At the top of a little-known hill, on the outskirts of Bath lies the inspiration for one of Peter Gabriel’s most iconic songs and I didn’t even realise it was there! One day I was poring over a map of the Bath area when a named popped out. The name was Solsbury Hill. Could this really be a place that shares the name with Peter Gabriel’s most beloved of songs.
Released in 1977, Solsbury HIll was Peter Gabriel’s first solo single after he left Genesis, the band he co-founded just as it was about to take off. Could this hill really be the source of his inspiration?
(jump to How to get to Solsbury Hill)
Delving Into Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill…
“Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light”
It has been written that the song was influenced by Gabriel’s visit to the top of the hill, looking out towards Bath and the Somerset countryside. Whilst the song may deal with the metaphorical lyrics of ‘climbing up’ and ‘climbing down’ like the shedding of skin or starting again, it is also possible that he did contemplate his actions and future atop the hill.
Released in 1977, just two years after Gabriel had left Genesis, the lyrics reference his considerations atop the hill.. had he been foolish to walk away from the band he co-founded on the cusp of global stardom? Was ‘the Eagle’ just him wrestling with the decisions, questioning if his actions had been the right or the wrong move.
“My friends would think I was a nut, Turning water into wine, Open doors would soon be shut…”
Digging into his lyrics, I felt that whilst Solsbury Hill may have been the reference point rather than a physical reference to the hill. The song was more about the metaphorical journey going up the hill to reflect on his decisions and perhaps gain perspective and his ultimate return ‘down the hill’ to pick up on his new journey as a solo artist.
I feel he talks about his challenges and the easy path of returning to the band, to the life he knew… “Son,” he said “Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home.” but equally the challenges of being part of the music industry: ”I walked right out of the machinery…”
I first climbed the hill after discovering how close it was to Bath.
At the time, I was struggling with some decisions and the ascent, although not very high or difficult gave me an opportunity to contemplate my choices. What may have started as a journey to a ‘rock and roll landmark’ turned out to be a small journey of the soul, too. Whilst I did not see any Eagles up there I did get some perspective.
From atop the hill you do get a great view of Bath and surrounding countryside. It is far enough from the city to get that a sense of space, even more so when the song was written over 40 years ago.
Where is Solsbury Hill?
Solsbury Hill is located a few miles North East of Bath, in the county of Somerset. You can easily access the hill by foot, from Bath or by driving to local Batheaston and climbing from there. The hill postcode is BA1 7JQ, but you should aim for the corner of Swainswick Lane and Solsbury Lane to get the right access.
How to get to Solsbury Hill
You can easily walk from the centre of Bath, drive of take public transport. Walking from the city centre you follow the London road east out of the city, crossing the A4 and continuing on the same route into Batheaston. Whilst you may see the hill from a distance, you can only access it up Solsbuy Lane so don’t be tempted to take a short cut! The ‘3’ Line Bus from Bath will get you to the bottom of the hill. Alternatively, drivers can use the public car park in Batheaston which is a short walk from the hill.
There are a few shops in Batheaston, including a Spar, but many are not open on a Sunday so make sure you grab refreshments before you set off. There is also a public loo at the car park but no amenities up the hill.
Solsbury Hill – Song Details
The song appears on Gabriels’ first solo album, ‘Peter Gabriel 1.
The album cover was designed and photographed by Hipgnosos, the legendary design duo of Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell (Po) most famous for their work with Pink Floyd from the Dark Side of the Moon to the Division Bell.
The design duo worked on Gabriel’s first three studio albums, Peter Gabriel 1 (Car), Peter Gabriel 2 (Scratch) and Peter Gabriel 3 (Melt).
The song and album were produced by Bob Erin, another Pink Floyd connection. Ezrin went onto produce The Wall and the Division Bell.
Click here for Solsbury Hill Lyrics.