Day 49, Bath to Midsommer Norton, roughly 22 miles. 'How to complicate an easy day.'
After a very pleasant, if slightly hungover, rest day in Bath I was ready to once more to march onward - with a full pack of clean clothes and snacks I felt perfectly prepared and having consulted my maps it turned out Midsommer Norton was barely 14 miles away from Bath as the crow flies. As I was once more on my own, and I had all day, and am not a crow, I thought 14 miles was too low a target and opted to take the Kennet and Avon Canal, which runs around the east of Bath, before striking out to find the Limestone Link which would take me nearly all the way to Midsommer Norton, bringing the day to a more respectable 18 miles, sounds easy right?
Well it was easy enough at first, I took a simple and direct two miles right through the centre of Bath and found myself on a very pleasant canal - it was a warm sunny day and there were plenty of pedestrians, cyclists and canal boats making their way up and down the waterway that morning. Unlike some of the canals I had seen, the Kennet and Avon Canal was very much an active one, and a multitude of brightly coloured boats navigated the many locks that lined the route.
The canal slowly, but unerring curved round to the south, acting very much like a watery ring road around Bath, I stopped briefly wherever an empty bench allowed and continued to grind the miles down under my boots - the first point of real interest today was the Dundas Aqueduct - completed in 1805 the aqueduct was the first canal structure to be designated as a scheduled ancient monument in the 1950s (though I have to challenge their definition of 'ancient'). The aqueduct also marked the point at which I would leave the canal and strike out on my own through the country to Midsommer Norton, so I was quite looking forward to taking a break for lunch before continuing, however the canal-side path only took me to the top of the aqueduct (which makes perfect sense when you think about it), and as such the views were pleasant, but nothing sensational, and so I carried on.
Feeling a little aggrieved that I was unable to rest under the awnings of the aqueduct I left the canal behind me (after getting a little lost for five or so minutes) and took to the roads that linked up several small villages with similar names, Monkton Combe, Combe Hay and Combe Down to name but three (but nowhere called simply 'Combe'). I spotted a pub in Monkton Combe and settled down with an extremely overpriced pint to try and determine where exactly the Limestone Link began - as it turned out the Link ran directly through the small village so I quickly left the Wheelwrights Arms and found myself on a wonderfully charming countryside path.
The Limestone Link was a fantastic little trail, frequently signposted with a black and white anemone on a yellow background, the path linked up several small villages as it crossed the southern end of the Costwolds and took in streams and forest glades whilst avoiding the roads with ease. I've moaned about several paths being too long and winding (yes I'm talking about you, Pennine Way), whilst others had been disappointingly urban (such as the Bristol to Bath railway path), but the Limestone Link struck the balance between the two perfectly. Admittedly some of the towns I went through weren't quite to my taste, Combe Hay for example, where every house was a huge gated mansion riddled with security cameras and 'keep out' signs - everyone is entitled to their privacy of course, but it gave the village an unwelcoming feel and after resting on an old metal bench near the town square and receiving some disdainful looks from the locals, I was soon on my way.
The Link continued to wind pleasantly through woods and by streams, punctuated by sleepy villages, after Combe Hay the link follows the River Cam where two funny things happened. Firstly the audio-book I was listening to on Arthurian Britain referenced the River Cam whilst I was walking right alongside it, which was quite surprising, and secondly there were literally hundreds of huge dragonflies darting around the edges of the stream. On a bored whim I held out my hand and said 'Dragonfly' in a mock wizard's voice (I'd been on the trail for some time, it's no surprise I was losing my grip on sanity), and amazingly a gigantic electric-blue dragonfly acquiesced and landed right in the palm of my hand. I've always liked dragonflies, they don't bite or sting humans, they eat mosquitoes, midges and other annoying insects, and are one of the most effective predators on the planet, successfully completing over 90% of their hunts. Still, this thing was wider than my hand so I shook it off quickly, and continued alongside the banks of the Cam.
I passed through the sleepy hamlets of Dunkerton, Carlingcott, Camerton and finally Radford as the route followed the now-abandoned Somerset Coal canal, before I begrudgingly left the Limestone Like and the River Cam behind and hopped on the roads down to Midsommer Norton. I had an Airbnb booked for the night, but the Airbnb site and my Airbnb app were giving me different locations for my booking which was a little concerning, still I made it into Midsommer Norton without incident and sat on a bench near a huge out of town Tesco for a rest. My host wasn't answering her phone so I decided to go for the first location on the app, which involved a two mile walk to the nearby town of Radstock. As I arrived in Radstock, I managed to get in touch with my host and found out the accommodation was back in Midsommer Norton so I was forced to walk the two miles back down the path I had just taken, adding on a completely unnecessary four miles to my day. By the time I finally arrived I was knackered and after quickly preparing tomorrow's lunch in the kitchen, went straight to bed.
Overall it had been a great day; the canal and the Limestone Link were both fantastic routes, though the day was marred by traipsing up and down the concrete between Midsommer Norton and Radstock for absolutely no reason, furthermore the town itself was pretty drab which is a shame because 'Midsommer Norton' sounds like it should be idyllic. As for tomorrow, I would aiming for Glastonbury, a town I have wanted to visit for many years, but between me and Glasto lay 20 or so uncertain miles with no 'proper' footpath to follow and rain forecast. Bring it on.