Cycling / Interviews

Local author’s guide to traffic-free cycling

By joanna booth, Wednesday Apr 1, 2015

The National Cycle Network was founded in Bristol so it is only fitting that a Bristol author should write the guide to 150 of its best traffic-free routes to mark the network’s 20th anniversary.

Wendy Johnson (below) spent many days in the saddle researching the book for Sustrans.

“There are some great Bristol rides in the book, old and new,” Wendy says. “The classic one is the Bristol & Bath Railway Path. It’s one of the original routes on the National Cycle Network and is incredibly popular.

“It’s mostly flat and leads between two amazing cities, plus you enter the beautiful south Gloucestershire and Somerset countryside along the way. It’s probably the ride I do most often.”

Festival Way is one of the Network’s newer routes (it opened in 2013) and also features in the book. It leads from Queen Square out to Nailsea, following the chocolate path at the start.

As you approach Bedminster Cricket Ground you get a great view of the Suspension Bridge, Avon Gorge and Clifton. Climb up into Ashton Court and then it’s a flat and easy ride out into Long Ashton and Nailsea.

But Wendy’s favourite local ride is the Strawberry Line, which starts at Yatton train station and heads out into the Mendips to end at Cheddar.

“I love watching the landscape transform from flat Somerset Levels at the start to the vast Cheddar Gorge at the end. A few miles in you ride through Thatchers cider orchard and beside the long, straight rows of apple trees.

“I usually like to stop for a break in the little market town of Axbridge, which is lovely, but if I’m eating then I wait and go to The Sitting Room in Cheddar at the end. It’s a bit tucked away compared to the other cafes, but it’s so good.”

Wendy says that the happiest part of her exploration during the book was going back to Yorkshire where she grew up and where much of her family still lives and getting to see it from a whole new angle, on a bike.

“Often when I go up north I’m out and about with my mum and sister and don’t ride much so it was a real treat. Plus I was going home to mum’s each night between rides to some mammoth home-cooked meals and the general family-fussing that I crave every now and again.

“There were lots of simple daily pleasures too; riding like the wind to catch a train and just making it, or even just rolling into the driveway of my B&B every night after a long day of riding, especially if my room had a bath and biscuits.”

The book is meant for people who are tackling a ride at a time as a day out or on holiday, so they’ll have time to stop at the viewpoints or visitor attractions along the way, or settle down for a picnic.

Wendy didn’t have the luxury of that. Sometimes she would ride as many as five routes in one day so she had to keep pedalling, and of course travel between them all, either under her own steam or on the train.

Loneliness was her biggest challenge.

“There was something very freeing about catching an early morning train and disappearing into the Peak District or North Wales for a week, but I did miss home, my boyfriend, my cat.

“Having said that, when I got a break and a few days at home I’d be itching to get back out again. It was a sad day when I did my final ride and switched my GPS off knowing that the riding was all done and the writing all lay ahead of me. After a couple of months spent almost entirely on my bike I spent a couple of months entirely at my desk. I barely rode at all, it was a bit of a culture shock.”

Sustrans’ Traffic-Free Cycle Rides by Wendy Johnson, £15.99.

Photos courtesy of Sustrans

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