The #NorthWestRoad 3-Day Bikepacking Tour

I have always loved using a bike to get to places. I don’t particularly enjoy car or plane travel, but the feeling of arriving in a faraway destination under your own steam is truly unique and magical. The travel restrictions of the last few years put on hold many of my point-to-point bikepacking plans, but I have been rekindling the pursuit of ‘going places’ in the last few months…

The #NorthWestRoad was designed by my riding buddy Joe and I, to make for an easily executed but interesting three day trip through England and Wales.

Starting from home on the Isle of Wight, the route would take us north through the New Forest and Wiltshire to our first overnight stop in the Cotswolds. Things would then get progressively lumpier on day two – starting out with the hills of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, before crossing the border into Wales and enjoying the undulating lanes of the Wye Valley; our overnight camp spot for the second day would be close to Welshpool, well into northeast Wales. For me, the final day of the three day tour would then head northeast through the town of Oswestry and Shropshire, before rolling into Cheshire and finishing in the city of Manchester. Three days, with great diversity of scenery and riding terrain.

Here's how it panned out…

Day 1 – Isle of Wight to Cirencester

182km – 1660m elevation – 07:20hrs ride time
The first day of the #NorthWestRoad was a great day to get back into bike touring. Joe and I started out at 6am, sped across the Island and jumped on the boat to the mainland. The route then took us up through the beautiful tree-lined roads of the New Forest, reaching Salisbury in time for a bakery stop at lunchtime.

From Wiltshire, we headed up into the Cotswolds. We reached Cirencester by 4pm and had time for an ice cream in the sunshine, before feasting on a fish and chip supper.

With 180 kilometres on the clock, we found our secluded semi-wild campsite – a beautiful spot out in the countryside on the edge of a Cotswolds farm – we were the only ones there.

Tents up, we had a hot shower and then headed to the pub!

Day 2 – Cirencester to Llanfair (Wales)

183km – 2920m elevation – 08:25 ride time
The second day of the #NorthWestRoad was a toughie. It was always going to be: 112 miles and 3000m elevation, following an equal distance the day before.

It started out pleasantly enough; the hills from Cirencester to Gloucester were rolling and the villages laced with bunting in preparation for the Jubilee. We stopped for breakfast in the county town, before pushing on to Hereford.

It was after this last English town that the Welsh hills began. They came thick, fast and unrelenting; often tiny lanes with grass down the middle and 15% gradients. I began to question my route planning a little…

The ‘low’ point came when we had to call an emergency coffee stop at a small village shop, needing some fortitude for the 250m+ climbs approaching. Luckily, it seemed to work; it got us over the hills and onwards to Newtown in mid-Wales. Then, it was just a final push of 20 kilometres over the remaining few peaks in the drizzle. It got a bit gritty, but we kept smiling.

By the time we descended the final hill, the sun was coming out. We pitched up tents, had a warm shower, and the kind campsite owner lent us two chairs to chill in.

A challenging but great day on the bike. Just what bikepacking is all about.

Day 3 – Llanfair to Manchester

140km – 1020m elevation – 05:36 ride time
Both Joe and I were feeling a little sore on this third morning – the impact of the bottom gear grinding in the drizzle the afternoon before had taken its toll. We were both grateful for a largely downhill day to the finish.

We parted ways at the campsite: I rode northeast towards Manchester, while Joe headed southeast towards Welshpool. The sun was shining, and it was set to be a beautiful day.

The first few hours flew by for me, as I descended out of the hills with a glorious tailwind. Having left the campsite at 7am, I reached Oswestry by 09:30 and enjoyed a second breakfast in the sunshine in front of a bakery.

With the climbs now behind me, the morning continued to roll past in a flash – as I pedalled into Shropshire and then into Cheshire on quiet rolling country lanes.

By mid-day I was into familiar territory, with the villages of Knutsford and Tatton Park signalling I was approaching the outskirts of Manchester. It was then a triumphant sprint to the finish, reaching Kate’s place in the centre of town in time for lunch.

What a fantastic three day adventure.


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