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Bradford-on-Avon

Combine a visit to this enchanting riverside town with a canal-side stroll.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 45min

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Tow path, field and woodland paths, metalled lanes

Landscape Canal, river valley, wooded hillsides, town streets

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 142 Shepton Mallet;156 Chippenham & Bradford-on-Avon

Start/finish ST 824606 (on Explorer 156)

Dog friendliness On lead through town

Parking Bradford-on-Avon Station car park (charge)

Public toilets Station car park

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1 Walk to the end of the car park, away from the station, and follow the path left beneath the railway and beside the River Avon. Enter Barton Farm Country Park and keep to the path across a grassy area to an information board. With the packhorse bridge right, keep ahead to the right of the tithe barn to the Kennet and Avon Canal.

2 Turn right along the tow path. Cross the bridge over the canal in ½ mile (800m) and follow the path right to a footbridge and stile. Proceed along the right-hand field edge to a further stile, then bear diagonally left uphill away from the canal to a kissing gate.

3 Follow the path through the edge of woodland. Keep to the path as it bears left uphill through the trees to reach a metalled lane. Turn right and walk steeply downhill to Avoncliff and the canal.

4 Don't cross the aqueduct, instead pass the Mad Hatter Tea Rooms, descend the steps on your right and pass beneath the canal. Keep right by the Cross Guns and join the tow path towards Bradford-on-Avon. Continue for ¾ mile (1.2km) to the bridge passed on your outward route.

5 Bear off left downhill along a metalled track and follow it beside the River Avon back into Barton Farm Country Park. Cross the packhorse bridge and the railway to Barton Orchard.

6 Follow the alleyway to Church Street and continue ahead to pass the Holy Trinity Church and the Saxon Church of St Laurence. Cross the footbridge and walk through St Margaret's car park to the road. Turn right, then right again back into the station car park.

Set in the wooded Avon Valley, Bradford is one of Wiltshire's loveliest towns, combining historical charm, appealing architecture and dramatic topography. It is often likened to a miniature Bath, the town sharing the same honey-coloured limestone and the elegant terraces and steep winding streets that rise sharply away from the river. Historically a 'broad ford' across the Avon, the original Iron-Age settlement was expanded in turn by the Romans and Saxons, the latter giving Bradford its greatest treasure, St Laurence's Church. The Avon was spanned by a fine stone bridge in the 13th century - two of its arches survive in the present 17th-century structure - and by the 1630s Bradford had grown into a powerful centre for the cloth and woollen industries.

You will find exploring the riverside and the lanes, alleys and flights of steps up the north slope of the town most rewarding. Beautiful terraces are lined with elegant 18th-century merchants' houses with walled gardens, and charming 17th- and 18th-century weavers' cottages, the best examples being located along Newtown, Middle Rank and Tory terraces. The latter is the highest and affords superb views of the town. The wealth needed to make all this building possible came from the manufacture of woollen cloth. In the early 1700s Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, commented 'They told me at Bradford that it was no extra-ordinary thing to have clothiers in that county worth from £10,000 to £40,000 per man'. Bradford's prosperity at the time is reflected in the size of the magnificent 14th-century tithe barn at Barton Farm.

With the development of mechanisation, the wool trade moved from individual houses to large water and steam driven mills alongside the Avon. At the time the Kennet and Avon Canal was built, in 1810, the town supported around 30 mills and some of these buildings survive, in various degrees of restoration or disrepair, today. With the centre of the wool trade shifting to Yorkshire, the industry declined during the 19th century and the last of the mills closed in 1905. The town is now prosperous once again with tourists and new residents, many of them commuting to Bath, Bristol and even London.

Down by the river, the tiny, bare Saxon Church of St Laurence is the jewel in Bradford's crown and you should not miss it! It was founded by St Aldhelm, the Abbot of Malmesbury, in ad 700 and this building dates from the 10th century. For centuries it was forgotten; the chancel became a house, the nave a school, and the west wall formed part of a factory. The true origins and purpose of the building were rediscovered in 1858 and it remains one of the best preserved Saxon churches in England.

What to look for

Note the a small, dome-shaped building at the south end of Town Bridge. Called the 'Chapel', it was, in fact, a lock-up or 'blind house' containing two cells with iron bedsteads for prisoners.

Where to eat and drink

In Bradford-on-Avon, try the Cottage Co-operative Café behind the tourist information centre, the Dandy Lion in Market Street and the Canal Tavern or the Lock Inn Canalside Café on Frome Road. At Avoncliff, the Cross Guns offers traditional pub food and a splendid terraced riverside garden, while lunches and teas are served at the Mad Hatter Tea Rooms.

While you're there

Discover the natural and historical heritage of Bradford with a visit to the town's fascinating museum. Linger at Barton Farm Country Park to view the craft shops in the former medieval farm buildings, and marvel at the great beams and rafters of Bradford's magnificent, tithe barn, the second largest in Britain.

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