In my experience the Europeans seem to excel at providing quality cycle paths and dedicated cycle routes. Most noteworthy are those in the Low Countries, Germany and France; since discovering the Avenue Verte and other voies vertes in France, I just keep going back to enjoy what almost without exception are well planned, constructed and maintained paths and related facilities, resulting in safe and exceptionally enjoyable cycling. Unfortunately the same cannot usually be said of the UK.
Despite the worthy efforts of Sustrans and a post 2012 London Olympics cycling resurgence, even where present such facilities are mostly poorly conceived, funded and maintained. Some sections such as National Cycle Route-1 out of London along the Lee Valley, can only be described as a national disgrace – this being the number-1 UK cycle route out of central London. But there are thankfully a few exceptions, one of which we rode shortly after its opening in June 2013 – the Two Tunnels Greenway located in and around the city of Bath.
Starting from the central Bath Spa railway station cycling clockwise, the route first heads east then south along the bank of the beautiful Kennet and Avon Canal. The towpath consists of light gravel and in the dry is a good ride as far as the magnificent Dundas Aqueduct, which carries the canal over the River Avon and marks the junction with the now defunct Somerset Coal Canal. It is a beautiful spot to stop, take a look at the aqueduct and have a drink, snack or light meal at the cafés and pubs located there.
Thereafter, the ride departs from the canal onto the attractive but hilly countryside roads around Monkton Combe, heading towards Midford before reaching the crux of the ride. Turning north a new, beautifully surfaced path follows the former track-bed of the Somerset and Dorset railway. Initially climbing and then shortly after crossing a hidden valley over a restored railway bridge, the path enters the first of the eponymous ‘two tunnels’.
Built in 1874, Combe Down Tunnel is low and narrow for a railway but at just over 1-mile is the longest cycling tunnel in Britain and comfortably accommodates bikes heading in both directions on a well paved surface; nevertheless, I am intrigued to understand what type of trains once passed through this diminutive excavation. With white LED lights about every 50 metres or so, the tunnel is well lit but there’s a surprise. The tunnel is brick lined and along the side wall placed in recessed passing places at about 200 metre intervals, are blue lights which, as the cyclist passes by, set off a recorded passage of classical music – an audio-visual instillation called Passage by United Visual Artists. Taken aback at first, the effect grew on me as I passed through.
After exiting for a brief period outside, the path enters the second, less noteworthy and shorter Devonshire Tunnel, which eventually emerges at its northern end into the southern outskirts of Bath. Thereafter the cycle path weaves its way through the suburbs, before rapidly descending downhill into the valley of the River Avon. At this point the ride joins the popular Bristol to Bath National Cycle Route 4 that runs along the north side of the River Avon, directly into the centre city centre and back to the start point.
This circular ride is just 13-miles long but packed with variety and points of interest, as well as iconic locations and some beautiful scenery. Bath & Somerset Council have produced a useful guide and map to the ride, though its always good to carry an OS map, in this case 1:50,000 Landranger map number 172 or 1:25,000 OS Explorer map number 155. We camped just on the western outskirts of the city at the Newton Mill Caravan & Camping site, which was also very nice and quiet but convenient for the centre; once a tricky shortcut is navigated to the aforementioned Bristol to Bath cycle path, it’s just 15 minutes to the railway station by bike. All-in-all the Two Tunnels Greenway (as it’s officially known) is an easy ride which is a lot of fun and can be highly recommended.