“It’s a bit technical” a cyclist who had appeared from the gorse on a trick Mountain Bike told us cautiously as he looked sceptically at our bikes: a gravel bike, a 29er MTB that had seen many years’ service, and a hybrid. I assured him we didn’t mind walking and thanked him, relieved that we could carry on. I had been looking at the satnav & the OS map for some minutes trying to reconcile the maps with a signed track that on the ground disappeared into a bluff edge of Mulfra Hill.
It was the end of a long day. The teens were getting hangry and resistant to going any further than necessary. We needed to get to the youth hostel for our meal. Up to that point we’d not fallen off on our adventure cycle ride across England from Lowestoft to Lands End. With about 20 miles to go, that all changed! Fortunately we were cushioned by gorse and we made it to the Lands End Youth Hostel in time for dinner. I rallied the team after we ate and we headed to England’s most westerly point. A spectacular sunset marked our achievement: 585 miles of adventure bike ride across England from our start on the East Coast, about half of it off road.
A Chilly Start & Regal Pomp
The biting wind whipping across the North Sea accompanied us as we started from Ness Point. However it was dry and not a head wind, so we counted our blessings as we set off towards Southwold. Once away from the coast the sun warmed us as we followed much of the Sandlings Way. By Woodbridge we were tired and wondering if we’d bitten off more than we could chew. The following days took us through Braintree on minor roads before the next off-road leg along the Flitch Way. In Essex we passed cricketers in white flannels on the greens, then headed into London along the Lee Valley.
Early starts were never the strong point with 2 teenagers and there was so much to see on our adventure bike ride through London that we diverted from Cycle Route 4 to the less scenic Grand Union Canal to Windsor. Before we set off for Streatley the next day we caught the glorious pomp of the military band marching to Windsor Castle, an unexpected delight on a summer’s day. Even the armed police posed with us for photos!
Ridgeway – Iron Age England
The long climb out of Streatley onto the chalk of the Ridgeway was our first proper hill. Suffolk-born teens were unconvinced that this was not steep. It felt like our adventure bike ride had begun in earnest. The route to Marlborough is a gem of an off-road route and should be on every cyclist’s bucket list. The track was well signed, challenging enough for a family of our average ability and deserted for long stretches. We only saw other people at the tourist-marked hill forts and white horses that dot the route. The only cars we saw were at road crossings. We travelled through the heart of England with the sun on our backs, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire beneath us, and buzzards circling on thermals to the side of us. Stunning.
After a day of rest and bike maintenance (including a new bottom bracket), the Avebury standing stones heralded the Wessex Ridgeway. This holds much promise but was poorly signed (some deliberately turned or vandalised) and badly maintained & overgrown. We often found ourselves off the right path and had to navigate back again. Too often we had to walk our bikes along overgrown bridleways that stung and shredded us badly. No horse could have navigated these bridleways without injury. This typified the stretch to Lyme Regis, and each excursion from the route took precious time. We used Google Maps to find a more direct route when time ran short at the end of the day. These were often great alternatives along tracks, but not always for bikes. We were faced with a couple of kissing gates to heft our bikes over.
We whizzed past army ranges on Salisbury plain with magnificent views. Next through Warminster, then boggy woods and the adrenalin rush of crossing the A303! This led to the beautiful village of Hindon where a family who chatted with us as we bought flapjack, cheered us as we passed them on the climb out of the village and so into Dorset. After admiring the Cerne Abbas Giant we struggled through a field of oil seed rape, so sadly didn’t have time for the track around the top of Beaminster. We tortured our brakes on the descent into Lyme Regis where the wily seagulls stole our food.
At Beer Youth Hostel we met a cyclist who had started from Land’s End but abandoned his planned trip to John O’Groats due to the weather forecast. He was heading home to East Anglia, so we recommended passing Lowestoft to mirror our route! The road to the north of Dartmoor was the only time we came across any other long distance cyclists. In closely spaced small groups of 6-10 they were heading east, presumably on LEJoG, as we alone headed west. From Okehampton we swung south on Cycle Route 27, which followed an old railway line including the breathtaking Meldon Viaduct.
We passed to the South of Bodmin Moor with amazing views at Pensilva following a punishing climb. Numerous steep climbs and descents followed with the teens observing nowhere was flat in Cornwall! The East-West route had developed our fitness and we rarely got off, challenging each other to the tops. Much of the route was rural with sunken lanes full of damp-loving plants – like an elongated Eden project in the hedgerows. To the West of Truro the landscape became post-industrial as we passed former mines and their workings around Redruth and Camborne. It was pretty wild on the moors to the north of Penzance, but thanks to our chance meeting with the mountain biker at Mulfra we made it without admitting defeat and going into the city.
Lowestoft to Land’s End Cycle Ride – What an Adventure!
Lowestoft to Land’s End is an epic adventure cycle ride across England, charting a rarely tried coast-to-coast route. (For details see the route descriptions). Hedgerows protected us from headwinds when there were any. We grew accustomed to the hills which we defined as needing the inner chain ring – anything on the middle ring was merely an incline! The teens grew to appreciate cycling, so the balance of terrain and distance for each day, and not slavishly sticking to the route every day was well rewarded. We used B&Bs but carried food and water for the day. As the temperatures soared past 30C this was hard work! We had no rain on the trip which was a miracle! To cap it off we raised £1000 for Sue Ryder, Alzheimer’s Society & Contented Dementia Trust.
As we travelled back on the train (only just managing to get our fat tyres into the bike holders) we reflected on our journey. The numerous charming villages and modern glitz of central London. The regal splendour of Windsor and nature’s unparalleled glory on the chalk downs. The Iron Age highway across from the home counties to the Jurassic coast. The water ways of the industrial revolution linking much of the country. The rugged charm of the high moors. The friendship of passers by and fellow travellers. Truly an epic adventure cycle ride and England at her finest.