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Things to do in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire

Bradford-on-Avon is an unspoilt market town in west Wiltshire, close to the border with Somerset and eight miles southeast of Bath.

Looking up the Canal to the Lock Inn in Bradford-on-Avon. © Emma Marshall
Looking up the Canal to the Lock Inn in Bradford-on-Avon © Emma Marshall

Set in the scenic Cotswolds, the town is on the River Avon and offers a host of tourist attractions and cultural activities.

Bradford-upon-Avon has just over 9,000 inhabitants. The town centre is a pleasure to visit and browse the delightful gift shops and cafés in the narrow Shambles.

There is a supermarket, hotels, restaurants and several local stores. In the summer the town is particularly pretty as it is bedecked with flowers and hanging baskets.

Serene Bradford-on-Avon © Emma Marshall
Serene Bradford-on-Avon © Emma Marshall

Tiered up the hillside are houses and cottages of all sizes built out of mellow Cotswold stone quarried nearby. The quarry was used to hide the Crown Jewels during World War II.

The Holy Trinity Parish Church is Norman in origin. It has a tower built in 1480 and a peal of eight bells.

The town is a popular place to live for commuters as it is on the Bath to Weymouth line with regular trains to Bristol Temple Meads and Cardiff.

Things to do in Bradford-on-Avon

Barton Farm Country Park includes a remarkable 14th-century tithe barn, which is 180 feet long and 30 feet wide with a heavy stone roof.

It would have been used to collect taxes or tithes paid to the church as a percentage of the crops harvested.

Creative Barge on the Canal © Emma Marshall
Creative Barge on the Canal © Emma Marshall

The Kennet and Avon Canal with its lock offers recreation for kayakers and boaters.

The towpath provides traffic-free walks through the countryside.

The climb up St Mary's Tory is steep but has spectacular views of the town, the Marlborough Downs and the Westbury White Horse on the chalk hillside.

History of Bradford on Avon

The town was probably in existence in Roman times with a "broad ford" which gave Bradford its name. The first bridge across the river would probably have been constructed of wood by the Saxons.

The Normans built the first stone bridge but it was narrow and had no walls and people were known to fall off. Another bridge was built alongside to double the width.

Two of these original Norman spans can still be seen today with their distinctive pointed arches. If you look beneath you can clearly see where the two side-by-side bridges were joined.

Natures Beauty at the Canals Edge. © Emma Marshall
Natures Beauty at the Canals Edge © Emma Marshall

The small building with a domed roof on the bridge was originally a chapel and the fish on the weather vane is a symbol of the Christian faith.

The building was later used as a prison or lockup where drunks and petty criminals were held. The bridge is now a Grade I listed building.

The main St Laurence Church in Bradford-upon-Avon was built around 705 AD by St Aldhelm. It was later used as a school and a mill and was rediscovered by Canon William Frampton in 1856 and bought back from its private owners.

In the 17th century, the town prospered with the woollen textile industry. Several weavers' cottages can still be seen at Tory Terraces. With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, the river was used to power purpose-built watermills.

Writer Daniel Defoe visited Bradford-upon-Avon in the 18th century. Other famous people connected to the town are rugby player Will Carling and TV presenter Hugh Scully.

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