A far from civil battle
Lansdown Hill may be a place of rest and relaxation today, whether it be the golf course, the racecourse or simply dog walking across the hilltop fields, but things were not always this way. Three hundred and seventy-five years ago, on 5th July 1643 to be precise, this was the scene of one of the most famous battles in the English Civil war. Thousands of horsemen, foot soldiers and dragoons fought on this hilltop, with the outcome being a pyrrhic victory for the Royalists under the command of Lord Hopton. Estimates suggest that as many as 300 Royalists were killed in the battle, compared to maybe as few as 20 of sir william waller’s Parliamentarians. This walk explores many of the locations of this Battle Royale, starting with Hanging Hill where hundreds of the Parliamentarians were encamped. Further on is Freezing Hill, from where the Royalist forces started their advance on Lansdown, having grouped at nearby Marshfield. There is the main battlefield site itself, now a quiet pastoral spot where cattle graze without so much as a thought about the horrors that once occurred here. and there is a monument to Bevil Grenville, a Cornishman who became a noted Royalist Commander. Even if military history is not your thing, this is a fine walk in its own right. The views are stunning, that from Hanging Hill for example encompassing much of Bristol, the severn Vale and the hills of south wales. From above Lower Hamswell is an outlook that is centred upon Freezing Hill, with its iconic line of beech trees, while from the battlefield site is a vista that includes st Catherine’s Valley and the distant hills of salisbury Plain. Views do mean hills, remember, so this is far from a stroll in the park! This is a ‘dry’ walk without a cafe or pub along the way. Head back towards Bath, however, and you will shortly pass the ever popular Blathwayt arms, described as ‘a classic countryside freehouse’ with food served all day and where well-behaved dogs are welcome. Head further back towards Bath and you pass the Hare & Hounds in Lansdown with its unrivalled views. and as a bonus, this pub is open from 9am each day serving breakfast options that include porridge or breakfast butties, smoked salmon & scrambled eggs as well as the almost obligatory Full English.
In dr John wroughton, Bath has one of the leading English Civil war experts. It is well worth seeking out a copy of his book The Battle of Lansdown 1643 ... a definitive account of what happened on that lonely hilltop all those years ago.
Follow the road out of Bath on to Lansdown Hill. Having passed the entrance to Bath Racecourse on the left, continue for ¾ mile to a rough parking area on the right opposite a left turn leading to the avon Fire & Rescue’s Command development Centre.
Follow the access road leading to the avon Fire & Rescue complex. Bear right in front of this complex along a private drive before veering left in 40 yards on to a footpath. Continue to a gate before walking ahead across Hanging Hill to reach the second gate on the left alongside a water trough. at this point follow a faint path on the right, dropping downhill to a gate in the bottom left corner of the field. Follow a rough track beyond this gate down to a lane. Turn right and, at a crossroads in ½ mile, follow the lane opposite. In 250 yards, a stile hidden in the hedge on the left gives access to a footpath that climbs to the top of Freezing Hill, a steep but worthwhile detour.
BELOW FREEZING HILL
For the main walk, continue along the lane for ¼ mile to the next crossroads, before following the lane opposite signposted to Lower Hamswell. In ½ mile, having passed Brook Cottage on the left, continue ahead on a private road signposted to Goudie’s Farm. Having crossed two cattle grids, enter a field and turn right to follow the signposted Cotswold way uphill to a gate in the top right corner of the field. walk uphill in the next field, bearing right all the while, to a gap in the tree cover opposite and a conveniently placed seat. Continue across the field, still bearing slightly right, to a gate in the opposite field boundary. walk around the left edge of the next field to a handgate and a track.
TO THE BATTLEFIELD
Turn right and follow this enclosed track for 300 yards to a gate and hilltop field. Follow the footpath ahead along to a stile in the wall on the right by a Civil war information board. Cross the stile to enter a field, the site of the Battle of Lansdown. walk along the right edge of this field, a wall on the right. at the end of the field, continue along a path that bears left through woodland to reach a stone slab stile in 200 yards. Continue along the path as it bears left to climb up to a Civil war monument. Continue across the field ahead back to the parking area on Lansdown Hill.
Clockwise from below: View to Freezing Hill; old road sign; Civil War monument; battlefield site