Already, it’s been six-days since I completed my second successive Circuit of Bath challenge. I didn’t take quite as many photos on this occasion – or, to put it another way; I didn’t photograph quite as much – because you’ll have already seen so much of it from last year’s event. But I hope you enjoy what I do have to share.
The Circuit of Bath is an annual fundraising event in support of Julian House. I’ve chosen to walk the full 20-mile circuit where as you can walk as little as 2 miles if you’d prefer.
In 2o13, I started at the New Bridge check point (with a couple of friends) which is to the west of the city and houses a popular Park and Ride function. From there, we completed the circuit in a clockwise direction. This year though, I’d decided I wanted to go anti-clockwise. Not only that but, I also chose to start from the Lansdown checkpoint at Kingswood School‘s Upper Sports Playing Field, straight across the road from Beckford’s Tower.
Not only that but I would be walking this year’s circuit on my own, with both friends opting to repeat the same walk as twelve-months ago. I’m not a fan of exact repetition and as the volunteers and organisers supply with with a written guide to follow, I was confident of the way ahead.
From the 2013 walk, I remember these two check points being surprisingly close together. Despite almost immediately climbing a great hill up from the Park and Ride, we’d reached our first stop in no more than one hour. This year, it was nice to avoid such an early climb and to instead appreciate sailing downhill with the fine-but-misted views over western Bath.
I passed a number of people on the way down who were beginning their ascent up the hill. I was only the third person to depart from Lansdown at 7.55, so it seems that New Bridge is still a popular start point for many. I wasn’t far from the A4 and my first check point when I crossed paths with my friends.
Eventually crossing over the busy road and having left the Park and Ride, I followed a lane littered with caravans and mobile homes on either side. It’s a little unnerving walking this part but it’s over before you cross the railway line.
By this point, I was perhaps leaving Twerton but certainly heading towards Englishcombe – for people keen to know the exact route for future reference, I intend to plot it out online and will inform you once that’s complete in a future post.
I was climbing up one hill when I came to an apparent dead-end without an exit. As I turned 360°, I twice heard this cooing noise, expecting it to be some bird or perhaps someone calling their pet… Looking towards the dividing hedge, I spied a woman’s arm waving in an attempt to gain my attention. She was kind enough to tell me that I’d wandered to far and to point me the right way towards the next path – she also told me she’d walked the Circuit of Bath several times and so knew the route very well. A big thanks to that woman!
As this corner of the route is rather close to countryside that I am familiar with from walks of my own, I was concerned that one or two fields might’ve been overgrown… But I realised to find clear walking ways in all but one field, where we had to meander around a freshly ploughed section.
After leaving Breach Wood (above), I continued up hill and passed a woman heading the other way. Through the next field, I managed to overtake three people who had thus far been my only ‘companions’, as such, walking also in the anti-clockwise direction.
Just before arriving at the Odd Down Park and Ride for my next check point, I passed a group of young women (yes, this walk seems to be very popular with women) and having arrived in good time, I decided to stop, around 10.35am, for a quick break.
From hear, the walk turns east and in to South Stoke, where I passed The Packhorse Inn; a pub currently under closure (although it seemed to be permitted as a village hall) for which there were several signs posted around the village, calling for for support in its saviour.
Heading towards the Limestone Link and towards the south of Midford, I passed a familiar ‘autumnal’ house on the hill that I recognised instantly from a year ago. Last year, I walked through here (in the opposite direction) with an extended group of people. This time around, I was alone.
I seemed to be spending a lot of time going downhill on this first half of the circuit. If not that then, I would walking on the flat and level. There were very few uphill sections, compared to how I remembered this from a year ago.
In case you’ve not walked this way, I’d say a good third – a quarter or, maybe even more than that – of this walk consists of road and solid paths. It’s not often my favourite kind of terrain but I guess they have to make this event accessible for all everyone.
I followed the defunct coal canal on towards Limpney Stoke, where my next check point would be outside the Canal Visitor Centre. Along the way, I noticed this almost-glorious stash of wood beneath a bridge and how it was still there, 12 months on!
As the walk continues alongside Midford Brook, the quantity and severity of mud on the route increases. But a huge thanks must go to the West Wiltshire Ramblers for providing these wooden sleepers to walk along.
I passed a herd of cows just before leaving and then crossing the brook. They were too preoccupied with something; I’ve no idea what!
From last year, I could recall that the viaduct was very close to the Canal Visitor Centre and it was a welcome sight, after about 100 minutes of walking and not having passed another human being for a good 45 minutes before reaching the main road.
I think you’re supposed to follow the road along higher ground, where I took the path alongside the playing field. But you get there either way; it just means a slightly longer turn up the busy road afterwards.
There was a great temptation here to stop and rest for a bit; to enjoy my lunch at 12.20. I’m not certain of my mileage (maybe 21km) but I was certain I was beyond halfway.
But I also knew what was ahead. The Bathampton check point could be reached within an hour but before that, I’d have to follow the canal path. Now, while the thought may seem as pleasant as the image above; I, for one, do not enjoy this section. But that’s not to imply that my opinion is unanimous. It’s fine for 10 minutes but I get a bit bored after that. The gravel, the linearity and constant ringing of cyclists’ bells… I want it to be over quickly. With the Two Tunnels Run taking place on the same day and also, mirroring our route along this track; it was a pretty busy Sunday lunchtime.
I put my first foot wrong from the very start; marching on with the over-confidence (map-ignorance) that tells me to keep the canal to my left… After less than 10 minutes, I questioned the lack of familiarity within my surroundings. I’d passed my friends again immediately after the check point but where was everyone else?
It soon dawned on me that I was wrong to have turned away from the orange and black ‘Run Route‘ sign. Digging for my compass, I was indeed heading south and part-way to Bradford-on-Avon! This set me back a good 20 minutes. I pushed myself so hard I was hurting by the time I reached Bathampton Mill and took a break for lunch. I wondered whether I’d scuppered my aim of completing the walk by 16.00.
Last year, I believe our lunch stop (outside the Canal Visitor Centre I’d just passed) lasted a full 45 minutes. This year and having arrived in Bathampton 15 minutes late, I gave myself 10 minutes before setting off on my final hurdle. It was harsh but it was also enough. I could rest again at the top of Solsbury Hill, if I needed to.
Before finishing my lunch – and I sat down at 13.50 – one couple arrived to claim their medals as they’d finished the walk!! I can only assume they ran some part of it… They had running shorts on, anyway. Well done to them!!
I’ll add that shortly before reaching my lunch stop, I gradually passed an abundance of familiar faces; people who’d I’d passed very early on in the walk. It was nice feeling when we each recognised each other and to realise that I was clearly doing very well in spite of my wrong turn.
As my climb to the very top of Solsbury Hill began, I could look back over the city, which was a little hazy but not at all as misty as at 8am.
Nearing the summit, I could spot the ever-infamous line of beech trees upon Freezing Hill. Lansdown still seemed so far away…
It took less time than I’d expected to reach the top but it was also much busier too and so I passed on a photo opportunity of the trig point as it was surrounded by kids.
I can understand why so many people choose to start from New Bridge and walk in a clockwise direction. For one, you get the worst of the hills done within the first half of the walk. But I felt like we passed Solsbury Hill all too quickly last year. Although I’ve become more familiarised with it since, I found I had time to appreciate it a little more this year.
As I made my way down the western side of the hill, I passed the same girls who I’d seen before reaching Odd Down and from there, it was back to the roads for a bit, leading down in to Upper Swainswick.
It was strange to be walking downhill when I knew I was no more than one hour from the finish.
But I was soon heading up a steep hill in pursuit of an elderly man who emerged ahead of me.
It was pretty tough going at this stage and the determination to overtake someone is what can often keep me going. It didn’t feel like I’d already done as much as 18 miles by now.
Beyond those trees in the top corner of the field, you reach a pair of wooden steps that only go in one direction… Beyond them, the climb somehow continues as you strife in search of a farm house near the top-left – this was by far the most challenging part of the entire walk and, yes, I’d left it right until the very end!
It would be dishonest of my to claim I did it all in one breath when the truth was that I had to stop several times. But, I still experienced the joys of overtaking someone at the very top!7
As far as I was concerned, it was over now. No more pain; just a level walk back to from where I’d begun, almost 8 hours earlier.
It’s not easy to spot in the photo above but a yellow ‘Check Point’ board can be seen just above the orange netting. Beckford’s Tower is another giveaway to indicate the presence of the Upper Sports Field pavillion.
So, I checked in (or out) at 15.50 and dutifully received my medal. I think it was awarded to me by none other than the even organiser, Cathy Adcock. I think I beat last year’s time by 40 minutes – even though I lost at least 20 minutes with wayward walking and almost 10 minutes sat on the toilet after signing in!
All that’s left to say is a big thanks to everyone, especially to the volunteers, for organising and over-seeing the running of this event once again. And a huge congratulations to everyone for taking part – for as little or as far as you might have walked!
To see all my photos from this event, please click here.
Thank you very much for reading!