How rail-to-trail cycling projects are proving their worth
Around the UK, abandoned railway lines are being turned into world-class cycling and walking trails that are boosting local tourism and recreation
Thursday 8 September 2016 07.00 BST
When the time came for my family’s first ever multi-day cycle tour, the Devon coast-to-coast ticked all the boxes. The 102-mile route, from Ilfracombe in the north to Plymouth in the south, is 70% traffic-free and passes through some beautiful landscapes.
We began in Barnstaple, rolling along the salt marshes of the river Torridge, up to Dartmoor and down thegorges of the Plym valley. The gradients are gentle as the route follows the path of a series of disused railway lines. I soon realised the easy riding belied the huge challenges of turning a series of abandoned railway lines into a world-class cycling and walking trail.
In the 1960s the Beeching cuts to branch lines reduced Britain’s rail network by a third and bequeathed the country a ready-made rural cycling and walking network. The hard work – building embankments, bridges, viaducts, cuttings and tunnels – had already been done. All that was needed was a layer of tarmac. But unlike in the United States, where Congress passed a law to allow “railbanking” of disused lines for future use, Britain’s old lines were sold off or given away.