Activities, Destinations

Bracknell to Bath on the National Cycling Route 4

By Paulo Seth

Few weeks ago I was watching the Cycle Show on ITV4 and they brought a piece celebrating the 20 years of Sustrans in the UK. They recorded a portion of that show riding on what is known as the Bath Two Tunnels Greenway circuit, a 13 miles (21 Km) long circular route around Bath.

Bath on its own is already worth the trip, but what is interesting about this route are the two re-purposed railway tunnels, that had their tracks replaced by paved and smooth shared pedestrian / cycle way.

With just over 1 mile, the Combe Down tunnel is the UK´s longest pedestrian / cycle ONLY tunnel and possibly the longest in Europe as well.

That sparked my interest! I was already thinking of riding the route 4 to Bath or Bristol, so, naturally I had to go check it out. The plan was to leave Bracknell and ride to initially to Reading and take route 4 from there. The trip was done in 2 days.

In day 1 the plan was to ride from Bracknell to Pewsey, which is half way between Reading and Bath. On Day 2 I would complete the trip to Bath. Pewsey is a small town and there aren´t a lot of places to stay for the night. The only B&B in town (well, the only I could find) was already fully booked as there was a music festival happening in town that weekend.

I didn´t take my tent with me, but took an air mattress and a sleeping bag just in case. As I was getting closer to Pewsey I was stopping and asking people for places to stay and was already thinking I would have to sleep under the stars that night. Thankfully I met a nice gentleman, whose name I unfortunately can no longer remember, who suggested a small change in the route and a pub along the way where I may find accommodation.

That was the Bruce Arms, about 2.5 miles before Pewsey. The Bruce Arms has actually a good camping ground, with all facilities available, but as I hadn´t brought my tend, Matt, the owner of Bruce Arms, kindly offered a small caravan for the night. I did just under 80 Km that day and the beer was well deserved.

Things to watch out for on this ride:

– The NCR4 between Reading and Bath follows mostly the towpath of the rivers Kennet and Avon as well as the canals. The towpath is smooth in a few places, but mostly very bumpy. Lots of loose gravel and exposed tree roots. In places the path is very close to the edge of the canal especially when you go under bridges, so be careful.

– Lots of gates, I mean, lots really. It’s a very rural area and you find cattle roaming around. Make sure you don´t leave any gates open.

– Don’t take too much on your rack as you will have to remove the cargo to overcome some of the gates and obstacles along the way. If you use quick release panniers you won’t have a problem, but if you have to unload and load again you’re going to be annoyed.

On day Day 2 the ride was shorter, just 62 Km or 39 miles. Initially on minor roads and then back on the towpath.

I left the Bruce Arms without breakfast, so the plan was to ride a few miles and find a nice café along the way. I was thinking I would find one in Pewsey few miles down the road, but it was Sunday and pretty much everything was closed. So I continued on my way until a small village called Honey Street where I found the Honey Street café – definitely a great place for tea or breakfast.

Their garden is full of flowers and is ride alongside the canal and the food is also delicious. To my surprise they had freshly squeezed Orange juice and it tasted almost the same as the Spanish juice during my Pilgrimage couple of months ago. I had the Big Boaters Breakfast which is essentially a double English Breakfast. I truly recommend this small café.

From that point on I was back on the towpath and would big pretty much towpath all the way to Bath. If you have time there are many points worth stopping along the way, but the Caen Hill Locks in Devizes is one of the most impressive.

As you approach Bath you pass by 2 aqueducts as well (bridges of water over water). The Avoncliff aqueduct near Bradford on Avon is the first and a few miles later the Dundas Aqueduct near Bath. Although I didn´t, there are nice cafés and pubs nearby for a stop if you want.

Things to watch out for on this route:

– Same as above

– Lots of vegetation on both side of the towpath, sometimes completely covering the view ahead.

– A lot of traffic with cyclists and pedestrians (remember if was Sunday and it was a nice day. Work days the route is likely quieter).

I had booked 2 nights in the Youth Hostel in Bath, which is almost on top of Bathwick Hill. The hostel is great, one of the best I stayed. Rooms and facilities are very clean, staff is extremely friendly and always ready to help, breakfast and dinner are really good. The room I stayed had 5 bunk beds (10 beds) and everyone has a locker, but you have to remember to bring your own lock to secure your stuff in the locker. The hostel is only about 15 – 20 min walk from Bat historic town centre or there is a frequent bus service right in front (Bus 18 or U18). The only problem with the hostel really is that is on top of the hill and after having ridden 62 Km on a loaded bike that hill is a challenge.

I won´t go much about how nice Bath is. Go there and see for yourself… It´s worth it!

Well, as I mentioned at the start of this post, I went to Bath to ride the Two Tunnels circuit and so I did on the next day, under heavy rain. Unfortunately 2 sunny days seems to be the limit of nice days in the row in the UK.

Want to follow Paul and check out YHA Bath for yourself? Book a stay here!

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