The British capital is experiencing a cycling revolution. The number of city dwellers who have taken to two wheels has increased 110% since 2000, including London’s mayor Boris Johnson, who apparently pedals to work every day. But the UK’s outstanding cycling network spreads beyond London, making this an ideal way to see England’s beautiful nature, cultured cities and quaint villages.
Starting in the capital, these five day trips – ranging between 20 and 60 miles each way (and always with the option to return by train) – are a perfect introduction to the different sides of the south.
London to Merstham: 20 miles
On the hunt for the quintessential England of yesteryear? Fanny’s Farm Shop, located in the outskirts of Merstham just 20 miles south of London, is the place to go. Started by Fanny Maiklem in 1979, the family-run business serves a proper English clotted cream tea and has become a treasure in the local community due to its quality food and friendly service.
Your journey starts in London’s busy Vauxhall neighbourhood on the South Lambeth Road, but the scenery soon transforms into quiet Surrey landscapes passing through old-fashioned villages, including the farming community of Chaldon and quaint Hooley. With bike lanes virtually all the way, this easy, two-hour ride is a great introduction to long-distance cycling for beginners or families with children. Fanny’s shop is located two miles outside Merstham on Markedge Lane; cross Markedge bridge to get across the busy M25 motorway.
On arrival, treat yourself to freshly baked scones with cream and thick fruit jam in the 10-seat wooden tree house, one of two quirky tea rooms converted from chicken sheds. Once you have eaten your fill, head to nearby Merstham station for trains back to Victoria Station, with a journey time of 40 minutes. There’s no extra charge for bicycles on UK trains.
London to Box Hill: 26 miles
After 2012’s Olympic success with eight gold medals in cycling, biking seems to be the Brits’ new national sport. And almost one year on, the London 2012 road race route can still be retraced.
A mere 26 miles south of the capital, the Box Hill National Trust Park in Surrey is perfect for family outings, with wide open spaces and sheltered woods for kids to explore and play. The cycle from London leads west down Grosvenor Road along the Thames towards Richmond and is easily manageable thanks to well-maintained roads and a mainly flat route.
Stop to refuel at Kingston upon Thames, a charming Surrey market town 10 miles from London, with a daily fruit and vegetable market that dates back to 1170. It sells perfect picnic treats, including homemade bread and pastries, warm soups and fresh salads.
Once you arrive at Box Hill you are in for a workout. The official Olympic Zig Zag Route, a winding climb that averages a 5% gradient over its 1.6 miles, is the fastest way to get to the top. For less-hardy riders, there are hiking and biking trails that lead around the steep climb. However you make it to the summit, revel in the panoramic views across the verdant Surrey countryside.
From Box Hill, the closest train station is four miles away in Dorking, with hour-long trains back to London Waterloo and Victoria.
London to Windsor: 30 miles
Windsor Castle, encircled by the historic city of the same name, is an easy-to-tackle 30-mile cycle from the capital. The three-hour route starts at Paddington Station and heads west along Westway, passing just north of Heathrow airport and into the quieter, less crowded county of Berkshire. With no hills and even some separate bike lanes, the route becomes increasingly verdant, passing through the small towns of Drayton and Langley.
Although Windsor is charming, the medieval castle is the main draw. The world’s largest inhabited castle with approximately 1,000 rooms, it is an official residence of the Royal Family and is used by the Queen as her weekend getaway from Buckingham Palace. Spend the day exploring the open-to-the public sections, such as the extravagant and glamorous State Apartments and the Drawings Gallery, with its ever-changing art exhibitions. St George’s Chapel, where 10 monarchs are buried, offers lunchtime organ recitals, and the Grand Reception Room – restored after a 1992 fire – is lavishly decorated with three chandeliers and a gold ceiling. If you have children in tow, make a beeline to Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, built in 1924 and filled with detailed miniature decor.