One of the National Cycle Network’s longest routes, NCN 5 tours the Thames Valley, Midlands and North Wales Coast.
From Reading through Oxford to Birmingham, it's mostly undulating country roads with a handful of traffic-free cycleways along the way - see our detailed guides to the Thames Valley and Oxford-Birmingham.
Through the West Midlands, canal paths and other traffic-free trails keep you safe from traffic. Parts of the Black Country are remarkably verdant, and a little drudgery on residential roads is rewarded with railway trails and quiet towpaths.
There's currently no signposted route across Cannock Chase: we’ve plotted a course following the most obvious minor roads, but those with gravel bikes or MTBs could consider an enjoyable (bumpy) route across the Chase itself.
NCN 5 resumes at Stafford to follow towpaths and rail-trails through the Potteries. The Trent & Mersey Canal is known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’ here for its interminable series of locks down to the Cheshire Plain; you’ll pass several of them before joining lanes and railway paths on a winding, piecemeal course largely following the broad Weaver valley. The salt towns of Middlewich, Winsford and Northwich are an interesting mix of rural market town and heavy industry.
After Chester, an excellent, largely traffic-free cycle route runs all the way along the North Wales Coast to Anglesey; again, see our detailed guide for more.