Five Best: British bicycle routes

As the Tour de France gets underway in London, Anton Renshawe-Strack takes to the road for some superb cycling
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The Independent Online

London to Brighton Bike Ride

It may not be the prettiest, nor the quietest, and certainly not the most challenging, but the London-to-Brighton, which raises money annually for the British Heart Foundation, is possibly the country's finest bike ride. Cycling out of the capital, rather than driving, gives you a strong sense of transition from urban to suburban to country to sea. The finale is the legendary one-mile push up Ditchling Beacon. Look for the word "Pantini", a tribute to the great Italian climber, painted by fans when the Tour last came to our shores in 1994.

Start: Clapham Common, SW London. Finish: Brighton seafront. Distance: 54 miles. More info: www.bhf.org.uk

Romantic Road, Gloucestershire

Coachloads of American tourists aside, the Cotswolds is magnificent for cycling. Its gentle hills, winding country lanes and honey-stone hamlets are at their most romantic when discovered on two wheels. The Romantic Road is a tour that traces the tales of the many artists and writers who have drawn inspiration from these hallowed hills. Starting from Cheltenham, it meanders through classic Cotswoldian territory, including the Slaughters, Stow-on-the-Wold and Sudeley Castle, the venue of Liz Hurley's wedding in March. Fit cyclists could sprint its 75 miles in a day, but that would only leave time for an energy-bar lunch – and where's the romance in that? Overnight instead at the Dormy House Hotel in Broadway, so you'll have ample time off the saddle to explore a landscape so overwhelmingly beautiful you'll go moist in the eye.

Start/finish: Cheltenham. Distance: 75 miles. More info: 01242 522878; www.visitcheltenham.info; Dormy House: 01386 852 711; www.dormyhouse.co.uk

Coastal Tour, Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight has long been a favourite for a good old-fashioned seaside holiday, but as tastes have changed it has re-invented itself as an adventure destination, spearheaded by its annual White Air extreme sports festival. The cycling possibilities are plentiful, with a 200-mile network of undulating cycle-ways. A classic is the Coastal Tour, a 62-mile loop of the island along its quiet back roads and through villages, with thousand-mile sea views at every turn. If you're fit you could complete the itinerary in a day – and in under four hours if you're super-fit. If you prefer to mix in a little sightseeing, spread the tour over a weekend and visit such tourist treats as the Needles and Osborne House.

Start/finish: Any of the ferry ports (Yarmouth, Cowes or Ryde). Distance: 62 miles. More info: 01983 813813; ; www.islandbreaks.co.uk; or www.sunseaandcycling.com

Oban to CampbeltownArgyll

In these times of unrelenting urban expansion, it's reassuring to know that our island is still home to pockets of wilderness. The Kintyre Peninsula in Western Scotland is about as remote as Britain gets. Cycling from Oban to Campbeltown is special indeed, a hauntingly beautiful route lined with ancient abbeys, castles and stone circles. The National Cycle Route ends at Campbeltown but spare an extra day for the tough 32-mile round-trip to Mull of Kintyre and its views of the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland. Getting back from Kintyre might well prove the biggest challenge, as public transport is so infrequent it's probably easier to cycle back to Oban.

Start: Oban. Finish: Campbeltown. Distance: 120 miles. More info: www.sustrans.org.uk

The C2C Whitehaven to Sunderland

If the Tour de France were ever to head north of the Watford Gap, the Sea to Sea (C2C) would provide quite a stage. It's a gruelling 140-mile traverse of England at its narrowest point, through spectacular upland scenery including the Lake District and the Durham Dales. Despite its difficulty, the C2C is Britain's most popular long-distance cycle route, tackled by some 15,000 cyclists of all levels every year. The toughest climb winds up to the summit of Hartside, where you're rewarded with sweeping views across the Pennines ("the roof of England") and over the Solway Firth to Scotland. From Waskerley Way it's a gentle cruise to Sunderland along a series of disused railway paths.

Start: Whitehaven lighthouse. Finish: Sunderland lighthouse. Distance: 140 miles. More info: www.c2c-guide.co.uk

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