Ever thought about cycle touring in the UK? No? Well me neither. I mean, I have started a tiny bit of cycling last year and have done a few rides with Mr T at home and on holiday (like our day trip from San Francisco to Sausalito for example). But sitting on my bike for days on end? I don’t think so.
Let me be straight with you here. Yes, it is me writing this post, but it wasn’t me actually doing the 3-day bike tour from Cambridge to Norfolk. It was Mr T putting in the effort. I am just here to tell you all about his first ever cycling tour.
So, if you are thinking of cycle touring in the UK, maybe this will help you a little.
Since getting back on his bike two years ago, Mr T has taken the whole cycling thing very serious. From gradually buying all the gear (who would have thought cycling would involve so much kit) to commuting to work and evening / weekend rides of 60 to 100 km. But to actually do three days on a bike with 100+ kilometres (60+ miles) a day? That was going to be a first.
Cycle touring in the UK: Preparation
Anyone who knows Mr T knows he loves planning. So, no surprise that he spent ages planning his ideal route on Komoot (as I said, loads of expensive pieces of kit needed for cycling apparently). Checking possible view points along the route that he would like to see and including those into the route. In the end his first cycle tour would be between 110 and 130 kilometres each day. Even though the direct route from Cambridge to Wisbech is only a mere 80km (50 miles).
To ensure frequent stops, he set himself the challenge of photographing every church he came past (no worries, I won’t include each and every one in this post though). And as he was in for the long run this time, the aim was to stick to an average of 18-20 km/h rather than speeding. This would mean cycling for six to seven hours each day.
Once the three-day cycle touring route was clear, he had a rough idea of where he’d be for the night. So, the next step was to find some accommodation. He wasn’t yet ready to take a tent and a sleeping bag and camp somewhere en route. Instead he booked himself rooms on Airbnb. Always checking that he would be able to secure and lock his bike for the night. And that they would provide linen and towels. Luggage needed to be kept light after all.
Cycle touring in the UK: What to pack for a three-day bike tour
At first Mr T thought about packing all clothes and gear into his backpack and carrying them around on his back during the trip. He even tried if everything would fit (and yes it did). But after careful consideration he came to the conclusion that carrying a backpack for three days probably wasn’t the smartest idea. Especially in August, where there is the chance of sun and heat (spoiler alert, there wasn’t… not really).
So, instead of using a backpack for his cycle tour, he opted for panniers. And after weeks of researching and comparing the best panniers for cycle touring, he eventually found himself a second-hand set of Altura panniers through Facebook market place. A guy’s gotta be lucky sometimes.
To ensure he wouldn’t forget anything, he even wrote himself a proper packing list for his cycle touring adventure.
In case you are also thinking of cycle touring in the UK for the first time, here’s the packing list. Obviously, every person is unique and what made it on Mr T’s list might not make the final cut on yours.
Cycle Touring in the UK: Packing List
Mr T’s entire luggage would need to be evenly packed in the two panniers, plus a small saddle bag and a tube bag.
In addition, some items would be tucked into the jersey on the day or strapped to the bike.
- Light-weight shoes for the evening
- Cycling shorts
- 2 cycling jerseys
- 2 pairs of sport socks
- Bike lock
- 3 inner tubes
- Bike pump
- Drone, controller, batteries, cables
- 4 gels, 1 pack of energy blocks, 4 hydration tablets
- Picnic blanket
- Pair of long trousers and a pair of shorts
- 2 sets of underwear + socks
- 2 shirts for the evening
- Wash bag: toothbrush + paste, deodorant, shower soap, sun cream, wound cream, Chapstick
- Small towel
- Electronics: USB charger, drone charger, Smartwatch + phone charger cable
Equipment on the bike:
- 2 filled water bottles (with added hydration tablets)
- 2 inner tubes
- Patch kit
- Tyre leavers
- Power bank, micro USB lead, phone
- 2 power gels, 2 flapjacks, 1 pack of energy blocks
On him (wearing or in back pockets of his jersey):
- Wind breaker
- Rain jacket
- Cycling shoes
- Baseball cap
- Heart rate strap
- 2 gels
Day 1: Cambridge to Ditchingham
So Wednesday early morning, it was time to set out for this first day of cycle touring in the UK. Mr T had decided on a route that started in Cambridge. From there he would then cycle via Newmarket, Bury St. Edmunds and Harlesden to Ditchingham. A total of 130km (80 miles).
He set out in Cambridge shortly after 7am. Despite it being mid-August, the morning was rather cool, so Mr T was wearing his wind breaker and gloves. But throughout the day it eventually warmed up and turned into a sunny and pleasant day. With the added benefit of a slight breeze and tailwind. Perfect.
Little did we know; Cambridge has a decent set up for cyclists with good cycling routes. And a random field of tame cows in the middle of town at Midsummer Common.
With the first 30km (19 miles) completed, at Newmarket it was time for Mr T’s first coffee and cake break (one of many over those three days of cycle touring, judging by the frequent update photos I received).
For the next part of the journey, he quickly worked out that trusting Komoot could sometimes be tricky. As the route from Newmarket to Bury St. Edmunds turned out to be a muddy, narrow and overgrown dirt path. Difficult to ride with anything other than a proper dirt bike. Certainly not meant for his cycle cross bike, even with gravel tyres fitted (that must have been the moment Mr T was glad he went for the sensible option of fitting gravel tyres rather than road tyres).
But all moaning aside, he did manage to arrive at Bury St. Edmunds in one piece. And just in time for lunch. Which was easy to source, as it happened to be market day in Bury St. Edmunds.
From Bury St. Edmunds Mr T meandered on and off cycle route 51 before eventually joining cycle route 30.
At Wyverstone it was time for a quick power nap before continuing.
Seems day one of cycle touring in the UK was a day of obstacles. The next one in form of a narrow bridge that the bike wouldn’t quite fit.
Upon arrival in Harleston he only caught the end of the market. But he still managed to grab a cherry pie for his next recovery break (when one says cycle touring in the UK is a piece of cake, I wasn’t aware they meant it quite as literally).
As he continued his cycle route, the aviation museum at Bungay provided another excuse for a quick stop. And a photo opp.
Concluding day one of cycle touring in the UK, Mr T arrived at Ditchingham well and safe around 4.30pm.
Day 2: Ditchingham to Sheringham
After a quick breakfast and re-packing of his bags, day two started just before eight. The route for the day was a little less than the previous day with ‘just’ 110km (66 miles). Starting at Ditchingham, it would lead him towards Great Yarmouth, along the coast, to Caister-on-Sea, Horsey, Sea Palling and Cromer before eventually arriving at Sheringham.
The weather that day was a mix of everything. Mostly dry and warm, but with light rain every now and then. And wind (a lot of wind) blowing from every possible direction.
To start the day, Mr T once again followed cycle route 30 towards Lowestoft / Great Yarmouth. Which was a decent and easy to ride gravel track.
After a quick stop at Great Yarmouth pier and a stroll along the seafront, it was time to join the Coastal Path. It is a stunning route along the coast. But unfortunately, the route wasn’t really suitable for a road bike. Even with gravel tyres. There was just too much sand.
But since the Coastal Path is only accessible for cycling in a very short bit, it eventually was time to head away from the coast and continue further inland.
Along the route, Mr T even came past a few sights that weren’t churches. Like the ruins of the Roman fort near the village of Caister-on-Sea and the National Trust Watermill at Horsey.
Reaching Sea Palling it was time for lunch. And what could be more perfect than sausage & chips by the sea?
Well rested and fed, the journey continued to Happisburgh, with its light house, beach and boardwalk.
Followed by the radar station in Trimingham, Overstrand and Cromer.
Until eventually arriving in Sheringham around 4pm in the afternoon.
A quick stop by the Steam Railway before checking into the Airbnb for the night.
With bags dumped and bike secured, it was time to explore the little town a bit more. And to find himself some dinner. Fat Ted’s food stall it was. In addition to being super yummy it also turned out to be quite popular with the locals (which is always a good sign when looking for food in an unknown location).
Day 3: Sheringham to Wisbech
What had been a steady breeze on day two eventually turned into a full-blown storm by the end of day 3. Lucky for Mr T, he actually made it to his final destination Wisbech before the heavy rain set in.
Overall, day three was a real struggle, as the wind kept blowing in his face all day and kept increasing in strength.
But first things first.
Mr T started the last day of his 3-day cycle touring trip just before 9. The first leg of the journey took him along the Norfolk coastal path. A nature reserve with beautiful landscapes. Perfect for some more drone shots and videos, before the winds would become too heavy to launch the drone any more.
As picturesque as the coastal path might look, it seems it is only suitable for more experienced cyclists. With appropriate tyres. Mr T’s suggestion would be knobbly tyres, 35 and above. His own 35 gravel tyres were just about possible, but borderline.
Through the Nature Reserve, the tour took him past the Muckleburgh Collection, the UKs largest working military collection.
A few snaps, then on towards Cley next the Sea to see the windmill and Wells next to Sea for the harbour.
By the time he reached Hunstanton Light House, it was time for a picnic by the sea front.
After lunch, the journey continued towards Sandringham House, one of the Queen’s private homes. But no time for sightseeing that day, instead Mr T continued past Sandringham and cycled on towards Castle Rising.
Time for a quick rest and nap, before starting the last 20 miles of his tour, from Castle Rising to Wisbech. By now the storm was really picking up and even just cycling in a straight line was become more and more difficult. Probably a good thing Mr T was cycling on his own, at least no one had to listen to him cursing his bike and the weather and life in general.
What was meant to be an enjoyable final stretch of his cycle tour turned into his most hated 2.5-hour cycle ride to date, in which he more or less lost the will to live. And considered dumping his bike in the next ditch on more than one occasion. But as a small silver lining, at least that entire stretch was cycle lanes and separate bike paths.
Around 5pm Mr T arrived in Wisbech. This marked the end of his 3-day cycling tour to Norfolk. During these three days he cycled a total of 352km, stayed in the saddle for a full 17 hours and photographed almost 50 churches along the way. And all of that with only one flat tyre. So all was well on that front.
As it was Friday evening, Mr T would not return home straight away. Instead he checked into an Airbnb, which we rented for two nights.
After work, I jumped into the car and drove up there to join him for a weekend in Norfolk (and to pick him up by car, so he wouldn’t have to cycle home). I mean why not? Any excuse for a little weekend getaway.
But more on that in a separate post.
Cycle touring in the UK: Mr T’s conclusion
As mentioned at the beginning, this was Mr T’s first attempt of cycle touring in the UK (or elsewhere for that matter). Before then, his longest ride was a 110km ride during our holiday in France the previous month. So, when setting out, he was a little unsure how he would cope with three long days.
But he succeeded. And enjoyed it (well, the cursing and moaning at the end aside).
And overall the preparation for his cycle touring went well. But there were a few things that he would do differently next time.
When planning his route, he didn’t pay too much attention to the type of tracks included in his trail. Resulting in him having to push his bike several times. Lesson learned, next time he’ll check a little more thoroughly beforehand.
And when it comes to his gear and packing arrangements, there’s also a few bits he’ll change for the next tour.
He’s planning on getting himself a new rack. The one he has at the moment was a bit too wobbly and noisy. Especially when the roads got a little bumpy.
And add some fenders and a new lock.
So, there you have it. Mr T’s first ever 3-day cycle tour. Have you done one yet? Would you ever consider it? Needless to say, he is already planning his next tour…