Friday, 28 March 2014

Family Cycling mini break: from Bristol into the Somerset Levels

This article shows how our London-Land’s End CycleRoute Book can serve you with an easy-pace Dutch-style family-friendly three-day cycling itinerary from Bristol; ideal for a long weekend away of a half-term break with children!

Bristol is a great place to start your minibreak, as more and more locals join Bristol’s cycling vibe. Various bike hires have opened in the city in recent years, so it is now easier than ever before to rock up and rent a bike for a couple of days. It is also possible to bring your own bike by train to Bristol Temple Meads station and join our route from there. 

Those bringing their own bike by car should park at Mud Dock, with its cycling cafĂ© probably the grooviest starting point for a bike ride in town.  Whatever your means of transport to Bristol is, remember to ride bicycles with luggage racks and to bring some pannier bags with you, so you are able to carry your own luggage for a couple of days at a maximum comfort; leave those sweaty rucksacks at home!

Our journey starts with an exploration of Bristol’s Floating Harbour. This is where a rundown dock area has been reshaped into a place where people live, work, dine, drink and enjoy! Most of the quays are now traffic-free and it is a pleasure to cycle to the M-Shed, Bristol’s City Museum with its four iconic heritage cranes . The harbour is also home to the first ever iron ship of the world, the SS Great Britain. This ship is docked on a stone’s throw from the Aardman Studios, famous for its Wallace and Gromit animations. 

We leave Bristol entirely traffic-free via the cycle path through Avon Gorge, the treacherous waterway that connects Bristol with the sea.  We cycle under the amazing Clifton Suspension Bridge, a masterpiece of the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. 

It is amazing how Avon Gorge takes you out of the city into a green lush valley where you can truly feel away from it all. It takes just over an hour of cycling at very easy pace to reach the charming village of Pill, where we enjoy a riverside lunch at one of its cafes.

The afternoon pushes us very quickly and traffic-free through the industrial Royal Portbury Docks where young riders are always amazed by the sheer number of new cars stacked up on enormous parking lots. We manage to keep them cycling and get them onto a specially selected quiet country lane in the beautiful Gordano Valley, which takes us all the way to the seaside town of Clevedon.

Enjoy some great views over the Bristol Channel from a bench on the cliff or watch the sunset from the Victorian Grand Pier, by many regarded as England’s most elegant seaside pier. Note accommodation in Clevedon is limited, so ensure to make reservations in advance. 

As the children are keen on camping, we head for Bullock Farm just out of town to pitch our tents on the meadows of Phil & Jude Simmons. Phil & Jude are big fans of our publications, as they have been enjoying a new stream of cycling visitors since we published our London-Land’s End Cycle Route Book. Their campsite also features a cafe and farm shop.

On the start of our second day the guidebook brings us easily to Yatton Station where Tobias and his team provide us with a tasty breakfast in their community-managed Strawberry Line Cafe. This is where the Strawberry Line starts, a great cycle path on a former railway line. The original railway was named after the many strawberries it carried from nearby farms until it closed in 1963. Today, the route truly allows you to cycle through the heart of fruit orchard country. When stopping for lunch in Winscombe we try some locally produced apple cider!



After lunch, the children have a great adventure cycling in the spooky Shute Shelve Tunnel, which takes us under one of the high ridges of the Mendip Hills without having to take in any serious hill climbing! We have a break once again at a picnic bench beyond the tunnel, as the views are just amazing! It is so quiet and peaceful here that we can’t help ourselves to get our towels out of our panniers for a short siesta under the leafy trees!

The last section of the Strawberry Line takes us via pleasant Axbridge into Cheddar, famous for its cheese, caves and its gorge. We check in early at the local youth hostel and park our bikes in the locked shed, as the Cheddar Gorge and limestone cliffs are best to be explored on foot. By doing so in the early evening, we have the place nearly entirely for ourselves, as the crowds have long gone…

The next morning, we are in for a pleasant surprise. Just when we are ready to start our third and final cycling day, a cyclist arrives in Cheddar’s High Street, carrying a very familiar guidebook on his handlebars. It is Dutch cyclist Rens van Driel, using the Dutch language version of our guidebook. Of course he is very pleased to meet the author of his “cycling passe-partout” in person and we take a picture to mark the occasion.

Leaving Cheddar, we are now truly entering the Somerset Levels. My guidebook literally says “as this region was historically subject to winter flooding, it remains remarkably thinly populated”. I wrote these words in autumn 2012, not knowing that the flooding in the 2014 winter would break all records! The 2014 devastation is hard to imagine when taking in the spring or summer Somerset Levels scene: views dominated by cattle grazing and flat, empty country lanes; ideal for cycling!

Rughill and Polden Hills rise steeply from the plain though and our cycling youngsters enjoy putting their gears at work on these modest climbs, giving them the feeling they are climbing a Tour de France mountain! Also exciting is a herd of cows heading towards us on the road, forcing us to stop in the verge to allow the “friendly ladies” to pass by. Such events naturally can’t be planned, but add a lot of favour to a ride. Out on your bike there will always be such an event at some stage of the journey and what a joy to experience these things if you are not in a car!

Cossington’s park common provides a good spot to have an early packed lunch before cycling our last stretch to Bridgwater. Cycling on the embankments of the River Parrett, we make our way to the Somerset Brick and Tile Museum. This small museum is a good place to spend some time while waiting for our train that will take us back to Bristol Temple Meads station. When we arrive back in Bristol by 5 pm we still have plenty of time to head back home. Three enjoyable easy-going cycling days have come to an end! Now it is your turn! 

Itinerary:

Day 1: Bristol – Clevedon:  30 km (18.5 miles): 2 x 1.5 hours at easy sight-seeing pace
Day 2: Clevedon – Cheddar: 30 km (18.5 miles): 2 x 1.5 hours at easy sight-seeing pace
Day 3: Cheddar – Bridgwater: 40 km (24.5 miles): 2 x 2 hours at easy sight-seeing pace

Sections of the route as described above are signposted through Sustran’s National Cycle Network, but it is only the London-Land’s End Cycle Route Book which connects it all together to one enjoyable continuous traffic-calmed route, allowing you to take in all the famous landmarks. The book features full route directions, maps, cyclists-focused visitor information and listings of conveniently located accommodations, (bike) shops and pubs. 



This guidebook is not just about Bristol and Somerset; the book of 164 pages in convenient handlebars-pocket size provides the same level of local knowledge for another 880 miles of cycle routes in southern England, allowing you to cycle Dutch-style from either Dover, Harwich or London all the way to either Land’s End or Plymouth! If you order your copy via the designated website you also receive GPS-tracks of all routes, which you can upload to your Outdoors App or navigation device.

Another guidebook by the Cycling Dutchman is Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise. This book makes you travel beyond Dutch cliches like clogs, windmills and the Amsterdam red light district, allowing you to truly explore the lowlands. The book features 1064 kms of routes and has special chapters explaining the unique Dutch cycling-minded traffic rules and its cycle route signage systems; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag. 

The Devon Coast to Coast is southern England's best developed cycle route. Traffic-free paths on former railway lines, such as the Tarka TrailGranite WayDrake's Trail and Plym Valley Way, allow you to explore Devon's stunning countryside at an easy pace. Whether you are young or old, fast or slow, the limited mileage and stunning countryside makes the Devon Coast to Coast an adventure suitable for all! If you love sightseeing from your bike, you can't go wrong with my latest guidebook; 40 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.