The Inn at Freshford to The Cross Guns at Avoncliff – a great pub walk near Bath
The Inn at Freshford sits in a sun-baked spot at the bottom of a narrow high street, overlooking the water meadows of the River Avon. It is a long, Bath stone building with wooden benches looking out over fields with a decent-sized outdoor seating area.
We park up as we plan to do the circular Two Valleys walk before lunch in the pub, so set off across the fields towards the old mill following the excellent written instructions I had downloaded from the pub’s website. We are lucky and trudge happily up wooded hillsides amidst blue skies, birdsong and golden stone buildings. The route takes us past Iford Manor, a National Trust property I have been meaning to visit for ages as the gardens look so good on Instagram – it will have to wait until April.
Cunningly this is not just a walk of two rivers, but two pubs: The Cross Guns at Avoncliff, right on the junction where the Kennet & Avon canal crosses the River Avon, via aqueduct, and The Inn at Freshford. The Cross Guns is a great pub for walkers and dog owners as it has a huge decked and terraced garden, ending up right on the river bank, with splendid views towards the arched aqueduct, and back towards the weir. Dogs gamble and families enjoy the sunshine – it is half term and the pub is doing a roaring trade.
We squeeze in a pint of locally brewed ‘Tunnel Vision’ and then step on it, as we’re beginning to get hungry and the table at Freshford is booked for 1pm. With over two-thirds of the walk completed, without one map reader’s hitch, we are on the home straight and follow the path along the river, back towards Freshford. This is by far the muddiest section (it is February though), especially at the gate alongside the bank – beware and wear good boots .
Out of the mud we head into the cosy pub, log fires doing their hygge stuff at either end of the long, bright pub. A stone bar and a cheerful team greet us. The pub is busy, but all is calm, and we get our drinks easily – more of that local bitter, made at Holt we’re told. Conversation leads to gin, as is so often the case, and I decide to try Elephant Gin, as the small bottle is unusual, and pub owner Jack de Bruin tells us he is South African and plans to bring some of his country’s magic ways with local meats to Freshford. I have already spied a smoker out back and we settle to read the menus with some excitement.
The specials look good, and I am a sucker for herby dumplings (don’t worry Mary Berry, I have never given up on these little suet beauties) so decide on the partridge and pheasant casserole, and Mike goes for the cider-battered fish & chips. Now we can study the rest of the menu at leisure; the small-plates section, tapas style, cost £6 each or three for £15. It would not be hard to choose three: I had mentally selected the meatballs in roast tomato sauce, salt & pepper squid and roast mushrooms with Wyfe of Bath cheese. There is a South African twang here with Rooibois and honey marinated mackerel, and a rooibois and honeycomb dressing options for the salads. Sadly I am in the camp that dislikes the flavour, so someone else will have to try it.
If the kids were here I know the box-baked Camembert would be on its way to the table. They use local where they can here, and have an excellent choice of good Bath cheeses, micro brewers, butchers and bakers.
We are debating whether to get a packet of crisps when the ever-cheerful Danny sweeps over and explains that my casserole is off, their mistake, would I like the lobster? Nope I say, I’ll have the twice-cooked belly of pork with bubble and squeak and cavolo nero with watercress hollandaise, without catching breath, as this was my second choice – be prepared.
He apologises for the wait, brings more drinks and our food arrives a little later. Mike’s cod has an amazing bronze casing and my pork belly is pretty as a picture with the vibrant hollandaise. I have to say I would have cooked the belly a little longer, to crisp things up, but the meat is mouthwateringly soft and the bubble and squeak a good, chunky mix, with the acidity of the watercress hollandaise cutting the fat well. I like the crisp, well-baked chips with the cod, which is white and pearlescent as it should be. The wait was a tad long but this is a lovely, welcoming family pub. They are working on some exciting specials this year, including the “asado” open-fire style of roasting meat, which I think will be very popular here on a summer’s evening.
I will definitely come here again. I also notice, on leaving, that the group owns the Freshford Cake Co, another good reason to come back to this delightful village, just five miles from Bath, and easily accessible by train, foot, boat or road.