Updated: Aug 13
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!
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.
Just after the pill box we came to a wooden bridge that took us across the River Avon.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
Having taken Adrian’s photograph I offered to take one of Ann. She seemed less keen although I suspect this was false modesty. Her extremely short denim shorts and bright red lipstick (with just a little smudge of the same on her front teeth) belied her 70 years of which she was proud. Having expressed my amazement at her alleged years (for which Stu later scandalously accused me of being shameless) Ann explained the history of the church before leaving us to explore.
The Moravian Church originated in Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) in the 15th century, following the martyrdom of Hus of Prague. He was influenced by the writings of the English reformer John Wycliffe. In 1457 it was established as a protestant reformed church in Europe. Over years of repression and persecution it reached out with missionary zeal across the world. It had a formative influence on John and Charles Wesley. We are all familiar with Christingle but probably not with the fact that this began in the Moravian congregation of Marienborn in Germany on the 20th December 1747.
Moravians first came to Britain in the 1730s. They often established settlements with their own farms, industries and schools. The church here in East Tytherton dates to 1792 and behind it was a girl’s school. They made extremely fine lace and Queen Victoria supposedly insisted that all her lace be made here. Whilst relocating the church burial ground from the front of the church to the rear many coins and thimbles were found, dropped by the girls as they sewed in the gardens over many years. Some of the coins can be seen in a frame on the wall at the back of the church.
Before leaving East Tytherton by the road opposite the church it’s worth having a look at the beautiful houses on two sides of the green. Here you will also find the next of the monuments on the journey. This one is a rather ugly sundial erected in 1974 to commemorate 500 years of Maud’s bequest. In front of it is a bench dedicated in 1979 by the Old Girls’ Society of Tytherton School (former pupils of the Moravian Girls’ School). Unfortunately the trees have been left to cast a shadow over the face of the sundial so the clock no longer works!
As we trudged along the pavement beside the road up towards Wick Hill, at some point on the road we crossed the Wilts & Berks Canal. However, neither Stu nor I noticed or remembered it! Bizarre since we had walked the stretch of the canal by Pewsham Locks in February this year. All I can say is that we were engrossed in conversation and hadn’t noticed the crossing on our maps or on the ground.
We also managed to miss a footpath on our left that we had intended to take as a way of avoiding the walk along the road to the top of Wick Hill. However, we have a valid excuse for this as the footpath and the sign to it had been removed. This was to become the second theme for the day’s walk. Once we realised we had passed the path we doubled back to look for it. Despite a search of the wider area it was clear the path no longer existed and a hedge planted across the gap where the path should have been. Yet another one for Wiltshire Council.