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The best disused railway cycle paths in the UK

07 January 2021

Many disused railway lines across the UK have become gentle scenic trails for cyclists, wheelchairs and buggies. Here are some of our favourites

Monsal viaduct, Bakewell, Peak District
Derbyshire's Monsal Trail includes stunning vistas from the Headstone viaduct

Bristol and Bath railway path

Route: Bristol to Bath
Distance: 13 miles

It may not be the most direct route between these two great cities but it’s definitely the most pleasant. It also has the advantage of being accessible at both ends by rail (you can hire bikes at or near the mainline stations) and is tarmacked all the way. From Bristol, the tree-lined track passes a series of old stations including Warmley where the waiting room is now a café. There are lovely views over Somerset and Gloucestershire through gaps in the trees and the final section runs beside the River Avon into the city of Bath.

Worth a stop: Britton Railway Station where steam trains run along three miles of restored track (the cycle path runs alongside).

More information: www.bristolbathrailwaypath.org.uk

Camel Trail, Cornwall

Route: Blisland to Padstow
Distance: 18 miles

No surprise that this beautiful track is one of the UK’s most popular, particularly the flat Wadebridge to Padstow section. From the edge of Bodmin Moor, it follows the River Camel to the banks of its estuary: great for bird-watching, ending (or starting, if you prefer) in the foodie resort of Padstow. Although not all of it is tarmacked, it’s suitable for wheelchair users and you can hire bikes at points along the route.

Worth a stop: Wadebridge’s medieval bridge, built in 1468, with 17 arches, is an impressive 320 feet long.

More information: www.visitcornwall.com

Marriott’s Way, Norfolk

Route: Norwich to Aylsham
Distance: 26 miles

This trail, which is part-tarmacked, part-gravel, runs along two former railway lines from the outskirts of Norwich along the vale of the River Wensum to Reepham station, where there’s a café and cycle hire. It then loops east to the market town of Aylsham with its medieval half-timbered houses. This is a haven for wildlife – look out for kestrels, owls, hares, deer and maybe otters and kingfishers. Also, railway-inspired sculptures and steam train ‘sound boxes’ under some of the bridges.

Worth a stop: Whitwell Common, one of the few remaining open fen habitats typical of Norfolk river valleys, noted for its wildflowers such as orchids.

More information: www.marriottsway.info

Read our must-see places in the Norfolk Broads 

Even if you’ve lived your whole life in the UK, there’s always somewhere new to discover. Find out more here



Monsal Trail, Derbyshire

Route: Buxton to Bakewell
Distance: 8.5 miles

This old railway track through some of the Peak District’s most stunning limestone dales features incredible feats of Victorian engineering, including six restored and well-lit tunnels and three viaducts. The first section follows the wooded valley of the River Wyre to Monsal Head, then through Great Longstone to the market town of Bakewell. Look out for old cotton mills and lime-kilns, relics of the area’s industrial past.

Worth a stop: The mighty 74ft-high Headstone Viaduct with fabulous views over Monsal Dale.

More information: www.peakdistrict.gov.uk

Cinder Track, North Yorkshire

Route: Scarborough to Whitby
Distance: 21 miles

This coastal route along the eastern edge of the North York Moors offers spectacular sea views, especially over the fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay and around Ravenscar. Allow time to explore one of the beautiful coves just off the route such as Maw Wyke Hole or Cloughton Wyke, perfect spots for a seaside picnic. Other highlights include the 121ft-high Larpool Viaduct above the River Esk, and Scarborough Castle and Whitby Abbey at either end. The latter inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula after a visit there in 1890, and each year the town hosts a Gothic festival over the Halloween weekend. The trail is named after the track ballast that still surfaces the route, which means it can be a bit bumpy in places so it’s best suited to sturdier bikes.

Worth a stop: Hayburn Wyke, a hidden rocky cove with tumbling waterfall.

More information: www.scarborough.gov.uk

Mawddach Trail, Gwynedd

Route: Dolgellau to Barmouth
Distance: 8 miles

This scenic trail to the south of Snowdonia National Park follows an old railway line that was popular with Victorian holidaymakers. Hugging the beautiful Mawddach Estuary, a site of special scientific interest due to its salt marshes and peat habitats rich in birdlife, it has splendid views of the Rhinog Mountains. The best part is the final stretch, crossing the iconic wooden Barmouth Bridge where the rolling hills are reflected in the water.

Worth a stop: Mawddach Valley, Arthog Bog RSPB reserve, where you’ll spot reed bunting, siskins and lesser redpolls.

More information: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/find-a-route-on-the-national-cycle-network/mawddach-trail-dolgellau

Crab and Winkle Way, Kent

Route: Canterbury to Whistable
Distance: 7.6 miles 

The Crab and Winkle Way is a 7.6 mile cycle track along the old Canterbury to Whitstable railway line. The route starts at Canterbury West train station and passes through the beautiful ancient broadleaf woodland Blean Woods, home to woodpeckers, nightjars and nightingales, and one of the largest ancient woodlands in England, thanks to its acidic soil making it unsuitable for agriculture. The route ends at the pretty seaside town of Whitstable, famous for its oysters, beach huts and narrow streets.

Worth a stop: enjoy a picnic at the Winding Pond in Clowes Wood. The pond was built in 1829 to store water for the steam winding enginges.

More information: https://explorekent.org/activities/crab-and-winkle-way-canterbury-to-whitstable/

Formartine and Buchan Way, Aberdeenshire

Route: Dyce to Fraserburgh
Distance: 25 miles

Built on the old Formartine and Buchan railway line, which closed in the 60s, this long stretch of cycle path passes by Aden Country Park, Strichen Stone Circle and Deer Abbey in Buchan, making it a great day out for history buffs. Although the route is 25 miles total it can easily be broken into small sections if needed.

Worth a stop: the Neolithic stone circle at Strichen, which is closed to the ruins of neo classical mansion Strichen House in the village of Strichen. The once grand gardens are now used for cattle farming but there's still plenty to enjoy in this strangely beautiful rugged, desolate 

More information: https://www.cyclegrampian.co.uk/trail/formartineway.html

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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