Things to see and do in the UK while travelling by bike
July 8, 2012 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Two guys travelling by bike through England/Scotland from mid-July to mid-August, but no definite plan. What to see and do?

We've got no fixed plans, other than a ferry landing at Harwich, a visit to Cambridge for a day or two, three, heading up to Edinburgh (hopefully in time for the Fringe) and ending up in London for another day or two before embarking at Harwich again at the end of our four week trip. If relevant: we'll be carrying tents, but will also (hopefully) be staying in hostels or any place that will take us.

I understand this is a pretty wide open question, but anything the (British) hive mind may recommend two travellers would be welcome.
posted by ar0n to Travel & Transportation around England (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The CTC (which used to mean Cyclists' Touring Club) has a pretty active forum on touring in the UK. You might want to post your question there. I got lots of good advice when I was contemplating a ride from London to the Peak District last spring, though in the end I didn't have as much time as I had hoped, and ended up taking the train to Derby and cycling from there.

If you join the CTC you get access to their route library, but frankly, having done so I'm not sure it's worth it. I really enjoyed the Peak District: hilly (not long, sustained hills, but rather short, steep ones), not very heavily trafficked, and beautiful. Last month I did a six-day tour in the Scottish borders, east and south of Edinburgh (Dunbar, Kelso, Melrose, Innerleithen), which is also gorgeous. I cycle a lot in Oxfordshire and over the border into neighboring counties, and I can recommend the Cotswolds (northwest of Oxford) and Chiltern Hills (southeast of Oxford).

Sustrans publishes a series of national cycle route maps and has online mapping, but their routes are a mixed bag. In the countryside they're usually OK, but in cities they privilege cycle paths, even roundabout, awkward ones, over perfectly cycleable roads. I think their idea was that a 12-year-old should be able to cycle their routes without danger. I use their maps for planning, but I don't follow their paths religiously. These days the Open Cycle Map project (based on OSM) has most if not all of the Sustrans routes and other local and regional cycle routes on it.

The Ordnance Survey Landranger 1:50000 maps are great for cycling, but if you're covering that much distance, buying them all would be expensive. You can consult them online free (with annoying ads) at the Ordnance Survey's Getamap site (free registration required). That plus the Open Cycle Map (which shows relief contours) should be good for route planning. I haven't found a good larger-scale topo map of the UK for longer-distance cycing.

Finally, in general you should avoid A roads (unless they're the only way to go, or they have 4 digits) and many B roads. Those tend to be the busiest (apart from motorways, which don't allow cyclists, though sometimes they have separated cycle paths). So-called "unclassified" roads, those without numbers, are shown as yellow--or, for the really primitive ones, white--on OS Landranger maps, and they're the best ones for avoiding traffic and seeing the country.

If you're cycling up the flat east coast from Cambridge to Edinburgh, I'd suggest Ely (near Cambridge), Lincoln, and (further north) Durham as interesting places to visit. On the way back, if you head further west, the Lake District and the Peak District are worthwhile. You can skip boring or industrial parts by taking your bikes on trains--almost always free, but often with an obligatory reservation. Check with the train company, since the system was privatized a while ago.

And have fun! Consider posting a journal at - I'd love to read it!
posted by brianogilvie at 3:25 PM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Make reservations early if you want to be in Edinburgh for Fringe, or plan to stay pretty far out. It's difficult and expensive to find a place to stay during the festival.

If you're into engineering, canals, or generally cool stuff, I highly recommend the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift. It's about 23 miles outside of Edinburgh, and you can ride along the Forth and Clyde canal path to get there. Once you're there, you can learn about the wheel in the visitor center and take a ride up the wheel and a short way along the canal. Plus it's right by part of the Antonine Wall. If you're into photography at all, try to get a seat at the very front of the boat -- when you come back down in the wheel, you'll have a nearly unobstructed view of the countryside facing east from about a hundred feet up.
posted by katemonster at 3:26 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to explore Edinburgh by bike, get hold of the Spokes map of the city, which has all the bike paths marked on.

There's some awesome, free mountain biking in the Borders, just south of Edinburgh, and a bike bus to get you and your steed down there (includes a link for MTB hire, if yours isn't up to off-roading).
posted by penguin pie at 10:42 AM on July 9, 2012

Thanks, guys! Very helpful!
posted by ar0n at 7:56 AM on July 10, 2012

Map of Birmingham off-road cycle routes.

Map of Edinburgh off-road cycle routes.

What are the two of you into? Art? Sport? History? Nature? If you give us a better idea of your interests, we can recommend some fun bike-accessible activities.
posted by the latin mouse at 9:28 AM on July 10, 2012

Latin mouse, thanks for those maps! We're in our mid-twenties, academics, into Art, History, Nature and Food --- Sports, not so much. We're on our touring bikes most of the time anyway, so we'd mostly be looking for more leisure-oriented activities.

I think we're mostly looking for interesting places, stuff like National Trust highlights or just interesting routes, or villages to stop in.
posted by ar0n at 5:33 PM on July 10, 2012

Do you know about Warm Showers? It's like couchsurfing for touring cyclists. Check it out if you're looking for places to stay or other touring cyclists to meet.
posted by brianogilvie at 11:50 AM on July 11, 2012

This recent thread has loads of interesting stuff to do in Edinburgh.
posted by penguin pie at 10:25 AM on July 12, 2012

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