Cycling in Northamptonshire
It may not be brimming with bucket-list must-sees, but rural Northamptonshire is a quietly rewarding county to tour, with many attractive villages such as Brixworth, thatchy Ashby St Ledgers, Naseby (famous for the 1645 battle) and Stoke Bruerne, home to a Canal Museum.
The highlight route is the Brampton Valley Way, part of NCN6, a well-surfaced railtrail running 16 miles north from Northampton to Market Harborough. On-road, NCN50 runs through the county through Daventry towards Leicester.
Everyday cyclists in Northampton itself benefit from the ‘Norbital’ (aka Route 539), an 18-mile circular cycle route around its edges. It connects residential areas with areas of employment and education such as the University, Brackmills and Moulton Park. As with other urban orbitals (York’s for instance) it is also a good way of exploring parts of town new to you. Further up the Nene, Oundle, east of Corby, is a fine looking town to cycle round. North of Corby you can cycle under the remarkable 82-arch Welland Viaduct.
In the north of the county, lovely Fineshade Wood has a 5-mile Forestry Commission cycle rail suitable for families, with a 7-mile mountain bike trial for off-road fans. More trails great for children include the ones in Brixworth Country Park, overlooking Pitsford Water, and Stanwick Lakes with its 4-mile railtrail (NCN71) between Irthlingborough and Thrapston.
The Grand Union Canal cuts through Northamptonshire, and is in principle mountain-bikeable from London to Birmingham; but it makes a long dull journey, often bumpy or muddy, and many stretches are not intended for cycling.
Cycling groups and clubs in Northamptonshire
CTC Northampton (Northampton)
Mountain biking and off-road rides, leisure and touring rides and campaigning
The local group of Cycling UK covering the area of Kettering, Corby and East Northants
Wakerley Wheelers (Duddington, Northamptonshire)
MTB club offering riding, help and advice to all
Easy Rider Cycle Club (Northampton)
Treadscycle Club (Northampton)
Barclays Cyclists (Northampton)
Addington Cycling (Little/Great Addington)
For cyclists of any ability from Great and Little Addington
A5 Rangers Cycling Club (Towcester)
Cyclone Mountain Bike Club (Northampton)
Umbrella Cycle Recycle (Northampton)
Gorilla Firm Riders (Northamptonshire)
Greton Charity Sportive (Northamptonshire)
What to take with you on your ride
The only thing you really need for cycling is a bike. And maybe a phone, and credit card: in Britain you’re only a call away from any service you might need.
But unless money is no object, it’s wise to take a few things with you on a day ride. A saddlebag, panniers or bikepacking bags are best for carrying stuff. A front basket is second best. A rucksack is third best. Your sweaty back will soon tell you why.
Cycling short distances in jeans and t-shirt is fine, but on a long or strenuous ride – over ten miles say, or in hills – those jeans will rub and the t-shirt will get damp and clingy. Shorts or, yes, lycra leggings and padded shorts will be much comfier, and merino or polyester cycling tops wick away the sweat, keeping you dry and comfy. (They don’t have to be lurid colours.)
If rain’s in the air, pack a rainproof top. If it might turn chilly, take a fleece or warm top. But the thing you’re most likely to forget is the sunblock.
It’s remarkable how often you enjoy being out on the bike so much that you suddenly realise it’s getting dark. So take lights (which are legally required at night). They’re price of a sandwich, take no space, are easy to put on thanks to tool-free plastic clips, and the batteries last for ever.
Take a puncture repair kit (with tyre levers) and pump. Make sure it fits your valves, which will be either ‘Presta’ or ‘Schraeder’ – realising they don’t match is a very common roadside discovery! Carrying a spare inner tube (make sure it matches your tyre size) makes puncture repair much easier: mend the old one back at home. If you do get in trouble, some kindly passing cyclist will probably stop to help.
Using a helmet is a personal choice – they’re not legally required.
Cycling makes you thirsty, so take lots of water. Long-distance riders talk about ‘the bonk’ – a sudden loss of energy rendering you almost stationary. It’s miraculously and instantly cured by eating something sweet. On short rides you’re unlikely to run out of energy, but just in case, take a snack like flapjack, banana, chocolate or jelly babies.
Taking a packed lunch or picnic will save you money, though that hot drink and cake in a cosy cafe could yet prove very tempting!
Your phone GPS could be invaluable for showing where you are when lost; you can download free detailed UK maps and GPS software before your trip.
Paper maps are still useful, though, so take one: no power source or wifi signal required, and they’re great for suggesting possibilities or changes of plan.