Words by Oskar Scarsbrook
The UK has quickly become a gravel cycling haven. We may not have the long, wide-open expanses of North America but what the country does have is an abundance of premium and technical gravel cycling routes. Away from traffic, in the wilderness and tons of fun, why not make your next cycling trip a gravel holiday?
Just like in our previous article – 5 great spots in the UK for a mountain biking holiday – we have made a list of some of the best areas in the UK to take your gravel bike. From all-in adventure trips spending nights under the stars, to relaxed holidays with a sprinkling of cycling, there is something for everyone at these destinations.
Home to the Raiders Gravel event, the Galloway area of Southern Ayrshire in Scotland should be at the top of any gravel holiday bucket list. The Galloway Forest itself showcases the very best of the Scottish wilderness and is internationally recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere.
The designation recognises the area’s stunning landscapes, wildlife, heritage, culture and learning opportunities, making it the perfect holiday destination. The cycling certainly lives up to the billing too. With a huge network of trails and challenging routes, the Galloway area is a feast for your bike as well as your senses.
You may think the focus on sustainability and relative remoteness of the forest means it is a pain to source accommodation. In fact, the opposite is true of Galloway. There are many friendly Bed & Breakfasts, comfortable hotels, holiday cottages and campsites. If you have a thirst for adventure though, Scotland’s wild camping laws mean that you can pitch your own holiday site up by the loch and totally immerse yourself in the land.
The Kielder Forest and surrounding Northumberland National Park is a haven for any sportsperson with a love of off-road pursuits. Home to forest paths, tons of fire tracks and some more challenging routes, Kielder has something for every gravel rider no matter their level of experience.
Naturally, the area is constantly undulating but there are plenty of stunning routes serviced by the very accessible fire roads. At the end of a long day in the saddle, there is nothing better than to find a point up on high and gaze across the stunning vistas.
There are plenty of campsites within the park or you can keep it easy by hiring a cottage in one of the many hamlets along the Pennine Way Road that splits the park. The Kielder Forest is therefore ideal for long-distance gravel adventures – just ask anyone who has completed the Dirty Reiver event that is held annually in the park.
The Cambrian Mountains in the middle of Wales offer some of the most challenging routes on this list. Unlike the fire roads of the Kielder Forest, these tracks are narrow, gnarly and technical. Don’t be put off by the technicality though, the network of singletrack paths traverse some of the most beautiful landscapes in the whole of the UK.
If you need a reset away from the bustling towns and cities, the barren but tranquil Upper Towy valley roads are ideal. There are plenty of challenging climbs to take on, all serviced by simple mountain huts if you wish to pull an overnighter.
A little further south of the range is the ever-popular Coed y Brenin bike park and as a result, this area is well versed to catering for cycle tourists. That means that although the riding might be remote, the holiday portion of your trip doesn’t need to be.
The South Downs
The South Downs Way in East Sussex is an ancient trail on Britain’s south coast that is one of Europe’s very best gravel routes. Either riding the entire 100 miles from start to finish or sampling portions of the route while on holiday in the area, is a perfect way to explore why these trails are so loved.
The area is famed for its tough chalk roads, open landscapes, and beautiful sea views from the hilltops. The beauty of holidaying in the National Park is that you can go from relative wilderness on the downs one day to kicking back in bustling seaside towns and cities like Brighton the next. There are plenty of accommodation options in the area too, making it the perfect fusion of relaxation and cycling.
The Trossachs is home to the upcoming Gravelfoyle project based out of one of the UK’s most popular gravel cycling destinations, Aberfoyle. About 36km North of Glasgow, the village near Loch Lomond is the perfect base for a cycling holiday. The project will make The Trossachs even more accessible as it hopes to offer visitors marked trails, information points and bespoke events.
When it comes to the riding, the area offers over 200km of forest roads and trails that interconnect within a 12km radius of Aberfoyle. This means that every day can be a new adventure, from traversing the National Cycle Route 7 to exploring the tracks around the climb of Duke’s Pass. The possibilities are quite literally endless.
Gravel cycling is all about harnessing your sense of adventure to cross new plains and explore undiscovered wildernesses. If you’re tired of riding on the roads and want to try out something new, why not get a gravel bike and start roaming? Whether you’re wild-camping or just taking the bike with you on holiday, the UK has plenty of dirt tracks to sink your tyres into. Pedal Cover provides specialist home insurance for cyclists to give you peace of mind!