Introduction : Discovering the UK on a Bicycle

"Long distance bicycle touring is by nature a Quixotic activity. In these days of light-speed communications, multimedia entertainment, fast, powerful and prestigious automobiles, luxurious homes, exotic restaurants, and instant gratification, why would someone choose to pedal at slow speeds on a loaded bicycle

Yet long distance, loaded cycling is one of the most pleasurable activities I have ever experienced. I'm slower in the morning having less speed but also a greater desire to stop at pleasant spots, dawdle, and enjoy. Traveling by bike allows me to stop anywhere, such as meadows, lakes, woods, and scenic spots, not just at the tourist traps and overlooks.

My panniers may look heavy to the passing motorist but I barely notice their weight; actually, the bike feels better loaded than empty; it's a lot more stable. Somewhere near lunch I find a small grocery and buy some bread, sandwich materials and fruit. I find a town park or other shady spot to wait out the high mid-day sun and maybe nap. In the afternoon, my speeds are higher, and I spend less time at stops. My body, tanned, lean from cycling, feels fantastic.

Visiting strange or famous places and accomplishing goals are always exciting to me. I meet and talk with interesting people along the way, sometimes other cyclists. Beautiful views, strange winds from nearby storms, encountering wild animals, and traveling up and down hills also stir me up. On the other hand, I may run into a rainy spell or have a slight problem with the bike, but the problems are infrequent and are easily dealt with; the pleasures remain in my mind for years" Thank you to Ken Keifer.

And for those wishing the freedom of two wheels in the UK, quiet country lanes with little traffic, and hundreds of miles of traffic-free cycle paths, there's no better way to discover the UK. National parks, forest tracks, hills, moorland and mountain scenery, an ocean, seas, rivers, woods, canal towpaths and cycle paths along former railway lines.

There are many bicycle routes in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and few parts of the United Kingdom are untouched by the National Cycle Network (NCN). The website only touches upon a small part of the NCN, where the real goal lies in the linking up of the UK into safer cycleways for leisure, work, amenity and other purposes. The NCN with government support via Sustrans has been crucial in raising the profile of cycling generally in the UK and now 10,000 miles of cycleways have been established alongside the linking up with other countries for initiatives such as the North Sea Cycle Route. All the long distance routes in the UK have been mapped and signposted.

And it's inevitable that to keep cyclists away from motorised vehicles there will be some short sections of more difficult terrain but you don't need a mountain bike to cope with the rough sections as they are very short and you can always walk for a few hundred metres. The touring or hybrid bikes are the best bicycles when undertaking the long distance routes but almost any bicycle can cope with the routes (if you use a mountain bike then the more slick tyres are a good idea - local cycle shops can advise and supply you with tyres for long distance routes).

The aim of the website is to help cyclists prepare for the many long distance cycling routes that reach out over the UK. Maps and guides try to give a flavour of the routes, and hopefully support the perfect opportunity, with a cycle map, to explore the UK. 

Routes are still being developed and will change as proposed and interim sections become permanent parts of the cycle network. Take care as you journey on the routes and respect the views and needs of local people you meet as the development of the National Cycle Network depends upon agreement with many organisations and individuals. And if possible, if you can't cycle to the route, then try to use public transport - all the routes are close to towns with train access.

But the most important thing is to take your time and enjoy the routes. And don't get too frustrated about losing your way through some of the urban areas as that's just the reality of a balance between local authorities signposting the routes and maybe local kids having fun with the signs.