Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 613

18 AUGUST 202 2 34 WEEKENDING Travel writer Simon Parker went through a di cult time at the start of 2020. After a close friend passed away, and Covid-19 lockdowns saw his work dry up, he started to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. “I felt likemy whole life had just come crashing down aroundme,” he says. “I went from living a dream to living a nightmare. So I dreamt up this mad idea to cycle around Britain during the pandemic.” Simon’s bike ride took him from the northernmost tip of Shetland, with its view of Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, all the way south to the Isles of Scilly, overlooking Bishop Rock Lighthouse. His new book Riding Out describes a journey around Britain at a time of national upheaval. It is also an inner journey, about finding redemption in the saddle. “Cycling ismy perfect speed of transport,” says Simon. “Trains, cars and planes are too quick. At the same time, I find walking too sluggish. Somoving at 10 to 14miles per hour on a bicycle is perfect. Having a buzz of endorphins helps me think.” Simon’s 3,427-mile odyssey was probably the longest ride in a year that Brits took to cycling in their thousands. It alsomarked an emerging trend in cycling culture – bikepacking. Put simply, bikepackingmeans makingmulti-day journeys by bicycle, strapping tents, sleeping bags and supplies to the bike frame and venturing into the great unknown. ‘Bicycle touring’ has been around for many years, but bikepacking, by contrast, follows amore nimble, spontaneous philosophy. Enthusiasts tackle all terrains, sleep out under the stars (though occasional B&B stays aren’t considered cheating) and feel the giddy, intoxicating freedomof roaming under their own propulsion. It’s on the rise, too – Google searches for bikepacking have doubled over the past five years, with particular interest in Scotland andWales. “Bikepacking is something you can do with prettymuch any bike,” says SamJones of national cycling charity, Cycling UK. “You don’t necessarily need external fittings like Take a ride on the wild side racks, or panniers. You just attach bags. Your bike is more streamlined, moreminimalist.” Cycling UK has unveiled new long-distance routes to cater for a new generation of aspiring bikepackers. This summer saw the creation of the Cantii Way – a three-to-four day circuit taking in the woodlands and white cli s of Kent, while the RebellionWay, an epic loop amongst the Broads and blustery beaches of Norfolk, launches in October. Both follow existing cycle lanes, quiet roads and public bridleways and it’s hoped they’ll serve as arteries for sustainable, car-free tourism– particularly outside the summer season. “We created these routes with a vision of an o -road network,” says Sam. “Cyclists are looking for routes to help guide themaround, as well as a new challenge. We’ve devised them to stitch together places of interest – for instance the vineyards and seaside resorts in Kent. It means you don’t actually need to travel abroad to have a great holiday!’” While British hikers have long enjoyed a network of well-trodden paths, only two of the existing National Trails (Pennine Bridleway and the North DownsWay) can be traversed end to end by bike. Technology has played a part in bringing about Cycling UK’s new routes too. Mapping with GPX files rather than installing wooden signposts has made devising themeasier and faster. The cycling industry, meanwhile, now o ers an array of bespoke bags and bikes. But Simon insists that a lack of gear should be no barrier to your first bikepacking escape. “Bungee cords are the greatest thing you could take,” he says. “They allow you to strap stu on your bike. There’s something wonderful about packing up the bicycle with everything you need, knowing you could end up cycling around the world if you really wanted to. The feeling of potential and optimism– it has no boundaries.” Riding Out: A Journey of Love, Loss and New Beginnings by Simon Parker (Summersdale) is out now. Visit cyclinguk.org for routes The latest cycling trend – bikepacking – is the ideal way to explore exciting new trails launched this year. Oli Smith investigates ‘Enthusiasts tackle all terrains and sleep out under the stars’