Great West Way Travel Magazine
TRAVEL BY TRAIN
With the GWR Great West Way Discoverer Pass you can hop on and off at any station around the route - Reading, Swindon, Chippenham and Bath Spa, or London Paddington to Windsor & Eton Central
With the GWR Great West Way Discoverer pass you can hop off at any station along the way
AH, THE ROMANCE OF THE RAILWAY. The sound of the whistle that announces the train's departure, the clack-clack rhythm of the rails as they pass beneath the wheels, and the everchanging view that passes by the window. Settling in to a railway carriage is a treat – one that heralds adventure and can be accompanied by a steaming cup of tea or a cooling bottle of beer, no driving required.
Seeing the Great West Way by train means becoming a part of its history. Trains have chugged and steamed along this route for over 175 years, bringing produce to market and business to towns, holidaymakers to the countryside and rural folk to the capital. Join the story of England's railways on a journey along the Great West Way with the GWR Great West Way Discoverer Pass.
The Discoverer pass makes travelling the route easy and hassle free. It includes unlimited off-peak train travel from London Paddington/Waterloo along the route to Bristol Temple Meads via Reading and/or Basingstoke circular routes with options to branch off towards Oxford and Kemble. It also includes unlimited travel on the bus services along the route. →
THE GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY
One of England's great long-distance railway lines, the Great Western Railway runs along the full distance of the Great West Way – from London's Paddington station to Bristol Temple Meads. It's chief engineer was Isambard Kingdom Brunel and you'll travel the course he plotted back in the 1830s, including his Box Tunnel, infamously said to be impossible to build. Before he built it.
In one go, the journey takes just 1 hour 40 minutes, but stopping en route to explore the Great West Way is far more fun. First stop is Reading, for a cruise on the River Thames, a stroll through Caversham Court Gardens and the chance to watch a professional football match at Reading FC's Majedski Stadium. Next stop is Swindon, home to STEAM, the Museum of the Great Western Railway.
Here you'll see famous locomotives from throughout the railway's history, drive a train simulator and work the signals in the interactive GWR signal box. Right next door is the McArthurGlen outlet shopping village, where more than 100 brands are on sale at up to 60% off.
Armed with your new skills – and perhaps a souvenir or three to take home – head next to Chippenham, a historic market town in the rural county of Wiltshire. On the banks of the River Avon, Chippenham is a flourishing small town, with an enticing market to explore on Fridays and Saturdays on the High Street and plenty of proper English pubs.
It's just 15 minutes by bus from here to Lacock, seen on screen more often than Judi Dench. This picturesque village has been the backdrop to film and TV titles such as Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey – see if you recognise Lacock Abbey and the High Street from your favourite scenes.
Your final calling point en route to Bristol is the beautiful city of Bath. You'll want plenty of time here, for a stroll past honey-hued Georgian buildings and a dip in the natural hot springs that bubble up from the ground.
Don't miss the original Roman Baths, too, not to mention the Jane Austen Centre, where afternoon tea is served Regency style.
The Great Western Railway ends in Bristol, a vibrant city where you can climb aboard the last Concorde ever made (built right here in Bristol) at Aerospace Bristol, and clamber up the rigging of one of Brunel's other famous creations, the SS Great Britain, the world's first great ocean liner. SS Great Britain celebrates two big anniversaries in 2020; 50 years since her epic salvage and homecoming; and 175 years since arriving in New York City.
Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge is here too, beckoning you on along the River Avon and out to Avon Gorge.
Set foot atop this world-famous bridge and quietly thank Brunel for the journey he made possible – along the Great West Way by rail.
EXPLORE TOWNS AND VILLAGES AT YOUR LEISURE
The Great Western Railway is far from just one main line. Take an alternative rail journey and you can get off the beaten track and out into more rural areas. Consider returning to London via a different route, taking the train from Bath to Bradford on Avon for example.
This glorious small town sits on the edge of The Cotswolds and straddles the River Avon. Cross the waters in ancient footsteps, on the 13th-century town bridge, and stand dwarfed in the 14th-century Tithe Barn, its lattice of timbers soaring for over 50 metres far above your head.
Change at Westbury and head east for Bedwyn, where you can disembark for a stroll along the water's edge on the towpath of the Kennet & Avon Canal, which runs from Bristol all the way to Reading. After just over two miles you'll encounter a surprise – the world's oldest working steam engines. The Crofton Beam Engines are fed by a hand-stoked coal-fired boiler and are still plugging away at the same job they were designed to do more than 200 years ago – pumping water up to the highest point of the canal.
Back on the railway there are two other stops worth making en route to Reading – at Hungerford and Newbury. You're travelling through the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty here so press that nose up against the window and pick out the perfect place for a stroll. There are several short loop walks from Hungerford (an ancient town also known for its antique shops) or you could walk the nine miles to Newbury along the canal.
Once you're in Newbury you could stop for a flutter – there's a world-class racecourse here. While closer to London, trains between Reading and London Paddington call at Twyford, where you can change onto the line to Henley-on-Thames, home to the famous regatta and plenty of messing about in boats.
Trains also call at Slough, where you can catch a train to Windsor to poke your head into the State Rooms of the Queen's favourite castle.
RIDE THE RAILS OF THE HERITAGE STEAM RAILWAYS
Savour the unmistakable sights, sounds and smells of steam at the Didcot Railway Centre, as you relive the golden age of the famous Great Western Railway. Find the entrance through the ticket hall and original steam age subway of Didcot Parkway railway station. Just outside Bristol is the Avon Valley Railway, where you can ride three miles of preserved track from the Victorian Bitton station through the valley, listening to the puff and whistle of the steam train. Reach Bitton by taking the Great Western Railway from Bristol to Keynsham and following the brown signs on foot for 1.5 miles. Near Swindon you'll see the steam of the Swindon & Cricklade Railway rising above the Taw Valley. Ride the rails for more than two miles from Taw Valley Halt to Blunsdon on a heritage steam train. You'll need to take a bus to get here, the number 15 from the centre of Swindon stops at the Tawny Owl pub, close to Taw Valley Halt.