HOME AT FIRST'S
H O M E A T
F I R S T ' s
A 35-mile Bike Ride ALONG THE
WESTERN EDGE OF THE COTSWOLDS — through A REGION
NOTABLE FOR ITS History, BEAUTY, AND Tranquility — A RIDE Challenging Enough
for Serious Cyclists,
but ESSENTIALLY Flat and with Limited or No
ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED AS TWO PARTS IN JUNE–JULY, 2006. MOST
RECENT UPDATE: 2014.
Have you heard about Britains National Cycle Network? For two decades a
comprehensive system approaching 10,000 route miles has been identified, developed, signed
and mapped across Britain and Northern Ireland. Most of the miles are on low-traffic
byways and motor-traffic free bike paths, many of these reclaimed abandoned railways and
improved towpaths tracing 19th century canals and other waterways that crisscross the UK
with low profiles.
With its low-profile, low-traffic route system
keeping grades and congestion minimal, the National Cycle Network makes it possible for
almost anyone to cycle short and even long distances through parts of Britain
and Northern Ireland that were unfriendly to cyclists just a few years ago. With an
ever-expanding route system and a support infrastructure for information, meals, lodging,
and equipment rental and repairs, the National Cycle Network makes such formerly
unfriendly cycling territory as the Scottish Highlands or urban England welcoming to
cyclists of all ages and abilities.
Take western England, for example. Long
industrialized, this lovely region of low hills and broad valleys is pockmarked with large
towns and small cities and crisscrossed with densely trafficked roadways. But tucked among
the folds of the hills and the bends of the river valleys are some of Englands most
pristine villages, many with histories that extend back into Saxon times. Today,
Britains National Route 41 lets cyclists old and young, fit and fat to
ride through 1500 years of English history while barely breaking a sweat, or worrying much
The journey along National Route 41
begins at Gloucester Cathedral.
Photo © Home At First
A Bike Ride through History
and Tranquility, Challenging Enough for Serious Cyclists,
but Flat and with Limited or No
Use this information the article is complete with
where to rent bikes, where to plan a picnic, and where to stop for food and drinks to
plan a great two-wheeled adventure for the whole family as part of your
next Home at First
vacation in the Cotswolds.
All great journeys begin with a first step. Our first
step was climbing out of bed early on Sunday morning, and it was the most difficult step
of the day. Saturday night had gone from supper at the pub to drinks at the pub, then a
walk under the stars back to our little cottage, where we crawled beneath thick comforters
sometime after 11PM.
It was June in the Cotswolds, and the weather
had been superb sunny, cool days followed by starlit, cooler nights. We hadnt
seen much rain this trip, just a couple of showers on the evening of arrival day. Although
we love poking around the backwater villages of England, this time we wouldnt be
doing so much traveling by car. We had decided we would test the National Cycle Network to
see if we could combine two loves, poking and cycling.
who are we? Im a 56-year-old
Yank taking a week off in the middle of Little League season (Ive been coaching 13
& 14 year old boys for the last 18+ years) to join my 31-year-old son, Jess,
whos finishing up his MBA year at Oxford by fitting in a week with me between final
classes and final exams. Our wives had kindly encouraged us to spend the week together,
knowing, of course, that their independent travel adventures would come later that summer.
Leaving our cottage after tea and toast.
All great journeys begin with a first step.
Photo © Home At
Tea and toast was all we had time for. We had a train to catch shortly after 8AM, and we
had a 4-mile ride to the station. We each carried a backpack with extra clothes,
first aid supplies, water and high-energy food (mostly chocolate and nuts), a few bike
tools, and, importantly, maps of our planned route and a guidebook for the region. We used
back roads to get to the station. It was rush hour and the main roads were jammed with
traffic little interested in making room for cyclists.
The rail station was busy, too, but that was no
bother. Yesterday we stopped by the station
to get our tickets and make bike
Bicycles are carried free on trains
throughout Britain*, but, because carrying
space on trains is typically limited to 2-6 bikes, reserving the space
for your bike on specific trains is required. Bike reservations are usually free, but some
railways charge £1/bike for the booking. Getting to the station at least 10 minutes
before train time is also important. Extra time is needed to check you and your bike
through to the proper platform. Remember to inquire of station personnel where best to
stand along the platform in order to be close to the one train car that has bike
space usually hangers in a larger-than-normal vestibule or a baggage car
("van" in British). Once your train arrives, watch for the bicycle symbol on the
designated car. If entry to the car is via regular passenger access to a vestibule, let
any exiting passengers off first before attempting to carry your bike into the train. Once
in the car look for the bike hooks like giant fishhooks suspended from the
ceiling in the vestibule or in the baggage van. Loop your front wheel over an available
hook and make your way to a nearby coach seat. Usually you have two minutes for this
process. (If you run into a problem you cannot find the bike car, or all the bike
space is full alert train or platform personnel instantly, and they will hold the
train and help you get your bike safely aboard.)
Two places where you might
store your bikes on First Great Western's trains: the
vestibules of passenger cars and in the cargo storage section of
the power car (locomotive).
Somehow our train had come in with the bike car
at the wrong end of the train. Jess and I scrambled down the platform to the other end of
the train. He jumped in the vestibule and I handed up each bike. Jess hooked the bikes on
two of the four hangers there were no other bikes, and we found two seats in the
Why were we taking the train? The
Cotswolds are about as lovely as England gets, but, with their constant hills and dales,
most cycling there requires constant climbing and descending on narrow, winding roads
often heavily traveled. The National Cycle Network has developed some routes
through the Cotswolds, but
many of these trails are short, or hilly, or have sections with
significant automobile traffic.
But, along the relatively flat borders
of the Cotswolds the Network has developed numerous bike routes using
lightly traveled back roads and off-road cycle paths along converted
canal towpaths and abandoned railway lines. Our route — National Cycle
Route 41 — begins on the western edge of the Cotswolds, in the heart of
the historic city of Gloucester, and more-or-less follows the River
Severn south to the city of Bristol on the River Avon. Along the way,
the route follows mostly paved secondary roads, but also traces some
unpaved sections of canal towpath.
The off-road cycling along this route does not
require fat mountain bike tires, but is not ideal for skinny-tired touring or racing
bikes. Jess had his mountain bike the bike he bought in England and used daily to
commute back and forth to classes at Oxford. I brought my cross bike over with me from the
States, an indulgence, to be sure. I ride almost daily at home in Pennsylvania, and am
sure I would be less comfortable on any other bike, especially after hours in the saddle.
But, getting the bike over and back was a bit of a hassle, requiring partial disassembly,
special boxing, and an extra step at check-in, plus hand carriage on and off two trains
and an oversize taxi in England to get me to my Cotswolds cottage. I more easily could
have rented a bike** locally in the Cotswolds and had it set
up to fit me for the ride. The price would have included insurance, and I could have
rented a helmet as part of the package.
Bristol rail commuter with
Sustrans photo by Nick Turner.
Edna St. Vincent Millay was writing about me when she wrote, "There isnt a
train I wouldnt take, no matter where its going." Even a short journey
across England raises my spirits. Its not the train, although I admit to being a railfan. No, its the sense of impending adventure, of being thrust into someplace
new only with imagined possibilities, knowing that the memories will likely be entirely
different than the imagined experiences. And out the window those pastoral scenes gliding
by are nothing less than a slide show by John Constable.
From Kemble station near Tetbury, Home At
Firsts base in the southern Cotswolds, Gloucester is about 40 minutes distance by train.
From Honeybourne station near Home At Firsts cottages in the northern Cotswolds,
Gloucester is about 95 minutes and one change of trains (at Worcester Shrub Hill) yes,
you must take the bike off and put it back on and have reservations for both trains. Fares
range from £7.60 to £11 one-way from Kemble to Gloucester, depending upon a number of
factors: class of service (2nd or 1st), train selected, advance purchase, and
availability. Fares range from £4.40 to £19.50 one-way from Honeybourne to Gloucester,
but are available in 2nd class only at this time of day.
*NOTE: Bikes are
not carried on London trains during critical rush hours. For current rules, download the
National Rail Guide pamphlet "Cycling by Train", available from National Rail as
a .pdf file on-line at: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/system/galleries/download/misc/cycling-2006.pdf
**NOTE: Bikes may be rented at the following locations:
COTSWOLDS: Cotswold Country Cycles,
near Chipping Campden;
Tel: +44 (0)1386 438706;
firstname.lastname@example.org. Mountain bikes and
hybrid bikes for rent. Rental includes helmets, toolkit, tire pump, even cycle lock.
COTSWOLDS: Thames & Cotswold Cycles, 21 Church St., Tetbury GL8 8JG;
Tel: +44 (0) 1666 503490. Rental includes helmets, toolkit, tire pump, even cycle lock.
Gloucester! When the Romans founded what they named Glevum in 97AD they had in mind
protecting the southernmost crossing of the River Severn from the wild Welsh tribes who
lived in the hills across the river to the west. Those same Welsh hills would form our
western horizon most of this day.
We were spot on time at Gloucester rail
station. Out we jumped with our bikes and gear. We showed our tickets to the guard to get
out of the platform area, and were quickly through the station lobby and outside into the
brilliant sunshine. Now to
shops in the heart of Gloucester.
© Home At First.
river — we knew our route south to Bristol would parallel the river all
the way as the Severn carried the waters of western England and eastern
Wales south to the Bristol Channel and the Atlantic. Clearly signed for
visitors was a bike route from the station into the town pointing to
Gloucester’s two most important attractions: the Cathedral and the
Gloucester Docks. Quickly we crossed busy Bruton Way and rode about 100 yards into the busy shopping heart of central Gloucester,
where, because shopping here is for pedestrians only, we dismounted and walked down the
middle of Northgate and Westgate Streets amidst throngs of shoppers.
Cloisters. Harry Potter was here!
© Home At First
To the right off Westgate Street, College Court led us away from the noisy crush of
shoppers to the quiet, cobbled square and lawns surrounding Gloucester Cathedral, one of
Englands great Gothic cathedrals, now over 900 years old. We were only the most
recent of visitors, and certainly far from the most significant. One king of England was
crowned here: the 9-year-old Henry III in 1216. And, 111 years later his grandson, King
Edward II, was buried here, the body coming from Berkeley Castle which we shall pass
later today on our bikes where the king had been murdered by the supporters of his
estranged wife, Queen Isabella of Aquitaine. When, later, a cult of sainthood grew up
around the murdered Edward II, the medieval pilgrimage to Gloucester became the
towns first tourism.
More recently a fictional Brit, one Harry
Potter, has drawn tourism to the cathedral. Scenes from two of Harrys movies (The
Philosopher Stone and Chamber of Secrets)
at Gloucester Cathedral, and star struck children beam with recognition
the instant they enter the church’s spectacularly gothic Cloisters.
Children also like to climb the cathedral’s imposing 269-step-tall tower
and easily eavesdrop on conversations in the Whispering Gallery. For us
a walk through the glory of gothic Gloucester Cathedral needs neither kings nor movie stars as a draw. This is
one of our favorite churches anywhere.
cathedrals forecourt we found the first of the days route markers for National
Route 41. If this convenient placement were to be an indication, finding our way to
Bristol would be childs play.
Gloucester Historic Docks.
British Waterways photo from Sustrans.org
We left Gloucester Cathedral via cobbled College Street and re-entered the
pedestrians-only Westgate shopping quarter. A Route 41 marker appeared, directing us down
Berkeley Street and on to Gloucesters Historic Docks. Here several spic n span
brick warehouses straddle the northern terminus of the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal,
which has brought shipping inland from the deepwater Severn to the port of Gloucester for
180 years. Its 16-mile route required 30 years to build, finally connecting Sharpness
Point on the Severn with Gloucester city under the direction of the great
Thomas Telford in 1827. Todays canal traffic is mostly
pleasure craft, including canal boats, cabin cruisers, and heritage vessels. The old brick
warehouses wear a sunny sandblasted orange coat and no longer play their dreary
traditional roles supplying the metal industry, eel market, and agri-business of
Gloucester. Today, the warehouses include the Antiques Centre (in the Lock Warehouse) with
70 shops of antiques and collectables filling its five stories, and Britains
National Waterways Museum (Llanthony Warehouse), which chronicles the inland navigation
system of the nation. The docks also quarter a shopping center (Merchants Quay), and
a canal boat excursion operation (Queen Boadicea II Boat Trips). Our own canal excursion
was about to begin, as National Route 41 follows the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal
south out of Gloucester for the first part of the ride to Bristol.
NOTE: Gloucester Cathedral is open most days from 7:30AM6PM, with tours of
the cathedral available from 10:30AM4PM MoSa and from 11:45AM2:45PM Su.
Admission is free, but donations of £5/person are encouraged to be put toward the
building maintenance fund. If you wish to take photographs, you must purchase a
£3 photography permit at the Cathedral Gift Shop. Tower tours are normally available
April through October Mo-Tu at 2:30PM, We-Fr at 2:30PM & Sa at
1:30PM & 2:30PM; entry fee: £4/adult, £1/child (buy tickets at the Cathedral
THE GLOUCESTER & SHARPNESS
Among the alleys and parking lots of the
Gloucester Docks and National Waterways Museum National Route 41 weaves a crooked path
looking for its place next to the Gloucester & Sharpness canal it follows south on the
first leg of our ride to Bristol. On the first bridge south of the museum, cross the canal
from east to west. Route 41 follows the canals unpaved towpath southbound along the
The path is flat, of dirt and grass, and barely
wide enough for two
National Bike Rt. 41
crossing the Gloucester & Sharpness
Canal on the wonderfully named Splatt Bridge
south of Frampton on Severn.
© Home At First
bikes to pass. Along the canal fishermen sit on upturned buckets, talk
with their fellows, some smoking lazily, and stare at the slow moving,
muddy watercourse. Their dogs doze beside them, sometimes sprawling onto
the towpath. Some of these fishermen have arrived by car — now parked by
the nearest bridge crossing — and walked down the path to their fishing
spots. Some have arrived by canal boat, now tied up beside their fishing
spots. The colorful, long canal boats might be permanent homes for a few
British drop-outs, but for most canal travelers the narrow boats provide
a rented escaped from the routines of workplace, house and garden, and
automobile and traffic. In turn they provide a glimpse of the
alternative life of the waterborne vagabond, who moves at the speed of
the late 18th century on a network of inland waterways that have
survived largely intact while much of the rest of Britain has been paved
over. Canal boating, I reckon, is an accepted British form of hoboing
and vacationing on the cheap in which travelers and tramps romanticize
the countryside of Constable and Turner when Nature was benignly invaded
by this first revolutionary transport of the Industrial Age. The
tramping and down-market holidaymaking are obvious. The romance of
semi-stagnant water, cramped quarters, minimal bathroom facilities and
tedious hours hiding from a cold drizzle or fighting off mosquitoes and
flies is less apparent. By comparison, cycling along these same
waterways at thrice the speed of any canal boat provides some of the
best of British scenery with the possibility of escape from the slow
miseries of the Age of Romance.
Our canal idyll ends in a mile. The British
Waterways folks have closed this part of the towpath of the Gloucester & Sharpness
Canal. For the next half-mile-plus National Route 41 must detour to the bike-only shoulder
of heavily traveled A38, the Gloucester to Bristol Road. This bit is, flatly, ugly: fast
food joints, building supply houses, industrial parks the miscellaneous flotsam found
skirting any English (or American) city, even here in the Cotswolds. Just as quickly,
this, too, changes.
The Ship Inn, Framilode.
Photo Nick Bird www.cotswoldcanals.net
| A road signed for Elmore leads west (right) to
the next bridge crossing of the canal, between the hamlets of Rea and Lower Rea. Route 41
does not turn south on the towpath, however, which is narrow and unsuitable for bikes.
Instead, the cycle route enters the rich, bottom farmland between the canal and the River
Severn, the first of several sections of pretty, minor roads we shall encounter today.
Quite quickly now, we reach the edge of the Severn, and we briefly trace its ox-bow bend
just east of Elmore before veering off to the southwest while the river turns north into a
big counterclockwise loop. Route 41 takes the short cut cross-country on a series of rural
roads between Elmore and Epney, where we catch up to the Severn again.
Saul Junction, site of
the confluence of
the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal
with the Stroudwater Canal.
Photo Nick Bird www.cotswoldcanals.net
Our tangent route brushes another chord of the
snaking river at Upper Framilode, the first of several splendid villages suspended in time
here along the backwater border of the Cotswolds with the Marches. Framilode is the point
where the former Stroudwater Canal entered the River Severn. Remarkably, in 1789 this
east-west canal connected tidewater on the Severn at Framilode with the Thames &
Severn Canal near Stroud, an important Cotswolds hillside market town, making it possible
to move freight and passengers between estuaries of the North Sea and the Atlantic (and
between London and Gloucester). Little Framilode was the
entry port of the canal at the River
Severn, but only when the tide was in. At other times boatmen tied up at
the Ship Inn, Framilode’s one pub, to wait for the tide to arrive. You
can stop at the Ship Inn for refreshments the canal is abandoned, but the pub remains open daily.
From Upper Framilode the bike route follows
roads south to Saul village, ½ mile west of Saul Junction, formerly the important
intersection of the Gloucester & Sharpness and the Stroudwater canals.
OLD ENGLAND IN ASPIC
After Saul Route 41 turns east to cross the
Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and then quickly south into the lovely village of
Frampton on Severn. Lovely does it. If youre hunting the mythic English village
incorporating thatched cottages, Tudor and Georgian houses, cricket on the village green,
and lively-but-civilized pubs, you neednt go further than Frampton on Severn. The
village (pop. approx. 1200) centers on its large village green, which the towns web
site boasts (mildly) may be Englands longest. We passed
Cricket on the village
green by the
Bell Inn, Frampton on Severn.
the green reluctantly. A cricket match was underway, and one table
remained unoccupied outside the Bell Inn pub. We were now about ten
miles south of Gloucester, and I was sure my thirst already needed
slaking. But, we had miles to ride, and, since real ale is not the ideal
liquid for active cyclists, we elected to push on past the Bell Inn,
past the equally tempting Three Horseshoes pub at the southern end of
the village green, past the 800-year-old Parish Church of St. Mary the
Virgin (the Rev. Cheeseman is vicar here), and across the
wonderfully-named Splatt bridge once more over the G. & S. Canal. Here
we passed through a gate onto the southbound canal towpath for two miles
of broad, groomed trail southwest through marsh and moor to Shepherd’s
BIRDERS, BIKERS, &
A breeding pair of Lesser
Flamingos at the
Slimbridge Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.
At Shepherd’s Patch National Route 41 leaves the canal for good, turning
left and crossing the bridge into Shepherd’s Patch hamlet. But, if you
have an interest in waterfowl, turn right instead, and ride ½ mile to
the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) Slimbridge headquarters. Here amid
the Severn marshes is one of Britain’s most important wetlands for
migrating waterfowl of all kinds. The center's blinds, observatories,
and tower provide excellent opportunities for seeing birdlife, insects,
and non-flying animals like otters for whom this preserved corner of the
River Severn has been a natural home
for 60 years. (Open daily
except Christmas Day, 9:30AM to at least 5PM. Admission: £12/adult, £9/seniors/students, £6.50/kids
My son Jess and I share many interests, but
birding is not among them. We crossed the bridge and quickly passed through the hamlet of
Shepherds Patch heading southeast for the village of Slimbridge. Coming toward us
roared a string of antique motorcycles dating from the 1920s to the 1960s, some with
sidecars, most with riders in period leathers and helmets, all with the stylized logos of
the British AJS and Matchless marks. As I was growing up in the 1960s, my older brother
owned an AJS 600cc twin dating from the mid-50s, a bike rarer then in the States than even
now in the UK. Ive seen very few AJs in the 40 years since he sold his. But on
this day I saw at least a dozen on this lonely back road in far western Gloucestershire. I
wished my brother were with Jess and me to see these wonderfully eclectic British bikes
with their eccentrically costumed riders.
1931 poster advertisement
motorcycles. The message, apparently,
continues to influence AJS owners.
from a 1845 drawing.
THE VALE OF BERKELEY
In Slimbridge village only about 12.5
miles west of
Home At Firsts Southern
Cotswolds lodgings in Tetbury Route 41
turns right and heads west into the Vale of Berkeley over little-used rural roads. From
this gentle pastorale the mighty Double Gloucester cheese comes to heighten our
ploughmans pub lunch or be famously, recklessly, chased down slope at the end of May
annually at Coopers Hill eighteen miles to the northeast.
For three miles the route meanders among
and through some woods before reaching Wanswell hamlet, where the route turns south
for a mile before reaching the town of Berkeley. Berkeley claims both fame and notoriety.
The slayer of smallpox, Edward Jenner, was born and raised in Berkeley and later practiced
medicine there. It was there, too, that he discovered a way to vaccinate against smallpox
using a mild form of the disease well known to local milkmaids, cowpox. His former home in
Berkeley now houses a small museum in his honor. But it is Berkeley Castle on the
southeastern corner of town that brings most visitors to the sleepy town in
Built by the command of Norman King Henry II in
1117 just fifty-one years after the Norman Conquest, the castle has been the residence of
the Berkeley family for over 850 years. The castle has witnessed great history: a siege
during the Civil War of the 17th century, a meeting of English barons before they signed
the Magna Carta in 1215, visits by Richard II and English I, and, most infamously, the
1327 imprisonment and murder of King Edward II. This latter episode continues to bring
visitors to Berkeley Castle to see the cell where it happened. Visitors also come to see
the castles extensive gardens (the roses and wisteria peak in June) and an exotic
butterfly house. Some years on summer weekends the castle has held a jousting
tournament and festival, welcoming throngs to experience their medieval English
Seven miles of rural roads with the days
first mild hills lead southwest to Oldbury-on-Severn village, remarkable only for its
nearby riverside nuclear power plant, just downstream from a similar one at Berkeley, both
of which were useful not just for commercial energy production but as producers of
plutonium for Britains atomic weapons program during the Cold War. The Berkeley
plant has already been shut down, and the Oldbury-on-Severn plant is due to be
decommissioned in two years. However, as in the United States, environmental and
geo-political (imported oil and gas) concerns are forcing the British to take a second
look at nuclear energy as a potential component in the future mix of sources of energy
Two miles southwest of Oldbury, Route 41 passes through the village of
Littleton-upon-Severn, where, just after passing the tempting White Hart pub, the route
makes a sharp left (east) turn and sets off for Elberton and Olveston. Visible at times to
the west are the 400-foot-high piers of the M48 Severn Road Bridge. This 1966-opened, mile-long suspension bridge carries a motorway, a bikeway, and a walkway
across the Severn to
Wales just south of
Chepstow at the mouth of the River Wye.
The landmark "old" Severn
bridge carries the M48
motorway, a walkway, and a bikeway from
England west to the Welsh border near Chepstow.
Chepstow’s romantic castle is one of Britain’s great medieval
fortresses. And the Wye is perhaps Britain’s most beautiful river,
curving and looping its way north through fine scenery: past
Wordsworth’s dreamy Tintern Abbey, before leaving the Welsh border and
turning into England at Monmouth. The Wye promises another adventure on
foot or on two wheels.
The landmark "new" Severn bridge carries
the M4 motorway across the broad estuary.
TWO WAYS TO BRISTOL
From Olveston, two cycle routes numbered 41
lead into Bristol. The western one zigs northwest then zags southwest on the B4055,
crossing over the M48 motorway and then, 1.5 miles on, reaching and paralleling the M4 before
crossing over it, too, just before the M4 crosses the Severn on its own beautiful bridge
(opened 1996) to
|South Wales. Once across the M4, this
section of Bike Route 41 follows the B4084 southwest
to the village of Severn Beach where it picks up a long section of dedicated traffic-free
trail southbound to Avonmouth. South of Avonmouth, at Shirehampton, this route arrives at
the tidal River Avon, which it follows on a traffic-free promenade east about 5 miles into
We elected to stay with the eastern version of National Route 41 a more direct
southbound route from Olveston into Bristol even though we knew we would have some
hills to climb and traffic to contend with most of the way. A long, sweeping, gradual
climb leads out of Olveston one mile, topping out at overpass crossings of the M48 and the
M4 motorways within a few hundred yards of each other. In another two miles the route
crosses British Rails western main line at Pilning Station. Pilning
Station, however, cannot
be used as an end point for the days ride its a small commuter station
with few through services. No, riders need to get to one of Bristols two major
stations: Bristol Parkway (4.5 miles southeast of Pilning) or, our goal, Bristol Temple
Meads, the citys principal downtown railway terminal.
From Pilning Station, our Route 41 meanders
through the last open farmland of the day, then up Blackhorse Hill (the B4055)
past The Fox pub southeast into Easter Compton. Turn right (southwest)
onto Bowstreet Lane, which you follow .4mi to its end at at a
T-intersection. Turn left (southeast) onto Hollywood Lane which leads up
and down through Hollyhill Wood and under the M5
motorway to Cribbs Causeway (the A4018). Turn southwest again and use the
dedicated bike path paralleling Cribbs Causeway and then Station Road,
which, after 1.5mi, turns south as the B4055. Now you are in Bristol,
but your entrance into the city is no cause
for elation, for the next hour is the most difficult of the day, with the route becoming
difficult to follow, and hilly, heavily trafficked city streets adding to the challenge.
We recommend carrying a compass to help get through Bristol.
Continue south on
Station Rd (B4055) to the roundabout (traffic circle) intersection with
Henbury Rd. Although the B4055 turns left and follows Henbury Rd, you
continue cycling south on Station Rd 75 yards beyond the traffic circle
to Church Lane. Turn left on Church Lane and ride 100 yards to an
entrance to the parkland Blaise Castle Estate. Cycle south across the
estate on its scenic, historic drive (watch for pedestrians on this
route). At the drive's end, leave the estate through a gate, turn left
on The Dingle, which
Suspension Bridge soars
above the Avon Gorge entering Bristol.
© Home At First
ends in Canford Lane. Turn right, then in 60 yards take the first left
onto Coombe Lane. In about 120 yards, turn right onto Bell Barn Rd,
which you follow to its
end at Shirehampton Road (B4054). Cross Shirehampton Road
and continue straight on Sea Mills Lane 1mi until its passes underneath
the busy Portway (the A4), the roadway that
follows the tidal River Avon southeast into downtown Bristol. After crossing
under the Portway turn left onto Hadrian Close, which leads to the broad sidewalk (serves as both a footpath and bike path) southeast into the Avon
Gorge, one of Britains urban wonders.
The River Avon somehow chose to get to the
Severn estuary the hard way, by carving 250 through limestone and sandstone. The
gorge protected prehistoric Bristol harbor from invaders and bad weather, giving them a
unique avenue to the Bristol Channel, making Bristol Englands most important western
port during the Industrial Revolution. It was because of the Avon gorge that
Kingdom Brunel — Britain’s premier
his Great Western Railway from London to Bristol, and built his great iron ships to sail
from Bristol, and, although it opened only after his death, built his still remarkable
landmark Clifton Suspension Bridge across the gorge. And, a couple miles down the gorge, there it
is, flying across the span, looking vaguely Egyptian up there in the heights above the
river canyon, still as much a monument to its creator as it is an inspiration to aspiring
engineers throughout the West.
Bristol Harbour with
restored SS Great Britain
moored along the south bank.
© Home At First
A half-mile beyond the bridge, the Avon emerges from its gorge and turns east into Bristol
harbor. Getting to the harbor is almost as hard by bicycle as it is by boat when the tide
is out. Before Brunel, ships operating in and out of Bristol had to be abnormally stout
vessels, owing to the river tides that left them unsupported in the mud flats when tide
was out. But Bristols adopted son, Brunel, solved the problem by designing a
"floating harbour" with a constant water level walled in by lock gates.
Brunels floating harbor is today the core of Bristols downtown renaissance, a
lively area of pubs, restaurants, clubs, museums, open space, street entertainment, and
historic boats, including Brunels SS Great Britain, now restored to its
former glory when it was launched in 1843 as the worlds first iron-hulled, propeller
driven ocean liner and the largest ship afloat.
The Portway river road becomes Hotwell
Road before reaching the bridge. Hotwell turns east with the river and parallels
it inland on the way to Bristol Harbour. When it
separates from the river
it loses its broad cycle way. Bristol's remarkable harborside
redevelopment has thoughtfully included a footpath/cycleway along the
water's edge, following the Avon to the harbor area, then the Cumberland
Basin, finally, the the Floating Harbour itself, stopping to admire
Brunel's SS Great Britain moored across the Floating Harbour from
you. Follow the path through Waterfront Square to Millennium Square, and
then turn right (east) to reach the water's edge again. Walk your bike
across the pedestrians-only Pero's Bridge and continue straight, tracing
the southern border of Queen Square. At the southeastern corner of Queen
Square cut through the pedestrian walkway leading to The Grove, emerging
at a roundabout by another arm of the Floating Harbour. Cross the harbor
arm on the bike lane of Redcliffe Way.
GOAL: BRISTOL TEMPLE MEADS
After crossing the floating
harbor on Redcliffe Bridge, follow Redcliffe Way around the wonderfully named
but unfriendly for cyclists Temple Circus Gyratory roundabout 270 degrees. When
you leave the roundabout (southeast) you will be on Temple Gate. Watch for the
entrance to Bristol Temple Meads rail station within 150 yards on the left of
Temple Gate. Cycle up the long Station Approach to the station entry, dismount and enter this great
station looking like a combination castle and cathedral.
Brunel's original Bristol Temple Meads
station's castellated Victorian opulence appears
at the Station Approach.
From Bristol Temple Meads, trains depart with
almost hourly frequency, sometimes more often. Rail service back to Kemble near Tetbury in
the Southern Cotswolds requires 60-90 minutes with a change at Swindon (e.g. depart
Bristol Temple Meads at 6:00PM, arrive Kemble at 6:58PM; fares from £15.90 in second
class). Rail service back to Honeybourne in the Northern Cotswolds is
of similar frequency but takes twice as long, and may require one or two changes en route (e.g.
depart Bristol Temple Meads at 5:00PM, arrive Honeybourne at 7:19PM; fares from
£11.60 in second class). We recommend always making reservations (no charge for these on
First Great Western and Virgin railways) for a specific train space for bikes is
quite limited and the railway can turn you away if the bike space is already in use.
After 3-4 hours of train riding and 6 hours of
bike riding, Jess and I were tired. We had seen parts of Britain that we had not imagined,
and done so at a pace that permitted us to savor the experience, like lingering over a
meal. And, at the end of the day, lingering over a meal is exactly what we had in mind.