Biking by Britain's canals is a good way to explore the countryside and discover some of the best eateries, says Cathryn Pinto.
Cycling along Britain's beautiful cycle paths is a brilliant way to enjoy the summer sunshine, explore the surroundings and get a bit of exercise along the way. The best part about cycling along canal paths is that they offer a unique landscape peppered with both human settlements and raw countryside. And it's even better when a winding river adds to the scenic picture. Canals often connect cities and towns which means you don't have to go out of the city or to a faraway location to reach the beginning of the path. These paths also provide access to eateries, rest-rooms and sometimes train stations. An added bonus is that if you are directionally challenged like myself, canal paths make it very difficult for you to get lost. All you need to do simply follow the river.
I take the scenic route from Bath to the nearby town Bradford-on-avon. I decide to cycle along the Kennet and Avon canal towpath (a path along the river, originally used by horses for towing barges), which runs from the Severn estuary in Bristol to the River Thames at Reading. This canal was initially used an important waterway but was abandoned after the emergence of the Great Western Railway. It is now being used as a tourism destination for activities such as fishing, boating, canoeing, walking, and cycling and is also important for wildlife conservation.
We make our way to the foot of Bathwick hill, which is about 10 minutes walking distance from Bath city centre. Shops for bike hires are conveniently located at the start of the canal path and are priced at around £8 for four hours–approximately the time taken to cycle to Bradford-on-avon and back. You can also hire the cycles for longer if you plan to stop somewhere for lunch, have a picnic or even if you just want to explore the surroundings at your own leisure. The route from Bath to Bradford-on–avon is easy as most of the terrain is a flat gravel towpath.
We choose this particular cycle route because the Kennet and Avon path is known for its magnificent scenery and abundant wildlife, which we see plenty of– sheep and cows grazing and enjoying the gorgeous sunshine in the sprawling fields, birds such as kingfishers, herons, moorhen, ducks and swans along the river. The river runs through the Avon valley close to the Bath- Bradford-on-avon railway line and at one point on the bridge we can see the railway tracks. As we cycle away from Bath, the beautiful stone houses grow scarce and we go deeper into the Somerset countryside. The landscape changes from fields to small villages to tantalizing woods, as we cycle along. We also see several narrowboats, stone bridges and two aqueducts along the way.
We meet several people living in the narrowboats; some enjoying a leisurely drink on their boat deck, others busy sprucing up their boat, cooking a meal and watching over their children playing nearby. Several individuals were engrossed in creative pursuits like painting and photography, while others happily cast their lines into the river to enjoy an afternoon of fishing. Whether you are cruising alongside a bunch of boats with tons of activity or meandering along some isolated bits of countryside, the river always flows beside you in a reassuring manner.
We spend some time exploring these different facets of life along the canal, and so it takes us more than two hours to reach Bradford-on-avon. If you have more time at hand, it would be a good idea to explore the town of Bradford-on-avon. But since we had been here before, we grab a quick bite (there are plenty of eateries just near the canal path itself) and head back to Bath. The ride back is incredibly shorter since we didn't explore as much and were more concerned about getting the bikes back on time. There is also the option of taking a train back to Bath, in case you don’t want to cycle.
A few tips
If you're cycling along this route during the British summer, apply plenty of sunscreen before your journey
Take a few breaks midway to stretch your legs. You’ll feel much better the next day for having done this.
Make sure you check the weather conditions beforehand as a particularly windy day can make cycling difficult, especially if you are cycling against the wind.
And don’t forget to carry a camera with you, there will be plenty of picturesque moments.
All Images by Cathryn Pinto