The best of Britain - by bike

The National Cycle Network is a fantastic way to enjoy the summer. Why not start with one of these 20 routes?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

1. BALLYSHANNON TO BALLYCASTLE

Distance: 236 miles (including two options).

Difficulty: Moderate.

Starting on the Atlantic Ocean at Rossnowlagh Beach, the trail enters Northern Ireland on Lower Lough Erne. At Pettigo, there are two options - a northern route to Newtownstewart and a southern one to Enniskillen and Omagh, rejoining south of Strabane before heading to the historic walled city of Londonderry. From there to Limavady it passes the northern slopes of the Sperrins and through Coleraine on the north coast before guiding you towards the spectacular Giant's Causeway.

2. BELFAST TO BALLYSHANNON (WHITEABBEY TO COOKSTOWN SECTION)

Distance: 109 miles.

Difficulty: Easy.

Begins in Whiteabbey on the shores of Belfast Lough, following the traffic-free River Lagan towpath and passes the Belfast docks, the birthplace of the SS Titanic. Follows the River Lagan towpath towards Lisburn, and quiet roads to Portadown, with a southward stretch along the Newry Canal. Turns towards cathedral city of Armagh and Tynan, with its famous cross, then follows the line of the former Ulster Canal and grassy lanes towards the market towns of of Dungannon and Cookstown.

3. LON CAMBRIA (BETWEEN ABERYSTWYTH & SHREWSBURY

Distance: 113 miles.

Difficulty: Moderate/challenging.

The new Lôn Cambria route stretches across the heart of mid Wales, meandering through the spectacular Cambrian mountains before crossing the border and descending to the picturesque town of Shrewsbury. It offers something for everyone, from the bustle of the Victorian seaside resort of Aberystwyth to the peace and tranquillity of the Cambrian mountains with red kites circling above - this trail has it all!

4. LON LAS CYMRU - NORTH (BETWEEN BUILTH WELLS & HOLYHEAD)

Distance: 202 miles.

Difficulty: Challenging.

This northern section of the challenging Lôn Las Cymru route connects Holyhead and Anglesey to the northern part of the Wye Valley in mid-Wales using minor roads, railway paths, forest tracks and ancient coach roads. Landscapes vary from the pastoral peace of Anglesey to the rugged hills of the Snowdonia National Park. This ride is a must for adventurous cyclists and shows Wales in all its natural glory - much of which can't be seen from a car window.

5. THE CELTIC TRAIL (BETWEEN SEVERN BRIDGE & FISHGUARD)

Distance: 227 miles, with 140 miles of options.

Difficulty: Varies from easy to challenging.

The Celtic Trail travels the length of South Wales. The route can be broken down into chunks, with fantastic family cycling between Port Talbot and Pembrey. Your journey will take you through some of the most diverse scenery in Wales, from the industrial heartland, passing through Cardiff and Swansea, to green valleys and forests.

6. FAKENHAM TO HARWICH

Distance: 163 miles.

Difficulty: Easy/moderate.

With its rolling hills, this part of Eastern England is ideal cycling country. From Fakenham, the route heads south-east towards Norwich, entering the city along the traffic-free Mariott's Way, a disused railway line now developed for cyclists and walkers. Travelling south through Suffolk, this route offers a choice of paths; follow the coastline past Orford to Felixstowe, or take the inland route through Constable country and the ancient town of Colchester to Wivenhoe before heading for the port of Harwich.

7. THE CORNISH WAY (BETWEEN LAND'S END & BUDE)

Distance: Over 200 miles of interlinking trails.

Difficulty: Moderate/hard.

Explore Cornwall's fantastic countryside on this network of mainly quiet rural roads and traffic-free paths which connect Land's End to Bude. The Cornish Way includes the popular 17-mile traffic-free Camel Trail, which meanders from Padstow along the Camel Estuary to Bodmin and Poley's Bridge. The trails reveal Cornwall's arts, crafts, festivals and legends.

8. DEVON COASTAL (BETWEEN ILFRACOMBE & PLYMOUTH)

Distance: 102 miles.

Difficulty: Moderate/hard.

This is one of the most spectacular and memorable routes on the National Cycle Network. Starting from the seaside resort of Ilfracombe and ending at the city of Plymouth, the route traces the course of former Victorian railway lines. The traffic-free Granite Way is a highlight; other shorter sections include the Plym Valley Trail and the famous Tarka Trail between Braunton and Meeth.

9. BIDEFORD TO BRISTOL (SECTION OF THE WEST COUNTRY WAY)

Distance: 155 miles.

Difficulty: Moderate/hard.

Between Bideford and Barnstaple, the route follows the Tarka Trail on the southern bank of the River Taw estuary. The challenging climb to the highest point on the route on top of Exmoor has stunning views. Then go through Tiverton and on to Somerset, with traffic-free sections from Taunton to Bridgwater. Visit Glastonbury Tor and Wells Cathedral as the route meanders towards Bristol.

10. KENNET AND AVON (BETWEEN READING & BATH)

Distance: 84 miles (with 16 mile link to Bristol).

Difficulty: Easy.

Weaves through spectacular scenery between the Thames and the Bristol Avon, taking you through West Berkshire, an area of outstanding natural beauty, and the southern tip of the rolling Cotswolds. The canal towpath is ideal for cycling and can be reached from a selection of mainline stations, making it easy to plan a day trip with a mileage to suit individual preferences.

11. OXFORD TO STRATFORD-UPON-AVON Distance: 61 miles.

Difficulty: Moderate.

This route starts in the city of Oxford and journeys through Banbury to Shakespeare's birthplace. It follows the Oxford Canal out of the city and through the beautiful countryside of north Oxfordshire towards Banbury. Cycle across the border into Warwickshire and visit the town of Shipston-on-Stour before heading north, crossing the ancient Fosse Way. The route then joins the traffic-free Stratford Greenway, which follows the line of the old Honeybourne Railway to Stratford-upon-Avon. This route can be split into smaller sections for great family day rides around this historic part of Britain.

12. DERBY TO YORK

Distance: 154 miles, with 28 miles of options.

Difficulty: Moderate.

This route opens up a rich seam of interesting places to visit, each telling their own story from the area's industrial heritage from the coalfields of Nottinghamshire to the furnaces of Sheffield's steel mills. Explore the legend of Robin Hood in Nottinghamshire's famous ancient woodlands, visit Conisbrough Castle or enjoy the country parks that have recently transformed much of this historically industrial land. The route takes you to cycle-friendly York.

13. SEA TO SEA (BETWEEN WHITEHAVEN/ WORKINGTON & NEWCASTLE/SUNDERLAND)

Distance: 136 miles, plus 62 miles of options

Difficulty: Moderate/hard

The UK's most popular 'challenge' cycle route and one that will give you a real sense of achievement. Linking the Irish Sea with the North Sea, the route runs through the northern Lake District and climbs the Pennines to the highest point on the National Cycle Network at Black Hill. Several sections offer off-road alternatives.

14. COAST AND CASTLES (BETWEEN NEWCASTLE & EDINBURGH)

Distance: 200 miles.

Difficulty: Easy/moderate.

This long-distance route links the Tyne and Forth estuaries, taking in some of Britain's best built and natural heritage. Starting in the vibrant city of Newcastle upon Tyne, it passes the former coalfields of south-east Northumberland and Hadrian's Wall. The route continues along unspoiled coastline and through beautiful Tweed valley towns before reaching Edinburgh.

15.THAMES VALLEY (BETWEEN LONDON & OXFORD)

Distance: 98 miles.

Difficulty: Easy/moderate.

Leave the hubbub of Putney Bridge for Richmond Park, the Thames at Teddington Lock and the riverside tracks past Hampton Court Palace. the route offers tremendous views of Windsor Castle. Crossing the river, it heads westwards towards Maidenhead and Reading, passing Eton College's rowing lake. After Reading, you follow the rural roads of the Chilterns. Journey's end is Oxford, one of England's most cycle-friendly cities.

16. GARDEN OF ENGLAND (BETWEEN DOVER, LONDON & HASTINGS)

Distance: 114 miles or 54 miles.

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate.

Dover's white cliffs mark the start of this ride to London which follows the coast to the mediaeval ports of Sandwich, Ramsgate and Ebbsfleet At Fordwich, Britain's smallest town, a traffic-free path takes you to Canterbury. The Crab & Winkle Way leads to Whitstable, and its oysters, and then to Faversham. At Dartford follow the river along traffic-free paths, to Greenwich, ending at the Cutty Sark.

West of Dover, the route to Hastings starts at Samphire Hoe Country Park: created from excavations of the Channel Tunnel. The cliff-top path descends to Folkestone Harbour and Hythe, before crossing Romney Marsh into Sussex, passing through Rye and Winchelsea. The descent into Hastings has grand views over the old town and the English Channel.

17. THE PENNINE CYCLEWAY (BETWEEN HOLMFIRTH & APPLEBY- IN-WESTMORLAND)

Distance: 124 miles.

Difficulty: Challenging.

This route takes in a variety of landscapes, from canal embankments and evocative mill towns to the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales and the peaceful Eden Valley. It follows the South Pennines, passing beneath the famous Pendle Hill (look out for witches!) before entering the Yorkshire Dales. Steep climbs and rapid descents lead to cobbled Dent and on to the Howgill Fells, with fine views over the Lune Gorge towards the Lakeland Fells.

18. CLYDE TO FORTH

Distance: 91 miles. Difficulty: Easy/moderate.

The route starts at Gourock on the Clyde. It offers fine views of the Highlands; and a traffic-free path leads almost to the centre of Glasgow. Following the Clyde east out of the city, you get a taste of the industrial east end of Glasgow. The Hillend Loch Railway Path, a 13-mile traffic-free route across the central plateau, has a sculpture trail; afterwards, the network of paths through Livingston leads to Almondell and Calderwood Country Park. The approach to Edin-burgh is virtually traffic-free, along the Water of Leith and Union Canal paths.

19. LOCHS AND GLENS (NORTH, BETWEEN INVERNESS & GLASGOW)

Distance: 215 miles.

Difficulty: hard/challenging.

This route takes you through quintessentially Scottish landscapes. After leaving the city of Inverness, the route climbs to the moors of Strathspey, with its ancient remains of the Caledonian pine forest and views of the Cairngorms. The route descends to wooded hillside and on to the lochs of Tay, Earn Lubnaig and Venachar. It crosses the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park before reaching the southern end of Loch Lomond and heading to Glasgow.

20. ABERDEEN TO JOHN O'GROATS (PART)

Distance: 215 miles.

Difficulty: Moderate/hard.

Starts in the granite city of Aberdeen, and travels northwards to on the traffic-free Formartine and Buchan Way before passing through the market towns of Tarves and Turriff. Then heads to the coast of the Moray Firth and on to Inverness. This route offers views of open land and seascapes, rural villages and historic castles and at Moray Firth - even the chance to see wild dolphins!

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