Following the valleys of the Severn and Avon means this route from Bristol to the Midlands is rarely hilly. With two thirds on quiet lanes and one third on cycleways, it’s a relaxing and easy ride for both novice and seasoned tourers.
Starting from Bristol, the first miles along the Avon Gorge are probably the most scenic of the entire route. The woodland path, though unsurfaced, on this bank of the river is greatly preferable to the workaday roadside path along the Portway on the north bank.
At Pill, you climb sharply up to the M5 viaduct for a startling view down onto the Avon below. Then it’s a safe if hardly exciting ride past Avonmouth on traffic-free paths.
The lanes of the Severn estuary are popular cycling country: don’t be surprised if you see Land’s End—John O’Groats cyclists heading the other way, as well as roadies out for the afternoon. Enjoy the views over the estuary to the Forest of Dean; the hedges close in as you approach Gloucester.
Berkeley Castle (where Edward II was murdered with a red-hot poker) gives the little market town a late-medieval character. At Slimbridge, the route pops onto the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal towpath for two miles – narrow and a little corrugated, but tolerable. We rejoin the towpath on the approach to Gloucester, but here it’s surfaced, smooth and wide.
NCN 41’s passage through Gloucester is unforgettable. First you weave through the historic docks, passing the warehouses that line the canal. A narrow medieval street takes you to Westgate and the front door of Gloucester Cathedral. It doesn’t have the retail appeal of Cheltenham, granted, but Gloucester has history in spades.
The route into Cheltenham is currently a patchwork of paths and residential streets: a more direct segregated route is planned for the near future. Rather than passing through Cheltenham town centre, NCN 41 bypasses it on the ‘Honeybourne Line’, a converted railway path following the old line to Stratford and Birmingham – we’ll pick that up again later.
There’s no signposted route from here to Tewkesbury. You can go via Bishops Cleeve on busy roads, or in good weather, take the unpaved bridleway to Elmstone Hardwicke. Pick up the National Byway signs at Tredington for the route into Tewkesbury. Do consider a brief detour into the town centre with its abbey, timber shopfronts adorned with flags, and interesting waterfront.
If you don’t want to visit Cheltenham, NCN 45 on the west bank of the Severn provides an alternative route between Gloucester and Tewkesbury. It’s all on country lanes apart from half a mile on the A438 into Tewkesbury. Take a detour to the outstanding riverside Lower Lode Inn just after Chaceley, but note that the ferry there no longer operates.
Heading west from Tewkesbury, the route is overshadowed by Bredon Hill all the way to Evesham. The off-road section immediately after Ashchurch is little better than a field-edge path, and definitely not suitable for road bikes. You can take a circuitous detour via Overbury: we wouldn’t recommend the busy A46.
As yet the route isn’t signposted through Evesham. Our map follows a safe route along residential roads, but Worcestershire County Council is planning an all-new route across a brand new cycle bridge. Take care crossing the A46 bypass on the way out of the town. The unsurfaced byway after Badsey is unrideable in wet weather, and not good for road bikes; outside the summer months, consider going via Bretforton.
Easy, flat lane cycling leads through Honeybourne to Long Marston, where we join the Stratford Greenway. This railway path (firm gravel) is actually the continuation of the ‘Honeybourne Line’ we encountered back in Cheltenham. It ends by Stratford Racecourse, from where back streets lead into the bustling, tourist-thronged centre of Stratford.
Winding lanes lead to Warwick past the National Trust’s opulent Charlecote Park – look out for deer. Both Warwick and adjacent Leamington Spa are enjoyable towns to explore, Leamington being an affluent shopping destination much in the same vein as Cheltenham.
The Offchurch Greenway railway path takes you out of Leamington into the Warwickshire countryside. Works are underway to extend this all the way to Draycote Water, but for now, you’ll have to take a detour via rural roads to Long Itchington and a canal towpath (and, happily, a canalside pub). Rejoin the greenway at Birdingbury.
There’s a cycleway all the way around Draycote Water: NCN 41 follows the shorter north bank. It’s a short hop on a roadside railway to one final railway path, the remains of the Great Central, which takes you into Rugby town centre.
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The section under the M5 and M49 motorways is blocked and looks like it has been so for ages. I just managed to carry my bike over the concrete blocks ; luckily I wasn't loaded with touring bags.
There is no local info about this; no diversion signposted.