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  • Paul Timlett

Maud Heath's Causeway

Updated: Aug 13, 2022

Since originally writing this blog I have updated it. Please read the update at the very end.

A couple of years ago I was perusing my OS maps for Wiltshire for interesting places to walk when I came across something called Maud Heath’s Causeway. I bookmarked it on my computer browser then forgot about it. Recently I was looking again at the map for the Chippenham area and re-discovered the Causeway, so I decided it was time to investigate. I plotted a route and fixed a date to do the walk with my usual walking buddy Stu.

We set off early on a baking hot Friday. I’d found a website where someone had already plotted a route. However, the walk description and the map bore no relation to each other so Stu and I plotted our own route. We parked up in the Sadler’s Mead multi-story car park behind the Olympiad sports centre in Chippenham, just over the road from the station. It cost us £8.40 for the day. We saw signs promising parking for £4 all day somewhere but failed to find it.

So who was Maud Heath, and what is the story behind the Causeway? Maud lived in Wick Hill in the parish of Bremhill in the 15th century. She used to take her eggs and butter to market in Chippenham on foot several times a week, a distance of about 4.5 miles each way. The road was poor and she often slipped and fell, breaking her eggs. She was a childless widow so in 1474 left money to improve and maintain the path for future travellers. Where the path crossed the River Avon at Kellaways it was particularly boggy, so in 1812 it was raised above the floodplain by means of 64 arches, which were largely reconstructed in the 20th century. A charity still maintains the causeway out of her bequest.

There are a number of monuments along the Causeway, but in order to make the walk a manageable length we omitted a few from the route at the Chippenham end, partly because it would have involved stretches along busy roads in the town.

From the car park entrance we went back up to the road into the housing estate and turned right. After a hundred metres or so we turned left into Esmead and followed this all the way to the end to a crossroads where we went straight across into Darcy Close. Shortly after

the beginning of the footpath on the OS map we took a fork to the right by a couple of garages up what looks like a drive. At the end is a residential care home beyond which was a wooden five bar gate. One of the residents, a delightful old man, was standing on the driveway. He insisted he was coming with us on our walk until we told him it was just over eight miles. “Too far” he said “too far”. He may have been right!

Gate by Residential Care Home

Once through the gate you immediately pass some cottages up to your left – Cocklebury Cottages. After these the gravel track opens out and divides. The fork to the right takes you down to a shared pedestrian cycleway (more of this later) but we continued on the narrow stretch of path ahead. Here we found another of the residents from the care home quietly picking the juicy blackberries by the stile to the right, over which we were to climb.

From here you leave Chippenham behind and head out into open countryside. I won’t bore you with turn-by-turn directions from here as it’s a simple matter of following the footpath on a map. But the route strikes across meadows towards the River Avon and continues in a north north east direction as the river twists away then back to the footpath. Crossing what looked like an irrigation ditch which linked two sides of a horseshoes bend in the river we entered a large meadow that seems to be popular with Chippenham’s dog walkers, of whom we saw several. As we made our way to a bridge in the north corner of the meadow we passed a pill box which was gradually being absorbed by nature.

Pill Box

Just after the pill box we came to a wooden bridge that took us across the River Avon.

River Avon from wooden bridge

We were aiming for Kellaways on our map, where you will find the legend “Monument” and “Weirs” by Kellaways Mill Farm. As you follow the footpath across the meadows beside the River Avon the arches carrying the road across the floodplain come into view, with little St Giles Church at the right hand (east) end. Aim for the left (west) end of the arches where you will find the first of the monuments we wanted to visit, albeit it marks the midpoint of the causeway between Wick Hill and Chippenham.

Kellaways Arches and St Giles Church

The aforementioned monument is a Sundial Pillar erected in 1698. It carries Latin inscriptions to Maud Heath, subsequently translated into English. Astonishingly the sundial on each face was still telling the right time after over 320 years! From here turn to your right on the pathway carried by the arches towards St Giles Church at the far end. We stopped here for a coffee break and sadly found this simple little chapel locked. A church was first built at this location in the early 14th century but being prone to flooding and infestation by rats it had to be moved to its present location on higher ground.

Sundial Pillar at Kellaways

Leaving the arches and chapel behind us we continued along the road. Sadly the entire length of Maud Heath’s Causeway is now a modern road but the worthy lady’s bequest means that there is a pavement alongside it the whole way. The road is not too busy but there are sections where the national speed limit applies so the speeding cars and white vans can feel quite intimidating at times.

Kellaways Arches carrying the Causeway across the Avon Floodplain

We soon reached a row of lovely houses along the road, all of mixed antiquity. This is marked as Broadfield on the map just by Pinnigers Farm. The speed limit drops to 30mph so what little traffic there was became less oppressive. We then came to East Tytherton where the road takes a sharp left and you will find the Maud Heath Centre on a junction.

Maud Heath Centre, East Tytherton from the road up to Wick Hill

Maud’s Causeway heads up the hill opposite (a right turn at the junction by the green) but do not leave the village yet without looking to your left here. After a driveway to a large house you will see a pink brick building that looks like either a church or a terrace of three houses. It is in fact both. This is the Moravian Church, where Stu and I had not one but two delightful encounters.

Moravian Church, East Tytherton

Standing at the old iron gate looking at the property we weren’t sure whether or not this was a private house. A man was up a ladder against one of the houses painting the window frames. We carefully called to him (not wishing to startle him) and asked if the buildings were open to the public. He said they were but explained that Ann had the key. We realised that Ann was the very elegant (in a shabby chic, Bohemian sort of way) lady we had just seen exit the large house with a small dog. What followed was a long entertaining conversation with Adrian the decorator. A friendly engaging local, Adrian was extremely interested to know what we were doing and after a wide-ranging and at time hilarious conversation Ann reappeared complete with dog. And key.