Published: 1st AUGUST 2022

9 of the best picnic spots on the National Cycle Network

Few things beat a lunch with a view. That's why we've put together a list of our favourite spots to take a break at while walking, wheeling or cycling on the National Cycle Network.

A family cycling over the ridge of a hill in the Chilterns, with another playing with a kite against a clear blue sky

The hills and ridges of the Chilterns are great for cycling, walking and flying kites. Credit: Derek Smulders

1. Dunstable Downs, Bedfordshire – Route 574

Dunstable Downs sits in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It’s the highest point in the East of England, as well as the best-known viewpoint on these chalk hills.

Dunstable Downs makes a lovely site for an afternoon picnic, although it can get blustery as you get further up the ridge.

But reach this lookout spot and you may be rewarded with a sight of the distinctive red kite soaring above.

The Downs can be found just off National Route 574.

This short section of the National Cycle Network connects with the longer Luton to Dunstable and Sewell Greenway.

 

2. Oxford Island National Nature Reserve, County Armagh – Craigavon to Newry Canal Towpath/Route 9

On the edge of Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the UK, you’ll find Oxford Island Nature Reserve.

It’s been designated a national reserve due to its diversity of habitats, with reed beds, wildflower meadows and ponds teaming with wildlife. 

Alongside walking trails, bird watching hides and picnic benches, you’ll find a discovery centre and Kinnego Marina, home to the oldest sailing club in Ireland.

You can get to the nature reserve via the Craigavon to Newry Canal Towpath.

Using National Route 9, this path begins at the River Lagan towpath travelling south-west from Belfast to Lisburn. 

The route picks up again at Craigavon, before travelling on to Newry southwards.

 

3. Marsden Bay, Northumberland – Souter to St Mary’s

Marsden Bay and its neighbouring stretches of coastline make for a refreshing, scenic walk.

From the clifftop path you may be able to spot the colony of seabirds that make their home here, including fulmars, kittiwakes and cormorants. 

There are steps down to the beach below, as well as a lift, where you can explore the rockpools and visit the Marsden Grotto, a cave pub hewn out of the cliffside.

Marsden Bay sits on a stretch of the National Cycle Network between St Mary’s Lighthouse in the north and Souter Lighthouse in the south.

A woman and two children cycle along a path next to a loch on the Lochs and Glens Way

The Lochs and Glens Way is dotted with scenic water-side spots for a picnic. Credit: Andy McCandlish

4. Loch Lubnaig, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park – Lochs and Glens Way

The Lochs and Glens Way covers over 200 miles of Scotland’s stunning landscapes.

Loch Lubnaig is one of the smaller bodies of water that the route passes, but it is no less majestic.

It nestles between the two mountains of Ben Ledi and Ben Vane on the eastern edge of the Trossachs.

This keeps the water of Loch Lubnaig fairly sheltered and calm, making it a popular spot for wild swimming.

The loch could be a pit stop on a longer journey, or simply the destination itself - you’ll find the Cabin café situated right on the shoreline.

 

5. Devil’s Dyke, West Sussex – South Downs Way/Route 82

This dry valley is the longest, deepest and widest to be found in the UK.

It’s a great walking route, and in spring, the valley and surrounding area comes alive with flowering cowslips and blackthorn.

The smoothly rolling hills around you make it the perfect spot for a picnic.

Depending on the time of year you visit, you may even spot the skylark, a rare, Red List species of bird with a beautiful song.

Devil’s Dyke can be reached by the South Downs Way, an ancient track that’s been used by humans for over 2,000 years.

This off-road route follows the chalk ridges of the Downs and is best on foot or by mountain bike.

 

6. Talybont Reservoir, Brecon Beacons – Taff Trail

Talybont Reservoir ranges over 318 acres in the central Brecon Beacons.

It can be reached by the Taff Trail, a largely traffic-free National Cycle Network route running 55 miles from Cardiff to Brecon.

The calm, picturesque waters of the reservoir make it an ideal location for a pause on your day out.

It’s 10km around the whole body of water, but if you’re feeling more adventurous then you can take a footpath just north of the reservoir to reach the well-known peak of Pen y Fan.

A picture showing the atmospheric quality of the Castlerigg Stone Circle in Keswick, with the Lake District's hills clear in the background

Castlerigg Stone Circle is a stunning site to spend an afternoon. "Castlerigg Stone Circle" by Ian Greig is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Lake District – Keswick to Threlkeld Railway Path

Sitting on a natural plateau, this fascinating and atmospheric site offers panoramic views of the Lake District’s surrounding fells.

The circle is one of the earliest found in Britain, made up of 38 free-standing stones.

As far as picnics go, it’s probably a bit more dramatic than your average spot.

And with no busy roads nearby, it’s arguably more immersive than the better-known Stonehenge.

You can reach the site on the National Cycle Network from the nearby Keswick to Threlkeld Railway Path.

This walking and cycling route is completely traffic-free and was upgraded in late 2020.

 

Instow, North Devon – Tarka Trail

Right alongside the gloriously traffic-free Tarka Trail you’ll find Instow, a charming old fishing town.

The beach there is wheelchair accessible, and the town as a whole is dog-friendly.

A favourite with families as well as couples, it’s located on an estuary where the rivers Torridge and Taw meet.

The Tarka Trail runs along the edge of Instow Beach, so a walk or cycle from north or south will take you straight to these serene sands.

 

Inchree Falls, Inverness-shire – Route 78

Inchree Falls is a hidden gem in the wooded Glen Righ.

The waterfalls can be reached through a lovely woodland walk, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by larch, spruce and pine trees.

The area is fantastic for plants and wildlife, with red squirrels scampering through the canopy and an abundance of flowers and mosses carpeting the lower levels.

Inchree Falls can be found a short way from National Route 78.

This forms part of the Caledonia Way, an eye-opening walking and cycling route tracking the west coast of Scotland.

 

Need more inspiration to get out and explore the National Cycle Network? Discover 14 of our favourite cafés on the Network, or find these 17 brilliant beer gardens on routes across the UK.


Fancy doing your bit to look after the National Cycle Network? Check out our ways to volunteer or get involved, wherever you are in the UK.

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