Major change in strategy for conservation charity as underlines draw of the great outdoors

Cycling, among other outdoor pursuits, is set to take centre stage in The National Trust’s strategy with a host of initiatives and events including seven sportive rides this year as the charity, typically associated in the public mind with stately homes but also responsible for a variety of outdoor space, announces what it describes as “a major shift in its focus.”

The first of the National Trust Challenge Rides, all of which start and finish at properties managed by the conservation charity, will be based around Stackpole in Pembrokeshire on 1 May. That will be followed by events at Dunstable Downs, Bedfordshire (two rides on 19 June and 24 July), Illam, Peak District (3 July), Kingston Lacy, Dorset (3 July), Wimpole, Cambridgeshire (11 September), Castle Drogo, Devon (2 October) and Sizergh Castle, Cumbria (9 October).

Contact email addresses for the organisers of each ride can be found by following links on a dedicated page on The National Trust’s website, with the charity saying: “These rides offer a fantastic way to see amazing countryside and have been specifically designed to cater for all ages and abilities, from first-time riders to seasoned pros, there’s something for everyone.

“With distances ranging from a few miles, which is ideal for families, to more testing 50-100 mile rides for the more experienced, these cycling challenges are perfectly suited to those who love spending time in the great outdoors.

“The routes wind through open countryside and will be fully way-marked and marshalled by professional event organisers.”

Fiona Reynolds, director-general of the National Trust, commented: "For too long it's felt that outdoor spaces have been the Trust's best kept secret. We want to play our part in helping to reconnect the nation with outdoor spaces, whether in the Lake District or a local park.

"Over 100 years ago one of the Trust's founders, Octavia Hill, argued that quiet, air and exercise, together with the sight of sky and growing things, were human needs common to all people.

"A growing body of research backs her intuition, but over a century later we still don't seem to value enough the physical and spiritual refreshment we get from our surroundings."

Although the principal focus in terms of outdoor activities will be on walking, The National Trust has also revealed that it will be hosting a series of seven challenge bike rides on properties in counties including Pembrokeshire and Cambridgeshire.

In July, it will also be hosting its inaugural cycling festival, encompassing some 20 venues throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, “including an evening community bike ride at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire and a kids On Your Bike weekend at Scotney Castle in Kent.”

Jo Burgon, Outdoors Programme Director at the National Trust said: "It's clear that people simply love being outdoors surrounded by nature and walking is the easiest way to do that. We want to work with our local communities to help shape and create new walking routes on our land for people to explore and get closer to nature."

The charity currently manages some 250,000 hectares of land in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (The National Trust for Scotland is a separate entity), including almost 25,000 hectares of woodland, and leaflets for a number of cycle routes on its property can be downloaded from its website.

Last week, it was confirmed that the London 2012 Olympic road race route will include a circuit centred on Box Hill in Surrey, which is owned by The National Trust.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.