The best cycle routes in the UK

The nation is in the midst of a bicycle boom, with more people than ever taking to the saddle to explore the country’s finest bike-friendly destinations. In fact, we Brits are so taken with travelling with two wheels that manufacturers have struggled to keep up with demand.

Thankfully, there are loads of opportunities to hire bikes all over the UK, and local councils are continually making their cities and towns better suited for safe bicycle travel. So, if you’re on the search for ‘cycle routes near me’, then look no further than our short guide.

While many of the larger cities, including London, Oxford and Portsmouth have bicycle-sharing facilities, manufacturers such as Brompton Bikes have branched into the cycle-hire business, offering their top-of-the-range vehicles for long- and short-term hire at stations including Exeter St Davids, London Paddington and Portsmouth. Likewise, Bainton Bikes, the independent cycle hires and tour company, has a shop in Oxford and self-service hire hubs throughout the Cotswolds and Cheltenham. Find out more about bike hire located at our GWR stations here.

If you’ve got your very own set of wheels, travelling with your bike on GWR trains is simple. We recommend you reserve a bike space before travelling (mandatory on Intercity Express Train high-speed services), as spaces are limited. For more information, click here.

What’s more, the 2021 Tour of Britain, a multi-stage cycling race across Great Britain, kicks off in Penzance on 5 September, passing through Devon and parts of Wales. Why not pedal your way to one of the competition’s stages and draw inspiration from cycling’s very best athletes?

To get you started on your journey, here is our guide to the network’s best cycle routes and top biking destinations, perfect for a short break.

London

The famous ‘Boris Bikes’ – officially Santander Cycles – were first launched in 2010. Available to pick up and drop off all over the city, the bikes are an excellent way to explore the capital, with many a great London cycle route branching out from London Paddington station, including an idyllic path along the Grand Union Canal.

Bikes cost £2 for every 30-minutes for unlimited journeys up to 30 minutes, within a 24-hour period. For journeys longer than 30 minutes, you pay £2 for each additional 30 minutes. Bikes must be returned within 24 hours. Simply download the Santander Cycles app or go to any docking station terminal with your bank card and touch the screen to get started.


Devon

One of the most scenic Devon cycle routes is the Tarka Trail, a 180-mile figure of eight through unspoiled countryside. Of course, there’s no obligation to go the full distance and the route is divided into more manageable chunks, including a splendid stretch between Barnstaple and Ilfracombe that GWR co-funded. Look out for our Wi-Fi points with historic videos at Ilfracombe, which allow you to discover more about the area’s fascinating rail history, a taster found here. Bikes can be hired at Barnstaple station with Tarka Trail Cycle Hire, booking recommended.

Alternatively, you can take on the The Granite Way, which starts in Okehampton. You can look into hiring bikes here.

A family of cyclists on the Tarka Trail next to the River Taw, near Barnstaple, Devon, UK


Cornwall

The Camel Trail is a fine Cornwall cycle route that follows a disused railway line from Padstow to Wadebridge, along the Camel Estuary and via Camel Valley and Bodmin, right to the edge of Bodmin Moor where it comes to an end below Blisland.

This 18 miles-long, largely traffic-free trail offers a good variety of landscape and wildlife, from estuary bird-spotting to leafy stretches through woodland. This pleasant, easy riverside route is perfect for casual, family-friendly cycling.

For bike hire in Bodmin, check out Explore By Bike, in partnership with the Camel Trail, at the Priory Car park. Bikes can be rented from £17 for a full day.


Bristol

There are many benefits to the proximity of Bath to Bristol (two West Country gems just 13 miles apart), but chief among them is the opportunity to cycle between the two cities with relative ease.

Flat, traffic-free and lined with greenery, the Bristol and Bath Railway Path makes for a perfect day out, with the option of cycling both ways, or one-way with a train journey. You can start the day exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site-designated City of Bath, ending the day hanging out in one of the country’s liveliest night spots, Bristol. From tandem bike hire, to mountain biking in Ashton Court Estate, find out more here.

15-minutes south of Bristol by train, you’ll find Strawberry Cycles at Yatton station – a not-for-profit cycle hire service, just off the platform, run by the same team as the Strawberry Line Café (offering delicious homecooked food and drinks). From here, you can ride straight on to the Strawberry Line for nine-miles of traffic-free riding through the Somerset countryside all the way to Cheddar.


Cardiff

The 45-minute stretch of the Taff Trail (which runs for 55 miles between Cardiff and Brecon) from the Welsh capital to Castell Coch is a pleasant, relatively traffic-free cycle through scenic countryside and past historic landmarks.

Starting in Cardiff’s Bute Park, the city’s mammoth greenspace crowned with Cardiff Castle, the trail takes you inland and away from the city’s bustle towards the 19th century ‘fairy-tale’ Castell Coch, with its striking conical turrets.

Looking through a gothic arch into the cobblestone courtyard of Castell Coch, Tongwynlais, Wales, UK, just a 45-minute cycle from Cardiff


Cotswolds

The Regency Cheltenham Cycle Trail is a gentle six-mile route that takes in many of the spa town’s most fascinating historic sites, including traditional Cheltonian Georgian streets and Pittville Park.

For those looking to hire, The Bicycle Hub has everything you need, including a mobile mount, which you can use for referencing the special mobile app that offers you all the information you need for your journey, including other Cheltenham routes and a handy GPS map. For more details visit The Bicycle Hub’s website.


Worried that plans may change? No need! Until 31 December, you can change your advance purchase tickets fee free with GWR, so you can book, and travel, with confidence. Find out more here. GWR will be operating a revised timetable from Monday 26 July 2021, please check before you travel.

2 August 2021
Family fun I Sports and adventure I
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