Britain is a country rich in diversity. The landscape varies from the flat and fertile to the wild and mountainous. The climate too ranges from sub-tropical in the south west, wet temperate in the west, dry in the east and grim up north!
The route forsakes the dramatic granite cliffs of the northern shore for the more pastoral southern coast with its labyrinth of natural harbours, fishing villages and thickly wooded estuaries and starts at Land’s End. First off on our tour we will visit the towns of Penzance and Truro, both built on the profits of tin and copper. The 19th century mines now litter the countryside like a ghostly inheritance from the industrial revolution. St Austell and Liskeard lead into the county of Devon.
Devon has a far more mellow character than its rugged Cornish neighbour with its scattering of traditional farmsteads on a landscape of rolling hills. At the heart of the county lies the granite mass of Dartmoor, a high plateau rising to a mean height of over 1000 ft above sea level! This county will provide possibly some of the most difficult cycling on the tour, as local road builders have chosen a more direct approach to construction compared to some of the more mountainous areas of the country where roads tend to follow contour lines and valleys. Despite this, the scenery around Dartmoor is very rewarding with extensive views across the whole south-west peninsular. Once the plateau is crossed torturous country lanes lead to the less aggressive wilds of Exmoor and on to Tavistock where timber-framed houses flaunt a wealth gained from the woollen industry.
The arrival of Taunton brings the third county of the tour and the rich farming areas of the south-west. Somerset is sculpted by the escarpments of the Mendips, Quantocks and the Brendon Hills as well as the underground labyrinths of limestone that spawned the spectacular gorge at Cheddar. Historic towns Bath, Wells and Glastonbury proudly display their architectural splendour and may well be worth a diversion or two from our route as it now turns north to reach the city of Bristol.
Bristol stands at the estuary of the River Severn – the largest in the country. The impressive water course is followed north into Gloucestershire and the picturesque towns and villages of the Cotwolds. Fertile meadows form a verdant patchwork by the river bank before reaching Tewkesbury between the Cotwolds to the east and the Malvern Hills to the west. The town of Tewkesbury established itself in the 11th century and now displays a well preserved façade of classic Tudor timber-fronted houses.
Our route now continues north along the Severn Valley. The town of Evesham, built on both sides of the meandering River Avon, lies at the head of the plum orchards that line the great vale. The River Severn leads north to the architecturally rich city of Worcester, and on to the heartlands of the industrial revolution and the birthplace of industry at the Severn Gorge at Ironbridge in Shropshire. The route now continues along the course of the Severn Valley Railway through the rich wooded hills between Bewdley and Bridgnorth. To the west the Shropshire hills buffet the Welsh border rising in ever increasing ridges to merge with the mountains of Snowdonia.
From the new town of Telford, the River Severn is left behind to find its source in the hills of mid Wales while the route continues north through the rich arable lands of Cheshire, wedged between the rugged mountains of North Wales in the west and the peaks of the Pennines in the east.
On initial inspection the counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire contrive to present a seemingly impassable barrier of urban sprawl. The cities of Liverpool and our home town of Manchester hug the banks of the River Mersey to the west while the Humber links the North Sea to the towns of Sheffield and Leeds. The central Pennine Chain completes the barricade. It is surprising therefore that it is Lancashire that will provide the breach and will offer some of the most diverse and interesting scenery of our tour.
The area is a unique mix of quaint rural villages with stone built cottages and twisted iron monuments which serve as a constant reminder to the industrial heritage of this area. The landscape changes abruptly in the north of the county as the limestone ridges that shape the hillsides of the Dales sweep down to the coast of Morecombe. Full advantage will be taken of the local cycle routes which will be followed along the country lanes, through the forest of Bowland before joining the eastern leg of the Cumbrian Cycle Way at Kirkby Lonsdale. The rolling hills of the Pennines will be followed to within sight of Hadrian ’s Wall, before leading into Scotland at the historic blacksmiths shop and toll house at Gretna Green. By now we should all feel very much married to our bikes!
The northern coast of the Solway Firth is abundant in heather and gorse that thrives in the predominantly sandy soil. Views across the Solway Firth to the mountains of the Lake District are said to be some of the most picturesque in the UK, so have your cameras ready! Red sandstone is plentiful and is found widely in the local architecture with fine examples in the historic town of Dumfries.
We will then follow a local cycle route north through some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland to reach the town of Sanquhar at the junction of the Southern Upland Way. This charming section continues through New Cumnock and on to Kilmarnock where a local Sustran cycle route leads pleasantly north along delightful back roads, canal paths and disused rail routes before delivering us to the industrialised banks of the River Clyde.
The Erskine Bridge will provide the route across this infamous river from where a further cycleway leads north along the banks of the River Leven to the shores of Britain’s largest lock at Balloch. We will follow Loch Lomond’s eastern bank to Crianlairch where the meandering road traces the course of the West Highland Way into the Highlands, and across Rannock Moor and into Glen Coe, a place rich in local history.
Fort William stands in the shadow of Britain’s largest mountain Ben Nevis, at a point where the Caledonian Canal flows into the waters of Loch Eil and Loch Linnhe. The Highlands of Scotland have been formed by a violent series of geological events resulting in a chaotic but diverse infusion of rock types. Ancient sediments lie alongside the explosion of metamorphic rocks presenting the landscape with a cloak of diversity that it displays with pride.
A massive geological fault splits the country along a north-easterly line and gives rise to a chain of Lochs, of which the most famous is Loch Ness. Once on the east coast, the route negotiates the massive incisions of the Beauly and Cromarty Firths with spectacular views back to the Grampian Mountains seen across the Moray Firth. From this point the high peaks are left behind for the undulating course that typifies any coastal route to the town of Wick and finally, our destination, the headland of John O’Groats.
Sounds easy doesn’t it?…..