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Thousands flock to Two Tunnels opening + video

Lure of riding through UK's longest cycle tunnel – and great weather – bring the masses to Bath...

Thousands of cyclists and walkers flocked to Bath yesterday for the grand opening of the Two Tunnels Greenway. The route, which has been many years in the planning and has taken three years to build, offers a traffic-free route from central Bath out of the city to the south, through the 400m Devonshire tunnel and the 1,800m Combe Down tunnel, the longest cycling tunnel in the UK.

The route has been funded from a number of sources. The largest slice came from the Big Lottery fund which pledged £1m to the project. Sustrans, who project managed the construction of the route, also contributed to the pot, as did Bath and North East Somerset Council, and back in 2008 the King Bladud's Pigs city-wide art project raised more than £200,000 towards the cost.

The greenway follows the route of the Somerset and Dorset railway, which used the tunnels as its exit to the city. After the line was decommissioned the tunnels were bricked up and the Devonshire cutting filled in; the new route has restored them to use and also includes two new bridges further down towards the city centre to replace railway bridges that were demolished when the line closed. At the far end the Two Tunnels path links up NCN route 24 which offers a partly traffic-free route to Radstock and on to Frome via the Collier's way. In Bath the route will link up with the well-established Bristol-Bath cycle path, also a repurposed railway line.

Saturday was a day for celebration and many thousands of people came to try out the new route. At its peak the queue to enter the tunnels was an hour's wait, as the marshals and volunteers tried to space out the riders and walkers. In a country where it's often said that people don't want to cycle, it's clear that this simply isn't the case: give people somewhere safe and interesting to do it, and they'll turn up in their droves. Sustrans expect most of the traffic on the Greenway to be recreational, although it's a useful and reasonably flat route in and out of Bath for anyone that's commuting in from the south.

The tunnels themselves are fantastic. The lighting has been kept dim (LED downlighters are used) to keep the ceiling space of the tunnels, which harbour some populations of rare bats, dark through the day. It takes a short while for your eyes to adjust to the gloom but there's plenty of light to see by, you don't need lights. The tarmac surface is beautifully laid and the tunnels themselves have needed very little work, save for a clean; structurally they were fine, a testament to the engineers that built them in the nineteenth century. The longer Combe Down tunnel is the real highlight, it's a genuinely long time to be underground on the bike and it's a unique experience. A light and sound installation in the centre of the tunnel adds to the other-worldly feel. Out the far side you get a great view of Midford Castle and a run over the restored Tucking Mill viaduct before you reach the Hope and Anchor at Midford, where the new route finishes. The traffic free path continues from there to Wellow, though it's unsurfaced, or you can venture up the road-going section of NCN route 24 to Twinhoe, if you've got the legs for the climb... Dave went through again Sunday morning and took his Nilox HD camera to record the run through the tunnels.

As well as the tunnels there was a festival atmosphere to enjoy, coinciding with the first day for at least a month where it's been possible to sit outside for any length of time. There were bands, beer, burgers and the usual trimmings, as well as plenty of bike-related things to see and do. And it was a great day for many local people who remember the railway, able again to see the route being used. We talked to one chap who grew up in Lyncombe Vale, between the two tunnels, who told us that the local kids used to walk through the Combe Down tunnel in groups of twenty or more, take a hand cart from the yard at Midford and pilot it back through the tunnel. On the downhill section through the Vale the speed would be too much for the cart; the trick was to jump clear before it flew off the rails...

Dave is a founding father of, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.

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trevorparsons | 11 years ago

Congratulations to all involved in repurposing these tunnels.

Given the sheer weight of traffic generated by the opening event, and I hope permanently by the new route, is now perhaps the time for Sustrans to reassess its use of the term 'traffic free', when what it means is motor-free?

People moving from place to place on foot or cycle are traffic. There's no need for a progressive organisation like Sustrans to kowtow to the falsehood that the only traffic is motor traffic.

I look forward to high and growing traffic levels on the Two Tunnels Greenway!

No More alas Pe... | 11 years ago

It is very difficult to assess the visual effects on people compared to the view through the video lens.
I really enjoyed the ‘video experience‘ of the journey, exciting and scary, constantly peering into the gloom watching out for ‘hidden’ obstacles, most of which were on the move. To make the journey in person on foot or human powered wheels is quite a different proposition.
As suggested above graduated lights are a must at the tunnel entrance-exit areas.
A few ‘Bye Laws’ are also a must, but the real problem will be with enforcement.
Dog walkers have to accept that there has been a ‘change of use’ and cyclists have to accept that it is a multi-use facility. All users need to be mindful that they may not be the ‘King or Queen’ of the tunnel. Clearly there is insufficient width to safely allow every user to ‘do their own thing’.
Perhaps organising events for all the differing categories of users would give the occasional opportunity for everyone to throw caution to the wind?
When walking down a narrow road without the benefit of footpaths it is safer to walk toward oncoming traffic, perhaps some trials should be carried out on this route?
As it is a ‘night time’ situation, in the tunnels, cycles should have lights but not of too high capacity that would destroy the safe vision of other users.
Some moderate reflective surfaces should be worn by all users.
It may well be that this would be overkill on ‘quiet’ periods, but having differing sets of rules is not practicable.
Unless the authority(ies) responsible for the route have very deep pockets ‘doing nothing’ is not an option. The odds of NOT being involved in an accident are possibly on par with winning the lottery?
This wonderful facility can obviously give a fantastic experience to all and needs to be shared responsibly so that it will remain a joy to users every time they visit.

I cannot wait to take my bike on the train [unfortunately my days of London to Bath and Back in 12 hours are long gone] to get first hand experience of riding the entire route.

cyclist67 | 11 years ago

As much as I appreciate the efforts of all involved in getting these disused railway lines to the point where they are of some use to more than just farmers, I now prefer to avoid such routes.
This is particularly sad for me as I walked most of this beautiful route (as much as possible; trespassing in some places), from my narrowboat, then moored at Claverton, to Radstock in 1998, in snow.

There is a similar, but more wooded, route in Plymouth, along an old railway line to Clearbrook that I often used to use but, all too frequently, I see impatient thickos riding their over-priced jalopies WAAAAAYYY too fast into and around people.  14

On the other hand, as a cyclist of no great speed, many times I have had to stop, try and uncleat my shoes from the pedals, just in time before I fall off my bike, and try and negotiate my way around groups (usually families and usually women [fact, sorry girls]) of walkers/ pedestrians ambling along, five abreast, nattering away, completely blocking the path, like a slow-moving clueless wall of heaving, sweating, smoky Chav blubber, and not even bothering to see if a cyclist, or anybody, is heading their way.  14

Dogs and toddlers aren't very often a problem for me, though, as I slow down, on approach to people, to about 10mph, so as to be able to not run into their dog that's just come charging out of the bushes, or their toddler that just ran out right in front of me. Experience, eh?  4

I've had words with both sets in the past and tried to point out to them, usually in vain, that the trail is for everybody's enjoyment and a little consideration for other users goes a long way.  26

We can, and should, all be able to enjoy these fine feats of Victorian/Edwardian engineering, without cocking it up for somebody trying to do the same, shouldn't we?  16

Paulo | 11 years ago

I am pro cycle tracks & pro Sustrans...
its just that I personally find if you ride at any speed on them its quite dangerous... pedestrians, dogs on & off leads & other cyclists provide a constant stream of moving obstacles to avoid that don't even bother to check behind them when steping out!

Cyclists are second class citizens on the road (The Domain of the Car)

Second class citizens on the pavement... Ilegal unless you are 6yrs or under (The Domain of the Pedestrian)

It seems like on cycle tracks cyclists might have priority??? but the reality is very different... An I can honestly say that I feel safer on the road  20

bumsonbikes | 11 years ago

I don't want to see the route plastered in too many signs, but a few carefully placed ones reminding everyone to keep to the left, sound bells, and generally be considerate to others would help reduce any potential conflict.

The opening last Saturday was a fantastic day – well done and a big thank you to everyone involved  1

Bristolbybike | 11 years ago

I cycled them Saturday late afternoon and walked them Sunday afternoon and by and large people were sensible in the tunnels themselves.

(Personally I found the biggest irritant were the cyclists with high powered lights. You don't need them and if you insist then please point them downwards and don't singe my retinas.)

Well worth making a special trip for.
Hats off to Sustrans (and Victorian railway navvies).

Amanwy | 11 years ago

Huge effort from the local group and Sustrans. People are quick to criticise so I hope Sustrans' achievement and contribution will be recognised

nowasps replied to Amanwy | 11 years ago
Amanwy wrote:

Huge effort from the local group and Sustrans. People are quick to criticise so I hope Sustrans' achievement and contribution will be recognised

No-one's criticizing the tunnels or the people that went to such great efforts to open them to the public.

The public, on the other hand...

Sudor | 11 years ago

It's great to see long redundant victorian engineering back into good use. Difficult to judge from the video but - being able to see people just inside the tunnel from the outside is difficult and a heightened risk - brighter lighting in the first 20 - 30 meters of tunnel entrances to the tunnel may better enable those entering the tunnel to see those about to emerge and avoid collisions.

AnalogueAndy | 11 years ago

The official count was 10, 000 at the festival of which an incredible 8000 made it through the tunnels.

Yes it was mad and yes there were queues but overall it was a fantastic day befitting the long wait we've had to endure to see the project finally (almost) complete.

To those wondering is it worth travelling to Bath to ride? Yes absolutely.

dave atkinson | 11 years ago

yeah, the dogs weren't really a problem on the outside sections. not the world's greatest idea to let an excitable black spaniel off the lead in a dark tunnel full of bikes though  39

to be honest, there was plenty of less-than-ideal behaviour from everyone. bikes going too fast and weaving through pedestrians at speed, peds walking four abreast and blocking the whole path, etc. i'd expect it to settle down quite a bit but still be somewhere you'll have to keep a lid on your speed if you want to be a responsible user, like the bristol-bath is.

went through today and it was still very busy. tomorrow morning at 8.45am? not so much, i'm guessing  3

Tony Farrelly | 11 years ago

Yes, I'm pretty amazed by that too, saw a few guys going through there on Saturday at warp speed through families with children and old age pensioners - it wasn't clever.

Bit ambivalent on the dog walking question though, as someone's who's walked their dog along that track for the best part of 8 years, because it was a nice, safe place to let a whippet off the lead I have a fair amount of sympathy for the local dog walkers who are continuing to walk their dogs off the lead there - don't think I'd let mine off in the tunnel though and I certainly didn't let her off on Saturday.

When I rode along there on Saturday evening there were quite a few dogs of their leads between the two tunnels including quite a few I'd not seen there before, but they weren't a bother.

keith roberts replied to Tony Farrelly | 11 years ago

we have a similar situation here in sussex, the forest way and the worth way are repurposed stretches of rail line closed by dr beeching.
they are classed as "multi use" by mid sussex council and runners,dog walkers and cyclists, or indeed anyone who fancys can travel down them. there are signs up that point out we should all respect each other as we use the routes,but as a dog owner and a cyclist too ive seen instances where dogs and cyclists have both caused problems... its a problem thats not going to go away!

i think one of the simplest things we could all do is stick to the rule of the road and stay to the left when walking our dogs or cycling, i've seen so many accidents/incidents where people just ride /walk wherever they feel...

the other thing,hateful though it is to me as a cyclist, is a bell...its so simple but so effective at warning people your on your way through..

just saying...

nowasps | 11 years ago

I'm amazed the opening weekend hasn't featured any nasty crashes. It's a fantastic facility, but plenty of cyclists are going too fast, and dog-walkers are taking dogs in off their leads.

VeloPeo | 11 years ago

Is that Rolf Harris in the blue in the second last photo  1

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