“From stone faced guards outside the Queen’s residence at Buckingham Palace to cherry red double-decker buses meandering past Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, London is filled with trademark images.
Seeing London on a bike may seem intimidating at first, but there is no better introduction to her sights, sounds and smells than from the saddle of your titanium horse. Get off the clogged main arteries and explore the narrow side streets, where the air reeks of pigeon poop and curry and the chic martini bar sits just around the corner from the city’s red light sleaze, and you’ll get a picture for what makes this multi-cultural metropolis really tick”
This is exactly what I love about the Lonely Planet travel guides. The way they describe places makes me want to be there now. In this latest book, Lonely Planet is transferring their trademark formula for travel books to UK cycling routes. Does it work well or should the company stick to what it knows best?
The routes included
The routes cover all of Great Britain. Here are some of the highlights:
London: Richmond Park route which I described yesterday. You also have a route through central London which it recommends you do on a Sunday to avoid the chaos. Finally the Thames East route which basically takes you from Tower Bridge to Greenwich park and back. A great route that I’ve done a while back.
Southern England: White cliffs of Dover. Around isle of Wight. Mountain biking in New Forest. Bristol to London route via bath. Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall route.
Eastern England: Suffolk and Norfolk coast for a bit of coastal cruising.
Central England: A decent 8 day ride from South to North. Plenty of countryside and small villages. A route that follows the rail tracks.
Wales: Taking in the best of Wales and some good mountain challenges.
Northern England: Exploring the national parks including the Lake District. Also taking in the Northumbria coast and castles.
Scotland: Around Edinburgh. The Tweet Valley on the Scottish border and a decent highland circuit including some of the lochs.
Land’s End to John O’Groats: The only route listed as “Demanding” gets an entire section dedicated to it.
Overall the routes vary between less than a day to 20 days cycling (Lands end to John O’Groats.
With each route you can see what kind of distance it is, the difficulty and the time it will take. Then there is a brief summary that tempts you into trying out the route.
Cycling Britain however fails in the most crucial part of a cycling route book. They even admit to this failure in the book. The directions are not detailed enough. When doing a short route there is not really a problem as the map provided is detailed enough. However, for much longer routes this quickly becomes an issue. The authors try to get around this by providing a cue sheet with mileage listed along the side. Take one wrong turn or cycle slightly off route and you’ll be in trouble.
In short, you need to do your own research and bring your own maps. I personally would have preferred it if they had dedicated more space in the book to directions and less to providing accommodation recommendations and talking about the history of cycling! After all if I want to find out about either of these two topics I can easily look online or buy a different book.
On the Richmond route I completed the lack of clear directions was not a major issue due to the short length. The full page map was largely sufficient. However, when hitting some of the smaller roads it did take some guessing. I also ended up putting in the route into my iPhone to work out where I was going.
Aside from this issue I was impressed by the range of routes and I like the way they are described to encourage you to go out there and try them out.
Upside to Cycling Britain
- Good variety of routes both in length and the variety of experiences provided
- Each route is described in an enticing way
- Will definitely encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and do some cycling
- Good background to each location along with some interesting facts
- Accommodation recommendations useful to those outside the UK but likely unnecessary to UK cyclists
Downside to Cycling Britain
- Heavy reliance on you doing your own research
- Directions are simply not clear enough
If you can get over the issue of unclear directions by doing your own research then Cycling Britain is a great book for a cyclists bookshelf. I already plan on doing a couple of the longer routes listed when the weather improves. The book has helped me discover these routes that I would not previously have known about and whilst it struggles with directions I’ll put in some time myself to map out the route on my GPS device. There is plenty here for any skill level and if you fancy doing some exploring on your bike then pickup a copy.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.