Walking Trails: Bath (Beckford Tower to Solsbury Hill)

This is a long overdue post held back by coursework, projects and generally just life over a messy two year period wrecked by a pandemic and several lockdowns.

Now would be a good time than ever to post these shots, adventures, misadventures and ‘don’t tell my mother moments,’ during my ‘need to clear my head’ walking expeditions in and around the city of Bath in June last year.

Highly recommended if you are visiting Bath over the spring & summer holidays. Duration: 3-4 hours.

Beckford Tower & Museum, Bath

Starting Point: Beckford’s Tower & Museum

The starting point for my walk is on the summit of Landsdown Hill, at the base of the 120-foot-high Beckford’s Tower which was commissioned by novelist, art collector, plantation owner and two-time Lord Mayor of London William Beckford (1760-1844). Once known as the richest non-aristocrat in England, Beckford designed the tower as part of a one-mile trail through landscaped gardens starting from his home in Landsdown Crescent.

Also known as the Landsdown Tower, this neo-classical structure, with an octagonal lantern and gold gilt columns was designed by Bath architect Henry Edmund Goodridge and built between 1825-1827.

It currently functions as Beckford’s Tower & Museum and houses a collection of original furniture designed for the tower, paintings, books and objects.

The museum reflects Beckford’s penchant for the arts and collections he was able to purchase from wealth he inherited and accumulated via profits from Jamaican sugar plantations and enslaved people, and later through compensation from the government following the abolition of slavery.

Beckford is buried in Landsdown cemetery next to the tower that during his time served as a pleasure garden. The tower and grounds were gifted by Beckford’s daughter, the Duchess of Hamilton, to the former parish of Walcot in 1848.

It functioned as a mortuary chapel for the cemetery until 1969, following which it was sold and converted into a museum and two residential flats in 1972. The Bath Preservation Trust became the sole trustee of the Grade I listed building in 1993 following which the tower was restored and opened to the public in 2001.

The trail cuts across Landsdown Road to the Kingswood Upper School Playing Fields.

View of Kingswood Upper School Playing Field from walking trail

Kingswood Upper School Playing Fields

Founded by John Wesley in 1748, the Kingswood School started operations in Kingswood near Bristol before moving to Landsdown Road in 1852 to accommodate its growing enrolment who were mostly sons of local Methodist preachers and leaders before opening its doors to the wider community.

The school was taken over by the Admiralty in 1939 and was an important base for the Ministry of Defence during World War II. It was the site where the Mulberry Harbour, crucial for D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 was conceived and designed. Staff and students were moved to another school during this period.

Kingswood has expanded over the years and takes pride in the high academic and extra-curricular achievements of its students. The school field is part of the Bath Circuit Walk that leads to the meadows of Wolley, farmhouses and through Charlcombe & Soper’s Wood that exit at the village of Woolley with beautiful views of the valleys ahead.

Walking Trail parallel to Kingswood Upper School

From the lane parallel to the Kingswood Upper School playing field a footpath sign led me along a narrow lane along farm land and farm houses.

Charlcombe Woods

The lane ended near a farm house and public footpath signs lead me to a trail into Charlcombe woods where I found myself in a ‘don’t tell my mother situation’ a lonely trail through the trees, thick shrubbery and prickly bramble branches. Of course I had a choice to either carry on walking or turn back … so I carried on walking …

Woolley

Despite the quiet train with a beautiful play of lights from sun rays through the trees, I was worried after about 15 minutes.

Worried because there was no civilisation in sight. Was I lost in this strange woods? Is there phone connection here?

Thankfully, I caught a glimpse of the village of Woolley soon enough- through the bright blooms in the meadows. A small quaint village a good place to catch a breather before continuing on to Upper Swainswick.

Woolley is a derivative of ‘wella’ Anglian for a spring or stream and ‘lēah’ Old English for forest, wood, glade, clearing, pasture, meadow – all of which surrounds the quiet village at the bottom of the hill as you exit Charlcombe Wood.

Woolley is renowned for the gunpowder mills that operated in the nearby Powder Mill Hill away from densely populated areas between 1722 and the early 19th century. Gunpowder was at that time a bartering tool for the slave trade and used for mining, and quarrying activities.

Dating back to the Saxon times, the most prominent point in this village is the All-Saints Church (1761) built by John Wood The Younger who designed and built the Royal Crescent in Bath.

He also completed the Royal Circus that his father John Wood The Elder designed. The trail from Woolley continues down a narrow footpath, parallel to the church, into open meadows across a stream and uphill towards Upper Swainswick.

Upper Swainswick

This quaint village has beautiful views of the Lam Brook valley and is a peaceful spot to catch a breather before heading up to Solsbury Hill. The St Mary’s Church in the village is the final resting place for most of the John Wood family who designed and built most prominent buildings in the city of Bath.

The walk from Woolley to to Upper Swainswick was a little daunting as it passed through a field with a herd of cows, young calf and an aggressive looking bull that seemed to advance if I got too close to the herd😅. I was thankful to two fellow walkers who guided me to another path where I had to climb over a fence to get to the main road.

Lower Swainswick

A walk down to Lower Swainswick from Upper Swainswick passed through houses, cafes and basically more of civilisation than the other parts of the walk. Stopped at Alice Park and Cafe for a quick bite before continuing on to Solsbury Hill.

Solsbury Hill

This hill was occupied by warrior-farmers in the early iron age between 300-100BC and has a commanding view over the city of Bath, the Mendip Hills and the Salisbury Plains. The site is believed to have been used as a fort which was surrounded by a stone rampart. Archaeological findings indicate barley farming, and a settlement that may have been destroyed by a blaze and subsequently abandoned.

And yes…and for fans of Peter Gabriel – this is ‘the’ Solsbury Hill where he was apparently inspired to exit Genesis and go solo.

Hope you have the time to explore this trail – the views are worth it!

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