With immeasurable allure for curious travellers, the Great West Way enables latter-day explorers to uncover England in exhilarating, immersive style. Following a right royal path between London and Bristol — 500 miles of navigable route — it’s based on one of the first Great Roads commissioned by the Kings of England. With no shortage of ways to travel the route, inquisitive travellers will be in their absolute element, and there’s never been a better time to discover its delights.
Great West Way — a greener, more immersive way to explore England
Given its origins, it’ll come as no surprise that the Great West Way is packed with enriching heritage sights, among them Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and the Roman Baths.
But, true to its reputation for prompting unexpected experiences, the Great West Way is also stacked with lesser-known landmarks, and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that’ll take your breath away.
If that wasn’t enough, the Great West Way also offers glorious ways to travel greener. For example, the route boasts a bounty of foot and cycle paths. It’s also well-served by public transport, with a great-value, integrated rail and bus pass — the Great West Way Discoverer pass — on-hand to make matters even easier.
One thing’s for sure, however you decide to travel the Great West Way — with mixing and matching modes of transport a convenient option — unforgettable experiences await. In short, self-guided travel in England has rarely been so satisfying, or sustainable.
By bike and foot
Travellers who love the idea of exploring England at their own pace, will be delighted to discover that the entire Great West Way can be covered via National Cycle Route 4.
Into exhilarating experiences in the saddle? The steep and twisting red trail of Swinley Forest is sure to quicken your pulse. For a more sedate, slow-travel experience, take to the Wiltshire Cycleway to enjoy a picture-perfect 15.3km route between Corsham and Bradford on Avon.
Another highlight is the 82-mile Kennet and Avon Cycle Route. Encompassing picturesque canal towpaths as it connects Bath and Reading, this is also a joy to travel by foot.
Talking of joy, lovers of the great outdoors and walks on the wild side will want to trek some of the longer-distance trails along the Great West Way, not least the Cotswold Way and The Ridgeway.
Given that both these trails encompass Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, they present incredible opportunities to get active and go greener while getting up close to some of England’s most awe-inspiring scenery.
For the ultimate in comfort and convenience, it doesn’t get better than discovering the Great West Way via the Great Western Railway (GWR).
In fact, alongside giving travellers unique windows on inspiring scenery, riding the GWR is a heritage experience in itself. Given that trains have traversed this route for over 175 years, you’ll be following in the tracks of trailblazing history-maker, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. This visionary engineer plotted the transformative GWR in the 1830s.
Running from London’s Paddington station to Bristol Temple Meads, the GWR covers the entirety of the Great West Way. While the journey takes just 1hr 40 minutes in all, curious travellers will want to plot several sojourns along the way.
How about stopping off at Reading to ramble Caversham Court Gardens? Or being charmed by the market town of Chippenham? Then there’s the City of Bath — a UNESCO World Heritage City that sees Roman marvels rub shoulders with Regency splendour.
Wherever you fancy hopping off, the best way to travel the Great West Way by train is with a Great West Way Discoverer pass — more on that later
For the ultimate in immersive slow travel, exploring the Great West Way on a narrowboat cannot be beaten. Picture yourself floating along the 87-mile Kennet and Avon canal, embedded in a fairy-tale scene of chalky hills and ivy-adorned inns.
Longing to escape the rush and racket of urban life? Happily, canal life is all about slowing down and savouring the sound of bird song. It’s a way to witness hidden heritage, and be wowed by the English countryside from extraordinary angles.
If you’re minded to mix and match modes of transport while exploring the Great West Way, you could travel by narrowboat for a segment of the route. Alternatively, hire a canoe or kayak for a few hours. Finally — arguably saving the best for last — why not enjoy an environmentally-friendly, heritage horse-drawn boat trip?
By road — car, coach or bus
If you love the freedom of the open road, and want the option to linger longer in places that light your fire, you could cover the Great West Way on a self-drive road trip.
You’ll follow the A4 Great West Road between London and Bristol— a road derived from an ancient horse track that later became the basis for one of King Charles I’s Great Roads.
All that said, unless you have an electric vehicle, travelling by car isn’t exactly the greenest way to get around. So, why not consider gathering your nearest and dearest for a group road trip? While the more is usually merrier, in the case of car travel, it’s also greener.
Alternatively, you could explore the Great West Way by bus or coach. Better for the environment than self-driving, travelling by bus or coach is also better for travellers on a budget.
And in good news, if you have concerns about connectivity, several coach operators run services between London and Bristol, and local bus services will stand you in good stead in more rural locations. For example, when exploring the Vale of Pewsey, Connect2 Wiltshire — an on-demand bus and taxi service — is on hand to transport you between the Vale’s villages and stations.
The Great West Way Discoverer pass — an easy way to go green
Given that one of the joys of the Great West Way is being able to mix and match modes of transport, you’ll want to investigate getting your hands on a Great West Way Discoverer pass. Think of it as your passport to discovering the Great West Way by rail and bus in convenient, sustainable style.
The pass includes unlimited off-peak train travel from London’s Paddington and Waterloo stations to Bristol Temple Meads via Reading. It also covers GWR Basingstoke routes, with options to branch off towards Oxford and Kemble. In addition, the pass includes unlimited travel on bus services along the route.
While a day pass offers a handy way to dip into the delights of the Great West Way, the week-long pass is ideal for more immersive experiences. And depending on which areas most float your boat, you can choose a pass that covers the East route, or the West route. For the full experience, you’ll want the Global option. Visit the GWR site for details.
Like we said at the start, the Great West Way offers stacks of ways to travel more sustainably — from exploring the route on foot, bike or using public transport, to offering eco-friendly places to stay. So, to make your experience even more rewarding, why not plan your trip around travelling greener?
Interested in exploring the Great West Way? Start your journey here, with the Rough Guide to the Great West Way. Now’s the moment to plan an experience you’ll never forget.
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