Bristol & Bath Railway Path

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.)

Rent a bicycle from Bristol Bicycles & Jake’s Bikes in Bristol and head to the Bristol & Bath Railway Path website to learn more and download maps and leaflets.

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.)

With my rented bike from Jake’s Bikes (a comfortable, upright Dutch-style Bristol Bicycle with a few gears), I followed their handy printed map to the start of the path.



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.





Making People Places: Bristol

This post contains some of my observations of public spaces in Bristol on a trip there in July 2018. The feature image shows a view from the canal edge to the pedestrian bridge that leads to Millennium Square with colourful balloons and flags (for Pride!) on sale at a cart in the foreground.

Find other Making People Places posts about Montreal, Glasgow, and the Millennium Bridge / St Paul’s corridor in London.

Bristol Canal

This is the place to be on a warm sunny weekend, and on a warm sunny weekday for that matter. (I wonder how this space works on a cool and drizzly day?)

Café patios spill out of historic buildings onto the cobbled streets that line the canal, and everyone and their dog is hanging out by the side of the canal, many legs dangling off the edge towards the water.

Spotted another heavy duty outdoor ping pong table by the canal provided by Ping! – “on a mission to bring ping pong to the people”. I wonder where one can borrow paddles and a ball from?

Millennium Square

Millennium Square feels like it has been recently redeveloped. It is bordered to the east by a newly renovated (or purpose-built?) building filled with hip restaurants with patios, to the south by an above-ground structure that leads to an underground car park, to the west by a casino, and to the north by the Bristol science centre, compellingly named ‘we the curious’.

Our trip to Bristol coincided with Pride, the ‘official’ version of which in Bristol consists of a parade followed by a kind of private event / outdoor party with live performances held in a large fenced-off section of Millennium Square.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of the space during Pride as we mostly gazed around wide-eyed while we passed through. Needless to say it was busy with people lining up to get into the event, plenty more milling about outside, and still others drinking on nearby patios.

(Rather than pay the fee to go into the performance area, we went to Castle Park where lots of folks were having a more relaxed and free celebration on the grass in the shade. The number of young people walking around in big queer gaggles wearing 6-colour rainbow pride flags as well as bi and trans and asexual pride flags just made my heart swell. I digress.)

I did catch Millennium Square after the Pride celebrations were over and the fenced-off event was gone, on a quiet Sunday evening with the weekend coming to a close.


Bristol Shopping Quarter

When I see high streets like Broadmead in Bristol’s central ‘shopping quarter’, I immediately wonder how we can bring this to Vancouver (e.g. Robson Street.) Here, two broad pedestrian streets with tons of shoppers milling about, tables and chairs, benches, and trees cross and converge at a circular plaza. Bollards and bike racks at the entrance to the street tell us: this space is not for cars, and here’s a place to put your bike so you can stroll down the street on foot.

Places to sit and rest and people watch, spots to grab some shade, and some interesting art make this is a lovely space that is about more than simply shopping.

The Bearpit

Not only is this a handy landmark for walking and bus rides around Bristol, but also an interesting public space. Sunk in the centre of a large traffic circle with stair and ramp access at a few points around the edges, the Bearpit is a unique plaza-like space. I observed people walking or cycling through*, skateboarding, folks who were likely street involved or homeless sitting under the trees at one side to keep cool, and a handful of businesses on the south side all closed and boarded up. It feels like a space that could be well-loved by all but isn’t.

*The Bearpit is where Jake’s Bikes is located, where I rented a bike for my cycle along the Bristol Bath Railway Path.

There is a group of vendors that ran businesses on the south side of the Bearpit until early in 2018 when they abandoned the site due to safety issues. They have put forward a £3.5 million plan to redevelop the site and rename it ‘The Circle‘, envisioning a food hub and community space.

As much as I can read and learn more about the background of the site, I know I can’t access the personal feelings I would have and community knowledge I would gain if this space were in my neighbourhood, but it is not difficult to get a sense that there is tension here.

From a jurisdictional standpoint, the Bearpit is part of three different city wards and it is not a park but is public highway. Although I am not sure of all of the implications of this in a Bristol context, no doubt it means that there are a lot of different stakeholders here. Significant stakeholders include the Bearpit vendors, who are concerned about people using drugs in the space and want to see greater police enforcement.

They also want to “[m]ake the space politically-neutral, and remove political slogans from the Cube“. Meanwhile, the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft note the importance of the Cube for political expression: “Where public space is continually eroded, the relative freedom of the Bearpit, which is hard-won, offers hope.” (The PRSC offer a brief visual history of the kind of messaging the Cube has displayed.) I tend to side with the PRSC here: public space serves a crucial political function and I’m sceptical that removing political murals from the Cube is the answer here. (Not to mention that there can be no such thing as a ‘politically neutral’ space; space *is* political and removing political slogans from the Cube is a political act in itself.)

Public toilet-related aside: The Bearpit vendors also want washrooms provided for staff, but I say why limit that to only staff?! When will we agree that washrooms access is a right and public washrooms essential to healthy public spaces?