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.
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.
Windsor: 30 miles
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.
To get back to London, trains between Windsor and
Waterloo or Paddington run all day and take less than half an hour.
Brighton: 58 miles
Coastal Brighton is one of the capital’s closest
seaside resorts, with a vibrant city centre, wide, rocky beaches and a Victorian
pier-turned-fairground. Just 58 miles south of London – and doable in six hours
on a bike – the hip city has become one of London’s favourite weekend escapes.
Start your trip at the Lambeth North tube station and
head south down Kennington Road. The mostly flat route skirts the large towns
of Croydon and Crawley, but mainly meanders through picturesque Surrey villages.
A highlight is the rural scenery between the Purley and Redhill, a typical English
setting with medieval churches, cosy pubs and sparkling streams.
Once in Brighton, head to the beach promenade to find numerous
seafood restaurants. Brighton Pier has many food kiosks as well as the Palm Court Restaurant where you can
buy traditional fish and chips; if the weather is good, get your food to take
away and eat it on the beach.
Trains back to London’s Victoria station run all day, with
a journey time of 30 to 40 minutes.
Cambridge: 60 miles
To explore the landscapes north of the capital, head to the English section of
de France route. The official route has three stages, the first two in
Yorkshire, covering 242 miles, with the third making its way from Cambridge University
south to The Mall in London. It is this final leg that can easily be done in reverse
in a day, pedalling the 60 miles from London to Cambridge in just five and a
Starting north of the River Thames at London Bridge, the
route makes its way through Shoreditch towards the suburb of Ilford and the
city limits. While most of the trip meanders through flat English countryside,
the end section towards Cambridgeshire is somewhat hilly and requires strength and
Cambridge is best known for being home to England’s
second oldest university, established in 1209. An excellent way to see and
learn more about it is to opt for a punting trip down the River Cam. These
flat-bottomed boats, resembling Venetian gondolas, are propelled with a long
pole and drift down the river alongside many of the university’s grand buildings
such as Christ’s College. If you need some help guiding your vessel, local guides
can be found by the river and are often university students with a lively
knowledge of the area’s history.
After an afternoon in the quintessential English city,
regular trains to London’s Kings Cross Station leave from the city centre and take
around an hour.