This month Andrew Swift follows a scenic route from Walcot Street and Kensington Meadows which takes in the towpath of the Kennet & Avon Canal, the trackbed of a cliff railway and a hidden amphitheatre
This seven-mile walk not only explores some of the most glorious scenery around the city but takes in a riverside path, the trackbed of a Regency cliff railway, a prehistoric trackway and the towpath of the Kennet & Avon Canal.
We start, though, by heading north from the city centre along Walcot Street, continuing along London Street and crossing the traffic lights at Cleveland Place. Carry on along the London Road, and, 50m after crossing the entrance to Morrison’s supermarket, bear right by a phone box to continue along Kensington Place. After passing No 10, turn right along an access road which leads down to Kensington Meadows. As you enter the meadows, follow a track bearing diagonally to the right. When you reach the corner of the field, head down a path which doubles back alongside the river (ST758658). On the opposite bank is Bath Boating Station; a little further along are Cleveland Pools.
At the end of the path, turn right at the top of a flight of steps, and right again to cross a footbridge over the river. Just before a railway bridge, turn left along a footpath, go through a kissing gate (KG) and carry on alongside the railway embankment (ST763660).
After 600m, at the end of the second meadow, go through a KG and at the top of the path turn right over a railway bridge. Just before the canal, turn left down a path leading to the towpath and carry on along it. After 800m, you come to Bathampton, where an inn and a narrowboat café offer the last chance of refreshment before the climb ahead.
Carry on along the towpath for another 1000m, and, when you come to a swingbridge (No 182), cross it and turn left (ST782659). Don’t take the footpath heading straight uphill but carry on past boats moored up at the wharf.
It was here that wagonloads of stone, conveyed down an 800m cliff railway from high on Bathampton Down, were once loaded onto boats. It wasn’t called a cliff railway when it opened back in 1810 – it was known either as a tramway or as an inclined plane – but it worked on the same principle as the cliff railway between Lynton and Lynmouth. There were two crucial differences, however – it not only carried stone rather than passengers, but it was also stone, allied to gravity, that was the key to its operation. Stone was loaded onto a wagon at the top and, as it descended, its weight hauled an empty wagon up from the wharf. The wagons were attached to either end of a rope which wound round a drum at the top and ran over friction rollers between the rails. All very ingenious – and very hard to envisage today, for the tramway was abandoned around 1840, and, although many of the stone sleepers which supported the rails and rollers survive, nature and neglect have taken their toll.
To follow the course of the tramway, carry on as the path curves uphill at the end of the wharf and sets a direct course for the quarry. The views along the Limpley Stoke valley from here are magnificent – but before long our ascent comes to an abrupt halt as the footpath drops down to the Warminster Road. The tramway crossed the road on a bridge known locally as the Dry Arch, but, as it was demolished in 1958, we have to make a short diversion.
Turn right along the pavement and, just after passing Dry Arch House, cross the road and follow a footpath sign up a gravel track. After 100m, the track divides. To rejoin the tramway, you need to fork right – but before you do take the left fork. This follows the course of the old road along the valley, and a little way along you come to most substantial legacy of the tramway – a bridge which carried it over the road (ST780657).
Turn back to head uphill and rejoin the tramway as it continues its remorseless climb to the summit. As you near the top and cross the skyline walk, the ground becomes ever more uneven, thanks to tree roots undermining it and water coursing down. At the top, a path swings in from the right – this is the path you will be taking shortly, but before you do, bear left to follow the course of the tramway as it levels out. Ignore turnings to the left, and after 30m you enter the quarry where the stone came from. Once it was a hive of industry, but today a path leads through flower-rich grassland to emerge in a hidden amphitheatre, its man-made cliffs pierced by the entrances to underground workings.
Head back and take the path you passed earlier – watching out for barbed wire as you squeeze past the squeeze stile a little way along. After going through a KG, you emerge on Bathampton Down, with two grassy tracks ahead. Take the one on the right and, after 100m, when you cross a raised track, turn right down it (ST774654). A little way down, it joins a sunken track, along which you turn right. This network of old tracks would have been used to cart stone down from the quarries before the tramway was built, but they were almost certainly much older. Evidence of Romano-British field systems and settlements is scattered all over the down, and it is likely that the track that will take us back down to Bathampton is of a similar vintage.
Follow a bridleway sign as the track drops downhill, rough and stony, with its surface only starting to improve once you are through a 7-bar gate and the Warminster Road comes into view ahead. When you reach it, cross at the traffic island to your right and carry on down Down Lane.
After 250m, turn left along Miller Walk. After passing the first house, turn right along a grassy track. Carry on along a shady path between fences, go through a KG and follow a track diagonally across a meadow.
When you come Bathampton Lane, cross and turn left. Carry on for 100m before turning down a lane to Field Cottage. After 60m, go through a KG on the left and head diagonally across a field. Go through a gate in the far corner, turn right and, after crossing the canal, turn left along the towpath to return to the city.
Many more walks can be found in Andrew Swift’s Country Walks from Bath published by Akeman Press; akemanpress.com