Winning tip: Morecambe to Scalestones Point, Lancashire
This ride takes you past Happy Mount Park with its great adventure playground and Splashpark (open in summer months); there’s an outdoor sculpture trail on the prom and plenty of refreshment stops. On the return leg you have one of the greatest views in the UK: across Morecambe Bay to the Lake District fells. Close to the start is the impressive Venus and Cupid sculpture (it’s designed so that children can clamber over it). From Scalestones Point to the Stone Jetty Cafe is just over two miles. It’s three miles to Beach Cafe at Battery – or you could extend the ride by a mile and a half to take in the Heysham historic ruins (though the final stretch into Heysham village isn’t as cycle-friendly). The route is part of the 81-mile Bay Cycle Way. Free on-road parking on Coastal Road (A5105) at Scalestones Point or pay and display at Happy Mount Park.
• Route map and hire details visitlancashire.com
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Peak District trails
The Tissington Trail. Photograph: Alamy
We cycled the Monsal and Tissington trails in the Peak District last weekend. Both are ideal for family cycle trips as they are both on disused railway tracks. You can bring your own bikes, although the trails offer cycle hire, and there are stops for drinks/refreshments, usually in disused station buildings, along the routes. Small detours also offer the option of a pub lunch. Tissington is longer and links to the High Peaks trail, giving good views across the Peak District. Monsal follows a valley with tunnels and viaducts.
East London canals
The Regent’s Canal in Hackney. Photograph: Alamy
Transport for London’s bike hire allows everyone to have a great, hassle-free family day out cycling along the canals in east London. The towpaths of London open up a whole new world of chilled-out musicians, pop-up cafes and the eclectic mix of wildlife that co-exists happily alongside the narrowboats. Try the largely traffic-free cycle ride from Westferry DLR station, skirting the edges of beautiful Victoria Park – the oldest public park in London. Stop off at south Hackney’s Broadway Market, established in the 1890s, and pick up some special treats to nibble on the five-mile cycle ride back.
• Route map at sustrans.org.uk
The Strawberry Line, Somerset
A view over the Somerset Levels from the Strawberry Line.
Taking its name from the fruit it used to transport through the Mendip Hills, the Strawberry Line is a delightful 10-mile path starting in Yatton that takes in wildlife-rich wetlands, apple orchards (this is Somerset), wooded valleys and, ultimately, the magnificent Cheddar Gorge – what’s more, it’s almost all traffic-free, with well-managed gravel tracks and few gradients of note – ideal for children. There are plenty of pitstops along the way, though none better than the Lion Rock Tea Rooms, where you can tuck into a well-deserved cream tea, with strawberries, naturally.
• Bike hire available at Yatton; route details at thestrawberryline.org.uk. There are plans afoot to extend the Strawberry Line and combine it with trails such as the Bristol to Bath route (see below) to create a traffic-free, 85-mile Somerset Circle
Bristol to Bath
A couple cycling on the Bristol and Bath Railway Path in spring. Photograph: Alamy
Beginning at Temple Meads station, it’s a 13-mile traffic-free stretch to Bath, where you’ll have the option to catch the train back. But you may not make it all the way as there is so much of interest en route. Stop at disused Mangotsfield station, which apparently gave (Dad’s Army star) Arnold Ridley the inspiration to write his well-known play The Ghost Train. There are numerous artworks, historic and industrial archaeological sites to investigate along the trail, if these float your boat. Pick a day when the Avon Valley railway is operating and you can watch steam engines. You can hire bikes at Bitton station (Webb’s of Warmley). There are plenty of cafes close to the cycle path.
• Route at sustrans.org.uk, bike hire from £16 at webbsofwarmley.com
Belfast to Lisburn
Shaw’s Bridge over the river Lagan. Photograph: Alamy
The Lagan Towpath is an 11-mile long traffic-free canal route connecting Belfast and Lisburn. It starts at Shaw’s Bridge, built in 1709, and ends at the Lisburn Civic Centre, a stone’s throw from the town centre. Along the way you can explore a restored canal barge for free, or grab a well-earned bite to eat in what used to be the lock-keeper’s cottage. Best of all, the cycling charity Sustrans arranges regular family cycles along the towpath, and provides the bikes free of charge. A great family day out.
• Bike hire with mountainbikeni.com half a mile from Shaw’s Bridge; route at sustrans.org.uk and walkni.com
Sutton Park, Birmingham
Cyclists near the ford at the Wyndley Gate entrance to Sutton Park. Photograph: Alamy
Access is great, being completely surrounded by the suburbs of Birmingham. The park is on two National Cycle routes but is a fun day on its own (you can cycle along canals and in Plantsbrook nature park from Brum city centre). The park was used and given to the locals by Henry VIII – not sure he cycled much! The routes take you through open grassland, ancient forests, along Roman roads, past pools and bronze age mounds, splashing through a ford (Wyndley Gate) and over a lovely set of 20-plus narrow bridges around Bracebridge Pool. If you prefer tarmac there is the road that climbs to Four Oaks Gate along the park’s eastern perimeter. Nice snacks and drinks are available on the patio of the Renato Lounge in Mere Green and also in the park at Town Gate cafe and Blackroot Bistro.
Loch Katrine, Stirlingshire
Cycling by Loch Katrine. Photograph: Alamy
This picturesque loch-side cycle can be combined with a cruise on the historic steamship Sir Walter Scott for a great family day out in the heart of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs national park. Begin the day at the Trossachs pier and visitor centre at Loch Katrine, where ample metered parking is available. A wide range of bikes can be hired on site, with prices for a four-hour rental period starting at £8 for children and £15 for adults (katrinewheelz.co.uk). Board the steamship with your bikes in tow on a one-way ticket to Stronachlachar at the loch’s opposite end. The journey time is around one hour, and sailings depart daily at 10.30am in the summer months. Advanced booking is recommended, which can be done online (adult £17, child £9). On disembarking, it is a 13-mile cycle back to the visitor centre, including a small number of short but moderately steep climbs near the start. The largely traffic-free route is on a tarmac track and has beautiful views over the water and surrounding hills. There is a tearoom at the pier car-park.
A teenager cycles to the edge of Loch an Eilein. Photograph: Alamy
This is a 20-plus mile route from Inverdruie near Aviemore for the more adventurous and experienced. Start by following the tracks to Loch an Eilein. Skirt the loch edge in the Caledonian forest before breaking into the open and heading towards the stunning Lairig Ghru pass via the iron bridge. From here, well-laid tracks lead on to Loch Morlich where there are plenty of picnic spots and loch-side cafes for a lunch stop. Extend your trip by visiting the magical and aptly named Green Lochan in the Ryvoan Pass. Rest awhile in the beautiful scenery and watch out for the elusive red squirrels. Back on the main route, it’s an exciting downhill ride on tracks alongside the ski road to return your bikes. You’ll be a little saddle-sore but it’s a great day’s cycling that the family will always remember.
• Day’s bike hire from £21 day at In Your Element
Wadebridge to Padstow, Cornwall
The Camel Trail segment between Wadebridge and Padstow is particularly popular. Photograph: Alamy
Without a doubt my favourite family cycle ride is one that encompasses flat, safe paths, amazing costal scenery and a decent reward at the end – in this case, stunning views and a hearty pasty. Start at Wadebridge where you can rent bikes from Bridge Bike Hire (adult bike from £13 a day) and cycle along the pathway right next to the Camel estuary. After reaching Padstow (5.5 miles) and enjoying a pasty and beautiful harbour views, hop back on your bikes for the ride back to Wadebridge and enjoy a drink in one of the many pubs. If you’ve still got plenty of energy you can carry on to Bodmin (5 miles) and Wenfordbridge (6 miles).
• Route details at cornwall.gov.uk
Bishop’s Stortford to Braintree, Essex
The Flitch Way is 15 miles long. Photograph: Alamy
The relatively flat Flitch Way follows the route of a railway abandoned in the 1970s. You can cycle, walk or ride a horse along the 15-mile traffic-free path, skirting the Tudor hunting enclave of Hatfield Forest, passing fields of retired shire horses, free range turkeys gobbling in the woods, dragonflies hovering over wetlands, and several old stations and halts complete with original platforms, enamel signs and picket fences. There are two cafes en-route, one indoor at Rayne serving cakes and pastries, the other outdoor at Little Canfield offering pumpkin soup and bacon sandwiches. Be nice and slow down for pedestrians, though.
• Map at visitparks.co.uk