Bradford-on-Avon is a small historic town in the county of Wiltshire, just eight miles from Bath in South-West England. It’s a pretty destination with several interesting historic sights for the tourist to visit, picturesque streets and buildings to admire, and a good selection of restaurants and tea-rooms. Like Bath, Bradford-on-Avon is built of golden-coloured limestone, giving the town a warm and mellow appearance.
Bradford is situated on the River Avon, around the site of an ancient crossing point, a ‘broad ford’. It’s known as Bradford-on-Avon to distinguish it from the large city of Bradford in the north of England. A medieval stone bridge in the heart of this little town still carries busy traffic over the Avon. For hundreds of years the principal local industry was wool and cloth, and when you explore the town it is easy to see how prosperous the town was once. The centre is crammed with the fine stone houses of well-to-do merchants. Higher on the hillside are rows of smaller weavers’ cottages, which are still charming despite being more humble dwellings.
Visitors who want to explore Bradford in a leisurely fashion should allow for at least two hours spent here. As there are plenty of attractive places to eat and drink, many will want to stay here for lunch, dinner or an afternoon tea at one of several traditional tea-rooms.
Bradford-on-Avon tourist trail
Bradford-on-Avon’s tourist information office is situated near the central bridge, in a shady little park. This is a couple of minutes’ walk from the railway station and is clearly signposted with ‘i’ signs. You can buy guidebooks and maps here, and consult the helpful staff. Although the town is small, it’s still a good idea to pick up a town plan to make sure you don’t miss anything.
A suggested walking itinerary for seeing Bradford begins here. From the tourist information office, cross the Town Bridge, which boasts two original thirteenth-century arches (the rest was upgraded in the seventeenth century) and a small stone lock-up. Take the busy Silver Street. After a few yards, our itinerary leads around to the left, but you may wish to continue up Silver Street, admiring the historic terraces and maybe visiting the rather good shops.
Next, turn back and stroll along the Shambles, a tiny colourful shopping alley connecting Silver Street to Market Street. After these photogenic streets, climb upwards until you reach a series of charming terraces of old weavers’ cottages, stretched along the hillside with fantastic views over Wiltshire. The little chapel of St Mary Tory, at the end of these terraces, is a pretty viewpoint.
Descending the steep flights of steps to Church Street, you’ll find Bradford-on-Avon’s most historically significant sight, the small Saxon church of St. Laurence (signposted from all around town; free admission). There is no clear foundation date for the church: early writers claimed it dated to around 700AD, but current thinking places its construction in the early eleventh century. The chapel was rediscovered in the nineteenth century, after being ‘lost’ under later additions. The atmosphere in the small, high-roofed interior is cool and peaceful.
Between the Saxon church and the river is the larger Holy Trinity Church. A Norman church, it may not be as unusual as its Saxon neighbour, but it is full of interest. An information tablet provides the visitor with a guide to the various oddments and antiquities on display, which date back to various stages of the building’s past. These include some fine tombs, lovely pieces of a medieval rood screen, and a worn effigy of a lady from the late thirteenth century, which was later turned upside down and used as a paving stone.
From the end of Church Street, follow Barton Orchard, a small lane which was once part of the route from Bradford to Bath, past some more charming terraced cottages. This leads down to the old Packhorse Bridge over the river, close to the next sight on this tour. You will need to walk across the railway tracks – take great care crossing.
Between the river and the Kennet and Avon Canal is a pleasant green area where residents come to walk dogs, enjoy the sunshine, and watch their children splashing in the river. Here in the valley you’ll find sports fields, the Barton Farm Country Park, and another remarkable building, the fourteenth-century Tithe Barn. There is also a small complex of cafes, craft shops and galleries which is well worth visiting. You can return towards the Town Bridge either along a riverside path, or along Frome Road, past the railway station. Alternatively, you can join the canal towpath for a walk towards Bath.
Bradford-on-Avon is easy to reach from Bath. Trains run from Bath railway station approximately hourly (a two-carriage service towards Weymouth), and the journey only takes a few minutes. Buses also connect the two towns – take the 265 First service from Bath Bus station. It leaves approximately half-hourly and the journey takes around half an hour. The healthy alternative is hiking – keen walkers can walk from Bath to Bradford along the Kennet and Avon Canal; an easy, flat and scenic route.