Back in 1995, Sustrans – a charity that promotes sustainable transport – came up with the concept of the National Cycle Network. Currently celebrating its 20-year anniversary, the network is now more than 14,000 miles long. Here are some of its best short routes.
1. The Union Canal, Edinburgh, Scotland
Length: 30 miles
The Union Canal route is a relative long’n – you’ll be travelling from Edinburgh city centre all the way to Falkirk – but it’s entirely traffic-free and entirely worth all that pedalling. You’ll be out of the suburbs and into countryside surprisingly quickly, taking in bridges, aqueducts, locks and more leafiness than you can shake a branch at, and once you reach Lithingow there’s a palace to nose around.
Pub-lunch tip: the award-winning Bridge Inn at Ratho, which is eight miles along the route.
To see Sustrans’ map of the Union Canal, click here
2. The Aire Valley Towpath, West Yorkshire
Length: 17 miles
With smooth surfaces and mild gradients it’s perfect for casual cyclists
Taking you from Leeds to Bingley along a section of Britain’s longest canal, the Aire Valley Towpath offers ever-changing scenery: chilled countryside, urban areas, museums, canal locks (including the famous Three and Five Rise Locks, completed in 1774) and a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Victorian industrial village of Saltaire.
It may be one of the longer routes here, but with smooth surfaces and only the mildest of gradients it’s perfect for casual cyclists and kiddies alike.
To see Sustrans’ map of the Aire Valley Towpath, click here
3. The Monsal Trail, Peak District
Length: 8.5 miles
If you’re looking to take in the Game Of Thrones-y Peak District National Park on two wheels, the Monsal Trail is as gorgeous as it gets.
The family-friendly route runs along the former Midland Railway line and features six railway tunnels, each around 400 metres long and pretty much guaranteed to have kids yelling with echo-ing joy. Don’t fret, though: the tunnels are fully lit, even during the day.
To see Sustrans’ map of the Monsal Trail, click here
4. The Mawddach Trail, Gwynedd, Wales
Length: 9.5 miles
An absolute must-cycle during the Summer months
An absolute must-cycle during the Summer months, this stunner of a route sees you journeying from the historic town of Dolgellau to the seaside town of Barmouth, at which point you’ve totally earned yourself a 99 with a Flake, nuts and strawberry sauce on.
You travel along the Ruabon-to-Barmouth railway line (out-of-use these days, obvs), drinking in amazing views of Mawddach estuary and the mighty Cadair Idris. Hollol hyfryd!
To see Sustrans’ map of the Mawddach Trail, click here
5. The Newry Canal Towpath, Country Armagh, Northern Ireland
Length: 20 miles
We can’t think of many better ways to spend a sunny day than pedalling down one of Norn Iron’s lushest canal paths. Running from Portadown to Newry, the Newry Canal Way is a magnet for walkers and cyclists alike.
Expect birds, fishes, barges, lighterman dwellings and ye olde canal-locks, along with the dreamy sensation that you’ve left the hustle and bustle of modern life completely behind (until Whatsapp chirrups at you from your pocket, anyway).
To see Sustrans’ map of the Newry Canal Towpath, click here
6. The Peregine Path, Wye Valley
Length: 6.5 miles
Keep an eye out for nesting peregrine falcons
It may be one of the shortest (and newest) routes here, but the Peregrine Path still manages to take you from one country to another country entirely (granted, those two countries are England and Wales, but it’s still pretty cool).
A flat, leafy, easy-pedallin’ trail that follows the River Wye along a former railway line from Monmouth to The Saracens, it’s perfect for families and picnickers alike. And keep an eye out for the nesting peregrine falcons at stunning Symonds Yat Rock…
To see Sustrans’ map of the Peregrine Path, click here
7. The Lodes Way, Cambridge
Length: 9 miles
This popular-for-a-reason route is an absolute must for fans of the Fens – Fens-fans, if you will.
Expect peace, quiet, waterways and wildlife as you glide from Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve to Bottisham, with Anglesey Abbey, Gardens and Lode Mill providing an ideal stopping-off point en route, should you fancy pausing for a cuppa/stretch/Bounty. It’s mostly traffic-free, but there are a couple of short sections on roads.
To see Sustrans’ map of the Lodes Way, click here
8. The Cuckoo Trail, East Sussex
Length: 14 miles
If you like your cycling jaunts beatific and bucolic, the Cuckoo Trail is for you. This peaceful route winds through broadleaf woodland, open grassland and arable farmland, and is named after the local tradition of releasing a cuckoo at the annual Heathfield Fair.
It’s not really a route for powering through, head down, teeth gritted, legs pumping. Like, you could, but you’d be doing it all wrong.
To see Sustrans’ map of the Cuckoo Trail, click here
9. The Bath Two Tunnels Circuit, Somerset
Length: 13 miles
The trail takes you through cider-iffic Somerset countryside
Taking in a section of the now-closed Somerset and Dorset Railway (kind of handy that all these train-lines were retired, eh?), this route features a roll down the Combe Down Tunnel – opened in April 2013, it’s the UK’s longest cycling/walking tunnel, at just over one mile.
The trail takes you through cider-iffic Somerset countryside, past Instagram-worthy sights such as the Dundas Aqueduct. Expect “ooh”s and “aah”s.
To see Sustrans’ map of the Bath Two Tunnels Circuit, click here
10. The Camel Trail, Cornwall
Length: 18 miles
You probably won’t see any actual camels on this route through the wooded countryside of the Camel Valley (home to a vineyard) and along the Camel Estuary, but you will see some of the lushest scenery Cornwall has to offer. You’ll also be treated to a wealth of birdlife – the area is haven for ‘twitchers’ – and, if the weather’s nice, plenty of other cyclists, as this is one of the UK’s most popular routes.
Eighteen miles a little far for you? Then limit yourself to a section of the trail, such as Padstow to Wadebridge (5.5 miles); Wadebridge to Bodmin (5.75 miles); or Bodmin to Wenfordbridge (6.25 miles).
To see Sustrans’ map of the Camel Trail, click here
The above routes have been shortlisted for the UK’s favourite National Cycle Network route. To vote for your favourite, visit the Sustrans website.