Whether you’re escaping the concrete jungle for a few hours or simply trying to get from A to B, canal and river towpaths offer plenty of great opportunities for cycling.
Here in the UK we’re blessed with thousands of miles of traffic-free waterways, providing a perfect environment for novice riders, families and seasoned cyclists alike.
What’s more, the largely flat routes are tailor-made for those of us who enjoy a gentle meander in the sunshine.
So, what are you waiting for? Here are ten of our favourite routes to get you started.
Reedley Marina to Pendle Heritage Centre
The first stop on our foray through Britain’s waterways takes us to Reedley Marina, tucked away in the outskirts of Burnley in East Lancashire.
While just under 10 miles in length there’s plenty to see along the route, capturing both the town’s industrial heritage and the untouched countryside which surrounds it. You’ll also pass the Steven Burke Cycle & Sports Hub, named after the double Olympic gold medal cyclist who hails from nearby Colne. Expect mallards, moorhens and plenty of old mills.
A trip to King Lear’s lake
Our next stop has a rather more regal feel to it, heading northwards out of Leicester along the River Soar to King Lear’s lake – passing the National Space Centre en route.
Situated in the picturesque Watermead Country Park, the lake is home to a stone sculpture depicting the final scene of Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
No tragic finale here though, with the route ending on a steady descent back towards the starting point in Bede Park.
This next route has its origins in a bunch of rum smugglers from the quaint West Yorkshire village of Slaithwaite.
Legend has it that while the smugglers were retrieving their illicit liquor from beneath the Huddersfield Narrow Canal on the night of a full moon, they were caught in the act by local Excise Men. Upon questioning, the quick-thinking smugglers insisted they were simply raking the fallen moon out of the water, and were duly left alone.
Plenty of old tales to keep you entertained on this short traffic-free loop out towards Marsden, making it a perfect choice for a family day out.
From the Park to the Pirates
From the liquor to the lions, this next route in London’s Regent’s Park is another great one for the kids.
Moving onto the Regent’s Canal towpath, the route snakes its way through the enclosures of London Zoo; offering glimpses of the resident tigers, warthogs, wallabies and more.
The route then loops back on itself towards Camden Market, where you can pick up a bite to eat before ending the ride back in Regent’s Park.
Otterspool Promenade to Sefton Park Circular
Plenty more iconic sights on our next route along the River Mersey. Beginning on Otterspool Promenade, you’ll set sail along the Mersey towards the docks amongst boats and kites before veering back round to the tranquility of the International Garden Festival.
From here you’ll head towards Sefton Park, looping around the boating lake before returning to your starting point in Otterspool Park – so why not finish your ride with a picnic by the river?
“Cycling on the towpath is a great way to get around, or alternatively just explore and find new villages, towns or places of interest. The Canal & River Trust is responsible for approximately 2,000 miles of towpath, and 50% of the population live within five miles of one!”
Joe Sammon, Canal & River Trust
Coventry Canal Old and New
Another nod to our rich industrial heritage on this next route along Coventry Canal; a once vital trade artery connecting Birmingham and London.
You’ll join the canal in Edgwick before heading northwards towards Longford past the Ricoh Arena – home to both the city’s football team and Wasps RFC.
You’ll also pass Hawkesbury Junction, where you’ll briefly meet the Oxford Canal, before making your way back to the starting point via Exhall, Bedworth, Bulkington and Shilton.
Solar System Ride – To the Planet Pluto and Back
Our journey now takes an intergalactic twist as we head north to York, exploring the city’s six mile scale model of the solar system.
You’ll first join the River Ouse in Rowntree Park before heading south past York Racecourse, departing on your maiden voyage from the village of Askham to Mercury, Mars and Saturn – all the way to Pluto.
The latter’s inclusion may disappoint planetary pedants given its relegation to dwarf status in 2006, but the models of each planet along the route make it a fascinating one for curious minds.
Lower Lea Valley River Ride
Returning to orbit, our next route takes us to London’s Victoria Park. After joining the River Lee you’ll head north through the Lower Lea Valley, escaping the hubbub of the city and taking in sights including the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on your way.
The route then takes you back to your starting point in Victoria Park to enjoy a spot of sunshine by the lake – if you should be so lucky.
Harvey Hadden and the Erewash Valley Trail
Another city escape, this route in Nottingham includes stretches on both the disused Nottingham Canal and Erewash Valley Trail. Beginning at the city’s Harvey Hadden Sports Village, you’ll make your way through the village of Strelly before joining the canal at Cossall.
You’ll spend a good chunk of the ride on bridle paths so off road tyres are preferable, and there’s even a chance to hone your skills on the 1.5km closed road circuit upon your return.
We finish our round-up in the town of Marple, just to the east of Stockport in Greater Manchester. Home to some of the greatest engineering feats of the English canal network, it’s well worth taking a quick breather to marvel at the flight of 16 locks.
Other route highlights include a river crossing and an abandoned chapel – and there are plenty of lovely places to stop for a bite to eat in Marple if you’re feeling peckish too.
The towpaths are for everybody to enjoy and we ask all visitors to be considerate to one another, so please share the space and drop your pace.
Images supplied by the Canal & River Trust.