Bear Flat is an area of Bath, to the south of the city centre and to the west of Beechen Cliff (a hill and beauty spot which features in Jane Austen’s Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey). The Wellsway road (A367) to Shepton Mallet, runs through Bear Flat, forming part of the ancient British Roman Fosse Way. This was originally the main pilgrimage route from Bath and its abbey, to the nearby ecclesiastical centres of Wells and Glastonbury.
Bath is a hilly city and the term ‘Flat’ may be derived from the way the district is defined by a short plateau at the top of the steep Wells Road and Holloway routes out of the city centre, which forms the local business district. ‘ ear’ has nothing to do with the animal but is believed to be a contraction of an Anglo-Saxon name ‘Berewick’ – ‘Bere’ meaning Barley and ‘Wick’ being a settlement – a settlement near a barley field. Such a field would have been part of Barrack Farm, which was located in the area but demolished in the 19th century to make way for housing. Physical evidence of the former farm exists at the top of the Wellsway at Odd Down with a pair of houses known as Barrack Farm Cottages.
To reach Bear Flat from the centre of Bath, the original route was up the steep street of Holloway (either the ‘holy way’, or a way hollowed out as it climbs around the shoulder of Beechen Cliff). Holloway was a possible southern route of the Fosse Way out of Bath and has a 14th-century pilgrims’ church, the Magdalen Chapel and well (recently restored but without water). To the north of the chapel is the eighteenth century Magdalen Cottage, a former leper hospital but now a private dwelling. In the nineteenth century, another route out of the city centre to Bear Flat was constructed, an early example of a by-pass with slightly gentler slope. Now called Wells Road, the route was named on some early maps simply as the Wells-Exeter Road. Holloway has been closed to traffic at the northern end since the late 1960s, when the area was extensively and quite controversially redeveloped during a period in the immediate post war decades known as The Sack of Bath. Vehicles now take the Wells Road out of Bath towards Radstock, while pedestrians and cyclists can still follow Holloway up the hill.
At the top of the hill to the east of Bear Flat is Alexandra Park, which affords fine views over the city. This was opened in 1903 and named in honour of Queen Alexandra. Alongside Alexandra Park is Beechen Cliff School. Further to the east runs the Widcombe valley, once a parish outside the city of Bath. It is characterised by its Georgian buildings. To the south is the deep wooded valley of Lyncombe Vale. This was formerly the route of the Bath branch of the Somerset and Dorset Railway, and the Combe Down Tunnel which at 1700 metres in length was reputed to be the longest unventilated rail tunnel in Britain. This tunnel, together with the shorter Devonshire Tunnel, were both reopened as part of the Two Tunnels Greenway on 6 April 2013 forming part of the National Cycle Network NCR244.