What is a Sustrans route?

Sustrans - National Cycle Network route
Sustrans is a word that often pops up when venturing into the great outdoors. Be it walking, running or cycling, Sustrans regularly appears. So what’s the story behind it?

If you’re a keen outdoors fitness type, no doubt you will have seen a signpost with Sustrans written on it. They are routinely grouped among signs with various coloured acorns and arrows. I often pass these signposts while out for a jog.

Public footpath signpostPlenty simply say ‘Public bridleway’ or footpath but many feature Sustrans, followed by a number. Their posts are omnipresent and led me to wonder – just how, why and when did this happen?

What is Sustrans?

In straightforward terms, Sustrans stands for sustainable transport. It is a charity set up to help people to walk and cycle about easier.

Sustrans started in 1977 as an antidote to car use in Bristol. A couple of years later, the group created a walking and cycling route between Bristol and Bath, by converting a disused railway line.

A number of similar routes were formed over the years. This continued until 1995 when Sustrans received lottery funding to build the National Cycle Network. As research showed more people wanted to cycle, work stepped up. In 2016, the first series of cycling maps to cover the entire UK were made.

Arguably, as the world edges deeper into climate crisis, the work of Sustrans increases in importance.

Why is their name on loads of signposts?

The reason you see Sustrans on your daily travels is down to the National Cycle Network. It officially opened in 2000 and is a scheme that carries some impressive stats.

This is a network which links 16,000+ routes in the UK and takes in a hefty 16,575 miles.

Sustrans - National Cycle Network route

Furthermore, a whopping 786 million cycling and walking trips were made on it during 2017-18. Take a look at this Sustrans map and you get an idea of its incredibly wide reach.
Numbers on the posts signify where in the network a route sits. For example, the one I pass most is Route 20 (pictured). This is the Downs and Weald route which passes through Crawley to Brighton.
You might understandably think it’s predominantly for cycling enthusiasts. But fear not keen trundlers, there is space for you too. There are over 800 routes that can be used, many of which are also used by off-road trail runners.

Routes to seek out

With such a range of Sustrans routes, it’d be wise to have a little fun. So how about experiencing what the UK’s Route 66 is like?

Unlike the iconic US version, the Sustrans Route 66 takes in the famous Old Trafford football stadium in Manchester and also includes sections in Bradford, Leeds and York.

For fans of direct football, Route 1 (Dover to Shetland Isles) is one to go for.

So pick an area, choose a Sustrans route, download a map and head off on your travels. And the next time you’re out hiking, cycling or running, take note. You’re on just a small stretch of a far-reaching national network.

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