Every year, usually on the third weekend in September, the Titchmarsh Walking Group leaves the village for its annual walking weekend away. Typically a group of 20 plus will head into the wilds for a few days of long walks and good cheer. This year, thanks to Covid-19, the usual plans never really got off the ground. For a long time it seemed like the 3rd weekend would come and go. Then, almost at the eleventh hour, someone suggested that we could still go away though perhaps on a much smaller scale. Four couples took up the challenge and the trip was on.
The chosen destination was the small town of Bradford on Avon – which is about 10 miles south of Bath, Wiltshire. The town’s canal, historic buildings, shops, pubs and eateries make it popular with tourists. As there were only 8 walkers making the trip it was possible for the entire group to stay in one B&B – the Priory Steps run by Carey and Diana Chapman. This delightful Georgian townhouse was only a few hundred yards from the centre of town within easy reach of restaurants, the railway station and a terrific canal side pub! No sooner had the party arrived than we headed out on our first exploratory walk. We spent more than an hour noseying around the pretty lanes with their tall honey-stone buildings and open parkland. As darkness fell it would soon be time for supper – then bed.
Walk 1: Bradford on Avon to Bath (12.5 miles)
The first walk on Saturday morning took the group along the Kennet and Avon Canal towards Bath. This must be one of the most picturesque waterside routes in the country, especially when blessed with such glorious sunshine. Thick, overhanging trees lined the route for most of the way – only breaking occasionally to afford enchanting views across the rolling countryside. Narrowboats and pleasure craft chugged up and down the waterway and you could soon be forgiven for thinking that the passage of time had slowed down to a crawl. It was delightful.
Just over halfway we stopped for lunch in the village of Mitford. The pub stands right next door to Midford station – or what’s left of it. Midford lost its railway line in 1966 under the Beeching axe. However, the platform still remains and the track bed has been turned into a cycle route. This would be our new path into Bath – but not all of it would be open air. About a mile from the station the path suddenly burrowed into the hillside. The next few miles were spent underground. As tunnels go this was a very pleasant one. The route was illuminated all the way and there was even piped cello music. After about 25 minutes, just as we were beginning to think we would never see daylight again, we suddenly popped out not far from Bath town centre.
On a typical walking group away weekend, the party leaves Titchmarsh on Friday and returns on Sunday. However, due to the unusual circumstances surrounding this year’s trip, the walkers decided to stay on for an additional night. This meant there was time for a second long distance walk on Sunday.
Walk 2: The Mendips, Wells and Wookey Hole (13 miles)
The Sunday walk started in the Mendip Hills high above Wells. The route led the walkers through a steeply wooded region before emerging into daylight just on the outskirts of town. After a quick amble around the Bishop’s Palace the group headed into the centre. The famous town square was bustling with tourists where apparently no-one had ever heard of social distancing or wearing masks. After pausing to take in the sight of Wells Cathedral, the party moved on, this time in the direction of Wookey Hole. The famous village and attraction of the same name is in the valley to the north of Wells and we needed to push on uphill in order to get there in time for lunch.
After pausing for a well-earned scoff and a breather at the local inn, the group headed out to tackle the steep incline of Ebbor Gorge National Nature Reserve. There followed some impressive huffing, puffing and red faces, but everyone made it to the summit. We were rewarded with outstanding views over the Somerset levels. This curiously flat landscape stretched out as far as the eye could see, past the imposing hump of Glastonbury Tor and on into the distance. After the obligatory photos it was time to head overland and back to the start. In total the walk was 13 miles with approx 1,000 feet of ascent. This would have been an impressive distance for the walk on the first day of an away trip – but this was the second outing and there was still one more to come.
Walk 3: Lacock (6.5 miles)
Fans of period dramas will know all about Lacock. It has provided the backdrop for countless film and tv shows including Pride and Prejudice, Cranford and Downton Abbey. The village is owned almost entirely by the National Trust and attracts many visitors by virtue of its unspoiled appearance. Monday 21st September was no exception. The group parked outside the village and set-off up the ridge above Bowden Hill. Here a number of country estates rub shoulder to shoulder and the surrounding countryside and parkland was very attractive and very well kept. Soon we were surrounded by open farmland on all sides, maize fields and occasionally a few sheep and cattle. As time passed it soon became clear that some of the footpaths had seen less traffic than normal. This was evidenced by the abundance and size of the nettles! Most of these would normally have been beaten into retreat by countless pairs of walking boots. In some places, however, the nettles were ear-high – as one person found to their cost! It was not a day for wearing shorts.
After walking a few miles along the ridge it was time to head down towards the valley floor. Here we discovered the Wilts & Berks Canal. Unlike the Kennet and Avon, this canal was in a very poor state. Much of the water was choked with reeds and bullrushes making it completely unnavigable. Though clearly still a work in progress, efforts are underway to restore this almost forgotten waterway. Even so, it provided a charming setting as we wended our way back towards Lacock.
It was time for our final group lunch. Sadly, although we had pre-booked and although it was Monday, Lacock was crammed and the pub had already sold-out of most dishes! Thankfully they had plenty of beer and cider. In a few short days we had covered over 30 miles. It was time to raise a glass and say cheers for another successful walking group weekend.
A big thank you to Jackie and Stephen for organising!
Notes: This was a very different walking group away weekend for lots of different reasons. Many familiar faces were missing and there were a few restrictions on what we could do together. Although there were 8 of us in the party, we were technically two groups of four and this was enforced wherever we went. Even so, at the time of writing, walking as a group is still permitted. It remains a very socially rewarding activity. It’s a good way to meet people and keep fit.
The next monthly walking group outing is slated for Saturday 3rd. Whether it will go ahead is yet to be decided. Keep an eye on the village website for updates. Typically such walks are only 4 or 5 miles long at most.
Finally, if you are ever in the vicinity, Bradford on Avon is a really charming town to visit – as is the Priory Steps B&B. Tell Carey and Diana we sent you!