by Julie Musk
I have to admit, Bathwick Hill beat me – cycling up it, that is. I saw a few hardy locals, probably 30 years younger than me, managing it, but it just keeps going. YHA Bath is up there on the left, tucked away up its own steep drive. As you round the corner, an elegant Italianate-style villa comes into view. Set in its own private garden, with picnic tables out front, alas trees obscure the view and you can only glimpse what could be a marvellous vista of the city. The mansion was built in 1846 and is Grade II Listed. Round the back are extra rooms and an annexe, built in 2018 to extend the accommodation.
We were early for check-in, but there was no problem leaving our bikes and bags, then clearing off, back down the hill, to Cleveland Walk on the right. Part way along this road we picked up the Skyline Walk. This 6-mile circular route round the hills east of the city is an undulating, varied preamble, as nice a way as any to kill time if you ned to. (Arriving earlier by train, we were able to pick up a Skyline leaflet from the TIC – definitely recommended for the extra detail and route marking it provides.) There’s also a pleasant walk into town just down from the hostel on the left alongside Bathwick Meadow, where students were hanging out in sociable groups, enjoying the view of Bath and afternoon sun.
Back at the hostel, I prepared a meal. They don’t have hobs; instead you use the oven/grill/microwave (all-in-one machines). Son Will enjoyed a burger and chips from the menu and the lounge bar serves alcohol, with chilled music. On request they supplied a pack of cards (there was no obvious stash of games or books). The bar area was nice enough, but small and not as relaxing as a cosy lounge might have been. We slept in large 8-bedded dorms and in the morning enjoyed a cooked breakfast. Friendly chef Ray chatted about how he used to be a ranger for Sustrans and helped devise the cycle route through the centre of Bath.
Leaving the hostel, we free-wheeled back down the hill and picked up the path alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal, heading east to our next stop, YHA Cholderton, more than 46 miles away. The first half of the route is a doddle, breezing along the towpath, and with lots of interest. After the crazy flight of Caen Hill Locks (16 locks, which can take boaters 6 hours to ascend), we reached Devizes and stopped at the Black Horse on the canal for a pint and lunch. Just up from there is Coate Bridge, where we said goodbye to the canal and headed south-east, across the rolling Wiltshire Downs. This half of the ride was much harder and less interesting, and it was with relief that we arrived about 3 hours later at Cholderton.
Images: © Julie Musk 2019