If you are a local or happen to be a passing traveller or tourist; you may feel inclined to explore Bradford on Avon by foot. The historic town, with its: churches, woollen mills, river, canal and bridges; seems so inviting as you slowly pass through on the way to somewhere else.
Longer routes from the North to the south coast, as well as the nearby cities of Bath and Salisbury, as well as the ruins of Stonehenge; have seemingly made this one of the epicentres of local tourism.
Therefore, you may have heard of a signposted walking route around the town which is promoted by the local tourist board and council. It is called the: “Bradford on Avon Walking Wheel”, because on a map; there are two circular routes interconnected by way several spokes. Here is the official website: https://www.bradfordonavon.co.uk/explore/walks/
Whilst the outer wheel and spokes are a good way of exploring the surrounding villages; the smaller inner wheel has drawn criticism. It is supposed to stay within the town of Bradford on Avon itself; to help you explore the town. However, many have criticised the route for walking through many modern housing estates and avoiding the older and more picturesque centre.
Thus, being a born and bred Bradfordian on Avion; here is my own route that I would recommend to native and newcomer alike:
I have chosen to start my route by the metal bridge over the Kennet and Avon canal. This is because there is ample free and safe on-street parking. I have attached a google map link to the street called Moulton Drive. If there is no room on this long road; you can park anywhere on the joining Southway Road and not need to worry about grumpy locals or marauding vandals. In addition, there is a small but well stocked Sainsburys; ideal for those who have forgot or forsaken the idea to bring a packed lunch.
Setting off, you will descend the steps to the canal towpath; where you can admire the different boats and boaters in varying states of seaworthiness. After, a few minutes you will arrive at a lock and small wharf. Here, you will find the first of many places of refreshment for a weary walker. A café for the more sober and then taking care to cross a sometimes busy road; you will have the choice of two fantastic pubs either side of the towpath! With my favourite being: https://www.thelockinn.co.uk/
Following the towpath for just a hundred metres; turn off to the right through a break in a wall when you see a children’s playground. Following the path through the playground, you will pass through a young community apple orchard and then enter the yard of the Tithe Barn. I don’t want to weigh down the walker with too much information; so find out about the history of this fascinating place for yourself: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/bradford-on-avon-tithe-barn/
Passing yet another small cafe; we come to Barton Farm and the ‘packhorse’ bridge over the River Avon which was built in 1340! 800 years later, a bunker was built on the eastern bank; under the threat of a Nazi invasion. With this bunker forming a last line of defence if the British had to retreat into the Cornish penisula.
There are many benches here, to take in the sights and relax; before you have to make the inevitable climb up through the town.
From the old to the new
Crossing the River Avon, you will pass through another lush meadow and then up and over a railway line. Luckily, the railway is very straight here and it is easy to hear an approaching train. Yet all the same; stop, look twice and listen. From here, the path then climbs up a gentle gradient on a smooth metalled path. After rounding a corner by a summer house, the path levels and heads towards the town. High garden walls run either side; yet turn left when you see a steep set of steps before the first grand house. Here in this small alley; I see a post-box with the initials of Edward the seventh! Being at least 110 years old; makes this little gem all the more interesting! How many post-boxes can you see on this walk and how many different Royal initials adorn them?
After posting a photo on Instagram, I carefully walked along a narrow road for a short distance. Turning left up the one-way Wine Street which is even quieter; I rounded an old mill. Just before a modern house of aluminium and wood shuttering; look out for a steep footpath to the right. Taking your time and many breaths; you will pass between two stone pillars. You will then be rewarded with views of a quaint little chapel; passing around the chapel, you are then rewarded with views of the entire town. Catch your breath as you take in the views.
From here, you will enjoy a walk along what is probably the most picturesque street in the whole town. Named: ‘Tory’ after the olde English word for ‘hill’; this terrace of houses was began in the 1690’s. With: varying architectural styles; along with each homeowners personal touches and flowers and the panaramoic views to the south; this street is a true sight worth seeing. Equal to the grandeur of the Royal Crescent or Circus in nearby Bath.
As you come to the end of this amazing street; you are met with another wide but gentle traffic free path that climbs up again. Here, if you are feeling tired already; you can turn right and follow various footpaths back to the town centre. However, if you want to complete a grand tour; the only way is up!
Modern Bradford on Avon
Climbing this path, the gradient soon levels again and leads to another road. Luckily there is a new crossing to the left; at which cars should yield to you. Yet again, take care and be vigilant all the same.
Entering the street opposite the walled path from which we came; we walk down another terraced street of the Victorian era before descending through a housing estate of the ever classical 1960’s era. Here, I noticed some houses have extensions of disproportionate size! Why did the homeowners not just move to a bigger house? How did the local council ever allow these carbuncles? Will architects and historians come to view this as classic architecture in a 100 or 1000 years time? What are your thoughts on modern house design?
Leaving this estate, we can luckily cross another main road by way of a Pelican crossing. Entering another housing estate of a similar era and quality; we make our way east and south around the outskirts of the town. Taking care to cross another road, we enter into a street named: ‘Bancroft’. Look immediately to your left and see a path before the first house. Passing through a park and an allotment; we are rewarded of the wider Avon valley and view towards the Salisbury Plain and Westbury White Horse.
After crossing the small park and keeping the allotments on your left; walk through a narrow alleyway that eventually arrives at: The George pub. Moving on in your own time; we walk down the street and cross a main road by a Texaco fuel station. Walking along Woolley Street; we eventually descend to the older town once more.
The centre of Bradford on Avon
As we walk towards the older town centre once more; there are many grand houses once more. A house set back off the main road with a grand black front door holds a personal significance to me; for it was where I went to playschool! A long time ago for me; yet some memories of innocent fun still bring a smile of how it used to be! As the hill starts to descend once more; cross the road and walk down Mill Lane.
Here you are rewarded with yet another rich chapter of the towns history. A large rubber mill was here on the site of a vacant woollen mill from the 1850’s to the early 1990’s. Stephen Moulton along with Charles Goodyear; developed rubber so it could be used to make all the number of useful things. From supplying capes to troops in the Crimean War to tyres on modern motorcars; this site holds a place not just in the history of the town but the whole country.
Yet now, after centuries of the productive woollen mills and rubber mills; you are now faced with another great modern industry: ‘housing’. High town houses with countless floors; are crammed in; to make maximum profit for the landowners. Filled with workers of the modern factory that is capitalism; sky high mortgages and seemingly endless debt are all the fruits that you will find here now. On a Island in this sea of faux limestone and shadowy ghetto buildings; stands a cruelly preserved rubber press called: the Iron Duke. I stopped and marvelled at this feat of engineering with its mighty mechanisms; yet could not help but think that the ‘Iron Duke’ would be sad, if it could see what now surrounded it.
Walking on we pass a tunnel that leads to the gentrified Lamb Yard. With yet more cafes, overpriced restaurants and a dog grooming parlour; this place has left its hardworking history far behind. Re-crossing Silver Street we pass Browns Hardware shop; a throwback to a different age of shopping. The brown coated eccentric Mr Brown; reminds me of a classic ‘Two Ronnie’s’ of yet another bygone age.
Here, make a short detour up Coppice Hill; to view the now grand but roofless frame of a Wesleyan chapel, where the brothers once preached to their congregation. The walls now surround a swimming pool that is sadly private; for what a amazing back-drop to go for a dip on a warm summers day!
You will then pass throught the Shambles; a narrow street lined with tearooms, giftshops, a post office and a brilliant bookshop: Ex Libris….f.as.
Cross below the excellent Dandy Lion pub and pass in front of the old Swan Inn. Then walk down Church Street; lined with yet more grand houses and chapels and churches to various faiths. As you near the river once more; look to your right and you will see the Holy Trinity church. Take a detour up the lane to the right of the church and marvel at the stain glassed windows that are at street level. Here, you will also find the Saxon Church. Modest in design; yet awe inspiring to think that this has stood for over a thousand years! Long before the Normans, when King AEthelstan and the Vikings still walked the land!
Turning once again; use the footbridge to cross the River Avon and then turn immediately left down a few steps at the start of the car park. Looking ahead, you pass through a doorway in a wall and out into Westbury Gardens. On the left, take note of sign; stating the height of a great flood. What year did this flood take place?
Then turning right we cross the gardens and are rewarded with views of the town bridge with its small lockup. Take note of the small weather vane on top of the lockup and you’ll realise a local riddle: ‘What is under the fish but over the water’?
Crossing the road, we head towards another famous landmark in Braford on Avon; the: Bridge Tea Rooms. Too fancy for my tastes; maybe a highlight for a purveyor of such places on this wide ranging walk around town?
Walking past the tea rooms and the Library; which is also the site of the town museum, we carry on along Bridge Street and over the railway line once more. Here the road leads to yet another ghetto of overpriced former mill buildings; where signs are placed that make it clear visitors are not welcome. However, to the left; is a weir which is worth a quick look to see the cascading white water and possibly a Heron or Kingfisher? Take note too; of the race above the weir that fed the old mills of the town.
When you crossed the railway line; to the right of the road, you will see a footpath ascending into the woods. Keeping the chain link fence to your left; ascend this gentle path until you leave the woods at the far end. Here you will be come to the car park of a now abandoned golf course. Avoiding the barred gate; walk up through scrubland to the right and enter the golf course on the side of the hill.
Here, you can now follow various paths through the golf course. I walked down by the river and took in those views. It was a novelty too; to enjoy the now wilding meadows without the risk of golfers and their clubs and missiles. However, this route may not be forever; for as I speak, a battle rages to decide if these lush meadows can be bulldozed for yet more houses!
Reaching the far end of the golf course; I stepped through a hole in the fence and out into a arable field. Then passing through a kissing gate; I entered yet more lush green fields full of new lambs and their tired mothers. Here the open fields led down to the River Avon as it slowly meanders its way down from Melksham.
I try to remain relaxed at all times; yet at some points in the town I felt my nerves building like the great edifices around me. Yet here, the countryside was getting back to what mother nature would prefer; so I found myself relaxing more towards my simlple self.
Crossing the fields, I startled a magnificent Heron taking a rest. Then through another kissing gate; I entered Widbrook Woods. In these woods there are a number of permissive pathways that you can take. If you don’t feel comfortable in woodland; head straight on and you will soon reach the Kennet and Avon Canal. Or if you prefer, it is possible to stay in the woods for over a mile. Eventually, I returned to the towpath and turned right to come full circle. Passing a marina on the far bank and walking under the busy road bridge from Trowbridge; you are rewarded with a long home straight. If you are parked your car on Moulton Drive; use one of the many wooden staircases to return to your car.
To check out a more rural route in the Bradford on Avon area; check out another of my routes here: West Wiltshire Wet Walk
…come from near or far and enjoy Bradford on Avon. Choose to walk the official walking wheel, my alternative or better still; your own. See the architecture, understand the history and appreciate what has gone before you. A worthy companion is the brilliant Bradford on Avon museum website; that explains the history of every curiosity of note in the town. Here is a link to their website: http://www.brafordonavonmuseum.co.uk
Take a drink in one of the many watering holes or even stay for dinner. Yet realise and be open minded to the issues and future risks of this town as any other; and you will certainly enjoy, remember and relax along the way.
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