Want to escape on your bike around the beautiful english countryside this summer? Author and explorer Jack Thurston gives us his top 5 lanes to get lost on, taken from his many explorations whilst writing his two cycling books; Lost Lanes.
There is no better way to explore England than by riding a bicycle along its ‘lost lanes’. Of all modes of travel, only the bicycle combines freedom and speed with total immersion in the surroundings: the sun, wind and rain, and every sight, sound and smell. Here Jack Thurston shares his top five lost lane routes:
Between Downs and Weald
Take a meandering ride to a country pub for lunch, add an ancient tree, a dose of Tudor history, a wild swim and perhaps the most beautiful lost lane in Kent. Starting in Lingfield, Surrey, head north towards Crowhurst, a tiny village that is home to a giant yew tree, which was already ancient in Saxon times and, amazingly, is still growing today. Leaving the river Eden to meander on its way, continue your journey up the hill to Staffhurst Wood. It’s a fast downhill run into Edenbridge and onto its long, straight high street, which traces an old Roman road from Peckham in south London to Lewes in East Sussex. The countryside opens up into wider fields, with lost lanes taking you back to Lingfield.
Crab and Winkle
A ride through two thousand years of English history in Kent, from Canterbury to the seaside resort of Whitstable and along the Saxon Shore. The Crab and Winkle cycle route used to be one of the very first railway lines reconnecting Canterbury to the sea at Whitstable. The deep, shapely harbour of Whitstable is surrounded by
seafood stalls, and the long, steep shingle beach is lined by a disorganised assortment of huts and warehouses, many of them devoted to serving up the town’s favourite food: the oyster. From Whitstable through Swalecliffe to the far side of Herne Bay is one long beachfront promenade, and it makes for easy cycling with great views out to sea and plenty of places to stop for ice cream. On the way back to Canterbury you’ll get stunning views of the rolling farmland.
Around the Wight
A weekend’s circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight shows there is much more to England’s largest island than rigging and regattas. The Isle of Wight is a world unto itself: gentler, slower and more intensely scenic than anywhere else on the south coast. On the outskirts of the pretty town of Seaview you can join a round-the-island
cycle route that is well marked with blue-and-white signs. Bembridge harbour is a wide estuary full of colourful boats and hundreds of sea birds wheeli ng in the air or picking over the mudflats for tasty morsels of shellfish. From Alverstone you begin the biggest climb of the whole tour, all the way up through Wroxhall to a clifftop road high above Ventnor Bay, with dramatic views out to sea.
A Cotswold Get Away
From pretty cottages to a megalithic circle, and high culture to tourist traps, the Cotswolds are a stunning destination for a leisurely weekend or one long day in the saddle. Bicycles are as much a part of the Oxford scene centre as billowing black gowns and punts on the river, and the city is surrounded by some lovely cycling country. From Hanborough railway station the route threads its way up the river Glyme. Beyond Church Enstone you begin a steady climb up to the ridge where Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire meet. The view from the top is phenomenal. Along the route, the Windrush valley is laid out like a pastoral fantasy of the English countryside, the river meandering through meadows grazed by cattle with rich brown coats. This is the best route for a ride through some of southern England’s most treasured landscape and most photographed villages.
A gentle ride on the lanes of eastern Bedfordshire, through the arable fields and historic villages of the Ivel Valley to a stunning nature reserve, home to Europe’s largest wildlife conservation charity. The open fields and big skies of the Bedfordshire–Hertfordshire border is prime arable country, and there are few trees or hedgerows to break up the landscape. Take a turn down a forest track to reach the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), a country house set in 180 acres of woodland, heath and meadow. The RSPB encourages cycling on many of its nature reserves, and you can follow a track through beautiful broadleaf woodland to come out on the smooth, traffic-free cycle route across Biggleswade common. The quiet country lanes and a final short climb take you through Hinxworth and back up to Ashwell, a village that’s worth at least a second visit, before retracing your tracks to Baldock.
Lost Lanes: 36 Glorious Bike Rides in Southern England by Jack Thurston (£14.99, Wild Things Publishing) is available from all good bookshops.
Jack Thurston’s new book, Lost Lanes Wales: 36 Glorious Bike Rides in Wales and the English Borders (£14.99, Wild Things Publishing) will be available this September.
We have also arranged for an exclusive offer for our customers to get 30% off the price of the book. Head to www.wildthingspublishing.com and enter 'Lost Lanes' as your coupon code.
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