Rolling hills, market towns, village pubs and quiet lanes… the East Midlands could be Britain’s most overlooked cycling region.
This 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!
Much of it is signposted as National Cycle Network route 63 throughout. However, the lanes through Rutland, Stamford and on to Peterborough have been removed from the NCN, so you won’t see any signs there and will need to use a map or GPS.
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 a number of other NCN routes on its journey across the East Midlands, but if you’re planning on making a longer tour of it, we’d suggest focusing your attention on the delightful rural areas between Leicester and Oakham.
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.
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Ride reports & comments
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As a local of the area, I have ridden most, if not all, of these roads at one time or another - I can confirm that the descriptions are very accurate! Stamford is a picture postcard, only slightly more so than little Oakham and the lanes to Cafe Ventoux are stupendous - as is the cafe (it also has a fully equipped bike shop in the back of it if you really need one).
I have never ridden through whole stretch though! Maybe in 2021!
Rode Lichfield to Stamford over 2 days with an overnight in Leicester. Easy ride to Leicester on day 1 with some pleasant off road closer to Leicester. Good fish curry at Kayal. Day 2 was more interesting. Very quiet and very rolling road to Oakham. Cafe Ventoux was welcome as I didn't see any other refreshment stops apart from pubs. Also had afternoon tea in Barnsdale Garden. Stamford made a good destination. Wasn't relying on it, but route 63 signage seemed good throughout. Caught the train back with a change of train at Nuneaton.