Postcards from Britain

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Try a Biking Holiday in Britain
by Barbara Ballard

Whether you're a biking enthusiast or a casual Saturday biker, a biking holiday in Britain can be a relaxing, healthy and less expensive alternative to renting a car. And it's a great family choice. The unhurried pace of a bike trip lets you thoroughly enjoy pastoral streams, rolling hills, historic sites and scenic villages.

Britain has 3500 miles of signposted bicycle routes which will increase to 8000 miles by 2005. National Cycle Networks are being developed that cross England and run the length of Wales or Scotland, half of which will be on traffic-free routes.

You can cycle to your heart's content through large capital cities, architecturally interesting towns, World Heritage sites, National Parks, wildlife sites and verdant countryside.

Ambitious? Attempt a long distance coast to coast route, or, if you're not quite up to that, there are always shorter routes. You can follow unused railway tracks, scenic minor roads, forest paths, country lanes and even canal paths. Bristol to Bath is a popular route with one million journeys completed.

If you'd like to take your own bike, phone your airline in advance to make arrangements. Most airlines require deflating the tires, turning the handlebars and removing the pedals. Sometimes there's a small baggage fee. Bringing a bike on the Chunnel train to Europe is not a problem, but you must book ahead.

Many places in Britain rent bicycles. Tourist Information Centres have lists for their areas. Another option is to book with a bike tour company. Some include cycle hire, accommodation and luggage transfer. The Cyclists' Touring Club has a list of these businesses in their Directory.

The CTC's 40,000 members around the world swap information on hundreds of cycling routes (both on and off the road), local contacts, terrain information, cycle hire, repair centres and more. To join contact CTC.

The CTC also offers "Cycle-A-Way", a list of club members offering a bed and shower, either free or for a small charge. Another alternative for inexpensive accommodation is hosteling. There are 320 official hostels in Britain. Join the Youth Hostel Federation in your own country or purchase a Hostelling International Card when you arrive.

In Britain contact the Youth Hostel Association. In North American contact American Youth Hostels at 202-783-6161.

Or try a private hostel, bunkhouse or camping barn (found mainly in National Park areas). For a directory of independent hostels in the U.K. contact The Backpackers Press at (011) 44-1629-580427.

In England and Wales off-road routes are shown on detailed Ordnance Survey maps: Travelmaster Series, one inch to four miles for long trips; Landranger Series, 1.25 inches to one mile for cycling in one area; Leisure/Explorer series, 2.5 inches to one mile for Britain's National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The routes are shared with walkers and horses, which have the right of way. Bikes must steer clear of motorways and footpath-only trails.

Order a free information pack and publication order form which lists the maps and describes routes now available from National Cycle Network Information Department, Sustrans.

Another website Cycle Northumbria includes maps, guides, visitor accommodations, attractions and more for Northumbria. One interesting route now being planned will eventually link London to Stonehenge and another will trail along Hadrian's Wall. Many Tourist Information Centres have free route leaflets for their areas that include descriptions of sites and towns along the way. Pick these up as you go or write ahead for them.

Make that dream a reality. Take a bike trip in Britain. Visit that stately home or archaeological site, sample local brew in a wayside pub or afternoon tea in a stately home. Enjoy the scenery along the way. Just remember to cycle on the left side of the road.


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