27 November 2019 by Stephen Davies
Almost 60% of the UK’s population live within a mile of a National Cycle Network route. Suitable for walking, cycling, wheeling and exploring, the network is used for every kind of journey, from the school run and work commute to weekend walks and long-distance bike rides.
The Ramblers, along with other partner organisations, has recently helped to develop a new 20-year vision for the National Cycle Network. This will involve moving more of the Network off-road or onto roads with lower speed limits. As part of a UK-wide steering group, the Ramblers is overseeing progress towards this vision and advising on standards, maintenance, mapping and accessibility – on behalf of the millions of walkers who are regular users of the network.Here is a selection of trails to try this season.
Beginning just a few minutes’ walk from the centre of Edinburgh, this route is a stunning winter escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Meander along the Union Canal before joining the stunning Water of Leith walkway. From here, continue along the route of the old railway through the Colinton Tunnel, which has become a huge canvas for the local community to celebrate the rich history of the area. The attractive village of Colinton is an ideal turning point for an out-and-back walk, or local bus services are available back towards the city centre.
Take a hike in the heart of Perthshire’s ‘big tree country’. Beginning along the newly resurfaced, traffic-free path of Route 77 at Dunkeld House Hotel, once the home of the ‘Planting Dukes' of Atholl, the various circuits and routes of the Dunkeld Tree Trail take in awe-inspiring winter scenery. Walk among giant redwoods and Douglas firs, and keep an eye out for red squirrels.
More details at Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust
Maerdy Mountain to Rhigos, Wales
Distance: 9.3 miles
Finish: Craig Y Llyn
Route 47 of the National Cycle Network leads walkers to fantastic views over the Brecon Beacons. Begin at the car park in Llanwonno, where there is a cosy pub, the Brynffynon, offering home cooked food and real ales. From here, follow signs for Route 47 for a short distance uphill before heading north-west on a wide trail leading into Gwynno Forest where remains of old Roman Camps can be found. The path is clearly marked and passes through beautiful coniferous forest, with occasional views of the Cynon and Rhondda valleys.
At the half-way point, you will come to a car park at the top of Maerdy Mountain. From here, cross the A4233 and continue towards Lluest-wen Reservoir and Rhondda Fach wind farm. Stop for a moment to take in the stunning but slightly surreal setting of wind turbines towering over the forest like a scene from War of the Worlds. After this, continue on the wide forestry trail until you cross the A4061 and make a short detour off Route 47 on a track along the edge of the forest. Here, the path heads north-west, until you reach Craig Y Llyn (Rhigos Mountain) where you can see fantastic views across Llyn Fawr towards the Brecon Beacons.
Coate Water Park, Wiltshire
Distance: 6 miles
Start and finish: Coate Water Park
Start in Coate Water Park, just outside Swindon, where there is a delightful café in which you can stock up on food and drinks for the journey ahead. From the car park, walk around the east side of Coate Water lake and nature reserve until you meet the track signed Route 45. Follow the signs over the motorway to the edge of Chiseldon where you’ll see views back over Swindon.
At the top of the hill turn right onto a tarmac bridleway to Hodson Road, then turn immediately right again onto a private track. From here you can follow footpaths to Hodson where there is a pretty chalk valley and the Calley Arms pub if you’re feeling peckish. After Hodson, return along the footpath to Route 45, just north of the motorway. Follow the path back to Coate Water Park and return to the car park around the west side of the lake.
Canterbury to Whitstable, the Crab and Winkle Way, Kent
Distance: 7.5 miles
Start: Canterbury West Train Station
Harbour views, varied landscape, great food and plenty of local history feature at either end of this beautiful 7.5-mile walk. Starting at Canterbury West station, turn left and then cross the railway line, following signs to the university. This will take you along the edge of Beverley Meadow, across Beaconsfield Road and St Michaels Road and will bring you into mature parkland. The path then rises steeply, heading up out of the city to the University of Kent.
Go down Parkwood Road which will take you along the rear of the campus, past beautiful woodland and to the main Route 1. From here, the path mostly levels out and takes you past fields, orchards and woodlands, offering spectacular views of the Kent countryside as it meanders northwards.
After around 5-miles, you’ll enter the outskirts of Whitstable, where the traffic-free path takes you to the town’s railway station. Steps in the corner of the car park will take you to Stream Walk footpath, which will bring you out by the harbour, where you can try Whitstable’s famous oysters and enjoy views across the estuary.
The ‘Triangle’ bus route from the harbour will bring you back to Canterbury, or you can retrace your steps to the station and hop on a train.
Rowntree Park, York, North Yorkshire
Distance: 2.6 miles
Start and finish: York Railway station
Exit York station and take a right by the toilets and then a left through the short stay car park where you will see a ramp down to a path at the end of the car park. Turn left here, towards the riverside and then right at the riverside path by Scarborough Bridge. Continue along the route and onto quiet roads through York following signs for Route 65 to Selby.
Follow the route along the River Ouse until you reach the 20-acre Rowntree Park. Refreshments available at the lovely Reading Café with views of the. Return along Route 65 on Terry Avenue which was closed to traffic in 1991. Once you reach Skeldergate Bridge, follow the route back along the river to the station.
Penistone to Dunford Bridge, Trans-Pennine Trail, South Yorkshire
Distance: 13 miles return journey
Start and finish: Penistone Train Station
This beautiful walk takes you from the busy market town of Penistone to the rolling moors of the Peak District at Dunford Bridge. This is ideal for families as the path is traffic-free and follows the route of the old Great Central Railway, winding through glorious countryside, with stunning views across the valley. Join the route directly from the station through a wooden gate at the east end of the platform (sign posted); turn right, and continue. Don’t forget to visit the Magic Wood just beyond Hazlehead Bridge Station and Wogden Foot Nature Reserve, an important habitat for wildlife alongside the route as it approaches Dunford Bridge.
Braintree to Rayne, the Flitch Way, Essex
Distance: 5 miles
Start and finish: Braintree Railway Station
This easy five-mile route takes you through Flitch Way Country Park from Braintree to Rayne and back again along part of Route 16. Starting at Braintree Station, turn west and pass through the car park, carrying on until you see a sign for Essex County Council Flitch Way Country Park. From here, you’ll pass through deep cuttings, open farmland fringed by mature oaks and habitats managed by rangers and volunteers. The route climbs gently from the Pods Brook Road Bridge up to the Victorian Rayne Booking Hall Café, situated in the former station masters house.
Walk the Flitch way
Holkham Beach, North Norfolk
Distance: 8 miles return trip
This is a wonderful walk from Holkham Hall and Estate. It travels north along Lady Anne's Drive to Holkham Beach, one of the most beautiful stretches of sand in the country, which featured in the final scene of Shakespeare in Love. Follow the path through the pinewoods or along the beach, past the gaily painted beach huts to the Lifeboat station and Beach Café. From here, walk back along the sea wall to Wells-next-the-Sea and stop off to explore the streets of this delightful seaside town. Make sure you visit French’s Fish and Chips Shop for the best meal in town. From here, you can either retrace your steps or catch a Coastal Hopper bus from Wells to Holkham.
Peregrine Path, Wye valley
Distance: 12 miles
Start and finish: Monmouth
This unique, traffic-free route straddles the England-Wales border and takes in the fine scenery of the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It follows the River Wye through the upper Wye Gorge and connects Monmouth to Symonds Yat, where there are a variety of cafés and pubs beside the river. For the more adventurous, there is the option to climb the steep and winding path up to the Symonds Yat Rock (500ft). From here are panoramic views of the gorge and the possibility of glimpsing peregrine falcons hunting on the nearby cliffs.
On the return leg it’s possible to cross the river via the ‘ancient hand ferry’ opposite the Saracens Head pub. From here, follow the river back down stream before re-crossing via the Indiana Jones style suspension bridge at the Biblins, before returning to Monmouth.