Winning tip: go Forth
If you like scenic, level cycling with views, Bo’ness to Blackness Castle and back is one of the best around. Ample parking at the Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway affords easy access to the well-signposted and fairly level Sustrans NCN Route 76 along the River Forth with views of Blackness Castle and three of the most famous Forth Bridges. There are beaches along the way for a picnic. Simply return by the same path or continue on through Hopetoun House (grounds now open) to South Queensferry for a longer day out.
Wild about Edinburgh
A fantastic family-friendly trail is the the Water of Leith from Balerno at the foot of the Pentland hills to the port of Leith on the woodland path along the river through Edinburgh. The trail takes in lots of exciting places to explore, including the Colinton Tunnel, parks and historic gardens. It has a wide variety of wildlife to spot, including kingfishers, treecreepers, deer, otters and badgers, along with lots of plants and bugs. It is very accessible from Edinburgh and the surrounding area and can be done as a whole route or in parts.
Was that a pine marten? Mid-Wales
Experience the mwynder Maldwyn (the mildness of Montgomeryshire) along the Sustrans Montgomery Canal cycle path. Dragonflies, ducks, swans, roach, red kites, buzzards and just occasionally a pine marten can be spotted along its length. The towpath between Berriew and Welshpool is in good condition, and broad enough for a family to travel safely. The village of Berriew is strikingly pretty and full of timber-framed buildings. Stay at the Nag’s Head in Garthmyl (doubles from £90 B&B) just a little way along the towpath. A visit to the area can also take in the beautiful gardens of Powis Castle (garden and courtyard open; book in advance). Kids will love the peacocks.
Birmingham has several well-known bike trails, including towpaths, and sections of NCN5 along the Rea Valley. A quieter route along the Bourn Brook to Woodgate Valley country park is a quick off-road escape from the city. Access the Bourn Brook’s tree-lined dusty white path, reminiscent of Portugal, from the canal or A38 cycle paths. One hump-backed bridge is best walked across, but the route is flat and suitable for hybrids (though not trailers unfortunately). It’s then 2km along the signposted path to Woodgate Valley, a huge and wild expanse perfect for picnics, with a family-friendly farm offering a break from cycling.
Where else but on Cornwall’s Mineral Tramways can you cycle from one side of the country to the other in 11 miles? It’s flattish, and gives an insight into the mining history of the county – the tramway used to provide the mines their transport route to the sea. You can see the old mines scattered across the landscape as you pedal along. Park at Portreath and stop off at the Hub bike shop and cafe for picnic supplies (or a puncture repair kit). If 22 miles is too far, park at Bissoe and enjoy a circular ride.
Forest ways, Gloucestershire
The Family Cycle Trail in the Forest of Dean is a gentle meander through this ancient hunting forest. The path is an old railway route from the area’s mining days. History enthusiasts can visit heritage sites on the way, but those just along for the views and the wildlife won’t be disappointed. Look out for wild boar (the largest population in England) and pine martens as you cycle. Stop off for lunch at one of the numerous picnic spots along the way. It’s circular, fully waymarked and suitable for the whole family, including the dog.
Suburban special, London
For the millions of us living in the south-east of the capital, the Sustrans Waterlink Way is a hidden treasure. I pick up the track under the Docklands Light Railway bridge at Deptford (the route starts at nearby Greenwich) and enjoy the pleasant, flat and traffic-free six miles along pretty rivers and through local parks. You’ll finish in Beckenham, birthplace of David Bowie. Book a swim at the now re-opened Beckenham Place Park lake and bring a picnic to have in the area’s biggest green space before starting the return leg. A great option for a mini-adventure in the city.
Are we in Norfolk or Normandy?
We love the Marriott’s Way, which follows the route of a disused trainline between Norwich and the Bure Valley in Aylsham. It’s 26 miles of footpath and cycleway, with lots of wildlife and local history. You can access it in central Norwich, and there are exits to visit villages and pubs along the way. The first eight miles is paved, making it easy for children; after that there are tracks interspersing the paved paths and fields. It’s so beautiful in summer: you could be cycling in rural France! It has handy mile markers all the way along so you can keep track of distance.
We never tire of the Wirral Circular Trail, a former railway line connecting West Kirby to Chester. It’s safe, flat and with cafe and park stops aplenty. Take in the views of north Wales and Dee estuary, have a breather on the beach at Calday or Thurstaston, stop off at Parkgate for award-winning ice-cream at Nicholls, then continue on through the birdlife haven of (recently reopened) Burton Marshes and cross the border into Cheshire and on to the Chester Greenway. Alternatively, follow the inland route at Neston to Willaston for eats and refreshments at Pollard’s Inn. Both West Kirby and Chester have regular direct trains to Liverpool.
Dragon ride, Northumberland
The National Trust Dragon’s cycle trail at Wallington is a fantastic place for cyclists of all abilities. The views are great and there are plenty of opportunities to see wildlife. If you are lucky, you might get a glimpse of a red squirrel. The trail is about three miles and takes about an hour, which is manageable for younger children. There is a refreshment kiosk at the end of the trail, which is very welcome on a hot day. Great fun.
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