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Bikepacking has officially blown up! The simple act of packing up a push bike with the bare essentials and setting off for days on end has never been so popular – the ultimate antidote for two years of intermittent lockdowns perhaps. And as the gap between road and off-road bikes has blurred and we’ve learned ever-more creative ways to strap luggage directly onto our bikes, the possibilities for what’s possible with a backpacking rig and a basic camping set up is seemingly endless – something which has captured imaginations beyond the cycling world, including ourselves.
And a huge part of the beauty of setting off into the sunset on two wheels is the sense of liberty – the ability to easily craft your own journey or even travel without a set route in mind. But nailing a good route isn’t always as simple as it might seem and being able to simply plug in a GPX route masterfully and painstakingly designed by someone else is a fantastic way to maximise your fun on a multi-day bike trip. So what makes a good bikepacking route? Well to some extent that’s a subjective matter, and your own experience and fitness will play a role in what is or isn’t suitable. But for us, we love linear routes. A-to-B journeys are an incredible way to witness the landscape change beneath your tyres and the sense of achievement arriving somewhere far away is a tough one to beat. But it’s the miles in between that are the important bit. While you can bikepack on any type of bike and terrain, a good mix of both road and off road will allow you to really explore the landscape and perhaps get into those more isolated environments. Next, what’s the point? Well of course just riding your bike somewhere new is enough, but if there is historical or goegraphical or social context for the route’s existence, then even better. Finally, the route has to make sense, it needs to flow and feel like a cohesive journey.
So then begs the question, what are the UK’s best bikepacking routes? Well, while more and more seem to appear each and every month as more and more of the nation are bitten by the bikepacking bug, below we lay out our favourite multi-day bikepacking routes across the four corners of the UK.
From Inverness in the north to Glasgow in the south, the Badger Divide is a fantastic option for discovering the Scottish Highlands by bike with a fraction of the commitment or technical riding prowess required to take on the iconic highland loops like the Highland Trail 550 or the Cairngorms Loop.
A play on the well known Baja Divide of the eponymous Mexican peninsula, the Badger Divide is an ideal and fairly accessible long weekend adventure linking up several well established existing trails.
With long winding gravel roads, forest tracks and back lanes as well as a touch of the chunkier stuff, you’ll want a capable trust-worthy gravel bike although you could certainly get away with something heavier duty (i.e. a mountain bike) if that’s what you have available to you.
Despite travelling through some pretty remote terrain, you’ll find plenty of resupply points as well as bothies, hostels and camp grounds to spend the night as well as of course an abundance of wild camping options. Being in the Scottish Highlands though, where weather can be notoriously savage, you’ll want to keep his one for the fairer summer months and probably still keep an eye on the forecast before you leave.
Finishing in Glasgow, the Badger Divide lends itself nicely to connect with Second City Divide for the ambitious ‘Double Divide’.
Second City Divide
Rough Stuff of The North
400 miles / 5-8 days
There are certainly faster, more efficient ways to cycle between these two cities, but you’ll struggle to find a more rewarding one. Snaking through vast wind farms, large open grassy moorland, rocky bridleways and tarmac roads, the Second City Divide makes for a fantastically varied and challenging journey between Glasgow and Manchester.
Along the route, you’ll take in some of most iconic landscapes of The North, from Kielder Forest to the Yorkshire Dales and beyond, including a cheeky traverse over the top of Cross Fell, the highest point of the Pennines.
It’s a route that has been carefully constructed over several years of map inspection and reconnaissance missions which clearly shows with a great sense of flow and some of the best all road riding in the UK.
But it’s not a route to be taken lightly. It’s challenging at times steep and rocky and isolated so it’s definitely one best suited to those with a bit of prior bikepacking experience, a bike that rides confidently off road and a good level of fitness. There are great transport links at both ends and at stages throughout which makes it logistically a lot simpler and meaning there is no reason why Second City Divide can’t be broken up into smaller weekend strike missions.
The Old Chalk Way loosely follows England’s oldest road, an old trading link between South Coast and North Sea as a newly established route designed specifically for gravel bikes. The terrain here is mixed but not technical, with wide hard packed gravel, grassy byways and chalk double track and forest fire roads following a route steeped in history as it takes in some of the most important historical sites of the south of England.
There are train links close to the start and finish points as well as countless opportunities to bail out along the way which makes this a great opportunity to break up into smaller sections and its close proximity to London make it an ideal option for the weekend warrior without bags of time to commit to something longer.
While a gravel bike suits the non-technical mixed terrain, there’s no reason why you couldn’t ride a range of bikes here, from an allroad option with 35+mm tyres to a mountain bike with far more rubber.
The only loop in this roundup, the East Devon Trail is a fantastic new bikepacking offering from Katherine Moore with a focus on local wildlife.
This is a hilly and often overlooked part of Devon. Connecting bridleways and forest tracks around this Area of Natural Beauty you’ll want some tyres with a bit of grip to see you through but as with all of these anything on the spectrum between gravel bike and mountain bike will do just fine.
With wildlife viewing a central focus, riders are encouraged to pack their binoculars for the journey as the route passes by several nature reserves and bird hides along the way.
Conveniently reaching over the border in Dorset, the East Devon Trail makes the ideal linking route to the Old Chalk Way for those riding from Exeter or just looking to extend their ride.
Trans Cambrian Way
The Heart of Mid-Wales
100 miles / 2-4 days
Often overlooked by the national park status of the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia, the Cambrian mountains of Mid Wales are the focal point of some of the most remote landscapes in the UK.
Heading west out of the Welsh border market town of Knighton, unsurprisingly there’s a fair bit of climbing to be done across the Trans Cambrian Way heading to the mouth of the river Dyfi on the Irish Sea.
Expect singletrack forest trails, quiet lanes, reservoirs, bothies, river crossings and epic night skies. A mountain bike is likely to be the best tool for the job here, but a sturdy gravel bike with an acceptance regarding hike-a-bike will do just fine.
As much of this route travels through pretty remote landscapes you’ll need to be strategic with your resupply points making sure to make the most of shops, pubs and cafes when the opportunity arises.
The route suggestions above are just a starting point. To browse more bikepacking routes in the UK, head over to komoot where you’ll find a plethora of alternative options.
It is worth noting that the estimated times are just a very rough guide and totally reliant on fitness levels and desired riding style. Some will be happy for riding upwards of 12 hours a day while others might want to ride for just a few hours. How long and how you want to ride is down to you – that’s the beauty of bikepacking!
Have you ridden any of these routes above or plan to in the near future? Let us know in the comments below.