Once upon a time the Bath extension to the Somerset and Dorset joint railway connected this city with Bournemouth and the seaside. It was a railway packed with excursions and happy holidaymakers.
So its good to know that at least a small section of the now abandoned route – axed like so many other ‘uneconomic lines during Dr Beeching’s mid-1960’s cull – has been brought back into use for pleasure seekers.
I am talking about the track bed of the railway between East Twerton and Midford which was re-opened last year as the Two Tunnels Circuit. It now forms part of a thirteen mile circular cycle and pedestrian route which links Bath with the National Cycle Route 24.
Though it’s pedal power and not steam doing the propelling – you can still enjoy the views and experience of following that line from East Twerton up through Oldfield and the Devonshire Tunnel into Lyncombe Vale, then through the oh-so-long Combe Down Tunnel and out across the Tucking Mill Viaduct into Midford. That last tunnel – at 1,672 metres – is now the longest cycle tunnel in Britain!
You can then drop down through Monkton Combe – onto the tow path of the Kennet and Avon Canal and back into town. It is that last section of the route that l want to talk about because – apart from week-end pleasure and fitness seekers – that section of the tow path between the George Inn at Bathampton and Sydney Gardens is used by a lot of cyclists during the week to go to work.
I join the tow path via an unmarked link taking me off the London Road – just past the Lambridge training ground – down Grosvenor Bridge Road to the banks of the River Avon.
At this point – and up to 1929 – a fine suspension bridge linked both banks of the river and was heavily used by people out for country walks and visits to the pub and tea garden that lay at the bottom of the canal embankment.
The bridge was replaced with the current ugly concrete structure but it still provides a link for cyclists and dog walkers across the Avon and then under the Great Western Railway ( as l still like to call the London line) through the archway of a railway bridge and up via a gentle slopping track onto the canal towpath.
At this time of year the track is in a dreadful state. It is muddy and wet with the appearance of a rain-sodden ploughed field in places.
Yet – with minimal cost – at least compared to the millions spent on the Two Tunnel Route – this could be re-surfaced and opened up as an all-year-round route into town which takes people and bikes off the dreadful London Road.
It would only need a new surface. It’s a wild and still wonderful way to avoid traffic and get close to nature.
I would not want it ruined for the bird and animal life sharing that part of the city’s immediate countryside.
The following information was gleaned from the minutes of a meeting last September of the Two Tunnels/BathNES Council/Sustrans Steering Group.
It reads as follows:
‘Sustrans was looking to surface the canal towpath from the city centre to the George pub in the next financial year if matched funding was available fro, the Council and the Canals and Rivers Trust.
This would compliment the Council scheme from Batheaston to the Bathampton, and improve the Two Tunnels/Canal Towpath circular route, now proving very popular with locals and visitors, and would be a most welcome development.’
Indeed it would. With a bit of that new surface extending down the pathway l have mentioned to help take bikes off the London Road!
So who – with authority and funding – is going to take this up and run – or should l say cycle – with it?
It is high on the council’s list, there are just a few land ownership issues to sort out. Cllr Nigel Roberts
It should be pointed out that any welcomed upgrade to this stretch of towpath, which hopefully will include the Grosvenor link, should be seen as a route that’s in addition to the London Road, not an alternative. The London Road still needs to be made more bike/pedestrian friendly.
The tow path, while great for casual riding, is not suitable as a major cycling route. It is gets far too busy with people enjoying the canal and walking as well as people out with their dogs. There are several very narrow parts where pedestrians and cyclists come into close proximity already. The London Road has to be made safe as the main cycling route into Bath from the East. I welcome the idea of upgrading the path but it should be done after there is a viable high volume cycle route down London Road. Remember the adage “build it and they will come”, now think of the canal path with two or three times more cyclists heading to work or into town rather than enjoying a peaceful ride along the canal.
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