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Brunel Heritage Trail

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was one of Britain’s most pioneering engineers, leaving an indelible mark across the South West of England.

 

Britain has proudly led the world both during and after the Industrial Revolution, often admired as the 'Workshop of the World'. Many of the ingenious designs are thanks to the South West born pioneering engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, 1806-1859.

Brunel left an indelible mark across the South West of England, with iconic landmarks such as the Great Western Railway (GWR), Clifton Suspension Bridge and the SS Great Britain. Voted the second Greatest Briton of all time, after Winston Churchill, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was one of the 19th century engineering giants. 

Day 1: London Paddington to Bath via Swindon

Bath Abbey at night. Bath Abbey at night. Copyright VisitEngland

The Great Western Railway (GWR), formed in 1834, was engineered by Brunel, historically linking London to the South West region. Now, in less than an hour, take the train from his Paddington Station to Swindon in Wiltshire. Visit the nearby Steam Museum in the old GWR loco works, which is the centre for “Swindon175” celebrating 175 years of the railway first arriving in the town in 2016. Here, enthusiasts can see two iconic GWR steam locomotives: ‘King George V' the GWR’s most powerful steam locomotive and 'City of Truro' the first 100 mph steam engine; both of which have returned to Swindon for the celebrations. Take a half day to tour the museum, followed by some retail therapy at the Swindon Designer Outlet shopping village nearby.

From Swindon take the train for just 30 minutes to Bath Spa, via Brunel’s two-mile straight Box Tunnel carved out of solid rock.  Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Roman Baths and splendid regency city architecture. Enjoy a relaxing dip at Thermae Bath Spa, with afternoon tea at the Pump Rooms and engage in world-class shopping.

Clifton Village, Bristol. Clifton Village, Bristol. Copyright VisitEngland

Start your day in Bath take the 6-mile Skyline walk for magnificent views of the city and the surrounding countryside. Walk in the footsteps of Jane Austen, marvel at Bath Crescent and sample one of Sally Lunn’s sweet Buns.

Just a short 15-minute train journey will take you into the heart of Bristol. Designed by Brunel himself, Temple Meads is a Grade 1 listed station and more like a cathedral. Make your way to Clifton Village for spectacular illuminated views of Brunel’s 150 year old Clifton Suspension Bridge spanning the Avon Gorge at night, relaxing in one of the local historic pubs. 

ss Great Britain SS Great Britain. Copyright VisitBritain images

Heading into the Bristol city centre, discover more of Brunel’s icons.

Brunel designed the SS Great Britain as a trans-Atlantic luxury passenger steam ship which could carry 252 first and second class passengers, along with 130 crew. The innovation marked the beginning of international passenger travel. The ship also made 33 return voyages to Australia. Visit Brunel’s SS Great Britain which has been restored and conserved as an award-winning heritage site and museum.  

Pay homage to the man himself at a statue of Brunel in Marsh Street and marvel at Brunel House, formerly the Great Western Hotel built for passengers to rest before travelling aboard the SS Great Britain located at St Georges Street. 

Head back aboard Brunel’s train line between Bristol to London Paddington, engineered when he was just 27 years old.

 

A steam train arriving at Staverton Statioon A steam train arriving at Staverton Statioon

Alternatively extend your trip with a visit to one of the many steam heritage railways across the region: 

  • The West Somerset Heritage Railway runs from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead stop off at quaint village of Dunster on the edge of Exmoor. 
  • Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway runs 25 miles between Cheltenham Racecourse and Laverton in the stunning Cotswold region. 
  • The Dean Forest Railway runs 4 and a half miles through woodland and countryside, from Parkend to Lydney with stunning views across the River Severn. 
  • Avon Valley Railway is a 3-mile railway which follows the Avon Valley south-east from Oldland Common, through Bitton and alongside the River Avon towards Kelston and Bath. 
  • East Somerset Railway runs 2 and a half miles between Cranmore and Mendip Vale in Somerset. 

 

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