easy riders: the best family-friendly bike adventures around the UK
Britain is full of gorgeous off-road cycle routes that allow you to enjoy the landscape without worrying about traffic. Here are five of our favourite family-friendly bike adventures, plus how to find one near you…
Getting on a bike is a great way to see the countryside this spring. You cover more ground than walking, but still feel just as connected with the sights, sounds and scents of the landscape. A pocket cycling adventure gives you the best of all worlds but, for all its virtues, once you have your family in tow you’ll want to keep off busy roads.
Fortunately, Britain has many amazing, easy, traffic-free cycling routes. We’ve chosen five from around the country, but see below for how to find one nearer to you.
1. oak to oak – New Forest, Hampshire
Cycling is thirsty work. So why not finish at a family-friendly pub? Even better: find a route from one pub to another and you can go either way, pedalling with the wind behind you or finishing with the finest draught.
This ride takes you across the beautiful New Forest between two pubs appropriately named The Royal Oak. From Fritham to North Gorley, after a short climb up, the ride heads along the crest of Hampton Ridge with views across the gorse, with its butter-yellow flowers and distinct scent of coconut. There are plenty of opportunities to get off the track for a picnic or some wildlife spotting. One of Britain’s rarest birds, the Dartford warbler lives here and chances are you’ll get good views of stonechats, buzzards and the occasional deer.
At Fritham, the pub is set on verdant forest lawns and serves great midday meals that are local legends in their own lunchtimes. Its large beer garden is perfect to occupy younger children as they search for three tiny, secret ‘fairy doors’ hidden here and there around the pub lawn.
At the other end of the journey, the pub is set in a Forest lawn setting which seems to exercise a gravitational pull on all the donkeys in the area. North Gorley’s Royal Oak has the classic thatched cottage look on the outside while boasting a recent, understated, contemporary feel inside. A former Royal Hunting Lodge, it’s the perfect place to reflect on a ride well done.
2. feel the Forth – Portobello & Leith, Edinburgh
This level urban park and promenade ride takes you on traffic free paths and quiet roads along the beautiful coastline of the Firth of Forth.
There are plenty of opportunities to stop for a bite to eat, a coffee or an ice cream along the way. It’s part of Edinburgh’s 50 miles of cycling trails, and is mapped out on the Innertube Map here.
3. around the lake – Rutland Water, Rutland
From 3 to 25 miles
Choose a waterside cycle around Britain’s largest man-made lake set in 4200 acres of nature reserve and countryside.
While you are there, spot rare ospreys hunting for fish, take advantage of 31 bird hides, indulge in fishing or learn to sail. Bike hire is available at Whitwell and Normanton car parks. Perfect for families. Find out more and plan your route here.
4. coasting along – Redcar & Saltburn-by-Sea, Cleveland
A perfect ride on a calm day between two railway stations, but it can offer more challenge if the breeze stiffens. A short climb in Saltburn offers you the chance to get off and admire the breathtaking view – the beautiful coastline of Cleveland is often overlooked – but all stops on this mostly traffic-free route offer unparalleled vistas over sweeping coastline.
At your destination, the kids will enjoy Saltburn’s pier and cliff tramway. Find more details here…
5. down in Dorset – Weymouth to Portland
Well we had to include one ride in Dorset, didn’t we? The Weymouth to Portland cycle is the southernmost stretch of the Route 26 of the National Cycle Network. From the lovely town of Weymouth you can pick up the traffic-free Rodwell Trail, a disused railway line, and the route to Portland takes you past such Dorset delights as the Chesil Beach Visitor Centre, the National Sailing Academy, Portland Marina and Portland Castle.
You can get full details of the route here.
how to find a route near you
If none of our five suggested routes are within striking distance, you can easily find your own.
Official cycle routes include old railway lines and tow paths, forest tracks, green lanes, bridleways and byways. Some old country houses allow cyclists on their estate roads and the National Trust and Forestry Commission often open up land for pedalling around.
But failing all that, you can make up your own bike route using the Open Street Map and selecting the cycle map layer. It’s a really clever tool that allows you to plot bike-friendly courses in any local area.
The best routes feature moderate inclines, flat hill crests and a downhill freewheel to the finish line.
Family Bike Adventures – Off-road Tips
1) Watch out for others
Many cycle routes are shared with pedestrians and horse riders. Always give way to them and try not to startle either. Warn pedestrians with a tinkle on your bell in plenty of time, not when you are about to run over their foot!
2) Be visible
Wear bright clothing as well as suitable protective gear, and consider carrying lights on all your bikes, even in decent daylight. If it’s the only thing that other road users notice about you, it’s definitely worth the batteries.
3) Plan ahead
It’s worth packing both first aid and puncture repair kits, as well as food and drink to keep you going. The routes we’ve recommended are all fairly leisurely, but for more ambitious rides make sure you check the weather, take a phone, and tell someone where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone.