Visit the splendid remnants of an ancient abbey church and follow in the footsteps of Roman soldiers.
Minimum time 2h00
Distance 9.75 miles (15.7km)
Suggested map OS Explorer 168 Stroud, Tetbury & Malmesbury
Start/finish The Vine Tree, Norton (ask permission first); grid ref: ST 887846
Trails/tracks country lanes and gravel tracks, a short town section at Malmesbury
Landscape undulating hill farmland
Public toilets in Malmesbury behind the town square
Tourist information Malmesbury; tel: 01666 823748
Bike hire C H White & Son, 51 High Street, Malmesbury, tel 01666 822330 (prior bookings only) - alternative start
Recommended pub The Vine Tree, Norton
Notes Great care to be taken through Malmesbury; steep descent and climb at Roman Bridge on the Fosse Way
© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
Malmesbury stands midway between Chippenham and Cirencester just off the A429 on the B4040. Norton is 3 miles (4.8km) to the south west . On entering the village, turn right, signposted Foxley, follow the road round to the right for the pub.
1 Out of The Vine Tree car park, pedal easily away along the lane to the left, reaching a junction after 0.75 mile (1.2km). Keep left with the main lane, before long arriving at Foxley. Go right, passing the community's tiny church.
2 Continue along the lane for 2 miles (3.2km) to the outskirts of Malmesbury, where Common Road joins from the right. Keep going as the road shortly winds down to cross the Sherston branch of the River Avon, where there is a view right to the abbey church. Climb away, remaining with the main road as it bends right to a T-junction. Go right, and then at the next junction, in front of The Triangle and war memorial, go right again to the abbey. It is perhaps a good idea to park your bike there while you explore the town centre, just a short walk away.
3 Ride back to the junction by the war memorial and now turn right along Gloucester Road, passing through the town to a mini-roundabout. There, bear left into Park Road, signed to Park Road Industrial Estate. Fork off right after 300yds (274m) to remain with Park Road. After passing a few more houses, the route abruptly leaves the town, and continues beside the Avon's Tetbury Branch along a narrow hedged lane.
4 Reaching a T-junction, go right, crossing the river towards Brokenborough. The lane climbs easily to the village, passing the Rose and Crown and then falling to the church and Church Lane. After 100yds (91m), turn off left into a lane marked as a cul-de-sac. After dropping to re-cross the river, the narrow lane climbs past Brook Farm, initially steeply, but soon levelling to continue between the fields.
5 The track ends at a T-junction with a broad, straight track, the Fosse Way. Go left. Very soon, the tarmac gives way to coarse gravel and stone, and although the way is firm, the surface is loose in places and there is a risk of skidding if you travel at speed. After 0.5 mile (800m), cross a lane by Fosse Cottage and carry on past a water-pumping station for another mile (1.6km) to the B4040. Keep an eye open for fast-moving traffic as you cross and continue, the track, before long, starting a steepening descent. It bends at the bottom to a bridge over the Sherston Branch.
6 Although widened in modern times the upstream portion of the bridge is original and dates back to a Roman settlement beside the river. The climb away on the far bank is very steep, and you may have to get off and push. Beyond, the way runs easily again for 0.5 mile (800m) to another road crossing. Keep ahead with the byway, the surface now of earth and a little rutted, shortly emerging onto another lane. Go ahead, staying with it as it soon bends left away from the line of the Roman road. Eventually dropping to a T-junction at the edge of Norton, go left to The Vine Tree.
All that is left of Malmesbury's great monastery, founded in 676 by St Aldhelm, is part of the abbey church, which survived Henry VIII's Dissolution only because it was granted to the town for use as its parish church. The building dates from the 12th century and was constructed on a vast cruciform plan. Beside it stood a secluded cloister surrounded by the domestic buildings in which the monks lived.
If what remains is anything to go by, then the medieval building must have been a truly magnificent sight, a long avenue of soaring columns lifting the roof high above the church. Exquisite stonework is revealed in fine arches, vaulting and tracery, while the early Norman carving in the porch is particularly striking.
An unusual and rare feature is the curious watching loft that projects from the upper wall high above the southern side of the nave; nobody is really sure what purpose it served. Also of interest is the tomb of Alfred the Great's grandson, King Athelstan. He commissioned the first translation of the Bible into English, and his tomb stands near the north west corner of the church, while outside is the grave of Hannah Twynnoy, a servant at the town's White Lion Inn, who died after being mauled by a tiger in 1703.
This undemanding ride combines historic Malmesbury with quiet lanes and good off-road cycling. The route roughly follows part of two shallow valleys which converge on Malmesbury. The 'circle' is completed along a straight stretch of the Fosse Way.