Snugly nestled in rolling Wiltshire countryside, just over the border from Somerset and a mere fifteen minute drive from Bath, Bradford on Avon has a distinct beauty and charm found only in untouched British towns. Based on the River Avon, as the name suggests, the town has been inhabited since Roman times and was built up around its ford (‘Bradford’ was derived from the town’s original broad ford).
Bradford on Avon is absolutely beautiful, but my first experience of the Wiltshire settlement wasn’t so great (through no fault of the town’s). At the age of 18, I actually crashed (and wrote off) my first car on one of the country roads leading to the town – and the first time I heard the town’s name was when police had located me at the scene.
Fast forward two and a half years and I landed a job in Beckington, a tiny village in Somerset. The day I drove to the interview was an absolutely beautiful, surprisingly warm April day. I was cruising along the country roads when I thought “I recognise that patch of grass….” I’d entered Bradford on Avon again.
Luckily my car stayed on the road this time, and I made it to the town centre; which I’m so glad about! Bradford on Avon is one of those towns that makes you feel like you’ve walked right into a postcard. A quintessentially English setting. I ended up driving through the town twice a day for eight weeks, and I became pretty attached to it.
I’ve visited the town (and got out the car) a few times now, and have seen the best of what it has to offer. You only really need a day (or even a half day if the weather’s not great) in the town to see all it has to offer, but here’s some things to do in Bradford on Avon:
Tea and Cake at The Bridge Tea Rooms
“It’s the building that looks like it’s falling down” I heard one of the waitresses say on the phone when she was describing The Bridge Tea Rom’s location. It is located in a blacksmith’s house dating from 1502 but has been a tea room for decades. There’s lots of amazing tea rooms around South West England, including some amazing cafes in nearby Bath but Bradford on Avon’s favourite cafe is unique. Harking back to a bygone era, all the waitresses are dressed in Victorian outfits, and the interior of the tea room matches – it is bursting with eccentric furniture and props and boasts marvellous exposed beams.
The cakes are absolutely MASSIVE – and there’s even a couple of gluten free options! I had the gluten free chocolate log cake, which was approximately the size of my head. The tea was varied and delicious – I went for a vanilla tea in the end, but there were a good few cups I could have sunk!
It cost me about £7.50 for a large pot of tea and the monster cake, and it was WELL worth it.
The Bradford on Avon Museum
A fantastic freebie – entry to the museum doesn’t cost a penny (although donations are welcome) and you are provided with a fascinating history of the town throughout the centuries. One of my favourite facts was that the small hut like structure on the Norman bridge was once a tiny chapel, and then used as a place to lock up any town drunks! Purifying their souls and all that, I guess…
After you’ve walked through the museum, you’ll find yourself in an old school pharmacy. Here, they have accurately remade a chemist’s shop which was opened by Thomas Saunders in 1863. After passing through a few Victorian characters, it came into the ownership of Richard Thorney Christopher, who created ‘The Christopher Pharmacy’ and thus established one of Bradford on Avon’s most important institutions.
The re-creation of the pharmacy is largely Victorian, as its appearance did not really change in the last 80 years of its life. It is quite literally a step back in time, which makes it a fantastic place to visit to get a slice of this Wiltshire town’s 19th and 20th century history!
The Kennet and Avon Canal is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the country. I’ve already ran half of the Bath-Bradford on Avon stretch, but the other side is just as gorgeous. You can cycle the whole way there from Bath (it’s about eight miles), or just walk a little way along at either end.
Take in the buildings
One of the most pleasant things to do in Bradford on Avon is to just walk around and enjoy the town’s architecture. You can see many of the things learnt in the museum in real life – such as the Norman bridge with the lock up! Much of the buildings date from the 17th century (built from the profits of the booming textile industry in the area), yet some harks back to an older era.
After all of that sightseeing, it’s probably time for a drink! There’s an array of good old fashioned English pubs in Bradford on Avon, the most notable of which is probably The Swan. The 17th century public house and hotel still retains may of its original features and offers local drinks, Thai food and a great atmosphere. Come here to chat with locals and enjoy the spirit of rural West Country.
Bradford on Avon is a great small town visit for those who are keen to step back in time and experience part of Britain’s magnificent history. It is easy to get to from both Bath and Bristol, with trains running from both and buses from Bath. And as previously mentioned, it is on a great cycle route if you’re keen on bikes (or you could even run from Bath, if you’re training for a half marathon…)
There’s lots of places where you can learn about British history, but at Bradford on Avon, it feels like you’ve walked straight into it. Be sure to visit this gem when exploring the West Country!