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12 lesser known UK cycling highlights

Off-the-beaten track rides for road cyclists, gravel riders and mountain bikers

The UK offers a wonderful variety of riding, regardless of whether you are a road cyclist, gravel rider, mountain biker or simply heading out for a gentle pootle with friends and family.

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While the country’s best-known locations for cycling are popular for a reason – we’re thinking of the likes of the Surrey Hills and Lake District – there’s an array of lesser-known locations to be discovered on two wheels.

We’ve chosen 12 of our favourite UK cycling highlights to explore by bike. Got your own riding spot to share? Let us known in the comments

Camel Trail, Cornwall

The Camel Trail is a flat and mostly traffic-free route in North Cornwall, from Bodmin to Padstow. It’s 18 miles long, largely on fine gravel tracks, and is a great place for families to ride.

Dedicated cyclists can also use the trail to link up different parts of Cornwall, from the remote hills of Bodmin Moor to the stunning coastal roads bordering the Atlantic.

And why not refuel by taking advantage of the many traditional Cornish pasty shops in the picturesque harbour town of Padstow?

Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Hampshire

The Queen Elizabeth Country Park may not be the best-known trail centre in the south of England but it’s a hidden gem. You’ll find two graded trails – a blue flow trail at 6km and a red at 7.4km – but there’s much more to ride besides.

These trails remain relatively unknown to the outside community, but look closer and you will find fast, rooty, steep and technical descents. If you’re looking to step-up your riding and climb the progression ladder, QECP is the place to be.

South Dorset Ridgeway, Dorset

The Ridgeway is a hilly spine that runs from east to west, tracing the south Dorset coastline between West Bexington near Bridport to the famous smuggler’s cove at Osmington Mills, near Weymouth.

The Ridgeway is capped with a bridleway that runs the length of its spine. Riding it is a great opportunity to see the sights of Dorset’s beautiful coastline, but don’t get too fixated on the views because there are some tasty sections of singletrack that should please even the pickiest of XC riders. Along the way, there’s the chance to explore the woods around Hardy’s Monument, too.

There are also plenty of local pubs to visit along or just off the route. In Portesham there’s the King’s Arms, Upway has the Old Ship Inn and in Osmington Mills there’s the charming Smugglers Inn.

You can also extend the ride from the top of White Horse Hill by following the bridleway all the way to West Lulworth, giving you plenty of opportunity to absorb even more fantastic scenery. This is a ride that’s got to be on your bucket list.

Caberston Forest, Scottish Borders

The Golfie
The Golfie is a legendary spot in the Scottish mountain bike scene.
Andy McAndlish / MBUK

Famed for its incredible trails, fantastic scenery and welcoming locals, Innerleithen in the Tweed Valley needs little introduction.

For years mountain bikers have ridden the slopes of Plora Rig, with the rooty, rocky and technical hillside trails hosting many downhill and cross-country competitions. It wasn’t until fairly recently, however, that the opposite side of the valley started to gain mainstream mountain biking appreciation.

Officially called Caberston Forest, the locals fondly call it The Golfie because, at the foot of the climb to the top of the trails, is a golf course.

For years locals have been busy beavering away in the woodlands creating a downhill and enduro mountain biking paradise, with an exhaustive amount of trails ranging from extreme steeps through to bermy, flowy, grin-inducing descent – all of them magnificently enjoyable.

In a few years time, it’s looking likely The Golfie will have Europe’s first cycling-specific chairlift and is destined to become a world-leading MTB hotspot.

The Tweed Valley might be a long drive for many – even for those who live in the north of the UK – but the trails on offer are well worth the journey.

Reivers Way

The Reivers Way is one of the finest coast-to-coast routes the UK has to offer and starts in Whitehaven on the west coast, before winding its way across northern England to finish in Tynemouth, some 282km later.

The route consists almost entirely of quiet country roads and even has some gravel around Kielder Forest. This means wide and capable tyres are a must.

While it’s possible to finish the route in a day, splitting it into two and having a bit more time to take in the scenery is highly recommended.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping you riding the route from east to west, just make sure you go with the prevailing wind.

Draycott Steep, Somerset

Hidden away in the Mendips, close to the classic south-west climb of Cheddar Gorge, you’ll find an ascent known locally as Draycott Steep.

Turning off the A371, the climb starts easy enough, before rising to a consistent 20 per cent wall that will have even the fittest riders searching for another sprocket.

What makes it even tougher is that you can see the top from a long way off, so you know exactly how far you have to go and how long you have to suffer.

Great Dun Fell, Cumbria

Great Dun Fell
Great Dun Fell is England’s Mont Ventoux.
Tejvan Pettinger / Flickr (Creative Commons licence

Starting just outside of the small village of Knock, in Cumbria, Great Dun Fell is 7.3km long at an average gradient of 8.6 per cent, reaching an elevation of 842m. This is a seriously hard climb.

It’s practically alpine, yet it’s right here in the UK. It’s even got a radar station on top – this is England’s Mont Ventoux.

There are a couple of gates along the road because it’s closed to private motor vehicles, but cyclists are allowed to pass, so you’ll almost have it to yourself. You’ll also need to take a jacket for the summit and the descent because the hillside is very exposed – average temperatures at the summit are only 10ºC even in July.

We’ll admit, Great Dun Fell may not be entirely unknown but, despite its difficulty, is rarely spoken about in the same breath as perhaps more iconic British climbs.

Gospel Pass, Powys

Gospel Pass
Gospel Pass is the highest paved road in Wales.
Graham Well/Flickr (Creative Commons licence)

Starting from Hay-on-Wye in Hereford, the Gospel Pass reaches an elevation of 594m and is the highest paved road in Wales. With a distance of 8.8km and an average gradient of 5 per cent, it’s a real opportunity to test your climbing legs.

The first part is covered by hedges and trees, but as you reach the second half of the climb, the landscape opens up dramatically for some incredible views of the surrounding valleys.

Kodak Corner, County Down

Kodak Corner is a picturesque viewpoint that features on the fantastic red trail at Northern Ireland’s Rostrevor trail centre.

Arriving as a welcome break for mountain bikers climbing to the summit of Slieve Martin, the exposed switchback corner provides expansive views of Carlingford Lough and the surrounding area.

Kodak Corner’s stunning backdrop has become something of an Instagram favourite and has even been used in photoshoots held by major bike brands.

Perthshire’s gravel roads

Glen Almond gravel road
The ride through Glen Almond is one of the best gravel roads in Perthshire.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

The area surrounding Crieff in Perthshire, Scotland, is crisscrossed with dozens of amazing gravel roads. From the cruisy to the should-have-brought-a-mountain-bike, there’s a huge variety of roads to choose from.

However, without a doubt, the jewel in Perthshire’s gravel crown has to be the estate road through Glen Artney from Sma’ Glen to Loch Tay.

The road starts with 9 miles of well-surfaced estate roads. This is followed by a slightly boggier mile-long section of tufty, grassy terrain but, after this, you’re back on good gravel roads for the hair-raising descent to Ardtalnaig on the south shore of Loch Tay.

The route is incredibly scenic and truly remote all while being comfortably rideable on a bike with 35mm tyres – a rare thing on Scotland’s usually brutal estate roads.

Include this with a loop around Glen Ogle and Killin, or Kenmore and Glen Quaich, and you’ve got the makings of a truly epic day out.

Ben Chonzie, Perthshire

A view of a mountain path with some patchy snow under a majestic blue sky and white clouds
Ben Chonzie (pronounced Ben-y Hone, if you’re wondering) is a great big tump of a hill, but that makes it perfect for riding.
Getty / Bertrand Van isterdael

Ben Chonzie, located just outside of Crieff in Scotland, is a great big boring lump of a hill and is one of the least interesting Munros to walk.

While it may be (relatively) boring by foot, its gentle slopes mean it is almost entirely rideable and taking a mountain bike onto its expansive summit is a must-do if you’re in the area.

Best accessed from Invergeldie, the ride up the well-made estate road onto the summit ridge is rideable save for a few small, steeper sections.

Once up top, you can either hurtle back from where you came from or, if you’re feeling adventurous, take the trail over the watershed to the north west of the summit down into the Glen Artney estate.

South Wales cycle path network

On the other end of the adventure spectrum is South Wales’ network of exceptionally well-made and scenic cycle paths.

You can access pretty much all of the valleys via a rail trail or canal path, but our particular favourite is the trail from Newport to Fourteen Locks. You can then take this canal as far as Risca and Crosskeys before taking the truly stunning Sirhowy Valley line.

This super-smooth trail takes you through the remnants of some of south Wales’ most interesting industrial heritage sites and can be used to link onto trails that will take you further north or west (we like the route through to Glynneath and onward to Swansea).

If you’re looking for a traffic-free playground, it’s hard to beat this part of the world.

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