Friday, 25 November 2016


The Saxon church of St Lawrence

We had driven through the pretty town of Bradford-on-Avon, built on a hillside, and today offered an opportunity to have a full exploration. We initially followed the Town Walk, which can be downloaded here. It starts, very conveniently, at the large car park by the railway station. You turn right out of the car park into Frome Road and are immediately confronted by the Men's Almshouses of 1700. The former Women's Almshouses are on the right, seemingly now a pub.

We carry on past a playing field and turn right at the canal which brings us to the impressive 168 foot long Tithe Barn which dates from the 14th century.

We pass by the front of the Barn and cross the River Avon over Barton Bridge to climb up to Barton Orchard. This is an ancient packhorse way and many of the houses were later used by weavers. The handsome building at number 3 is an 18th century clothier's house.

the Saxon church of St Laurence lies a short way from the end of Barton Orchard, opposite Holy Trinity. The story of the church is quite interesting. It was rediscovered in 1856, having been converted to a school and cottage. It was restored twenty or so years later. It is noticeably small, but high. The narrow opening between the nave and the chancel is especially striking.

We continued along Church St and followed it to the left on meeting the river again. On teh left is the fine 18th century Abbey House.

And further long is the early 16th century Old Church House, now the Masonic Hall.

Church Street ends at the junction with Market St, where on the corner is the Catholic Church.

This looks like no church, Catholic or otherwise, that I have ever seen. I was reassured to discover from Pevsner that the building was once the Town Hall. It was designed in 1855 by Thomas Fuller of Bath, on, as Pevsner says, a scale excessive for Bradford. It became the Catholic church in 1955.

We crossed the road and walked through the Shambles, enjoying a nice cake and a drink at one of the several cafes. We emerged back on the main road through the town and walked across the Town Bridge. Midway along the bridge there was a nice view of the Avon with the imposing Abbey Mill on the right bank. It was built as a cloth factory in 1857. In the early 19th century Bradford had no less than 32 cloth factories (Pevsner).

On the far side of the bridge stands a curious small building known variously as the Chapel, the Blind House and the Lockup - the last naming its true role. We saw a simpler version of the sane thing in Heytesbury, Wiltshire, only a few weeks ago.

We turned right on the far side and could now see the bridge itself. It is essentially 17th century, although there are two 13th century arches.

This is effectively the end of the Town Walk (you just follow the river back to the car park). We decided instead to explore the Kennet and Avon Canal and headed initially south east towards Widbrook. At the start we were thrilled to see a late Red Admiral. We were struck by the large number of narrow boats moored by the canal side, many of them lived in.  This was a particularly pleasing view.

We doubled back and followed the canal east from Bradford to Avoncliff, along a narrow valley. It was rather extraordinary: the river followed the foot of the valley, as you would expect, while to canal followed the same line but along the side of the slope. You could look down on the river from the towpath.

This was a really lovely section to walk along and at Avoncliff the canal suddenly took a sharp right turn and crossed over the river valley on an impressive, but not very high, aqueduct built by John Rennie before 1804.

There was a lovely view back up the river from the far corner of the aqueduct, showing the water mill, which is clearly undergoing restoration of redevelopment.

We retraced our steps, and then took a path to the left down to the river whose banks we followed back into Bradford.

Conditions: a wonderful sunny day.

Map: Explorer 156 (Chippenham & Bradford-on-Avon).

Distance: all told we walked about 7 miles.

Rating: four stars. Delightful and full of interest.

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