Gravel Culture: Bikepacking England

Posted By Gravel Union On 20 July 2021

Landing on the doormat recently was the new book by Emma Kingston, which features 20 off-road routes around England. We chatted with the author, Emma Kingston, to find out more about the inspiration for writing the book.

GU - Tell us a little about your new book ‘Bikepacking England’.

EK - Bikepacking England features twenty multi-day off-road adventures which are spread across eight of England’s National Parks, as well as many Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and two World Heritage Sites. The routes cover the diverse riding around the country, from coastal riding and scenic gravel trails to flowing singletrack and technical mountain descents. The majority of the routes I’ve included in the book are perfect for an overnight trip such as the Isle of Wight, the Cotswolds and the Surrey Hills, whilst a couple would be great for a long weekend like the ones in the North York Moors and on the Isle of Man.

Image courtesy of Emma Kingston

GU - How did you get into Bikepacking?

EK - One of the things I love about bikepacking is that it can be as simple or as complicated as you want. I had left things far too last minute to book anything for an upcoming holiday a few years ago and, desperate for an adventure, I got myself a cheap bivvy bag, a couple of soft bike bags and headed to Mid Wales on my own. I quickly realised that I loved the feeling of being self-sufficient on two wheels and soon became addicted to that giddy feeling you get when you see a new trail unfurling in front of you.

GU - What inspired you to write this book?

EK - Great question! After all, there are already a number of well-established long distance, off-road routes around England, such as Tim Woodcock’s classic Coast to Coast, the Pennine Bridleway National Trail and the newer King Alfred’s Way created by Cycling UK. However, I wanted to put together a collection of accessible off-road routes to show that they don’t always be hundreds of miles long, deep in the mountains or far from home to give you a memorable bikepacking adventure. That’s not to say that this sort of route isn’t in Bikepacking England, just that I think it’s important that riders don’t end up feeling that it is the only way to have an adventure. With that in mind, each route has been designed to offer up a different sort of bikepacking experience. The Cotswolds loop, for example, takes in buttery smooth singletrack, chocolate-box villages and peaceful English countryside. The south coast routes would be perfect for a relaxed summer weekend with plenty of swimming opportunities, pubs and ice cream virtually on tap. Up north, the Cheviot Hills straddle the Anglo-Scottish border and are about as wild and remote as it gets for a bikepacking trip around England.

Image courtesy of Rob Kingston

GU - What did you learn when writing the book?

EK - I knew from the outset that I didn’t want Bikepacking England to be a traditional mountain biking guidebook with turn-by-turn directions and this only became more obvious when writing the book. We did actually try this out for one of the 100+ mile routes just to see – left, right, straight on, yawn. I wanted to try and write a book which was practical (giving you all the information you’d need to help you plan a trip including GPX files and detailed trail notes), but also captured the fun to be had riding your bike off-road, exploring new places, and experiencing moments of wonder in nature.

Image courtesy of Emma Kingston

GU - How do you plan your routes?

EK - I usually start with a section of trail or a point of interest - like castles, old pubs, hill forts, caves, beaches, waterfalls, stone circles or rock carvings - and find that the route flows from there. I plot most of routes online using my Ordnance Survey account, and I’ll combine this with satellite imagery and my own knowledge of trails on the ground which I’ve accumulated over years of riding and hiking. Nothing beats a paper map though – I love unfolding and smoothing them out on the carpet, then tracing the routes with a finger over the rise and fall of contour lines. I can’t bring myself to write or draw on the actual maps though.

Image courtesy of Rob Kingston

GU - Is there one item that you never go bikepacking without?

EK - Can I pick three? Leaving aside the obvious essentials (i.e. bike tools, pump, first aid kit etc.), I’m a big fan of my tiny inflatable pillow. I always bring a down jacket for the evenings as I cool down really quickly. Oh, and I always pack some spare chocolate.

Image courtesy of Steve Kingston

GU - Food is fuel – what food do you recommend for one-handed chomping?

EK - Food is such a personal thing. I eat indiscriminately and often when riding and can happily munch on a bar whilst riding uphill, although it’s not pretty. I like to empty snacks like Haribo into my tube bag for easy grazing on the go and I’m obsessed with apple flavoured mini Soreen loaves. For guilt-free chomping, I’ve been enjoying Outdoor Provisions’ bars recently and have been eyeing up their new nut butters too.

Image courtesy of Rob Kingston

GU - What are some of the barriers that people face when starting out bikepacking and do you have any top tips to help?

EK - For a lot of people, the overnight aspect of bikepacking seems to be one of the biggest barriers to giving it a go. Wild camping is often a wonderfully liberating way to spend the night on bikepacking trips, but it can be an intimidating prospect if you’ve never done it before. I did a lot of backpacking before I started bikepacking, so I was already comfortable with things like putting up a tent, lighting a stove, following ‘leave no trace’ principles, and wild camping legalities, but for your first experience camping wild it is a good idea to go on a short overnight trip to try out your new gear. I often try things out in my garden to get more confident. But equally, I think it’s important to stress that wild camping is simply one option when bikepacking. It’s not cheating if you choose to stay in an established campsite, heated yurt, B&B or hotel. Find what works best for you because at the end of the day it’ll mean that you’re much more likely to have a great time and come back for a second helping!

Emma has a great outdoorsy blog, which you can find here. If you’d like to get a copy of the book for yourself, you can order one here

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