Somerset Coal Canal (Part 1)

Saturday 26th November 2016

I do hope that everyone reading this has had and is still enjoying a good Christmas. I also hope that you are able to get outdoors, as well as spending time with family and friends.

This walk can be found in the Walk West eBooks and is Part 1 in a series of two, following the original course of the now disused Somerset Coal Canal.

My walk would begin in the village of Paulton. Calculated to be a little more than six-miles in length, I’d taken a slight risk in saving it for a Saturday afternoon in winter.

I found my way to the village easily enough and, while there is a large free car park in the centre, I followed Geoff’s guidance and found a space to park along the residential road, Bittern’s Hill, parking close to the brow of the hill, where the road appeared to be at its widest.

From there, I made my way to the Bath Road and followed it towards Timsbury for a short distance, before crossing the road to follow a footpath opposite the The Somerset Inn, which was once an active pub. Sadly, a lot of pubs in ‘rural’ areas appear to be closing their doors.

At the bottom of these fields, I crossed over Cam Book, which continues eastwards along the southern edge of Bath.

This is Paulton Basin, which would once have formed one end of the coal canal. Beyond this, the canal soon dries up.

There is a legal right of way crossing the footbridge but I was pleased to read that I wasn’t about to take it, as the field beyond contained a large herd of cows and, well, you can never be too careful. Sometimes.

Now, I was on the Limestone Link long-distance path and would follow it eastwards, to the village of Radford.

I would soon see the Cam Brook trail away to my right, as I followed this path close to the canal on my left, which was looking quite healthy, as far as the water level was concerned. Down to my right and beyond the hedge, I noticed a couple of dog walkers, which suggests there may be more than one right of way… Although, the Ordnance Survey map doesn’t make it perfectly clear at such a scale.

Leaving the footpath to reach a lane that I would follow past Radford Mill, I turned back to read this information board, which regards this route as ‘Jenny’s Path’ (named after a donkey).

Radford Mill had already gone the way of the pub and canal from the start of this walk.

I would briefly follow Durcott Road through the village of Radford, with the Cam Brook somewhere down to my right. Ahead of this, I could see that the private land was being used for farming…

Up to my left though and, in stark contrast, new housing was being built. A very controversial subject throughout much of the westcountry and, I imagine, large portions of the UK.

Up ahead, the Limestone Link path turns left up a private drive… Crossing what would’ve once been the canal bed, turning left past cars and towards a garage (there was a footpath sign on the ground), before a right turn up between hedges…

I find this kind of walking to be as intimidating as negotiating a farmyard. At a cross-junction, I could see the house just to my right, hear a conversation to my left and headed straight for the waymarked kissing gate opposite… But, this didn’t match up with Geoff’s text, as much as I wanted to escape the situation and take a longer route to avoid it.

As I turned around in hesitation, the lady of the house emerged, kindly asked if I was looking for the Limestone Link path and directed me towards the rear of the house. It is waymarked after all and she told me that a lot of walkers miss it, just as I had done. Phew! And how kind of her.

Behind the house and clearly in a private garden, I found the waymarks had vanished. There was no recognisable kissing gate or stile for public access beyond… Further hesitation and a young boy emerged from the back door to show me the way. Again, so very kind. I can’t imagine all home-owners and residents are like this, when a public right of way crosses their land… But the path continued through a brown unmarked gate and I was soon walking beneath trees and towards another road.

From Canal View, I crossed the road on a brief diversion to Camerton Batch, which is designated as a nature reserve on the OS map.

Beyond the towering figure (known as the Jolly Collier), a heritage trail loops around the reserve. A map is provided on the information boards that guides you around, with a list of features to look out for.

I completed a quick ten-minute loop without taking everything in, due to the fact that the sun was already falling lower in the sky. This is certainly a place I intend to revisit and explore, when daylight walking hours are more readily available.

I then rejoined the Limestone Link path, following through a housing estate and on past a bungalow that used to be the canteen of Camerton New Pit.

I can remember crossing another private driveway. This one was gravelled (no chance of entering in silence) and I had to walk through the main gate (which wasn’t easy to open). If anyone spotted me, they didn’t raise an alarm or question my presence. Through a gate across the driveway, I began climbing – for the first time on this walk – towards Sheep House Farm.

There was a safe and easy-to-follow passage along the farm drive and across the yard, with further fields beyond. To my left, I spotted a herd of cows who’d been ‘put away for winter’… I don’t know enough about cattle farm to suggest whether they’re bred for meat or dairy. Or, why I’m still passing herds of grazing cattle towards the end of December.

From here on I had left the Limestone Link path and put my trust in to the available waymarks and guidance of the map I was following, as there was no discernible path to follow on the ground. I remember climbing uphill, as the daylight continued to decrease.

Across the final field before reaching the road, it’s suggested that it may be cropped in the summer and, from the lack of footprints in the soil, I’d suggest it’s a route that isn’t walked very frequently or by very many.

Now on the edge of Timsbury, I followed Weekesley Lane, heading westwards for a few hundred metres. Turning right on to a footpath and down across a field, I passed beneath a bridge at the bottom, which would’ve once supported the tramway. An eerie place to linger, on a late winter’s afternoon.

I turned left along a track beyond the next field. At the next road, I found myself on top of Radford Hill. At the bottom of this – portions of which are open access land – I crossed over a small brook while also passing a dog walker (the first other walker I had seen on this outing)… I felt confident that I’d be back at my car before dark.

Now, I was walking along an obvious path towards and then through Dunford Farm. Waymarking was sufficient and, while people were present, nobody questioned my presence.

Walking parallel and close to my outgoing route, I crossed a series of open and uninhabited fields, on a gradual and steady descent.

At the bottom, I found Timsbury Basin. Quite a beautiful sight, so close to the evening.

Nearby cows didn’t bother me, either. Like Paulton Basin, this is probably a more popular area for dog walking.

Crossing Cam Brook for the final time, I was now barely ten-minutes from the end of the walk.

My route followed close to the perimeter of a sewage works but it did smell as bad as it may look.

While following a lane back towards my start point, I spotted this surviving wall close to Withymills Cottage. Another relic of the local history, perhaps.

This is a walk I’d been ignoring for a number of years. Partly because I thought it would be ‘muddy’ but also because I had associated it as a ‘canal walk’… Now, I’m looking forward to Part 2 and may even repeat this one under a warmer climate.

You may also be interested in:

Captain Ahab’s Watery Tales

Thanks for reading.

3 thoughts on “Somerset Coal Canal (Part 1)

  1. A successful winter’s walk! Yes, sad to see so many rural pubs closing down. The people on the housing estate were kind to point out the public right of way, but wouldn’t it be more sensible to provide some proper sign posts?! Hope you enjoyed Xmas, Ollie, and best wishes for the New Year. I’ve got itchy feet after a month of being at home… dying to get back to the coast now 😀

    1. Hi Ruth – of course, it would make far more sense if the waymarking was more consistent. I’m always wary of places in which the trail suddenly ‘ends’. But at least they were happy to guide me and not deter me away.

      Hope you’ve also had a good Christmas, Ruth. I keep falling behind but you must be approaching Scotland by now? All the best for the new year. My memory tells me you had more than a month’s break at the end of 2015? Well done for persevering this time. 🙂

      1. Only a few more walking days until I hit Scotland (7 at most, I think, but I try not to look too far ahead on my coastal trek). I’m keeping an eye on the weather forecast in Cumbria. Maybe next week… 😀

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