Friday, 19 June 2015

A little town with a lot of history

Bradford on Avon built around the river crossing
Quite why anyone would want to build a town that had to cling to life on the steep, rocky side of a river valley is hard to understand.
The answer is in the name: Bradford on Avon – or as it originally was 'broad ford' on the River Avon. For here, since Roman times and indeed well before, was a usable crossing point on the river. And from the ford came a bridge and then a town.
Looking out across the town from high up
Today Bradford on Avon's buildings still cling, huddled together as if for safety while narrow roads wind up the hill between them. Looking up at the honey stone buildings with their ochre red roofs as they cascade down to the slow flowing river one could easily be in one of those little towns in the Dordogne. Except for the traffic. For BoA is pulverised by traffic that grinds, nose to tail, day long through the town.
The canal is about ten minutes walk away and we've done that route a few times now, either along the river path (lovely) of up the main road from the lock (noisy). There are plenty of pubs and a few restaurants in BoA but not a lot for the shopper – a Budgens which even I could see was absurdly expensive, a couple of newsagents, a decent little ironmongers, couple of charity shops and, er, that's about it (though if you want food stocks there's a Sainsburys close to the canal just out of town).
Appropriately named 'Mountain Cottage' above the town
Yet noise and lack of shops apart it's still my favourite place on this stretch of the canal. In fact the lack of shops probably adds to its charm.
You can wander the streets, the parks and admire the charming old buildings without the distraction of shopping.
And yet again, though we have stopped here twice before, we found new sights to see. We walked up above the magnificent riverside manions and through the steep back streets above the river which then become a warren of alleys and steps linking rows of small terraced houses, many of them boasting magnificent views out across the town to the distant hills.
A labyrinth of paths and steps to the weavers' houses
These were originally weavers' cottages where hand loom weavers struggling to earn a pittance brought the town its pre industrial revolution wealth by turning wool into wool cloth. Then, as mechanisation came, the weaving moved down to the river below where there was water power and the poor old hand weavers were destitute.
Ironically, the next stage saw weaving leave the town completely as the huge new mills of Lancashire and Yorkshire took over.
Today, those weavers' cottages are clearly sought after bijou residences and BoA as a whole is a sophisticated adjunct to nearby bigger cities. But there was an in between industrial stage which we didn't know about until visiting the sweet little town museum (another first) upstairs in the Library.
Grand mansions grace the riverside
Bradford on Avon was home to Spencer Moulton a rubber industry company who operated from two large mills here. And if the Moulton name sounds familiar that's because the technical director was Alex Moulton.
When the company was sold to Avon Rubber he went his own way, devised the rubber suspension used on the Mini and subsequently the innovative, rubber sprung, small wheeled Moulton bicycle – which is still made here.
After Avon closed, one of the occupants of the old site was Marcos Cars, while Royal Enfield motorcycles had a factory here too for a while.
Meanwhile, just outside BoA, Heinz was growing mushrooms in underground caverns created by redundant stone mines. They've stopped but mushroom growing goes on.
The enchanting Becky Addy Woods
Talking of quarries, looking for a new walk we crossed the canal just outside the town and took a footpath up into woods along the steep opposite bank, following it along a man-made stone path through what was almost certainly an old quarry. It was a delightful but slightly spooky walk, with the evening sun flickering through the green leaves into a completely enclosed silent world. When we finally emerged onto a country lane we discovered we had been in 'Becky Addy Woods' – a mysterious spot the origins of whose name is unknown aside from the fact that somewhere in there is the remains of an equally mysterious old cottage. Anyway, we strolled down the lane and found ourselves back at Avoncliff Aqueduct where I had just enough small change in my pocket for a pint at the riverside Cross Guns.
Today has been mayhem on the canal: we moved up through the town lock to get water and found ourselves in a Hyde Park Corner of boats going everywhere - into the lock, out of the lock, turning at the winding point, hire boats going back to the base opposite, other day boats getting ready to leave it, a huge trip boat, a busy waterpoint and the inevitable interested gongoozlers asking engine questions when you're in the middle of mooring up. Tonight next week's crowd have been starting off – including the beery stag and hen parties of course.
We came up the lock with a couple who've been boating on the K&A since it was re-opened. "We don't like coming down this end any more ," they said "it's just too busy. There are so many hire boats."
And there are – countless numbers of them. Today I've seen boats from seven different companies – and it's not even the school holidays! Who says the 'continuous moorers' are the problem down here? They stay quietly out of the way, getting on with the lives in spots where no-one wants to be. It's the hire boats that logjam everything up. I'm getting out of here well before the summer holidays start.

1 comment:

  1. Brings back some memories of when we lived in the area. In those days the Rose and Crown at Limpley Stoke (which I guess was the pub you found shut) was always packed with great food. But even back then the main road was always hectic. Bath I think is starting to get back on track after a period of decline in the care for the everyday buildings, not surprising as the upkeep cost must be incredibly high. Enjoy BonA