Kennet & Avon Canal at Bradford-on-Avon

Combine a visit to this enchanting reverside town and its surprising Saxon church with a canalside stroll.




3.25 miles (5.3kms)

400ft (122m)
1hr 45min

About the walk

Set in the wooded Avon Valley, Bradford is one of Wiltshire's loveliest towns, combining historical charm, appealing architecture and dramatic topography. It is often likened to a miniature Bath, the town sharing the same honey-coloured limestone, elegant terraces and steep winding streets that rise sharply away from the river. Historically a 'broad ford' across the Avon, the original Iron Age settlement was expanded in turn by the Romans and Saxons, the latter giving Bradford its greatest treasure, St Laurence's Church. The Avon was spanned by a fine stone bridge in the 13th century – two of its arches survive in the present 17th-century structure – and by the 1630s Bradford had grown into a powerful centre for the cloth and woollen industries.Wealthy wool townYou will find exploring the riverside and the lanes, alleys and flights of steps up the north slope of the town most rewarding. Beautiful terraces are lined with elegant 18th-century merchants' houses with walled gardens, and charming 17th- and 18th-century weavers' cottages, the best examples being located along Newtown, Middle Rank and Tory terraces. The latter is the highest and affords superb views of the town. The wealth needed to make all this building possible came from the manufacture of woollen cloth. In the early 1700s Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, commented 'They told me at Bradford that it was no extra-ordinary thing to have clothiers in that county worth from £10,000 to £40,000 per man.' Bradford's medieval prosperity is reflected in the size of the magnificent 14th-century tithe barn at Barton Farm.With the development of mechanisation, the wool trade moved from individual houses to large water- and steam-driven mills alongside the banks of the Avon. At the time that the Kennet and Avon Canal was completed, in 1810, the town supported around 30 mills; some of these buildings survive, in various degrees of restoration or disrepair, today. With the centre of the wool trade shifting north to Yorkshire, the industry declined during the 19th century and the last of the mills closed in 1905. The town is now prosperous once again with tourists and new residents, many of them commuting to Bath, Bristol and even London.Jewel in the crownDown by the river, the tiny, bare Saxon Church of St Laurence is the jewel in Bradford's crown and you really should not miss it. It was founded by St Aldhelm, the Abbot of Malmesbury, in AD 700 and this present structure dates from the 10th century. For centuries its presence was forgotten. The chancel became a house, the nave a school, and the west wall formed part of a factory building. The true origins and purpose of the site were only rediscovered in 1856 and, after careful restoration, it remains one of the best-preserved Saxon churches in England.

Walk directions

Walk to the end of the car park, away from the station, and follow the path left beneath the railway and beside the River Avon. Enter Barton Farm Country Park and keep to the path across a grassy area to a junction of paths. With the packhorse bridge right, take the rising path ahead, passing to the right of Barton Grange Farm and up to the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Turn right along the tow path, signed to Avoncliff. Cross the wooden footbridge over the canal in 0.5 miles (800m) and follow the path right to a footbridge and kissing gate. Proceed along the right-hand field-edge to a further kissing gate, then bear diagonally left uphill, away from the canal, to a third kissing gate.

Follow the path through the edge of woodland. Keep to the path as it bears left uphill through the trees to reach a metalled lane. Turn right and walk steeply downhill to Avoncliff and the canal.

Don't cross the aqueduct; instead, go past No. 10 Tea Gardens, descend the steps on your right and pass beneath the canal. Keep right by The Cross Guns and join the tow path towards Bradford-on-Avon. Continue for 0.75 miles (1.2km) to the bridge crossed on your outward route.

Bear off left downhill along a metalled track and follow it beside the River Avon back into Barton Farm Country Park. Cross the packhorse bridge and the railway and follow the walled path uphill and right into Barton Orchard. Bear right at the end down the alleyway to Church Street.

Follow Church Street down past Holy Trinity Church and the Saxon Church of St Laurence. Cross the footbridge and walk through St Margaret's car park to the road. Turn right, then right again into the station car park.

Additional information

Tow paths, fields and woodland paths, metalled lanes

Canal, river valley, wooded hillsides, town streets

On lead through town

AA Walker's Map 25 Bristol, Bath & The Mendips

Bradford-on-Avon station car park (charge Mon-Sat)

Station car park and St Margaret's car park

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About the area

Discover Wiltshire

A land shrouded in mystery, myth and legend, Wiltshire evokes images of ancient stone circles, white chalk horses carved into hillsides, crop circles and the forbidden, empty landscape of Salisbury Plain. To many M4 and A303 drivers heading out of London through the clutter of the Thames Valley, Wiltshire is where the landscape opens out and rural England begins.

Wiltshire’s charm lies in the beauty of its countryside. The expansive chalk landscapes of the Marlborough and Pewsey downs and Cranborne Chase inspire a sense of space and freedom, offering miles of uninterrupted views deep into Dorset, Somerset and the Cotswolds. Wiltshire’s thriving market towns and picturesque villages provide worthwhile visits and welcome diversions. Stroll through quaint timbered and thatched villages in the southern Woodford and Avon valleys and explore the historic streets of the stone villages of Lacock, Castle Combe and Sherston. Walk around Salisbury and discover architectural styles from the 13th century to the present and take time to visit the city’s elegant cathedral and fascinating museums. And if all of that isn’t enough, the county is also richly endowed with manor houses, mansions and beautiful gardens.