The National Cycle Network, which features more than 14,000 miles of walking and cycling paths across the UK, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. To provide some pedalling inspiration we’ve selected 10 of the best car-free routes from a new guide to the network

Millennium Bridge, York
Millennium Bridge, spanning the river Ouse, carries a cycle path and a footpath and is closed to vehicular traffic. Photograph: Alamy

Riccall to York, North Yorkshire

Length 10 miles
Start Millennium Green, Riccall
Finish York Minster
One of the National Cycle Network’s earliest routes, this is a gentle ride across the flat and fertile farmland of North Yorkshire for most of the way. In the final mile you’ll enter Rowntree Park, gifted to the city of York by confectionary giants the Rowntree family in 1921. It’s an attractive ride through the park along the river Ouse before joining the road into York, and a great Easter day out. Lock up near the minster and take the short walk to York’s Chocolate Story experience.
Route number 65, see the map

Lune Valley Trail, Lancashire

Mountain biker descending on Caton Moor above Hornby in the Lune valley.
Mountain biker descending on Caton Moor above Hornby. Photograph: Alamy

Length 5 miles
Start Lancaster Millennium bridge
Finish Bull Beck picnic site
The highlight of this ride through the lush Lune valley is the Crook O’ Lune, a dramatic kink in the river just after the midway point, which captivated Romantic poet William Wordsworth. His famous I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud was inspired by Ullswater, a little further north, but he urged travellers to take in the Lune valley on their way to the Lakes, and this spring-time ride will reveal why: the views towards the Yorkshire dales and Ingleborough, one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, are astonishing.
This cycle ride makes use of Sustrans route numbers 69 and 90

Nidderdale Greenway, North Yorkshire

Railway viaduct over the river Nidd in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire.
Railway viaduct over the river Nidd in Knaresborough. Photograph: Alamy

Length 3 miles
Start The Gardeners Arms, Bilton
Finish Ripley Castle
Spring is when this new route is at its best, as bluebells erupt up the steep valley sides and birdsong fills the woodland around the Nidd river. One of the highlights is crossing the seven-arch Nidd viaduct in the opening mile and taking in the views over the treetops. The middle mile is a gentle ride through the woodland, while the final mile is along a shady river bank, bringing you into Ripley to end at the ivy-covered buildings of the market square and castle entrance.
Route number 67, see the map

Rea valley route, Birmingham

The Rest House on Bournville village green.
The Rest House on Bournville village green. Photograph: /flickr

Length 6 miles
Start Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham
Finish Northfield train station
This ride from pretty Cannon Hill Park on the south side of Birmingham is flat, easy and perfect for Easter. The spring tulips and pink cherry blossom in the park at the start will appeal to your mature self, but when the route meets the Worcester and Birmingham Canal towpath at the midway point the child in you may be unable to resist a one-mile detour north along the water to Cadbury Worldat Bournville , a chocolate-lover’s paradise.
Route number 5, see the map

Cuckoo Trail, East Sussex

The Cuckoo Trail in the Wealden countryside, East Sussex.
The Cuckoo Trail in the Wealden countryside. Photograph: Alamy

Length 11 miles
Start School Lane, Polegate
Finish High Street, Heathfield
This gentle climb through the Cuckmere valley follows the former Cuckoo Line railway, taking its name from the old local custom of releasing a cuckoo at the Heathfield spring fair. Indeed, spring is the best time to ride it when the distinctive call of cuckoos may be heard overhead and lilac cuckoo flowers can be spotted trailside. Hellingly Millennium Arboretum, with its fat blossoming wild cherry trees, makes a great midway picnic spot while looking out for nesting woodland birds.
Route number 21, see the map

The Great Glen, the Highlands

Neptune's Staircase, a series of locks on the Caladonian Canal, Corpach, Scotland.
Neptune’s Staircase, a series of locks on the Caladonian Canal, Corpach. Photograph: Paul Harris/JAI/Corbis

Length 32 miles
Start Fort William railway station
Finish Fort Augustus
This cycling trail through the Great Glen officially opens this summer. The eight interconnected lochs of Neptune’s Staircase are a treat in the early miles as you ride along the Caledonian Canal towpath, and this is also the best spot for views of Ben Nevis. There are a couple of forest roads at Loch Lochy and some challenging climbs here, but you’ll be rewarded with sensational water views. The shores of Loch Ness make a grand ending.
Route number 78, see the map

Bristol and Bath Railway Path, Somerset

A refreshment stop on the Bristol to Bath railway cycle path.
A refreshment stop on the Bristol and Bath railway path. Photograph: Alamy

Length 16.5 miles
Start Bristol harbourside
Finish Bath city centre
This former railway path is one of the original and most popular routes on the National Cycle Network, linking these two characterful West Country cities. It’s a very gentle climb in the opening miles out of Bristol, passing through the dark depths of Staple Hill tunnel on the way, before a sweeping descent to Warmley station. The views over rolling south Gloucestershire and Somerset countryside open up around midway, then the Avon river takes over in the final miles and leads you into the world heritage city of Bath.
Route number 4, see the map

Two Tunnels Greenway, Somerset

Cyclists riding through the restored Devonshire Tunnel which is part of the Two Tunnels Greenway.
Cyclists riding through the restored Devonshire Tunnel. Photograph: Andrew Aitchison/Andrew Aitchison/In Pictures/Corbis

Length 5 miles
Start Hope and Anchor pub, Midford
Finish Bath city centre
It may be one of the youngest routes on the network but Two Tunnels Greenway is fast becoming a favourite. The highlight is Combe Down tunnel in the opening mile; the longest walking and cycling tunnel in the UK and a chilly, atmospheric cycling experience. The shorter Devonshire tunnel follows, before a tree-lined trail leads through Linear Park where there are great views over the honey gold buildings of Bath. This ride is easily turned into a 13-mile loop using the Kennet and Avon Canal.
Route numbers 24, 244 and 4, see the map

Mawddach Trail, north Wales

Cyclists on the Mawddach Trail.
Cyclists on the Mawddach Trail. Photograph: Alamy

Length 9.5 miles
Start Barmouth seafront
Finish Marian Mawr car park, Dolgellau
This flat ride along the Mawddach estuary against a backdrop of Snowdonia peaks is a particularly scenic and memorable traffic-free route. Barmouth’s seafront is a great start, but the real highlight is within the opening mile as you clatter over the wooden railway bridge with spectacular views of Cadair Idris . Across the water you’ll reach the RSPB’s Arthog Bog, which comes alive with marsh marigold, cuckoos and warblers in spring, then you’ll cling to the water’s edge for most of the remaining ride.
Route number 8, see the map

Cambridge to Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire

Cyclist at Jesus Green, Cambridge.
Cyclist at Jesus Green, Cambridge. Photograph: Alamy

Length 8.5 miles
Start Cambridge railway station
Finish Waterbeach railway station
The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race has long been a highlight of the Easter break, and this ride takes you along the river Cam, where rowing as a sport is said to have originated. You may spot Cambridge University crews in training, powering through the water as you ride along the riverbank at Jesus Green. After crossing the river and tackling a few short roads at Chesterton, the second half of the ride becomes deeply peaceful as you follow the tranquil Cam all the way to Waterbeach.
Route number 11, see the map

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