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Escape to the Bathscape

Bath has its world-renowned architectural and historic attractions, but it also has a luxurious natural landscape setting that’s integrated into the design of the city. Ahead of their September walking festival, Dan Merrett explains how Bathscape is helping to celebrate the rich local landscape and find ways of enhancing our experience of it.

The recently opened Bath World Heritage Centre in York Street highlights to visitors the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value that were considered as being of such importance by UNESCO as to award the City of Bath its World Heritage Site status. Alongside the Roman and Georgian assets stands the city’s natural landscape setting. Given Bath’s remarkable historical value it is perhaps easy to overlook just how unusual it is for a city to have such a stunning natural setting, especially one that is so integrated into the design of the city, but it is something that the Bathscape scheme is keen to celebrate.

Bathscape is a partnership of 12 organisations who came together with a shared interest in the city’s landscape setting and, led by Bath & North East Somerset Council, acquired funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to deliver a programme of projects running to autumn 2024 to enhance the natural heritage and encourage people to explore it.

Above: Panorama from Claverton Down

The projects range from improving the management of the local woodlands and meadows, to ‘wild day’ activities for local families experiencing challenging situations. We are responsible for the city’s annual Bathscape Walking Festival, with a programme of over 70 free guided walks running over a packed fortnight each September, as well as for improvements to, and waymarking of, the paths that form the Circuit of Bath, the route taken by the Julian House charity fundraising event which closes the September festival.

We believe in the importance of Bath as a ‘landscape city’, where the buildings and infrastructure are balanced by the natural landscape and sense of nature, with that landscape being a defining feature of the city and valued by residents and visitors. In Bath we are incredibly fortunate that such a significant proportion of the surrounding hills and valleys is publicly accessible, and we have an abundance of green space just a short walk from our doorsteps, something which became even more important during the recent lockdowns. This therapeutic value of the local landscape has been recognised since Georgian times when patients were encouraged to take the spa waters in the morning followed by brisk exercise on foot or by horse in the afternoon. Today we build on that tradition providing weekly ‘green prescription’ sessions for people referred by their GP or who themselves choose outdoor activities as an alternative to additional medication to improve their mental and physical health.

In Bath we are incredibly fortunate that such a significant proportion of the surrounding hills and valleys is publicly accessible

Our hills and valleys are also incredibly rich in wildlife, in history and archaeology and of course in their beauty, and we want to see that grow. Each summer we harvest wildflower seed from the National Trust’s meadows on the eastern slopes to sow new meadows elsewhere in the city, we provide a free advisory service for local owners of species-rich grasslands and woodlands along with small grants for habitat improvements, and our volunteer groups are out each week planting trees, improving paths, and embarking on other conservation tasks.

People are at the heart of the Bathscape scheme. As well as the 12 organisations that form the Bathscape board (see note) we work with dozens of groups and individuals in the area with an interest in the landscape, whether that is amateur archaeologists, local residents’ groups, conservation volunteers or interested individuals willing to give time to research the rich social history. We provide a wide programme of free training and events, work with local schools on outdoor education and through our monthly podcast bring to life some of the extraordinary heritage of the area. While we are small in terms of staff numbers (just two full-time and one part-time post) we are supported by a legion of volunteers as well as by our partner organisations.

Above: The Bathscape Walking Festival | Below: Volunteer teams help keep the paths open

So why not get out and enjoy the Bathscape? From a calming stroll along the canal or the river to a hike up one of the many hills to take in the views. There are meadows and woodlands, hidden valleys, and hilltops with bronze age burial mounds. Even in the centre of the city peregrine falcons, rare horseshoe bats and otters can be found. And if you don’t know where to start then why not join one of our free walks or activities? We want to see more people out enjoying the countryside, and whether it is a short family walk or a long country ramble our September walking festival has something for everyone.

More about the landscape and our activities, including a map of the area’s heritage and selected walks can be found on our website (bathscape.co.uk) while those interested in taking part can contact us on info@bathscape.co.uk. And I can strongly recommend listening in to our monthly ‘Bathscape Footprints’ podcasts on the area’s heritage which can be found at footprints.captivate.fm.

The Bathscape Landscape Partnership board members are: B&NES Council, Avon Wildlife Trust, National Trust, Cotswolds National Landscape, Bath Natural History Society, The Woodland Trust, Wessex Water, Visit Bath, University of Bath, Bath Preservation Trust and The Federation of Bath’s Residents’ Associations

The Bathscape Walking Festival runs from 10–25 September, culminating in the Circuit of Bath sponsored walk for Julian House on 25 September | bathscape.co.uk/walking-festival

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