Staycation inspiration: England
With its lockdowns and travel restrictions, 2020 will long be remembered as the year of the staycation. And who knows? Perhaps 2021 will follow suit? While we may not be allowed to ride our bikes abroad where we’d like next year, there are benefits to staying in England.
Granted, the weather doesn’t always play ball, but you can’t deny that our countryside offers some astoundingly beautiful biking opportunities, whether you choose to stay on the road or venture off it. There’s the added bonus that, by travelling in England, you’re cutting down enormously on your carbon footprint and saving yourself money in the process.
Of course, domestic travel restrictions are as tough to predict as international ones. Next year we may still be cycling in groups of six. Whatever the rules, there are countless routes for roadies, touring cyclists, gravel bikers and mountain bikers to enjoy, whatever their level of expertise and fitness. Here are some suggestions for all types of trails in England.
The Pennine Bridleway (southern section) 130km/81 miles
Tackle the Pennine Bridleway and you’ll soon see why they call the Pennines the “backbone of Britain”. This trail, on a combination of minor roads, gravel tracks and stone paving, runs 205 miles from Derbyshire to Cumbria across open
moorland, river valleys and the beautiful countryside of both the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks. It also forms part of Cycling UK’s Great North Trail, so you could keep going all the way to Cape Wrath or John o’ Groats!
Following the route of centuries-old droveways and packhorse trails, it has been modernised with equestrians and mountain bikers in mind. Although it traces a different route from the Pennine Way hiking trail, it runs broadly parallel. With many gates and road crossings to negotiate, it is mostly well waymarked.
The bridleway owes its existence to a keen horse rider called Mary Towneley, after whom one section looping off the main trail has been named. In 1986, Mary rode 250 miles from Northumberland to Derbyshire to highlight the poor state of Britain’s bridleways.
Peak District trails
While the entire 205 miles of the Pennine Bridleway is too demanding to complete in a weekend (unless you’re superhuman), the southern section – from Middleton Top to Hebden Bridge, not far from the start of the Mary Towneley Loop – is a great and still fairly demanding taster. Start at Middelton Top visitor centre, near Wirksworth, and follow the High Peak Trail along a disused railway.
Soon you’ll find yourself in the rolling hills of the Peak District National Park, and on an old packhorse road that connects Tideswell to Hayfield. Next you skirt the eastern edge of Greater Manchester, and then you head northwest across
moorland and past several reservoirs to Hillingworth Lake. Just north of here is the start of the Mary Towneley Loop, and beyond that Hebden Bridge.
Heather Procter is the Pennine National Trails partnership manager. She describes what off-road bikers can expect: “The most southerly section of the trail between Middleton Top and Parsley Hay follows the High Peak Trail, a reasonably level track along disused railway lines. This section offers views over surrounding White Peak countryside, and glimpses of the industrial heritage of the railways. Parsley Hay through to Peak Forest gives riders a great feel for the White Peak, traversing the limestone plateau with rolling pastures, stone walls, and steep wooded dales.
“The limestone grasslands of the area, including the nature reserve at Chee Dale, are full of wildlife in the summer. Peak Forest to Hayfield signals the move into the Dark Peak, on the millstone grit and around the edges of blanket bogs and
heather moorland. Hayfield to Uppermill provides great views over the surrounding landscapes, and a first glimpse of the reservoirs which are to become familiar. Uppermill to Summit is characterised by long climbs and extraordinary contrasts between the bleak, remote moorland of the Pennine edge and the roads and towns of the South Pennines.”
Tamsin Trail 11.7km/7.3 miles
Richmond Park in south west London is best known as a busy roadie hangout. However, for beginners and youngsters the off-road Tamsin Trail, around the park perimeter, is perfect. This wide, well-maintained gravel track loops for 7.3 miles, through trees, copses of bracken and the odd herd of deer. There are two short but steep climbs. There’s easy access from railway stations, including Richmond, Norbiton, North Sheen and Mortlake.
Peddars Way & Norfolk Coast Cycleway 134km/83 miles
These two routes link up to offer an 83-mile easy-going tour of Norfolk on a mixture of off-road and on-road surfaces. Start near Thetford and follow the flat-as-a-pancake Peddars Way (an old Roman road) for 46 miles to Hunstanton on a combination of dirt paths, gravel tracks, forest trails and short tarmac sections. Then take the Norfolk Coast Cycleway, a 37-mile chain of quiet public roads from Hunstanton to Sheringham. There are stations at both Thetford and Sheringham.