The single most epic ride on the National Cycle Network, this is an unforgettable route along the spine of England. Nowhere else will you find scenery so wild, lanes so quiet, views so vast.
It’s a true challenge ride, not for the faint-hearted. You’ll finish each day feeling thoroughly worked over – but when you wake up the next morning, you’ll be charged up for another day’s glorious cycling. At every hilltop, every corner, there’s a new vista. Multiply that by 350 miles and you’ll see what’s so special about this route.
At 350 (hilly) miles, this is essentially a week’s holiday. If you’re coming from the south of England or the Midlands, don’t forget to factor in the time to get a train to Derby at the start, and back from Berwick-on-Tweed at the end.
The route passes numerous railway lines, so you can break it up into sections if you can’t spare a week. That said, we’d recommend doing it all in one go: the gradually unfolding landscape is one of the attractions of this route.
The Pennine Cycleway is a mix of quiet roads, railway paths, canal towpaths and forestry roads. As such, a hybrid will cope with most of the surfaces en route, and its forgiving gears will help you up the steeper climbs.
A few short sections are very rough: the Trans-Pennine Trail across the Woodhead summit, the cobbles up from Hebden Bridge, and the field section after Alwinton. There are easy road alternatives for all of these, though the Woodhead road is exceptionally busy. At Hadfield in the Peak District, you’ll find the surface easier if you stick to the southern edge of the reservoir.
Taking a road bike? If you fit robust tyres, you’ll generally be fine (with the above exceptions). Take extra care on the bridleway at the end of the Tissington Trail (near Earl Sterndale); the rough minor road just north of Buxton; and the forest sections after Hadrian’s Wall and through Kielder Forest.
We’re not the sort of southern Jessies who say “the further north you go, the further from civilisation you are”. The south of England can only dream of scenery like this!
But it’s certainly true that there are long stretches without any facilities. There is nothing, at all, in the 20 miles from Twice Brewed to Bellingham. As such, make sure you always have enough to eat and drink with you (with apologies for sounding like your mum), and spare inner tubes in case of a puncture. This affects your choice of accommodation too: if you get to Haltwhistle and everywhere’s full up, it’s another 25 miles until the next B&B.
Most of the route is signposted as National Cycle Network route 68. Several on-road sections, particularly in Derbyshire and Northumberland, have now been removed from the NCN but remain part of the Pennine Cycleway; they’re still signed but you may not see a red NCN number.
No. Confusingly, this is one of three routes (and, we think, the best) to share the ‘Pennine’ tag. There’s also the Trans-Pennine Trail, a much gentler east-west route from Liverpool to Hull; and the Pennine Bridleway, a fearsome off-road haul for horse-riders and mountain-bikers.
The Pennine Cycleway starts at the little village of Etwall, midway between Derby and Burton-on-Trent. You can take a train to either, then cycle along NCN route 54 for seven miles to Etwall. For the return journey, Berwick-on-Tweed is on the East Coast Main Line, with fast trains direct to London, Edinburgh and into the Midlands.
Note that LNER and CrossCountry, who provide the trains from Berwick, are both sticklers for bike reservations. Book your journey well in advance. Don’t worry if the station staff at Berwick growl at you… they do that to everyone.