Walking on old railway lines

The devastation caused to public transport by ripping up much of the UKs rail network has since become a bonus for walkers, horse riders and cyclists. Many miles of remaining track bed have been put to great use as nature reserves and paths. I have previously written about country parks and nature reserves being gems, and I would include old railway lines in the same category.

Across the country there are miles of similarly featured paths. Treelined, flat, gravelly and wide where nature is abundant and sits comfortably next to the remnants of railway infrastructure and evidence of industries past. The flat paths and good quality surfaces are often suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs. Old buildings provide good shells for cafes and toilets, and their tree coverage provides a cooler walk option on a hot day.

This article is part of a series on the Peak District National Park which has many miles of old railway line stunningly re-purposed for nature and leisure. I passed a sign to one just outside Hartington and returned on my next trip to the area to explore more. And I’m glad I did. Hartington Old Station sits high on the Tissington Trail with views across the valley ahead. No platforms remain, but there is an old signal box, complete with original levers upstairs and a takeaway cafe below.

I followed the trail from Hartington in the direction of Tissington and took a circular route through Heathcote. At just over two miles this was a pleasant walk of two halves. The flat, wide and good surface of the Tissington Trail and then the little walked grassy paths through fields and across stiles to and from Heathcote. Circular routes from old railway lines are not always considered. Even though there are many connecting footpaths they are typically – as here – not of comparable construction and many walkers are limited to retracing their steps. This walk was quiet, the views were great and the railway line provided interesting buildings and bridges. It would also be possible to extend the route to Biggin and include a pub stop.

Tissington Trail Bridge
Old Hartington Station signal box levers
Tissington Trail view

Not everyone enjoys the long, flat, tree lined, straight paths. Personally I like walking on old trainlines. When undertaking the walk 1,000 miles in a year challenge they were really helpful. The paths are uncomplicated and if I had 40 minutes to spare I would bash out a mile or so and set a timer to turn around after 20. This was effective for forcing the miles for fitness, but not the most relaxed approach to walking!

Old railway lines are stunning spaces that should be supported, loved and protected. They are peaceful, pass through stunning countryside, are close to nature and easy to walk – ideal for a long chat with a friend as you can walk side by side and not have to worry too much about navigation or tripping over tree routes. Kids can run off ahead as there are often long stretches without cars – though watch out for cyclists! At the end of a long walk railway trails can provide a quick and un-taxing route back, and as they run between towns and villages they are also perfect additions to the Slow Ways network of walking routes that connect all of Britain’s towns, cities and national parks.

Long straight old railway line path

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