Discover one of Brindley's great canal masterpieces.
Minimum time 4h00
Distance 20 miles (32.2km)
Suggested map OS Explorer 155 Bristol & Bath & 156 Chippenham & Bradford-on-Avon
Start/finish Bradford-on-Avon railway station (pay car park); grid ref: ST 825606
Trails/tracks gravel tow path, short section on road
Landscape canal tow path through the wooded and pastoral Avon Valley
Public toilets at start
Tourist information Bradford-on-Avon, tel 01225 865797
Bike hire The Lock Inn Café, 48 Frome Road, Bradford-on-Avon tel: 01225 868068
Recommended pub The George, Bathampton
Notes Care through town; unguarded canal tow paths shared with pedestrians; blind approaches to bridges; dismount in tunnels; flight of steps on approaching Bath
© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
Bradford-on-Avon is only 5 miles (8km) south east of Bath and lies on the A363 to Trowbridge. Park at the railway station, from where the ride begins.
1 Leaving the station car park, turn right along the main road in the direction of Frome. Continue past a mini-roundabout to the Canal Tavern and Lock Inn Café. Go between them to join the towpath and follow it past Grange Farm with its massive 600-year-old tithe barn. The River Avon runs below to the right, containing Barton Farm Country Park's picnic and wildlife areas within the intervening spit of land. Beyond a gate, continue beside the canal to Avoncliff.
2 The canal now makes an abrupt turn across the Avon Valley, carried above both the river and railway on an imposing aqueduct. Do not cross, but at a sign to Dundas just before, drop steeply right towards the Cross Guns pub, then double back left underneath the bridge, climbing left to gain the opposite towpath. Tacked along the wooded valley, the waterway runs pleasantly on, harbouring an assortment of ducks, coots and moorhens. Turning a corner opposite Limpley Stoke, pass beneath a road bridge, then look out on the left for a glimpse of a viaduct taking the A36 across the Midford Brook valley.
3 Another sharp turn heralds the Dundas Aqueduct, immediately beyond which is the last remnant of the Somerset Coal Canal, completed in 1805 to transport coal from Radstock and Paulton to Bristol. The track just before it leads to Brassknocker Basin, where a small exhibition (open daily in summer) describes its history. The route, however, continues ahead, signed 'Bath and Claverton', winding behind a derrick and maintenance building and onto the opposite bank. A mile (1.2km) further on, immediately beyond a bridge, a track drops across the railway to the river where there is a restored pump house (Claverton Pumping Station), built in 1813 to replenish the water drained by the locks descending to Bath. There are views to Bathford and Batheaston as you pedal the last 1.75 miles (2.8km) to Bathampton and The George.
4 To extend the ride, continue beside the canal, the eastern suburbs of Bath rising on the opposite side of the valley. Eventually the city itself comes into view with a glimpse of the abbey at its heart. There are a couple of short tunnels to pass through at Sidney Gardens, where you should dismount. Between them, two ornate cast-iron bridges span the canal, which, together with the elaborate façade of the second tunnel beneath Cleveland House, were added to placate the owners of Sidney Park, who rather disapproved of common cargo barges passing through their land.
5 Emerging below Cleveland House, the towpath doubles back onto the opposite bank, passes former warehouses, now a marina, and rises to a road. Taking care, diagonally cross and drop back to the tow path, here having to negotiate a flight of steps. Beyond, the canal falls impressively through a succession of locks, the path periodically rising to cross a couple of roads and a track before meeting the River Avon. To explore Bath, carry on a little further by the river to emerge on the road beside Churchill Bridge in the city centre. As the city is busy, it is perhaps preferable to secure your bikes whilst you wander around. The return is back the way you came, but remember you have to climb steps to the road at Bathwick Hill and dismount through the tunnels at Sidney Gardens, or you could return by train.
John Rennie began the construction of the Kennet and Avon Canal in 1794 to link the Avon and Kennet Navigations between Bath and Bristol and thus create a continuous waterway between Bristol and London. The 57 mile (92km) canal took 16 years to complete and was quite an achievement, requiring two great aqueducts and a spectacular flight of 29 locks at Caen Hill outside Devizes to lift the waterway over 240ft (73m) onto the summit level. It proved a highly profitable venture and was soon carrying over 350,000 tons a year between the two great cities. By the middle of the 19th century, competition from railways foreshadowed its decline, and in 1846 was taken over by the Great Western Railway Company. GWR signs remain on some of its bridges, ominously mounted on the instrument of its ruin, an upended length of railway track. Re-opened in 1990, many of the canal's original features still excite the imagination, none more so than the two splendid stone aqueducts carrying the canal across the Avon Valley, one of them named after the canal company's founding chairman, Charles Dundas. They presented major technical difficulties for Rennie as they had not only to carry a great weight but remain watertight, yet his creations combined both aesthetic quality and practicality in the best tradition of the great architects.
The Kennet and Avon Canal passes through picturesque countryside. An attractive riverside pub at Bathampton offers a turning point although the locks passed into Bath on the longer ride are worth seeing.