You’ve got some miles under your belt, and now you’re ready to attempt something a little more adventurous? Britain might not seem very big on the map, but there are still plenty of exciting roads and places to see – and they always look very different from a bicycle. How about tackling a two-day adventure – a round trip or an out and back? If you’re looking for ideas, we’ve put a few suggestions together based on rides we’ve done. There’s a flattish out and back along a famous trunk road between two historic cities, a windy coastal ride to blow away the cobwebs and test all your gears, and a trip through the mountains of Wales.
London to Bath and back (119 miles)
It may not sound like the most iconic of rides, and the terrain is slightly underwhelming as you leave London along the Thames Valley and through such immemorable towns as Brentford and Slough, but bear with us, it does get better. The A4 road was one of the original trunk roads that connected London to the ports – in this case, Bristol – and, before the arrival of the railways, saw up to ten stagecoaches a day passing along its two-day route – although mail coaches completed it in around 12 hours. Frequented by Royalty, the hot springs at Bath attracted the rich and famous. It’s also worth remembering that this route is one of the classic solo long distance cycling routes – the record being set by P J Woodburn in 1981 in only nine hours and three minutes….both ways!
As with any trip (it’s around 119 miles from London to Bath), or route which takes you out of a large city, it’s always best to leave early in the morning. If you’re leaving London to the West, then that means being clear of Slough by 8 am at the latest. At this time the traffic will be extremely light, and your ride will be more comfortable.
Once you’ve passed the tunnel entrance to Heathrow, crossed the M25 motorway, and worked your way through the delights of Slough, you’ll cross the Thames at Maidenhead and feel that you’re finally free of the metropolis. If you’re early enough, then you might even get through Reading before things start to hot up there.
After Reading, the A4 passes through some small towns, Newbury, Hungerford and Chippenham before climbing up over Box Hill (no, not the more well-known one in Surrey), before descending into Bath. When you get to the roundabout at the bottom of Box Hill, it’s best to turn right onto London Road East, rather than join the dual carriageway that goes straight ahead. This route takes you into town by the original road.
We don’t suggest such an early start to return to London the following day – but remember that you’ll need to have had a decent breakfast before you start the climb up Box Hill again.
Bournemouth to Exmouth (92.1 miles)
This century ride along the famous Jurassic coast is more robust than it looks. Not only will you be up and down gnarly climbs all day, but you’re also likely to face a stiff southwesterly wind coming off the sea. But pick the right day, and you will be rewarded with stunning views and plenty of pretty country villages. An early start should get you to the Poole Chain Ferry for the four-minute trip across the entrance to Poole Harbour; the first crossing is at 7 am.
Passing the ruins of Corfe Castle, you’ll pass through villages with names like Steeple and Winfrith Newburgh before dropping down to Weymouth. Find the Esplanade, and there is a selection of cafes for your first break of the day. Refreshed, continue west towards Abbotsbury. If you’re feeling particularly strong, you might want to take a little detour up Portesham Hill. Not only is it a well-known local climb that nears 20% near the top, those brave enough to tackle it will be rewarded with superb views along Chesil Beach and back towards Portland Bill. From the top, you can either roll back down to the coastal road or pick up the nearby A35 for the fast descent into Bridport. The next main town on the route is the pretty seaside town of Lyme Regis. Famous for the Cobb – an old stone pier featured in The French Lieutenants Woman by John Fowles who, incidentally, lived in a large house at the top of the hill.
After continuing West along the pretty and undulating A3052, you’ll eventually turn a left signposted to Salcombe Regis which will take you back to the coast to Sidmouth. The beautiful Georgian houses along the Esplanade are worth a look, and there are plenty of places to stop for another break. You’ll need it as the climb out of the town is up another 20% incline – Peak Hill. After another descent to another seaside town, Budleigh Salterton, you have just one more climb left for the day before rolling into Exmouth.
Aberystwyth to Llanberis (82.6 miles)
This route is one of the most stunning rides of Britain which starts on the West coast of Wales and heads North and slightly inland towards the historic town of Machynlleth marking the southern tip of the Snowdonia mountain range. From here the A487 road works its way up through beautiful green valleys before you reach a crossroads where, thankfully, you’ll be able to stop for refreshments at the Cross Foxes Inn. After your coffee, there’s a swift descent to Dolgellau after where you take the left turn to Barmouth along the top shore of the tidal inlet. This section takes you away from the mountains for a while and back to the coast. After the holiday town of Barmouth, you follow the scenic route north along the coast through Harlech and on to Beddgelert.
At this point, you’ll be aware that you’re heading back towards the mountains as the road starts to rise imperceptibly. Crossing right at the bridge at Beddgelert, you’re now beginning the ascent to the Llanberis Pass. For this, you’re going to have been patient. There are only another 14 miles to the finish, but most of it is all steadily uphill and getting steeper as you go. The highest point is at the car park and YHA at the top of the Pass where you’ll need to take a quick rest – if only to take in the views.
In case you didn’t notice as you plodded up the Pass, the views of Snowdon to your left were stunning. Probably best to stop at one of the many parking places to take a good look. It’s all downhill from the top of the pass – a billiard table smooth tarmac section with fast sweeping bends and more glorious views – although you won’t be looking at them with the speed you’ll be traveling. You’ll be in Llanberis in no time.
If you’re returning to Aberystwyth the next day, then an alternative route is to carry on the A4086 through Llanberis until you reach a left turn at a pub called Y Glyntwrog. Follow this to the T-junction with the A4085 and enjoy the exciting run back to Beddgelert alongside the Welsh Highland Railway line.
Three very different rides to try – a mostly flat trunk route joining two cities, a steep coastal path and a hard journey through the mountains of Wales. Go on, give them a go – test yourself!