An eleven mile walk near the Wiltshire town of Bradford on Avon; in wet weather and the threat of a Coronavirus curfew.
A grim start
I woke up to darkened skies, turned on the radio and heard nothing but grim news of a virus sweeping the globe and shivered as I looked out the window. So much rain was lashing down; it looked like an endless volley of nails being hammered down from above. Yet something in me, something human; forced me to go outside and into nature.
After heating a hearty breakfast and putting on all the latest hi-tech man-made waterproof clothing I could find; I stepped out the front door and into the mercy of mother nature!
The route ahead
I was born and bred in this part of the world; so I know this area like the back of my clean hand! I had a rough idea of the route I wanted to take; yet I left options open to shorten the route in case I became tired or too wet! Parking the car on a quiet residential street; my route avoided spending too much time near busy roads. In fact, apart from an unavoidable hundred metres along a secondary road; I spent very little time walking on tarmac.
Upto Westwood and on to Farleigh Castle
After leaving the car in a safe place and carefully crossing a main road; I walked up through two quiet cul-de-sacs to climb to higher ground. As the houses ended; a footpath sign pointed through a hedge and out into open countryside. Cows are normally in this field; yet today, they were to busy trying to shelter from the rain to bother me. Crossing several fields and stiles, I became disorientated in the thick mists of the rain; yet I finally saw a church tower to guide me on!
The church tower belonged to the church of St Mary; which dates from the 13th century. It is notable for its rare perpendicular Gothic style; with its nave, chapel and tower all in line. This style can also be seen in Gloucester Cathedral; which was built in the same period. Coincidentally, it is thought this austere design came about due to the lack of labour, masons and architects; after the Black Death plague of the time.
The parish and village in which it stands is called Westwood; which has other claims to fame. It dates from before 983AD; had deep limestone quarries which built much of Georgian Bath as well as a 15th century manor house. In the Second World War, precious arts and historical artefacts were stored here deep below ground in the quarries to protect from Nazi air-raids. These included the Elgin Marbles and the Wright Brothers aeroplane!
Coming out of the field, I crossed the main road through the village by the first pub of many on this route. Walking along a quiet road past the manor and church; which was made even quieter by the fact it had been closed due to flooding. After a couple of miles on this road, without seeing a single vehicle; I descended to the hamlet of Farleigh Hungerford. Taking care to quickly cross two road bridges without footpaths; I climbed up to the impressive remains of the 12th century castle. More information can be found here: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/farleigh-hungerford-castle/
Yet my top tip, to avoid paying a princely sum of £15 for two adults; is to park outside the castle or walk there like me! Descending down below the ramparts; I crossed sodden fields towards yet another historical hamlet.
To Iford Manor
From the castle gates; I descended a long flight of steps to below the castle ramparts. From here the path crosses a small stream and through meadows alongside the now swollen River Frome. In summer there can be skittish cattle and even a bull in these fields. If you are not confident at passing near cattle; then there is no alternative to retracing your steps apart from going back almost to Westwood. A technique I use; is to walk around the perimeter fence of a field of cows. That way, if they do charge at you; it is possible to escape by jumping over the fence. However, it is your call and sometimes it is braver to turn back.
After following the river, I came to the hamlet of Iford; with its grand manor and Grade one listed gardens. The manor was first a wool factory; then later redesigned with a Georgian facade. The Italianate gardens of the house are worthy of a visit; open from April to September, see here: https://www.ifordmanor.co.uk/
My rain soaked camera does not do this place justice; please come and see for yourself on a warm sunny day.
Faraway fields to a Friary and Freshford
Admitting defeat in trying to take a half decent photo of Iford; I retraced my steps back up the lane and entered a field opposite the field from which I had come. This long wide field gave a tremendous sense of space; with its length and width. About a mile away, I could see a small forest and and the other end of the field. Not rushing, trying to stay out of the deeper puddles and taking in the fresh breeze; I felt completely relaxed for the first time that day. Maybe it was because I was the only person, the only moving object; in that vast sea of green? My primeval, social, and psychological barriers were all down with nothing in my way. A true route to relax!
After finally reaching the far end of the field and passing through the small forest I came upon a hamlet called: ‘Friary Green’ or just ‘Friary’. For here once stood houses for the lay men or ‘lay brothers’ who did all earthly tasks for the monks in the nearby Carthusian Priory in Hinton Charterhouse. In other words or should I say: lay mans terms; the monks held a hermit like life of contemplation, only speaking to others on a Sunday and spending the rest of the week in their own cell in solitude and silence. Therefore, chores, tasks and maintenance had to be undertaken by lay men who had little time or dedication to a greater god.
I read a helpful information sign and then carried on my merry way; happy in the knowledge and freedom that we sometimes take for granted nowadays. Crossing a meadow; then following a well engineered path, I arrived into the village of Freshford.
Here, there are several options from which you can choose; you can follow my route, turn left and climb to the village green, or you can shorten the walk by crossing the fields opposite: The Inn at Freshford back to Avoncliff. It is here in this pub that I would recommend stopping for a bite to eat or even a beverage if you do so wish! Me being on the paupers wage of a blogger; I only had money for the few cereal bars already in my coat pocket. On a summers day; there beer garden is fantastic, with a barbecue at the weekends. Check out there website here: https://theinnatfreshford.com/
The River Avon and then homeward bound
Feeling strong, in high spirits yet relaxed; I decided to extend my walk by heading west towards Limpley Stoke and then back along the Kennet and Avon Canal. After passing the pub, I remembered the Ealing classic film: ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’; which was filmed in this area.
Try and watch the film before you come and it will make the walk extra interesting. You will be laughing harder than old Sid James!
So after passing (or leaving) the Inn; walk up the narrow road that climbs towards the heart of Freshford village. Less than halfway up the hill, you will see a lane off to your right; that takes you down to the railway station. Use the footbridge to cross the railway, then turn back on yourself at the bottom of the steps. You will go through a kissing gate painted white; then follow the track down and around to the left. I took the photo opposite on a balmy summer day; which remained in my memory but so faraway!
Coming to the far end of this field; it is pinched between the river and the railway. If you need to cool off; this is an ideal spot for wild swimming on a warm day. However, being cold and wet already; I passed under the railway bridge and back to the road. Take care here as you walk along the narrow pavement. This road is used as a ‘rat-run’ and seemingly impatient and flustered drivers are trying to get through the narrow sections before they enter a Mexican standoff with their opposite equal!
If you can resist, pass the old Hop Pole Inn; which is in the process of being painstakingly reopened by a community group: https://limpleystoke.org/hop-pole-blog
Then walk down to the main road and right under the railway for the final time. At this point, although you have a wider pavement and are facing on coming traffic; keep an eye on the enthusatic drivers testing more than their brakes descending Winsley Hill. As soon as you have crossed the river, use the stile and enter the field to the right. Here you may see the heads of cyclists and walkers using the towpath of the canal that you rejoin at the end of the field.
Here you join the towpath of the magnificent Kennet and Avon Canal. A magnificent 57 mile feat of Georgian engineering! This enabled goods to be carried from Bristol to London; avoiding the terrible roads of the time. Designed by John Rennie; it boasts splendid architecture, check out: The Dundas Aquaduct, Bruce Tunnel and Caen Hill locks.
Just on this short stretch of the canal; you will see some wonderful sights. The aquaduct and weir at Avoncliff. Where you will find yet another popular pub: ‘The Cross Guns’ as well as a tearoom opposite if you are more of a sober but not sombre squire. As you finally arrive back in Bradford on Avon; you will see the 14 century tithe barn. Walking down the steps just before the barn; you will see a picturesque pack-horse bridge of the same period.
Walk through the arch to your right and explore the barn and associated buildings. As always there is a cafe as well as an art gallery. Rejoin the canal and pass yet another two pubs: ‘The Lock Inn’ and ‘The Canal Tavern’; that tempted the now weary author from either side! I prefer the ‘The Lock Inn’; with its famous ‘boatman’s breakfast’ and Mena Dhu Stout on tap, you cannot go wrong here.
So, I am lucky to live in this part of the world; so was able to walk home. Yet come and enjoy for yourself, without the need for alcohol; at your own pace, you will surely have a smile on your face. Cheers my dears!
Parking, refreshments and other tips
If coming by car; park alongside the canal on a road called Moulton Drive or Southway Road. You will see signs for a car park as you come into the town; yet this is a pay and display car park which is easily avoidable.
If you can afford to not bring a packed lunch; there are more pubs en route than a Royal Naval pub crawl after passing out parade. The problem you will have; is deciding how much you want to spend on the ever increasing price of an English pint.
As always check the weather and dress accordingly. In summer; take care with the cattle, check for ticks and don’t forget the sunscreen. Be alert and safe whilst crossing the roads and most importantly: relax and have enjoy yourselves, cheers!