Cotswold Ways Walk: Odes, values and votes - Batheaston to Bannerdown
- Credit: Kevan Manwaring
Blow away the cobwebs with a walk that takes in Solsbury Hill, Suffragettes and a Regency poetry contest. Inspiring views of Bath, secret lanes, mysterious stones and a cosy pub await!
The delightful village of Batheaston, on the edge of Bath, has a fascinating history amongst which two remarkable women stand out. The first is Lady Anna Miller. Returning from a Grand Tour with a Roman vase, Sir John, a retired officer, and his wife established a fortnightly poetry contest at Batheaston Villa. Themes were set and odes were composed and deposited anonymously within the vase. These were then read out and the best three awarded laurels, which were then dedicated by the respective poets to the ‘muse’ of their choice. This ‘peculiar ceremonial’ (Barbeaeu, 1884) ran for 12 years in the late 18th Century and in its heyday up to 50 carriages could be seen parked up disgorging their glittering guests. To be on the invite list was to know you had ‘arrived’ in Bath Society. It saw the likes of George Pitt, Lord Palmerston, Lord Carmarthen grace their home. ‘Mrs Miller’s Vase’, as this remarkable Regency Eisteddfod became known, was commented upon and mocked by the likes of Horace Walpole, who called it ‘the New Parnassus’, where one could hear ‘bouts-rimés on a buttered muffin’.
The second remarkable resident of Batheaston is Mrs Tolemache, who refused to pay Property Tax and Inhabited House duty on the grounds that there should be no taxation without representation. Goods were seized from her home, also Batheaston Villa, which led to a march from the White Hart Hotel, Batheaston (where her household goods had been auctioned off) by Suffragettes. From Mrs Miller, criticised for being above her station (‘her air is mock-important, and her manners inelegant’) to the empowered pioneers of Women’s Rights, this quiet corner of the Cotswolds offers a surprisingly topical commentary.
1. Leave London Road Carpark, use pedestrian crossing and cross to shop side. Turn left up High Street. When you reach a public footpath sign on right take narrow steps up behind The Batch.
2. Climb Penthouse Hill passing The Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd.
3. At the bench turn left up Solsbury Lane, a lovely hollow lane that winds up the hill.
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4. Follow this until it forks right (NB ‘dead-end’ sign). Follow this to end of lane. Enter gate and ascend Solsbury Hill, made famous by Peter Gabriel in his song ‘Solsbury Hill’.
5. Enjoy the stunning views over the valleys leading away from Bath towards Bradford-upon-Avon and Box.
6. Turn left along the brow of the hill and circumnavigate so-called ‘Little Solsbury Hill’ (there is no ‘Greater Solsbury’) in a clockwise direction. An Iron Age hillfort, it was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1930. A memorial stone commemorates this fact.
7. Below the Trig Point there is a bench if you wish to savour the view over Aquae Sulis (the Roman name for Bath). A good spot for a sandwich, or a sip from a flask!
8. Carry on in a clockwise direction around the hill, noting in the north corner the turf maze below the brow – it looks ancient but was made during the Batheaston bypass protest during the 90s.
9. Just past the eastern corner, you’ll see a little footpath drop down to your left, follow this (carefully, as it can be slippery) down to track, go through gate and turn left.
10. Go through metal gate and, heading north-east, descend through picturesque meadows towards North End. Keep following the footpath signs downhill and you can’t go wrong.
11. When you get to edge of North End village, take metalled lane (Seven Acres lane) left until you read corner of Eagle Road. Take this down to Brow Hill.
12. Turn left at Brow Hill. Soon on your left you’ll see Eagle Lodge, with its stone ‘eagle’ (resembling a turkey!). This was the former home of John Wood the Elder, the great Regency architect of Bath (designer of The King’s Circus and the Royal Crescent).
13. Continue along lane. Turn right at Steway Lane.
14. Take footpath on your left and follow footpath parallel to St Catherine’s Brook, heading north-north-east.
15. At second footbridge, where there is a ‘Limestone Link’ signpost turn right up the hill.
16. The apparent footpath is practically a boggy streambed so you’ll be better off following it along from one of the higher tracks that run parallel with it.
17. At top of field, turn right, heading towards gate.
18. Go through gate and turn left up the charming green lane, which ascends the side of the valley.
19. Eventually you’ll come to Steway Lane by a signpost. Here you have an option to turn left, if you wish to go and visit the Three Shires Stone, a cromlech on the road to Colerne, reconfigured from the remains of a destroyed longbarrow. This marks the point where the three counties of Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire meet. Retrace your steps to the signpost, then take footpath uphill through the pleasant woods.
20. This eventually comes out on Bannerdown Common. There is a bench here if you need to catch your breath. Now head southwards back towards Batheaston. If you take the left fork and you’re keen-eyed you’ll spot a carved owl. There are several tracks here. Just keep heading down the hill until you come out on Fosseway Lane. Turn right here by fancy wrought-iron gate and head downhill into Batheaston.
21. You’ll eventually emerge at the roundabout, bottom of Bannerdown Hill, opposite the carpark.
22. Time for the pub! You could take the footbridge from the carpark and walk to Bathampton Mill if you haven’t had enough exercise yet. Or, if you go to The Crown, Bathford, then you might want to check out Eagle House, (Church St, Bathford BA1 7RS) which served as a refuge for suffragettes between 1909 and 1912. Here the Blathwayt family helped them to recuperate from the harsh treatment they received when imprisoned for their political activism in support of votes for women. Many women were force-fed when on hunger strike to protest against their conditions. An orchard was planted by the Suffragettes (‘Annie’s Orchard’ after Annie Kenney, a local campaigner) but sadly was destroyed in the 1960s to make way for a housing estate. Only one tree remains, the Austrian Pine planted by Rose Lamartine Yates in 1909.
Need to know
Time: 2-2.30 hrs
Level: Moderate (suitable footwear essential, walking pole/s recommended)
Map: OS Explorer 155 Bristol & Bath
Pub: The Crown, Bathford, or Bathampton Mill.
Public Transport: Regular buses from Bath
Parking: London Road car park, Batheaston (free)
Toilets: carpark, pub