Avoncliff and ‘Abouts

  • 6 April, 2009

I was asked to write something for Bath Life magazine about gardens within 100 miles of Bath that inspire me. I thought I’d post it for you to read:

When asked to comment on my favourite /most inspirational gardens in and around Bath it didn’t take me long to realise that I would like to celebrate a slightly larger garden, it being where I draw most of my inspiration from. The Landscape of Avoncliff and the Limpley Stoke valley.

Avoncliff is a small hamlet situated about two miles west towards Bath from Bradford on Avon. With its 35 or so houses, pub and little request stop train station, it feel like it has been left some way ago back in time.

Sitting in the valley with the river Avon running through it and aqueduct crossing above carrying the Kennet and Avon canal, it is enveloped by woodland. Here also you will find wild flower meadows, river and woodland paths, the canal towpath and endless short walks to neighbouring hamlets and villages, a couple of which at least containing public gardens more than worthy of a visit.

Much of my personal interest lays in native planting and the natural origins of our common ornamental garden plants, most of which will have started off in this setting, then been cultivated to have larger or smaller leaves or flowers and different colours or sizes to suit the tastes of the current gardening mood. An example of this might be ‘Old Man’s Beard’ Clematis vitalba being the source of our modern clematis or the ‘Dog Rose’ Rosa canina being the great grandmother of our much loved garden roses.

An ideal garden visit for me would embrace the countryside as much as the garden itself, so what better way to discover a new garden than to walk through this wonderful valley to discover it.

If you were to take the short walk from Avoncliff up through the woods to Westwood you would find Westwood Manor House, this antiquated house and church have attached a small but eccentric topiary garden, on entering the path is sentried by oversized Box buxus cubes and spheres, then after crossing a courtyard in order to access the rest of this playful but formal garden you are required to pass through a topiary house of Yew taxus to find a formal pond surrounded by Yew columns and obelisks.

Westwood Manor Westwood Manor

Walking on through Farleigh Hungerford and passing below the 14th century castle to meet the Frome River, following the course of which you will arrive at Iford Manor and the Peto Garden, built by Harold Ainsworth Peto in the late 19th and early 20th century. This is a beautiful garden complimenting the surrounding landscape with its subtly planted terraces intended to support and show the architecture in an Italian style of gardening, and holding in it not just the medieval house with its 18th century façade and mature wisterias, but a variety of features such as the loggia, casita and the most impressive cloister building inside which is softened by a lightly draped clematis on all for walls.

An added treat of this visit is the view from the bridge at Iford of another unusual but fabulous topiary outside room, complete with sofa, easy chair and table.


Walking across the meadows and alongside the river through Freshford and back to your start at Avoncliff you will have witnessed some of the most stunning countryside to be found. I am always reminded of the immense beauty of this place and the feeling of well being that can be drawn from it is always in my mind when designing a garden. Using nature as a guide but playing with human traits such as design and order to implement this in the garden setting.

Finally, on arrival after this short 4 mile walk you will undoubtedly deserve a cheeky pint in the Cross Guns.

Happy days, Andy.