I am a freelance writer, living in Bath with my wife and son.
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Published September 14th 2017
Don't barge your way through Bath- glide along the canal
One of Bath's most iconic and lovely heritage sites is the Victorian canal that winds through the city. Built originally to transport the famous honey coloured Bath stone to London and beyond, it is now a gorgeous place to take a walk, and enjoy the city from an unusual perspective. My walk began at the 'Bath Locks', which are the six water locks that raise boats and barges from the level of the Avon river to the Kennet. They are an engineering marvel and the perfect place to begin a walk. There is plenty of on-street parking, and the locks are a quick ten-minute stroll from the Bus and Rail stations.
After a short, fairly steep hill, you reach the level of the canal and can begin to enjoy the sight of the lovely residential and pleasure barges. Originally pulled by horses during the Industrial Revolution, they are now powered by motors that thrum gently along. At this point, there are lovely views of the city horizon, to be enjoyed.
About ten minutes into the stroll ( keep the beautiful houses on your right and head uphill to follow my route) you will come aacrossseveral elegant bridges. The ironwork is all painted white, and on a sunny day it almost feels like walking along the river Seine in Paris. The bridges were paid for by wealthy Victorian Bath residents whose property backed on to the canal route. They did not want their land spoiled by Industrial activity, and so beautified the area. Nowadays, this lovely and quiet part of the city is a favourite of Bath residents, be they walking dogs, running, strolling or going for a cycle.
As the walk went on, I came across a bustling canal bank, full of benches and a cute cafe that is actually a converted barge. There, walkers could sit inside the boat or on the river bank, watching the world (and the barges) go by. This was all along the left bank, as the right hand side backs on to residential houses and fields for the duration of this walk. It is worth keeping an eye on the other bank, as this side of the canal is teeming with wildlife, and you may spy a heron or a cheeky rabbit, as I did.
A floating pit stop, for all your refreshment needs
All along this stretch are wonderful echoes from history. The walls and facades of the bridges are full of Georgian finery, and there is even some 200 year old graffitti to be seen inside some of the stone alcoves. Just as you cross the canal via a busy road bridge, the route will also take you past a very imposing Georgian building. This was the Head Quarters of the Kennet and Avon Canal Shipping Company, that built and maintained the route. Before motorways and safe sea-travel, the canal acted like an Industrial artery of Bath, importing and exporting goods to and from all over the world. The glimpses of high ceilings and chandeliers inside hint to this powerful and decadent past.
The half way point of my walk culminated at The George Inn, in Bathampton. It is a stone, Three Hundred Year old Inn, and offers excellent food and drinks. It is right alongside the towpath, and the beer garden looks out on to the canal (a strange experience, as the boats are actually ABOVE eye-level. My route took about forty minutes at a steady pace, so it could be a perfect place to stop, rest and have some lunch. I opted for a refreshing pint of Guinness before my return walk.
For me, the return journey is even more beautiful, and allows me to appreciate the impressive architecture of the canal. The path takes walkers underneath several tunnels, and it is amazing to think that they were all carved out and built by hand, mostly by Irish 'Navvies', labourers who came over from Ireland following the promise of paid work. Some find the tunnels eerie, but with their sunlit watery reflections and cool interiors, I love them.
This special part of Bath offers a peaceful and beautiful experience, and is very often missed by visitors to the city. I always feel that I am sharing a hidden, secret place with others who are there, and there is always a positive, friendly interaction between people. So, if you are looking for a different experience, or to enjoy a city from an unusual perspective, then this could be right up your street (or canal path, rather).