scotland’s shores. The final section ends at one of the UK’s most striking natural wonders: Giant’s Causeway, a series of 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that erupt from the inky sea. The Giant’s Causeway visitor experience reopens on Friday 3 July. Make sure to visit the National Trust website to book a timed entry slot.
Tracing the old route of the Birmingham Corporation Railway, this 14.3-km (8.9-mile) trail winds its way through a landscape of rolling hills and shimmering reservoirs. Heading west from the little village of Cwmdauddwr, you’ll meander through the emerald-green valley towards Rhayader Tunnel, a Wildlife Trust Reserve that’s home to several species of bat. A little further on the valley’s four reservoirs come into view, their shores lined by lush green fields and dense woods. Stunning views of the gently undulating landscape unfold as the track climbs above Garreg Ddu Reservoir, but remember to stop and look skywards too – you might spy a graceful red kite wheeling in the air above you. End your ride at Craig Goch Dam where, if the reservoirs are full, you’ll see tumbling sheets of water cascading down the dam’s walls.
Fancy cycling through an open-air gallery? Then look no further than the art-lined Water Rail Way. Starting in the cathedral city of Lincoln, this level pathway passes through expansive fenland as it runs alongside the serene River Witham for 54 km (33 miles). Dotted along the way are 13 locally made sculptures, many engraved with the words of Lincolnshire’s most beloved poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. You can also spy carved Lincoln Red Cattle and Curly Coated pigs, both local rare breeds, as well as an eye-catching sundial and – perfect for resting tired legs – two beautifully sculpted seats. After several hours of pedaling you’ll finally reach the market town of Boston – finish your ride at St Botolph's Church, who’s famous medieval tower (nicknamed “the Stump”) dominates the town’s skyline.
Get ready for a bumpy ride! Running between the seaside towns of Scarborough and Whitby, this off-road route gets pretty rocky in places, making this definitely one for the mountain bike. Starting off from Scarborough, known for its striking ruined castle and beautiful beaches, you’ll zip through the rugged, heathen-strewn landscapes of the North York Moors National Park, catching awe-inspiring views of the Yorkshire coast as you go. At 34.6 km (21.5 miles) long, this ride will probably take a couple of hours at least, but why not pack a picnic and turn it into a day trip? There are plenty of places to pause along the way, including the secluded bay near Hayburn Wyke or tiny Robin Hood’s Bay, a picturesque fishing village surrounded by cliffs. Just before you reach the cobbled lanes of Whitby, you’ll pass over the 36.5-m- (120-ft-) high Larpool Viaduct, which gives spectacular views over the wooded banks of the River Esk.
If you’re looking for a Highland adventure, this is it. Following the last section of the epic Caledonia Way, a long-distance cycle route, this 106.8-km (66.4-mile) ride passes through some of Scotland’s most spectacular scenery. The first stretch of the route follows the Caledonian Canal, an extraordinary example of Victorian engineering, from Fort William to Fort Augustus. On the way you’ll cycle in the shadow of soaring Ben Nevis, past the striking Neptune’s Staircase – a series of eight canal locks – and alongside two dramatic lochs, Lochy and Oich. Most of this section follows the canal towpath or forested paths, so it’s largely car-free. When you get to Fort Augustus, you can either call it a day and sit by the canal scoffing well-earned fish and chips, or you can make for Inverness. Be warned: this last on-road section of the route has some steep and challenging climbs, although spectacular views of the mysterious Loch Ness, surrounded by steep-sided mountains, makes it all worthwhile.
Now isn’t the time for going places. However, as we spend the coming weeks mostly indoors, we can still dream about travel, plan future adventures and revisit ones we’ve taken before. This is exactly what we’ve asked our team to do – to dream and reflect. Here are 12 memorable trips taken by the DK Eyewitness team, featuring eclipses, safaris, cycling treks, pilgrimages, bunnies, toboggans and ancient ruins.
Just because you can’t escape to a new adventure right now doesn’t mean you should stop dreaming. There are ways to remain inspired, whether you’re surfing the internet on your phone, lounging at home, or sipping coffee at your local cafe. Being an armchair traveller is all about learning about and reflecting, and ultimately engaging with far-flung places without ever needing to leave home.