Cycling is an ideal method of Slow travel. Leave the car behind and explore Britain's highways, byways and coastal pathways on two wheels, and you'll get so much more out of your journey.
Exe Estuary Trail, East Devon
© Tony Cobley, Heart of Devon Images
From Exeter, this terrific 26-mile cycling and walking trail stretches to Exmouth along the eastern bank of the Exe Estuary, including Topsham, Starcross and Cockwood, and as far as Dawlish on the western bank. Mostly flat and mostly off-road, it offers far-reaching views over the estuary, which is one of the most important birdlife habitats in Europe.
Tissington Trail, Peak District
© David Hughes, Shutterstock
‘Dream of noise and wheels and coal and steam’ says the metal plaque screwed to one of the many bridges on the Tissington Trail, a 13-mile route for cyclists, horseriders and walkers from Parsley Hay to Ashbourne along a former railway line. You can start your ride from Ashbourne, or at the Parsley Hay end (just a few miles south of Buxton). The lively market town of Ashbourne is a great mid-point with plenty of lunch options before returning to Parsley Hay. Bikes can be hired at either end and you can do a there-and-back route along the dismantled railway. For a more varied circular cycle, you can ride cross-country over to the High Peak Trail – but beware of the greater gradients once off the dismantled railways.
The Marriott’s Way, Norfolk
© Michael Button, Flickr
The Marriott’s Way is an excellent off-road path along a disused railway track running between Norwich and Aylsham along a curving route that takes in Reepham and Cawston. The Way, one of the country’s longest paths along a stretch of disused railway track, follows the River Wensum west out of Norwich before curving northwards at Lenwade. It’s not exclusively meant for cyclists: it’s used by all sorts – leisure cyclists, Norwich commuters, dog walkers and so on – and you really don’t need a mountain bike as the surface is mostly pretty smooth, compacted sand or gravel, although it does get rougher after Whitwell.
The Camel Trail, Cornwall
© Matt Jessop, Visit Cornwall
Padstow is the start – or finish – of a 17-mile level track that follows the route of an old railway, from the South Quay at Padstow along the estuary to Wadebridge (five miles), and on to Dunmere Halt (six miles) through deep, leafy cuttings beside a very picturesque stretch of the Camel. There’s a family-friendly pub by the parking space at Dunmere, and from here you can take the mile-long route into Bodmin, or swing north, following the young river upstream to Wenfordbridge (six miles), just a short hop from the very pretty moorland village of Blisland.
The Cuckoo Trail, Sussex
© Ron Strutt, Wikimedia Commons
You pretty much always see cyclists along this hugely popular walkers’/cyclists’/horseriders’ trail which runs for 11 mostly traffic-free miles between Heathfield and Polegate, with an extension to Eastbourne, along a defunct railway (apart from the odd, well signposted diversion through quiet streets), which saw its last train in 1968 and which was named after the Sussex legend that the first cuckoo of spring was always heard at Heathfield Fair. The trail slopes downhill very gently from north to south, but is easy in either direction. Part of the National Cycle Network and opened in 1990, it’s ornamented with carved benches and chunky sculptures made from recycled materials.
Tarka Trail, North Devon
© davidelliotphotos, Shutterstock
This 180-mile, traffic-free recreational route runs along a disused railway line from Braunton to Meeth. Families who pedal happily in the sunshine have reason to bless Dr Beeching who closed this unprofitable branch line in 1965. Probably the most popular section for cyclists is Barnstaple to Instow and back or, for the more energetic, to Great Torrington, but some bike hire companies may collect you and your bike from your end point, thus allowing you to ride a longer distance.
South Tyne Trail, Northumberland
© geograph.org.uk, Wikimedia Commons
The mixed-use waymarked South Tyne Trail is an ideal way to discover the Tyne Valley and some of the best river, woodland and hill country in the North Pennines. For the most part it follows the railway path (as far as Alston). If you continue from Alston to Garrigill and on to the source of the Tyne, walkers stay close to the riverside; cyclists take a quiet hilly lane via Leadgate.
Dalby Forest, North York Moors
© RJB Photographic, NYMNP
Dalby Forest is possibly the best area in the country for the cyclist, especially off-road. It is absolute two-wheel heaven, so much so that it was selected for staging the World Mountain Bike Championships in 2011. In the last ten years the Forestry Commission has spent over a million pounds developing biking facilities in the forest culminating in a series of six colour-coded and waymarked trails ranging from the two-mile Ellerburn green trail (easy), a perfect gentle intro for young families, to the black trail (severe), which is a challenge for even expert mountain bikers. The most popular route, and it can get very busy, is the 23-mile red route (difficult) which is possibly the best of its kind in the country. Maps of all the trails are available free in the visitor centre at Low Dalby.
Drake’s Trail, South Devon and Dartmoor
Cycle Drake's Trail to see the very best of South Devon © Martin Bodman, Wikimedia Commons
For cyclists, the Tamar valley offers great possibilities, from moorland on Dartmoor’s fringes to the deep lanes near the river. The largely traffic-free Plym Valley Cycle Trail has been joined with Drake’s Trail to provide a scenic cycling route between Plymouth and Tavistock (21 miles). Now generally known just as Drake’s Trail, it’s one of the best cycle routes in the county.
Chilterns Cycleway, The Chilterns
This circular bike route round the region offers plenty of interest and challenge © chilternsaonb.com
The Chilterns Cycleway is an 170-mile circular route round the region. Several ‘gateway towns’, including Wendover, Henley-on-Thames and Wallingford, offer excellent facilities for cyclists. The Chilterns’ excellent rail links with London, Birmingham and elsewhere are a boon for cyclists, who can carry bikes on trains outside rush hour (10.00–16.00) and at any time on Bank Holidays or at weekends. Over 95% of the cycleway is on-road and the undulating route, with some steep climbs and descents, offers plenty of interest and challenge.
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