I am a freelance writer, living in Bath with my wife and son.
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Published June 24th 2017
Bath, but not as we know it
Imagine cycling or walking through a well lit, mile- long Victorian Railway tunnel, accompanied by the sound of stringed instruments and glowing sculptures. Imagine the cool, still air as you travel through the earth following a smooth, safe path of over 1672 meters,well over a Century since there were steam trains powering through there. Intrigued? You can turn imagination in to reality by visiting the 'Two Tunnels Circuit', opened in April 2013 by Sustrans, an eco-friendly and forward thinking transport charity. The exciting mile-long Combe Down tunnel and shorter Devonshire tunnel in Bloomfield form two highlights of the 13 mile circular path that takes in an unusual perspective of Bath and its surrounding countryside.
Whether cycling or on foot, the circuit can begin and end at Bath Spa or Oldfield Park Railway Stations, and is very well signposted as part of the National 224, 24 and route 4 Cycle Paths. The blue and red signposts are very helpful, but printing off the route is well worth it, as it is easy to miss part of the city route before it connects to the Two Tunnels Greenway circuit. With two lovely countryside pubs along the way, this free of charge experience offers a bespoke outdoor thrill, as long or short as you wish it to be. Expect to see runners, cyclists, walkers and dog-walkers along the way.
There is so much to see and enjoy along this lovely route, but there are a couple of practicalities to take in to consideration. As a mostly rural path there are very few comfort or food and drinks facilities, so come prepared with food and water. Travelling through the tunnels is an exciting experience but it does get chilly inside them, so do take along a warm layer. In wetter months there can also be some condensation dripping from the roof, so hats are a sensible option. Even though the path is immaculately maintained by Sustrans there is some loose gravel on the path, so sensible footwear is a wise idea. Finally, although the path is very inclusive and open for everybody to use, it is wise to keep to the left side of the path when walking, as some cyclists whizz along the route at considerable speed.
One of the highlights of the circuit for me is the sight of the imposing Midford Castle. This Victorian folly looms suddenly from the top of the steep hill that rises past the path. You can see this soon after emerging from the longer of the two tunnels, and it is always a refreshing sight after the dark of the fifteen minute tunnel walk (8 minutes on a bicycle). There are several markers on the floor of the tunnels that guide visitors through the walk, and I always appreciate seeing the final '200 m to go' marker. The sculpture-filled alcoves can also act as markers, but I personally love the feeling of being on a journey through the Somerset hills. It is a very well-lit and safe path, so feels in no way claustrophobic.
Whether doing the whole 13 miles or just a section, this is a sensory and sensual walk. The countryside looks and sounds wonderful, be it the vibrant tree-lined sections or ambling between the rolling farmland after the tunnels. I run along the path regularly and my favourite time of year is early summer, when the woods are full of white and sage wild garlic. At several points there are art installations and sculptures, but the crowning glory is at the entrance to the Combe Down tunnel, which was the site of the grand opening celebration in 2013 (well worth a look at on Youtube).
I am a true fan of the two tunnels though, and for me it is all about sound. The tunnels echo subtly, and are full of the thrum of bicycle tyres on tarmac, and gentle bell pings to alert walkers of oncoming traffic. The coloured, motion-activated sculptures also trigger what sounds like an orchestra of stringed instruments that come together to play a jaunty tune when you reach the middle. The trees teem with birdlife, and I have even seen wild foxes crossing the paths at dusk. There is even a final bonus to the tunnels, when the air feels warm and gentle after the cool subterranean air below ground. Even though I've been many many times, there is still something special about seeing Bath from below.