Back in September 2020 were due to head to Switzerland using Bike Shuttle for a European motorcycle road trip taking in Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Germany. Alas, as with most other people who had similar plans, our overseas travelling adventures were put on hold in 2020 thanks to the pandemic and its effects on freedoms all over the world.
With fuel in the bikes and a deep desire to still explore, we instead chose to make something of the slight relaxation in restrictions in rules here in England and Wales (at the time), and headed out on a shorter road trip in the UK. Our decision was to leave home for a road trip within Great Britain, to ride some beautiful high passes, see some stunning scenery, and visit some of the best cafes we could find along the way…
We spent one week riding 1,400 miles around some of England and Wales’ National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I cannot tell you how good it felt to be on the road, enjoying the relative freedom of exploring by bike, being in amongst some amazing views, and finding the natural (and wonderful) routine of travel once again.
In this post, written with much reflection in Spring 2022, I want to share with you something of that motorcycle road trip with you. You know, to further fuel the wanderlust and remind me that 2020 wasn’t all that bad in the grand scheme of things.
We have become accustomed to being very flexible on our motorcycling road trips, choosing to make decisions regarding our route from one day to the next, and booking accommodation as we go. But with this particular trip being during pandemic times, and needing to ensure we had somewhere to stay each night, we sat down before we left and decided what our journey might look like.
In any case, we’ve found that booking accommodation on the fly in the UK really isn’t easy. Hotels and campsites here book up fast, and seem less tolerant to last minute planners; you just don’t seem to be able to be as adaptable here as when touring Europe or America.
Our chosen route joined up some of our favourite National Parks and AONBs with some of the roads that are said to be Great Britain’s finest. In all we rode through a good handful of England and Wales’ green spaces, stopping in Premier Inn and Travelodge accommodation along the route.
There was no camping this time around. While we do love the freedom and space camping provides, the lack of flexibility we had on this occasion meant it was easier to stick with motel style accommodation. When you’re banking everything on just a few days, knowing you’ve got somewhere warm and dry to sleep can make for a much more comfortable – and therefore fun – trip.
I don’t know about you, but I reckon that good cafes make motorcycle road trips even better. Find a good one at the right point on your journey and it’s like an oasis in the desert; good food, hopefully a decent cup of tea, road trip relevant conversation, maybe more route planning, and an opportunity to rest and enjoy a few moments looking at the road rather than being on it.
I love how blessed we are here in the UK with a plethora of roadside eateries; we might not quite have the level of diners as the US, but we do a pretty good job.
Having the opportunity to plan our route ahead of time we may have earmarked a few cafes we knew we wanted to visit, and did a pretty decent job of making sure we ate well each day. Some turned out to be better than others, some were actually closed (thanks COVID), and some were revisits, so we knew what we were getting.
I’m not going to list all the cafes we visited in this post, but instead I will promise a dedicated post all about my favourite roadside cafes in Great Britain. Watch out for that coming soon(ish).
Our Motorcycle Road Trip
Anyway, to the route. As you can see from the map below (which is approximate), we covered a lot of ground in one week motorcycle road trip. We started in Lincolnshire and ended in Somerset.
Our first big green space was the Lincolnshire Wolds AONB, followed by the North York Moors National Park. This got us off to a most excellent start; we know Lincolnshire well, of course, and it’s always good to ride over the Wolds.
We purposefully picked small and winding roads wherever possible, this county of ours isn’t that big and the only thing we had planned was to ride, and let’s face it, big dual carriageways are no fun on motorbikes. It’s surprisingly easy to find great riding roads in the UK; we made use of some of the routes in Simon Weir’s Bikers Britain, along with some of our own knowledge of England and Wales – we’re not UK road tripping newbies, after all.
Once over the Humber Bridge we made our way up to the North York Moors, where we stopped for a break overlooking Fylingdales and I reminisced about hiking the Lyke Wake Walk. We took a little winding road through the moors over to Barnard Castle (you know, to check the eyesight…), and then over the high A66 to Penrith. It rained, of course, but that’s the price you pay for road tripping Great Britain!
Playing in the North Pennines and Lake District
We spent day two playing in the North Pennines AONB and Lake District National Park, possibly the best riding day of the whole road trip. Our main aim was to join up some of the area’s most famous high passes – linking them up with equally lovely country lanes and enjoying the spectacular scenery of this part of the country.
In the morning we rode Hartside Pass, Killhope Cross and Harthorpe Moss (Chapel Fell) in the North Pennines AONB. A truly wonderful morning. If you’re riding in this area, I highly recommend getting up and out early – it felt like we had these roads to ourselves, something which certainly wouldn’t last the rest of the day.
We spent the afternoon riding in the Lake District. We rode from Keswick through Borrowdale to Honister Pass (one of my all-time favourites, simply because I’ve been there a lot), Newlands Pass, Whinlatter Pass, Hardknott Pass (30% ascent with hairpin bends… type two fun), Wrynose Pass, Blea Tarn, Kirkstone Pass, and back to Keswick.
It was quite a day, with ALL the views, helped along by the most brilliant blue skies and warm sunshine. After the rain of the previous day we hit the jackpot with the weather. I’ll admit that there was a lot of traffic in places, we certainly didn’t have the Lake District to ourselves, but it was beautiful and worth all the slow miles.
Buttertubs and Fairy Woodland
Our route into the Yorkshire Dales meant a ride over Buttertubs Pass, named after limestone potholes found at the summit which are said to be storage for butter. This road crosses the high moorland between Wensleydale and Swaledale from Thwaite to Hawes – the scenery is utterly gorgeous, even in the low cloud we had that day.
If there’s one road from this trip I’d recommend to everyone, it’s this one. Not technical riding (like some of the high passes in the Lake District), just wonderfully beautiful and remote.
After lunch we continued through the Yorkshire Moors and into the Forest of Bowland to ride the Trough of Bowland. The Forest really was an unexpected delight; we rode through dense woodland covered in a blanket of thick moss, and over open countryside with views for miles – the best of both worlds.
We spent the next day in the Peak District, getting very wet indeed. Well, you win some and you lose some!
We rode the Woodhead Pass, Snake Pass, Winnats Pass, and Cat and Fiddle – with plenty of café stops for tea and hot chocolate along the way. It might have been cold and wet, but it was still a great day with some fantastic scenery and lovely winding roads.
One of the ways that sticking with motel style accommodation was a real benefit on this trip was that after a wet day we had opportunity to warm up and dry out before getting up and doing it all again the next day. It makes all the difference to a short road trip like this.
Snow in September
We love riding in Wales so headed over to Snowdonia National Park. Unfortunately for us, the Horseshoe Pass was closed for roadworks, so we had to miss that one from our itinerary, but we found a way around to get to the Crimea Pass and over to the Snowdonia coast.
When you ride a motorbike, you notice temperature changes by the single degree, and that makes you see and feel your surroundings in a completely different way that you might when travelling by car. That meant that we noticed the step change between rain and snow very well. And yes, we experienced snow during this September road trip.
We weren’t even high up – we were on the coast, with a great view of the sea. We were riding along in the rain, when all of a sudden the road was covered in snow. Weird. Thankfully it didn’t last long, or we’d have needed to find somewhere to sit it out. The rain on the other hand did last, and we got wet through again as we rode back into England and on some of our favourite roads in Shropshire.
Our snake-like route next took us back into Wales to the Elan Valley and then over the Devil’s Staircase and around Llyn Brianne Reservoir. The reservoir is South Wales’ biggest body of water and the views from the little road alongside it were once again spectacular. I love riding in this area; it’s reasonably close to home and so is often where we end up on day rides, but it was lovely to join it up with a bigger trip on this occasion.
Some Gravel to End
One of the things we’ve come to enjoy is riding a (little bit) off road (here’s a post about some great off road training I did in summer 2021). To help fuel that love, we spent the last full day of this Great British road trip on some of the easier off-road lanes in England.
The Trans European Trail is a 51,000km off road route from the edge of Africa to the Arctic Circle and back. The 4,100km section in the UK follows historic pilgrimage, military, drovers, funeral and trade routes, providing a small taste of off-road riding on my doorstep.
I have no desire to ride the whole TET, but I did love the two short sections we rode in Wiltshire as part of this road trip. Riding on dirt is very freeing and, despite never actually being far from a paved road (always an escape route!), it felt a lot like we were in the back country.
We rode a short 10-ish mile section leading to the River Avon, which was a bit too swollen for our water crossing skills when we arrived, so that was the end of the road for us on this occasion. We turned back; sometimes life is about making sensible decisions, and there is certainly nothing wrong with riding the same fun green lane twice.
From there we headed to the gravel and dirt roads that cross Salisbury Plain. It’s the first time I’ve been down there to ride, and it was such a lot of fun. It’s only open at certain times, so be sure to check before you head there for a spin.
We rode around the perimeter road for a bit, which is easy gravel riding, and then across on a couple of the more interior lanes (still easy). We also picked up a bit more of the TET, which jiggled me and my bike around like nothing I’ve ever ridden before. A lot of fun!
Riding some gravel was a great way to end our motorcycle road trip around some of England and Wales’ best roads and green spaces.
Motorcycle Road Trip Reflections
Honestly, it was so good to get out and travel in a (reasonably) normal way for a week. It might not have been the big European road trip we had in mind, but it felt good to be on the road.
I don’t think it was so bad being confined to England and Wales – Great Britain is an amazing place to explore. We have all been tested in ways we never imagined over the last couple of years, and one thing I’ve certainly learnt is to make the most of the opportunities we do have to have fun and do things that make us happy.
We returned home tired but happy after our little Great British adventure.
Our plan A motorcycle road trip, the one that would take us to Poland and back, will still be there another time. Although sadly Bike Shuttle no longer operate, the rules post-Brexit mean it’s no longer possible for a third party to import a bunch of bikes into the EU and so they’ve closed down, so we’d need to plan the route using the Eurotunnel instead.
If you’ve never road tripped in England or Wales you could certainly do worse than looking back up this post for some suggestions of where to head, it might have been on our doorstep, but it was a grand tour none-the-less.
I’m always happy to chat with anyone looking for motorcycle road trip inspiration or tips here in Great Britain. Drop me a note in the comments below, or head over to twitter which is where I seem to spend most of my time.