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Union FlagCycling and cycletouring in the UK

UK tour imageThe UK has some great cycling possibilities, which perhaps we Brit's who live here sometimes seem to underestimate. The UK has a wide variety of landscapes, from the quiet rolling countryside of the south, the Moorland uplands of the Peak District, Penines and the Yorkshire Dales to the more tougher mountainous areas of Wales and Scotland.

Sadly we have met a lot of cycle tourers abroad who have not visited the UK because they think that there is a lack of cycle friendly routes and that there is too much traffic on our roads. This is not necessarily the case as we do have a lot of rural areas where there are roads with little traffic. Fortunately through the work of Sustrans and other bodies things are improving with regard to long distance cycle routes. If you do intend to tour the UK you do need to avoid the large conurbations (unless there is a Sustrans route through it) and also the main 'A' class trunk roads as the amount of traffic on these can be large and UK drivers although usually courteous are not used to a lot of cyclists. If you stick to the minor roads and use the long distance cycle routes you should have some great touring.

Cycle Paths

The distribution of designated cycle paths is varied across the UK and are mainly found in the towns and cities. The quality and quantity will very much depends on the local authority, therefore you might find some towns better than others. Some cycle paths are separate paths away from the traffic but most are either segregated areas of the road or shared pavements with pedestrians.

Cycle Routes

Uk National network signDue to the work of Sustrans and local authorities there is now a national network of over 12,000 miles of local and long distance cycle routes throughout the UK. The routes use either quiet traffic free roads or dedicated separate cycle paths and due to this are not always the quickest route from A to B. There are 97 national long distance routes and these route details can be found on the Sustrans site. Not all the routes are as yet fully complete and details of the routes can be found on the links below.

Useful Sustrans Links:

Campsites

There is no overall governing body for the campsites in the UK and no national standards or recognised star rating for the facilities that are available at each site. The quality and amount of facilities can vary much from site to site. Usually most sites will offer pitches for tourers on a per person basis which includes washrooms, showers and a washing up point. Some sites include free showers but most showers will be on a coin or token metered system.

Unlike those in Denmark and Sweden, most UK campsites do not generally provide cooking facilities, however some YHA hostels allow camping in their grounds and you can use the cooking facilities provided for hostellers.

If you are touring in the UK for a while it might be worth you joining the Camping and Caravan club. They have 100 sites around the country plus 1200 smaller basic certificated sites, the fee is £39 pound a year and they reckon that with the reduced camp fees for members you can recoup your membership fee in seven nights. Members also get a free 'Big Sites' book which lists nearly 4,000 campsites in the UK. You can find more information on their website.

You can search for details of UK campsites using these sites:

If you get stuck for a nights accommodation there is always the Youth Hostel Association which has 200 hostels across England and Wales and the Scottish Youth Hostel Association which has 70 hostels across Scotland. There are also a lot of independent hostels in the UK, have a look at www.independenthostelguide.co.uk for more details.

Maps

The best maps for cycling that cover the whole of the UK are the Ordnance Survey maps of Great Britain. They come in a range of scales and cover the whole of the UK. They are generally available in most book shops on the high streets in the UK. The 'WH Smiths' & 'Waterstones' chains of shops usually have the full range of UK maps, smaller retailers my have maps for the local areas only.

OS Langranger map1:50 000 scale Land Ranger Map Series

This is the most useful of the OS maps as it has a wealth of tourist information at a good scale showing all the major and minor roads, footpaths, byways and the National and Local cycle routes in good detail. Contours are marked at 10m vertical intervals, giving you a good idea of the accents and decent's in hilly terrain. If you prefer a map with good accurate terrain information this is the one for you. However if you are covering a large distance then you will need plenty of them, as 204 cover the whole of the UK.

They have all the usual tourist information including Youth Hostels and most of the main campsites are marked.

Usefully the legend is translated into French and German.

 

1:100 000 scale Travel Map1:100 000 scale Travel Maps Series

This map is really aimed at the motoring tourist and for planning, however if you don't want the expense and the detail of the Land Ranger series as all the minor roads are shown along with the National and Local cycle routes which are clearly marked. There is no contour information apart from a few spot heights so knowing where the accents and decent's are on route is not easy.

They have all the usual tourist information including Youth Hostels and most of the main campsites marked, unlike the Land Ranger series they do have Bunkhouses and other hostels marked.

There is a handy place name index as well as list of most of the major places of interest. Unfortunately only the 'Tourist Information' legend is translated into French and German.

 

1:250 000 scale Travel Maps Series1:250 000 scale Travel Maps Series

This is a large scale mapping of the UK and more useful for planning as the detail is lacking for good accurate navigation. They are ideal if you are covering a large distance and don't mind working off a large scale map. Contours are shown in 61m intervals and terrain is shown with graded brown shading. These maps do not show the National and Local cycle routes.

They have all the usual tourist information including places of interest, Youth Hostels and most of the main campsites which are clearly marked.

Usefully the legend for the roads and tourist information is translated into French and German.

 

Goleneye mapGoldeneye Guides to Cycling Country Lanes and Byways

There are 15 maps in this series covering some of the most interesting cycling areas in England. They show the National and Local cycle way marked routes. Also marked on the maps are circular family traffic-free cycling trails which are not way marked. The maps are laminated for protection from the elements.

At this scale the maps are clear and there is enough detail for easy navigation. They have all the usual tourist information including Youth Hostels and most of the main campsites marked and terrain is shown using a 50m shading system. There is a handy index to the towns and villages on the map and on the reverse there is descriptions on most of the major places of interest.

Unfortunately none of the legend is translated into other languages.

You can find out more information on the guides from the Goldeneye site

Terrain

The terrain in the UK can vary tremendously from the flat lands of the Fens and East Anglia to the mountainous and hilly areas of the Lake district, the Penines, the Dales, Brecon Beacons, North Wales and the Highlands of Scotland. Depending on the areas of the UK that you wish to tour you will need a bicycle with appropriate gearing to cope. All of our major and minor roads have tarmac surfaces so road tyres are generally all that are required. There are some 'off road' possibilities in the UK with 'Mountain bike trails in the main forest areas and with 'Green lane' and 'Bridle way' access in rural areas.

Guides

The Lonely Planets Guide 'Cycling Britain' - Published by Lonely Planets ISBN 1-86450-037-9 A is a very useful guide to cycling in Britain with 120 days of suggested routes.

Shops

Finding a shop open till late is usually not much of a problem in the UK. We seem to have long opening hours with some of the major supermarket chains open 24hrs on most week days and Saturdays. A lot of shops will be open on Sunday, however due to Sunday trading laws this will only be between 10.00am to 4.00pm. A lot of the larger petrol stations now have a small shop or supermarket attached where you can usually buy milk and the basics for a meal.

Where you will struggle to find shops are in the more rural areas where we have lost a lot of our village shops and in the more remote and sparsely populated areas of the UK such as in the north and the northwest of Scotland. Certainly in these areas of Scotland you are also less likely to find a shop open on a Sunday.

Trains

UK TrainTaking your bikes on UK trains is not usually a problem as most of the rail companies take them. Unfortunately we don't have a nationalised rail network anymore so the facilities provided to carry bikes will vary according to the various regional operators. For details of all the operators have a look at the A to B site.

There is usually a designated space for cycles with racks of some sort, look out for the cycle symbol next to the carriage doors .

Some train operators make a charge for the carriage of bikes where for others bikes go free. One thing is clear there is always a limited amount of spaces, therefore in the peak season of the summer months it is advisable to book your bikes in advance to ensure that they are carried.

Things to watch out for & note.

  1. We drive and ride on the left of the road in the UK. It caught out a couple of German tourers we met coming off the ferry at Scrabster!
  2. It is technically illegal in the UK to ride on a pavement unless it is designated as a shared cycle route or path. If you are in any doubt as to whether it is cycle path then stick to the road.
  3. Unfortunately it is not usually accepted by UK bus companies to carry bicycles unless they are boxed or bagged. If they are boxed or bagged then they are considered part of your bagage and there is no charge for them, however it is up to the drivers discretion as to whether there is enough room to carry them.
  4. Wild camping is technically illegal in England and Wales as all land is privately owned. Permission needs to be sought from the landowner before attempting to camp on any land or field. In Scotland there are different access rights and it is possible to wild camp, see the Outdoor Access Scotland Website for more details.
  5. It is a requirement in the UK that any one using a road between sunset and sunrise should have a white forward facing light and a rear red light and a rear red reflector. For more information on the legal requirements for Bicycles in the UK see the this 'Regulations & Standards' page by the CTC.

Stove Fuels

Petrol

Unleaded petrol (gasoline) is easily available at any petrol or filling station. The usual minimum quantity dispensed is 2 litres but if you ask the attendant first there isn't usually a problem with smaller amounts.

Coleman fuel

This is generally only available in camping and outdoor shops in the UK, occasionally you might find it in the campsite shop in the more popular tourist areas such as the Lake district.

pierceable gas canisterGas

The pierceable and self sealing Butane and Butane/Propane mix gas canisters are generally easy to get hold of in the UK. Most camping and outdoor shops in the major towns will stock them and they are generally available at the larger campsites that have campsite shops. They are also available in most of the traditional hardware stores in towns.

Unfortunately the major DIY stores like B&Q and Homebase do not sell the gas canisters specifically for camping stoves but do sell some Butane/Propane mix self sealing gas canisters that are really meant for Blow torches, these use the same size fitting as the self sealing cartridge camping stoves and will do if nothing else is available.

Methylated spirit bottlesMethylated Spirits

For those of you who use the 'Trangia' style alcohol stoves, methylated spirits is available at most hardware shops in towns and in the major DIY stores like B&Q and Homebase. It is usually sold in 500ml plastic bottles, although you can occasionally get it in 2 litre and 5 litre containers.

Unfortunately our UK methylated spirits has a purple colorant added which is meant to deter people from drinking it. This colorant does seem to create a certain amount of sooting on the bottoms of the stove pans. This sooting can be reduced by adding a small amount of water to the methylated spirits, usually this is in the ratio of about 10% water to 90% methylated spirits but it is best to experiment a little with the quantities.

paraffin bottleParaffin (Kerosene)

Paraffin (Kerosene) is still available in the UK. It is not as widely available as it used to be as not many people use paraffin heaters these days. It is still available in most hardware stores in 500ml and 1litre containers.

It is also available in garden centres and country stores under the trade name 'Parasene' as it is used in greenhouse heaters, although it is then usually sold in 4 litre containers which isn't that easy to carry!

If you can't get paraffin you could use 'Lamp oil' which is just a more refined version of paraffin, again this available from the hardware stores in most towns.

Getting to the UK

There are numerous ways to get to the UK either by ferry or plane, it very much depends on where in the UK you wish to go. Have a look at our 'Taking Bikes on Ferries' page for links to ferry companies that serve the UK.

We have quite a few regional airports around the UK that now fly regular scheduled flights to various in international destinations.

Tourist Information

Nearly every town or city in the UK has a tourist information office , where the staff are usually very friendly and they have a wealth of local information with maps and guides on sale. Just look for the 'Tourist Information' signs in the towns & cities.

Contacts & Links

General

  • CTC Homepage - The Cyclists' Touring Club, the UK's national cyclists' organisation.
  • Sustrans - Information on the long distance cycle routes in the UK.
  • cycle-n-sleep.co.uk - UK site with information on cycling in the UK, including a long distance route map showing accommodation, cycle routes and cycle repair shops.
  • Britain's Official Travel & Tourism Guide! Plan your UK Holiday Now! : Visit Britain.
  • Scottish Tourist Board - accommodation, activities, events and holidays in Scotland.
  • Cycling in Wales - Useful Welsh tourist board cycling site with good information on cycling in Wales - 'Wales has 331 miles of traffic-free rides, perfect for families with children. For lovers of quiet lanes there are 11 'holiday hubs' to base an activity break or holiday around. And if you want to cycle long distance, there's that too.'
  • Cycling in Lancashire - Information on places to cycle, mountain bike trails, accomodation etc.
  • The Map shop, 15 High Street, Upton-upon-Severn, Worcs. WR8 0HJ England
    Tel: 01684-593146 Fax: 01684-594559

Long Distance Routes

  • Cycle : End-to-End - (Probably) the most extensive resource for Land's End to John O'Groats cycling trips.
  • The Ultimate Links - list of Land's End to John o'Groats cycle trips.
  • LEJOG/JOGLE - CTC route info.
  • The C2C Guide - the definitive resource centre for the Sea to Sea cycle route.
  • LEJOG accommodation - A list of some of the Guest Houses and B&Bs on the Lands End to John O Groats cycle route. Most of the accommodation has secure storage for bicycles.
  • Reivers Cycle Route - A comprehensive guide to the Reivers Cycle Route running from Tynemouth to Whitehaven.