With technical tracks and remote mountain roads that bring you the best of British countryside, this is a 915km five-day route that will test your riding skills and delight your senses as the tale of British cultural and natural history unfolds beneath your wheels
Starting at in the Brecon Beacons National Park at the site of a 12th century monastery and ending 915km later in the North Sea port town of Whitby – home to 18th century explorer Captain James Cook and haunt of the fictious Count Dracula of Bram Stoker’s famous gothic novel – ACT UK takes the adventure rider on a 915km five-stage journey through the British history and nature.
The ratio of road to off-road is the lowest of any ACT, but this will not be your impression as the trails consistently wend their way into the remote high country, so they take time, and they’re connected by the narrowest and emptiest country roads you’ll find. Does Britain have wilderness? Turns out it does, and yes, adventure riding in the UK is most definitely authentic and… adventuresome!
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the Brecon Beacons National Park. There’s a small tearoom (a bar in the evenings) in the cellar of the main building so you can start with a coffee – or tea, of course – with cake or other nibbles. It’s actually an hotel with seven bedrooms so you could even stay the night before you start the ride!
The route takes a minor road north out of this quiet valley, climbing the gleefully named Lord Hereford’s Knob
(the hill at the head of the valley) with vast views before heading into Welsh countryside before it. After about an hour on these small roads you’ll find the first off-road section. It’ll be a good baptism for what’s to come as the track, starting behind a farmhouse, climbs a steep hill with gates on the way up. With rocks, ruts, some mud and awkwardly placed gates (remember: with gates, leave as found – leave open if open, closed if closed), this will be a sure test of your technique and hill-start capabilities. There’s grip, you just need a steady throttle, calm mind, and good balance. Once up the hill, you’ll have your first experience of the remote Welsh high country – grazing lands, rolling hills, and tracks that combine rocks and gravel with ruts and mud that’ll determine your travelling speed is rarely faster than 25km/h.
Two more similar sections follow before you may choose to take a (lunch) break in the market town of Rhayader. And after that you’ll enjoy a great rocky trail that starts next to a farm, crosses possibly the world’s toughest golf course before cresting a mountain and sending you into the sublime Elan valley. The valley will lead into a gorge and exiting that on a track, that leads you again into high country wilderness, be careful at the stream crossing just before the end – there are some big rocks in that water.
The route continues, diving in and out of sections of forestry and through small villages. The final off-road section is a stony descent from a high hill outlook. It’s not super difficult but be sensitive on your brakes all the same.
The road is an offshoot of the main highway, almost hidden, so care is needed to ensure you’re on the correct road (zoom-in on the GPS!). This very small road passes through forests and traditional centuries-old Welsh mountain villages before meeting the head of a glacier-formed valley for a sweeping road ride that leads down to Tal-y-llyn Lake.
After such a breathtaking road ride – which ends with amazing cliff-top views over Barmouth Bay – begins an epic off-road section that leads along the mountain ridge known as Cadair Idris. It’s a trail that again offers spectacular views, revealing fascinating mountain-scapes and the heritage of hill farming in this region.
After a linking road section and short off-road forest ride, a small single-track road leads across the open and empty high moors of Snowdonia National Park, before emerging at another glacial remnant – Lake Bala (an ideal lunch stop).
The afternoon’s route takes a winding path through the most northern region of rural Wales, travelling through forests, meadowlands, some farm tracks and ‘byways’ before finally cresting the Clwydian Range via a gentle track.
After this, an hour’s road ride leads to Liverpool and the ferry terminal opposite the famous Royal Liver Building, where the Steam Packet Company will take you on a three-hour ferry ride to the Isle of Man. We advise booking the ferry in advance. Return fares start at £125 for a bike and rider.
You should consider stocking up with snacks (and fuel for the bike) before leaving Machynlleth as the morning ride, especially once on the off-road section is remote.
The town of Bala offers many options for lunch. We stopped at the Ty Coffi (café) which offers plenty of space for your riding kit and a fair menu – and seems popular with the local motorcyclists.
There’s no food at the ferry port in Liverpool, but the ferry itself has a restaurant and serves a range of evening meals, all reasonably priced.
The Greenways vary in difficulty. Where well maintained they’re easily ridden, but heavy rains can lead to severe soil erosion on the tracks so it’s worth maintaining a cautious approach.
Day 3 starts at the TT Grandstand but reverses the course direction as it seeks a northerly path toward Ramsey. The first off-road sections after leaving the course at Creg-ny-Baa are easy-moderate downhills, unless after heavy rain – go slow and watch for washout and bigger rocks or ruts. After Laxey (and the huge Victorian water wheel) there’s a long off-road track up to Windy Corner. There’s a gate on a blind corner on a steep section very early on the track, so be ready to stop on the incline and balance your bike!
The triangular off-road section at Ramsey has an easy ascent through a forest but the descent down towards Sulby should be ridden with caution as the track narrows and turns sharply. After a road ride on the smallest lanes to the top of the island, then past Ballaugh Bridge, it’s back around to the island’s mountainous spine with a long off-road ride past the peak ‘Slieau Dhoo’. The decent at the end should be ridden with caution, but is generally moderate in technicality.
The route crosses the TT course again at Cronk-y-Voddy – take care with the fast-travelling traffic here. And be ready at the next off-road section for a sudden end right on a road as you descend a hill!
The second half of the ride takes in breathtaking coastal and mountain roads, tiny rural roads and a selection of off-road sections. Beware the off-road section that leads to Port Erin, while not difficult it does require sustained riding through long ruts, making it quite exhausting.
Like the ACT team, you may well stay an additional day on the island, to ride the famous course and to enjoy so many of its attractions, ranging from the Viking-built Peel Castle to the Victorian electric mountain railway.
However, there’s plenty of off-road and progress can be slow, so it’ll still be early evening by the time the finish is reached.
There’s only the one main highway route out of Heysham, but after barely half an hour the route leads onto scenic country roads as it enters the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and after 45 minutes the first off-road section, the Salter Fell Road over the high country known as the Forest of Bowland (but there’s no forest!).
A ride through narrow lanes in the Ribbledale valley leads to a series of off-road sections over the Yorkshire high country known as Fells. The trail is mostly gravel and rock but will ask for some momentum and a little technique on the climbs. On the section that leads across Darnbrook Fell down to Littondale is a sustained descent mostly on grass that can be tricky if wet. There is a short, easy on-road alternative if this is the case.
After a road ride up the Wharfdale Valley the last off-road sections should prove very enjoyable as the track rises to nearly 550 metres and the high moorland offers vast views.
The day ends in Hawes, in the Wensleydale valley. Accommodation here can be limited, so it’s worth booking your accommodation in advance.
Note: fuel stations can be hard to find in the Dales national park, so it pays to refuel in Heysham (if not on the IOM) and at Hawes at the day’s end.
The Fat Lamb
The Yorkshire Dales is one of the UK’s most popular national parks, consequently much visited and well developed in terms of food offerings. Most villages will offer up cafes, pubs and restaurants to meet all tastes and budgets.
For evening meals, the Fat Lamb and Pennine Hotel both offered good menus.
For a coffee stop, try Sydney’s https://www.sydneysofsettle.com on the market square in Settle – in Filipe Elias’ considered opinion it offers the best coffee in the UK. The cake is pretty good too!
that leads from the high point on Whether Fell, above Hawes, to the site of a Roman fort at Banbridge. There’s lots of rock on this trail so ride with caution if wet.
The route then passes by the attractive Aysgarth (water) Falls and the 14th century Bolton Castle (that once imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots – and since featured in Game of Thrones) before leading to an unusual but easy off-road section over Redmire Moor, where old coalmining works have left a strangely barren wilderness. Narrow single-track roads then lead over two more vast moorlands, with impressive far-reaching views.
Then follows the unavoidable lowlands ‘gap’ between the Yorkshire Dales and Moors which is traversed for a good hour using mostly small rural roads. Normal adventure service is returned at the arrival of the Hambleton Hills with a short easy section of offroad over Black Hambleton. Riding on narrow moor-top roads the route heads down to the market town of Helmsley. A small diversion to see the impressive remains of the Cistercian monastery at Rievaulx, just before Helmsley, is worth the time.
Helmsley is a good opportunity for a last food and fuel stop before the final leg of this adventure. Next up comes Rudland Rigg, an impressive 19km trail, mostly on compacted sand, that leads over the very heart and the remotest parts of the North Yorkshire Moors. Be careful in the last two kilometres of the track, as the descent does suffer for periodic water erosion, so wash outs and sudden steps can be an issue.
Two more, shorter, off-road moorland traverses follow. On the second, the Danby Beacon is a lookout with great views over the North Sea coastline. At last, the route reveals its finish line through the spectacular viewpoint across the Whitby sands from Lythe Bank. A short ride along the coast road will bring you to the finish point at the whalebone arch above the entrance to Whitby Harbour.
Whitby, once a busy fishing and whaling port is now a popular holiday destination so it pays to book ahead for accommodation. There are plenty of hotels, B&Bs and camping but in peak season it can book-out.
A comfortable early stop for coffee would be at the Dales Bike Centre Café and Cakeryhttps://www.dalesbikecentre.co.uk/pages/cafe-and-cakery at Low Fremington. Covered outdoor trestles and adjoining parking make it an easy stop for motorcyclists. Good fresh home-baked cakes, too.
If stopping in Helmsley, leave your bike in the parking at the town square and try the Cornercopia Café https://www.facebook.com/people/Cornercopia-cafe-Helmsley/100028472397094/ for an excellent lunchtime menu with outdoor seating and a view of the medieval Helmsley Castle.
In Whitby, dare we say it, the culinary must-do (for the tourists) is fish and chips – the fish hopefully fresh caught by the Whitby fleet.