The Coal Canal Way – Walks 1 & 2

I recently bought a copy of a locally produced booklet called The Coal Canal Way – A Walkers Guide. You can buy yourself a copy from The Somersetshire Coal Canal Society or download a copy for free. It contains a series of walks which take you along the whole of the long disused Somerset Coal Canal – from the terminus at Paulton to where it joined the Kennet & Avon canal at Dundas. I’ve done this walk several times before without a guidebook, but am going to do it again following the suggested routes. As is my wont, I’m going turn them into a series of circular walks too.

The first two walks in the book, from Paulton to Radford and from Radford to Camerton, take me along paths I know inside out. I’ve walked this way dozens of times, for many years. It remains fascinating, however. The evidence of what a different place this area was in the not so distant past is everywhere. The coal canal was, for a time, an important connection to the Kennet & Avon canal for the coal mines of the Somerset Coalfield. You can read the history on the societies website. Suffice it to say, it was for a while a very busy operation, carrying 100,000 tons of coal a year.

The terminus is at Timsbury Basin, and it is still a prominent feature in the local landscape. These days it provides a home for ducks and a pair of swans and is very well used by dog-walkers. But it used to service a tramline from the collieries at High Littleton and Timsbury, as well as the local Paulton Engine.

A little further along is Paulton Basin, which is being gradually and lovingly restored by volunteers. The most prominent features are the large dry dock and the stone arch bridge. The past really does make its presence felt here.

The route is then along the towpath of the canal all the way to Radford. Not so long ago, parts of the section were restored enough to actually fill with water. There is a video of the slightly ramshackle occasion when it was re-opened on Youtube, which is worth a watch. The water is not there any more, but it is amazing that it was done at all. The section in my photo above was not part of the refilling and is not the most dramatic section, but I have always had a soft spot for it for some reason.

Of course, the other link with the past in this area is the remains of the Camerton Branch of the Bristol and North Somerset Railway, which ran from Hallatrow to Limpley Stoke. The path takes you through the site of Radford Halt, although there isn’t really anything left to see. It also takes you through the decapitated bridge shown in the photo above. This bit of the walk is interesting as the path goes directly through someones garden – but it is well signposted so it doesn’t feel too awkward. It is a really lovely garden too, but it didn’t seem right to take any pictures.

Before long, you arrive in Camerton. I did’t hang around on this occasion, returning home through the fields to the south. It was a gorgeous day and an interesting walk. Although the actual Coal Canal Way walks amounted to less than 2 miles, my total walk was a 6.5 mile round trip.

Walking Home from Bath

This walk is something I have wanted to do for a long time, and at last both my ability and an opportunity have come together. For me there is something special about walking home, from anywhere. I always planned to walk home from work, when my workplace was just about close enough for that to be possible. Indeed, I had vivid dreams about doing so. I never managed it, and now I work far too far away. So I am pleased to realise this particular ambition.

I walked from the outskirts of Bath. This cut out the climb from the city centre and leaves another challenge for another day! The route I chose is a fairly obvious one from a browse of the OS maps – via Englishcombe, Inglesbatch, Priston and Timsbury. The start of my walk, along the edge of Odd Down towards Rush Hill, afforded a beautiful view looking West across the hills and valleys that I would soon be walking through.

The first port of call was Englishcombe, an historic and interesting place. I was looking forward in particular to seeing what remained of Culverhay Castle. The honest answer is not much. The earthworks are clearly visible, but overgrown and it is hard to make anything out, at least when seen from the paths I was walking along. I will be passing this way again, so I’ll check it out from some different angles.

The castle has an interesting history. Built in stages between the 11th and 13th century, it was part of the Gournay estate. It met it’s demise after Thomas de Gournay was indicted for his part in the murder of Edward II and all his estates were confiscated by the crown. This included the other villages in this area called “Gurney”, including for example Farrington Gurney and Barrow Gurney. The castle was razed to the ground and the stones used by Bath Abbey to build the nearby Tithe Barn, a subject for another walk.

I had also intended to visit Englishcombe church, but it was not open (there was a notice giving numbers to call to gain access). Still, even from the outside, it is a very pleasing building. Pevsner has lots to say about it, but mostly about the inside. Apparently the Tower and part of the chancel are Norman, and indeed Wikipedia says it was built in the 12th Century by Robert de Gournay.

I then followed the byway to Inglesbatch (or English Batch as it is called on the early OS maps). This was easy, if slightly muddy, walking. It looked like it would be much more fun in a 4×4! If you follow me on Instagram, you will know that I am collecting pictures of named lanes, and I felt sure this would be one to add to the collection. But there is no trace of the name on recent or early OS maps, much to my disappointment.

Inglesbatch itself is an incredibly pretty place. Another example of a place it is impossible to imagine affording to live in. I don’t imagine property comes up for sale very often in any case. There is absolutely nothing there, however, and it would take a stomp through the fields to get to the nearest pub.

Talking of which, my next stop was Priston, where I had intended to call in for a swift half. However, I had reckoned without the May Day Fair. The whole village was very busy and I didnt fancy my chances at the bar, so that treat will have to wait for another day. I didnt stop at the church either on this occasion, but hurried on to escape the crowds.

In fact, I swapped crowds of people for flocks of sheep and lambs. A good trade. The walk to Timsbury is through a valley of lush green fields, populated with the aforementioned ruminants. The slowly setting sun really made the spring-like colours pop and sheep are amusing when they nonchalantly but urgently get out of your way, so although this section was short on views I really enjoyed it.

The final part of the walk, from Timsbury to home, takes me through my usual stomping ground. It drops down from Timsbury via Mill Lane and heads along the old Somerset Coal Canal towards Paulton Basin. I’ll write a post about my local paths on another day, but today I was just relieved to be coming to the end. Overall, I had a wonderful few hours achieving an ambition I’ve long harboured.

Distance: 9.35 miles