12 things to do in Bradford-on-Avon
When mini-break madness strikes and you find yourself craving country getaways, try this honey-coloured Wiltshire town on for size. Here's our exclusive Muddy insider guide...
Bradford-on-Avon might not be first on your list when it comes to Wilts getaways – but it should be! It’s just outside Bath, packed with history, looks sublime and has enough for you to do within walking distance of the station. Much of the good stuff seems hidden when you first arrive, but don’t worry – we’ve got your exclusive Muddy insider’s guide so you don’t miss out. Here are twelve things to tick off your list…
1. Shop The Shambles
Turn right out of the station car park and cross the river (Avon) using the pretty stone bridge. This bridge is really old – parts of it date from the 14th Century, with pavement sizes to match (i.e. very narrow) – so there’s no time to stop for a selfie. Take your pics once you’re on the other side as it’s also where you’ll get a better view of the nesting swans if you’re there in Spring. From here ask for The Shambles – a charming cobbled street that connects Market and SIlver Street and that features several historic buildings, many of which date from the 15th Century.
Small but perfectly formed, it’s now home to many independent businesses including: interiors and gift shops Strawberry Blue and Collectable; an old-fashioned Greengrocers called Bloomfields; the Leaf & Bean Trading Company which sells chocolate, coffee, tea and tobacco, and a cosy café with pavement seating called The Bolthole. But just over the lane at the end of the street is pretty much the most essential shop in town – Cru Wine Emporium (above) – an indie wine merchant set up and run by Leanne who has incredible taste, knowledge and a very affordable price list too. I swear that I have NEVER had a hangover after drinking any wine I’ve bought there (and rest assured, I’ve bought a few).
2. Explore the indies
The Shambles isn’t the only street blessed with small shops – the whole town is strikingly big brand-free, tolerating only the Co-op in the centre of town. Just up from Cru is the Quercus Gallery on Silver Street (a Muddy Award winner for 2021) which brings together contemporary British art and craft through exhibitions and makes.
A little further down, across the zebra crossing, is the Cloud and Cove Gift shop (its sister shop By the Way is up by the canal) and Granny Mo’s Deli with its cheerful canal art sign. Behind, in Lamb Yard square is Sassy and Boo boutique (above), full of aspirational fashion labels like Luella. For deli foods, walk up Market Street to The Cheese Shop, owned by French native Christophe and which is stocked with all kinds of melt-in-the-mouth morsels, including deli foods like homemade quiche and, er, cheese. Over the bridge, near the library seek out Dible and Roy for luxe interiors inspo.
Finally, you’re in town to unwind – so help that happen that by booking into the Vitality Day Spa, with its range of super-indulgent face and body treatments from massages to reflexology to facials, all designed to bump up your bliss.
3. Mess about on (or near) the river
There’s plenty of aquatic activities in Bradford-on-Avon as both the River Avon and The Kennet and Avon canal run through it. If you’re feeling sporty (or awake at least) you can use your own paddleboard or canoe on the river (check you have the right licence here). Alternatively, just watch others struggle from one of three riverside restaurants with outdoor seating by the town bridge including The Weaving Shed, particularly known for its sophisticated menu, wine and cocktails. Great for Sunday lunch too.
When it comes to drinks by the canal you’re spoilt for choice, from tea and cake at The Canal Trust Café at Bradford-on-Avon Wharf, (where you can also hire a canal boat for the day from Sally Narrowboats) to pub grub on the other side of the road at The Lock Inn (above), where you can hire canoes. This pub is decorated with retro advertising signs and the outside seating is spellbinding, especially at night with is festoon lights and bunting (note – it closes at 9pm).
4. Walk along the canal to Iford via Avoncliff
If you fancy a longer stroll along the canal then head in the direction of Avoncliff Aquaduct (which also has a request stop station if you’re feeling lazy – it takes about 30 minutes to walk). Or, you could get there quicker if you hire bikes from TT Cycles near Sainsbury’s (if you do do this, see if nearby Kettlesmith Brewing Company Tap Room is open – it’s worth a visit to sample local craft beer right where they make it). On your walk you’ll pass a variety of canal boats, some of which belong to the local boating community and which sell arts, crafts, cakes and even pizza from their doors. At Christmas they usually have a Floating Market too.
Once you’re at the aquaduct you can either sit outside at the No 10 Tea Gardens enjoying their homemade tea and scones or spend the afternoon in the secluded, tiered riverside garden of the Cross Guns pub (booking advised). Or both – I mean, can you ever have too much eating and drinking?
Wearing walking boots? Keep on past No 10 Tea Gardens and down country tracks and cross fields to Freshford (Google ‘The Two Valleys Walk’), either stopping at The Inn at Freshford or continuing on to the magical Iford Manor, an Italianate house with gorgeous gardens and a cafe-restaurant designed for golden days.
5. Shop (and eat) at Barton Farm
If the thought of walking too far tires you out, then you can always head left through the station car park and make for Barton Farm Country Park, which is set in between the river and canal. There you’ll find a couple of kids’ playgrounds, picnic benches and some small shops and cafes – plus plenty of wildlife photographers hanging out to snap a paparazzi shot of the kingfishers who nest along the river.
The other major attraction in this area, however, is the medieval Tithe Barn (above), now owned by English Heritage and set around a courtyard that also has a family-run café called The Coffee Barn and a gorgeous homewares and gift shop The Granary. In summer there’s often an ice-cream van parked up and various events are held here throughout the year, usually managed by Bradford-on-Avon Preservation Trust. Just across the lane is a row of artisan makers’ studios called the Tithebarn Workshops, which includes Stone, Paper, Scissors.
6. Wander the lanes of Weavers’ Cottages – but prepare for a hillclimb
High on the hillsides overlooking the towns’ waterways are a series of fairytale car-free lanes with restored Weavers’ Cottages and that form an essential backdrop for your Insta tourist pics and TikToks. Start at Church Lane, take the super-steep steps up to Newtown and meander slowly upwards from there, taking in the pretty terraced gardens and breathtaking views of the town that reach as far as Westbury White Horse and Salisbury Plain.
Take the opportunity to cool yourself down by visiting the cloistered interior of St Mary Tory (above), a chapel dating back at least as far as the 16th Century and which imbues you with calm, whatever your beliefs. And if you make your way back down to town from there, you should pass by the Saxon Church of St Laurence, another popular spot on the tourist trail.
7. Delight your doggy
Many of Bradford-on-Avon’s cafes and bars welcome our furry friends and the town’s dog-groomer, The Doghouse, even has its own café in Lamb Yard where you can wait while your pooch is being pampered. Also check out their events listings for occasional Stand-Up Paddleboarding with Dogs events. Yes, really.
8. Check out Cassia
Although there are plenty of places to pick up a coffee in Bradford-on-Avon, it’s well worth paying a visit to Cassia Collective, with its contemporary styling and collaborative ethos. New to the town in 2022, it’s fast become the busiest hangout, thanks to its user-friendly attitude to co-working – you can buy a coffee and stay all day (kids under 12 permitted weekends only). Naturally, though, you’ll be there off-duty but it’s still highly recommended as it sells delicious Extract Coffee from Bristol, has a range of designer-maker goods for sale and often has pop-up events like plant sales, fundraisers and evening cocktails at weekends.
9. Mooch round markets
Try to timetable your visit with one of the many markets, events and festivals that happen in the town all year round. There are several small but vibrant happenings like the outdoor Lamb Yard Artisan Market (above) every Friday and the indoor Local Makers BOA market once a month, plus pop-ups from local craft collective Made in Bradford-on-Avon. St Margaret’s Hall always has a variety of different bookings from comedy nights to specialist events like wellbeing fair Be Well and once a year there’s a food festival in Victory Fields near Barton Farm in June. Finally, local grand house Moulton Hall has just started opening more regularly for goings-on in its garden – check the website for details.
10. Take time out at Timbrell’s Yard
Just next to St Margaret’s Hall is the town’s number one boutique hotel and restaurant, Timbrells’ Yard, with 17 rooms replete with quirky vintage finds and period features. Set in a sheltered spot down by the river, it’s added a post-Covid marquee to part of the cute courtyard, extending the ‘indoor’ eating and drinking space from just the original Coaching House bar and restaurant. Come evening, the bar hums with the sound of cocktails and conversation and although the prices aren’t exactly what I’d call a bargain, it’s the most glamorous place in town to socialise past 6pm. Book ahead for Sunday roasts.
11. Fill your face
Bradford-on-Avon has its fair share of eateries, all of which you’ll want to try. Pizzeria Amici is an intimate Italian restaurant with hands-down the best pizzas in town, whereas Ravello’s (above) serves pasta so perfect you’ll want to dress up for it. Spanish-influenced Pablo Tapas in Lamb Yard is another bijou bolthole, but it’s so worth booking ahead to secure a table as the menu is so lip-lickingly good.
At the other end of town, The Bridge Tearooms are the ultimate place for afternoon tea, where you can indulge in cake-stands stacked generously with sweet treats and served by waitresses in Victorian-style uniforms. Then, further up on St Margaret’s Street is The Thai Barn, the go-to for Green Curry, Pad Thai and Massaman. They cater well for vegans, vegetarians and those who are gluten-free and offer takeaway too.
But for modern British in sophisticated surroundings and a well-crafted cocktail to boot, it has to be The Bunch of Grapes on Silver Street, one of our Muddy Awards winners 2021 (so you know it must be da bomb).
12. Go to a gig
Most surprisingly about Bradford-on-Avon is that it has its own purpose-built 300 seater auditorium! Situated at the top of town (and therefore requiring a bit of a walk or a short taxi ride) the Wiltshire Music Centre (above) has a full programme of classical, folk, jazz and world music concerts, plus plenty of family and community events too. But for live local pop and rock, head for the ultimate spit-and-sawdust pub, The Three Horseshoes near the station. Just don’t expect to order an Espresso Martini there.
You might also like