Laurence McJannet, author of Bikepacking, chooses his favourite mountain bike camping adventures from across the UK
Bikepacking is where mountain biking meets lightweight camping; it was inspired by the original spirit of the first off-road adventure riders in 1970s California. Bikepacking adventures are self-supported, two-wheeled, overnight forays, off the Tarmac roads and into the countryside or wilderness on tracks and historic byways.
You don’t need lots of fancy kit; a growing number of mountain bikers, hikers and wild campers are discovering that, with as little as an old mountain bike or hybrid bike, a bed mat, sleeping bag and a bivvy bag, a whole new world begins to open up: a sprawling, often wild but always beautiful landscape waiting to be discovered. And the best way to do so is on two wheels, wild camping on the way. You can journey greater distances and explore more remote trails than you ever could on a day ride.
Do remember, though, that wild camping is illegal in most parts of England and Wales - except Dartmoor, and most higher fell areas - so you should seek permission from the landowner before you camp.
Best wild ride: Isle of Mull
Distance: 30m/40.2km (43.3m/61.5km if continuing to Craignure ferry terminal for trains from Oban
Start: Tobermory ferry terminal
Finish: Tomsleibhe bothy
This wild ride departs from Mull’s colourful capital Tobermory at the northern tip of the Sound and winds its way inland to a wonderfully remote bothy called Tomsleibhe in the heart of the breathtakingly beautiful Glenforsa estate. En route, it passes the fairytale Glengorm Castle, the dense, sprawling woodland of Salen Forest and the crystal clear waters of Loch Frisa, before the lonely estate track leads you deep into the glen, to the bothy beneath the shadow of Beinn Talaidh, some 6km from any other dwelling. The estate path is the only way into the glen, so after a memorable night by the fire in this lovely old stone hut you can retrace your tyre tracks to Tobermory or on leaving the estate head southeast to Craignure and connect to the sparse west coast rail network at Oban.
Best beginners’ ride: Windermere, Lake District
Start/Finish: Hawkshead car park LA22 0NB
This leisurely Lake District excursion is ideal for bikepackers of all ages and abilities. With some of the Lakes’ more foreboding hills as a backdrop, this 22km route from Hawkshead village skirts between Grizedale Forest and England’s largest lake, taking in Esthwaite Water and Near and Far Sawrey on the way, before heading north up Windermere’s wooded west shore to the wonderfully neo-Gothic Wray Castle. Nearby the luxurious berber tents and camping pods (both with wood-fired stoves) await weary riders at the National Trust’s peaceful wooded campsite at Low Wray. However, there are plenty of woodland or lakeside wild camping options too if you are feeling adventurous. In the morning it’s just short meandering ride through the dappled shade of Fleming wood before plunging down grassy slopes to Colthouse and nearby Hawkshead.
Best ride for hills and views: The Malverns
Start/Finish: Great Malvern Station
A ride that delivers on its promise of fantastic views: from Worcestershire Beacon, the highest point on the Malvern range at 1395ft, it is said you can see 15 different counties. The route out of Great Malvern station immediately sets about scaling the ridge’s steep eastern slopes, before heading south past Wyche to Jubilee Hill. Already the views across an otherwise undulating landscape are remarkable. By the time you turn about-face to tackle the long climb to Worcestershire Beacon the entire West Midlands seem to unfurl beneath your wheels. A small cave just beneath the beacon provides a perfect wild camp, where you wake to the most memorable vista before continuing northwest for a long, languid descent toward West Malvern before a leisurely loop takes you out over the rolling pastures of Old Storridge Common and back.
Best coastal ride: Sidmouth, Devon
Start/Finish: Putts Corner, Gittisham (Honiton station, 5km away)
A coastal camp can turn the shortest of rides into a memorable microadventure, but this east Devon loop that touches Sidmouth’s wide pebbled beaches offers a fantastic trail too. Heading clockwise from Gittisham Hill, firm, flowing bridleways drop gradually toward Sidbury and Sidford, teasing you with occasional glimpses of a sparkling sea. Through the peaceful lanes of the Byes, the route winds its way down to Sidmouth seafront, where the options to camp along the beach’s furthest fringes are numerous. The Jurassic Coast’s red sandstone cliffs offer plenty of shelter, but it’s these you’ll have to climb the next day to reach the wide green expanse of Mutters Moor and Bulverton Hill. There’s a wonderful mixture of snaking singletrack and overgrown railway paths before the trail brings you to Ottery St Mary and a final climb up Westgate Hill towards Bellview Plantation and the famous Witches Stone that heralds the end of this glorious ride.
Best urban adventure: the parks and green spaces of south London
Start: Kew Gardens station
Finish: Hampton station
Not many people know, but an almost uninterrupted 30km off-road route snakes its way through south London, barely encountering Tarmac as it leaves the “big smoke” behind. Starting at Kew Gardens station, it winds its way south between the Thames and Old Deer Park before an ‘S’ shaped trail takes in the leafy expanse of Richmond Park, Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common. Here, after riding along pleasant, pock-marked bridlepaths through the trees, Caesar’s Camp offers a wonderful opportunity for your own urban “wild” camp; so too do the wooded banks of the Thames near Ham, when you return to the river after following the red, sandy tracks of Richmond Park’s southern fringes. Finally your route strikes out into Bushy Park, like Richmond inhabited by scores of red deer, though the residents of this smaller Royal Park are far less skittish than those hiding in Richmond’s tall grasses. At Hampton station you’ll be left reflecting on how beautiful these precious pockets of south London green space are when crossed in their entirety.
Bikepacking: Mountain Bike Camping Adventures on the Wild Trails of Britain is by Laurence McJannet (£16.99, Wild Things Publishing). For 30 per cent off and free P+P visitwildthingspublishing.com and enter ‘Independent’ as your coupon code.