While many pubs have adapted and modernised to stay afloat, Bath’s old Star Inn stays gloriously unchanged. There’s no food here except crisps and baps, no contemporary decor or fancy wine list; just local beers and jugs of draught Bass from barrels behind the bar, served in a series of little wood-panelled rooms and snugs where a fire burns in winter. The pub is built into one of Bath’s characteristic Georgian terraces, less than half a mile from the city centre’s sights, but just far enough to avoid crowds of visitors.
The smooth limestone facade, hung with flowering baskets and carriage lamps, is the glowing goal at the end of a spectacular afternoon’s walk along the Cotswold Way. This acorn-waymarked National Trail runs for 102 miles between Bath and Chipping Campden, through wooded wolds and caramel-stone villages. My plan is to get a bus up into the hills and walk the last few miles of the Cotswold Way back down into the city.
The countryside around Bath is far more peaceful than the touristy centre, and peppered with vantage points for admiring Bath’s panoramic cityscapes of honey-golden limestone. The 620 bus sets off north from Bath bus station towards a little village called Old Sodbury every three hours until 4.45pm, Monday to Saturday. You need to plan ahead. Get off after about 15 minutes at the bus stop called Battlefields, named after the Battle of Lansdown of 1643, a pyrrhic Royalist victory during the English civil war. The well-signed Cotswold Way soon leads to spectacular views from a ridge called Hanging Hill – across Bristol, to the distant Severn bridges.
The route heads southwards through a gateway by a standing stone, into which Bristol-based artist Barbara Ash has carved a strange figure and the inscription: World Turned Upside Down. The words are the title of a 1640s ballad about parliament banning Christmas festivities and the image is of a man with his arms and legs reversed. It appeared on the woodcut-printed frontispiece of the original ballad and the cover of Christopher Hill’s 1972 history of radical ideas during the English revolution, also called The World Turned Upside Down.
Near Lansdown golf course, about a mile further on, there’s another relatively recent installation, by David Michael Morse: in a field beside the path, a grinning, rusted grim reaper stands with a hellhound on a leash, facing two flying horses.
Butterflies dance through the undergrowth nearby, disappearing into the mossy shadows of Pipley Wood, and long-tailed tits hop from branch to branch in the ash and hazel trees beside the path. The Cotswold Way zigzags across a big iron age hill fort, running along the edge of an ancient rampart to reach Bath racecourse, which opened in 1811.
Soon after, there’s a semi-circular plaque next to the viewpoint known as Prospect Stile (although it’s now a gate) that points out dozens of landmarks ranged across the countryside. The nearest is Kelston Roundhill, a distinctive green knoll with a clump of trees on top, which you can detour to climb as the path heads down towards Bath. The main route meanders through the suburb of Weston, the Georgian streets of Sion Hill and the grassy slopes of High Common.
In Royal Victoria Park there are ducks on the pond and squirrels chasing one another round the chestnut trunks. A young Princess Victoria officially opened the park in 1830, seven years before she became queen, and a tall obelisk in her honour rises above cedars and beeches. And then I’m at the Royal Crescent, the Grade I-listed curve of 30 terraced houses that epitomises Bath’s graceful limestone architecture.
The Cotswold Way winds down from here towards the city’s busy centre, but you can walk instead through quieter lanes towards the Star and order a pint of Bellringer, a mellow golden bitter made at the Abbey Ales brewery just across the terraced gardens nearby. There are carved stone hops over the fireplace and built-in benches around the walls. Food here is back to basics (a small fridge full of soft rolls, well filled with cheese and onion or ham and chutney), but there’s an impressive collection of gins and single malts. I resist working through them and head back to my B&B to find a sofa-filled lounge and an honesty bar.
The following day, nursing a slight hangover, I tackle the nearby Skyline Walk, a six-mile circuit of wooded hills and grassy downs to the east of the city, with plenty more jaw-dropping views across the spires and terraces below. It’s a pretty energetic route, with lots of ups and downs, despite its relatively short mileage on paper, and you’ll definitely have earned a sugared Bath bun with cream and jam by the end of it. I stroll a pleasant mile into the city centre and sit outside the Bath Bun Tea Shoppe under the shade of a big old plane tree on Abbey Green.
I end the second day outside Bath Abbey, where the Cotswold Way officially finishes (or starts – you can walk it in either direction). The abbey itself, nicknamed the Lantern of the West, with its fan-vaulted ceiling and 52 glass windows, has just had a £20m refurbishment to shore up the sinking floor. Some of the dark Victorian wooden pews are gone, so the inside looks even lighter and airier.
Start Lansdown Battlefield near Bath
Distance 7 miles
Time 4 hours
Total ascent 200 metres
Route notes osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk
Google map of the route
Back issues of The Good Beer Guide on the crowded bookshelves round the walls show that the Star is a long-standing hit with Camra members. The inn first got its licence in 1760 and is packed with original features, including small wood-panelled rooms and a lift to bring the barrels up from the cellar through a trapdoor. It was kitted out by Gaskell and Chambers, once the UK’s biggest bar fitters. Bombs fell on the houses opposite in 1942, but the Star survived, complete with its 1920s interior, which has hardly changed since.
Brooks Guesthouse, 10 minutes’ stagger from the Star through gold-stoned Georgian streets, is a boutique B&B in a limestone terrace round the corner from the Royal Crescent. There’s a scallop shell motif over the doorway and an actual bath in the big bathroom (a bonus after a day’s walking). The 22 rooms range from cosy doubles up to full fireplace-and-four-poster jobs with views over the city. Decor favours embossed or metallic wallpapers and mirrors to reflect the light. Breakfast is the real star: fresh croissants, homemade berry compote, glasses of layered granola, and cooked options that include French toasts, eggs Florentine and a full English.
Doubles from £89 B&B, brooksguesthouse.com