There can't be many countries you can cycle across in four days. And fewer still that have England's trifecta of history and scenery. And with a pub every 300 metres.
The most popular way to traverse the country is via the Coast to Coast, a 220-kilometre route from Whitehaven on the west coast to Sunderland on the east. However, in 2010 the Way of the Roses was launched, a 273-kilometre alternative from Morecambe in Lancashire to Bridlington in Yorkshire.
Along the way it passes through the bustling market towns of Settle and Ripon, the historic city of York and the majestic scenery of the Yorkshire Dales. Inconveniently, it also crosses the Pennines mountain range.
The route is named after the Wars of the Roses, the series of dynastic wars fought in the 15th century between the houses of Lancaster and York, whose respective heraldic symbols were a red and white rose.
You could easily tackle the route on your own, carrying your own gear and arranging your own accommodation, but let's face it, that doesn't sound like a holiday. Instead I join a Peak Tours guided departure, an infinitely more social option where a group of us will be chaperoned by two guides and a support van full of snacks.
While flicking through the pre-departure pack on the train from London, I make a worrying discovery. It's a six-week training plan that culminates in a week of rides totalling 200 kilometres. Needless to say, it's the first time I've seen this. The only ride I did last week was to the local supermarket for a Twix.
DAY 1 – ARRIVAL IN MORECAMBE
No seaside town looks its best on a cold, cloudy, windswept day and Morecambe is no exception. From the hotel vacancy signs and boarded-up shop fronts, it has clearly seen better days.
Over dinner in a local pub, guides Phil and Tom explain the logistics of the trip: our luggage will be transferred ahead each day and we'll meet up with the support van every morning and afternoon for refreshments.
Our group of 14 includes four guys in their 60s, three middle-aged couples and a schoolteacher from Germany. Most are keen cyclists and four have completed the gruelling 1600-kilometre ride from Lands' End to John O' Groats.
Someone asks Phil whether there are any big hills tomorrow. "No," he replies, smiling, "just lumps, rises and glorious ascents."
DAY 2 – MORECAMBE TO SETTLE
We meet on the seafront at 8:30am under ominously grey skies. Most people have brought their own bikes but a few of us are hiring them. After a group photo, we file out of town, following the route's distinctive bright blue signage. Tom goes ahead in the van while Phil rides at the back to ensure no one's left behind.
In less than 15 minutes, we're on quiet, tree-lined cycle paths and an hour later we're coasting along deserted country roads flanked by rolling green fields.
There are a couple of "glorious ascents" but otherwise it's flat, easy riding. The group naturally stretches out – eager beavers at the front, me and Phil at the back – but there's no pressure to keep up.
The ride to lunch is a glorious one, along narrow country lanes with sweeping views across lush green valleys criss-crossed with dry stone walls. In the distance we can see the famous Yorkshire Three Peaks of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent
The staff at the Clapham Inn seem totally unfazed when 14 sweaty, Lycra-clad cyclists descend on them for lunch. A tasty prawn sandwich later and I'm back in the saddle.
We arrive in the pretty market town of Settle to find it in the midst of a celebratory frenzy. It's the annual three-day flowerpot man festival and the streets are lined with inventive creations of all shapes and sizes. Another delightful surprise is Gallery on the Green, a tiny art gallery housed inside an old-fashioned red telephone box.
After an excellent steak in a local restaurant, we retire to our respective hotels for an early night. Tomorrow we tackle an ascent which is anything but glorious.
DAY 3 – SETTLE TO RIPON
"If you make it through today, you'll make it to Bridlington." With Tom's encouraging words ringing in our ears, we file out of town and straight into a 500-metre wall of tarmac. At least that's what it feels like. In reality, it's a long, winding 12 per cent incline, the toughest climb of the trip. Half of us make it up; the rest get off and walk.
The weather isn't helping. Yorkshire summers are notoriously fickle and the heavens soon open up accordingly. At one point the rain gets so heavy a group us seek shelter under some trees. Tom arrives, water dripping of his nose, and declares: "I love summer. It's my favourite day of the year."
We grit our teeth and push on, along sodden country lanes and past hardy flocks of sheep who materialise, ghost-like out of the mist. On a clear day, I'm sure the Dales are beautiful. Today, they're just bleak and brooding.
Of course, what goes up must come down and the steep, slippery descent into Pateley Bridge for lunch is terrifying. Well, I thought so. One lady comes racing past me squealing with child-like glee.
Ripon is another attractive market town and after a hearty pub dinner we gather in the main square to watch a spectacle that's taken place every night since 886. At 9pm, the Ripon Hornblower (aka George Pickles) appears in old-fashioned attire and blows a ceremonial horn to indicate that "all's well". After some entertaining banter with the crowd, he distributes several lucky wooden pennies, including one to me because I'm "from the colonies". "Don't worry," he says with a wink, "we forgive you."
DAY 4 - RIPON - POCKLINGTON
There's an easy camaraderie among the group as we wind our way along the quiet back roads and quaint villages of the Vale of York. As we approach the city of York, we join a dedicated riverside bike path and follow the River Ouse into the city centre.
We cycle past York Minster, the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe, but again only have time for a quick photo stop outside.
There's a lot of good-natured banter at dinner, particularly with Felix, the German schoolteacher, who is fascinated by the English predilection for politeness. "That is very interesting," he replies earnestly to each example. "That would not happen in Germany."
DAY 5 – POCKLINGTON TO BRIDLINGTON
The weather gods relent and bestow us with blue skies and sunshine for our last day as we cycle through the gently rolling hills and poppy-studded wheat fields of the Yorkshire Wolds.
We stop for a slap-up Sunday roast before cycling in a smiling convoy to the official end-point on Bridlington seafront. Phil is waiting with a bottle of prosecco and we toast our success with photos and hugs.
We've cycled almost 300 kilometres, which in itself is no mean feat, but the real satisfaction comes from traversing an entire country, even if it was at one of its skinniest points.
Should I have done more training? Probably. But you don't have to be Cadel Evans either. Other than a reasonable level of fitness, all you need is steely determination and a good set of raingear.
British Airways flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Britain via Singapore. Phone 1300 767 177, britishairways.com.
Peak Tours' Way of the Roses trip costs $920 and includes four nights' accommodation plus breakfasts and lunches. Bike hire is $110. See peak-tours.com.
The writer was a guest of Peak Tours, British Airways and Visit Britain.