Sleep is a luxury my 2 year old son can apparently do without in any great quantity. Bed at 9pm, up at 5:30am. With a day off and my wife able to do the nursery run, I jumped in the car less than 10 minutes after waking up and made the short 10 minute drive to Bradford-on-Avon.
The 06:10 train is not the busiest, a few suits and me...in shorts and t-shirt with a hydration backpack. The train arrived in Bath at around 6:30am and I headed straight out the back of the station and onto the canal...
The canal isn’t difficult to find from Bath Spa train station. Exit out the back of the station, cross the bridge over the River Avon and then make a left. You’ll almost immediately then find the canal on your left opposite the Travelodge. In terms of navigation that’s pretty much it for the next 10 miles, there are a few points in Bath where you briefly leave the towpath at bridges to cross roads, but these are well signposted and only take you off the canal for a few seconds.
The section through Bath is by far the most built-up but in true Bath style it’s still incredibly picturesque. Two fairly long tunnels, listed properties, very old bridges (one metal bridge I noticed was built in 1800) and plenty of stunning waterfront homes to see before you head out into the countryside.
Bathampton is the next village you’ll come to, but along the way there are plenty of interesting things to see including some intriguing looking homes/shelters in clearings in the woodland surrounding the canal. There are loads of residential narrowboats lining the canal on the outskirts of Bath, many with unique exterior decoration to enjoy as you run past.
At the Dundas Aqueduct the towpath switches sides over a bridge, you can see the Somerset Coal Canal on your right (you can’t miss it, it’s a very narrow picturesque stretch of canal next to the big old crane). If you fancy a diversion you can head along the short stretch of old towpath and visit the Angelfish Café and Canal Visitor Centre; to get back to the main canal just retrace your steps.
The section between the Dundas and Avoncliff Aqueducts is my personal favourite. There are no obvious landmarks to note, just a nice wide path, trees overhanging the canal and some beautiful properties nestled in the woods. This is generally the quietest stretch of the canal as there are no towns or major villages particularly near the canal for several miles.
Avoncliff Aqueduct is your final crossing point, head down the steps just after you’ve crossed the Aqueduct, turn directly under the Aqueduct and head back up the path on the other side to find yourself on the left hand side of the canal again. Before all that you’ll probably want to admire the views as it’s a beautiful spot.
The final stretch into Bradford-on-Avon is probably the busiest stretch of canal you’ll experience. The area is often busy with dog walkers and cyclists so it can be a bit of a pinch point on a nice day. After passing the playing fields on your left the path diverts away from the canal briefly to cross a busy road on a bridge, however this would be my finish point as The Lock Inn is situated just before the bridge.
The Lock Inn is very popular but a wait for a table at peak times is never too long (and they don’t hang about preparing food), particularly if it’s nice enough to sit outside. I had no such trouble at 8:45am on a Tuesday, I ordered ‘6 off Breakfast’ as usual and it arrived at my table within a few minutes. A perfect end to a fantastic morning.
There are no specific rules you need to be aware of when running the towpath other than to use common sense and be mindful of other towpath users. It’s a permissive path (not a public right of way) and pedestrians have priority. Lots of cyclists use the path and will usually ring their bell to alert you, so it’s not advisable to close yourself off to the world with headphones on and music up loud. During the afternoon in the summer the towpath can get very busy, particularly around Bath and Bradford-on-Avon.
In terms of the route itself, the path is generally firm but can get quite muddy in the winter months. It’s easy going on the feet with no nasty gravel or rocky bits, from April to October (ish) you could happily run the whole route in road shoes. It’s worth noting that beyond Bradford-on-Avon and onwards to Trowbridge/Devizes etc the path becomes significantly narrower and less smooth, so if you’re considering a longer run some basic trail shoes with a bit more support underneath may be a better option. With no locks between Bath and Bradford-on-Avon it’s pretty much pancake flat the whole way (the peak at mile 8 is when I left the canal to pop over to the visitor centre), so an unusual opportunity to run off-road in the South West without those pesky hills!
If you’re planning to park in Bradford-on-Avon there are a few options close to the canal. The train station car park is reasonably priced (free on a Sunday), to access the canal just walk back out of the car park and turn right, after a few minutes you’ll reach The Lock Inn. There is also a specific canal car park (currently £1.50 for 4 hours) that can be found opposite the entrance to Sainsburys, this puts you directly on the canal just before you reach The Lock Inn.
If you’re starting in Bath parking becomes a bit more of an issue, there are lots of well signposted options but none are cheap (£5.40 for 4 hours). Of the major car parks, Avon Street, Manvers Street and Southgate are the closest to the canal.