COUNTRYSIDE IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK
Fancy a bit of an adventure? Once you've found your cycling legs, you may be surprised by how far you can ride in a day. Bristol is surrounded by beautiful countryside, much of it navigable on cycling-friendly routes. Here's a summary of three longer rides for you to try. To find out more about exploring the countryside by bike, see www.cyclebristolctc.org.uk
The Strawberry Line to Cheddar
Distance: 18 miles
Time: Two hours – more if you want to explore
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Big skies and rolling greenery beckon on this summery, picnic-friendly route. Take the train from Temple Meads to Yatton; they run every half-hour or so, the journey takes about 20 minutes. Best to reserve a space for your bike in advance. At Yatton, leave the station from Platform 1 and take a right. Beyond the car park are the sculptures marking the beginning of the path, and once you're on it, it's difficult to go wrong, being as it is an old railway line.
Built in 1869 as part of the Great Western Railway, it became known as the Strawberry Line after the cargo shunted along it from the fields around Cheddar. Despite being well used, the line was closed in the mid-Sixties. A walking and cycling route was established in 1983.
It's now a virtually traffic-free nine- mile path through the Nature Reserve, orchards and villages of North Somerset. Keep straight on wherever the path forks. The ride has many highlights: you get to cross the River Yeo, sink a pint at Sandford and picnic on the Millennium Green at Winscombe before plunging into the cool darkness of the Shute Shelve Tunnel.
Check out King John's Hunting Lodge Museum in Axbridge and admire the Cheddar Reservoir before pressing on to the glory of Cheddar Gorge itself. Marvel at the cliffs, explore the Caves, then follow your tracks back to Yatton and the train home. For more details and a map, see www.sustrans.org.uk.
Distance: 23 miles
Time: Allow three hours, plus time to swim
Bristol-based sustainable transport champions Sustrans have devised a beginner-friendly ride to Portishead ending with a dip in the lido.
The route starts in Queen Square, crosses the Prince Street Bridge and along the docks to the bumpy Chocolate path, which looks like a mile-long Dairy Milk bar laid betwixt road and river.
Cross the Avon on the old railway bridge and along the Avon Gorge. The path (which can be muddy) follows the river around Horse Shoe Bend – look right for the ruins of the white Powder House on the opposite bank, where ships had to deposit their gunpowder before continuing into the city. Soon you're passing open fields. After a slight rise you'll arrive at a lane near a dank green pond. Head uphill (steep but mercifully brief) to Ham Green, then swoop down the curving path to Pill Creek, from whose muddy banks the first Pilgrim Fathers began their voyage to America.
Keep along the quayside road underneath the M5 Avonmouth bridge until you join the Sheepway. Hereafter you can continue along the cycle lane to Battery Point, or opt for a traffic-free alternative into Portishead, whose High Street boasts a treasure trove of independent shops.
Along the seafront is Portishead Open Air Pool, one of the UK's last surviving lidos, with views across the Bristol Channel from its modernist concrete terraces. The pool's heated, so bring towel and trunks even if the weather's looking a bit British – swimming in torrential rain is one of life's great pleasures.
For more details and a map, see www.sustrans.org.uk. Sustrans are leading a guided Cycle and Swim Ride along this route on July 8. Email email@example.com for details. See also www.portisheadopen airpool.org.uk.
Bristol to Prior Park
Distance: 32 miles round trip
Time: Allow five hours, plus time for exploring
Riding from Bristol to Bath is one of the most straightforward days out you can have on a bike, thanks to the glorious green ribbon of the Railway Path.
Over 14 completely traffic-free miles, this carries you from central Bristol (you can link to it from Temple Meads, or join at dozens of places en route) through the countryside past Siston Common, Warmley and Mangotsfield. There are plenty of good places to break your journey – at Bitton you can pause to admire the steam trains on the Avon Valley Railway, further on at Saltford are a choice of excellent pubs.
The path crosses the River Avon three times, and there are good places for wild swimming if you venture off-path and look. Once you get to Bath, follow signs to Bath Spa Station, then go through the arches beneath it and over the footbridge across the river.
Heading left on to the A36 to Pulteney Road, pass the lock gates and Widcombe Baptist Chapel and then go left on to Prior Park Road. Prior Park Road becomes Ralph Allen Drive, getting leafier and lovelier as you go.
From here on, it's a bit of a slog up hill – take it slow and fortify yourself with thoughts of the beautiful 18th-century landscaping that awaits. The entrance is through some big gates on your left.
Lock your bike, treat yourself to tea and cake and then wander the gardens, brought into being by the hugely wealthy postal service reformer Ralph Allen, with aesthetic guidance from the poet Alexander Pope and landscape architect Lancelot "Capability" Brown. Your way home is easy – straight back down the hill to Bath, and then back along the Railway Path (or just hop on a train).
See www.bristolbathrailwaypath. org.uk and www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ prior-park for details.