It was Bath’s first by-pass and the setting – in Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion – for the city stroll that Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot took when they were finally reconciled.
I am talking about the Gravel Walk – laid down in 1771 and connecting the Royal Crescent with Queen Square.
Once it would have had views across gently sloping pastures leading to the old city of Bath – that is, until Royal Victoria park was constructed and mature trees now shade this pathway and drip raindrops upon its pedestrian users.
It is a pathway that Jane Austen herself would have walked upon and one that is still used today by tourists and Bathonians alike.
As a member of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides it’s a route many of us choose to take – when showing the city to Bath’s international visitors – but there’s not much of the original gravel path left to see.
We are getting a build up of vehicles parked along the side of the pathway – which is at the rear of Gay Street and the Circus.
Many are genuine tradespeople wanting access. However, this is a situation not seen before and a real blot on the landscape.
Cars and vans are churning up the surface.
Though this is part of the city’s Conservation Area, attempts have been made to fill in the holes with all sorts of aggregate, so the whole route is a patchwork quilt of stone filling, pot holes and mud.
This route once gave access to the back entrances to the Georgian properties but, with the coming of Royal Victoria Park – designed in 1829 – the pathway merged with this new facility – one of Britain’s earliest public parks.
Coming out at the top end of the Gravel Walk one comes face to face with the impressive Royal Crescent. Number 1 is not only a Georgian house museum but the headquarters of Bath Preservation Trust – the city’s heritage watchdogs.
BPT’s Chief Executive, Caroline Kay, told Bath Newseum:
‘The Gravel Walk was in 18th Century, and is today, a key pedestrian route from Queen Square to the Crescent which should be an oasis of calm on the fringe of the built-up Georgian streets.
Unfortunately it appears to be massively over-used by delivery and construction vehicles and the like which has reduced most of the gravel to mud; this in turn has been seeded by weeds, and all in all the place feels unloved and unsafe for the many visitors who want to use it.
I believe that the Circus Area residents have been pressing for action to change the locks and access arrangements so they really are based on need only, and we look forward to this taking place so that then we can have a useful discussion about restoration and reinstatement of the eponymous gravel.’
One of the councillors representing this part of the city is Cllr Andrew Furse.
He told Bath Newseum:
‘I have contacted council officers and again contacted Council Connect regarding the abuse to parking and damage to gravel walk.
An historical part of the park, a few years ago residents were experiencing a similar problem. To tackle it a lockable bollard was installed at the entrance to Brock Street. Clearly this is being abused.
Therefore I have asked parking enforcement to be involved, and asked the Parks Department to replace the lock to bring some control to this.
I have also asked planning enforcement to ensure that building work to properties on Brock street or the Circus does not result in a free for all to tradesmen.
Also to ensure that proper reinstatement to the gravel is undertaken at the cost to the building work, not the parks department.
The council needs to get this sorted out.’
I would be interested to hear other views on this subject.
Just before we leave Gravel Walk – one little point of interest at the steps end of the path where workmen are rebuilding a boundary wall after the felling of two giant leylandii’s.
In digging down to extract the roots they have come across the old stone walled privy – at the bottom of the garden – and you can clearly see the arched stone sewer beneath it. All of this will remain untouched!