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West Stockwith, near Gainsborough, to Worksop and Chesterfield. Unimproved grassy footpath from the Trent to Worksop, except within Retford. Resurfaced as NCN 6 for a couple of miles west of Worksop, and then muddy but rideable on a suitable bike up to the old tunnel at Kiveton. On the other side of the collapsed tunnel, parts of the towpath have been upgraded in conjunction with nearby railway paths to form NCN 67, part of the Trans-Pennine Trail.
Long Eaton to Langley Mill, near Nottingham. Suburban canal in D.H. Lawrence contry. Good all-weather surface from Long Eaton to the edge of Ilkeston as part of NCN 67, which then heads west via the long-lost Nutbrook Canal. The Erewash continues from Ilkeston to Langley Mill with an unpaved but firm enough surface, popular with local cyclists.
Erewash Canal 11mi Open in route-planner »
Watford Gap to Leicester. Very rural towpath, not suitable for cycling apart from the branch into Market Harborough, and within Leicester city centre.
Nottingham to Grantham. Derelict canal slowly being restored to navigation. Good quality compacted surface from the edge of Nottingham – though the line in Nottingham city centre is lost – past Cotgrave to Harby. It then becomes a grassy footpath until near Bottesford, where the surface improves as part of NCN 15 into Grantham.
Rambling network of rivers and lakes (‘broads’). Generally no cyclable towpaths but there are plenty of enjoyable country lanes in the area. (Run by the Broads Authority.)
Cambridge towards Ely. Very popular for cycling within Cambridge (downstream from Jesus Green) and out to Waterbeach. Not rideable north of there. The connection from Waterbeach to NCN 11 at Lode, and from there to Ely, is sadly still missing. (Run by the Conservators of the River Cam and Environment Agency.)
King’s Lynn to Ely and Bedford. No consistent cyclable path though sometimes minor roads run along its banks. Short cycleways for a short way south of King’s Lynn, again south of Ely, and in Bedford town centre. Good NCN routes on quiet roads and railway paths in the area. (Run by the Environment Agency.)
Northampton to Peterborough and Wisbech. No cyclable path except within Peterborough and Northampton. (Run by the Environment Agency.)
Leicester to Nottingham. Now resurfaced and improved from Leicester as far north as Syston/Cossington. Also cyclable on the canal section within Loughborough. Otherwise a rural river with no opportunity for cycling.
Leicester to Cossington 7mi Open in route-planner »
Nottingham to Gainsborough and the Humber. Rideable from Trent Lock and Long Eaton to Nottingham along the ‘Big Track’ cycle path. Otherwise, generally no cyclable path but some minor roads run directly along the riverbanks in its lower, tidal reach.
Market Deeping to Spalding and the Wash. No consistent towpath, but nearby field paths and minor roads along the banks are often cyclable, several as part of NCN 12. Could form part of a very enjoyable ride for those with sturdy bikes! (Run by the Environment Agency.)
Lincoln to Boston. NCN 1 runs alongside on a converted railway trackbed, the ‘Water Rail Way’, and on quiet lanes. The Fossdyke Navigation, a Roman canal, continues west from Lincoln and is cyclable as far as Saxilby.
Water Rail Way 33mi Open in route-planner »
Goole to Wakefield and Leeds. Part canal, part river. East of Castleford it’s mostly unimproved grassy towpath and unsuitable for cycling. The navigation splits into two branches at Castleford. The branch towards Wakefield has an excellent, newly surfaced towpath from Altofts and Stanley Ferry to Wakefield. The branch to Leeds has a reasonably good compacted surface from Methley into Leeds.
Wakefield to Sowerby Bridge. Again, part river, part canal. River sections not rideable. Canal sections east of Brighouse are unimproved but can be cycled if you don’t mind the bumps. Brighouse to Sowerby Bridge has been paved as the Calder Valley Greenway and is a superb route (NCN 66).
Ripon to York and the Humber. No cyclable towpath. The Transpennine Trail and other NCN routes run parallel.
Selby to Castleford. Unimproved grassy towpath other than a short section in Selby itself which forms part of the Trans-Pennine Trail.
Keadby to Sheffield. No rideable towpath for most of its length. The (often bumpy) Trans-Pennine Trail runs parallel in several places. Cyclable with a firm earth surface between Rotherham and Sheffield.
Manchester to Ashton. An invaluable route from the city centre out to Ashton. From Manchester out to Sportcity, the towpath was improved for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The rest of the towpath on to Ashton has been upgraded more recently.
Ashton Canal 6mi Open in route-planner »
Manchester to Runcorn. Towpath slowly being upgraded as the ‘Bridgewater Way’. Excellent quality in much of Manchester and other urban areas. Rural areas are mostly unimproved and cycling is officially prohibited, though this ban is widely flouted. (Run by the Manchester Ship Canal Company.)
West Yorkshire to Ashton/Manchester. The eastern half, from Huddersfield to Marsden, is being upgraded to cycle route standard. From there on to Ashton, it’s generally ok for cycling though not formally a cycle route. Note that the 3.5 mile Standedge Tunnel at the summit (Marsden to Diggle) has no towpath: bikes need to follow the A62 over the top instead.
Preston to Carnforth area. The southern rural section is a grassy footpath, too bumpy and tiring for cycling. From Lancaster to Carnforth is a lovely ride, however – alternately paved, light gravel and compacted. The surface in Preston is good, too. NCN 6 on country lanes provides an alternative to the unimproved sections. The Canal & River Trust has an ambition to create a ‘Lancaster Canal Towpath Trail’ as a continuous cycle route from Preston to Kendal (the historic terminus of the canal).
Lancaster-Carnforth 10mi Open in route-planner »
Leeds to Wigan and Liverpool. Though popular as a 110-mile cycle challenge, the towpath is of mixed quality. From Leeds to Silsden (just short of Skipton), it’s recently been upgraded and is a very enjoyable 23-mile ride. There are also good surfaces from Foulridge to Barnoldswick (NCN 68); around Accrington and Blackburn (part of NCN route 6); and through Burnley (NCN 68). Most rural sections, though, are single-track and bumpy, such as either side of Skipton. Be prepared to use nearby roads as an alternative.
Marple to Stoke-on-Trent. Rural towpath, not generally suitable for cycling. NCN 55 runs parallel on old railway trackbeds.
Manchester to Ellesmere Port. No accessible towpath. Trans-Pennine Trail runs parallel. (Run by the Manchester Ship Canal Company.)
Ashton to Whaley Bridge. Excellent, newly resurfaced towpath from Ashton to Hyde. From there on to Marple and New Mills it’s mostly unimproved and often very muddy. The good surface returns at New Mills for a picturesque ride on to Bugsworth Basin, the historic terminus of the canal, and a stopping point on the Pennine Cycleway (NCN 68).
West Yorkshire to Manchester. Good quality towpath, mostly compacted, cobbled or paved. National Cycle Network route 66. Some very picturesque sections. An excellent route across the Pennines, with further surface upgrades taking place. Short unpaved sections between Rochdale and north Manchester.
Rochdale Canal 30mi Open in route-planner »
Winsford to Runcorn. Many sections of towpath upgraded recently as part of NCN 5 and other routes. Other rural sections, however, are just grassy footpath and not easily rideable: check cycle.travel map for full details.
Warrington to St Helens. This pioneering early canal is mostly not open to boats, but the towpath is mostly rideable with a firm surface. Sometimes known as the ‘Sankey Valley Greenway’, it’s an excellent way through this urban area for Land’s End—John O’Groats riders.
Nuneaton to Hinckley and Measham area. Rough and jarring on a bike. Not recommended.
Tewkesbury to Stratford. Riverside path not suitable for cycling. (Run by the Avon Navigation Trust.)
Birmingham to Fazeley, near Tamworth. The urban area out as far as Minworth has a good surface and is an interesting ride past locks and under Spaghetti Junction, though may not feel welcoming at night. From Minworth to Fazeley it’s unsurfaced but in reasonably good order.
100-mile network of canals around Birmingham, Wolverhampton and the Black Country (yes, that is more than Venice). Most are very suitable for cycling: some even have towpaths on both sides of the canal. Surfaces are generally compacted, but tarmac is common around the urban centres – particularly Birmingham city centre itself, where many upgrades are taking place. Some of the towpaths in the northern Black Country (particularly the Tame Valley Canal) can be rougher. The 1.7-mile Netherton Tunnel, near Dudley, has a cyclable towpath for the brave!
Stoke-on-Trent to Leek, Caldon and the Peak District. Recently upgraded for cycling as far as Cheddleton and Leek, signposted as NCN 550 and 559. (The final section from Cheddleton to Froghall hasn’t been upgraded, but NCN 550 follows broadly parallel quiet lanes.) One of Britain’s loveliest canals, and a very enjoyable cycle route from Stoke to the Peak District.
Caldon Canal 12mi Open in route-planner »
Coventry to Fradley, near Lichfield. Good quality surface from Nuneaton to Coventry, and around Tamworth. Otherwise a rural unsurfaced towpath.
West of Droitwich, the canal (the Barge Canal) is unsurfaced and generally not suitable for cycling. Droitwich town centre is fine, and so is much of the restored Junction Canal east of Droitwich. NCN 45 and 46 run close by.
Urban canals within the Black Country linking Dudley, Halesowen and Merry Hill. Generally cyclable, including excellent quality towpath near Merry Hill.
Hurleston, near Nantwich, to Llangollen. Very popular holiday boating canal. Mostly unimproved singletrack towpath. Chirk to Trevor and Llangollen has been resurfaced as part of NCN 84/85 and is a superb ride, not least thanks to the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (do dismount!).
Chirk to Llangollen 9mi Open in route-planner »
Newport to Brecon. Towpath gradually being upgraded to cycleway standard. From Newport to Cwmbran, the canal is partly derelict but the towpath generally good. The boats begin at Cwmbran from where it continues as a firm though unpaved surface to Govilon, near Abergavenny. From here to the outskirts of Brecon it’s mostly unimproved, but nonetheless very popular with cyclists on hybrids and MTBs. There’s a parallel quiet B-road as an alternative. The quality surface resumes at Brynich Lock for the last two miles to Brecon.
Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal 41mi Open in route-planner »
Frankton, near Oswestry, to Newtown. Effectively a branch of the Llangollen Canal, closed for many years but being restored. From Newtown to Welshpool it’s been improved as part of NCN 81 (Lon Cambria) and is very rideable. North of Welshpool is a work in progress, with several sections still awaiting upgrade.
Montgomery Canal 17mi Open in route-planner »
Welsh mountains to Bristol Channel (boats from Stourport to Gloucester). Not suitable for cycling other than within Shrewsbury and Worcester centres.
Wolverhampton to Chester and Ellesmere Port. Very rural canal with deep cuttings, where water drains onto the towpath making it a quagmire, generally this is only suitable for MTBs. There’s a path parallel to the canal near Wolverhampton, and the towpath is fine around Nantwich. Chester to Ellesmere Port is well surfaced and part of NCN 5.
Stourport to Wolverhampton and Great Haywood, near Stafford. Good towpath from Stourport through Kidderminster to Kinver (NCN 54); bumpier but rideable from there on to Stourton. Good quality in the Wolverhampton suburbs from Compton to Pendeford/Oxley. Otherwise largely unimproved rough singletrack.
Stourbridge to Stourton. Canal from the southern Black Country to Stourton on the Staffs & Worcs. Urban sections are good for cycling; rural section largely unimproved.
Stratford to Birmingham. Stratford to Wilmcote surfaced as part of NCN 5. Otherwise southern section is unimproved singletrack and not easily rideable. Better surface closer to Birmingham, particularly along the very pretty Lapworth flight of locks, and within the city limits the towpath is being resurfaced for cycling use.
Shardlow near Derby to Burton, Stoke-on-Trent, Northwich and Runcorn. Long cross-country canal. Most sections are unsurfaced singletrack but rideable with care. Stone to Stoke-on-Trent is part of NCN 5 and well surfaced. The towpath through Stoke has been upgraded as part of the city’s network of canal and railway paths. Rural sections from Northwich to Runcorn are less rideable but NCN 5 runs parallel, partly along the River Weaver towpath.
Worcester to Birmingham. Very rideable in urban Birmingham and Worcester. Rural sections are often too rough to be enjoyable, but the long Tardebigge lock flight (Stoke Prior to Tardebigge village) is well surfaced and pleasant to ride; so too the canal around Alvechurch village. Long tunnel just south of Birmingham (Wast Hill) has no towpath.
Bridgewater to Taunton. Towpath upgraded as part of NCN 3, though can be a bit puddly in places. In a couple of sections the cycle route follows parallel quiet roads instead.
Exeter area. Good quality towpath, part of NCN 2 and NCN 34; a very enjoyable short ride to the lockside pubs.
Brentford to Birmingham. One of Britain’s longest canals and variable in quality! Rideable in London, particularly the Paddington Branch (Uxbridge to Paddington), part of which is currently being upgraded. North of Rickmansworth the canal is usually rural with an unimproved towpath. Leighton Buzzard to Milton Keynes is a rare well surfaced section (NCN 6). Within Birmingham the towpath is newly upgraded for cycling. Generally, though, this is a bumpy towpath and not suitable as a long-distance route from London to Birmingham.
Tiverton area, Devon. Very pleasant isolated canal; towpath mostly upgraded to a firm compacted surface as part of NCN 3 (cycle route follows parallel roads on occasion).
Reading to Bath. Excellent cycle route, part of NCN route 4. Eastern and western ends have a firm surface. Central section (Newbury to Devizes) is unsurfaced and NCN 4 follows quiet lanes instead, though MTBs could continue on the towpath. Western section from Devizes to Bath is exceptionally picturesque. Connects with the Bristol–Bath railway path and with the Two Tunnels route in Bath. See our full guide.
London to Hertford. High-quality compacted (or occasionally paved) surface. Part of NCN 1 and NCN 61, though these occasionally duck off onto quiet roads or other paths.
River Lee 27mi Open in route-planner »
Rochester to Tonbridge. No cyclable towpath. (Run by the Environment Agency.)
Oxford to Coventry. Generally unsurfaced singletrack, not suitable for cycling. Good quality within Oxford city. Banbury–Cropredy is also regularly ridden although can be rough.
London Paddington to Limehouse. Without doubt, Britain’s most popular cycling canal. Entirely paved. Can be very busy with cyclists as well as walkers and sight-seers: certainly not a fast route. Some short sections are closed to cyclists and an alternative route is signposted.
Regent's Canal 9mi Open in route-planner »
Hoddesdon to Bishop’s Stortford. Tributary of the River Lee. Mostly an unimproved, unsurfaced towpath but in good enough condition for hybrid bikes and similar.
London to Reading, Oxford and Lechlade. Thames Path generally not suitable (or legal) for cycling, but there are some good sections from central London as far west at Staines/Egham. Also surfaced and regularly cycled within Reading and Oxford. NCN routes 4 and 5, aka Sustrans’ Thames Valley route, roughly parallel the river as far as Oxford. (Run by the Environment Agency.)