Great North Trail full route

Great North Trail full route

By: 
Cycling UK

A long-distance off-road trail from the Peak District to Cape Wrath or John o’ Groats.

Explore the huge variety packed into Scotland and northern England: from rolling hills and dales to remote windswept moorland, crumbling castles to hidden waterfalls, from swooping singletrack to old Roman roads and everything in between.

The route as a whole is designed to be an adventure mountain biking route, and is mainly on unsurfaced trails. However, the nature of the terrain varies in different areas - there are many rugged upland trails across exposed moorland, suitable for more experienced mountain bikers, but also shorter sections of canal path and disused railway perfect for family days out. You can choose your own level of challenge.

The Great North Trail links the Pennine Bridleway with the northern tips of mainland Scotland, through some of Britain’s most stunning upland areas and four National Parks.

So whether it’s for an epic long-distance challenge, a weekend away, or a fantastic day out, get out there and have an adventure.


A man riding along a gravel track beside a loch

Explore sections of the route in more detail

The route is divided into eight sections, each of which you could ride in full over a long weekend or choose a shorter segment as a day ride.

See the route and guide for each section:

Part 1 - Peak District and South Pennines: Middleton Top to Hebden Bridge (129 km, 2-3 days)

Part 2 - Yorkshire Dales: Hebden Bridge to Appleby-in-Westmorland (171 km, 2-3 days)

Part 3 - North Pennines and Kielder Forest: Appleby-in-Westmorland to Kielder (123 km, 2-3 days)

Part 4 - Scottish Borders: Kielder to Edinburgh (154 km, 2-3 days)

Part 5 - Central Belt: Edinburgh to Glasgow (83 km, 1-2 days)

Part 6 - Grampian Mountains: Glasgow to Fort Augustus (260 km, 3-5 days)

Part 7 - Northern Highlands: Fort Augustus to Oykel Bridge (151 km, 2-3 days)

Part 8 - Sutherland and Caithness: Oykel Bridge to Cape Wrath (133 km, 2-3 days) or Oykel Bridge to John o' Groats (218 km, 3-4 days)

 

The final section gives you the option to choose where you want to finish: Cape Wrath, the quiet, remote and most north-westerly point of the UK, or John o’ Groats at the north-eastern tip.

Each chapter includes information about places of interest along the route, recommended refreshment stops and cycle-friendly accommodation, as well as nearby train stations and bike shops.

For some sections, you can choose to follow the main route or test yourself on an alternative ‘challenge loop’ for some big climbs, great views and fantastic descents.


Man mountain biking

Difficulty ratings

Difficulty ratings are included for each part of the route, using the standard mountain biking grading system. In addition to the standard Green, Blue, Red and Black, we have added a Purple grade which refers to Red technical difficulty plus remoteness, where experience of the outdoors is required. These ratings are intended as a guide only, to help you decide which sections are best for you.

Navigation

There are overview maps in the guide which give an overall idea of where the route goes, but paper maps or GPS will be needed for accurate navigation as the majority of the route is not signed. Each route page has a link to the guide and downloadable GPX files. The routes can also be viewed on the Ordnance Survey website.

From Middleton Top to Kirkby Stephen (most of Parts 1 and 2), the Great North Trail mostly follows the Pennine Bridleway National Trail, so while back-up navigation is always advisable, it is fairly straightforward to follow. Part 5 from Edinburgh to Glasgow is a National Cycle Network route along the canal, so navigation is also simple.

The route passes through some remote upland areas, so don’t rely on having a phone signal!

View full route on OS maps

Great North Trail to Cape Wrath

Great North Trail to John o' Groats


Woman with mountain bike looking at a map

Safety

While some parts of the route are accessible for all levels of ability, many sections take you through hilly terrain where you may be quite far from civilisation. Of course, the wilderness factor is all part of the appeal, but it’s important to be prepared for the conditions as the weather can change quickly in the hills.

Essentially: ride within your ability, be prepared, have fun.

Which bike?

Given the varied nature of the route, some sections are more suited to different kinds of bikes. This is fine if you’re riding a short section, but if you’re planning a longer trip it’s a game of compromise.

The ‘right’ bike will depend on the rider, and your abilities and priorities – efficiency, comfort, or to ride and enjoy the more technical sections at speed.

Some experienced riders who would want efficiency and to tough it out on the more challenging sections could use a gravel bike, although we would suggest tyres with around 40mm width as a minimum. A hybrid bike, with 50mm-wide tyres with reasonable tread would also suffice for much of the route, but our recommended choice of bike overall would be a hardtail mountain bike or short travel (100mm) full-suspension, for comfort, enjoyment and security on the rougher terrain and descents.   

For advice on carrying gear for a multi-day off-road trip, go to cyclinguk.org/cycle/bikepacking


Two women mountain biking over heathery terrain
Length 
825.00
1327.71
Level of ride 
Experienced
Type of bike 
Mountain bike