As a pioneer of the modern day rail system, it is no surprise that Britain is dotted with disused railways tracks. While we have a large working rail network, many of the old routes were shut down from the 1960’s onwards and have since then been used for paths, cycling tracks and for active holidays. Because these routes are quite flat, they offer a safe and relatively easy way to cycle or walk around the countryside and many are perfect for young children to get their confidence on bikes and also suitable for pushchairs and wheelchair users.
As a way of exploring the natural beauty of the British countryside by walking or with your own or hired bike, old rail routes are among the most rewarding. Not only do they provide the opportunity to see some fantastic scenery and wildlife but they also provide a sense of history too.
The next time you are taking a holiday in the UK, find out what disused railway tracks are in the area to explore; pack your bike and enjoy some free active outdoor pursuits – a great holiday activity for those who are on a budget, fitness enthusiasts and those who don’t want to be restricted to a car! There are plenty of disused railway tracks to explore in every corner of the country and the UK charity Sustrans provides lots of useful information and recommends routes to help you plan your trip. Here are a few of our favourites:
Cuckoo Trail in East Sussex – The 14 mile Cuckoo Trail that goes from Heathfield to Eastbourne Park runs alongside a disused railway line and provides a flat and surfaced trail for both cyclists and walkers of all abilities and ages. Nature and wildlife are the main draws here with some beautiful trees and a variety of birdlife and animals along the way. Visitors can find picnic areas, rest points and also Victorian architecture including the Heathfield Tunnel. In May you can find a variety of butterflies and the trail is one of the most peaceful and enjoyable in East Sussex.
Crab and Winkle Way in Kent – A 7 mile long surfaced area that is perfect for walking or cycling and exploring the surrounding countryside. Following an old railway line, the trail features some great scenic beauty with hills on either side and part of the path goes through the Blean Woods where, if you are lucky, you can see the rare heath fritillary butterfly. The City of Canterbury with its beautiful cathedral and the quaint fishing harbour town of Whitstable are great Kent tourist attractions, providing plenty to see and do at either end of the journey. While there are some hilly parts along the trail, there are splendid views of the English countryside and of the seaside town of Whitstable itself.
The Monsal Trail in the Peak District, Derbyshire – As an area that played an important role in the industrial revolution there are numerous disused railway lines throughout this region and The Monsal Trail is one of the most prominent. An eight and a half mile traffic free path that is suited to cycling, walking and horse riding, gives a glimpse into the industrial past of the region with the Cressbrook Mill (an old cotton mill just off the trail) and the Lime Kilns that date back to Roman times. The trail runs along the Wye Valley following the River Wye in places and also passes through the imposing Monsal Head Viaduct – an impressive sight! Along the way there is an abundance of wildlife and fantastic views of the countryside and river. You can also visit the vibrant market town of Bakewell which is set back just a mile from the trail. With its cafes and interesting shops, Bakewell is one of the Peak District’s most popular towns with tourists and well worth stopping at.
Mawddach Trail in Gwynedd in Wales – As far as natural beauty goes the Mawddach trail that stretches from Dolgellau to the quaint seaside town of Barmouth is one of the best in Britain. It follows the abandoned Ruabon to Barmouth railway line and offers picturesque and stunning views of the Welsh countryside with 9 miles of mostly traffic free tranquility for walking or cycling (there is a small road with traffic to get into Barmouth town). The trail has extensive local birdlife as it passes the Mawddach Valley Arthog Bog RSPB reserve; and its flat surfaces are great for walkers and cyclists of all ages. For anyone visiting the Snowdonia National Park, a nostalgic trip along the Mawddach Trail is a must!
The Taff Trail from the Brecon Beacons to Cardiff Bay – As one of the longest routes on our list (at 55 miles in total), The Taff Trail extends from the stunning surroundings of the Brecon Beacons National Park right down to Cardiff Bay. Most of the route is traffic free and there are numerous scenic stopping points along the way so you don’t have to finish the whole route in one go! The industrial heritage town of Pontypridd is a popular stopping point which features a fascinating glimpse into the regions industrial past, and the Brecon Beacons are the reward at the end of a long but ultimately satisfying trail.
Coast to Coast Mineral Tramways Trail from Portreath to Devoran in Cornwall – An 11 mile coast to coast trail that takes in the lush greenery sandwiched between Cornwall’s north and south coasts. With some history along the way, the Mineral Tramways Trail from Portreath to Devoran is perhaps best suited to cycling but is also appealing to walkers. It features woodlands, valleys, dells and a variety of local wildlife with numerous small hamlets hidden in the local countryside. Old local mine buildings and relics of the industrial ages can be seen throughout (Portreath was once one of the largest coal importing towns in the country) and add an historic element to the railway trail. The village of Scorrier which is found halfway through the trail is great for refreshments and a bite to eat.
Next time you are taking a holiday in the UK, make time to explore the areas disused railway tracks at your own pace. They can provide hours of penny free entertainment for the whole family and a relatively flat and easy way of exploring the area without the use of a car. Self catering accommodation offers great storage space for bikes and other equipment, with the opportunity to relax in comfort after a long day of cycling or walking, whilst stepping back in time and discovering railways lines long since abandoned.