I caught up with Matt Carroll, author of the cycling guide Escape Routes, to discover his top picks for exploring the countryside on two wheels.
So Matt, what kind of cyclist is the book aimed at?
Escape Routes is aimed at cyclists of all abilities, but mostly at people who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves ‘cyclists’ – who simply love getting out on their bikes and exploring the countryside. Anyone can enjoy these rides; if some of the hills are a bit much, then there’s no shame in getting off and pushing up! Accommodation was key to each of the routes – they all begin and end at a smart B&B or independent hotel – and they all feature fabulous country pubs, stunning scenery, historic houses, farmers’ markets and more. You can pick each one to match your mood.
There must be hundreds of stunning country cycle rides to choose from, how did you select your top 60?
They all needed that magic combination of great accommodation, gorgeous pubs, beaches or rivers – and they all needed to be within an easy ride of each other. I was pretty fussy when it came to the accommodation – and it wasn’t necessarily about being expensive. Most of the places I feature are really affordable.
It’s getting easier. Most rail companies make provisions for carrying bikes, but it’s best to check with the specific rail company before you go. Websites like www.nationalrail.co.uk have useful info, along with sustainable travel magazine A to B ( www.atob.org.uk ). If you don’t own a bike, though, pretty much all the rides in Escape Routes have info on where you can rent them locally.
Any hairy moments e.g chased by a cow, close encounter with a tractor, that kind of thing… ?
I did actually have a bit of a scare with some cows in Northumberland. I was researching the ride around Simonburn (No.56 in the book), and ended up in a field surrounded by stroppy heiffers. Needless to say, I amended the route to avoid said field…
Then there was the time when my crank (the bit of metal that your pedals screw into) fell off halfway round a ride in Lancashire. It was pissing down at the time and I had no tools with me. Won’t be making that mistake again…
However, the biggest nightmare was having both my bikes stolen halfway through writing the book. Someone kicked my front door in and helped themselves – while I was at home. That’s Stockwell for you!
If you HAD to pick a favourite ride, which one would it be?
That’s such a tough question, because I love them all! For each ride that made it into the book there was another route that I left out – so they’re all corkers. If I had to choose, it would probably be the Freshford to Avoncliff ride (No.9 in the book). Firstly it’s in the west country (and I grew up in that part of the world so I’m a bit biased!), but mainly because of the feeling of escape you get when you drop downhill into Avoncliff and arrive at the Kennet and Avon canal; there’s a gorgeous pub there (the Cross Guns) and you find yourself surrounded by lush green hills. For me, this ride sums up what Escape Routes is all about.
‘Escape Routes’ is now available in the FAF online bookshop.