Our favourite long-distance UK cycling trails, that are accessible by train. These are trails that you usually need to plan in advance, not only with maps and training, but by booking your train at either end to get the best bargain fares.
The UK’s National Cycle Network is worthy of a yellow jersey, although there wouldn’t be one big enough to cover all the corners of the country which have been mapped and marked out as cycle friendly. Here are our top five long-distance UK cycling trails that are easily accessible by train. You don’t need to be a yellow jersey wearer 'wannabe' to tackle them, or sections of them, however. Just have a sense of adventure, a fondness for slow travel and have a bit of time to get holiday fit in order to regain that childhood joy of cycling most of us remember. Wind in the hair, world is our oyster type of joy. It’s all out there waiting for you (as are rented electric bikes by the way. Just putting that out there).
Coast to coast cycling trail
There are several coast to coast cycle trails in the UK, the most famous known, rather aptly, as the C2C. This mammoth 225km route from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, Whitehaven to Tynemouth, takes in the Lake District, Cumbria and the North Pennines. A good option for this route is to undertake it with a cycling holiday expert such as Saddle Skedaddle where you can do it guided or self-guided, on your bike or a hired one, have all your accommodation booked and bags transferred from place to place.
Getting to and from the C2C by train: Nearly always ridden west to east, start in Whitehaven and end in Tynemouth, the nearest station to the latter being Sunderland, just 19km away. You can also get on the Tyne and Wear Metro at Tynemouth, but check here about times you are allowed to do so. Some cyclists take a slightly alternative route that takes them directly to Sunderland. Although you can always celebrate getting to Tynemouth with a surf, with boards to hire locally.
Better known for its walking route, it is possible to cycle the length of this ancient frontier following the Hadrian’s Cycleway (HCW) waymarked way, for 280km. It is actually a lot easier than the C2C, starting at the Glannaventa Roman Bath House in Ravenglass and finishing at the Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum in South Shields. Roman roaming is made even easier by using the rather inspired Beds for Cyclists website to source accommodation en route.
Getting to and from Hadrian’s Cycleway by train: You can do this route east to west, but the most popular way to approach it is west to east. Start at Ravenglass, which is on the scenic Cumbrian Coast Line and finish in South Shields. This last section follows the C2C route so, as above, you can cycle to Sunderland at the end, although many people opt to complete their trail in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and take the train home from there.
Lochs and Glens trail
There are two Lochs and Glens trails in Scotland, north and south, both making up National Cycle Route 7. The north covers 344km from Inverness to Glasgow via Pitlochry, with so many Highland highlights in between you will be rendered breathless from the beauty as much as the exertion. The two national parks of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs as well as the Cairngorms, as well as the car-free route through Drumochter Pass are worth getting in training for.
The Lochs and Glens South trail takes you between Carlisle and Glasgow, following a route that takes you through Galloway Forest and along the Solway coast, cycling 344km in total. Make sure you get some accommodation in Galloway Forest, which is the UK’s first Dark Sky Park. More than 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye from here on a clear night.
Getting to and from the Lochs and Glens trail by train: For the North trail you can link both ends by train at both Inverness and Glasgow, or break it up by taking the train to or from Pitlochry. For the South Trail, start in Carlisle and end in Glasgow, with Dumfries, Ayr and Troon stations along the way.
Lôn Las Cymru trail
This is Wales’ most spectacular long-distance cycling trail which is also divided into north and south sections. Translated as Wales Green Lane in English, this is more like an exquisite odyssey than a leisurely lane. Both waymarked as National Cycle Route 8, the north section (280km) passes through both Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia National Parks, as well as taking in the wild and wonderful island of Anglesey and coastal towns along the way. The south section (218km) takes you from Llanidloes in the heart of Wales to its capital at Cardiff, through the traditional town of Brecon and the Elan Valley.
Getting to and from Lôn Las Cymru trail by train: For the north section, start in Holyhead and end in Llanidloes, the nearest station to which is Caersws, just 10km away. Other stations giving access to the trail include Bangor, Porthmadog, Barmouth, Tywyn and Machynlleth. For the south trail, Cardiff and Caersws, are your best stops, although you can also take on a spur going via Abergavenny and Chepstow.
You will definitely need to get a map out to get your head around this one, as it is divided into three sections: west, central and east. Also known as the TPT this coast to coast trail isn’t actually as hard as you might think, although it does cover a vast 346km between Southport in the west and Hornsea in the east. There is something for everyone on the TPT, including the Peak District National Park, traffic-free Penistone to Dunford Bridge section, Chesterfield canal towpath, Don Gorge as well as historic cities of York, Leeds and Liverpool.
Getting to the Trans-Pennine Trail by train: For the TPT west section, connect via Southport, Penistone, Liverpool and Stockport. For the central section, the access points are Penistone, Leeds and Chesterfield. The east section runs between Sprotbrough (5.5km from Doncaster station) to Hornsea via Selby and Hull, with a Selby to York spur. Beverley is the nearest station to Hornsea, just 20km away. Some cyclists choose to leave out the last Doncaster to Hornsea section as it isn’t very interesting, so you can always catch a train at Doncaster. Or go via Hull to the coast at the Spurn Point National Nature Reserve.
Another interesting diversion from the Trans-Pennine Trail is cycling across the Humber Bridge, the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world that you can cross by bike. With a separate path for cyclists and pedestrians of course. Follow the Humber Bridge National Cycle Route between Barton-upon-Humber and Ferriby, both of which have train stations.
You can find out more about these and hundreds of other cycling routes on the invaluable Sustrans website. This charity, which pioneered the National Cycle Network, works tirelessly to support safe and accessible trails for cyclists and walkers alike. They also sell maps of the NatIonal Cycle Network routes. As with all cycling routes, when travelling by train check what the train operator’s rules about carrying bikes.
You may also enjoy our article on Cycling trails in France.
Photo credits top to bottom: Bike track in sand ©PaulMaguire, Coast to Coast sign iStock ©Bushton3, Bike hire sign in Scotland ©Richard Johnson, Mountains and trees near Loch Lomond iStock ©theasis, Forest cycling ©ProjectB
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