Best road and gravel biking places in the UK – with Juliet Elliot
Blogger and multi-discipline bike racer Juliet Elliott shares her favourite places in the UK for road and gravel cycling
Though small in size – at its widest just 500km across – the United Kingdom has a rich and diverse landscape that caters for your every whim. Whether you prefer road, mountain or gravel bikes, we have some of the finest roads, mountains, hills and dales. With pockets of wilderness interspersed with easily accessible trails and picturesque villages offering tearooms and bakeries, we really are spoilt for choice.
The best place for gravel riding in the UK
Just outside the city of Sheffield lies the Peak District. Covering most of Derbyshire and parts of Staffordshire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, this oldest national park in England is an outdoor enthusiast’s wonderland.
If you are looking for a straightforward introduction to gravel riding or have children in tow, the traffic-free, largely flat Monsal and Tissington and High Peak Trails deliver on every front. Rideable no matter the weather, the routes follow old railway lines and offer picturesque views and great cafes, Hassop Station café being just one.
It is entirely possible to work these trails into a far bigger loop with more varied terrain but my favourite base for gravel riding in the Peaks is the village of Hathersage, twenty minutes from Sheffield. From here, you can access far more challenging trails that will push your gravel bike to the limit.
There is a fantastic route that heads up and over the gritstone escarpment of Stanage Edge, a climbing mecca that is visible from miles around. Taking you to Redmires Reservoir, the trail feels remote, and its chunky rocks will take some navigating. Skirting Sheffield, head back along the even more challenging Houndkirk Road, an ancient highway, before an easier roll through Longshaw Estate.
An alternative is a circumnavigation of Ladybower, Howden and Derwent Reservoir, one of my favourites as the surface is a little more compact and fast-rolling and you cannot get lost. Or you could spend many fun-filled hours exploring the High Peak and White Peak around Castleton and Peak Forest, riding the gravel lanes of the Pennine Bridleway and the Limestone Way.
The best road biking in the UK
It is incredibly difficult to name somewhere ‘the best place for road cycling’ as we are blessed with so much choice here in the UK. Of all the places I have ridden, the Brecon Beacons is a highlight with stunning riding west of the border with England.
Running between Hay – On Wye and Abergavenny, both of which are well worth a visit, Gospel Pass is Wale’s highest road pass with 456 metres of ascent. Rideable from either direction, the climb on either side is challenging but enjoyable; shorter with some steep segments as it winds its way through the pretty, green Vale of Ewas above Hay or longer and wooded until higher up if you tackle it the opposite way.
Many people stop on the Hay On Wye side to enjoy the far-reaching views but I prefer the remote feel of the other side, where you are less likely to encounter so many people parked up! Take care on the descent towards Capel-y-ffin as the surface is not as good here as on the other side.
I would highly recommend the other side of the Brecon Beacons too - Carmarthenshire has some fantastic road cycling. A favourite of mine is a loop called Big Hills, Big Views, a challenging route that includes climbing Black Mountain (another of 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs). The roads are great, and the landscape is diverse and peppered with history plus there is a great coffee shop (The Hangout) in Llandeilo.
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Juliet Elliot is a multi-discipline bike racer and blogger from the UK. Her award-winning blog Bikes N’ Stuff covers a range of bike-related content, as does her popular Youtube channel. You can also follow Juliet on Instagram.