Sunday was a day I’d been anticipated for just over three whole months. It’s great when you meet someone who has shared interests. It’s rare that I meet another walker but I’m grateful to have met several people in the last year who are also passionate about walking and the outdoors. It was one of these friends who first let me know about the annual Circuit of Bath Walk, which is a fund-raising even of up to 20-miles of walking. It’s all in aid of Julian House; a charity who provide food, shelter and support to people living rough on the streets of Bath.
My fund-raising page was setup about a month in advance and I managed to raise a small amount which has already been received by the charity. I’ll remain open until the end of December so, if you are feeling generous, small donations are always welcome.
I’ve walked in Bath several times within the last year but I’d never really breached outside of the popular Skyline route. Even the walking group I’m a member of rarely ventures out in this easterly direction so I had many reasons for wanting to be involved. The last time I walked anything like 20-miles would’ve been on a group walk back in February… That was up near Bishops Cleeve and Cheltenham and was intended to finish around 6pm, surrounded by darkness… But unfortunately, our leader for that day took us on a three-hour wander (not to mention the horrendous weather conditions) and so, what was supposed to be a 14-mile series of hill climb could easily have come close to claiming the big 2-0.
You are required to register your details online before participating but there is no registration fee and neither is there any necessity to raise any amount of funds. Upon signing in on the day at one of the various check point around the city (you can start wherever you like), you’re handed a map with a written guide that’s easy enough to follow. There’s no obligation to complete the full 20-mile circuit; some will settle for as few as 5-miles and, although I didn’t notice it, I believe there’s a shuttle bus service that’ll ferry people from one checkpoint to the next.
We decided to set off in a clockwise direction, starting at the Newbridge Park & Ride (west of Bath and closest to Bristol). This is not where my friend or her sister would usually start; they’ve made it an annual family event and, if not for arthritis, their mother would’ve also been able to join us (apparently, she wasn’t happy about missing it). This route begins with several climbs up towards Lansdown, which is often regarded as the most challenging part of the entire circuit. I’m all for getting the hills out of the way before any lunch stop and so, this was a choice that I welcomed.
We passed Beckford Tower (without stopping) to our first proper check point, which was in a slightly different location to the last few years, apparently. As we then began to head east towards Swainswick, I believe we conquered Solsbury Hill along the way (or at least, I noticed a sign for Little Solsbury Hill). This made me smile inside because in one of the Walk West books, there’s a walk for at least one of these hills and it may mean that I can tick it off of my ‘to-do list’ at least for 2013. 😉
We weren’t the only walkers taking part of course; apparently, hundreds get involved each year. Check points open at 8am (we began about 10 minutes early) and you then have until 17.30 to reach your last one. With each stop, you’ll usually find toilet facilities and the option to purchase a drink (water’s free) or even a cup of tea if there’s a local café. Our start/end point, Newbridge, being the only exception, as far as I could tell.
I was surprised to note that there weren’t more arrows highlighting the way. There’s nothing wrong with the instructions (to be honest, I just walked and left that in the hands of the two girls who’d both walked this route several times before, albeit in the opposite direction) and every check point is highlighted. I guess it’s a lot to ask when you’re potentially covering a 20-mile long stretch for an event lasting only 9½ hours.
We were then heading south towards Batheaston.
Our second stop was at Bathampton Mill, where we were also stopped for a group photograph with two volunteers running the check point there for the day. It was nice to see so many people willing to give up their time for this event, especially while the majority of us were out enjoying the countryside. You can find that photo on Julian House’s Facebook page, along with a few other uploads from the day.
We were then following the Kennet and Avon Canal south for a few miles; through Bathampton, past Claverton to a point just north of Limpley Stoke where we stopped outside a café to rest up with our lunch beside the canal.
Sitting down and being able to bend our legs after all those early hills was very welcome at this point. Apparently, we stopped for a good 45 minutes but the weather was fine after a minor threat of rain and we actually arrived earlier than expected – I think it was between midday and 12.30.
With the instructional map you’re given, a recommended time for reaching each check point is also stated. We were ahead with each and every stop and so, we stood in with a great opportunity to complete the walk before the final check point was due to close.
We’re now in to October as I sit down to write this and it was interesting to note that there were very few autumnal colours to take in on the day. I’ve noticed leaves falling ‘early’ this year on other walks but the city of Bath and its surrounding countryside remained very green through September.
We were beyond halfway around and on course to finish well within the allocated time. As we continued west, we passed through the village of Monkton Combe on our way towards Southstoke.
By now, we weren’t walking ‘alone’ as a trio. While we were sat enjoying our lunch stop, several familiar faces had caught up with us from the third checkpoint and we decided to join forces in navigating our way along the rest of the route. I think it relieved some of the pressure from those who were leading the way.
It was both interesting and inspiring to hear of how two women had conquered Mount Kilimanjaro. It comes with a cost (financially) but it sounds like quite an adventure and a half!
Last year on this day, the weather was supposedly horrendous, as this part of the UK was in receipt of the tail of a storm that had just battered parts of the US. Even after experiencing rain, sleet, hail and snow within hours on a single walk over the Cotswolds last winter; I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like but I’m not surprised there was a down-turn in attendance for 2012.
Checkpoint No.4 soon came at the Odd Down Park & Ride, which is just to the south-west of Bath. I noticed this was only a couple of miles north-east of Priston, which is an area I’m thinking of exploring on foot very soon. But by now, I could almost feel the finish line… It was getting close and we were pretty confident that we could make it in another hour or thereabouts!
We reached our final checkpoint at 16.30, which meant we did so with an hour to spare! We weren’t quite as quick as the couple who sprinted to finish at Odd Down two-hours earlier(!) and neither we were seen running (and talking) uphill like some of the gladiators we passed on the way to Swainswick but it was a great effort, a fantastic achievement and I think we even shaved good time off of the girls’ usual tally (I also found a good excuse for a ‘bad hair day’…).
As we completed the full 20-mile circuit, we were reward with a medal each to mark our fantastic achievements!
Overall, it’s simply a walk I would love to do again next year. I’m gutted that one of my friends will be out of the country this time next year and I wish her all the very best with her ambitions but we did incredibly well this year. For me personally, it’s been a highlight of 2013; right up there with my Easter Sunday/Birthday walk from the end of March.
There are a few extra photos from the day, which you can find in this Flickr photo set. I even went to the trouble of cropping the majority of these photos before resizing and then uploading, which is something I almost never do… That just goes to signify how important this day is to me. 🙂
Thanks for reading.