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. 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 information
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 sightseeing walk around Bradford on Avon
Town centre and shops
A suggested walking itinerary for seeing Bradford begins by the tourist information office. From here, 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. On the right is one of Bradford’s many modern developments, Lamb Yard, where historic mill buildings have been converted to house shops, cafés and restaurants . A few yards up Silver Street, our itinerary leads around to the left, but you may wish to continue further up the street first, admiring the historic terraces and maybe visiting the local shops.
Next, turn back and stroll along the Shambles, a short and colourful shopping alley connecting Silver Street to Market Street. Note the handsome historic Swan Hotel at the corner of Church Street. After these photogenic streets, climb up Market Street to the bend, crossing over so that you can take Newtown on the far side.
Pass the historic Priory Barn. Next, if you are feeling fit, I’d recommend exploring the slopes ahead and above you. On this hillside are two charming terraces of old weavers’ cottages, stretched along the hillside with fantastic views over the town and the green Wiltshire countryside beyond. You could start by heading up Conigre Hill, taking the first alley on your left to reach Middle Rank, then ascending a flight of steps between the houses to Tory, the upper terrace.
Hillside cottages: Middle Rank and Tory
The Middle Rank and Tory cottages must be one of the most picturesque places to live in this part of the country, and in the summer with roses on the walls and the flower-filled little front gardens, it’s a really magical place to wander, with a very intimate and lived-in atmosphere. After the Second World War this was an area of slums, and threatened with demolition. Looking at the successful restoration work and cared-for appearance of the cottages now, it is hard to believe how much things must have changed. The little chapel of St Mary Tory, at the end of the Upper Rank terrace, is a pretty viewpoint.
Either following the footpath beyond St Mary Tory then turning left, or descending an alley from further back along the terrace, will lead you back down towards Newtown. Steps descend from here. Across Coach Road an alley takes you past the Chantry and Little Chantry, two more fine houses connected to the cloth trade.
On Church Street, turn left, and pass the large church on your right. Beyond this, on the other side of the road, is 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 still 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.
Country park and Tithe Barn
From here, you can easily return to the town centre shops, or cross a footbridge towards the station. But to continue this tour into greener surroundings, go back to the end of Church Street, head back up the alley past the Chantry and turn left along Barton Orchard. This lane was once part of the route from Bradford to Bath, and passes some more charming terraced cottages. Following the lane will bring you 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 at a level crossing – take great care.
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 (English Heritage / Bradford on Avon Preservation Trust, free admission). 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.
The Kennet and Avon canal is right behind the Tithe Barn – turning left will take you to a couple of canalside pubs. Alternatively, turning right you can join the canal towpath for a walk towards Bath. There’s a railway station at Avoncliff, a mile and a half along the canal, as well as a popular pub with riverside gardens, the Cross Guns.
Travel information: From Bath to Bradford on Avon
Bradford on Avon is easy to reach from Bath. Trains run from Bath railway station approximately hourly (a two-carriage service), and the journey only takes a few minutes. Buses also connect the two towns – take the D1 First service from Bath bus station (heading to Salisbury). 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. There are also attractive footpath routes through valleys, low hills and pastures – for example, via Limpley Stoke, Freshford and Westwood.
A day out from Bath – Bradford on Avon and around
Bradford on Avon makes a good half-day out, or can be combined with other local attractions by car – for example, the beautiful gardens of Iford Manor. The National Trust manors and gardens nearby include Westwood Manor (a short rural walk away, and with a community-run tearoom alongside), The Courts and Great Chalfield. With an Ordnance Survey map and a railway timetable it is possible to fit in two or more attractions on foot, too, for a healthy and environmentally-sustainable day out.
There’s lots of detailed information on the Bradford on Avon Museum website. Bradford’s historic buildings were falling apart in the 20th century, and for more about their preservation and ongoing projects, see the website of the Bradford on Avon Preservation Trust. The town council’s tourist information website is another good resource if you’re planning a longer stay or interested in supporting local businesses.
Where to stay in Bradford on Avon
As well as being attractive in its own right, Bradford makes a picturesque base for a West Country stay. Its location and rail connection are useful for exploring the area, including Bath, enjoying a walking holiday, or simply enjoying the friendly small-town atmosphere.
- Timbrell’s Yard – in the heart of town by the river, a 17-room boutique hotel and restaurant/bar in a historic building
- The George – two self-catering apartments with kitchenettes at a pub-restaurant 10 minutes’ walk from the town centre
- Widbrook Barns – just outside Bradford on Avon, a good-value and well-reviewed B&B with a rustic feel and a garden
- Widbrook Grange – a popular boutique farmhouse hotel with a gin bar among its features, close to Bradford
- Weaver’s Cottage @ Number 10 – self-catering apartment in one of the picturesque weavers’ cottages on the panoramic Tory terrace, with a little garden, for a special stay (note: steep access on foot)
- Kemble Cottage – quaint and attractive 2-bedroom holiday home close to the heart of Bradford, on a steep lane
- Woolley Grange – a country house hotel near Bradford which is aimed at families, for a luxurious and child-friendly stay.
- Find and compare availability of Bradford on Avon accommodation (Booking)
- A selection of the best country house hotels around Bath
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