Brunel Trail Part 6: Bathford Bridge to Middle Hill

(Shorter version: 4 miles; longer version: 4.5 miles)

This walk forms part of a waymarked trail from Keynsham to Box, devised as part of the celebrations for Brunel 200. Originally published in April 2006 as an appendix to The Ringing Grooves of Change: Brunel and the Coming of the Railway to Bath, this downloadable version will enable walkers to explore all or part of the trail without having to carry the book along with them.
Maps are not included as part of the trail because the Ordnance Survey produce much better ones than we could possibly hope to. OS Explorer Maps 155 and 156 are recommended; alternatively, small sections of these maps can be downloaded for free at www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/getamap/

This section of the walk does not have the option of a return to the starting point, save by retracing your steps. It does, however, come in two versions: the shorter version, although liable to be muddy, is relatively straightforward; the longer version, which gets closer to the railway and other interesting industrial features, is less easy to follow in parts and also includes a third of a mile on a narrow footpath alongside a busy road.

Although a pleasant country walk, this is the least satisfying section in terms of railway interest. The short version of the walk, in particular, only crosses the line at one point, and for much of the time is either high above it or on the opposite side of the valley. Unfortunately, the lack of suitable footpaths makes this unavoidable.

One option for anyone set on keeping as close to the line as possible would be to walk along the A4 from Bathford to Middle Hill. The road parallels the line for much of the way, and there is a pavement alongside it. However, the road is very busy and the pavement is narrow, with much overhanging vegetation. The longer version of the walk does follow the pavement for a short distance, but an extended walk along it is recommended only for the most intrepid.

Turn right at Bathford Bridge, and, taking advantage of the new wooden bridge across the By Brook, turn left at the Crown Inn and head up to Bathford village.

SHORTER VERSION
Walk up the hill through the village and take the third left along Ashley Road. The road soon turns to a muddy track which you follow for about a mile.

LONGER VERSION
Walk up the hill through the village and take the second left past Whitehaven (built by John Wood and originally known as Titan Barrow). After 50 yards go through a stile on the left and walk down through a kissing gate and across a field towards Bathford paper mill. Go through another gate, walk past the mill and through the tunnel under the railway. The impressive stonework at the entrance to the tunnel has been somewhat marred by repairs in brick. After leaving the tunnel, cross the main road with care and turn right. The combination of narrow pavement, overhanging branches and busy road mean that extreme care needs to be taken on this stretch. A third of a mile along the road, just past Box Road Gardens and opposite a sign (Farm Shop: 200 yards), a bridleway leads down to the railway. Cross the road again and walk down the bridleway, under the line, over the brook, and follow the bridleway straight up the hill. When you reach the fence, turn left, following the hedgerow. Cross a stile and carry on. Cross another stile and turn left, going round the edge of the field. Ignoring the footpath going up the railway embankment, carry on following the hedgerow round the field until a following the course of a brook up the hill, you come to a gate. Go through the gate and turn left.

From here, both walks follow the same route. Cross a narrow footbridge over the brook, and follow a muddy bridleway. When it swings to the right, go through a stile hidden in the hedgerow on the left.

Here you will see a Second World War pillbox ahead of you. Down by the railway line are more abandoned buildings of Second World War vintage. This was the site of Farleigh Down sidings, built in 1882 to serve a stone quarry at Farleigh Down, to which it was linked by a tramway. When quarrying ceased around 1930, the sidings closed, only to be reopened in 1937, when the government took over the quarry as a vast underground arsenal. An underground conveyor belt was built to carry weapons between the sidings and the quarry. The sidings closed for the second and final time in 1950.

After crossing the stile, turn right and follow the hedgerow. When you come to a gateway, go through and walk diagonally across the field, heading to the right of a large barn-like building. Go through into the next field and carry on along the edge of the field until you reach a stile. Walk across the lane and go over another stile. Take the steps down to the lane and turn right. Go through the gate at the end of the lane and turn right along the road. This was once the turnpike road from Bath to London, which Brunel diverted when he built the railway.

Shortly after passing the entrance to Upper Sheylor’s Farm on your right, a footpath on the left takes you down to the railway. The footbridge over the railway was built to replace a level crossing after a tragic accident in 1900. The wife of Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Coney of Sunnyside, Middle Hill, was on her way to see Major General Hunter at Ashley House. After waiting for an up goods train to pass, she stepped onto the crossing and was cut down by a Bristol-bound express. Her identity could only be established by the rings on one of her fingers.

On the far side of the line is the diverted turnpike road. The rerouting of the road was carried out by Hugh Hart, who was awarded the contract in 1839. Crossing it with care, take the lane opposite towards Shockerwick. Shockerwick House, which lies ahead, was built by John Palmer for Walter Wiltshire in the 1780s.

After crossing a bridge over the By Brook, turn right, go over a pair of stiles and follow the footpath through the field. Cross another set of stiles and carry on, keeping to the left of a fenced-off pond. At the gate, carry straight on, taking the lower of the two marked footpaths, and aim for the gap in the far hedge. In the next field, bear right, go through another gateway and head to the left of a small stone building, to come out at a crossroads.

At one time, a right turn here would have taken you up to Box station, which closed in 1965. Very little of it remains and, as the site is very definitely in private ownership, a visit will have to be foregone.

To continue the trail, go to the next section.