The Second City Divide is a 400 mile (638 km) bikepacking route linking two of the UK’s second biggest cities, from Glasgow in Scotland to Manchester in North England. Although the total route itself is relatively new, the tracks, trails and roads that it follows are anything but - dating back to neolithic times or roman roads that carve their signature straight lines across the remote moorland countryside.
Heading out of bustling Glasgow, you’ll climb up to the UK’s largest onshore wind farm and follow wide gravel traffic free tracks heading South East. Make the most of the ‘Right To Roam’ legislation in Scotland and enjoy a wild camp before you cross the border.
Rather than a direct route from city to city, the Second City Divide meanders across the North of England and Scottish Borderlands to take in the very best off road areas on offer. From Kielder Forest Park to the Pennine Bridleway, the Yorkshire Dales and Lancashire moorland, expect plentiful helpings of rocky doubletrack, light gravel roads, testing singletrack, grassy moorland, sleepy country villages and bustling, animated cities.
Due to the nature of the terrain, you’ll probably find that a gravel bike is best for the Second City Divide as there is a fair amount of linking lanes. Be prepared for some hike-a-bike though, and that the last few days gets rather chunky on the Pennine Bridleway - a rigid or lightweight hardtail XC bike could also work here.
This route is perfect for riders with some bikepacking experience over six days. To do it in less would be very ambitious but it has been done, and you could certainly do it in many more! Don’t feel like you have to tackle the whole route in one go either - with brilliant rail access it’s perfect for a few weekend adventures.
Both Manchester and Glasgow have excellent transport links from train stations to airports, as well as many train links along the route. If you’re looking for an even bigger challenge, why not include the Second City Divide as part of a longer tour from Land’s End to John O’Groats off road, spanning the whole length of the UK?
Check out more about the Second City Divide from the route masters and locals Luke and Christian here: secondcitydivide.cc
The start of the Second City Divide route rolls out of bustling Glasgow climbing straight up to Whitwell, the UK’s largest onshore wind farm. These wide gravel traffic free tracks heading South East are a treat and a sign of what's to come.
After Whitlee, the route contours round the city of Glasgow to the South East, passing closeby Lanark.
There's plenty of refuel spots on this first day from brilliant cafes to handy corner shops in Lesmahago and Abington, but these will be fewer and far between in the following days. Make sure you stock up before leaving Abington!
The last big climb of the day is the pass between Lochyock Hill and Howgate Hill. Be careful - it's very slippery when wet!
Take full advantage of the ‘Right To Roam’ legislation in Scotland and enjoy a wild camp before you cross the border.
Make sure you're well stocked before you leave Abington as today will take you much more remote into the depths of the Scottish forests on the Captain's Way.
Cross the River Clyde as you head out of town, out towards more high Scottish wind farms up around Tinny Bank. It's a peaceful area where you might see some logging trucks, but very little else.
Passing several Lochs including the St Mary's Loch and later the Alemoor Reservoir, the road sections on today's route are just as breathtaking as the off-road gravel trails. Take a break when you meet St Mary's Loch at Glen Cafe, who'll rustle you up a hearty meal. Why not take a quick refreshing dip in the loch before heading up the bridleway climb on Fall Law.
There's one short hike-a-bike section near the end of the day before Teviothead to link two gravel roads on the Captain's Way - you'll be able to see this if you follow the GPX.
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Today marks the border crossing from Scotland to England, but not before passing the impressive ancient Hermitage Castle that played such a pivotal role in the border conflict between England and Scotland.
The border crossing itself is a small and humble singletrack that's well marked as the Sustrans Border Crossing Trail, and leads to the well known Kielder Forest Park. This area is well known as a gravel biker's mecca, home to the UK’s biggest gravel race, the Dirty Reiver.
Enjoy some refreshments at the Boat Inn by Kielder Water and stock up from the shop before heading South through Northumberland, passing Hadrian's Wall to the highly recommended Sill YHA Youth Hostel. This last stint is on quiet lanes past fields of beef cattle and moorland which is a very calm way to finish this epic day on a bike.
The Sill YHA Youth Hostel has secure bike storage, a restaurant and self-catered options, as well as a fantastic drying room. Why not take the opportunity to wash some of your kit ready to tackle the second half of the route in the morning?
The fourth day is truly a challenging one, but one that will stick in your memory for years to come. Leave the Sill YHA early with a good breakfast for a good head start, passing through the Centre of Britain at Haltwhistle (Co-Op for resupplies) and head South on the South Tyne Trail.
After Alston things start to get very exciting indeed. Head into the Bullman Hills through the grouse moor, golden gravel roads rising up and sailing down as you cross many stream valleys.
Nearing the summit, make sure to check out Greg's Hut Bothy and sign the visitor's book. The descent off of this high point at 760m is called Cross Fell, which looks West to the Lake District rising up in front of the Irish Sea. If you’re lucky enough to have a clear view, it’ll take your breath away.
After the effort of the Bullman Hills, the relatively flat and fast lanes heading South through Dufton before a long and famous road climb up to Tan Hill Inn (the highest pub in England), crossing out of Cumbria and into the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Drop down into the next valley into Keld, a small village with a few accommodation options. The campsite, bunkhouse and yurts are Keld are very accommodating and have a small barn where you can cook your own meals and even order from their small bar.
The fifth day is one of the biggest, and most rewarding of the whole trail. Crossing the breadth of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the route follows the River Swale out from Keld before climbing the famous Oxnop Scar road, and descending sharply over the other side to the beautiful Dales towns of Askrigg and Bainbridge.
From here you join Cam High Road, and ancient Roman road that'll test even the most accomplished riders. It's often remarked, 'built by the romans, not maintained since' which will give you a clue to the surface of this stretch.
From the summit of Cam High Road, the route then descends much more gently down towards the stunning Ribblehead Viaduct on more manageable dirt doubletrack. The view from here on a clean day is a spectacular one - make the most of it!
The second, and equally impressive old road of the day is Salter Fell (also known as Hornby Road) which covers nearly twelve miles of pure joy. Also home to the Pendle Witches Way hiking route, this high and remote road disintegrates into rocky, puddle-ridden and undulating doubletrack, through expansive moorland roamed by small herds of beautiful Belted Galloways. Human traces are few and far between up here, only dropping down into the Trough of Bowland with it's many quaint villages will you come back to civilisation.
Head to Gisburn on the road to finish the day, with a good number of pubs, eateries and places to spend the night.
The final leg of the Second City Divide Bikepacking route mainly follows the Pennine Bridleway into the city of Manchester. This is somewhat chunkier and more demanding gravel than the earlier stages in Scotland, with narrower trails rather than wide roads and much bigger rocky surfaces.
Climb out of Gisburn off road on a moorland bridleway before the fast road descent into Colne, which could make a brilliant breakfast spot with plentiful shops and cafes. You'll pass through many towns today so don't worry too much about provisions like the previous days.
Enjoy the incredible singletrack just after Colne, on the famous Mary Towneley Loop. Enjoy the giant cobbled decent of Rowley Moor Road across the moorland (best enjoyed with purple hues in August) and don't forget to play on the pump track in Healey as you're passing!
The final summit is Hartshead Pike, overlooking both the Peak District to the East and the city of Manchester down below you. You descend from here into the city, but not finishing at the train station before you've taken in the inner city MTB trails and pump track at the National Cycling Centre, home to the British Cycling squad.
Why not take some time to enjoy a celebratory drink in Manchester's friendly and welcoming city centre, with many places that you can sit outside to watch your bikes whilst enjoying a meal or tipple?