There has always been a special bond between the South West and cycling, ever since charity Sustrans made its home here and, later, began work on creating a National Cycle Network.

Later still - 2008 - Bristol was named as England’s first official Cycling City and bikes became an even more popular way to get around.

Now we have cycle cafés, cycle shops and repairs, cycle-in cinemas, cycle hire and tours, an annual cycling festival and, importantly, some first-rate routes on the National Cycle Network.

Sustrans is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the National Cycle Network this year. They couldn’t have known when they began work on it in 1995 that this UK-wide web of interconnecting walking and cycling paths would grow so sensationally into the 14,000 miles of paths that exist all over the country today. But, Bristol is still the spot where you’ll find some of the original and best rides. Our little corner of the country is home to Sustrans’ classic railway path ride (Bristol and Bath Railway Path) the longest cycling tunnel in the UK (Two Tunnels Greenway, Bath) and one of the newest rides on the Network (Festival Way).

My local favourite is the sweetly named Strawberry line that takes you into the beautiful Mendips. I’ve seldom come across eleven miles of riding that lead through such dramatically transforming landscape, starting in the flat Somerset Levels and ending near the giant and craggy Cheddar Gorge. This is the one ride I always advise my Bristol friends to try (it’s a few miles from the city, so it’s surprising how many people have never ventured out there) but it’s particularly good for visitors too, as it gives a glimpse of the gorgeous West Country - the Gorge is a truly unforgettable ending and you ride through Thatchers cider orchard and pretty Axbridge town along the way.

Wendy-Johnson-Author

Image - Wendy Johnson, Travel Author

Here’s how to tackle The Strawberry Line for yourself. It’s an extract from my new guidebook Sustrans’ Traffic-free Cycle Rides, available from sustrans.org.uk/shop £15.99.

(Wendy is a travel author and journalist living in Bristol www.wendysjohnson.co.uk @Wendy_S_Johnson)

Route name: The Strawberry Line
Distance: 11 miles
Start: Yatton train station Finish: Cheddar
National Cycle Network number: 26
Train station: Yatton
Grade: Easy to moderate

The landscape transforms spectacularly on this ride into the Mendip Hills, starting in the North Somerset Levels and ending beneath the dramatic vertical cliffs of Britain’s biggest limestone gorge.

Start at Yatton train station and immediately enter Cheddar Valley local nature reserve to ride beside rustling reeds, ponds and the special wetland habitat at Biddle Street. It’s a beautifully peaceful area, and you’ll soon be among the flat, atmospheric grazing marshes of Congresbury Moor and will cross the River Yeo.

The route follows a former branch line of the Great Western Railway, and is named after the sweet Cheddar strawberries that were transported on it. However, apples are the most notable fruit along the ride these days, as the path traverses the vast Thatchers cider orchards at Sandford, passing between soldier-straight rows of ripening apples with the intoxicating tang of the fermenting fruit in the air.

Strawberry-Line_credit-Sustrans

Image - The Strawberry Line CREDIT Sustrans

Around five miles in, pause at Sandford Station, an elegantly restored old railway station with a lovely little heritage centre and shop. Or, ride on for another mile to reach Old Station Green in Winscombe, which has bike parking and picnic benches on the platform for an excellent mid-ride stop.

Now the landscape starts to take a wild and dramatic turn. Flat pastures are replaced by oak and ash-covered hillsides as you cut through the steep limestone and ancient woodland into the Mendips AONB. Pass through the dark recesses of Shute Shelve tunnel in the second half of the ride before quiet roads take over and lead you through the historic town of Axbridge, a real highlight.

Climb steadily out of the town to Cheddar Reservoir, where views over the water to the right of the path make a stark contrast to the craggy, weathered rocks of the gorge looming to the left. Pass through pretty Cheddar village to reach the mouth of the gorge, ending beneath the incredible vertical limestone cliffs and entrances to the deep caves.

Terrain and gradients: The trail is a mix of hard track with a dust coating and stony trail with short on-road sections at Sandford, Axbridge and Cheddar. Ride carefully through Shute Shelve tunnel.

Sustrans’ Traffic-free Cycle Rides Book Cover.Sustrans’ Traffic-free Cycle Rides, available from sustrans.org.uk/shop £15.99.

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The Strawberry Line
Cycle Route
The Strawberry Line

Network of cycle paths from Clevedon to Cranmore.