The Great West Way is a new tourism marketing initiative, creating a ‘multi-modal’ route through southern England from London to Bristol that highlights many attractions and sites along the way – among them, several of interest to mechanically-minded travellers.
Rather like the ‘Silk Road’, the Great West Way is not just one route. There are multiple routes by road, rail, footpath and river/canal. Scattered around them are the partners & stakeholders in the initiative. They include attractions, museums, country houses, restaurants & bars, hotels, and activities.
For Mechtravellers, there are a few interesting stops among them. Moving from London towards Bristol:
- National Archives, Kew – Ok, I’m going a little ‘off piste’ here. This isn’t one of the stakeholders. Kew Gardens is, but if you’d rather see some spectacular historic photographs and documents instead of flowers, I’d pop next door and explore their exhibitions.
- Didcot Railway Centre – Heritage steam railway.
- STEAM – Museum of the Great Western Railway – Brand museum for GWR, located in Swindon
- REME Museum – The museum for the unsung heroes of the Army; the Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Located at MOD Lyneham in Wiltshire.
- Attwell-Wilson Motor Museum – Classic cars from the 1920s onwards. Also motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles.
- Castle Combe Motor Racing – A Race track offering sports car driving experiences.
- SS Great Britain – Brunel’s famous passenger ship in its original dock in Bristol, and alongside, the newly opened Brunel Museum in his dockside offices.
- Aerospace Bristol – Home of ex-British Airways’ Concorde Alpha Foxtrot, the last Concorde to be built and the last to fly.
How to explore the Great West Way
There are loads of short foot trails along the Great West Way and sections of three long-distance National Trails. The GWW website has details.
GWR , who run the London to Bristol trains, have got totally involved with the Great West Way. They have created the Great West Way Discoverer Pass – an integrated rail & bus pass.
International visitors can purchase 3 or 7 day passes which include travel on specific train routes including Bristol to Bath; Swindon and Hungerford; Swindon to Paddington; Westbury to Waterloo; and the TransWilts line pLus a comprehensive network of bus routes that connect places of interest along the route. Key destinations within easy reach of the Great West Way, such as Salisbury and Oxford, are also included in the pass.
For domestic visitors there are three Great West Way Discoverer options available – East, West or Global – giving the opportunity to explore the area in one-day instalments or over the duration of a week. The East route covers the railway line from London Paddington and London Waterloo to Swindon, Pewsey and Salisbury, and is available as a one-day or seven-day pass.
The West route covers the railway line from Bristol Temple Meads to Swindon, Pewsey and Salisbury and is available as a one-day or seven-day pass. The Global route combines both the East and West passes and covers the entire route between London, Bath and Bristol, available as a seven-day pass only. Domestic prices start from £24 for a 1-day pass up to £239 for the full 7 day pass.
On the Water
This is my prefered option. It’s been a while since I took a riverboat along the Thames, and I’ve not cruised the Kennet & Avon Canal before. The 28 locks that climb up Caen Hill to Devizes are an engineering wonder I’d like to see/use some time! The GWW site lists a number of boat tour companies offering boat trips in Bristol, on the Thames and on the Kennet & Avon Canal. And for self-drivers, there are boat hire companies.
Great West Way have produced a magazine highlighting many of the sites participating in the initiative. There’s also a handy map, and in a collaboration with Rough Guides, there is a Rough Guide to the Great West Way , written by a colleague from the British Guild of Travel Writers, Helen Ochyra.