Traveling Down Memory Lane – Punting on the Avon River in Bath
After indulging in a full English breakfast at the Kennard Hotel in Bath, England, Bob, our son and I set off in search of the Bath Boating Station. Our aim was to rent a punt and pole ourselves along the Avon River.
The previous morning had been bright and sunny as we pulled away from the Tintagel Old Post Office and headed northwest to the world heritage city of Bath.
En route, we found ourselves circling repeatedly the occasional roundabout as we tried to to get our bearings. At noon, a convenient “by the way” made the perfect spot for our picnic lunch, and while there, Bob picked a bag of Bing Cherries from a nearby tree. Regardless of the delays, we landed in Bath Abbey around 4 p.m.
After getting settled in our hotel room, a walk was in order to familiarize ourselves with the lay of the land in preparation for our adventures on the morrow. The Romans founded Bath in the first century A.D. to take advantage of the natural hot springs. That is what gave rise to Bath’s name.
We snapped several photos around town including that of Kingston Parade, a square in front of the Bath tourist information centre.
Thanks to the efforts of notable architects, John Wood Senior (1704-1754), Ralph Allen (1693-1764) and Richard “Beau” Nash (1674-1761), the Georgian city of Bath is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Our exploration had us discovering the beautiful Pulteney Bridge Weir. A weir is a terraced waterfall or rapid that is designed to slow the flow of water.
Later that evening, out for a stroll after dinner, Bob, our son and I headed back to the weir and were in a location to appreciate the impressive architecture of the Empire Hotel.
Originally constructed in 1901 with 3 levels of housing, a castle on the corner for upper class, a house for the middle classes and a cottage for the lower class, the Empire Hotel has been refurbished and now consists of apartments and a restaurant.
In the presence of Pulteney Bridge and the hotel at dusk, we were enthralled with their almost perfect reflection in the River Avon’s calm waters.
Early the next morning, on a perfect summer day, we easily located the Bath Boating Station. For rental and hire was a multitude of Thames skiffs for rowing, Canadian canoes, and punts for poling or rowing. Some of the wooden punts are over 100 years old.
With a punt rented in no time, Bob took the helm to practice the routine. Until he got the hang of things, the punt was spinning in circles. There was a real knack to the method.
It was easy to get comfortable in the punt which is a flat-bottomed boat ideal for use in canals and small rivers. Bob worked at propelling the punt by pushing a long pole against the river bottom and forcing the boat to move forward through the water.
From the charming Victorian Bath Boating Station located near Pulteney Bridge, we punted upstream. The return trip would be leisurely floating on the Avon’s current.
We had been advised to watch for wildlife such as otters and kingfishers, and we did spot a Common Kingfisher, but it did not wait for us to take its photo unlike these obedient cows high above us on the riverbank.
Our journey was idyllic. We were the only people on the river at that early hour. It was peaceful with much bird song filling the air. Wildflowers hung over the water, ducks swam alongside, Common Kingfishers kept taunting us, and we were serenaded by sheep somewhere beyond.
Well into the 2-mile cruise upriver, it seemed that the romantic thing to do was enjoy our picnic lunch while we poked along beneath trees overhanging the water. After all, people had been enjoying this luxurious pastime for over 100 years.
We had brought along the plump Bing Cherries that Bob had picked the day before to supplement our other supplies.
The next thing we knew, the Bathampton Toll Bridge came into view. It crosses the River Avon between Bathampton and Batheaston. The first rendition of this bridge was constructed in the 1850s to replace a ferry and a ford.
Also referred to as the Batheaston Toll Bridge, the new bridge was built in 1872 using Bath stone to fashion the 9 pointed arches, 3 of which are larger than the rest.
At the north end of the Bathampton Toll Bridge, we could see evidence of the earlier bridge and the mill leat over top of which this bridge was built.
The vigorous flow of water tumbling through the arches of the Bathampton Toll Bridge created a slightly more challenging current for Bob to manage. We had reached the end of our upstream journey, and it was now time to turn around.
It was at this point that the punting pole accidentally hit Bob’s arm causing his watch to unclasp and plunge into the water. Oops!
It was a fairly easy trip back to the Bath Boating Station where we made a quick pit stop before continuing downriver towards the main section of town.
Passing us were a number of Pulteney Cruisers as well as more modest tour boats, all with motors roaring and with hosts providing commentary over the tranquil ambience of Bristol Avon, this section of the Avon River.
It was interesting to see how buildings were constructed flush with the river’s bank with boat landings incorporated into their elevations.
When we spotted a family of Mute Swans complete with 4 cygnets, we thought this was such an iconic sight on the River Avon.
Displaying its plumage artfully was this majestic Mute Swan as we quietly glided by.
It was with interest that we caught our first glimpse of Pulteney Bridge coming at it from the opposite direction as we had viewed it the evening before.
Having learned a little bit more about its history, we were fascinated to know that the Pulteney Bridge was based on an unused design for the Rialto Bridge in Venice.
I was getting a little nervous as we pushed our way beneath the gaping arches of Pulteney Bridge.
The Pulteney Bridge Weir was just the other side.
It was marvelous having this closeup view of the Empire Hotel, and I need not have worried.
Now skilled at handling the punt, Bob deftly manoeuvred our craft swiftly and safely back upstream where we disembarked at the Bath Boating Station once again. We had thoroughly enjoyed our views of Bath from water level. From there, it was on to explore the Roman Baths.
Frame To Frame – Bob and Jean