Follow footsteps of the ancient monks
Over the years, walks from Monkton Farleigh have featured regularly in the Bath Chronicle. There have been the short walks to the Brown's Folly Reserve as well as the longer routes that might take in South Wraxall, Kingsdown and Bathford.
It remains a favourite walking area where expansive views and fine outlooks can be had with relatively little effort … and we all like that. So I make no apologies for heading out once again to this most handsome of villages, a village that sits quite literally on Bath's doorstep, for a walk that could be labelled 'The Best of Monkton Farleigh'.
Place-names can usually be relied upon to offer some sort of insight into the origins of a settlement. In the case of Monkton Farleigh, the 'Monkton' clearly points to some sort of monastic activity here in centuries past.
More precisely, it was a Cluniac priory, founded in 1125 and extant until 1538. Today, its scanty remains – including small fragments of zigzag, as well as a pair of tall lancet windows – lie hidden away in the very private manor house. The Farleigh, incidentally, is derived from the Olde English 'fearn leah' or a fern-covered clearing, extensive area of woodland covering this area in centuries past, with the nearby Brown's Folly Reserve being but the most notable remnant.
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The village itself has attracted favourable comments from all the guidebook writers who come this way. Brian Woodruffe, for example, in his tome Wiltshire Villages, writes of an historic hillside village with a panoramic view across to the northern rim of Salisbury Plain.
The village street rises sharply and the stone cottages on its north side – and I quote Woodruffe – 'keep it company in stepwise fashion'. On the opposite side, there is St Peter's Church, sandwiched between the buildings of Church Farm and the octagonal chimneys of the Victorian rectory.
Having glimpsed the Monks' Conduit, a curious 14th-century building located over a spring that was the water source for the Cluniac priory, we find ourselves in the Brown's Folly Nature Reserve.
To quote the Avon Wildlife Trust: "The extensive remains of Bath stone quarries provide a rich variety of wildlife habitats. A delightful downland flora has covered the spoil heaps where wild thyme, harebell and nine species of orchid are found. The old mines offer a safe sanctuary for the threatened greater horseshoe bat, while damp cliff faces support a fascinating variety of ferns, fungi and spiders. Secondary woodland of ash with sycamore has grown up over the downland which once cloaked the hillside.
Pockets of ancient woodland on the lower slopes are home to woodpeckers and unusual plants such as Bath asparagus".
Beyond the Reserve, where the folly was evidently a tool for promoting the local stone, the walk follows lanes and fieldpaths with views through to a rather grand 1½ mile long tree-lined avenue that would – back in the day – have been the carriage ride leading to Monkton Farleigh Manor.