Walking the Kennet and Avon canal path from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon

If the canal path from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon had its own theme tune it would consist of bicycle bells and whirring tyres; to say it’s a popular cycling route is an understatement. Indeed, if you’ve arrived here from my UK bucket list link you’re probably expecting to read about our cycle ride beside the canal. But, for various reasons, we ended up walking instead; read on to find out how we got on.

Bath to Bathwick

We joined the Kennet and Avon canal path immediately behind Bath railway station. Connecting Bristol to Reading, the canal opened in 1810 but fell into disuse and dereliction following the opening of the railway in 1841. Restored and fully reopened in 1990 it’s now a popular amenity for locals and visitors.

The first mile or so winds through the city; past locks, under bridges and opposite mansions with their honeyed stone and pristine gardens. Two hundred years ago the canal would have been busy carrying coal into Bath and stone out. Several features along the route hark back to those days, including the pumphouse chimney. This was built in an ornate style as the local wealthy residents didn’t want to look out on to an industrial structure!

Kennet and Avon canal, Bath
Kennet and Avon canal, Bath

At Darlington Wharf we came across a floating market. Narrow boat businesses were moored alongside the path offering, amongst others, a sweet shop, wooden crafts and clothing. A little further on we spotted a boat with a Polling Station sign; not sure if it really was or whether the sign had been relocated from elsewhere!

On a warm spring weekend the canal towpath was busy with dog walkers, weekend joggers and cyclists. Ah yes, the cyclists. I’m far from anti-cyclist but when they whoosh past at great speed or cycle in groups across the entire path it’s hard to have a positive view. Of course there were plenty of considerate people too but given that we rarely walked more than 100m without meeting cyclists it only took a few to spoil our enjoyment.

Tunnel near Bathwick, Kennet and Avon canal
Tunnel near Bathwick, Kennet and Avon canal

Bathampton

At Bathampton we couldn’t resist a stop at the Cafe on the Barge, a tiny café in a narrow boat. Primarily offering drinks and cakes, I highly recommend the carrot cake. We sat on the small open deck, completely forgetting we were on a boat until another craft came by and rocked the waters. There are seats on the canal towpath too as there’s not much room on the boat itself.

Walking on we enjoyed watching the variety of canal users. A mix of holiday barges, day rentals, homes and (further on) a defunct lifeboat chug up the canal and line the moorings. It’s easy to tell the difference. Those belonging to long term residents are often laden with bikes, wood, pot plants and Buddha statues. The hire boats were usually more pristine, with traditional decoration aside from the holiday company logos.

Claverton

We heard the swimmers and picnickers at Warleigh Weir, near Claverton, way before we saw them. This beauty spot on the river (not the canal) can be reached by a short walk downhill and across the railway line. I’ve no idea what it’s normally like but on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday the field beside the river was packed with people. Rather like Bournemouth beach on a sunny day.

Kennet and Avon canal near Claverton
Kennet and Avon canal near Claverton

Elsewhere in Claverton there’s a pumping station which was built to transport water from the River Avon to the canal. Fully restored it operates on selected dates (advertised on the canal noticeboards). It was closed during our walk but reviews suggest it’s worth a visit when it’s open.

Leaving Claverton behind we walked a rural stretch of the canal. The bees and butterflies were out  and everything looked a vibrant green in the spring sunshine. A little further on there’s a small wooded area beside the path where the garlic smell hits you before you see the white carpet of ramsons.

Dundas Aqueduct

Dundas Aqueduct
Dundas Aqueduct

One of the highlights of this walk are the two aqueducts built to carry the canal over the River Avon.

Completed in 1805, Dundas Aqueduct is 137 metres long with three arches. We walked across it and down the steps to the river bank for the best view. It’s a grand imposing structure but has had its problems over the years. It spent much of the 1960s and 1970s drained dry due to leaks and has now been lined with polythene and concrete. Materials not available to the original builders!

Kennet and Avon canal near Avoncliff
Kennet and Avon canal near Avoncliff

Avoncliff Aqueduct

It was another three miles to Avoncliff aqueduct. Three more miles of cyclists. Three very warm miles with empty water bottles. You can hardly blame us for another cafe stop. This time at the No 10 Tea Gardens, handily located alongside the aqueduct. I smiled inwardly as I watched a couple of teens revising for their GCSEs in the tea garden; well, their books were open but I think they were on a break.

View from Avoncliff Aqueduct
View from Avoncliff Aqueduct

Avoncliff Aqueduct was designed by John Rennie (who also designed Dundas Aqueduct). Not bad for a first attempt at an aqueduct, albeit the central span sagged soon after completion and had to be repaired several times. Where were the Romans when you need them?

I had a navigation ‘moment’ after leaving the tea room. Seriously, how can anyone get lost following a canal? Er, it’s quite easy if you end up on the road because you can’t find the canal path! (Hint, walk under the aqueduct). Navigation error aside the last couple of miles passed uneventfully. Still plenty of cyclists but this time along a broad track so plenty of room for all.

The very last section took us through Barton Farm Country Park. Not quite Bournemouth beach busy this time but it appeared very popular with family groups.

Bradford-on-Avon

We reached Bradford-on-Avon late afternoon. I’ve only driven through the town before so thought we’d do a spot of sightseeing before taking the train back to Bath. But our cafe studded walk meant we arrived later than planned. And everywhere appeared shut. And we were hot and tired. So after a celebratory ice cream we headed straight to the railway station. Next time…

Bradford-on-Avon
Bradford-on-Avon

If you’re looking for an alternative route in Bath (without cyclists) head over to my Bath Skyline walk report.

More info:

  • The route from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon is approximately 10 miles. For further details on the Kennet and Avon Canal pop over to the Canal & River Trust website.
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10 things to do in and around Soller, Majorca

There aren’t many places in this world that I plan to return to (too many other places to see) but Soller is one of them. We loved our spring visit to Majorca!

Soller is an inland town in the mountainous north west of the island. Famed for its oranges and olive groves the town is popular with walkers and cyclists who use it as a base to explore the surrounding Tramuntana mountains.

Aside from walking there’s plenty of things to do and see around Soller, read on to find out more.

1. Visit the orange and lemon groves at Ecovinyassa

Whilst oranges and lemons abound it’s not easy to randomly stroll through the groves. That’s where Ecovinyassa comes in.

Oranges and lemons at Ecovinyassa
Oranges and lemons at Ecovinyassa

Visitors to Ecovinyassa follow a self guided tour around the aromatic orange and lemon trees, learning all about the different varieties. There are other species too; in fact I saw my first ever avocado tree laden with its ripe fruits. We stopped for oranges halfway round and sat down to a freshly squeezed orange juice and Pa Amb Oli (bread with olive oil and tomatoes) at the end. Like many great ideas, it’s a simple concept done well.

Orange break at Ecovinyassa
Orange break at Ecovinyassa

Book your visit to Ecovinyassa in advance via their website; they’re currently open three days per week.

2. Enjoy the view from the Mirador de ses Barques

There are several walks from Soller which take you up to this viewpoint.  We took a rather roundabout route but whichever way you walk it’s worth the uphill slog for the impressive views across the Soller valley and surrounding sea. If you’re not feeling energetic you can also drive to the viewpoint, but keep a watchful eye out for the hordes of road cyclists who use the hill for training.

The walk up to Mirador de ses Barques
The walk up to Mirador de ses Barques

Conveniently located next to the viewpoint is a restaurant. This is where we experienced our first taste of freshly squeezed Majorcan orange juice, sitting on the terrace overlooking the bay. Although we didn’t sit there for long after we discovered how windy it was!

3. Ride the tram to or from Port de Soller

Lots of visitors combine a trip on the tram with the train ride from Palma to Soller. As we were already in town we walked down to Port de Soller along the GR221 (long distance walking track), spent a couple of hours in the resort and then took the tram back to Soller.

Riding the tram from Port de Soller
Riding the tram from Port de Soller

The wooden tram is touristy and expensive (7 euros per person each way) but sod it, you’re on holiday and it’s a fun way to travel. The journey takes about 20 minutes, passing people’s back gardens and small orange groves before popping back out in the centre of Soller.

Soller tram
Soller tram

4. Explore Port de Soller

The resort of Port de Soller is about 3 miles from Soller, and could be used as a base for visiting the area. I personally preferred Soller but if you’re keen to stay in a resort it’s a good alternative. There are loads of places to eat out, accommodation options and boat trips.

Sorting the catch, Port Soller
Sorting the catch, Port Soller

If you happen to be there late afternoon, when the fishing boats arrive home, head to the harbour and watch the fishermen sorting their catch. Follow this up with a mooch around the yachts; it’s always fun trying to spot the most expensive ones.

5. Visit the chapel at Sa Capelleta

The chapel is a short walk (albeit uphill) from Soller and is an ideal evening stroll.

Sa Capelleta, Soller
Sa Capelleta, Soller

The chapel was locked on our visit but you can peak through the doors. It’s hard to describe the inside but imagine a cave with religious icons designed by Gaudi and you’ll be on the right track.

If you visit at sunset keep an eye on the mountains on your return journey; we were lucky to see them turn the most spectacular pink as the sun went down.

Soller sunset
Soller sunset

6. Take a hike

There are many walks around Soller for all abilities. Our favourite was a linear route from Deia to Soller along the GR221. We also enjoyed a more strenuous walk from Cuber Reservoir to the summit of L’Ofre. Spring and autumn are the best seasons for walking, it’s too hot in the summer!

The main routes are well signposted. We purchased a Soller walking guide from the Tramuntana shop in Soller; this covers walks to and from all of the local villages, directions to Sa Capelleta  and several more challenging hikes.

View from the GR221, near Soller
View from the GR221, near Soller

7. Stroll around Fornalutx

A couple of miles from Soller, this has been voted one of Spain’s prettiest villages. We passed through on one of our walks and whilst it’s undeniably beautiful it was just a little too manicured for me.

Olive tree, Soller
Olive tree, Soller

Another local village that vies for prettiest contender is Llucalcari, just off the road to Deia. Why not check them both out and see which one you prefer?

8. View Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro at the station

One for the art lovers. If modern art is your thing head to the railway station where you’ll find a room of Picasso ceramics and another of Miro’s works. The two artists were friends during their lifetimes, hence the joint exhibition. It’s a great way to bring art to the masses; if you’re waiting for a train and there’s a free exhibition why wouldn’t you visit?

Soller is also home to a Modernist museum, Can Prunera which offers a small permanent collection and visiting exhibitions.

9. Visit the Jardines de Alfabia

We hadn’t originally planned to visit these but some hire car trouble resulted in a change of destination. Located close to the Soller tunnel entrance you can easily while away an hour or two in the house and gardens.

Jardines de Alfabia
Jardines de Alfabia

We visited whilst the wisteria was blooming although we couldn’t see all of it as part of the garden was closed due to storm damage. This in itself was sadly impressive with large stone colonnades smashed onto the walkways; it must have been some storm!

The highlights of the garden are the towering palm trees and the many water features. You might also enjoy playing spot the frog. It’s easy to hear them croaking but they’re masters of disguise in the ponds!

Jardines de Alfabia
Jardines de Alfabia

10. People watch in the Plaza Constitucion

Soller’s town square is the focal point for most visitors. Dominated by the church of Sant Bartomeu, it houses a wide range of pavement cafes, ice cream parlours and restaurants. It’s THE place to sit and people watch!

Plaza de la Constitución, Soller
Plaza de la Constitución, Soller

On Saturday morning the square, and some of the surrounding roads, are taken over by the town market. This is a mix of your standard market stalls (clothes, household goods, fruit and veg) along with some craft and local produce stalls. Worth visiting if you’re in town.

More info:

  • We visited in April. The weather was perfect for walking (our main activity) and the sun shone almost all week. That said, the spring weather can also be very wet so pack accordingly.
  • We hired a car as part of our flight deal. Parking costs 6 euros per day in the main town car park, assuming you’re lucky enough to find a space. As of December 2017 there is no longer a charge to drive through the Soller tunnel. There’s a good cheap local bus service (except Sundays); useful for linear walks.

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Walks on the GR221 around Soller, Majorca

Fresh orange juice, gnarled olive trees and a cloudless sky. Can I tempt you to walk the GR221?

The GR221, also known as the Dry Stone route, is an 87 mile trail that runs across the Serra de Tramuntana from Port d’Andratx to Pollença in Majorca. Although the GR221 is a relatively new route it often follows old cobbled paths between the olive terraces, hence its name.

Olive groves, GR221
Olive groves, GR221

Rather than walk the path in its entirety we based ourselves in Soller and spent three days combining parts of the trail with other local walks. We used a combination of the Sunflower Mallorca guide and a locally bought Soller 1:15000 hiking map and guide to plan our walks.

1. Deia to Soller (Sunflower guide – walk 13, 6.2 miles)

Our first walk on the GR221 was a great introduction to the trail.  It offered a variety of scenery; sea views, shaded woodland and olive groves. And cake.

From Soller we took the bus to Deia, a 25 minute ride up and over the windy hillside for the grand sum of 1.55 euros each. Some walkers choose to walk from Soller to Deia but there’s a risk the bus will be full on the return journey.

Cala de Deia
Cala de Deia

Leaving Deia we walked downhill towards the coast, diverting onto the GR221 before we reached the beach. If you’re following this walk I do recommend a detour down to the cove, Cala de Deia. We originally missed this out so returned a few days later to visit. There’s a couple of restaurants on the beach, one of which starred in The Night Manager back in 2016.

Leaving Deia on the GR221
Leaving Deia on the GR221

Back on the GR221 the path is straightforward and relatively easy going but you do need to keep your eyes on the ground as there are stones aplenty to trip you up.

Much of the early walk is in the shade, passing under holm oaks and beside huge boulders. We quickly became acquainted with the Spanish love of wire fencing and keep out signs.

Olive trees on the GR221
Olive trees on the GR221

About an hour after leaving Deia we reached my highlight of the walk, Son Mico Finca. Yes, a cake stop! We sat on the outside terrace and between us sampled chocolate and pear tart, lemon meringue pie and orange tart. All were amazing, but the coffee less so (stick to the orange juice). Be aware the toilet doesn’t have a sink so bring hand sanitiser.

Coffee and cake at Son Mico
Coffee and cake at Son Mico

After leaving Son Mico we walked down the cobbled path, eventually passing a 13th century chapel. According to the guidebook this is in ruins but it looked newly restored to me. Either that or we found the wrong chapel.

View from the GR221, near Soller
View from the GR221, near Soller

This walk is justifiably popular. This brings with it the very British problem of how to address walkers coming in the other direction. We stuck to Hola but after you realise most of the hikers are German it’s tempting to use Hallo. Actually, we always knew when Spanish hikers were approaching, they were the ones dressed in down jackets, hats and thick trousers!

Following the Cami des Rost to Soller
Following the Cami des Rost to Soller

Leaving the GR221 we took the path towards Soller, finally emerging on the town’s ring road. Despite the earlier cake there was still space for an ice cream so we headed into town to sample the locally made orange and lemon delicacies.

2. Es Barranc circuit (Sunflower guide – walk 17, 4 miles)

This was the shortest walk we followed in our Sunflower guide but it was quite tough going due to the combination of afternoon heat and a strenuous ascent. That said, the spectacular views made up for the extra effort.

From Soller we walked to the village of Biniaraix where we stopped for a drink in the village square. Leaving the shade behind we followed the GR221 Cami d’es Barranc for a few minutes, stopping frequently to admire the views back over the village.

Biniaraix, Majorca
Biniaraix, Majorca

The guidebook described a turn on to the Cami Vell a Cuber opposite a carob tree. This helpfully answered one of my son’s questions, namely what are the things on the floor that look like black banana skins? Answer, carob pods. Native to the Mediterranean the pods can be used as a substitute for chocolate; the pulp from the pods is ground to make locust bean gum.

Our path took us high above the ravine, zigzagging up through the olive trees and stone terraces. Another mystery required an answer. Why does every olive tree have a bottle hanging from it? Fortunely you can still get 4G in the mountains. Answer, they’re a deterrent for the olive fruit fly.

View from Cami Vell de Cuber
View from Cami Vell de Cuber

Our walking map offered a short diversion to Cova de ses Alfabies. Leaving the cobbled stone path we followed blue dots painted on stone to a large overhanging cliff where water drips from the ceiling into clay pots. These have somehow petrified into the rock; I’ve no idea how old they are but in my imagination they are of Roman origin!

Clay pot, Cova de ses Alfabies
Clay pot, Cova de ses Alfabies

Back on the olive terrace a new game was invented en route; guess the famous person. Potentially a minefield when your teens think famous people are social media and YouTube stars. Oh the generation gap.

After trekking uphill in the afternoon sun we finally crossed a pass and began to descend into some welcome shade, soon reaching a small waterfall. Time for a paddle and photo stop.

Waterfall, near GR221, Cami d’es Barranc
Waterfall, near GR221, Cami d’es Barranc

Heading downhill we rejoined the GR221 Cami d’es Barranc for the descent to Biniaraix. The path runs down the ravine beside a stream which was dry during our visit but must be spectacular after heavy rain.

Walking the Cami d’es Barranc
Walking the Cami d’es Barranc

Back in Biniaraix we stopped for another much needed drink. We’d drank all of our water by this time; this is definitely a consideration if you’re walking in the warmer months.

The road back into Soller took us past orange and lemon trees, flowering wisteria and the occasional cactus. Idyllic, although the lack of footpaths means you need to keep your wits about you!

3. Walk around Cuber reservoir to L’Ofre (Sunflower guide – walk 20, 7.4 miles)

This circular walk started from the car park at Cuber reservoir. We drove but it’s also possible to take the once daily bus (April to October) or a taxi. This is the easiest option if you want to walk the classic route down to Biniaraix.

Walking beside Cuber reservoir
Walking beside Cuber reservoir

From the car park there’s a great view of Puig Major, the highest mountain on Majorca. It’s off limit to walkers as it’s a military base, with a large bulbous radar tower on top. I can easily imagine it as a villain’s lair in a James Bond film!

Cuber reservoir, Majorca
Cuber reservoir, Majorca

On this walk the GR221, took us along the northern edge of the Cuber reservoir. The reservoir provides water to Palma so there are strict rules; no swimming, fishing or boating. The waters were crystal clear, albeit with fully grown trees emerging from it. I can only assume the water levels were higher than usual due to the winter rains.

As we walked a couple of red kites flew above us. Impressive, but as we live in Oxfordshire we’re used to seeing these birds. Instead we were on the lookout for a much larger bird, the black vulture.

Walking from Cuber reservoir to Coll de L’Ofre
Walking from Cuber reservoir to Coll de L’Ofre

Leaving the far end of the reservoir we walked up to the Coll de L’Ofre. From here’s the GR221 descends to the Barranco de Biniaraix. However we were off to climb L’Ofre, a 3579ft peak.

If you ask a child (or indeed me) to draw a mountain they’ll probably come up with something that resembles L’Ofre. Seen from Soller it’s easily identified as it’s an almost perfect cone shape.

View from Coll de L’Ofre
View from Coll de L’Ofre

After traversing around L’Ofre we started our ascent. There is a path, of sorts, up through the rosemary bushes marked by small cairns and blue dots. There are a couple of hands on rock sections. And, for me, bum on rock going down.

By now we’d seen a couple of black vultures soaring high above nearby mountains. Halfway up L’Ofre they chose to glide directly over us, what an amazing experience. These vultures are the largest raptors in Europe and were bought back from the brink of extinction in the 1980s.

View from summit of L’Ofre, Majorca
View from summit of L’Ofre, Majorca

It’s difficult to decide whether the views from the summit or the vultures were the highlight of this walk. Up top Cuber reservoir sparkled in the distance and all of the surrounding peaks were cloud free.

Descent from Coll de L’Ofre
Descent from Coll de L’Ofre

We ate our picnic after descending to the main path. My son was mesmerised throughout by a large scarab beetle rolling sheep dung. Even more so when he managed to video it falling off the edge of a rock still holding on to the dung. Hilarious if you’re a 13 year old boy.

We returned to our car via the opposite side of the reservoir, accompanied by the sound of sheep bells. Photographs are great but it’s the tinkle of sheep bells and the smell of citrus groves that will forever remind me of our Majorcan holiday.

More info:

  • We found Soller an excellent base; plenty of tourist facilities but a working town too. If you’re staying in the Soller area pop over to my post on things to do in and around Soller. We stayed in a centrally located Airbnb flat overlooking a small orange grove. The citrus aroma from our balcony  was divine!
  • Spring and autumn are the best times for a walking holiday. Temperatures in April ranged from 16-22C although nights were chilly.
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A wander in and around Ewelme, Oxfordshire

Although I’m happy living in a town there are days when I imagine upping sticks and moving to a village. Not just any village though. It would have to be one with a thriving community, plenty of amenities and postcard pretty houses. A village like Ewelme. But I’d probably need to win the lottery first.

In the meantime there’s no harm in window shopping. Checking out the houses, deciding whether the locals are friendly and monitoring the cake quality in the village cafe.

Aside from sheer nosiness we were in Ewelme to walk another route from our AA 50 Oxfordshire walks book. The four mile Ewelme Chaucer’s walk was the perfect distance for a late morning stroll, and just the thing to work up an appetite for lunch. I’d even learnt from our mistake the previous month and came equipped with an OS map, no getting lost this time!

The walk started and finished in Ewelme, with a circular route that attempts to take in many of the local long distance trails. This included parts of the 65 mile Swan’s Way, the 125 mile Chiltern Way and the 110 mile Icknield Way Trail. Makes my feet ache just thinking about them.

Chiltern Way, near Ewelme
Chiltern Way, near Ewelme

Truth be told it wasn’t the most exciting of walks. Out in the countryside everything had that late winter feel. The mud, bare trees and grey sky didn’t help. And it was cold, so very cold. There’s joy in a winter landscape but in March I want spring sunshine, lambs and blossom.

Instead the star of this walk was Ewelme itself.

Ewelme village store

Starting with the village store. Perhaps not an obvious visitor attraction, Ewelme’s community run village store is well worth visiting. Primarily for its small cafe. It’s nothing fancy, simple rolls, soup and cake, but netherless it was busy on a Sunday morning with family groups and cyclists. The shop itself was packed with a variety of fresh food, household basics, local products and quirky gifts. It’s not surprising it won a best store in the south east award last year.

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The watercress beds

Ewelme is famous for its watercress beds, which flow through the village for almost a mile. This was once a thriving business, producing watercress for over a hundred years before its closure in the 1980s. The beds became overgrown and the site derelict until villagers helped with their restoration and the Chiltern Society purchased the land.

Watercress beds, Ewelme
Watercress beds, Ewelme

Nowadays the beds are run partly as a historical site and partly as a nature reserve, with open days and talks on the first Sunday of each month. Although the watercress is no longer sold commercially (due to strict water regulations) the water looked crystal clear and the beds well maintained. Not that there was much watercress growing in March!

Saint Mary the Virgin church, Ewelme

From the watercress beds it’s a five minute walk, past the duck pond (another tick on my village requirements list), up a steep slope to the church and almshouses.

Inside the church are the tombs of Thomas Chaucer and Alice de la Pole, family of the poet and author Geoffrey Chaucer. I love reading but have never tackled his works; I fear I would be well out of my literary depth.

Saint Mary the Virgin church, Ewelme
Saint Mary the Virgin church, Ewelme

Outside there are more literary connections. The graveyard is the final resting place of Jerome K. Jerome, author of Three Men in a Boat. I resorted to Wikipedia to find out more about him. An English writer and humourist he sounds like the Tony Hawks of the Victorian era (hope I’m not doing either a misjustice). And the K in his name stands for Klapka. What did we do before Wikipedia?

Jerome K. Jerome’s grave, Ewelme
Jerome K. Jerome’s grave, Ewelme

Lastly, and most excitingly for me, the church was also used as a filming location for Les Miserables. Two hundred and fifty crew descended on the village for five days to film three sequences (in the mayor’s office, the tavern and home of the Bishop of Digne). I can only imagine the excitement that would have caused!

From the church we walked back to the car park, passing the primary school. Built in 1487 it’s the oldest functioning maintained school in the country.

Ewelme Primary School
Ewelme Primary School

The PTA runs Sunday afternoon teas in the school once a month between March and September. Between these, cake at the watercress bed open days and the village cafe I think my cake requirements would be met living in Ewelme!

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