Last summer I managed to bike most of the way across England, starting from Bedwyn (near the watershed – the highest point of my route) and finishing in Whitstable in Kent. This summer I needed to finish the trip, in two long legs or three short legs from the west coast, back to Bedwyn.
Looking at the map, there was a quite a choice of places to start from. Avonmouth was one natural starting point, being at the mouth of the River Avon it would be quite apt as my route was essentially following the River Avon, then the Kennet and Avon canal, and finally the River Thames. However, Avonmouth doesn’t look like a particularly pretty place, and besides it’s all sealed off, being a major container port. Portishead and Clevedon were two other possible places, but neither was near a railway station. Brean Down has an intriguing footnote on the OS Map – “Mouth of the Severn”. This would be a natural place to start a coast-to-coast, but again it was not practical to get to. In the end I decided on Weston-super-Mare – a west coast beach resort which would contrast nicely with Whitstable’s east coast equivalent.
The National Cycle Routes guided me for most of the journey (Route 4 from Bristol to London and Route 1 from London to Whitstable) but annoyingly the network has not yet been built around Weston-super-Mare; so, after a stroll along the pier and through Weston Wood (a toll road!) the first part of the route was on country roads, and one unexpectadly exciting section off-road crossing the River Yeo – apart from the M5, it is difficult to cross this river without going a long way inland. I then headed up to Clevedon and then along a very pleasant country road only occasionally spoilt by the huge M5 suspended above it in places. I passed through the wonderfully named “Clapton in Gordano”, visiting its ex-church perched above the village in a beautiful setting. Then it was up the Avon Gorge, under the dramatic Clifton Suspension Bridge, and into Bristol centre, to meet up for the first time in a long time with a university friend, and to catch the England-Ecuador world cup game.
After the game, it was just starting to rain, but I had a train to get from Bath. So I headed through Bristol city centre, getting slightly lost before find the Bristol-Bath cycle bath. The path has a good surface and climbs only slightly gentle as it heads out of Bristol, through an exciting 700m long ex-railway tunnel before heading alongside another railway into Bath. I grabbed a meal in Bath and had a quick glance around the historic Abbey and Roman Baths, before getting the last train back to London.
At almost 85km, this was my longest day cycle ride ever, although only climbing 300m in that 85km means it’s got to be one of my flattest routes ever. Now only the final section, Bath to Bedwyn, remains – the section with pretty much all the climb up into the watershed.