Ferry routes offer keen cyclists a great opportunity to explore new landscapes from the comfort of their own bike. Many ferry companies carry bicycles for free and foot passenger tickets can be picked up for a song according to a guide to cycling hotspots by ferry from Discover Ferries – the industry body for ferry companies. Travellers just need to pitch up to the port by rail or bus and walk onto the ferry with their bikes.
Isle of Man
The Isle of Man, only three hours from the UK by ferry, has some of the most diverse cycling terrain in Britain whether it’s the open road, or heading off the beaten track. One option is the spectacular TT Mountain course, which not only tests motorcyclists each year but is the ideal training ground for cyclists, providing a thrilling mix of winding country roads, steep climbs and breath-taking descents. Isle of Man Steam Packet Company sails from Heysham and Liverpool to Douglas from £36 return for a foot passenger. Bicycles are carried free of charge. www.steam-packet.com
Holland is regarded as one of the most bicycle-friendly destinations in the world. Cyclists looking for a more leisurely route can enjoy a two-day cycle taking in the old fishing ports and sand dunes of the Dutch coast as well as the city of Amsterdam. The scenic 75 mile route starts in Ijmuiden, a pretty port city in northern Holland home to the country’s biggest fish market before heading south to Haarlem and then west to Amsterdam, renowned as a cycling utopia. The final leg of the journey takes travellers to Alkmaar, famous for its traditional cheese market. Stena Line sails from Harwich to Hook of Holland from £76 per foot passenger return including bicycle and DFDS sails from Newcastle to Amsterdam from £76 per foot passenger return including bicycle. www.stenaline.co.uk / www.dfds.co.uk
Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight has over 200 miles of cycling routes from the easy to the extreme, one of which is the Chalk Ridge Extreme trail, which is certainly not for the faint hearted. The route is hugely challenging due to its steep gradient and variety of track surfaces, ranging from mud to slippery chalk paths right next to the sea. The 54 mile route also incorporates The Tennyson Trail which is extremely popular with locals and visiting cyclists and is described by The Good Mountain Biking Guide as ‘probably the best chalk trail in the UK’. Wightlink sails from Portsmouth to Fishbourne from £20 return for a foot passenger including bicycle. Red Funnel sails from Southampton to East Cowes from £18.30 return for a foot passenger including bicycle. www.wightlink.co.uk / www.redfunnel.co.uk
Western Scottish Isles, Outer Hebrides
The Hebridean Way Cycling Route is a 185 mile route, crossing 10 islands in the archipelago requiring the use of ferries. The Visit Scotland itinerary suggests taking six days to complete the route to really make the most of what the islands have to offer. Some highlights include the famous Luskentyre Sands, the ancient Calanais Standing Stones and the medieval Kisimul Castle, which is located in the middle of a lake. No trip to the Western Scottish Isles though, would be complete without a visit to a whisky distillery and the Isle of Harris distillery is one of the best. CalMac Ferries operate all routes between islands on the West Coast of Scotland – see www.calmac.co.uk/tickets. Bicycles are carried free of charge.
France is synonymous with cycling thanks to the Tour de France and this route offers cyclists the chance to test their abilities by tackling the first stage of the 2016 Tour de France. The route extends for 119 miles starting from St Malo, less than nine hours from Portsmouth by ferry, before heading to what was the start of the first stage of the 2016 Tour de France at Mont Saint-Michel. From here cyclists follow the coastline of the Manche department, before going east across the unspoilt Cotentin peninsula diverting off slightly towards Cherbourg before the last stretch towards Utah Beach, site of the D-Day Normandy Landings in June 1944. Brittany Ferries sails from Portsmouth to St-Malo from £70 per person return for a foot passenger including bicycle. www.brittany-ferries.co.uk
Shetland, a 12 hour ferry from Aberdeen, is one of the remotest parts of Britain. For cyclists who have a few days to explore, a journey to the islands’ most northerly point from the foot of Shetland can be covered in three to six days. The top-to-tail route starts at Sumburgh Head home to a world-class visitor centre, nature reserve and lighthouse, and covers 109 miles before finishing at Muckle Flugga, Britain’s most northerly point. The route offers unrivalled views of sea and sky and a chance to see some of the islands’ most spectacular wildlife including large seabird colonies, puffins, guillemots, seals and even orcas out at sea. NorthLink Ferries sails from Aberdeen to Lerwick from £54 per person return for a foot passenger including bicycle. www.northlinkferries.co.uk
The Irish are famous for their warm welcome and for taking life at an easier pace. Ireland’s cycle routes buck this trend, traversing mountain, lakeland, National Park and woodland. The Rathdrum Wicklow Gap cycle route, 1.5 hours’ drive from Dublin and 3 hours from Belfast, is 47 miles long and and with 1,130 metres of climbing involved it’s certainly not to be sniffed at. The route winds its way through the Glendalough valley famous for its stunning natural beauty, historic and archaeological richness and local wildlife.
Irish Ferries sails from Holyhead to Dublin. www.irishferries.com
Stena Line sails from Cairnryan and Liverpool to Belfast, Holyhead to Dublin and Fishguard to Rosslare. www.stenaline.co.uk
P&O Ferries sails from Liverpool to Dublin www.poferries.co.uk
Isles of Scilly
The Isles of Scilly, otherwise known as the ‘English Maldives’, is just under three hours away from Penzance and is notoriously car free meaning the best way to explore the islands is on two wheels. Some of the best cycling can be found on the island of Tresco, which is traffic-free, and barely two miles long and half a mile wide. Spend a day leisurely exploring the glorious, windswept shoreline in all its subtropical glory. Isles of Scilly Steamship Group only takes foot passengers and sails from Penzance Harbour to St. Mary’s from £86 for an adult return and £45 for a child. Bicycles cost £26 return. www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk
The Channel Islands is known for its fantastic beaches, weather and culinary delights. Jersey and Guernsey though also have some fantastic cycling with over 100 miles of cycle routes. One of the more challenging routes is the Jersey Circular Cycle Route which is 48 miles long and goes right around the island covering every bay, and indeed every hill. In spite of the challenging climbs the natural beauty of the countryside and sea breeze makes the effort well worth it. Condor Ferries sails from Portsmouth and Poole to Guernsey from £48 return for a foot passenger. Bicycles are carried free of charge. www.condorferries.co.uk
For more information about travelling by ferry see www.discoverferries.com