Andrew Swift is well known for his regular walk articles in both the Bath and Bristol Magazines. With the agreement of the editor of the Bath Magazine he had previously worked up some of his walks around the city into a handy walkers’ guide to the less well known parts of Bath, entitled On Foot in Bath.
Now Andrew takes people out further into the surrounding area with his latest book Country Walks from Bath. There is, however, an added twist to the book, which takes advantage of Bath’s proximity to open countryside. At a time when people are being encouraged to cut down on car use, these walks, like those in his previous book, all start in the city centre. However, he thoughtfully includes public transport routes in case you want to avoid the walk through busy streets.
The fourteen walks vary in length from 3½ miles to 17 miles, but many of the longer walks have options which mean you can create your own, shorter walks and still use the book. It also contains a wealth of good advice, such as where you can find lunch stops, which maps to take, and what to do if approached by lively cows.
Andrew has a lively and entertaining style – informative without veering between the extremes of being pompously didactic or patronisingly simple – but there is a serious aim to the book. The inspiration behind it is to offer readers a chance to reconnect with what, for many 18th century visitors, was the city’s main attraction. As Andrew says in the introduction ‘Walking in the countryside around Bath has an illustrious tradition. It not only formed part of the city’s much-vaunted health cure, but also enabled visitors to commune with the ideal of rural bliss extolled by the writers and artists who moulded 18th century taste.’
Even where the walks are on quite well known routes, there is so much information that the walker may well discover new points of interest. Indeed, the book is also a good read in its own right, with articles on subjects as diverse as Twerton Round Hill, the mysterious stones on Claverton Down and the forgotten landscape of Charmy Down. Those who know Andrew Swift as a rail historian will not be surprised to find three walks exploring the area where the Titfield Thunderbolt was filmed, as well as articles on inclined planes and the railway planned for the Woolley Valley. Nor does he avoid controversy – there is a thought-provoking piece about the Battle of the Bypass, the proposal for the Eastern Park and Ride, and the revival of the A36 to A46 link road.
All but two of the walks are circular – the exceptions take you to Bradford on Avon, from where you can return by train, and out to Corsham (by way of Farleigh Down and Box) from where there is a regular bus service.
The book is copiously illustrated with archive pictures, many from the Akeman Press Archive, but also with Andrew’s own, sometimes quirky, photographs. This is a book by turns informative, funny, instructive, and, occasionally, angry. Even for those who just like a gentle stroll it is a good read – for keen walkers in the area, it is an absolute must. And just to prove how eco-friendly it is, it’s printed on sustainably resourced paper.