Rolling hills, market towns, village pubs and quiet lanes… the East Midlands could be Britain’s most overlooked cycling region.
The National Cycle Network’s east–west route across Leicestershire, Rutland and Cambridgeshire is an ideal long-weekend ride. You’ll rarely be out of breath or jostling for space on crowded streets, yet its 120 miles from the Trent valley at Burton to the flat Fens at Wisbech feel like a genuine achievement. Take it slowly and enjoy the understated charms of rural England.
At 120 miles we’d suggest this as a ‘long weekend’ route – two days for the fittest, four days for an unhurried pace.
The terrain is gently undulating, but rarely more than that. The 20 miles of ‘High Leicestershire’ between Leicester and Oakham are the hardest, and the initial climb out of Burton-on-Trent is an annoyingly steep ramp. Generally, it’s a moderate ride that won’t particularly tax anyone but the absolute beginner.
The route is mostly paved, but there are a few short gravelly sections. A road bike will be fine but you’ll need moderately sturdy tyres.
Most villages have a pub, but village shops are sadly no longer a given, so stock up in the larger settlements if you think you’ll need it. The 20 miles of High Leicestershire between Leicester and Oakham are the most remote, but happily the cyclists’ mecca of Café Ventoux is halfway along at Tugby!
It’s signposted as National Cycle Network route 63 throughout.
Almost! Exasperatingly, the first few miles in Burton-on-Trent aren’t fully developed, resulting in an unsatisfactory wiggle on town streets before the route gives out entirely. Grit your teeth for a few miles before the route begins properly in Swadlincote.
This east-west route crisscrosses half a dozen other NCN routes on its journey across the East Midlands. You could plan an enjoyable figure of eight using the NCN in Leicestershire, in particular.
There are railway stations dotted throughout the whole route: Burton, Leicester, Oakham, Stamford, Peterborough and March. In theory you should book a bike space for most of the routes that serve them, though in practice the guards are less strict on these smaller regional trains. Wisbech doesn’t have a station (its railway has been slowly mouldering since the last freight train ran 20 years ago), so you’ll need to retrace your steps 10 iles to March, or ride on another 20 miles to Kings Lynn.