Six best UK cycle routes for culture, countryside and cafés
Visit Constable’s birth place, his studio and a church displaying the work that rumour says was his least favourite. Ride through routes he would have taken and see the views and valleys that he painted in a wonderful part of the country that’s less than two hours from London.
Start at Maison Talbooth, whose guests can hire vintage (or tandem or high-spec racing) bicycles and tour around the lanes of Dedham and Constable Country. Stop at the National Trust Constable museum for a cup of tea or take a lunchtime or afternoon tea picnic from the hotel. If you have time, wandering around in this area is very rewarding; not just for the scenery but also the locals, who are some of the friendliest I’ve met.
The vintage design hire bike I used has a high seat that enabled me to see over the hedgerows (my road bike would have been far too low) and both hotel and hire bike people are happy to advise you on other routes.
Level of difficulty: easy (the route is mostly flat)
Length: around 16 miles, with opportunities to make the ride shorter or longer
The Coastal Culture Trail
The Coastal Culture Trail connects three of the most exciting visual arts galleries in the UK: the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, Jerwood Gallery in Hastings and Towner in Eastbourne. Each gallery has a completely different character, shows very different art and has its own distinctive architecture. They’re united by a stunning 20-mile stretch of East Sussex coastline that provides just the right balance of nature, beachside culture, architecture and art.
You can travel in either direction but if you go from Eastbourne to Hastings you can finish the day with a great fish meal at Webbe’s (at the Jerwood gallery) or fish and chips at Maggie’s, which is in the midst of the Net Shops on the seafront. Travel there on Southern Railway (carriages which are bike-friendly have red detailing around the doors).
Information: Coastal Culture Trail
Level of difficulty: easy (it’s mostly really flat, with two small hills. The sea breeze might sometimes be against you.
Length: around 16 miles with opportunities to stop if it gets too much
Graffiti and grub along London’s canals
Start at the Olympic Park and follow the Lee Navigation away from the Thames, then turn left (you need to cross a bridge to do so) on to the Hertford Union Canal and right at Regent’s Canal. As well as the Olympic Park you’ll find an ever changing tapestry of wall art representing some of the best and worst that London offers (and a Banksy too, for now).
For an interesting diversion come off the canal for a tour of Shoreditch, with its cool bars and eateries and more graffiti. There are several cafés and pubs along the side of the canal too. The first is inside a garden centre; the Towpath Café is just past the ride’s midpoint, on the canalside in Hoxton; the last stop, just before Islington, is a pub.
Level of difficulty: easy. It’s very flat (towpaths aren’t known for their gradients)
Length: 14 miles in to Islington with optional extensions
Jersey Blue Badge
The East Coast Cycle Tour visits Waterworks Valley, Rozel Harbour, St Catherine’s Breakwater, Mont Orgueil Castle and Havre des Pas with a pitstop for afternoon tea at the Atlantic Hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, which has stunning views across St Ouen’s Bay. It makes for a perfect day. Keen cyclists can enjoy a self-guided tour or visitors can cycle in the company of a local-born Blue Badge guide, who can take you to sights inaccessible to motorists. If you stay on Jersey for longer you can discover its beautiful bays and medieval castles and sample more of the island’s 350 miles of dedicated green lanes.
Information: The Atlantic Hotel is £125pp per night and afternoon tea from £20pp
Level of difficulty: easy
Length: five to 50 miles – it’s up to you and there are a wealth of potential snack stops
London to Cambridge via six cream tea stops and a Neolithic embankment
Ride from East London through historic Epping Forest, then roughly north towards Saffron Walden, then north-east towards Cambridge. Epping forest, which has been continually forested since Neolithic times, has two Neolithic embankments, the first of which (Loughton Camp) is only a few miles away from the route and makes a good stop, as does (or instead of) Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge in Chingford.
Follow part of the Stage Three 2014 Tour de France Route for an extra buzz. I take my time, visit each of the six en route cafés for tea and scones, and still reach Cambridge within six hours of setting off.
Information: Tour de France 2014 Stage 3 route. Tea and scones in the cafés from £12.50
Difficulty: medium. It’s a long way but the hills are small
Length: 60 miles with one station en route or 77 miles for the TdF route
Take the Tumble
Take the opportunity for a special bike fit or power test with Drover Cycles, guided and self-guided bike tour providers, who can arrange luggage transfers as well as provide bikes and routes. Then take the Stage Three Tour of Britain Route through Brecon and Monmouthshire, stopping off at the mouth-wateringly wonderful Gliffaes Hotel. After that it’s off to the Tumble. This is an exciting stage finale for Tour of Britain pros, so if the final ascent of 432 meters over 6km is too much for you, take a taxi and spend the rest of the afternoon in the market town of Abergavenny.
Difficulty: hard (there’s a reason the Tour of Britain comes here) but the scenery is divine
Length: 55 miles