Date: 9th December 2020.
Weather conditions: Not the festival of sunshine that was promised by the clear blue skies seen at breakfast time, as it clouded over before I had walked a mile. Nevertheless, a pleasant day for the time of year.
County Top bagged: Hanging Hill, which, at 778 feet/237m above sea level, is the highest point in the local authority of South Gloucestershire. The summit lies at the edge of a flat plateau, and is occupied by the radio station (operated by Avon Fire & Rescue) at ST716702. There is slightly higher ground than this on Bath Racecourse to the south, but this is over the border in Somerset. There is also a trig point in the trees a couple of hundred yards west of the radio station, which feels a more ‘natural’ summit, but this is lower, at 235m.
Until 1974 the summit was (by a few hundred yards) in the historic county of Gloucestershire, of which Cleeve Hill, further north in the Cotswolds, remains the summit. Then the locality was allocated to the short-lived new county of Avon, before finally, in 1996, Hanging Hill became a CT when South Gloucestershire was created. By altitude it ranks 104th of the 172 modern tops and 125th of the full list of 196.
It’s safe to say that Hanging Hill has the most morbid name of all the County Tops. I can find no contrary record of how the title was acquired so let’s assume it’s so named simply because there was once a gibbet on it. Maybe there is a connection to the English Civil War battle of Lansdowne Hill, fought hereabouts in July 1643. Either way, maybe you should steer clear if you feel overly sensitive to psychic impressions.
The walk described below also takes in the distinct summit of Kelston Round Hill, at 715 feet/218m.
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Start and end point of walk: Started at Bath Spa railway station. Finished at the Park and Ride facility at ST731681, from where buses run every fifteen minutes back to Bath city centre — bear in mind that these terminate about half a mile from the station. The walk took me about four hours.
You could do this the other way round, catching the bus at the start of the day, bagging the summit and walking back to Bath, mostly downhill. This would eliminate much of the climbing. But I think it would be a less pleasing walk that way round.
Pub at end: The Charlcombe Inn, a short distance north-west of the Park and Ride. This has recently been refurbished and as part of this, changed its name, from the Blathwayt Arms. It is hard to give any pub a full assessment at the moment, thanks to the stupid and pointless restrictions under which they are being forced to operate, but bearing these in mind, the Charlcombe did good food and beer, and the welcome was a friendly one.
Distance walked: 9.3 miles/15km approximately. (Plus a bit more to get back to the station from the bus stop at the end of the day.)
Feet of ascent: 1,150 feet/350m approx.
Difficulty: ★★. The terrain is easy, with only occasional steepness, and once you are up on the plateau, everything on the second half of the walk is almost entirely flat. But it is muddy, very muddy in places, so bring your hiking boots.
Ease of access: ★★★★★. As you start walking direct from a mainline railway station, it’s hard not to award five stars. Most of England (south of the M62) and south Wales could easily do this on a day trip. I might have managed it from Calderdale but it would have been a very long day, so I stayed over in Bath.
Scenic qualities: ★★★. The walk never becomes truly rural; even up on the plateau, the racecourse and Lansdown Golf Club remain as indicators of suburbia. But Bath is a good-looking place, and the views are extensive, firstly over the city, and then later on in the walk, west and north to Bristol and Gloucestershire.
The area: Only a tiny fraction of the route is actually within South Gloucestershire. This local authority seems to me to be an artificial creation, made up of various Bristolian suburbs and satellite villages. The only one I’ve ever heard of before is Chipping Sodbury, and that’s just because it has a vaguely silly name.
It is Bath and North East Somerset within which 98% of the walk takes place, and the day is dominated by Bath itself. This city was founded by the Romans in around 60AD because of its location over the only hot springs in all of Great Britain, which they called Aquae Sulis, or the Waters of Sulis (Sulis being a local god of some repute at the time). While its fortunes have since waned and waxed, it was the 18th century’s liking for ‘taking the waters’ that cemented its reputation and gave Bath its impressive Georgian architecture. Both the Luftwaffe and 1960s town planners did their best to spoil all this, but it seems to have just about come out intact. Which also means that it’s typically heaving with tourists and shoppers, even at the moment.
The summit of Bath & North East Somerset is Niver Hill at 264m, in the Mendip Hills, but this is many miles from Bath so I do not need to return to the city in order to bag this Top at a later date.
Map: OS Explorer 155: Bristol and Bath covers the walk. But you may not actually need it on the day. Most of the route lies along the Cotswold Way, which starts at Bath Spa station and runs all the way up Gloucestershire, and signposting today was exemplary. Signs like the one pictured above guide you through the city, then later, little blue arrows on gateposts can be relied on entirely.
To fit my summary map in at this scale meant snipping off the railway station at the bottom, but never mind. Note that the green ‘summit’ marker indicates the top of Kelston Round Hill. Hanging Hill is up at the far north of the route.
Route: I did enjoy this walk; the going is easy and there are plenty of things to see. The only thing I had against it is that the mud started to get tiresome. The worst bits are between Weston and Prospect Stile, though all of it is pretty muddy, to be honest.
I like walks that start in the middle of cities and head out, like this one. From Bath Spa station, cross the road and head through the Southgate shopping centre (a lot newer than it pretends it is), then bear right up Stall Street, taking you past the Roman baths. Carry on as this becomes Union Street, then Milsom Street (the bus at the end of the day will deposit you here). Turn left at the top, then right, and you will reach The Circus, an impressive O-shaped piece of Georgian real estate. Turn left here (as it’s a roundabout, ‘take the first exit’), and the monumental Royal Crescent will be upon you: the sort of place that would photograph a lot better if the street in front were not a car park, but never mind.
From the west end of the Crescent, go uphill to the Marlborough Tavern, turn left, and you will see the first Cotswold Way sign of the day. Further detailed routefinding advice is now superfluous. Follow the signs all the way, and you will not go wrong.
The route goes above the housing for a while but drops down again into the suburb of Weston before climbing once more, up Penn Hill — the first significant outbreak of mud. The tower visible across the valley is Beckford’s Tower, built in 1827 for William Beckford, who inherited a vast fortune from slave ownership and proceeded to spend most of it on erecting a number of palaces and follies like this one. (See picture below.)
It is worth detouring up to the top of Kelston Round Hill, which has a trig point and a decent view, but the main contribution this summit makes to the day comes shortly afterwards when you reach the plateau at the well-named Prospect Stile. KRH, as pictured here, sets off the panorama very well. You may also be surprised when you turn around after admiring this view and find yourself in a corner of Bath Racecourse, the highest flat course in the country, its grandstand a surreal sight. I assume this public footpath is still open on race days, but it might not be, as it takes you right up to the end of one of the gallops, with its white railings.
The route then drops down a little, through a ploughed field that, according to the map (you wouldn’t know this on the ground) is an Iron Age fort. You can now see Hanging Hill ahead for the first time, identifiable by the radio mast. (Picture at top of page.)
The Cotswold Way loops round the edge of the plateau and enters golfing territory. Keep following the signs, and after further easy but muddy walking, you reach the trig point, where the route makes a sharp turn right and then passes a bench near the radio station which I thought was as good a place as any to have lunch as it sits more or less at the highest point and has a fine view. Even if very little of the walk takes place in South Gloucestershire, from this point you overlook a wide swathe of that territory, and from here, Hanging Hill feels like a true County Top. Northwest and west, there is nothing higher until you get into Wales.
Carry on past the radio station and come out onto the road, which cross (carefully) in order to see the monument that commemorates the Civil War battle fought here in 1643, and specifically, the life of Sir Bevil Grenville, Royalist commander, who fell on that day.
After inspecting this, turn back south, finally leaving the Cotswold Way. Walking along the road is clearly undesirable but there is a (muddy) path at an angle to the road that heads the right way, first through a field, then woods, then back onto the golf course again. Bear left before you have to cross a fairway (you should recognise this point from earlier), and the ‘public footpath’ signs lead you past the driving range and clubhouse, and onto the road by the Charlcombe Inn. After slaking your thirst in whatever form is currently permitted, carry on down the road (there is a pavement on one side) for another few minutes to the Park and Ride, and its frequent buses back to Bath.
Commentary: Oh, what to write. I don’t want to go off on one again, but it’s hard not to when faced with the arbitrariness of it all, the way that Big Pharma has happily creamed off billions from the public purse (as it was destined to do since March — it waited for its moment to magnanimously grant us some magic vaccine, knowing that it would be seen as the only way out of this shit, whether we actually needed it or not), the doublethink engaged in by people I used to respect. The other day I saw a work colleague who announced that her son had tested positive and then nothing had happened, he was asymptomatic. And she considered this A BAD THING, a source of fear and apprehension. For Christ’s sake.
A year ago, more or less, I was in south Wales bagging Craig y Llyn, and bemoaning the fact that the General Election of 12/12/19 had resulted in the election of a bunch of incompetents. I have not seen evidence to challenge this opinion. Four and a half years have passed since June 2016 and these idiots have not even managed to do a Brexit deal that they were given a mandate to do: twice. And these are the people we expect to lead us through this crisis? For Chr… oh, I said that already.
I turn my back on it, live my life as best I can, keep walking. Today’s hike follows hot on the heels of the walk in the Lakes I did on Saturday (four days ago), and there’ll be at least one more CT walk before the end of the year as we’re off to a cottage in Norfolk over Christmas, under the shade of Beacon Hill, one of the more distant CTs from home, in England at least. I would like to get back to Wales and Scotland but they have closed their doors, so Norfolk it is. As it stands at the moment, the government have not yet screwed this one up.
So be it. Hanging Hill was on the borderline of the ‘possible day trip’ v ‘need to stay over’ territories, but I’m glad I did it with some time spent in Bath as well, as it’s an attractive city and worth a proper look around. And the pubs are open, which helps. It’s one of the busier places I’ve been in the last nine months, and certainly more lively than Manchester at the moment — but it should be thronged, jampacked at this time of year. Like everywhere else, if it is to get back on a sounder footing before too long passes, it will be despite the Jokers that rule us, not because of them.
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