Trans Pennine Trail
Woodhead Pass in the Peak District is the high point of this ride, literally, but the Trans Pennine Trail has a lot more to offer. This coast-to-coast ride is fully signed and more than half is traffic-free, taking advantage of old railway lines and canal paths. It’s a journey of contrasts – you start in the wide open spaces of the east of England, pass over the Pennines in the Peak District and cycle through the industrial heartlands of the North West. On the way, you’ll visit Hull, Manchester and Liverpool.
A word of warning though – it’s not the easiest ride. The clue is in the name … it’s a trail. The Trans Pennine Trail (or TPT as it’s known) has lots to recommend it but expect some rough terrain. As well as old railway lines and canal paths there are also rutted tracks through fields and steep, stony paths over the Pennines.
These paths may be suitable for a mountain bike (and perhaps for those younger and fitter than us) but if you’re touring and laden with panniers, they can be tricky. So we had to push our bikes on a few occasions.
Sustrans describes the Trans Pennine Trail as “surprisingly level” which is certainly true; but the rough terrain can significantly slow your progress and it’s good to know that when you are planning mileages. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the TPT is for walkers and horse riders as well – sometimes you share a path; at other times, the paths diverge depending on your mode of transport.
All that said, the Trans Pennine Trail is something special – 60% of the 215 miles are completely traffic-free. The route itself takes you through stunning countryside including the Peak District and also provides a tour of the industrial heritage of the North including the Manchester Ship Canal.
It’s a great way to get easy cycling access to cities like Liverpool, Manchester, Hull, Sheffield and York. There’s also the chance to see Another Place – Antony Gormley’s cast-iron statues on Crosby Beach.
A note on getting to the start and finish: there’s no train station in Hornsea so you may have to cycle to Hornsea from Hull just to get to the start. I got there by bike from Bridlington up the coast because I had just cycled the Way of the Roses and was combining the two into one ten-day cycling holiday. That’s also why I cycled the TPT from East to West. It all worked out really well but if I was doing the TPT again, I’d probably go West to East because of the prevailing winds.
Hornsea to Hull
15 miles / 24 km
Hornsea is a Victorian seaside town on the Yorkshire coast complete with blue-flag beach. The ride to Hull (on NCN route 65) looks lovely on paper but tree roots have ripped up the tarmac cycle path so it’s a bumpy ride. We got lost coming into Hull but eventually found the Kingston Theatre Hotel and then headed out for a slap-up meal at the highly recommended 1884 Dock Street Kitchen.
Hull to Selby
41 miles / 66 km
There’s some fiddly navigation coming out of Hull (still on NCN 65) but once you’re through, it’s straightforward and flat; you’ll follow the river Humber and then the Ouse, passing some pretty villages, loads of wind farms and a couple of power stations. We stayed at the Hazeldene Guest House (recommended) in Selby and had a really good dinner at The Olive Branch.
Selby to Barnsley
51 miles / 82 km
You are now on NCN route 62. There are more big skies and never-ending landscapes as well as plenty of traffic-free sections thanks to a path by the New Junction Canal and some old railway lines. The Boat Inn in Lower Sprotbrough, overlooking the river Don, is a great place for lunch. There’s also a tea and cake stop at Old Moor RSPB. We stayed at the Holiday Inn just outside Barnsley.
Barnsley to Didsbury
41 miles / 66 km
You’ll pass through Penistone on an old railway line and then it’s a steady climb for 8 miles to Woodhead Pass. There are more hills as you go through the Peak District – and some rocky paths. We found some of the traffic-free sections hard-going; in the end, we diverted from the TPT at Hyde and whizzed down the A560 to Stockport, which was fairly quiet and, above all, smooth. We stayed at the super smart Didsbury House Hotel.
Didsbury to Liverpool
49 miles / 79 km
Rivers, railway lines and canals dominate this section. You’ll follow the Mersey as you leave Manchester; the old Lymm railway line takes you between Altrincham and Warrington; you’ll pass the majestic Manchester Ship canal and then it’s back alongside the Mersey as you approach Liverpool. The TPT uses the Liverpool Loop (another old railway line) to bypass Liverpool en route to Southport. But we headed into the city and stayed at 62 Castle Street.
Liverpool to Southport
22 miles / 35 km
You can follow the TPT to Southport on route 62, which mostly stays inland. But we decided to stick to the coast from Liverpool on NCN route 810 so we could see Antony Gormley’s cast-iron statues on Crosby Beach. NCN 810 continues to Formby; we caught up with the TPT on route 62 just outside Southport.