Top five hilly cycle routes from Club sites

Jonathan Manning has written about dozens of cycle routes from Club sites for our Magazine App over the past five years. Here he picks his five favourite hilly rides.

Swaledale, North Yorkshire

It’s the ascent over Grinton Moor from Swaledale over to Wensleydale that makes this a spectacularly hilly climb. Don’t be fooled by an average gradient of 3.2% – in places it hits double digits. The reward for your thigh-burning effort comes in a dreamy landscape that changes from drystone walls and barns and wildflower-filled meadows to wild and remote moorland. If you can hear anything above the sound of your chest heaving, listen out for the chuckle of grouse, squeak of oystercatcher, ‘peewit’ of lapwing and haunting call of curlew. It’s a noisy wilderness with the occasional burst of gunfire from Catterick Garrison’s shooting ranges. The descent into Wensleydale, passing Bolton Castle in Castle Bolton, is dizzyingly fast (check your brakes and be super cautious in the wet) and the views are magnificent. This route is a classic example of Yorkshire as God’s own cycling county and it starts right from the gates of the Club site in Leyburn.

Start: Lower 
Wensleydale Club site.

Distance: 21miles/34km.

Total ascent: 633m

Harlech, Gwynnedd

No sooner have you cycled out of the gates of Min y Don than the brutal climbing begins – a 25% slope past Harlech Castle. Masochists can even choose a steeper ascent – for a brief period in 2019, Guinness World Records honoured Ffordd Pen Llech, a street in Harlech, as the steepest in the world at 37.45%! The lung-busting effort continues for much of the first half of the ride, all the way to Cwm Bychan, a lake high in the hills backed by rocky peaks, from where another savage climb leads to the highest point of the route. The views throughout, initially over the coast and sea, and then gnarled mountain tops and shallow-racing rivers, are stupendous. When the downhill eventually begins, it’s your fingers not legs that take the strain, clamping brakes on for a delirious descent back to Harlech. The good news is that almost all of the route is along library-quiet roads, with only sheep, cattle, rooks and buzzards to break the peace. Plus, the thump of cyclists’ heartbeats, of course!

Start: Min y Don AS.

Distance: 14.25m/22.8km.

Total ascent: 464m.

Leek, Staffordshire

The aptly-named Peak District serves up a fair swap on this ride into the national park – heart-stopping vistas in return for heart-pounding effort. Prepare to spend extended periods out of the saddle while admiring dramatic views along the dragon-backed ridge of the Roaches, across wild moorland and over sweeping panoramas towards Gradbach Hill. The good news is that the battle with gravity is all in the first half of the ride, which leaves the second section an altogether easier affair of flat cyclingplussomeexhilaratingdescents. Thiswesternregionisa lesser-explored area of the Peak District, so the roads are quieter, but the views are no less special.

Start: Blackshaw Moor Club site.

Distance: 12.5miles/20km.

Total ascent: 391m.

Charmouth, Dorset

The fossils that litter Charmouth beach may arguably have more life in them than cyclists at the end of this ride through beautiful Dorset countryside! It’s not so much any individual, brutal climb that proves troubling so much as the unexpected and relentless hilliness of the area that risks catching out unsuspecting riders. Fortunately, the narrow lanes that would make towing a caravan a nightmarish experience turn out to be fantastic for cycling, with each long ascent repaid by a thrilling descent. This is a route that’s far too pretty to rush and, besides, arguably the hardest climb is right at the end back to Wood Farm AS, so it pays to keep a bit of energy in your legs to ensure you make it home!

Start: Wood Farm Caravan Park AS.

Distance: 18miles/28.7km.

Total ascent: 527m.

Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

This ride through the Chiltern Hills visits Turville, the village where The Vicar of Dibley was filmed, and there may calls for divine assistance from cyclists confronted by a series of challenging gradients. Happily each of the four principal ascents is accompanied by outstanding views, with the added bonus of pit-stops in a café, pub or even a winery, brewery and liqueur-making centre. This is countryside of the utmost loveliness, with rolling fields, tall hedges and handsome broadleaf woodland, while red kites wheel in the sky above. The route doesn’t quite make it up to the ridge where the windmill from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang stands (pictured right) but Caractacus Potts would surely have approved of e-bikes taking the sting out of the clustered contours of this ride.

Start: Henley Four Oaks Club site.

Distance: 17miles/27.5km.

Total ascent: 502m.

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