Drama and stark beauty at every turn: readers’ favourite winter cycles in the UK and Europe | Cycling holidays
Winning tip: Winding lanes, Northamptonshire
I recommend a Northamptonshire countryside route that combines winding lanes bordered by fields, chocolate-box villages, manor houses and the execution spot of Mary Queen of Scots, Fotheringhay Castle. I like to make a circular route starting in Fotheringhay up to Nassington, on to Yarwell and Kingscliff, then head back via Apethorpe Palace and Woodnewton. This route is about 22km, but you can lengthen and shorten the route depending on your energy level by adding in or taking out villages. I like to rely on the signposts to navigate, rather than my phone. Make sure to look out for hares, red kites and fallow deer along the route, and post-ride there are some lovely local pubs with open fires.
Epping Forest, with refreshments
There is a route through Epping Forest from Epping to Loughton that is wide, well-marked and has enough flat and hilly terrain to keep all skill levels happy. Aside from that, it is well served for refreshments by the Forest Gate Inn at one end and the Victoria Tavern at the other. The flora and fauna is always stunning, but in winter the quieter runs and stark beauty means any encounter with wildlife is accentuated.
Ice-free along the Thames
As a cyclist in London, I spend most of my summer weekends escaping to the delights of the North Downs or the Surrey Hills. However, in winter, the higher roads can stay icy, even when those in town are clear. So to avoid the winter road roulette, I take to the Thames cycle path. This runs from source to sea, but for a lunchtime or post-work training ride I tend to take in the sections between Tower Bridge and Woolwich. They are flat and well paved and tend to stay ice-free, with plenty of warm drink and snack options to keep those winter miles fuelled! You also get to admire a world heritage site in Greenwich as well as some spectacular engineering as you roll past the Thames flood barrier.
Lord of the Rings in Snowdonia
My local “round the block” ride takes in the glorious Dyffryn Ogwen (Ogwen valley), Dyffryn Mymbyr (Mymbyr valley) and Pen-Y-Pass, towards Llanberis village. Setting out in winter is like heading into Mordor, with snow-capped peaks, moody purple-grey clouds, and the sight of Tryfan ridge, like a dragon’s back. As it opens out, you can enjoy the lovely, steady descent to Capel Curig village, hanging a right, you pass the Mymbyr lakes with the Snowdon Horseshoe ahead, before coming up and over the side of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), and the exhilarating soar down the other side. With drama and mountains at every turn, this ride never gets any less breathtaking.
A winter whirl around Lake Maggiore, Italy
The best cycling of my life was done a few years ago ago when I retired, packing my bags and a bike to cycle around Italy, top-to-toe. The most energising, invigorating route was a winter whirl around Lake Maggiore. The microclimate and sparkling January sunshine – glimmering on the lake on one side and bouncing off snow-topped Alpine peaks on the other – were an inspiration to keep pedalling. Start at Arona on the Piedmont side, then head up to Stresa, with its lovely belle époque hotels – feel free to stop for a warming cappuccino or grappa, as I did! You can then bike round the lake, passing though Locarno in Switzerland, or put your bike on a ferry to the Lombard side.
Gorgeous sea views, Dundee to Montrose
Blow the cobwebs away on a sunny winter’s day. Starting from the V&A Dundee (schedule a visit before or after your ride), watch the winter sunrise over the Tay Estuary before taking the coastal path north on Sustrans Route 1. The 35 miles to Montrose include a mix of dedicated cycle paths and quiet country lanes with gorgeous sea views keeping you company the whole way. Have a picnic lunch sheltered in the dunes on the expansive sandy beach of Lunan Bay before finishing at the Montrose Basin reserve, where in October, around 80,000 pink-footed geese arrive for winter. Admire the sea views once again on the return journey by train from Montrose to Dundee.
Bicycles across the Bosphorus, Istanbul
Istanbul is a scenic location for a winter bike ride and you can now travel 80 miles of designated cycle paths there. The city itself has an expansive cycling route on its Asian side. Starting in Kadıköy, with views over to Europe, there is a nearly uninterrupted landscaped path along the coast of the Bosphorus and Marmara Sea that takes cyclists through Caddebostan, Bostancı, and up to Pendik. In winter the smog lifts to become sparkling sunshine and you can stop for a warming tea and sesame-seed bread along the route. I rented a bike from Isbike and put it on a ferry to the car-free Princes Islands, for calm, easy cycling with views over two continents.
Less than a third of the Bay Cycle Way’s 81-mile route is traffic-free, but the 16-mile section between Carnforth and Glasson Dock is mostly off-road. It follows a canal towpath, Morecambe promenade and disused railway tracks, and offers the best views across Morecambe Bay. There are plenty of convenient places to park, including at Glasson Dock, Conder Green and in Morecambe. There is also an abundance of refreshment stops, though not all the cafes are open during winter (you’ll always find something in Lancaster and Morecambe). As Morecambe promenade has been very busy during the last two summers due to an influx of visitors, the ride will be much more pleasant in winter.
East Midlands meander
The power station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar may seem an unlikely focus for a beautiful winter cycling route but the network of nearby lanes make for stunning views. I start in the Derbyshire town of Long Eaton, heading south across the River Trent into Leicestershire, where a look over the shoulder early in the morning will see the sun rising over the cooling towers. From there the choices are limitless, but why not make a three-counties of it? Head east and you’re soon across the Soar and into Nottinghamshire, where snaking lanes and wooded hillsides await. The return westwards takes in some picturesque villages with tempting cafe stops, before the turrets of Ratcliffe beckon the weary cyclist home.
Pedalling with persimmons, Spain
Not your usual bike trip. Me, an OAP with my secondhand e-bike, on an epic ride: four weeks travelling westward ahead of the encroaching winter, through awe-inspiring landscapes, from the sun-baked, Mediterranean-fringed mountains of the Cabo de Gata, high over the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, and down through the Serranía de Ronda’s vast cork forests to the Atlantic coast. Initially you’ll find cactus and thyme-edged tracks, then Alpujarran ways with windfall treats of almonds, avocados, and persimmons, and finally vultures circling over thick rainforest. Blue skies, great food, and red wine – soul enriching.