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Best bikepacking destinations in the UK and Europe

BikesEtc
20 Jun 2017

Point your handlebars this way and head out for an adventure

This feature was produced in association with Cycle Surgery.

Lake District National Park, England

So-called wild camping is illegal in much of the UK, but the National Trust has acres of land accessible to bicycles and hosts of campsites on many of them.

The Lake District is arguably the most beautiful part of England and the NT has at least two sites that make great bases for exploring the area.

The one at Great Langdale Valley, below the marvellously monickered Crinkle Crags fell, has plenty of gravel trails and bridleways to explore, which can mostly be enjoyed without too much climbing.

The other is Low Wray campsite, with Berber tents and wood stoves if you want a ‘glamping’ experience. It lies on the western shore of Lake Windermere and offers lakeside and woodland rides alike.

Prices start at £28 for a two-night stay if you pitch your own tent.

See nationaltrust.org.uk for details.

 

The Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

If you really want to get away from it all without leaving dear old Blighty’s shores, this remote part of northeast Scotland is about as close to a true wilderness as you can get.

It also offers some of the most accessible, varied and breathtaking biking in the country. With a spider’s web of trail networks sprawling across the valleys, there are countless off-road adventures to be had in the lower forests and foothills of the Cairngorms.

Alternatively, if you fancy taking on the mountains there are three great passes to be conquered – the Lairig an Laoigh, the Larig Ghru and Glen Fishie.

You can even link the three to make one great circular trip along rugged pathways once used to drive cattle to market.

Wild camping is legal in Scotland but there are plenty of official sites too, offering a variety of standards and services from basic pitch-your-tent places, to more upmarket overnight stays in Yurts and ‘Gypsy-style’ caravans.

See visitcairngorms.com for details.

 

Snowdonia National Park, Wales

You can expect a real mix of riding in this magnificent part of Wales, ranging from quiet lanes and gravel paths to off-road trails.

If you feel up for a challenge, have a crack at climbing Snowdon itself – there’s a partially paved, albeit still arduous route, part of which you’ll most likely have to get off and push your bike up, rather than ride.

Do it on a clear day and once you’ve managed to propel yourself to the 5767ft/1,758m summit, you’ll be rewarded with magnificent views that will stay with you for life.

And then there are three bridleways to choose from to enjoy a thrilling descent.

To pitch a tent at the nearby Snowdonia Parc campsite (four miles from the foot of Snowdon, on the banks of the River Gwyrfai), costs from £10 per night.

For further details, see snowdonia-park.co.uk.

Picos de Europa National Park, Northern Spain

How about this for a proper adventure? Take a ferry from Plymouth to Santander (around £250 return, see directferries.co.uk to compare prices), wheel off the boat and point your handlebars west.

A day’s ride through the fabulous Cantabrian countryside will lead you to Spain’s oldest national park, the Picos de Europa, which was created in 1918.

Some of the Park’s more epic climbs – including Lagos de Covadonga, Collado de la Caballar, and Alto del Angliru – are all regulars on the Vuelta a España.

Don’t worry, though, you won’t need to push your pedals up these to enjoy the many splendours this giant wilderness offers (there’s a whopping 646km2 of it, straddling three autonomous districts).

It’s got everything from stunning lakes, and deep sided gorges, to pine forests and high coastal cliffs.

While wild camping is allowed depending on which district you’re in (beware the local bears if you do!), there are also many organised campsites.

See britannyferries.co.uk for more.

 

Armorique Natural Park, Northern France

You’ll find 1,700km2 of glorious French countryside (of which 600km2 are coastal) with 500km of marked paths waiting for you on the other side of the channel.

Hop on a ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff (around £80 return) then ride the 20km south to Morlaix and the northernmost edge of the park.

This gloriously diverse landscape grows ever more dramatic as you ride west, with epic lakes, rolling hills, and dense forests giving way to the Monts d’Arrée – Britanny’s highest mountains – and eventually miles of rugged coastline.

There are plenty of official campsites, but you can wild camp as long as you don’t light fires and are off by 9am.

It’s better to be up early anyway in this part of the world, as you’re more likely to catch a glimpse of the local wildlife, which includes otters, beavers, and even eagles.

See britannytourism.com.

 

Wicklow Mountains National Park, Republic of Ireland

Dublin can be reached easily by ferry from the UK, with services from Holyhead and Liverpool.

Just 10km south of the Irish capital is the largest of the country’s six national parks – the Wicklow Mountains National Park.

Covering 204km2, it’s home to wooded valleys and sparkling lakes fed by fast-moving streams that flow down from the bog- and heath-covered upland slopes, which are themselves crisscrossed by winding paths.

There are no serviced campsites within the park but there are plenty nearby.

And while wild camping isn’t permitted in the Valley of Glendalough in the south of the park, it is allowed just about anywhere else within its boundaries – although depending where and when you stay, you may need to obtain a permit.

See wicklowmountainnationalpark.ie for more information.

Photography: Adobe Stock

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