How to use the National Cycle Network

New to the National Cycle Network? We’ve got some great tips and pointers to help you get the most out of your walking or cycling trip.

Planning your trip

  • Visit Sustrans’ website to find a route near you and see useful information such as distance and surface type.
  • Use your judgement, based upon weather, traffic conditions, ability, experience and confidence levels, about what route to take.
  • Check out the online mapping on the Ordnance Survey National Cycle Network layer. You can explore local attractions using the “Places” layers and also see the gradients for many routes.
  • If you prefer a hard copy of your route, consider getting hold of a paper map.
  • The traffic-free sections of the Network can be a great place to explore on two feet, so why not walk?
  • Often running along old railway paths or alongside canals or rivers, the Network can also be fairly flat – ideal running conditions, if you prefer to jog.  

What to take

  • Pack for the weather, bearing in mind how changeable it can be in the UK.
  • A paper map can be a good backup if your smartphone signal goes or the battery dies.
  • If you’re cycling, bring things for your bike such as a puncture repair kit, spare inner tubes, a hand pump, basic tools such as Allen keys and an adjustable spanner.
  • Bike lights can help you be seen in tunnels or low light (front and rear lights are a legal requirement if riding after dark).
  • A bike bell is useful for letting others on a shared-use path know that you’re approaching. If you’re planning on dismounting and exploring one of the many places the Network takes you by foot, you might also want to take a bike lock.
  • The Network can take you to all kinds of places and lead to all kinds of activities, so consider taking a wallet and some money, along with snacks and a drink (to keep energy levels up – or for a picnic). There’ll be all kinds of sights to see so you may also wish to take a camera.

Getting there

  • Look out for signage on the way to your route. Red route signs with bracketed numbers lead you towards a route. For example, if you see a sign with (4), it means you’re on the way to Route 4.
  • When you see the red numbered route signs without brackets, this tells you that you’re now on the route.
  • In addition to a number, some routes may also have a name – for example, the Avon Cycleway – so these may appear on signs too.
  • Some named routes have more than one number as they follow more than one route on the Network. For example, the Bath Two Tunnels Circuit follows Route 4, Route 24 and Route 244.
Blue directional sign on pole with bracketed number 26, picture of bike and walker, and title "Strawberry Line"

The bracketed number on this sign indicates that it is leading to National Route 26.

Enjoying the path

  • Slow down, look around. Take your time and enjoy the sights to be seen on the Network.
  • Some routes may take you to a road. You may have to cross a road, or travel along one for a period of time. You can use Sustrans’ website and the OS online mapping to see in advance how many on-road sections to expect.
  • Many Network routes follow old railway lines, and so they may go through tunnels – a good opportunity to use those bike lights.
  • You could see all kinds of users on a shared-use path. Along with people on bikes, you might see people strolling, walking dogs or pushing prams, scooting, using wheelchairs or adapted cycles and much more.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for the many interesting things to see, from commissioned artworks to interesting mileposts and interpretation boards.
  • Make sure you’ve got your charged-up phone or camera ready for those beautiful views and wildlife – the Network is the provider of many a picture-perfect moment.
Cyclist passing two walkers on cycle path, both parties waving to each other
  • Most importantly have fun, be considerate and enjoy this free and iconic national asset.

Want to plan a trip? Find a route near you

Find out more about the National Cycle Network