Go West! My first cycle tour – part 1 – the route and scenic highlights

So, I finally went on a cycle tour – it only took me a year to get it figured out! I have to say it was well worth the wait, especially as I didn’t have to do it on my own, my new-to-cycling husband brought a touring bike and came with me. I am also pleased to say this means I have completed all the resolutions I set at the beginning of the year! Hurrah!

This is part 1 focused on the route, I shall bring you a separate post about kit and gear in part 2.

Heading West

We ended up picking a route in the UK which was based around as many cycle paths and super quiet roads as possible. In my searching for a pre-made route I stumbled across a book written by Eric van der Horst which takes you from London to Lands End. It is split into sections and uses cycle paths and quiet roads where possible and tells you how busy each bit of road is. Perfect!

We didn’t go all the way to Lands End, that seemed a little far for a new cyclist. We decided to cycle from Richmond to Taunton in Somerset over 7 days, averaging 60km a day (the book is all in km’s so now my trip is in my head). We stayed in hotels and B&B’s and whilst I was worried about storing bikes over night, it was never a problem – they either had somewhere safe to leave them or we were allowed to have them in the room.

This is how our days were planned out:

Richmond- Maidenhead: 60km

Maidenhead – Newbury: 58km

Newbury – Amesbury: 65km

Amesbury – Devizes: 40km

Devizes – Bristol: 62km

Bristol – Cheddar: 59km

Cheddar – Taunton: 60km

Here are some of my personal highlights from the trip.

Leaving London

We got the overground around from Stratford to Richmond on Saturday morning. The aim of the holiday was to avoid traffic as much as possible, and certainly avoid London traffic at all costs. I was a little concerned that cycling along the Thames path on the weekend was going to be a little bit busier pedestrian wise that I would have liked. Turns out we managed to make it even worse – there was a Thames Path epic 100km charity walk going on and there were literally hundreds of people walking the whole way along the path.

This made it particularly slow going and hard work, especially as it was raining. But, we persevered and made it to Staines where only the most ardent had made it by that point. We turned off the path at Runnymead to go up and across the Windsor. Cycling through Windsor Great Park was lovely and definitely something we will be repeating.

Our first hotel was booked for Maidenhead, and I admit it was a bit of a slog to get there – the first day probably shouldn’t have been 70km, but hey, you live and learn and the important thing is we managed it.

Kennet and Avon Canal

Canal path

A large part of the route followed the Kennet and Avon canal after Reading. For the most part this was an excellent path, if a little bumpy in places. The canal was very idyllic though. On the Sunday it was fairly busy with walkers and other cyclists, but this did not hold us up at all. Later in the week we had it to ourselves a lot of the time, only sharing with some ducks and lots of flies.

Salisbury Plains

The book offers two routes from Great Bedwyn to Alton Priors. We took the one that goes to Amesbury and therefore Stonehenge, rather than the one that goes to Marlborough and Avebury. This was a hilly route, which I surprisingly enjoyed (I see more road riding and hills in my future), but my husband did not.

Salisbury Plains

The plains are lovely. The weather was pretty good so it looked even better. The roads were practically empty, although I had hoped for a tank sighting. They were active on the plains, there was a large military training manoeuvre going on, but no tanks present, just lots of booms.

Bristol

We didn’t spend long in Bristol, but what I did see looked pretty awesome. There were lots and lots of cycle lanes and bikes everywhere. People were commuting by bike and going to the pub by bike. It was like bikes could be a normal form of transport or something. Who knew?!

There is a great cycle path linking Bath to Bristol on a repurposed railway line. It was the first of its kind and the trigger for the foundation of Sustrans, without whom a lot of this trip wouldn’t have been possible. It is a really great link between two pretty cool cities.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

To leave Bristol we rode along the River Avon and underneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It really felt like heading to the coast, which of course we were doing. It was great.

The End

We finished the trip with a final section of canal from Bridgewater to Taunton. This is a canal that never got finished and connected up so it is very quiet. It also has the most awesome scale model of the solar system I have seen for a while. We noticed along the path were model planets in plinths, seemingly to scale. We read the plaques and wondered what it was all about.

Then there was the Sun, exactly halfway along the path. The whole thing was an installation to help people realise how big space is. The planets then went out again from the Sun the other way all the way into Taunton. It was a pretty cool end to the trip.

The sun

The sun is to scale if the whole solar system was 10 miles in diameter. Thats pretty big.

The route was on the whole very good. I initially worried about being able to follow the complicated directions, but it was actually pretty easy. The route was more than suitable for a new cyclist and the distance each day was manageable. There were plenty of train stations along the way so even if we had to bail or fancied doing a bit of it again, we could.

We both enjoyed the trip immensely and I am looking forward to more tours and to getting out on country roads more and testing myself on some hills in the next few months.

If you want to try out all or some of this route, you can get the book over on Amazon.co.uk for £15.99 with Prime shipping!

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8 Responses to Go West! My first cycle tour – part 1 – the route and scenic highlights

  1. Rangjan 22/09/2016 at 9:11 pm #

    Congratulations!
    You found a Sustrans cycle path that’s not a hidden route marker on the lamppost of a normal road or a muddy gully. One day I also hope to find one.

  2. Jean-Paul, van Doren 23/09/2016 at 10:23 am #

    Really nice write up, and great pictures ,

    I know this is a comment on another road but just to help Sustains an the great work they do here is another tested route….the Sustains route number 2 is another great route it just struggles with anti cyclist councils along the road , so there are some gaps but on a whole well organised.

    In any case congratulations and thank you for sharing this, you made me put “going West” on my bucket list, before i leave this country for good.

  3. Nick 23/09/2016 at 11:01 am #

    How many hours a day were you in the saddle, what sort of pace for that many miles?

  4. Andy ZE 23/09/2016 at 11:16 am #

    Well done for getting out there, and especially in dragging the other half along. I plan never to do more than 30 miles on my first day to warm me up, but generally end up doing about twice that or even more. I always pay the price though. Once you have been bitten by the bug you’ll start to want to get out there more often. Enjoy!

  5. cbratina 23/09/2016 at 3:45 pm #

    Nice report with great photos. I have two suggestions for future touring to make it more pleasurable.

    1. Put on the largest tires that will fit. I use 700x32c Gatorskins for my solo and random (no flats on LEJOG). Next European tour we will use 26x54c Compass Rat Trap tires to deal with the rough pavement over here.

    2. Switch your panniers to a front low rider rack to better balance the bike.
    .

  6. david 26/09/2016 at 1:00 pm #

    So how often did you keep your bikes in your room! I’m guessing that wasn’t a problem if you are on the ground floor.
    Sounds like a lovely trip by the way 🙂

    • Emily 26/09/2016 at 4:30 pm #

      Hey David. We took our bikes in the rooms twice, once in a Premier Inn and once in a Travel Lodge (the only two ‘big brand’ hotels we stayed in. In the Premier Inn we were on the first floor but there was a lift. In the Travel Lodge the guy on the check in desk moved us to a lovely big ground floor room without us even having to ask (there was no lift we later learned). The smaller places all had storage areas and we would have had a much harder time getting the bikes to the room had we tried. Everywhere we stayed it was pretty clear we were not the first guests they have had turn up on bikes, which was nice.
      Cheers!

  7. Patric 26/11/2016 at 9:14 am #

    really a beautiful place…cycling on this place really feel something els…

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