Walks in the country: the other side of Bath

by loial

Bath in Somerset is known for its Royal Crescent and Georgian architecture crafted from local stone. Outside the city, there are great walks along canals and into the foothills of the Cotswolds

The beautiful city of Bath is often referred to as "a jewel". If that rather clichéd observation is true, then the crown in which this jewel is set is the surrounding countryside. I have lived in Bath for 20 years, and what keeps me living there is not the obvious attractions of the urban area but the fact that it is such a green city. Not only is Bath small, allowing easy access to the countryside, but it also has a large number of parks, open spaces and extensive footpaths.

In this guide, my intention is to give you an overview of what the walking possibilities are in Bath. Hopefully, later articles will provide more detail on specific routes or walking areas. Personally, I am not big on using traditional walking guides, preferring to treat each walk as an adventure. I tend to follow my nose and instincts, rather than a set route.

Long-distance walks

It is not widely known(or widely advertised), but from the centre of Bath you have easy access to a number of long-distance walking routes. Probably the best-known is the Cotswold Way which starts in the Abbey churchyard (or you can pick it up at the top right-hand edge of Victoria Park, near the entrance to the golf course). This is an excellant route out of Bath into the lower foothills of the Cotswolds. I suggest you follow it as far as Kelston Roundhill or Prospect stile before returning.

To the west of the city runs the Bath-Bristol Path, a 15-mile shared cycle path that links the centre of Bath with the centre of Bristol. Officially it starts on the western edge of Bath, but it is easily accessed by following the the riverside path along the Avon from the centre of the city. While the towpath through Bath is not a pretty route(the River Avon has paid a high price for flooding the city in past decades, and is now confined to a concrete channel devoid of charm), once you leave the city the walk is much more pleasant with views of the Avon Valley and the surrounding hills.

The Bath-Bristol path also links with a number of other significant walking routes including the Monarch Way and the various Forest of Avon routes. Pick up a leaflet on the Bath-Bristol route from the Tourist Information Office or the cycle shop behind the railway station. There are a number of good pubs on or near the route, including the Jolly Sailor and the Bird and Hand at Saltford

Also following the Avon Valley, but this time southwards, is the the towpath of the Kennet and Avon canal. Access is easy. Locate the locks in Widcombe (behind the railway station) and you are quickly in a tranquil environment. The walk to the George Inn at Bathampton is popular. The George is located on the canal side and is a beautiful spot to stop for a drink or a meal. If you're feeling more energetic, continue the walk to Avoncliffe, where the Hop Pole is an essential stop, or to Bradford-on-Avon and return by train. Comparisons of this section of the Avon Valley with the Loire may be a bit over-the-top, but this is an very pretty route.

The Bath Waterside Travelodge, located at the junction of the riverside path and the towpath, is a great place to stay when walking in Bath. It is located just a couple of minutes' walk from the railway and bus stations and the city centre.

From the towpath near the Dundas Aqueduct, there is access to the Limestone Link – a little-known long-distance path that links the Cotswolds with the Mendip Hills. It is not particulatly well signposted, but it is worth looking out for the logo on stiles and gateposts. One well-advertised route is the National Trust's Bath Skyline walk. Pick up a map from the NT shop near the Abbey. The walk can be accessed from near to the city centre and will take you through some of the extensive NT land that surrounds the city.