South West towpath bike rides: Gloucester & Sharpness Canal

Observe overwintering birds and epic estuary views on this peaceful ride from WWT Slimbridge to Gloucester Docks

Towpath bike rides: Gloucester & Sharpness Canal


Distance: 13 miles (one way)
Suitable for: A hybrid or mountain bike due to varying towpath terrain
Starting point: WWT Slimbridge

What better place to start a bike ride than at a world-famous nature reserve near the banks of the Severn? Each autumn and winter, the spectacular wetlands at WWT Slimbridge – which comprise 2,000 acres of reed bed, lagoons and salt marsh – see the arrival of vast flocks of migrant birds. First come the fieldfares and redwings, then later white-fronted geese and Berwick’s swans, which have spent the summer in Arctic Russia.

This 13-mile bike ride, which forms part of Route 41 on the National Cycle Network, starts on the canal adjacent to the wetland centre. Alternatively, you can start it a couple of miles up the towpath at Purton, which is home to a famous ship’s graveyard where 80 vessels shore up the banks of the Severn, protecting the canal from the tidal river.

From WWT Slimbridge, follow the canal north, taking in stunning views of the estuary and the Forest of Dean over the water. Keep an eye on the banks, as water voles – believed to be escapees from the wetland centre – are often seen along this stretch.

Soon, you’ll pass through the peaceful villages of Frampton on Severn, Hardwicke and Quedgeley before reaching Gloucester and its historic docks. There are plenty of cafés and restaurants in which to refuel, including a delightful tea room at the National Waterways Museum.

The museum, which charts the 200-year history of the docks when tall ships from all over the world delivered goods to its banks, is well worth a visit. You can browse the interactive exhibits and working models, before catching a ride on Queen Boadicea II, one of the ‘little boats’ that rescued stranded troops on Dunkirk beach in the Second World War.

You can return along the same route or catch a train from Gloucester to Cam & Dursley, which is a four-mile cycle to the start at Slimbridge WWT. While most trains accept bikes, it’s best to check with individual operators. Time your arrival back to the wetland reserve well and you might even be treated to the sight of thousands of starlings performing aerial acrobatics in the sky. The murmurations here are some of the most spectacular in the country.

Plan your next day out on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and read more about the towpath condition for cyclists on the Canal & River Trust website.

Share the space: drop your pace
We want everyone to enjoy visiting our canals and rivers. More than anything we want people to be safe – and with our towpaths busier than ever this is something that all visitors need to play a part in. When cycling, please pay attention to safety and warning signs, and be considerate of others. Read more about our ‘Share the space: drop your pace’ campaign on the Canal & River Trust website.

Ollie Hoff