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Using the Ultimate UK Cycle Route Planner

The Ultimate UK Cycle Route Planner cover photo

Using the Ultimate UK Cycle Route Planner

by Richard Peace, cycling journalist, guide book author, map designer:

UK Cycle Route Planner
The Ultimate UK Cycle Route Planner

As a cycle guide publisher we’ve done quite a few shows in the past, displaying our range of cycle books and maps to the general public and it’s always interesting to get people’s reactions. The good ones make you feel like you are doing something right but the critical are often just as helpful.

It’s been very noticeable at the shows that many people pick up our Ultimate UK Cycle Route Planner and once they have done so are extremely reluctant to put it down, studying it intensely and making ums and ahs of interest and enlightenment.

But why is it a different tale with some online reviews who occasionally criticise the map? Typical comments include ‘Not enough detail to follow correctly’ and ‘at best it is an indication of where cycle routes may be.’

So to clear up exactly what the planner is and isn’t and how it will hopefully keep on proving useful to buyers, here’s a bit more background about the contents and how it we envisage it being used.

1. The Scale

With a scale of 1:588,000 this is an overview map for planning your routes so you can see how all the UK’s main leisure cycle routes are interconnected. So it’s not meant for navigation as you ride along.

It’s simply not possible to fit all the UK’s major cycle routes onto one map at a great level of detail – if you tried you would end up with an unmanageably large sheet of paper.

1080mm x 880mm is the unfolded sheet size and is as large as we wanted to go – any larger and it becomes too much of a handful to inspect when unfolded, especially if outdoors in the wind.

It folds down to the size of an OS Landranger map and so will handily fit in the map pocket of an outdoor type coat.

2. What Routes are Shown and Who is it Aimed at?

Leisure riding
The National Cycle Network (NCN)

The UK Cycle Route Planner is aimed at leisure riders. The National Cycle Network (NCN) is shown in its entirety and stands out in bold red along. NCN route numbers are included. As the traffic-free sections (many are former railway lines converted to paths or upgraded canal towpaths) are amongst the most popular these are made to stand out in even broader red and white dashes.

There is more traffic-free info in the form of green numbers next to traffic-free sections. A separate box out names each numbered traffic-free section, allowing you to search out more detailed info online or in other guidebooks. There are 305 traffic-free sections listed and those that we know to be in rougher condition are indicated with red MB lettering to show that a mountain bike may be a wise choice on them, even though the gradients are likely to be unchallenging.

In addition to NCN routes the traffic-free numbering system also identifies easy going traffic-free trails that are not on the NCN but still legally cycleable, such as some sections of the Leeds-Liverpool canal or a route through the Forest of Dean.

More Challenging Routes

For those want more of a challenge the map also shows a selection of routes in dotted green lines. These are National Trails and other long distance off-road routes that allow bikes.

cycle maps and guide books
Southe Pennines and Peak District Off-road Cycle Map

Examples include the Pennine Bridleway and the Moors to Sea route in the North Yorks Moors. If you want to know more about the kind of track used by these routes see the BikeRideMaps blog here on the routes in the South Pennines and northern Peak District.

A selection of long distance classics are also indicated on the map including the C2C, the Way of the Roses and the Devon Coast to Coast. The map also shows 46 regional signed routes – these are also often multi day rides and fully signed on the ground but less well-known than the iconic long distance routes listed above.

Attractions En Route and Transport Links

To aid the ‘joining up’ of all the above routes the map also shows suggested minor road links and the lengthier sections of traffic-free route sometimes found alongside major roads.

The UK’s rail network and all stations are shown in full for those wanting to access their rides by train.

This allows you to make up your own bike tours; an almost infinite number of possibilities await…

Last but not least you can see where there are attractions on or near the cycle routes such as stately homes, castles, museums and many other historical sites.

3. So Just How Would You Use It?

We have had feedback from an End to End rider who said they took the map with them en route and found it invaluable. But it can also be used to discover day rides in your local area or a holiday area you don’t know that well or to make up your own multi-day rides.

As we always try and make clear to potential buyers, when out cycling you are likely to need a more detailed, larger scale map of the area you are riding in to aid you if you get lost en route.

Where the Planner comes into its own is allowing you to see easily and clearly at a glance all the many different types of route in any area of the UK you choose to look at.

That’s something we think no other publication will let you do.

Richard Peace is the author of many cycling guide books, including the best-selling C2C cycle guide, Cycling Northern France, Cycling Southern France and the Devon C2C cycle guide.

You can read more on the Excellent Books web page.

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5 Reasons the C2C is so Popular

5 Reasons the C2C is so Popular

by Richard Peace, cycling journalist, guide book author, map designer:

Sustrans’ C2C cycle route is truly a phenomenon; it can fairly claim to be the most popular and widely known long distance cycle route in the UK, completed by many thousands each year. This is despite the fact it makes up only a tiny percentage of the almost 17,000 miles of Sustrans National Cycle Network that spans the UK.

With the longest option amounting to nearly 140 miles and crossing two of the UK’s main mountain ranges (the Lake District and the Northern Pennines) it’s hardly surprising that cycling the C2C between the Cumbrian coast and one of the north-east’s main cities is classed as a major achievement.

If you want to make it an ironman style test of cycling endurance you could always try and complete the route in a day. According to Wikipedia the current record actually stands at precisely 7 hours 53 minutes and 03 seconds, west to east, by Joel Toombs and Matt Shorrock on 28 September 2012.

Other amazing achievements cycling the C2C include crossings by a four year old (cycling a tagalong bike behind his Dad) and a crossing on large wheeled unicycles!

Of course if you want to make the challenge a little easier you can always use one of the many luggage services to go load-free, take more days to shorten the distance cycled every day (between three and seven days is the norm), use an e-bike or select the easier route options over harder ones. 

Descending from Hartside 2

Whichever way you look at it, crossing the roof of England by bike and linking the Irish and North Seas in the process will feel like an achievement.

The 5 Reasons the C2C is so Popular

1. The Scenery

Stunning. Magnificent. Breathtaking. These are cliched and overused descriptions of landcsapes in the outdoors industry so just look at the photos if you don’t believe me!

[envira-gallery id=”8982″]

2. The Infrastructure

I’m not really talking cycle lanes here, although there are some great traffic-free paths such as the one that leads from Whitehaven to the edge of the Lake District and the ride along the river Tyne in Newcastle.

Think more of a huge range of accommodation, from small rural campsites to grand, historic hotels, many aware of the needs of cyclists (for example offering secure cycle storage). Then there are the tour operators who can arrange all sorts of packages from comprehensive holidays with pre-booked hotels to simple luggage transfer services. Many also offer a service returning you and your bike to your start point if required.

If you want to make the C2C into a bigger adventure you could cycle back west on one of the other coast to coast routes that were put in place in the wake of the C2C’s success. Hadrian’s Cycleway leads from Newcastle to Carlisle and along the Cumbrian coast to Whitehaven, visiting sections of the eponymous wall (a return route of 170 miles though it is possible to shortcut from Carlisle along the Reivers route). There’s also the Walney to Wear that heads back to southern Lakeland.

No doubt the prevalence of charity rides along the route has also helped put in place all the support services for a C2C ride that can be as self-organised or as arranged for you as you like. 

3. A Walking Past

The idea of travelling coast to coast across the Lakes and Pennines under human power alone was already firmly embedded in the public consciousness before the C2C cycle route came along in 1994. The Coast to Coast Walk is a 182-mile route devised by the legendary Alfred Wainwright in 1973. Although it takes quite a different route to the cycle trip it helped hugely to promote the idea of the coast to coast being one of the most spectacular and satisfying journeys you could make.

4. The Sustrans Fanfare

Sustrans’ launch of the C2C was succeeded the following year by a grant of £43.5 million from the Millennium Lottery Fund to extend the National Cycle Network to smaller towns and rural areas.

Sustrans also launched the “Safe Routes to Schools” project, the money and subsequent massive national publicity no doubt helping to raise the awareness of what Sustrans described at the time as its ‘flagship’ route.

The scenery isn’t the only visually attractive aspect of the route. A novel feature is the C2C’s use of and often huge artworks along the way, pioneering at the time. Here’s another picture selection to demonstrate.

[envira-gallery id=”9006″]

5. The Snowball Effect

Once something gets to such a level of popularity it tends to breed its own mouth to mouth publicity on a big scale.

How many other national cycle routes in the UK could the average leisure cyclist name – Lands End to John o’Groats very likely – but also very likely very few of the many hundreds of others unless they had specific experience of them. 

Blog Author

Richard Peace is the author of The Ultimate C2C Guide, Coast to Coast by Bike, published by his own company Excellent Books and sponsored by Sustrans.

Below is a selection of C2C maps and guide books.

For the full range, go to the C2C coast to coast section of the shop.

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Ride in the Steps of the Packhorses – Trails Perfect for Electric Off-road Cycling

Ancient direction post on the Roman Road at Hope Brink

The South Pennines and Peak District Off-Road Cycle Map

by Richard Peace, cycling journalist, guide book author, map designer:

Packhorse Trails were the motorways of their day
Packhorse Trails were the motorways of their day

I spent last summer riding many of the finest tracks in the South Pennines and the northern Peak District in order to produce this tough, waterproof map.

For many years, before the days of tarmac, these tracks were the motorways of their day, with incredibly hardy packhorse ponies bringing the necessities of life like salt from as far afield as Cheshire and also acting as the HGVs of the very early cotton and woollen industries in the area, still dotted with early weavers’ hamlets and villages.

Today they are the bedrock (literally in some cases) of some great off-road riding. Add in the canals of the area and you have one of the most varied, visually striking and beautiful areas in the whole of the UK for off-road riding.

Best Track Highlights from the South Pennines and Peak District Off-Road Cycle Map

Along Reddyshore Scout
Along Reddyshore Scout

Here’s my top five scenic tracks and lanes of the area (in no particular order), all detailed on the map as part of longer bike routes:

  1. Colden Clough Road – Just west of tourist magnet Heptonstall, next to Hebden Bridge, this gradually climbing broad track takes you through a wonderful ancient wooded valley then onto moorland scenery to end at a pub.
  2. Reddyshore Scout Gate – A broad, easy to ride track climbs high above the steep sided Upper Roch valley with great views down onto colourful canal boats and small rows of terraces decorating the Rochdale Canal.
  3. Pennine Bridleway – Hayfield to Rushup Edge. A great section of this well-signed National Trail. Rocky in places but plenty of broad tracks too with stunning views over to the highest point in the Peak District National Park, Kinder Scout.
  4. Hope Brink – Actually thought to be much older than packhorse trails, being marked as a Roman road on maps. Fantastic views down Edale from the old direction post at Hope Cross.
  5. Wessenden Valley – Improved by the National Trust who own large tracts of Wessenden Moor, this is now one of the best quality off-road tracks in the South Pennines and makes a wonderful descent from the moors into the attractive old mill town of Marsden.

Family ride highlights

Easy trails around the Longdendale Valley
Easy trails around the Longdendale Valley

Family ride highlights on the map include the Longdendale Trail and the Calder & Hebble Canal but there are many more.

The latter has been undergoing a scheme of surface improvements to make it even better for cycling thanks to the excellent CityConnect project.

Daunting No More

I surveyed the whole of the area using electric bikes which I also write reviews of. They mean terrain once unconquerable to someone in his mid-50s with a dodgy back and knees is now a joy to ride through. And I still get a good workout in the process.

Here’s selection of my favourite e-bikes I reviewed whilst riding the routes.

E-biking on the Pennine Bridleway heading towards Kinder Scout
  1. Riese & Muller Delite Mountain Rohloff – A no-holds barred, no expense spared full suspension e-mtb that also comes with rack and lights and a double battery, making it the best off-road e-bike I’ve tried for long distance, ride-all-day off-road e-biking.
  2. Brose Drive S Mag E-bikes – Any e-mtb with a new Brose Drive S Mag motor should give great power yet still be relatively lightweight. Here’s a comprehensive e-mtb test where it is declared winner. 
  3. Carrera Vengeance-E – Halfords own brand and great for family and easier emtb trails
  4. Riese & Muller Nevo GX – Great for older riders or anyone who struggles to get their leg over a higher top tube design. One of the very few off-road step thru e-bikes with incredibly sporty and bullet-proof performance as you would expect from this company.

Map Details

There are three main elements to the waterproof map:

South Pennines and Peak District Off-road Cycle Map
  1. A 110 mile ‘Pike to Peak’ circular ‘challenge’ route, linking the famous landmarks of Stoodley Pike near Hebden Bridge to Rushup Edge and Mam Tor in the Peak District National Park. The Pike to Peak is around 75% off-road and uses old packhorse trails and turnpike roads to take in some of the area’s most stunning scenery and attractive towns and villages. The Pike to Peak can be tackled in the form of two smaller loops to make it more manageable as it is bisected by the TPT, meaning you also have the option of two smaller loops of 78 miles and 43 miles.
  2. 14 shorter circular day rides along classic trails such as Hope Brink, Wessenden Valley, Holme Valley, Reddyshore Scout, Ladybower Reservoir and the Hope Valley. These range from 8 miles to 26 miles.
  3. 20 family trails including the Calder Valley Greenway, Longdendale Trail, Upper Don Trail, Tame Valley Trail, Huddersfield Narrow Canal, Sett Valley Trail and many more.

In compiling the map I tried to pick out the best examples of off-road riding in the area by picking out broad, rideable tracks for adventurous leisure riders (though of course being in the heart of the Pennines there are still plenty of gradients unless you choose one of the family trails on the map). The route choice is ideal for electric mountain bikers getting their first taste of the activity.

The map also features:

  • Cycle-friendly accommodation listings with a link to internet pages featuring lots more detail.
  • GPX route files – internet links that guide users to web pages where they can download GPX route files for all the rides and get more background information about the routes.

South Pennines & Peak District Off-road Cycle Map

  • ISBN: 978-1901464382
  • Folded size: 24.4 x 13.8 x 1.2 cm
  • Unfolded size: 68cm x 48cm