A “green corridor” inspired by the 18th-century fashion of perambulating for both pleasure and therapy is to be created, linking the city of Bath with the rolling hills that surround it.
The corridor is the first of 20 projects that the National Trust is planning to design to connect urban areas in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to green spaces on their fringes.
In Bath, the conservation charity has acquired water meadows close to the River Avon which were threatened with development to help piece together a three-mile green corridor, which will also use existing footpaths.
Hilary McGrady, the director-general of the National Trust, said the route – and the 19 others that are planned to follow by 2030 – would help reconnect people with the countryside.
“These routes will improve access to nature for those living in urban areas who may feel disconnected from the countryside or cannot access rural areas easily,” she said. “Research has shown that engaging with nature is good for our wellbeing and that those connected to nature are likely to do more to help protect it.
“Many of us have felt the benefit of spending time in the outdoors and close to nature, especially over the past couple of years. We want to make it easier for more people to spend time in nature.”
The spa city of Bath, famed for its Georgian squares and streets, is seen as an appropriate and symbolic starting point for the project due to its history as a place of therapy.
People were drawn to the city because of its thermal waters, but doctors from the 18th century onwards – such as the celebrated George Cheyne – also ordered patients to take therapeutic walks or rides out into the surrounding fields and hills.
Tom Boden, the general manager for the National Trust’s Bath properties, said it was pleasing that modern residents and visitors would find it easier to get into the countryside.
“It will make it possible for the 100,000 residents of Bath and thousands of visitors each year to head out of the city to enjoy the countryside,” he said. “With the city’s unique position, sat in a hollow in the hills, we want to help more people to get out to this amazing countryside.”
The final route has yet to be established, but it is expected to start near Bath Abbey and will head east out of the city along current paths. It may run next to the river or the Kennet and Avon canal, knitting together patches of green space. A public consultation on it will begin in the spring.
The project has been made possible by the acquisition of 40 hectares (99 acres) of land at Bathampton Meadows, which were threatened with destruction to make way for a park-and-ride site. Protesters argued that it would wreck a beloved landscape and jeopardise the city’s world heritage status.
Campaigners also claimed it would ruin views of the city, including those from Little Solsbury hill, which was celebrated in the Peter Gabriel song.
Bath and North East Somerset council (Banes) has transferred 25 hectares (62 acres) it owned to the trust, and the charity bought 15 hectares (37 acres) of farmland to protect the spot from any future development.
The plan is to improve the water meadows to benefit wildlife such as the greater horseshoe bat and wading birds including snipe, and to increase the number of wildflowers to encourage more butterflies, such as the small blue.
Walkers will be able to extend their explorations to Little Solsbury hill and link up to established long-distance footpaths such as the Cotswold Way and the Limestone Link.
Cllr Richard Samuel, the deputy leader of Banes, said he was pleased the meadows had been preserved. “There is a real desire from residents and visitors alike to enjoy the unique green status of this historic city, and we want to open up more areas for them to enjoy,” he said.
“Crucially, the proposed route is also relatively flat which will enable more people to not only enjoy the city’s architecture, but to also enjoy nature in the meadows and spend time outdoors.”