Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Walking Charmy Down (Off Topic #18)

Last Saturday my walking companion Andy took me for a hike up to Charmy Down to an old disused wartime RAF airfield on the outskirts of Bath. We parked the car at Batheaston and started by climbing up Solsbury Hill.

Andy looks for information on the whereabouts of his hero Peter Gabriel.

As we climbed up the hill we really did see an 'eagle fly' and would have easily seen the 'city light' if it hadn’t been daytime. Andy told me he had been to several Genesis gigs in his youth, which impressed me because I never did and would quite like to have done so.

Bath from Solsbury Hill.

As we slowly descended Solsbury Hill into the valley below I realised that we could see Freezing Hill on the horizon. This linked quite nicely into our last walk at Lansdown.

Freezing hill from Solsbury Hill

We then walked through some very spectacular countryside enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. From the valley we began to ascend again towards Charmy Down, the last bit of the climb involved negotiating a set of steps built into the hillside - a very steep climb.

A steep climb – looking down the steps.

Eventually, after passing near a small farmyard and getting slightly lost we emerged on the edge of the old airfield. The first thing I noticed was a line of four pillboxes built for defence. The structures were in amazingly good condition considering they were abandoned in 1946. It reminded me how as a kid growing up in the sixties pillboxes were still a common sight around the landscape of southern England.

Pillboxes on the airfield perimeter.

We sat on top of one of the pillboxes to eat a snack. No Eccles cakes this time but Andy had brought some rather superior fruitcakes instead.

Walking essentials.

Walking on across the airfield we took a bit of a detour off of the public footpath to get near to the Control Tower. We didn’t manage to get right up to it but the building looked surprisingly complete after 65 years.

The Control Tower at Charmy Down Airfield

After passing through a herd of cows and the remains of various unidentifiable brick structures (some surrounded by large banks of earth) we came eventually to the area that probably housed the accommodation blocks. Beyond this was a large field containing at least nine separate well spaced out brick built stores. These must have been used to store ammunition and they were in very good condition still having intact roofs.

The ammunition storage buildings.

Moving on we re-joined the public footpath that after five minutes or so led to the most interesting find of the day. This was a large brick built U-shaped wall that was apparently used as a sort of firing range where the cannons in the fighter’s wings could be calibrated.

The “firing range” – this thing is big.

We continued along the footpath and eventually came down into the valley at Northend where we followed the line of a brook back to where we had parked the car. The walk took about five hours but we spent at least an hour and a half up on the airfield.

Charmy Down Airfield was an RAF night fighter base between 1940 and 1943 when it passed into the hands of the USAAF who also used it primarily for fighter aircraft. The Airfield was abandoned in 1946.


Fire at Will said...

Excellent walk, I'll be staying at bailbrook at the bottom of the hill in two week's time when visiting family. maybe I'll get chance to walk up it again.


Conrad Kinch said...

What no picnic basket and ginger beer?

Anonymous said...

Looks like it was a lovely day to be out and about. Good to see that not everywhere in England is being bulldozed to make way for "a superior development of 3 and 4 bedroomed houses".

johnpreece said...

Pillboxes, Rockcakes and a Silva compass. What a blast of nostalgia.
I expect nothing less from this Blog.

I haven't seen one of those orienteering compasses for many years now. I have one in a rucksack in the loft but I don't really need it to get to the pub, which is the furthest I venture these days.

Your walk sounds so enjoyable I am almost tempted to emulate it... almost.


Stryker said...

Thanks for the comments chaps!

John - the compass belongs to Andy who is a 'real' walker rather than a lightweight like myself.


Candice said...

Hi, i was just wondering if anyone who's ben there can tell me if it's posible to get into any of the derelict buildings??? I believe there is a hospital/village/airfield/bunkers/compound/workshops/hangers and an armoury. I would love to go and have a look around this amazing historical place. Although, i'm not keen on getting kicked off the property. Or perhaps someone could help with who would be the best person to contact??? Any info would be much appreciated. Thanks Candice