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Best Cycling Routes in Northern England

By Anna Brownlow
More by Anna

Cycling Across Northern England

Northern England is one of the finest places in the UK to ride a bike. Cyclists can look forward to quieter roads, stunning scenery and plenty of pubs and cafes, essential refreshment stops along the way.

Below, learn more about cycling in Northern England, as we share some of our favourite cycling routes in the region.

Wensleydale and Swaledale Circular

Biking Yorkshire

The Yorkshire Dales are some of the most beautiful best-kept secrets in all of England. It offers some spectacular cycling routes including some impressive climbs – this region was included in the 2014 Tour de France race.

A great Northern England cycling route in the Yorkshire Dales is the Wensleydale and Swaledale circular. On this 65km loop, you’ll pedal two of the climbs the Tour de France route used in 2014 Grinton Moor and Buttertubs Pass, one of the iconic climbs on the Grand Depart. Your effort is well-rewarded with sweeping views over miles of the Yorkshire Dales.

This route is perfect for taking in the iconic Dales limestone landscapes. Enjoy vistas of drystone walls, barns and of course pastures dotted with sheep. There are some wonderful waterfalls at Hadraw Force and Aysgarth Falls that are worth seeing. Swaledale, the northernmost dale, is stunning, full of teacup-sized stone villages, picturesque valleys, meandering drystone walls, and babbling brooks.

It’s always important to refuel while out cycling. And what better way to refuel than by tasting some of the local delicacies? Wensleydale is the home of the deliciously creamy Wensleydale cheese. The villages of Hawes, Reeth or Leyburn have a good choice of local cafes and pubs. The adorable village of Muker in the heart of Swaledale has a delightful tearoom.

Route details:

Approx. 65km/40 miles | 1,100m/3,600ft ascent | See the route map here on Strava.

Malhamdale & Wharfedale Circular via Malham Cove

This route kicks off from the quaint village of Grassington, a bustling market town along a lovely section of the River Wharfe that was used as the filming location of Channel 5’s series, All Creatures Great and Small. From there, head north up Wharfedale and into Littondale.

Your route climbs up to Malham Tarn, a gorgeous glacial lake and one of the few of its kind in the Yorkshire Dales, long a magnet for visitors from Stone Age hunters to the hikers of today.

The route descends past Malham Cove, one of the Yorkshire Dales’s most impressive geological sites. Tucked into the tumbling emerald landscape, Malham Cove is a 70-metre high crescent cliff of white limestone, whittled away by ancient glaciers. In the summer, spot the pair of nesting peregrine falcons if you’re lucky; otherwise, simply take in the views of the magical place. This place is certainly worth a detour from your cycling route. Read more here.

Malham cove

Passing through the village of Malham where you might want to stop for a pub lunch or a pint, continue on to Airton and Cracoe, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them stone villages that seem lost in another century.

Green pastures and stone farmhouses roll out in each direction as you wind your way back to Grassington where your loop finishes. Reward yourself with a delicious ice cream available at the sweet shop in Grassington.

What makes this route special? This corner at the southern end of the Yorkshire Dales is an extremely scenic area with lovely, hosting a plethora of typical Dales villages as well as unique Dales limestone landscapes both natural and manmade. The roads winding through the Malhamdale and Wharfedale areas offer cyclists a glimpse of another era and magical landscapes.

Route details:

Approx. 65km/40 miles | 1,000m/3,300ft ascent

North York Moors Circular

For cyclists who want a longer loop and a bit of a challenge, the answer is the North York Moors circular. Biking the North York Moors circular, take in some tough climbs, technical descent and majestic scenery.

Starting and finishing at Rosedale Abbey, this route takes in some classic cycling climbs. The cheerfully-named Rosedale Chimney is anything but – at 33% gradient, it is not for the faint of heart and is one of the toughest climbs on this list. The good news is at least cyclists will summit this climb early on in the route.

But that’s not all. The North York Moors circular includes a number of impressive climbs such as White Horse Bank, Boltby Bank, Square Corner, Carlton Bank and Rosedale Head.

At 140km long, this is a challenging route, but the wonderful thing about this circular is that it takes in the whole North York Moors National Park. This is a wild corner of England, and North York Moors National Park is one of the least-visited of England’s wild spaces. There simply aren’t very many roads in the North Moors largely due to stunning valleys running north to south across the park.

Despite its remoteness, there are a number of fascinating historical sites of interest to cyclists on the North York Moors circular. The great Byland Abbey is an impressive ruin that impacted and inspired medieval church buildings across the north of England.

But for an even more impressive monastic site, cyclists in this region should pedal over to Rievaulx Abbey, a jaw-dropping ruin of one of England’s most powerful Cistercian monasteries.

In the wooded valleys and forgotten corners of this part of North York Moors, expect technical roads requiring concentration and ability, complete with steep climbs, sharp and blind corners, narrow laneways, hidden potholes, thick overgrowth, a cattle grid or two and half-abandoned roads.

This is the sort of route that requires quick responses, good brakes and traction control, particularly as cyclists descend into Hawnby.

Finally, for a unique peek into the history of the North York Moors, visit the Kilburn white horse, a massive 314ft long white horse carved into Roulston Scar, completed with 6 tonnes of limestone. This eccentric Victorian relic is the largest of its kind, inspired by the famous chalk hill figures of southern England. What a great reward (and distraction) while climbing White Horse Bank’s steep gradient.

Not sure when to tackle this route? We recommend late summer – there is an exceptional moorland and heather in bloom in August. Refreshments are scarce in this region but you might like to refuel at Lordstones Cafe.

Route Details:

Approx. 140km/87 miles | 2,650m/8,700ft

Rosedale and Blakey Ridge Route

Yorkshire roads

If the full North York Moors circular is too much of a challenge or you’re pressed for time, there are still options to explore the rugged region by bike. The Rosedale and Blakey Ridge route is a  significantly shorter alternative to the North York Moors circular.

Still starting and finishing Rosedale Abbey, this misnomer is actually a village that never housed an abbey, just a nunnery of which only a belfry remains in the village churchyard.

This route still includes the epic Rosedale Chimney climb. Remember, this cycling monster is 33% gradient, so don’t let the shorter distance of the Rosedale and Blakey Ridge route trick you into thinking that this route is easy. The Rosedale Chimney climb is actually one of the toughest climbs listed here. Like its longer version above, this climb is early on in the route.

Upon conquering Rosedale Chimney, you’ll cycle up and along Blakey Ridge. This part of North York Moors is on high ground as it winds through heather-clad hills, and gives good moorland views as you pedal through some of England’s most isolated spaces.

Break your journey at the quaintly isolated Lion Inn located high up on the moor. The 4th highest pub in England, this charming oasis in the middle of the moors dates back to the 1550s and has been used as an inn for four centuries. If only the walls could talk, imagine the stories they’d tell.

Once you arrive at the idyllic stone village Hutton-le-Hole, turn back towards Rosedale Abbey. Climbing back to the finish point, you’ll cycle upwards through tracts of open moorland for which Yorkshire and northern England is famous.

Route Details:

28km/17 miles | 515m/1680ft ascent

The Northumberland Coastal Route

Lindisfarne cycling

Tucked between the Scottish border and the North Sea, Northumberland is about as north as you can get in England. The Northumberland loop takes in the iconic Bamburgh Castle and Lindisfarne with views to the Farne Islands on a clear day.

The route starts and finishes in Chathill (where there is access by train). Following the coast, take in lovely coastal sights to arrive at Bamburgh, a small village known for its impressive castle.

Take a detour to visit Bamburgh Castle, surely one of northern England’s most dramatic and heart-stopping castles. Built on the foundations of a Celtic Brittonic fort later destroyed by Vikings, the heart of Bamburgh Castle was constructed by the Normans in the 11th century, later restored and expanded in the 18th and 19th centuries, leading it to be one of the most stunning castles in England.

Bamburgh cycling Northumberland

Following the coastline, views of the Holy Isle materialise off the coast. The island is accessed by a causeway, so it is important to time your cycling correctly so that you can visit the island of Lindisfarne. Cycling the causeway is a route highlight as the exposed sand leading up to Lindisfarne stretches out on either side.

Once on the island, you’re greeted with a crisscrossing of tiny village streets. Once a quiet, remote monastery, Lindisfarne is famed for being attacked by Vikings in 793, the first place in England sacked by the Scandinavian raiders.

After walking the grounds of the abbey, pedal over to Lindisfarne Castle, an impressive 16th-century fortification used as a naval base. There are a couple of places to stop for a coffee or bite to eat on the island.

Read our list of England’s Most Dramatic Castles.

cycling Northumberland

The far side of the island is windblown and quiet – if you have time, you might like to leave your bike and go for a coastal stroll or beach walk on the north shore, some of which are more easily accessible than others. Read our guide to Lindisfarne to learn more.

Returning the way you came, follow the coast road and be ready for lovely views – on a clear day, you can see all the way out to the Farne Islands, home to a white lighthouse perched on an island cliff.

If time allows, you may wish to dismount at times to take the small trails to Bamburgh Beach for a beach stroll or simply more stunning ocean views (there are access points big and small along Links Road, including the main access point from the car park).

Route Details:

Approx. 77km/48 miles | 500m/1,650ft ascent. Learn more here.

Rusland Valley & Coniston Water Route

Lake District evening

The Lake District is one of northern England’s most beloved and iconic places. People have been finding inspiration and peace in the beautiful Lake District landscapes for centuries, influencing the works of Beatrix Potter, Alfred Wainwright and of course the Romantic poet Wordsworth.

The Rusland Valley route, starting and finishing around Newby Bridge, travel some of the more quiet and less travelled Lake District roads. This route is ideal for cyclists looking to avoid heavily trafficked areas of the national park’s busier roads.

Following the lakeshore, the east side of Coniston Water is a quiet, narrow road offering picturesque views. Cycle through a storybook woodland under a lush canopy of leaves – this route is particularly stunning in full autumnal colour.

Continuing onwards, pedal pass Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin for the last 28 years of his life. Ruskin was a polymath and an important figure in the Victorian age – he was a writer, philosopher and art critic covering all sorts of subjects. Time for a refuelling? Tuck into a cup of tea and a hot meal in the lovely cafe on the terrace, a charming stone house shrouded in woodland.

Lake District cycling

Remember how the Lake District was noted as inspiring many writers? Another English writer who took inspiration from his gorgeous surroundings was Arthur Ransome, who wrote and illustrated the children’s book series, Swallows and the Amazons, tales of several children on school-holiday adventures, largely set in the Lake District. At the southern end of Coniston Water is Peel Island, which today is colloquially known as Wild Cat Island, the name used by Ransome in his books.

On the other side of the route, the Rusland valley is home to Grizedale Forest Park, which contains a number of forest recreation activities including walking trails, a sculpture park, children’s activities, and another cafe, making it a nice place to rest the legs and enjoy a warming cuppa.

Route Details:

Approx. 33km/20.5 miles | 900m/3,000ft ascent

Newlands and Honister Loop

Buttermere Lake District

Another cycling gem of the Lake District is the Newlands and Honister loop in the northwest corner of the national park. This route includes the dramatic Honister Pass at 25% gradient as well as the Newlands Pass.

But the Lake District doesn’t live up to its name unless there’s water involved – this route circles past Buttermere and Derwent Water. The loop also takes in the valleys of Buttermere and Borrowdale, both of which are iconic Lake District valleys crowned with towering hills above.

Start your Lake District cycling route in Rosthwaite at the convenient National Trust car park. From there, cycle to the village of Grange through forested roads, crossing the iconic double-arched bridge. Along the way, pass hills and caves, woodland trails and narrow lanes. Pedal along an elevated laneway with lovely views over Derwentwater.

There are good signposts to Buttermere and Newlands Pass dotted around the Newlands Valley, helping cyclists follow the route easily. This route is equal parts stunning and hilly as the mountains span out on every side.

Moody and foreboding, pedal along narrow mountain roads winding between mythical green slopes. Expect a steady climb up Keskadale under the imposing shadow of Robinson peak – be sure to look out for Moss Force Waterfall tumbling down from the mountain’s heights before getting ready for a speedy and spectacular descent into Buttermere.

Lake District cycling climbs

Pedal alongside the length of the small lake of Buttermere before reaching the rugged and formidable Honister Pass. At 20% gradient in some places, it’s a toughie and not for the faint-hearted, but you’re rewarded as you follow a stunning route lined by craggy summits. The Slate Mine Cafe sits at the top, offering a breather and a chance to refuel.

For those wanting a break from cycling, why not try at the adrenaline-pumping Via Ferrata or a spell underground touring the old mine, Honister Slate Mine is a cool detour not found on many cycling routes. Afterwards, whiz downhill into the village of Seatoller, a tiny place lost to another era.

If you don’t end up taking tea at Honister Mine, there are a number of other traditional locales for refreshments. Stop by the tea room in Grange, the pub in Rosthwaite or either pub or tea room while in the village of Buttermere. Another option is a short detour to Lingholm Estate for its gorgeous cafe, Beatrix Potter connections and for something quirky, meet its resident alpacas.

Route Details:

Approx. 30km/18 miles | Ascent: 650m/2,150ft

Cycling Trips in Northern England

Meet the Author: Anna Brownlow

I am part of the Operations team, looking after all the trip logistics, although I work in the office day to day, I do get out and guide the odd trip or two. I’m originally from Yorkshire and grew up exploring the dales, mountains, lakes and rivers of Northern England. I still think there is nothing better than a day out in the fells, followed by either tea and cake in one of the many gorgeous tea rooms or a pint in a cosy English pub.

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