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Industrial Heritage Break

Industrial Heritage Break

Steam trains, cranes and canals offer an insight into the region’s past...

If you’re interested in all things industrial, the Great West Way has some fascinating stories to tell, from the lucrative history of the canals to the origins of the Great Western Railway. No figure has been so influential along the route as Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Take a weekend to learn about his most memorable achievements...

On the trail of Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Day 1 

Start the day in London, at the Brunel Museum in the Thames Tunnel. It’s not just an introduction to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s greatest projects, but also those of his father, Marc Isambard Brunel. Look around the exhibits before joining a guided boat trip of Brunel sites, full of colourful facts and anecdotes.

The museum also reveals an often overlooked side to Brunel, paying homage to his love of showmanship and entertaining through imaginative events like underground film screenings, theatre and dance performances.

Afterwards, make your way to London Paddington Station - the striking glass-roofed structure was originally designed by Brunel. Find his life-sized statue and come face-to-face with the man himself before boarding the train.

At Swindon, jump off one train and straight onto another. STEAM tells the story of how the Great Western Railway - which you’ve just been riding - was built. Visit the Foundry and the Boiler Shop to get a feel for how hard it really was to work on the railways - the noise was so deafening, many lost their hearing by age 30. You can also play train driver behind the wheel of a steam train simulator and discover how the GWR became one of England’s top holiday lines.

Stay in Swindon or head over to Bath. The latter is just a 30-minute train journey away. On the way you’ll pass through the Box Tunnel, which was built by candlelight, at considerable human cost - 100 workers died forging their way through the unforgiving Bath limestone. When it was finished, it was the longest railway tunnel in the world.

Fun fact: It’s long been said that Brunel aligned the tunnel so that if viewed from the eastern end, the sun would rise through the tunnel on his birthday, April 9. In 2017, a chance to test the theory arose - and found the sun nestled perfectly in the centre on that date due to a seemingly deliberate design feature.

Day 2

Enjoy a morning stroll in Sydney Gardens - Brunel spent some time here working out how best to run his railway line through it. A plaque marks his efforts at the Sydney Road bridge nearby. Afterwards, walk up Bathwick Hill, which is lined with historic houses, and marvel at how he managed to tunnel the line underneath part of it.

Go to Brasserie Brunel at the Royal Hotel for a slap-up steak or salmon lunch fit for a world-renowned engineer. Did you know? The Royal was designed by Brunel himself, and is located opposite Bath Spa train station - ideal for an industrial heritage tour!

Get the train to Bristol, Brunel’s adopted city, just 15 minutes away. For the best view of one of his most appreciated works, stay at the recently refurbished Avon Gorge Hotel which has rooms looking out onto Clifton Suspension Bridge, all twinkly when lit up at night.

Day 3 

Go for an early morning stroll along the bridge and behold the drama of the Avon Gorge. Make sure you pop into the Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre, to find out more about the competition that led to its construction and perhaps join a guided tour. Afterwards, wander around Clifton Village, stopping for lunch at one of the charming streetside cafés.

Stroll down Park Street to the Harbourside, all the way to Brunel’s SS Great Britain - one of the most famous Bristol attractions. When it was built in the 1840s, the grand-looking ship was the first to combine an iron hull and screw propellor - plus the most powerful steam engine ever created - to set sail on the ocean. Step aboard to learn how these innovations made it the first iron steamship to cross the Atlantic. And visit the new Being Brunel museum, where you can find out more about the man himself - and even enter his genius brain.

Make sure you visit the excellent gift shop afterwards for Brunel books and unique gifts. Even non-engineers will appreciate a bottle of 6 o'Clock Limited Edition Brunel Gin or a chocolate tool kit.

Good to know: Anyone interested in finding out more about Brunel can visit the onsite Brunel Institute for free. The archives include ship plans, sketches by Brunel, photographs, diaries and around 6,500 books and periodicals.

If you have time, visit Underfall Yard to find out about Brunel’s role in forming the city’s Floating Harbour. And don’t miss the iconic cranes - built in the 1950s to load and unload cargo ships during the industrial heyday of the docks.

Fun fact: The cranes have played host to a treehouse and a marriage proposal, and have even taken part in their own technicolour dance performance!

Head to castle-like Bristol Temple Meads station to catch the train back to London or your next destination. It’s changed a lot since Brunel’s day but still makes a big impact.

A few more ideas…

●    Crofton Beam Engines
●    Caen Hill Locks
●    Kennet & Avon Canal Trust Devizes
●    Wadworth Brewery
●    Wilton Windmill


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Product Information

  1. Brunel’s SS Great Britain – Summer Lates Series


    We are delighted to present a series of Summer Lates! Step on board and relax as the sun sets over the iconic views of Bristol Harbour. Starting from Thursday 7 July, enjoy our pop-up bar with a range of treats available!

    Indicative Availability

    Book Brunel’s SS Great Britain – Summer Lates Series Online

  2. Bath


    The golden city of Bath has been welcoming visitors for over 2,000 years. Designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Bath is home to some of the most impressive architectural sights in the world such as the Royal Crescent, the Circus and Pulteney.

  3. Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre - Bristol


    See displays and artefacts explaining the history, construction and maintenance of the world famous Clifton Suspension Bridge


    Bookable Product

    • TXGB Bookable Product
  4. Caen Hill Locks


    On the Kennet & Avon Canal you will find beauty, history and nature. Tap into its stillness, enjoy a gentle adventure, share your boating stories at canal side cafes or pubs, and live in a space where time moves no faster than a stroll.

  5. Wadworth Brewery, Tap and Shop


    Family friendly, self guided Visitor Centre and interactive exhibition – Free entry
    On-site Sample bar with five cask ales on draught. 1/3 pint samples can be purchased.
    Traditional pub games are available to play in the bar.

  6. Wilton Windmill

    Near Marlborough

    Built in 1821, Wilton Windmill is the only working windmill in Wessex. Open Sundays and Bank Holidays from Easter to end of September for guided tours and refreshments. Site open all year round. Picnic area.

Itinerary Distances

FromToDistance * (metric)
Brunel’s SS Great Britain – Summer Lates Series (51.44917,-2.60841)Bristol (51.45152,-2.59816)0.68
Bristol (51.45152,-2.59816)Bath (51.3856,-2.36168)16.19
Bath (51.3856,-2.36168)Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre - Bristol (51.45461,-2.62969)18.12
Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre - Bristol (51.45461,-2.62969)Caen Hill Locks (51.35312,-2.01994)39.45
Caen Hill Locks (51.35312,-2.01994)Wadworth Brewery, Tap and Shop (51.35408,-1.99836)1.35
Wadworth Brewery, Tap and Shop (51.35408,-1.99836)Wilton Windmill (51.35335,-1.60485)24.62
Total Distance *100.39 miles
Estimated Journey Time3.23 hours

* Approximate distance by road

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