To some, the Midlands may appear as attractive as a grey cardigan, but you’d be surprised. I’ve spent the last 15 years road testing bikes around the Midlands, and I’m always surprised by the little gems of beauty. It may not have the dramatic landscape of Scotland, but for a short blast on a Sunday afternoon it can be almost as rewarding. From the unblemished dramatic east coast, to the border of Wales, I’ve picked my top five roads of the Midlands.
B660 Bedford to Ramsey St Mary’s (36 miles – 60 minutes)
This is B road Britain at its absolute best – a relentless rollercoaster of single lane blacktop that ducks and dives across an undulating landscape. It’s a satisfying ride to get right and is pretty much guaranteed to leave you grinning from ear to ear. Fill up before you head out, as despite what Google Maps says, there are few opportunities, if any, along the way. If a top up is required, there’s a Sainsbury’s on the A6 pretty close to the start. For much of the route it’s farmland at either side, often with a clear line of sight through multiple bends ahead, but be aware of farming traffic especially in harvest season. The B660 connects several small villages so be sure to back off when transiting through, the B660 is well known by petrolheads for good reason, and there can be a strong police presence at weekends. Olivers Cafe in Kimbolton is roughly the half-way point and makes a good spot for a coffee break.
A488 Knighton to Shrewsbury (35 miles – 60 minutes)
This fabulous road rolls out of Knighton in Powys, right on the English/Welsh border and packs a barrage of exciting punches as it winds across the Shropshire Hills. Fast, open stretches provide the opportunity for spirited progress, while there are plenty of tight, technical and twisty bits to get your teeth into – the section between Black Marsh and Poxgreen, preceded by a skim along the border, is particularly tasty. There’s a handy filling station near the start, so top up as needs be, but for tea and cake you won’t find much better, or indeed more quaint, than the 17th century Maltings Cafe in Clun – it’s quite early on the route, but well worth a stop. With place names such as New Invention and The Bog there’s plenty of scope for some comedy selfie stops too. Take your time and enjoy this one.
A149 Cromer to Hunstanton (37 miles – 80 minutes)
This route kicks off from the traditional seaside town of Cromer and wriggles between the villages along the North Norfolk shoreline to another of the region’s famous coastal destinations, Hunstanton. This is an un-spoilt coastline which is all too often unexplored, but it will worth a visit. Gas up at the filling station above the West Promenade and you’ll be good to go. It’s a terrific ride on a clear day, with plenty of tasty turns to enjoy and although sea views may be fleeting, you’ll be able to sense the brine on the breeze. Be aware that the wind can whip up sand from the miles of un-spoilt beaches, so keep an eye out for loose patches through the apexes. Finish off with a bag of chips by the beach, which faces west over the Wash and is the only place on the east coast where you can watch the sun set over the sea.
B1057 Great Dunmow to Haverhill (26 miles – 30 minutes)
Gas up as you enter Great Dunmow from the A120 – there are filling stations on both roads in and this classic B road kicks off from the far side of town. The ‘1057’ is a proper blat between the hedgerows, with some tricky twists along the way. The tarmac gets pretty bumpy in places and isn’t always in the best state of repair but it’s great fun nonetheless. Around the halfway point is the chocolate box village green of Finchingfield, a popular biker’s meeting spot, boasting decent pub grub at The Fox and some good options for a cream tea – you can even top off your tank here too. The road beyond carves a devilish groove between kerbless verdant verges, where you can chase the vanishing point through a section of tight, technical turns that will conspire to keep you guessing.
A537 Macclesfield to Buxton (11 miles – 22 minutes)
This is the infamous Cat and Fiddle run, a sensational ascent from Macclesfield to the wild and windy moor of the Derbyshire peaks – if needs be top up at the Tesco in town before heading off. There’s a 50 mph limit enforced by average speed cameras along the route, but it shouldn’t dampen any enjoyment as the bends are where the fun is at – keep it steady on the straights, enjoy the views and there’ll be no need to watch your speedo as you carve up the curves. At the top of the pass is the Cat and Fiddle Inn, the second highest hostelry in England, but for a slice of cake and a brew the Peak View tea rooms are ideal. It’s only short, so turn around at the end and enjoy the dramatic descent back to Macc. In summer it’s a real destination and hugely popular with bikes, so there is always someone to chat to when you stop.