How to plan a walking or cycling route from a train station (using OS Maps)
With so many mapping and route planning apps out there, it’s easy to find online walking and cycling routes other people have planned. Wherever you want to be in the UK, our network of public rights of way and our eagerness to record our outdoor fun have made route-finding easier than it has ever been.
But not if you want a walking or cycling route from a train station.
That’s almost certainly because more of us access our walking and cycling routes by car than by public transport. But this year I’ve been proving that outdoor train adventures are not only possible, they can be really rewarding.
As well as being better for the planet.
And you too can have your own adventures by train. Whether you want to wild camp in the middle of nowhere, sea swim on a lonely beach or indulge in some restorative outdoor yoga, all you need is a bit of creativity, a taste for something different, and a map with at least one train station on it.
The rest of your train adventure is up to you!
If you’re ready to find out more, read on!
Choose your starting train station
If you’re not sure how to find a railway station on an Ordnance Survey map, your first step is to locate a thick black line like the one above. Follow it far enough and sooner or later you’ll come to a pink circle or railway station.
Don’t confuse this symbol with a similar circle that has a thick pink line through it, that’s a bus station.
I’ve yet to find a UK station that hasn’t given me the thrill of exploration but there are a few factors to consider when selecting one for your train adventure. I’ve listed some below but if this is your first adventure by train, you might want to start at a station you already know.
- Think about which type of walk or cycle you want to plan. Most are possible by train; you could climb a mountain, walk a canal towpath, explore a city, even cross an important border.
- If you want to cycle, your station and train company will affect your ability to take your bike by train. Almost all trains accept fully folding bikes but you may need to make reservations for others. Find out more about National Rail’s PlusBike information system.
- Decide how remote you want your adventure to be. The UK has some pretty lonely stations that are perfect for hard-core adventures but adventure comes in all shapes and sizes. If you want the comfort of a corner shop or the knowledge that someone could come and pick you up if everything went wrong, pick your station accordingly.
- Check out the facilities at your chosen station. This is a really important one, especially when it comes to accessibility. Some railway stations don’t have toilets, plenty don’t have cafes or shops, others don’t have ramp access to the train because of the platform height. There are two pieces of good news when it comes to train and station accessibility information. The first is that online station information is easily available. The second is that it is possible to request passenger assistance via National Rail’s Passenger Assist service.
Decide how far you want to walk or cycle
You probably have a good idea about your prefered walking or cycling distances.
They’re the ones that mean you’re still smiling at the end of your adventure!
If not, it’s a good idea to work them out before you start planning your train adventure route. Planning a route that’s too short isn’t a problem, you can always go round again but planning a walking or cycling route that’s too long can have consequences. Especially if you’re adventuring during the winter months.
Here are a few tips that might help.
- Distance and time are closely related. If you’re walking on easy flat terrain, expect to cover around four kilometres in an hour (that’s one grid square on an Ordnance Survey map). If you’re cycling, it’s probably safer to check your speeds and distances before you plan your route.
- If you’re walking or cycling to and from your local train station at the start and end of your journey, don’t forget to include that distance in your daily total.
- When you’re predicting travel time, don’t just consider distance. Add in as much exploring, picnicking or just sitting time as you think necessary. On a bike you might also want to allow contingency for puncture repairs etc.
- Note the time your route should take you (OS Maps can help you with that) but also note the time of sunset and the time of your last train home.
- Work out the halfway point on your route. That way, when you get there, you’ll know if you want to carry on or turn back.
Never be afraid to turn back. All the best adventurers do.
Consider both linear and circular routes
Whether you choose a circular route (where you finish at the same train station) or a linear route (where you finish at a different train station) is mostly down to personal preference but there are a few factors to take into account.
Not least the presence of an alternative station within walking or cycling distance.
The advantages of linear routes
- Travelling from a – b can give you the feeling of completing a journey
- Viewing bits of your route as you travel back by train can be really rewarding
- Linear routes can often include a wider variety of experiences
The advantages of circular routes
- Circular routes never take you too far from your starting point
- Finishing your adventure at a familiar location can be reassuring
- A circular route might cover a smaller area but you’ll get to know it better
Of course, once you’ve looked at the available public rights of way, and the area you’re travelling through, you might not actually have a choice between a linear and a circular route.
But finding that out is all part of the adventure.
Are you ready to start route plotting?
How to plan your route on the OS Maps app
Before I start, it’s important to say there are other mapping apps available. I’ve tried a few but by far my favourite is Ordnance Survey’s OS Maps.
I’m a firm believer in traditional navigation skills (paper map and compass) but I use the web version of OS Maps to plan my routes at home, and the mobile version if I need a quick route check while I’m out and about.
That way I don’t have to worry about using too much phone battery.
If you’re a complete beginner with online mapping tools, don’t panic! I’ve already written a step-by-step guide on how to plan a walking route with OS Maps. It includes everything from setting up your subscription, to understanding map scales, to creating a really great route that suits your abilities and idea of fun.
But I wasn’t thinking about trains when I wrote it.
Walks from train stations and cycling routes from train stations can be a bit different to those that start at car parks. They might be in the middle of a town, or a long way off the beaten track. In general, more waymarked routes start from car parks than from train stations.
But we won’t let that put us off our sustainable travel efforts!
For example – say I wanted to take a walk to visit Bath’s Sham Castle (and find out if it really is an early example of deep fake). As the crow flies, it’s 1.5 kilometres from Bath Spa train station. Not too far, and Bath is always lovely.
But I’m not a crow, and neither are you.
And I don’t like walking or cycling on main roads. So I can use the map to help me find footpaths, bridleways and lanes that I will enjoy and feel safe travelling along.
I can also use it to help me get across the River Avon.
I’m going to talk you through my thinking process when I was planning this route. Of course, all the best adventures include at least one change of plan, so be prepared to change your mind about your route when you’re actually following it. You could even plan a backup route if you wanted to.
Planning a walking route with OS Maps
Take a look at the map above. To plan a walking route, the first thing I would do would be locate my arrival station (1) and my desired destination (2).
Then I would look and see if there were any direct routes between the two. In this case there is, there’s a network of orange roads (3) that could take me there.
But orange roads are fairly big roads (wider than 4m) and likely to be busy. I might risk a short distance on one in the countryside if there was no other option but I wouldn’t in an urban area.
So I need to find another way.
My preferred routes for walking would be made up completely of public footpaths (4). That way I shouldn’t encounter any vehicles, bikes or horses. See the green (short) dashed lines? Those are what I’m looking for.
I can see one just by the station that takes me across the river.
Then it’s possible to follow the footpath network east (right), then north (up), then east again, then south (down) to the Youth Hostel (pink triangle).
But then things get a bit trickier.
White lines that look like side roads (5) are probably exactly that but it’s worth remembering that, in the countryside, these can cross private land and not be accessible for walkers.
But Youth Hostels are useful places.
Not only can you stay at them if you want to extend your adventure, they’re often staffed with people who can tell you useful things about where to walk and cycle nearby.
Like the best way to Sham Castle.
The other thing you can do with OS Maps is look at the satellite view of your proposed route. This can sometimes help you spot an obvious route as well as things better avoided.
You can sometimes even spot cycle lanes on the roads.
You can see my final walking route (purple line) on the map below. I decided not to take the Youth Hostel route in the end because I spotted some access land (coloured yellowy brown), and I can walk anywhere across that.
But this route isn’t suitable for cyclists.
That’s because it uses public footpaths, and because you’re not officially allowed to cycle across access land unless there’s a bridleway.
It also has a rather steep hill but that’s castles for you.
Public rights of way for cycling
If you’re taking your bike on your train adventure, you need to look out for the following when you plan your route (footpaths are just for pedestrians and wheelchair users).
a) BOATs or byways open to all traffic and restricted byways (6). These are often green lanes that cars don’t use but you may spot the occasional off-road vehicle along BOATs. ‘Mechanically propelled vehicles’ does not include bikes or electrically assisted bikes so you are allowed to cycle along restricted byways.
b) Long green dashes – public bridleways. Designated for use by cyclists, horses and pedestrians so be mindful of other users.
c) Green dots – other routes with public access. You’ll often find walkers as well on these but orange dots are designated traffic-free cycle routes. If you spot routes marked with alternative dots, check your map legend (you can do this in OS Maps too), these are often cycle routes.
All the map symbols above are described for a 1:25,000 scale Ordnance Survey map but there may be differences on a 1:50,000 scale map.
Find out more about map symbols and public rights of way.
Try sustainable train travel adventures
Go on. Take the plunge!
If you’re used to following other people’s routes, why not give planning your own walking or cycling route a try. There are plenty of advantages to making sure your route suits your ability and includes locations and features you know you’ll appreciate. There are even more advantages to ditching the car and arriving by train!
You might even find yourself river swimming in a beautiful Devon river!