Top railway walks in the UK

Activity, Cycling, Walking

Posted by Ed Roberts on 20th December 2021

Top railway walks in the UK 

Railway walks are perfect for those of you who may have put their fell walking or mountain climbing days behind you. Or do you have a few little ones in tow and are looking for a great place to walk or cycle at leisure with your family? Perhaps you’re just looking for a milder pace. Either way, we think that railway walking trails are a fantastic way of engaging with the great outdoors without having to step off the tarmac.

In most cases, disused railway walks can be picked up easily from the centre of towns and the terrain is often quite level. When the infamous Dr Beeching was axing the railways across the UK in the 1960s, the first lines to go were situated in the more remote and rural parts. So, even though it wasn’t by design, most of our best railway walks run through attractive British countryside. Walks on old railway lines simply follow the course of an old track, often running for miles, uninterrupted by road traffic through deep countryside.

Top railway walks in the UK - backpacks

In our collection of self-catering holiday cottages, you could also stay in a converted railway carriage in locations like coastal Kent, Sussex, and the Brecon Beacons. Most of the paths below are rurally set but one or two live within an urban setting, which is unusual given the premium set on land in inner cities. You never know, you may holiday or live close to one. Traces of old railway buildings and bridges are all around us. Time to explore!

Read on to discover some of our favourite railway walking trails across the UK. If you'd prefer to see some heritage railways where the line, the stations, and even the trains have been preserved, take a look at our blog about some lines that have endured as visitor attractions in national parks. To manage one of our longer walks, why not stay at one of our holiday cottages. Click the button below to visit our range of stunning holiday accommodation.

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Our favourite railway walks in the UK

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Railway walks in Cornwall

Railway walks in Cornwall

The Camel River Trail | 18 miles – moderate

The Camel River Trail follows an exceptionally beautiful route through rural Cornwall. The western end begins close to the sea in Padstow. Old platforms and bridges haunt the hedgerows, mixed in with bird hides to view river waders on the Camel River, as the trail snakes its way inland to Wadebridge.

Wadebridge marks the halfway point along the trail and it’s a great place to seek some food and drink. The terrain changes as the land becomes wooded before finally opening out when the path reaches its destination at Bodmin. Known to have been poet John Betjeman’s (who lived in Rock, across the Camel Estuary) favourite train journey, it’s still popular with walkers and family cyclists from all around the world. 

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Railway walks in Devon

Railway walks in Devon

The Tarka Trail, Devon | 30 miles – easy

OK, call us biased, as the Tarka Trail runs near our offices here in Bideford in Devon, but we think this railway walk is definitely one of the very best in the UK. The paved part of the 180-mile-long Tarka Trail runs the 30 miles between surfer hub Braunton, near Croyde Bay in the north, to Meeth, near Dartmoor to the south. 

For the most part, the trail follows the course of two rivers, the Taw and the Torridge. From the stunning beaches to deep woodlands, from ancient bridges to old signal boxes, trains with carriages, lime kiln ruins, and the remains of a unique sea lock, the Tarka Trail is not only a great excursion for leisure seekers but it’s also rich in history if you’re a rail enthusiast. Popular with cyclists, the trail is well serviced by bike hire shops at Bideford, Barnstaple, and Great Torrington too, so it’s possible to take in the trail over several days. 

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Railway walks in the Lake District

Railway walks in the Lake District

Keswick to Threlkeld Trail | 6 miles - easy

The Keswick to Threlkeld Trail in the Lake District is just over 6 miles and it has recently reopened after it suffered severe damage during 2015's Storm Desmond. Running from Keswick to Threlkeld, the path runs along the former trackbed. Having been rebuilt and made resilient to flooding, it is a smooth-surfaced prospect, making it a good choice for those with prams, wheelchairs, bikes and dog owners that have old pets and pups! 

There are information boards all along the way that tell the story of the old railway, and several ruins that you will encounter. The trail also makes up a part of the C2C cycle route that runs coast to coast. 

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Railway walks in the Peak District

Railway walks in the Peak District

The Monsal Head Trail | 8.5 miles – easy

The Monsal Viaduct in the Peak District National Park is one of the finest and most photographed railway bridges in the UK. Situated on the 8.5-mile trail through the Peak District, the Monsal Head Trail is a good example of an easier walk in a region more associated with treks and climbs. 

You can pick the trail up anywhere between Buxton and Bakewell and there’s good wheelchair access at both. You can see the ruins from the industrial revolution up to the mid-20th century, including mills, lime kilns, and workers' cottages all over. 

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Railway walks in The Cotswolds

Railway walks in The Cotswolds

South Cerney Line circuit | 3 miles – moderate

The former South Cerney Line just to the east of The Cotswolds is full of old features like bridges and viaducts. The station, of which there is no longer any trace except for its platforms, and the line, closed in 1963 yet there are still some delights for railway enthusiasts to enjoy. 

About half of the walk is sealed and it is narrow in places, but very wide and level where there were once double tracks. Also, it follows the River Cern through woods where you will see old platforms, culverts and some magnificent brick viaducts that you can walk beneath and over. Nearby is the towpath for the Thames and Severn Canal. Stop off in South Cerney for a light lunch, as there are some lovely cafes, pubs, and restaurants in the village. 

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Railway walks on the South Coast

Railway walks on the South Coast

Rodwell Way | 2 miles – easy

Rodwell Way in Dorset follows a disused passenger route between Weymouth and Portland. Just 2 miles in length, it's suitable for cyclists, dog walkers, wheelchair-users, and wayfarers alike. It is completely sealed so offers walkers a smooth surface to walk along. Features to enjoy on the way to Portland include the sea, old railway station platforms, Sandsfoot Castle, and Portland Harbour. 

Look out for flora and fauna on the trail, as you may see all kinds of butterflies and wildflowers all along its short length. The path also forms a part of the much longer National Cycle Route 26. For ambitious walkers, head to the top of the hill to Portland Castle to see the majestic Chesil Beach stretch far to the west. 

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Railway walks in the East of England

Railway walks in the East of England

Bure Valley Path | 9 miles – moderate

Bure Valley Path in Norfolk runs alongside an existing heritage steam railway, so you don't have to use your powers of imagination to conjure up how the track may have looked in days gone by. The trail runs between Wroxham and Aylsham through gorgeous Norfolk Broads countryside. 

The path is level but quite rough in places, and it's a real treat to watch steam trains roll past - you can even enjoy a convenient break at the Whistlestop Cafe which is at Aylsham Station. The railway was originally a part of the East Norfolk line, first built in 1877. The line was closed in 1974 but was since rescued by enthusiasts. There are lots of sights along the line including old stations at Brampton, Coltishall, Buxton, and Hoveton. 

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Railway walks in Wales

Mawddach Trail, West Wales – 9.5 miles

Mawddach Trail, West Wales | 9.5 miles – easy

Lesser known, but no less amazing is the circular Mawddach Trail in Wales between Barmouth on the coast and Dolgellau, 9.5 miles inland along the southern edge of the river estuary. 

The whole estuary area is listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and there are two RSPB reserves near the trail too (Arthog and Taicynhaeaf). Ever popular with families with young children, cyclists, and ramblers, the Mawdacch Trail must be included on your itinerary when holidaying in West Wales. 

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Railway walks in Scotland

Railway walks in Scotland

The Innocent Railway Path | 1 mile – easy

This Scotland city wonder known as The Innocent Railway Path opened as a walkway in the 1980s after the disused inner-city link to St Leonard's Coal Works in Edinburgh stopped using it in 1968. 

The route follows a very long tunnel that travels beneath the hill, Holyrood Park, before it opens out onto a fantastic view of the characterful Edinburgh skyline with its castle and National Gallery of Scotland ahead. These days it makes up a short segment of National Cycle Route 1. This is a good level walk for everybody, and one for those that love old railway trails and a city break.

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Railway walks in London

Railway walks in London

Parkland Walk, London | 2.5 miles – easy 

Formerly two sections of a railway line that serviced Crouch End, Alexandra Palace, and others, Parkland Walk in London is part of a larger circular walk called the Better Haringey Walking Trail. It also doubles as London’s ‘longest’ local nature reserve. 

The walk is home to 2,000 species of wildflowers as well as foxes, hedgehogs, and other rural beasties who have made quaint urban enclaves like this their home. Although it’s situated in the hilliest part of London, the trail is fairly flat and has access for wheelchairs and bicycles. The Parkland Walk can give you the illusion that you’re deep in the countryside, so it serves as a great getaway from city life without actually leaving London.

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Stay at one of our self-catering holiday cottages

If you are planning a railway walking holiday, why not consider staying at one of our self-catering holiday cottages? We have properties for family groups of all sizes in locations across the UK from the Scottish Islands to the tip of Land's End in Cornwall. Are you travelling with a large group of friends for a reunion or are you hoping to spend some quality time with your loved one on the trail? Whoever you are holidaying with, check out the varied holiday accommodation in our collection.

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Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.