Great West Way Travel Magazine


- Words: Diana Woolf

One of the best ways to explore the Great West Way is under your own steam, either on foot or bicycle. Soak up sights and sounds easily missed by train or car - off the beaten track

Explore the land around the Great West Way under your own steam, either on foot or bicycle. Soak up sights and sounds easily missed when speeding west by train or car and discover treasures off the beaten track

FROM ANCIENT TRAILS to disused railways, there’s a path for all tastes and all energy levels. While some people might like to walk the whole 125 miles from London to Bristol in one single trip, (would recommend at least 6 days!) most will prefer to take their time, and to choose their own path, absorbing the sights as they go and taking advantage of the many rewarding watering-holes and charming resting-places to be experience­d. Throughout the Great West Way, there are choices and options of both routes and daily destinatio­ns. Armed with a good map (and strong legs), you can roam the countrysid­e, making your own memories in this idyllic land and free to go/stop as you please.

Leaving London, the temptation to hurry westward is to be resisted as the opportunit­y to follow the 50+ miles of Thames Path from Putney to Reading should not be missed, if schedules permit. Taking in such beauties as the magnificen­t expanse of Richmond Park, the royal palaces

of Hampton Court and Windsor Castle, Henley, Eton and delightful riverside villages, the path leads to the Kennet & Avon Canal and thence, 87-miles away, the city of Bristol.

Our suggestion­s of good places to break this leg of the journey would be The Swan, at Staines, pet-friendly and with great dining, and The Great House or The French Horn, both at Sonning. The easily-negotiated canal/river towpath ends at Bath, from where the 13-mile Bristol-Bath Railway Path, following the route of the old Midland Railway, leads to the destinatio­n.

For those who like to take things easy, there are plenty of stopping points along this section as some of the old stations are still open; you can get a snack at the Warmley Waiting Room and there’s also a café at Bitton Station.

The Railway Path is part of the larger National Cycle Network and links up with National Route 4 which starts in London and makes its way along the Thames and then eventually cross-country to Bath. →

As well as passing through some lovely rural scenery, the path takes in some fascinatin­g reminders of England’s industrial past including the extraordin­ary Devizes Locks, (as featured on page 21) a flight of 28 separate locks, and the longest continuous flight of broad locks. First opened in 1810 and now a scheduled ancient monument. This, then, is certainly the most direct route but misses much of the wonders to be found, away from the waterway and track. Natural beauty, prehistori­c marvels and marvellous wayside halts lie in wait for those who choose adventure.

A favourite, ancient path is the Ridgeway, starting at Ivinghoe Beacon and joining the Great West Way at the North Wessex Downs, it is certainly one of England’s oldest, used by travellers for at least 5000 years. Accessed at pretty Goring, a little further along the Thames Path from Reading, it’s an 87-mile long path running across the heart of the Great West Way. From the North Chilterns, the path wends its way southwest across the hills to join the North Wessex Downs, finishing at mysterious Silbury Hill, west of Marlboroug­h and just a few miles north of the Kennet & Avon river, close to another ‘white horse’ on Hackpen Hill. It passes through some of our most lovely countrysid­e and, as it keeps to the high ground – historical­ly less wooded and drier than the surroundin­g valleys, so easier to travel – it gives walkers a chance to enjoy some spectacula­r views. A particular­ly interestin­g section runs from Wantage to Swindon, across the famous, in the horse-racing world, Lambourn Downs. Legend has it that Dragon Hill is where St George killed the dragon -– there’s no grass on top of the hill as supposedly the dragon’s spilt blood killed it all. You will get a perfect view of the Uffington White Horse, a prehistori­c shape carved into the chalky hillside, as well as the site of the Iron Age hill-fort, Uffington Castle, built around 2600 years ago.

Nearby, too, is the Neolithic burial mound at Wayland’s Smithy. Legend has it a pagan god had his blacksmith’s forge in the burial chamber and he would shoe your horse if you left it, and a suitable payment, overnight. As it is a country path, you will not pass through villages or towns and careful planning is required. In view of the distances involved, you might consider resting near Goring, Wantage and Swindon. Take a good look at Royal Oak at Yattendon, Queens Arms at East Garston and Helen Browning’s Royal Oak, Wiltshire – you will not be disappoint­ed. Once you are

back on the A4 at Avebury, you will likely be ready for another break and the Old Forge at East Kennett, on the very banks of the River Kennet, could not be better placed. If you don’t fancy the towpath challenge, a 10-mile hike/ride will bring you to Chippenham and public transport will speed you on your way.

The Cotswolds Way is another of England’s long distance trails and its lower reaches are easily accessible from the Great West Way. It starts in the lovely city of Bath and then runs north along the Cotswold escarpment for 102 miles towards the Midlands. A good day’s effort would take you past Bath Racecourse and the monument to Sir Bevil Grenville’s 1643 heroics in the English Civil War towards the opulent country estate of Dyrham Park. Stop for refreshmen­t (or stay the night) at the Crown Inn at Dyrham.

Further along this trail, and a short detour to the east, you could find Malmesbury a vibrant market town steeped in history. Here you can enjoy river walks along the River Avon which winds around the town, or stay in England’s oldest hotel, The Old Bell.

Wherever you go, by whichever route and whatever form of transport floats your boat, you’ll be assured of a warm welcome along the Great West Way, with something new and fascinatin­g to discover at every turn.

 ??  ?? Pictured: Cherhill Downs with Cherhill White Horse in the background
Pictured: Cherhill Downs with Cherhill White Horse in the background
 ??  ?? The rural charm of the touring route, including 3 Areas of Outstandin­g Natural Beauty, makes it a picturesqu­e destinatio­n for any walking or cycling tour
The rural charm of the touring route, including 3 Areas of Outstandin­g Natural Beauty, makes it a picturesqu­e destinatio­n for any walking or cycling tour
 ??  ?? Pictured both pages:
Cherhill Downs
Pictured both pages: Cherhill Downs
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom