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1

Oxford to Bicester

The route starts on Oxford’s Broad Street, by Balliol College, the iconic Blackwells Bookshop and the new Weston Library. It’s difficult to conceive a more Oxonian send-off.

Turn left (north) by the King’s Arms pub, following the signs for route 51, and thread through the affluent suburbs of North Oxford. The route passes the Cherwell School, where more pupils cycle to school than anywhere else in Britain – encouraged by a truly outstanding Dutch-style cycle track.

The pleasant suburbs eventually land you on a standard-issue roadside cycle path, taking you to Kidlington, the self-described largest village in England. To avoid an uninspiring detour through residential areas, stay on the main Oxford Road as far as Green Road, then turn right to rejoin the route.

A lovely meadowland path, across land owned by Richard Branson, leads into the undulating Oxfordshire countryside. After four miles on remote country lanes, the approach to Bicester follows a minor road running parallel with the busy A34. It’s safe, but far from peaceful.

If you want to visit the market town of Bicester (and its six branches of Tesco), follow the route 51 signs. Otherwise, continue along the car park for the chic Bicester Village outlet centre, pass the railway station, then pick up the signed alternate route by the level crossing – a more direct, enjoyable ride.

Bike shops

Campsites

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Hotels

Ambrosden

from £135Alfie'S Barn

Arncott

Begbroke, Nr Kidlington

Bicester

from £125Merton Grounds
from £85Pentewan B&B

Carlyon Bay

Heathfield Village

Kidlington

from £75The Bell

Minster Lovell

Oxford

from £64Abodes B&B
from £150Beech Lodge
from £70Browns
from £250Castle Mews
from £67Diana's B&B
from £94Ethos Hotel
from £89Ethos Hotel
from £60Happylodge
from £130Harcourt Place
from £112Henry's
from £175Jericho Street
from £84Newton House
from £70Noa Residence
from £79Parklands
from £79Parklands
from £82The Galaxie
from £169The Old Bank
from £60The Swan Inn
from £70The Terrace
from £63Tree Hotel
from £0Victor House
from £16YHA Oxford
from £18YHA Oxford

Oxford, Oxfordshire

Stratton Audley

Weston on the Green

2

Bicester to Milton Keynes

After the village of Launton comes Poundon Hill, the second climb of the route and one offering views for miles. The business park at the top was once a secret intelligence station, from where MI6 kept tabs on the Warsaw Pact.

These lanes are fine cycling country, grouped into a bewildering network of little loop routes by the National Byway, whose logo shares sign space with route 51. Keep following the NCN through Steeple Claydon, a bustling village with a bakery, pubs, a café, and pretty cottages at every turn. The popular market town of Winslow follows soon after, clustered around the market square – used as a cattle market until 2007. If you’re giving three days to the route, Winslow is an excellent choice for your first night’s rest.

Since Bicester, the route has clung close to the old Oxford–Cambridge railway, mostly disused though with some track still in situ. A quiet traffic-free lane runs directly alongside it for a mile, before the gravelly Weasel Lane takes you to the edge of Milton Keynes.

MK has a dense network of cycleways, known as ‘redways’ after the colour of their tarmac. Route 51 follows these north to Central Milton Keynes, its station and shops, before proceeding south on a riverside path. You can shave four miles from your ride, however, by skipping central MK entirely for a simpler west-east route. It’s a surprisingly green town, with parks planned into the urban fabric. The ‘Rose’ art installation, and the Beacon viewpoint, add interest to the sweeping ride through Campbell Park.

Bike shops

Campsites

Adstock

Fringford

Little Horwood

Milton Keynes

Newport Pagnell

Weston on Green

Campsite listings kindly provided by archiescampings
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Hotels

Adstock

Ambrosden

from £135Alfie'S Barn

Arncott

Bicester

from £125Merton Grounds
from £85Pentewan B&B

Bradwell Village (Milton Keynes)

Buckingham

Buckinghamshire

Caldecotte

Central Milton Keynes

Drayton Parslow

Heathfield Village

Milton Keynes

from £115Campbell Park
from £120Dakota House
from £100Garden Room MK
from £20Harben House
from £90Manor Farm-MK
from £90ShortStayMK

Middle Claydon Nr. Buckingham

Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes Buckinghamshire

from £62Horwood House

Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

Milton Keynes.

Oxford

from £60The Swan Inn

Stratton Audley

Weston on the Green

Winslow

3

Milton Keynes to Bedford

The Marston Vale between MK and Bedford is a curious area, dominated by worked-out quarries and commuter villages. A valiant attempt to create the Forest of Marston Vale does battle with ‘distribution hubs’ and landfill sites to claim this land. There’s some enjoyable riding, but it’s far from the highlight of the route.

Should you want to skip it, this is one part of the Oxford–Cambridge railway which survives; you can pick up an all-stops train at Bletchley and take it to Bedford. Alternatively, you can speed your passage by short-circuiting the loops into Marston Moretaine and around Wootton. Road bikers will want to avoid the unmade bridleway after Cranfield in any case, simply continuing straight on to rejoin the route at Upper Shelton.

Marston itself is a busy village with pleasant cycleways beside the gravel lakes, and a café for a cake stop. The station at Millbrook is a short way off-route but worth the detour for its delightful branch line air. At Wootton, the route is particularly indirect, but these quiet lanes via Hall End are much more enjoyable than the main village road.

A nondescript roadside cycle path brings you to the River Great Ouse at Bedford. The riverside path is one of the highlights of the Oxford–Cambridge ride, and Bedford’s elegant waterfront is the ideal place to stop for a coffee. Be careful when heading under the railway bridges, though: headroom is barely 5ft!

Bike shops

Campsites

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Hotels

Bedford

from £80Beaconsfield
from £82Mitchell Hall
from £150The Stableyard
from £54Verve Hotel
from £60d'Parys

Bradwell Village (Milton Keynes)

Caldecotte

Cardington

from £50Southview

Central Milton Keynes

Clapham, Bedfordshire

from £99Queens

Cranfield

from £50Mitchell Hall

Drayton Parslow

Milton Keynes

from £115Campbell Park
from £120Dakota House
from £100Garden Room MK
from £20Harben House
from £90Manor Farm-MK
from £90ShortStayMK
from £134South Lodge
from £50The Granary

Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes Buckinghamshire

from £62Horwood House

Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

Milton Keynes.

Mk41 7pw

Newport Pagnell

Woburn

4

Bedford to Cambridge

From Bedford to Sandy, the route follows a very enjoyable railway path close to the Great Ouse – indeed, at one point, you’re right by Willington Lock – and across the fields. It’s all tarmac apart from one muddy section, though tree roots have occasionally disrupted the smooth surface. Regardless, it’s enjoyable riding, especially with the wind at your back.

In Blunham, a missing railway bridge takes you onto residential roads for a minute. Instead of returning to the cycleway, go left here, uphill into the village. Then, at the T-junction, turn right to join the National Byway. This country lane route provides a more direct and still very enjoyable route into Cambridge, avoiding the long detour via Huntingdon. The route is signposted with clear brown signs, but since the National Byway doesn’t have the dedicated volunteers of the National Cycle Network, these do sometimes point the wrong way or go missing entirely. Keep a map to hand.

The villages of South Cambridgeshire are the prettiest on the route, each one with a pub and a parish church. Look out for the trackbed of the old railway, now entirely lost, after Gamlingay.

Crossing the Roman road at Arrington, you squeeze past an ornamental iron gate into the grounds of Wimpole Hall. This National Trust-owned stately home is the biggest in Cambridgeshire, an imposing pile that attracts thousands of visitors on summer weekends. As a cyclist, you have a prime view with no need to queue for the car park; simply sail past on the tarmaced track, though watching out for the cattle grids! The NT farm and stable cafés are perfect refuelling stops for the last leg into Cambridge.

Follow the National Byway to the implausibly pretty village of Barrington, strung out along one wide road. Leave the Byway here and continue towards Haslingfield and Barton, crossing the old railway for one last time: the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory is built on its line, making reinstatement unlikely.

In Barton, turn right onto the main road and join the cycle path which runs all the way into Cambridge. In the well-to-do suburb of Newnham, bear straight on when the road swings left (after the church and Red Bull), then turn left after crossing the River Cam. This busy cycleway will take you right into the heart of the city – just follow the hundreds of bikes!

Hotels

Arrington

from £0Owl Cottage

Arrington Nr. Cambridge

from £0Kestrel
from £85Kingfisher
from £58Robin
from £163Woodpecker

Bedford

from £80Beaconsfield
from £150The Stableyard
from £54Verve Hotel
from £60d'Parys

Cambridge

from £185Accordia
from £27Alder Lodge
from £26Alder Lodge
from £76Anstey Hall
from £131Anstey Hall
from £81Ashley Hotel
from £60Autumn House
from £169Botanica
from £140CB1 Apartments
from £120CB1 Apartments
from £177Eden House
from £150Gilbert House
from £72Helen Hotel
from £99Hotel Felix
from £110Hotel Felix
from £45Lantern House
from £75Lynwood House
from £109Milton Villas
from £199NOBLEO Accordia
from £32Oakley Lodge
from £33Oakley Lodge
from £152Our House
from £58Rectory Farm
from £59Rectory Farm
from £63Regency House
from £132Regent Hotel
from £40Rose Corner
from £111The Meadows
from £105The Old Bakery
from £68The Rathmore
from £55The Waterman
from £50Tudor Cottage
from £110Warkworth House
from £15YHA Cambridge
from £17YHA Cambridge

Cardington

from £50Southview

Clapham, Bedfordshire

from £99Queens

Histon

Ickwell

from £95The Old Dairy

Little Gransden

Melbourn

from £105Sheene Mill

Melbourn Nr Cambridge

from £100Sheene Mill

Mk41 7pw

Potton

Royston

Sandy

from £70The Pippins

Shepreth, Royston

St Neots

St Neots

Trumpington,Cambridge

Willington

Wyboston