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Explore the heart of England by bike – South Midlands Cycleway

Tig Mee (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Explore the heart of England by bike – South Midlands Cycleway

Bike Touring Collection by Amy

3-6

days

3-6 h

/ day

199 mi

5,650 ft

5,575 ft

Herons dip in and out of the calm waters as you follow peaceful towpaths; trails lead through green scenery tracing decades of railway history; ancient inns in coaching towns tempt you to stop for a break and enjoy a traditional pub lunch. All this and more is waiting for you to discover by bike in the South Midlands.

This Collection guides you through the heart of England in seven stages. Ranging in length from 20.1 (32.4 km) to 32.7 miles (52.6 km) and with no more than 1,200 feet (370 m) of climbing in a single day, this route is perfect for all abilities.

Almost half of the South Midlands Cycleway follows traffic-free routes such as canal towpaths, cycle lanes, and former railway lines. Not only are these sections a relaxing way to explore the scenery, but they also reveal a fascinating insight into the South Midland’s industrial heritage. Most of the paths are well-surfaced but you will encounter some gravel and mud so you might need to push for some sections. A solid touring bike or gravel bike is the perfect choice for this adventure.

One of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution, the South Midlands has wonderful landscapes that have been reclaimed by nature. You will ride through undulating farmland, along winding rivers, and through shaded forests blanketed with wildflowers. Keep your eyes peeled for rare wildlife such as kingfishers as you cycle along the canals and through nature reserves.

Several of the region’s major cities also lie en route. Derby, Leicester, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Nottingham, and Oxford will tempt you to stay an extra day or two. You can learn more about the South Midlands and the wider world at the many museums such as the National Space Centre in Leicester and the Pitts Rivers Museum in Oxford.

The South Midlands may surprise you with its diversity and each day brings new highlights. On this ride, you have the chance to visit: Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO designated house considered to be one of the finest in the UK; Althorp House which was once home to Princess Diana; the historic honey-coloured university colleges of Oxford, and more.

Thanks to these cities and towns, you are always close to a shop, a hot meal, and a comfy bed. You can easily pack light with just essential tools, clothes, a first aid kit, and toiletries. Food can be bought on the go. Don’t forget to pack lights too; there are two dark tunnels between Northampton and Market Harborough.

The region is well-connected by rail so you can flexibly plan your adventure. All of the end stages have a train station so you can choose if you want to ride the Collection in one go or just do an individual stage or two.

Both Nottingham and Oxford, the start and endpoint, have good train links. Check if you need to reserve a space for your bike before travelling and enjoy the ride!

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors
    Easy
    01:56
    20.1 mi
    10.4 mph
    250 ft
    200 ft
    Easy bike ride. Great for any fitness level. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    With beautiful nature reserves, canal heritage, magnificent castles and historic cities, stage 1 introduces you to the diverse history, culture and landscapes of the South Midlands. Today you can enjoy a flat 20.1 mile (32.4 km) ride, mostly along cycle paths, from Nottingham to Derby.

    Setting off from Nottingham centre, you soon meet the Nottingham Canal to leave the city. …

    by
    Amy
  • Intermediate
    03:26
    34.9 mi
    10.1 mph
    1,200 ft
    1,175 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Stage 2 is another great ride connecting two historic cities – Derby and Leicester. With 32.7 miles (52.6 km) and 1,200 feet (370 m) to pedal, today is your longest day in the saddle.

    From Derby’s interesting centre, a cycle path along the River Derwent winds through the city suburbs where you join the Derby Canal.

    At Swarkestone Lock, you …

    by
    Amy
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  • Intermediate
    03:01
    29.7 mi
    9.8 mph
    925 ft
    875 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Your third day exploring the South Midlands takes you 29.6 miles (47.7 km) from Leicester to Market Harborough with plenty of beautiful nature on the way.

    I’ve included a small detour at the start to ride through Abbey Park to the National Space Centre, a striking semi-transparent museum.

    To leave the city, follow the National Cycle Route 6 along a …

    by
    Amy
  • Difficult
    03:33
    29.8 mi
    8.4 mph
    1,225 ft
    1,225 ft
    Expert bike ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    With magnificent country estates and wild landscapes, stage 4 is another wonderful ride. Today, you will once again follow cycle paths for the majority of the way, clocking up 29.8 miles (48 km) and finishing in Northampton.

    From Market Harborough, head south along the Brampton Valley Way, a 14-mile (23 km) traffic-free stretch along the former Northampton to Market Harborough …

    by
    Amy
  • Intermediate
    02:13
    22.7 mi
    10.2 mph
    725 ft
    600 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Stage 5 is an easy 22.7 mile (36.5 km) ride from Northampton to Milton Keynes. You cycle along traffic-free paths and quiet rural lanes, allowing you to sit back and enjoy the wonderful scenery.

    To leave Northampton, follow the River Nene past Delapre Lake before crossing the Nene Valley Way, passing through Brackmills and joining a cycle path through Brackmills …

    by
    Amy
  • Difficult
    03:01
    30.5 mi
    10.1 mph
    625 ft
    775 ft
    Expert bike ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Your penultimate day exploring the South Midlands is a 27.1 mile (43.7 km) cycle from Milton Keynes to Bicester. With just 590 feet (180 m) in elevation gain, stage 6 goes easy on your legs.

    It will take you 5 miles (8 km) to reach the edges of Milton Keynes, passing Furton Lake, where green countryside reappears.

    The route follows …

    by
    Amy
  • Intermediate
    03:17
    30.9 mi
    9.4 mph
    700 ft
    725 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Your final day is a varied ride from Bicester to Oxford passing some of the UK’s most iconic sites such as one of the finest English houses, Blenheim Palace.

    The first leg takes you to sleepy Wendlebury village and on a lane that crosses under the M40, running adjacent to the A41 and A43.

    Compared to the previous stages, the …

    by
    Amy

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    7
  • Distance
    199 mi
  • Duration
    20:27 h
  • Elevation
    5,650 ft5,575 ft

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Explore the heart of England by bike – South Midlands Cycleway