A linear ride along an old railway, with an optional return via Lakeland's greatest ancient site.
Minimum time 1h30
Distance 9 miles (14.5km)
Suggested map OS Explorer OL 4 The English Lakes (NW) and OL 5 The English Lakes (NE)
Start/finish Keswick Leisure Centre; grid ref: NY 269238
Trails/tracks old railway track, short section of cycle track beside main road, minor road; optional return on minor roads with short section of busy A road (or walk down pavement alongside)
Landscape woodland and river valley; open farmland with views to fells on return via stone circle
Public toilets Keswick
Tourist information Keswick, tel 017687 72645
Bike hire Keswick Mountain Bikes, Keswick, tel 017687 75202
Recommended pub Horse & Farrier Inn, Threlkeld, see Point 3 on route
Notes children 6+; if returning via stone circle, suitability: children 10+
© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
Follow the A66 to a roundabout north west of Keswick. Take the A5271 towards the town. After 300yds (274m) turn left , sign-posted 'Leisure Pool' and roadside parking.
1 Ride down towards the Leisure Centre and bear left, signed Keswick Railway Footpath, past the former railway station, now a smart hotel. The old trackbed leads on to a bridge over the river and then over the A5271. Pass a housing estate on the left, then climb - more steeply than you'd expect from a railway track (the route here was disrupted by the construction of the A66 bypass and bridge). There's a National Cycle Network/C2C sign just before the route goes under Greta Bridge. At the end of an unusual elevated boardwalk section, look right and you can just see the top of a stone arch, once the mouth of a tunnel, indicating the original line of the railway. Continue with views of the river then past the caravans of Low Briery. Go under a bridge and pass an information board about the former bobbin mill.
2 Continue across a bridge over the River Greta, seemingly a simple flat span but actually supported by an inverted ironwork arch. There's a second, similar bridge, and then a third with its arch 'right side up'. Just before the fourth bridge an old railway hut is now a shelter and information point. The bridge overlooks the junction of the river with Glenderaterra Beck. Cross another inverted bridge, then go through a short tunnel (no need for lights). There's another bridge, another information shelter and then a cutting. Cross another bridge and make a short climb, where the original line of the railway has again been obliterated by the A66. Emerge alongside the busy road on a separate cycle track. After about 200yds (183m) swing left on the minor road to Threlkeld, and follow it into the village, past the church, to the Horse and Farrier.
3 Retrace the route as far as the last bridge you crossed, and go over. (You can, of course, return all the way along the railway track from this point.)
4 About 30yds (27m) past the bridge, turn sharp left through a small gate. A steep drop down and a bumpy path take you under the A66 and soon lead out to a road. Turn right and climb, with good views of St John's in the Vale and Helvellyn. Make a sweeping descent and turn left just before it levels out.
5 Swing round through a little valley, then turn left again and climb steadily, now looking down the Naddle Valley. The climb is quite long, levelling out just as the stone circle appears in a field on the left. Almost at once the road sweeps down again. Drop down to a T-junction on the outskirts of Keswick.
6 Families may feel safer walking the next short section. Follow the road left to another T-junction, then turn right down the hill. Round the first bend and just before a bridge with slate parapets go left round a barrier onto a gravel path leading down onto the railway track and so back to the start.
The railway to Keswick was completed in 1864, having taken just 18 months to build, at a total cost of £267,000 for 31 miles (50km), and with 135 bridges. Goods traffic declined quite early in its life. Passenger numbers peaked in 1913 at 182,000, but never really recovered after World War One, though the line struggled on until it finally closed in 1972.
The railway route passes the bobbin mill site at Low Briery. The Lake District once produced half of all the wooden bobbins used by the world's textile industry, and Low Briery alone exported 40 million of these every year.
Whether you cycle there, drive there or take the bus, Castlerigg Stone Circle is a 'must-see' site. It may not be the most impressive such circle in Britain, but it's hard to think of one that has a finer location. Best of all, come early in the morning or late in the evening when there are few others around and your imagination can have free rein. It was probably built around 3000 BC, and no one today knows exactly what it was for, although significant astronomical alignments have been identified.
This route crosses and recrosses the river, running through woodland. Return the same way take the climb to Castlerigg Stone Circle.