Top ten motorcycle riding routes in the UK

Nathan Millward
By Nathan Millward
NateThePostman Round the world adventurer Nathan Millward rode home to the East Midlands from Australia on a 105cc Australian postal bike (he didn’t like flying). He’s since ridden across America to Alaska, writing two brilliant books about the experience. www.nathanmillward.com

 

Despite having ridden around the world, I firmly believe that the UK still has some of the best riding anywhere on the globe; you just need to know where to find them. I’ve put together ten great riding routes to consider, taking you to all corners of the UK, and many of them manageable in either a day or a long weekend. You don’t need a big bike, you don’t need a lot of money, you just need two wheels and a bit of spare time on your hands. See you out there!

 

 

The North Coast 500

Where does it start? Inverness

Where does it end? Inverness

How long is it? 500 miles

 

Why is it great? 

The NC500 is the ultimate road trip on your doorstep; easy to get too, great scenery, challenging roads, good facilities and lots of opportunities to take in your own detours or side routes. The designation of the NC500 has also given people an easy route to follow and a sticker for the bike at the end.

 

What do I need to know? 

In the height of summer it can get busy, with the single-lane roads on the west coast struggling to cope. The shoulder season of April/May and September/October might be preferable, with quieter roads, fewer midges and often better weather than in the summer. 

The road over the Pass of the Cattle into Applecross remains one of the great riding roads and can be challenging in adverse conditions, which are common. Food at the Applecross Inn is notoriously good, and the road around the peninsula to Torridon is another highlight. There’s a free campsite by the YHA in Torridon, with youth hostels an affordable and convenient way of touring the loop without spending a fortune. Fuel is often a concern but many of the villages along the way have 24hour automated fuel pumps, and even the smallest of fuel tanks should be able to cope. Just be wary of Sundays where some of the older stations don’t open. 

In terms of time, while it is possible to do the NC500 in three days or less, to enjoy it fully a good five days would be best advised, as the pace is slow and the opportunities to stop plentiful. Don’t rush it if you don’t have to. 

 

Anything else?

You can find out more and plan your route here: www.northcoast500.com

 

To download a FREE GPX of this route, for use on TomTom and Garmin satnavs, click here.

 

63 miles of hills and happiness

 

Where does it start? Woolacombe

Where does it end? Bridgwater

How long is it? 63 miles

 

Why is it great? 

It’s one of the most uninterrupted coastal runs in the country, passing through cliff-top moorland at the top of Exmoor National Park, down the steepest of hills and having some quaint Devonshire villages to stop at on route.

 

What do I need to know?

From Woolacombe, the route runs along the A3123 to Berry Down Cross, then hang a left at Blackmoor Gate to pick up the A39 that you’ll remain on for the next 50miles, all the way into Bridgwater. A good deviation is to take the side roads in the direction of Martinhoe, turning left immediately after the Lynton and Barnstaple Narrow Gauge Railway Adventure centre (when riding west to east), heading down to the cliff tops and then down through the narrow lanes, past Lee Abbey with the £2 donation box, and on through the stunning Valley of the Rocks, before coming out at the back of Lynton. 

 

Anything Else?

There are some lovely villages on the way; Lynton and Lynmouth, then Porlock a little further along. The harbour front of Lynmouth is particularly pleasant, with a good selection of eateries. Watch the hill down into Porlock – it’s steep and twisty, especially the last corner. The road flattens out from there all the way into Bridgwater, which is a big town with a sizeable Riders of Bridgwater bike shop complete with a good value cafe. Continue onto Land’s End using only coastal roads for the ultimate coastal adventure.

 

To download a FREE GPX of this route, for use on TomTom and Garmin satnavs, click here.

 

Making for the Highlands

 

Where does it start? Crocketford

Where does it end? Inveraray 

How long is it? 135 miles 

 

Why is it great? 

It takes you from the borders of Scotland all the way up to Inveraray – the self-titled gateway to the Highlands – without having to traipse through the Glasgow/Edinburgh corridor.

 

What do I need to know? 

The route starts in the village of Crocketford, just to the west of Dumfries, heads up to Ayr on the A712 and A713, before following the A78 around to Greenock to the west of Port Glasgow, where you take a short ferry across to Dunoon. From here you can ride the main A815 alongside Loch Eck, then around the stunning Loch Fyne to Inveraray. The ferry to Dunoon is operated by Western Ferries, with a 20minute crossing and ferries leaving every 15 minutes at peak times. The cost is £4.50 for the bike, and another £4.50 per passenger; you can pay on deck with card or cash. Once across, and if you have the time, a worthwhile deviation is to take the B836 just out of Dunoon, in the direction of Clachan of Glendaruel, where you’ll also find a great campsite. This road is narrow and freshly laid, with passing places and well worth the effort. From there it’s a simple run around Loch Fyne to Inveraray, with several hotels offering good food and accommodation. 

 

Anything else?

Pack your waterproofs!

 

To download a FREE GPX of this route, for use on TomTom and Garmin satnavs, click here.

 

 
The Trans European Trail

 

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Where does it start? Newhaven Ferry Port, East Sussex

Where does it end? North Shields, Tyne and Wear

How long is it? 1634 miles

 

Why is it great? 

It’s the first fully mapped legal trail route through mainland Europe; a total of 2112 miles in length, with 1634 of those miles through the UK.

 

What do I need to know? 

The TET is the brainchild of UK trail rider John Ross, who saw the success of the Trans America Trail – a dirt road route across almost the full width of America – and set about working with a team of ‘linesman’ throughout Europe to map out a completely free and downloadable route from the foot of Spain all the way to the top of Norway. The route through the UK isn’t entirely non-tarmac, as some of it relies on linking sections between the legal trails, but the real draw is in the ease of being able to follow the route, and the community that’s grown up around it, with riders across Europe sharing tips and advice. 

Some of the trail is accessible to large capacity adventure machines – especially those with the right tyres – like stretches of the Fosse Way and the Ridgeway, but other parts – notably the Lake District – are better suited to lightweight trail bikes in or around the 250cc class, as these stretches can be quite challenging.

 

Anything else?

You can download the route from the main website: www.transeurotrail.org. The Facebook page is also a good place to head for up to date information and advice from those who have ridden the route: www.facebook.com/groups/Transeurotrail.org

 

 

East Coast discovery route

 

Where does it start? Skegness

Where does it end? Whitby

How long is it? 180 miles

 

Why is it great? 

A taste of the old English seaside resorts of the East Coast, mixed with some stunning roads across the Yorkshire moorland. 

 

What do I need to know? 

Starting in Skegness as a suggestion, where cheap accommodation makes for an early start the next morning, the route traces up the east coast, through Mablethorpe and out into the Lincolnshire Wolds to the Humber Bridge. Over the Humber Bridge and if you have the time head east all the way out to Withernsea and follow the coast from there. That road is particularly good; quiet, twisty, well sighted, with Flamborough Head worth stopping at once you get to the top. On to Scarborough and the A171 all the way up to Whitby. This is a lovely road with some nice sweeping corners, though watch out for some of the hidden dips and corkscrews. Whitby itself is a highlight of the UK in my book, with some good YHA accommodation at the Abbey if you’re after something different, and cheap.

 

Anything else? 

From Whitby, a good route if you’re heading south is to loop across to the North York Moors and come back down through that. The main road – the A169 – back down to Pickering is the quickest way but for more interest head down into Goathland (where Heartbeat was filmed) and ride out the back of it to the west, where a network of quiet single-track lanes fan out south and west, such as Wheeldale Road. The market town of Helmsley is a good spot for bikers, so perhaps use that as your final destination, with Hutton-le-Hole, just to the east, a picture postcard Yorkshire village worth passing through. Watch for the wandering sheep!

 

To download a FREE GPX of this route, for use on TomTom and Garmin satnavs, click here.

 

Plodding through the Peak District

 

Where does it start? Matlock 

Where does it end? Hebden Bridge

How long is it? 80 miles

 

Why is it great? 

The Peak District can be a particularly busy place given that it’s surrounded by cities, but if you take a route up through the middle – especially on a weekday – then it can feel as remote and wild as you want it to. 

 

What do I need to know? 

This route shuns the obvious ones such as the Cat and Fiddle and Snake Pass as they are often crowded and have a high police presence. From the A6 head north to Rowsley where you take a right up towards Chatsworth House, for a nice scenic run through the grounds. From Baslow you could take the A623 straight up to Chapel en le Firth but that would be missing out the good riding up towards Castleton and the Edale loop, the highlight of this being the climb up through Winnats Pass; a bit like Cheddar Gorge but without all the tourist tat. Castleton has some great local pubs to eat at and sleep at, as well as a cheap campsite up on the hill as well as a well-priced YHA

From Chapel-en-le-Frith, take the road up to Glossop, then the B6105 north alongside the Torside Reservoir and across the Woodhead Reservoir. Rather than straight up to Holmfirth – though you can if you like – take the A6024 that branches off to the left and runs up and over Holme Moss. From here you reach Holme, forking to the left along Fieldhead Lane, heading in the direction of Meltham. From Meltham you want Marsden then Denshaw, before passing beneath the M62 as you progress north to Ripponden. From Ripponden head west on the A58 before turning right onto the B6138 alongside Blackstone Edge Reservoir. This takes you the back way into Hebden Bridge, which is a great launch place for exploring the Yorkshire Dales to the North.

 

Anything else? 

Take care on the narrow lanes, as mud can often be on the road and corners aren’t always well sighted. The focus on this run through the Peak District is the scenery, not so much the balls-out riding. 

 

To download a FREE GPX of this route, for use on TomTom and Garmin satnavs, click here.

 

To a Yorkshireman’s wedding

 

Where does it start? Skipton

Where does it end? Gretna

How long is it? 132 miles

 

Why is it great?

Through stunning Yorkshire, this isn’t fast riding, but can be challenging in parts and is a million miles from the hustle and bustle of the Yorkshire towns and cities.

 

What do I need to know? 

From Skipton head quickly up Settle where you’ll find some good eateries such as Ye Olde Naked Man. From there take the winding B6479 up to the Ribblehead Viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle line – ride down to beneath the viaduct via the service road if time allows. Otherwise heard north east to Hawes, with the Wensleydale Creamery a worthwhile stop as you pass through.

Two options now to get to Kirby Stephen; either west on the A684 then north on the B6259, or alternatively head north in the direction of Thwaites along the Buttertubs Pass. This can be a wild route if the weather’s bad, turning left in Thwaite to follow the moorland B6270 all the way into Kirby Stephens. Alternatively turn north off the Buttertubs Pass to visit Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in the UK. A nice run from here is north to Brough, across the A66 and out on the B6272 towards Middleton-in-Teesdale. This route, now the B6277, is a nice run north towards Alston, with one option to take a dog leg on the road across to St John’s Chapel, a recently resurfaced road across a valley and a lovely run before turning left to take the A689 down into Alston, past the Killhope North of England Lead Mining Museum.

 

Anything else? 

A great place to stay is the biker friendly Haggs Bank Bunkhouse and camping in Nenthall, just outside Alston. It’s run by a keen biker and perfectly set up to take groups.

 

To download a FREE GPX of this route, for use on TomTom and Garmin satnavs, click here.

 

The Welsh Valley Retreat

 

Where does it start? Chepstow

Where does it end? Aberystwyth

How long is it? 100 miles

 

Why is it great? 

From the rat run of the south west all the way out to the quietest coast of the UK, passing through the stunning Brecon Beacons, up to Rhayader and out through the Elan Valley, there’s some great riding to be had.

 

What do I need to know? 

The A466 north from Chepstow to Monmouth is idyllic as it winds its way along the River Wye, passing the worthwhile rest-stop of the Tintern Abbey ruins, with good food served in the pub beside it. West here on the A40 takes you onto the Brecon Beacons, with it down to you as to how much time you have to explore the area. Brecon itself is a good place to base yourself, and the most fun to be had is on the narrow lanes that cross the Beacons, such as the sealed section of the Sarn Helen, between Sennybridge and Penderyn. The A4069, otherwise known as the Black Mountain Pass, is a well known route and worth doing, but it can get busy in the summer and does take you a fair way out to the West of the Beacons. On the A483 you can make your back up to Rhayader, with the café at Crossgates – just to the east of Rhayader – a popular place for bikers. Rhayader itself also has good facilities and lodging options.

West out of Rhayader, take the B4518 briefly, before turning right signposted Mountain Road. This is the run that takes you all the way out along the top of the Elan Valley, following the road to Devil’s Bridge Falls. This is a narrow but stunning road, with the ruins of copper mines and big views over the valleys, before the final run down into Rhayader. From there, Wales is your oyster.

 

Anything else?

Nothing, just have fun!

 

To download a FREE GPX of this route, for use on TomTom and Garmin satnavs, click here.

 

 

The North East 250

 

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Where does it start? Glenshee 

Where does it end? Glenshee

How long is it? 250 miles

 

Why’s it great? 

This is a new one to the list, an initiative mimicking the overwhelmingly popular NC500 and designed to attract tourists to the east of Scotland. It’s likely to be great as it’ll be significantly quieter than the NC500 at peak season. 

 

What do I need to know? 

The people behind the NE250 reckon it’s the ultimate road trip to the heart of Scotland; “Consisting of 250 miles, Scotland's newest tourist route takes you through Speyside, the Cairngorms, Royal Deeside, Aberdeen, the East Coast and the Moray Coast. Through each of these sectors you can explore everything for which Scotland is famous, whether that be whisky, golf, mountains, nature or history and heritage, to name a few.

“There are three main starting points of the North East 250 route; Ballindalloch, Aberdeen Airport, and through Glenshee. Whether you’re arriving from near or far, you won’t be disappointed as you explore the castles, wildlife, coastal villages, stunning beaches, golf courses, mountains, forests, distilleries, and everything else the heart of Scotland has to offer.”

 

Anything else? 

It’s not got the remote, scenic views of the NC500, but you can start planning your North East 250 road trip to the heart of Scotland at www.northeast250.com

 

Big lakes and high passes - The Windermere loop

 

Where does it start? Windermere               

Where does it end? Windermere

How long is it? 65 miles

 

Why’s it great?

The Lake District has a lot to offer, even in the space of a day. Start from Windermere, take the boat across to the west shore and start exploring. There’s the famous Wrynose Pass as well as the steepest pass of them all, Hardknott. If you have the time you could even venture further to the north to ride the Honister Pass. Picturesque villages and unspoilt views make for a scenic exploration, with any bike capable of roaming these parts; in some ways, the smaller the better. The ride along the shores of Coniston Waters is a pleasant one, with all facilities found in Coniston village.

 

What do I need to know? 

Nothing really. Just go out and enjoy it. There are good cafés around, and with a decent map it’s very hard to get lost in the Lake District as most of the routes are circular.

 

Anything else? 

The good thing about the Lake District is that it’s very easy to link it up with runs around the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and Forest of Bowland. Five days in this region could see you riding some of the best roads in this list of ten. Make them weekdays in the shoulder season and it wouldn’t even be busy, and accommodation options would be plentiful.

 

To download a FREE GPX of this route, for use on TomTom and Garmin satnavs, click here.
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