The National Cycle Network (NCN) is the national cycling route network of the United Kingdom, which was established to encourage cycling throughout Britain, as well as for the purposes of bicycle touring. It was created by the charity Sustrans who were aided by a £42.5 million National Lottery grant. In 2017, the 16,575-mile (26,675-kilometre) network was used for over 786 million cycling and walking trips.
The NCN is made up of 5,273 miles (8,486 km) of traffic-free paths with the remaining 11,302 miles (18,189 km) on-road. It uses shared use paths, disused railways, minor roads, canal towpaths and traffic-calmed routes in towns and cities. The road sections range from quiet rural lanes to busy roads.
The original goal was to create 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of signed cycle routes by 2005, with 50% of these not being on roads, and all of it being "suitable for an unsupervised twelve year old." By mid-2000, 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of route was signposted to an "interim" standard, and a new goal was then set to double that to 10,000 miles (16,000 km) by 2005. August 2005 saw the completion of that goal.
As of August 2014, there were 14,700 miles (23,700 km) of signed cycle route to NCN standards.
In 2018, Sustrans published the National Cycle Network - Paths for Everyone report which reviewed the quality and usage of the Network and set out a vision for its future. It estimated that in 2017, 4.4 million people made 786 million walking and cycling journeys on the Network.
There are ten main national routes. As of 2020they are not all complete.
NCN routes beginning with numbers 1 to 6 are generally in England, the routes that begin with a 7 start in the far north of England and Scotland, with 8 are generally in Wales, and 9 in Northern Ireland. The main route numbers have one digit (1 to 6 radiate clockwise from the south of England); other routes have two digits, starting with the number of the relevant main route.
There are also many regional routes, reaching smaller towns and cities, that have three-digit numbers. Again, the route numbers start with the number of the main route for that region. For example, the Great North Cycleway in northern England has route number 725. Before 2009, regional routes were numbered with two-digit numbers on a regional basis. Signs showed the route numbers on a blue background. Routes have been progressively renumbered with three-digit national numbers.
Some routes are numbered to match the motorways and major roads that connect the same destinations; examples include National Route 62, which by connecting the two sides of the Pennines mirrors the M62 motorway.
The network is signposted using a white bicycle symbol on a blue background, with an inset box showing a white route number on a red background. In general, signs do not show destinations or distances. On some older signs, regional route numbers have a blue background instead. The system of symbols is based on that used by the Danish National Cycle Route network.
One thousand "Millennium Mileposts" made from cast iron were funded by the Royal Bank of Scotland to mark the creation of the National Cycle Network, and these are found along the NCN routes throughout the UK.
There are four different types: "Fossil Tree" (designed by John Mills), "The Cockerel" (designed by Iain McColl), "Rowe Type" (designed by Andrew Rowe), and "Tracks" (designed by David Dudgeon). The four artists are from each country of the UK, though all posts can be found in all four countries.
Most mileposts contain a disk featuring symbols and text in code. There are 60 different designs, spread across the country. They form part of the Millennium Time Trail, a treasure hunt puzzle created by Sustrans in 2001.
MEASURE EVERY HEARTBEAT TO COUNT OUT OUR LIFE'S SCORE/
IS "TIME TO ESCAPE" MEANT TO FIRE OUR COMING AGE?/
LOCKED IN SEASONS' BARS SWINGS PENDULUM'S CEASELESS CLAW/
LUNGS NEVER FULL ENSNARE US IN TIME'S EIGHT PIECE CAGE/
ENTROPY'S AIM SHOOTS LEPTONS IN DANCING CYCLES OF LIGHT/
NATIONS REACH OUT IN HOPE ACROSS TIME ZONES AND LONG DEGREES/
NO CORNERS TO HIDE US, EARTH'S SHADE SPINS HOURLY ROUND TO NIGHT/
IN ALL MIND-STREAMS WE WADE, OUR WORLD-LINES WEAVE PAST TAPESTRIES/
UNCERTAIN DREAMS EVOLVE IN THE STRUGGLE FOR THE "WHY?"/
MUST IN ALL THESE TIDES OF FAITH, FLOW STILL SUCH WAVES OF FEARS?/
PLACE AND TIME TEMPT FATES, BUT ALL LIFE'S NATURE IS TO DIE/
OUR ERA, STARS, BOWS OUT, PLAYING ITS MUSICAL SPHERES/
EVERY GAINED UTOPIAN GOAL MAKES US MANIFOLD TIME'S TREASURE/
MAPPED OUT, AS ABOVE SO BELOW, NERGAL TICKS OFF TIME'S MEASURE///