Mother Nature Reclaims: Nature Trails along Old Railway Lines in the UK

The UK has numerous abandoned railway lines, often known as cuttings, that are seeming with nature. Many of these abandoned railways have been turned into walking and cycling routes enabling visitors of all ages to enjoy the nature that has reclaimed these pathways.

Across the UK more than 2,000 railway stations and thousands of miles of railway were axed in the 1960s as part of the Beeching cuts. While many towns and villages lost rail routes, they gained in natural environment.

Here are 10 nature rail trails across the UK…

1. The Strawberry Line, Somerset

This 10-mile long trail takes in a variety of landscapes from the flat marshes and cider apple orchards around Yatton, wildlife-rich wetlands, steep wooded valleys and a tunnel through the Mendips, to historic Axbridge and the spectacular Cheddar Gorge.

Part of the Great Western Railway, the Strawberry Line was completed in 1869. It became an important line for passengers and freight carrying dairy produce, stone, and, of course, the famous Cheddar strawberries from which it takes its name. The line was busy for nearly a century until it was closed in 1965. Since then the line has been reclaimed by nature and is now a Local Nature Reserve managed to protect and enhance a rich variety of wildlife habitats from ponds and wetlands to limestone grassland and dense scrub.

2. Bristol and Bath Railway Path

The Bristol and Bath Railway Path is a 13 mile off road route between the cities of Bristol and Bath. The walking and cycling path is an important wildlife corridor attracting woodpeckers, cormorants, kingfishers, herons and more.

Some of the former stations along the Path are still popular stopping points. Steam trains still run at Britton Railway Station, and at Warmley station, the waiting room has been converted into a tea room.

3. The Cuckoo Trail, East Sussex

This 14 mile surfaced path through the Sussex countryside is a picturesque trail follows the former ‘Cuckoo Line’ railway track and stretches from Heathfield to Shinewater Park. It passes through Horam, Hailsham and Polegate. A green corridor with a host of natural wildlife, some verges are managed for wild flowers, and other areas are wooded and shady.

4. Deeside Way, Aberdeenshire

Deeside Way is a long distance path running from near the centre of Aberdeen City, to Ballater, in the Cairngorms National Park. The 41-mile walking and cycling stretch follows the route of the disused Aberdeen to Ballater railway, a line previously used to transport the royal family to Balmoral Castle. From Aberdeen to Banchory and from Aboyne to Ballater the route mainly follows the old rail line, but between Banchory and Kincardine O’Neil forest tracks, woodland paths and fields reign.

5. Denham Lock Wood, Uxbridge 

Denham Lock Wood, a series of wet woodlands and water-meadows, lies on a side of the embankment that used to carry a short branch line from Denham to Uxbridge High Street in the London suburb. The railway line ceased in 1964. Today, London Wildlife Trust manages the reserve as well as Frays Farm Meadows.

Although much of the old track runs mostly outside of these reserves, it does cross over into the east of the wood which contains a glow-worm population. Bright red-headed cardinal beetles, and banded demoiselles throng the riverbank over the summer months.

6. Crab and Winkle Way, Kent 

Crab and Winkle Way is a charming 7-mile route along the disused railway between Canterbury and the seaside town of Whitstable. The route takes in Blean Woods, one of the largest areas of ancient broadleaved woodland in southern Britain, where you can find wildflowers and the rare heath fritillary butterfly.

Crab and Winkle Way does feature hills – here’s a 200ft climb out of Canterbury and an undulating middle section, and the views over Whitstable from the highest point along the route are spectacular.

7. Brampton Valley Way, Northampton

Brampton Valley Way connects Market Harborough and Northampton, following the route of one of the longest dismantled railway paths in the UK. The trail meanders through the countryside and also passes the operational Lampert Steam Railway.

8. The Tarka Trail, Devon 

Devon’s Tarka Trail makes use of various disused railway tracks to take visitors into the beautiful North Devon countryside. The 32-mile long route is a popular route for nature lovers featuring estuary mudflats and salt marshes, oak woodland, hazel coppice, hedges, ponds, streams, ditches and meadows.

The Trail – which is inspired Henry Williamson’s novel Tarka the Otter passes through the towns of Lynmouth, Barnstaple, Bideford, Torrington, Okehampton and Ilfracombe and parts of it coincide with the South West Coast Path, the Two Moors Way and the Dartmoor Way.

9. The Camel Trail, Cornwall

The Camel Trail is an 18-mile walking and cycling route which takes in the beautiful Cornish countryside along a disused railway line between Wenfordbridge, Bodmin, Wadebridge and Padstow. A special area for conservation, the trail is where you’ll find a plethora of local flora and fauna including otters, bats, dormice, kingfishers, little egret, marsh orchid, and marsh marigold.

10. Nidderdale Greenway

Nidderdale Greenway is a 4-mile walking and cycle trail that runs from Harrogate to Ripley, which follows the route of the Leeds to Northallerton railway, which closed in 1969. The route, which opened in 2013, passes wildflower meadows, gorgeous woodland and golden wheat fields. The railway walk also  passes over the 7 arch, grade 2 listed Nidd Gorge Viaduct.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

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