Railway Cycling Routes: 6 Traffic Free Rides in the UK

Looking for a route away from the traffic? These mixed terrain rides could be up your street

If you’re looking for a scenic country ride away from the constant flow of traffic, then some of the UK’s railway cycling routes might be up your street. 

In the 1960s, over 5,000 miles of railway lines were axed following the ‘Reshaping of British Railways ‘ report, Dr Richard Beeching (commonly known as The Beeching Report).

These railways are far from disused though – most of them have been converted into traffic-free routes for cyclists and walkers.

With ready-made connections to country towns (and their perfect cafe stops), and easy-to-follow navigation these make excellent rides if you want to enjoy a pleasant amble. Most are suitable for sporty hybrid bikes, though a cyclocross bike (adventure road or gravel bike) is often ideal.

We’ve pulled together six of our favourite railway cycling routes to help get you started. TWC writer Maria David has trail tested every one – and there are full descriptions and directions here. 

Forest Way Railway Cycling Route, Sussex

Groombridge to East Grinstead – 9.75 miles. Full route description here. 

This ride sits on the Kent-Sussex border and will transport you from Groombridge in Tunbridge Wells to Forest Way Country Park in East Grinstead.

The terrain of the Forest Way is largely flat – with just a few uphill stretches over the final three miles. Most of the trail consists of hard packed gravel which means the winder tyres of a hybrid or cyclocross bike are idea. The route itself is traffic free, but towards the end you will need to cross a few minor roads.

You’ll lace between High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the River Medway – meaning there are plenty of excellent views along the way.

Much of the ride runs under tree cover, providing shade or shelter depending upon conditions. There are plenty of picnic tables along the way for refreshment stops, and you’ll also pass through several small villages. One such attraction is Hartfield, the former home of Winnie the Pooh creator AA Milne. There is a real ‘House at Pooh corner’ – which makes for a perfect photo opportunity!

Alban Way Railway Cycling Route, Hertfordshire

St Albans to Hatfield – 6.5 miles. See full route description here. 

This fully tarmacked route provides a perfect platform for those that want a smooth path off of the road. It was also an early training ground for nine-time national cyclo cross champion and ambassador for women’s cycling, Helen Wyman who was born in St Albans!

Much of this path winds through suburban areas, with around a third weaving through the countryside.

There will be plenty of attractions to catch your attention, though. As you approach Hatfield, you’ll see markers of the past in the form of disused signals and a working station clock attached to a tree at Nast Hyde Park.

The route ends at Wrestlers Bridge in Hatfield, and you can continue to Welwyn Garden City – joining other trails such as the Ayot Green trail to Wheathampstead or the Nicky Line to Hemel Hempstead.

Tissington Trail Railway Cycling Route, Peak District

Ashbourne to Parsley Hay – 13.5 miles. See full route here. 

Set in the White Peak district of the region, this was one of the first rail trails in the country. It was opened by Derbyshire County Council and the Peak District National Park Authority.

The route is well set-up for cyclists – you can hire bikes at the Tissington trail car park where there are also toilets and a cafe.

The first half of the ride will take you through woodland, with several picnic sites. You do gradually climb your way out of the woodland so this is a slightly more strenuous ride. There is one short ascent with a 10 per cent incline, but that’s the toughest section you’ll find. The second half of the ride gives way to open countryside, with views of the Derbyshire Dales.

Reaching Parsley Hay, you can either continue to Buxton via the High Peak Trail, which crosses the Tissington trail, or take a lovely descent back to Ashbourne.

Middlewood Way Railway Cycling Route, Cheshire

Macclesfield to Marple – 11 miles. See full route description here. 

This railway line was originally commission by the Mill owners – but it closed in 1970. Running parallel to the Macclesfield Canal, it’s also a part of Route 55 of the National Cycle Network. Many sections comprise of two paths, so that cyclists and walkers can each enjoy their exploits without too much disturbance.

Starting from Waters Green in Macclesfield, the path is tarmac – but still very much in a countryside setting.

Past Bollington the surface gives way to compact gravel and mud tracks – making it ideal for hybrids, mountain bikes, cyclocross and gravel bikes.

Along the way, you’ll pass under several bridges, and note a small waterfall at Ladybrook Valley. There aren’t many picnic benches, but steps leading off the path will take you to assorted villages or towns if you’re after a coffee stop.

Hornsea Trail Railway Cycling Route, West Yorkshire

Hull to Hornsea – 15 miles. See full route description here. 

Part of the 215 mile long Transpennine Trial that starts in Southport, this flat 15 mile stretch takes riders from Hull to the coastal town of Hornsea.

The start of the trail, at Stoneferry Road, is furnished with a cafe for pre-ride fueling. There are picnic benches along the way, notably next to the remnants of a disused train platform.

The first few miles consist of tarmac path, but later you’ll find hard packed earth and some muddy sections.  This route would be best suited to a bike designed for off-road conditions and will provide an opportunity to test your handling skills.

Cinder Track Railway Cycle Route, North Yorkshire

Scarborough to Whitby – 21 miles. See full route description here. 

The longest railway cycle route in our collection, the opening and closing miles are tarmacked but much of the surface is compacted earth. There are some stony sections, and a mountain bike with suspension could be useful – but we completed the ride on a gravel bike which coped perfectly well.

You’ll gradually ascend to Robin Hood Bay, then drop down to the outskirts of  Whitby. This trail promises some stunning hilltop views, and several of the former station houses have been converted into cafes.

Nearing the end of the ride, you can choose to continue to Whitby Abbey via the road. However – this option includes some tough climbs including 25 per cent gradients. The alternative is to drop down to the sea front for an ice-cream!

Looking for more rides and routes? You might also like… 

10 Epic Off Road Rides in the UK

10 of the Best Road Rides from London

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