Check out these cool cycle routes that will help you explore the South West at your own leisure.
National Cycle Network Route 26
Station Start & Finish: Yatton
Distance: 20 miles
As sweet as it sounds, this former GWR branch line carried its cargo of summer fruits fresh from the fields of Somerset for almost a century, before closing in the 1960s.
Starting at Yatton (just 15 minutes on the mainline from Bristol Temple Meads), this easy-to-follow, there-and-back track takes you through moorland, marshes and cider apple orchards.
If you’re fond of the real amber nectar, visit the Thatchers farm shop as you cycle through the village of Sandford, or pop next door to their very own cider house, The Railway Inn, for a full range of draft and bottled ciders and top-quality gastropub grub.
Suitably refreshed, cycle on to the Shute Shelve Tunnel. This cuts a (very) dark passage through the Mendip Hills and is home to bats and cave spiders.
If you want to avoid riding on roads, turn around here or pedal past the picturesque town of Axbridge, with its medieval market square, before trekking on to Cheddar.
Buy a punnet of red berries from a roadside stall to enjoy at the nearby reservoir or push on for another mile for spectacular cliffs, caves and, er, cheese. Gorgeous.
National Cycle Network Route 2
Station Start & Finish: Topsham (via Exmouth)
Distance 9 miles
This Devonian circuit around the business end of the River Exe starts opposite Dart’s Farm shopping village (look for the bicycle on top of a telegraph pole), just a short ride along a shared-use path from Topsham Station.
A well-signed route meanders along the east side of the estuary. This is an internationally important area for birdlife, including avocets – striking black and white waders once described by Chris Packham as the ‘Audrey Hepburn of birds’ – that have given their name to the Exeter-Exmouth ‘Avocet Line’ running beside you.
The path travels over wooden boardwalks and through the villages of Exton and Lympstone before arriving in Exmouth marina. From here, catch the ferry across the mouth of the estuary to Starcross.
Near Starcross Station, you’ll notice a red brick pumping house, all that remains of Brunel’s ill-fated Atmospheric Railway. Brunel’s idea to propel trains by the power of air pressure was plagued by problems – including rats chomping their way through the leather flaps that sealed the air pipes – and was abandoned after less than a year.
Continuing up the estuary’s west side, you’ll find yourself pedalling past Powderham Castle (currently home to the 18th Earl and Countess of Devon) and on to the Turf Hotel. From the bottom of the beer garden, ‘Sea Dream’ will ferry you (and your bike) back to Topsham’s quayside.
National Cycle Network Route 45
Station Start & Finish: Swindon
Distance: 10 miles
Home to GWR’s STEAM museum, Swindon is synonymous with the railway, and this cycle route links the historic train station with a local well-kept secret.
From the station, follow the marked route out of town to Coate Water Park and the start of the trail proper. The path passes through the pretty park grounds, before crossing the M4 on a kind of concrete helter-skelter. It then follows the old Swindon to Marlborough railway line through a glorious Wiltshire wood, famous for its bluebell display in spring, to Chiseldon. Spend a while exploring this historic village – visit the remains of Iron Age Liddington Castle and see if you can spot the faint image of the Grim Reaper on the Devil Stone at Parsonage Farm.
Head back to the town centre via the country park at Coate. This spot, popular with Swindonians, is a very pleasant place to while away a summer’s afternoon. You can hire a rowing boat to pootle about on the 70-acre lake, play a round on the pitch ’n’ putt golf course, cool off in the ‘Splash Park’ or ride the miniature steam railway.