Cycling Weekly takes you on a whistle-stop tour of the UK’s top cycling destinations: Part two

Photos by Andy Jones, Phil O’Connor, Tom Hutton, Nick Brock, Paul Harris, Rupert Fowler, Andrew McCandlish

20 Northern Scotland

Whereabouts?
This is two areas really; the north-west above Ullapool and north-east above Dornoch. They are different from each other, and they are both very different from the rest of the UK.

The north-west is mountainous but the mountains have been worn down by time so they have a characteristic domed shape. This is the oldest part of the UK, and the further west you go the older it gets. In the far north-west of Scotland you can stand on bits of the earth that are over 3,000 million years old. And because the earth constantly devours itself and reforms, that’s as old as rock gets.

The north-east of Scotland is flatter and has very few trees and even fewer roads. I’ve also included the north coast in this section, with its striking cliffs and violent seas where powerful currents fight each other 365 days a year.

Why ride here?
This is the nearest thing to wilderness in the UK. There are so few people here that roads carry very little traffic and it’s possible to ride for hours without seeing or even hearing a motor. If you want to really get away from it all, this is where to do it. The memories will stay with you forever.

Cycling heritage
There have been no major bike races held here, and very few top cyclists come from this part of the country, although there are some. The Raleigh pro Evan Oliphant comes from Wick in the far north-east. Oliphant’s home will be familiar to LEJOGers and JOGLErs because it’s 17 miles south of
John o’ Groats.

Ride it
Every cyclist should try the Cape Wrath Challenge. Cape Wrath is the north-west tip of Scotland, and only accessible by taking a tiny ferry across the Kyle of Durness and riding 11 miles of undulating singletrack road. Take a picture of yourself at the ferry and at the Cape Wrath lighthouse and send them to the CTC and you get a certificate. The thing is that the weather gets rough on the Cape, really rough, and plenty of tough experienced cyclists have had to abandon their attempts because of it.

19 Isle of Man

Whereabouts?
The whole island is great for cycling, but the mountain roads are dramatic, especially where you can see the sea. And of course there’s and the famous TT circuit.

Why ride here?
If your time on the island is limited, try the coastal roads of the southern tip. Castletown, Port St Mary and Port Erin and the peninsula that reaches out towards the Calf of Man are beautiful places to ride, and the west coast from Port Erin going north is spectacular. The TT race circuit is 37 miles of great roads with a trip over the Island’s highest mountain, Snaefell. You get up to 424 metres on the Hailwood Rise, but the mountain is 621 metres high. The descent down to Douglas is fantastic.
The TT circuit has to be done for its history and because it’s a rewarding ride, but perhaps the best way up Snaefell is on the B10 starting from Barregarrow. The B22 from Mount Rule is another way up the mountains, and it gets very steep on Injebreck Hill.

Cycling heritage
Mark Cavendish comes from the Isle of Man, as do a number of other British cycling stars past and present. Cycling’s other link comes from the Isle of Man Cycling Week. The last one was held in 2003, but the island used to give itself over to cycling just like it still does to the much older motorcycle week.

Cyclists raced on the TT circuit too, with a one-lap time trial early in the week then three road races at the end. There was a one-lap race, a two-lapper and the Isle of Man International or Manx Trophy, which was over three laps of the circuit, so 111 miles. Some of the greatest names in cycling have raced on the Isle of Man, including Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx.

Ride it
The Isle of Man Cycle Challenge is run over one, two and three laps of the TT circuit. Take your pick. Go to www.isleofmancc.com.

18 Mendips

Whereabouts?
The Mendips are a narrowing chain of hills south of Bristol that stretch from a thick end in Wiltshire to a point at Weston-super-Mare. It’s all good riding country with challenging hills, interesting valleys and wide open views from the tops. The best bits, though, are the spectacular Cheddar Gorge, Burrington Combe and Cheddar Wood climbs.

Why ride here?
Cheddar Gorge is a classic British climb. It’s a collapsed cavern, something quite common in limestone hills: Winnats Pass in Derbyshire is one. The road wriggles up the gorge for five kilometres, between towering cliffs at first, then up a twisting V-shaped valley and finally out onto an undulating plateau. The Cheddar Wood climb is similar, and so is Burrington but this is on the north side of the hills, whereas Cheddar is on the south.

Cycling heritage
The Tour of Britain and the Milk Race have used Cheddar Gorge a lot, and it’s a National Hill-climb Championship venue.

Ride it
Try the Cheddar Cyclosportive. The longer route uses the Gorge and Burrington Combe. www.cheddarcyclosportive.co.uk.

17 Ettrick

Whereabouts?
The hills south of Peebles and Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders.

Why ride here?
For one valley, Talla, and the hill that climbs out of it, Talla Linn.

The best way to see Talla for the first time is to ride the A708 south-west from Selkirk and turn right at Cappercleuch. Continue past Megget Reservoir, climb to Megget Stone then descend. Then you see Talla, and it’s like discovering a lost world. Go down into it, ride the valley and drink in the peace and quiet and then turn around to take on the climb. It’s a magical experience in a magical place.

Cycling heritage
The Tour of Britain has had stages here, and they used the Talla valley. It’s a regular training ride for Edinburgh-based racers like James McCallum and Evan Oliphant.

Ride it
The Tour of Tweeddale sportive goes up the Talla Valley. Go to www.peeblescycling.org and click on Road Cycling.

16 Dartmoor

Whereabouts?
A wild and empty upland area between Exeter and Plymouth with delightful lanes all around its edges and two magnificent roads that cross it in the middle.

Why ride here?
The two cross routes, the B3212 and B3357 meet between Dartmoor’s two highest parts. They can be hard, lonely and intimidating roads in bad weather, but they are breathtakingly beautiful in good. The valleys of Dartmoor are worth exploring too, especially the Teign. There’s a great ride up the Teign on the beautiful B3193. Turn left and climb over a hill called Doccombe on the B3212, and especially enjoy its sweeping bends and exhilarating descent. Turn left in Moretonhampstead and ride south to Bovey Tracey then go east back into the Teign Valley.

Cycling heritage
A lot of good racers come from around Dartmoor. Sixties Tour rider Colin Lewis is the driving force. Jeremy Hunt, Yanto Barker and Jonathan Tiernan-Locke are notable alumni of his hard-riding academy.

Ride it
The Dartmoor Classic (www.dartmoorclassic.co.uk) is the one to ride, but it sells out very quickly. It’s run by possibly the best organisational team in the country. A tree fell and blocked the road during this year’s event and an alternative safe, well marked route was found and up and running within minutes.

15 Penwith

Whereabouts?
It’s the western tip of Cornwall.

Why ride here?
It’s like an island, and it’s like an island that’s much further south. Penwith is surrounded by the sea with only a 6.5km neck of land connecting it to the rest of Cornwall. This part of Cornwall hosts the only sub-tropical ecosystem in mainland Britain. Stuff grows here naturally that has to be forced elsewhere in the UK.

The crazy flora makes it interesting to ride around, and the climate makes it perfect for winter cycling. A ride around the coast from Penzance offers the fantastic sea views of Cape Cornwall, some industrial heritage from the tin mines and lots of pretty little corners. Culture vultures will love St Ives; its light has attracted artists for years. Penwith can be like riding in Majorca, if you squint a bit. Seriously, try it.

Cycling heritage
There’s an active racing scene, but its distance from mainstream Britain makes it hard for promising racers to progress. Still, Penwith has produced some useful riders, including the professionals Tom Southam and Chris Opie.

Ride it
The Human Race Festival of Sport Cornwall has a sportive in this area, plus a women’s-only Cycletta event. Go to www.festivalofsport.net.

14 Shropshire

Whereabouts?
From the Welsh border out through Church Stretton and the Wenlock Edge to the Clee hills.

Why ride here?
Shropshire gets overlooked in preference for more dramatic scenery in Wales, but it’s fairly dramatic in the area I’m talking about. Try doing all four ascents of Long Mynd for a challenge. Corvedale and Apedale on either side of Wenlock Edge are a delight to ride in. Then there are Shropshire’s two highest hills; Brown Clee at 540 metres and Titterstone Clee at 533 metres. There are roads, a very rough one in Brown Clee’s case, all the way to the top of both of them.

Cycling heritage
Another big club run and cycle touring destination.

Ride it
Kilotogo had a sportive in this area called the Wild Edric, which is currently being rebranded as some sort of ‘Son of Wild Edric’ and will appear soon on their website – where it says “New West Midlands Sportive”. Go to. www.kilotogo.com.

13 Brecon Beacons

Whereabouts?
Strictly speaking the Brecon Beacons run from the Black Mountain (singular) in the west through the actual Brecons, the ones marked as such on the map, to the Black Mountains in the east. Their southern boundary is the A465 and their northern one is the A40.

Why ride here?
It’s all good, but the Pontsticill to Talybont-on-Usk road, which runs around the feet of the Brecon’s biggest mountain, Pen-y-fan, where the SAS train, is exceptional. A huge mountain, crashing waterfalls and a string of lakes that open out into the wide and wonderful Usk valley, – it’s cycling heaven.

The road from Abergavenny over the Tumble to Blaenavon provides a fascinating view of two worlds and two Waleses: farming and tourism’s Wales and the industrial Wales of the former mining valleys. In the west of this area you can ride from Ystradfellte to Heol Senni for a long lonely look at ancient Wales, following a Roman road called Sarn Helen.

Cycling heritage
Wales could put together a good pro team right now, both men’s and women’s. A lot of the principality’s cycling stars do their long rides in the Brecon Beacons. There’s also race heritage with the Tumble. With its two leg-breaking early bends it was a key climb in the Tour of Britain and has been in the National Championships.

Ride it
The long route of the Dragon Ride explores the Brecon Beacons, plus you ride the big climbs of the Valleys – the Bwlch and Rhigos. Plus it’s the British leg of the UCI Golden Bike World Series in 2013. Go to www.wiggledragonride.com.

12 Trossachs

Whereabouts?
The Trossachs are a range of mountains just east of Loch Lomond, and about 30 miles north of Glasgow.

Why ride here?
It’s remarkable to find a place this wild so close to a major city. The Trossachs blend high mountains with wooded glens and quiet lochs in a way that attracts artists and has enchanted writers, John Ruskin and Sir Walter Scott among them.

There’s a lot of Scottish history here too. This is where Scotland’s Robin Hood, Rob Roy, was born, and the Trossachs were his Sherwood Forest.

Cycling heritage
The Tour of the Trossachs is Scotland’s oldest bike race.

It’s a circuit time trial and it’s been won by all of Scotland’s great bike racers, including Robert Millar and Graeme Obree. The competitors climb the Duke’s Pass before doing a circuit of Loch Katrine in what is one of the most scenic events of its kind in the world. There was a serious accident during the 2012 event, but the race should be back in 2013.

Ride it
The Trossachs Ton sportive explores the area. It was held in May this year and is listed on several sportive calendars. Or you could race in the time trial, which is held in early October each year.

11 Durham Fells

Whereabouts?
We’re talking about the bit between the Yorkshire Dales and the upper Tyne Valley here. Strictly speaking the Durham fells are the hills to the north and south of Weardale, but I’m including Teesdale in with them.

Why ride here?
It’s the lesser-known bit of the Pennines. People either visit the Dales to the south or go west to the Lake District. Both great cycling destinations, but if you want peace and quiet as well as some challenging and beautiful terrain, you will discover them here. You’ll also discover variety. The Weardale fells are tall, gaunt and muscular, while Teesdale is pretty and full of spectacular waterfalls. For an epic challenge try the Corpse Road from Garrigill to its summit. It’s a road, sort of, passable on a cyclo-cross bike, and it tops out at 2,575 feet (785 metres), making it one of the highest in Britain.

Cycling heritage
There was once a pro race called the Vaux GP in Weardale that used the Durham fells. Winners include Barry Hoban and other Tour riders like Bob Addy, Vin Denson, and multiple Tour stage winner Michael Wright.

Ride it
The High Moors Sportive is the one to do. Go to www.highterrainevents.co.uk.

 

The best 32 places to ride in Britain