I cycled the 25km (15.5 mile) Bristol & Bath Railway Path in July 2018. I opted to cycle the round trip (50km) in one day, which amounted to 3.5 hours of riding time (1 hour and 45 minutes each way, not including breaks.) Some folks opt to cycle one way and take the train back (from Bath Spa station to Bristol Temple Meads station.)
The Bristol Bath Railway Path is a shared walking and cycling path that was the first-ever established section of the National Cycle Network. As the name suggests, the Bristol & Bath Railway Path was set up along the disused Avon Valley railway line – a totally brilliant re-purposing of space. The railway infill and right-of-way are already in place, so why not take advantage of the existing infrastructure? I only wish there were more beautiful paved cycle ways like this connecting major (and not-so-major destinations.)
It was a little hairy getting to the start of the path: the cycle lane consists of painted lines on the edge of a busy road and I ended up hopping on to the sidewalk for bits of it.
It didn’t take long to find the start of the path and then the blissful and relaxing experience of riding on separated bicycle infrastructure began.
The path is about 25 km (15.5 miles) one-way all the way to Bath and is nicely paved with a very lovely tree canopy that keeps it cool on a hot day and, I imagine, would keep the rain off a little, too.
There are a couple of stops along the way:
The first, Warmley Railway Station, was a station on the old rail line. The station platform is still there (with ramps, I should add, making access with walking frame, wheelchair, or bicycle a possibility) and has a café, offering a great rest opportunity. Just across the road, continuing towards Bath is the beautifully restored Warmley Signal Box. (I should note that this is one of the only places that you need to cross a road.)
After passing through a gate and crossing the rail tracks, I came upon the second stop: the Avon Valley Railway. For me this was a delightfully unexpected gem. Volunteers have restored this rail station and a section of the railway in order to operate a steam train that takes retro railway enthusiasts on a short ride.
I stopped at the Avon Valley Railway Station for a tea and cake, which I enjoyed sitting on one of the picnic benches on the platform. The Avon Valley railway runs alongside the walking and cycle path. At a platform a little further down the pathway, I was delighted to see that the front end of the train looks just like Thomas the Tank Engine (thank you English childhood!)
There are other opportunities to get off the path at the towns and villages along the way, including a few signs for bicycle repair shops for riders experiencing technical difficulties, but my goal was to get all the way to Bath and back.
Crossing the canal on an old bridge, I started to see houseboats – Bath is close!
Once you arrive at the edge of Bath, you leave the separated pathway of the Bristol & Bath Railway. I rode on a short section of road (it was relatively quiet and drivers seemed pretty well aware of the cycle path and proper safe distance etiquette) and connected to the lovely Avon & Kennet Canal Towpath.
You cannot be in a rush on the canal towpath as it is narrow and shared between people on bikes and on foot, but it offers nice views of the canal and it’s fun to look at the canal boats. (I cycled past a particularly dire-looking situation with several folks working to bail out a partly submerged canal boat. It looked like the situation was in capable hands, but that cannot have been a good day. I do hope they succeeded.)
The canal gets vaguely more industrial the closer you get to Bath…
Then the canal tow path spits you out into the centre of town. I locked my bike at the bottom of Southgate Street and walked up past the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey.
M&S, reliable for having quasi-public toilets convenient for cyclists, also apparently have their own beer. I picked up a can and headed back to Bristol to enjoy it.