Canal holidays or why not try it but without the canal barge?
The easy way to enjoy the many delights of the UK’s canals is simply a case of putting your best feet forward!
Which is what I did on a recent weekend break.
I or rather we went off to the wilds of Wiltshire to walk parts of the Kennet and Avon canal.
Travelling a little slower than the colourful barges it is such a great way of taking in the delights of this special environment saved for the nation.
We started our journey and used the Barge Inn at Honeystreet as our base for our return walk heading east to Wilcot about 6 miles. Had it been earlier in the day then Pewsey would have been the choice about 9 miles in all for that one.
The quiet ‘putt putt’ of the barge engines as they slip past and for the rest of the time walking along the bank it’s mainly the sounds of nature that dominate. The waterfowl can be noisy at times as they head for shelter from us humans as they perceive a threat, which we are not of course personally but they do not know that!
Walking the canal certainly has plenty to catch and hold your interest.
World War II structures abound as the canal was planned to be a key defensive line in 1940 should Hitler’s troops have invaded. Pillboxes and anti-tank cylinders can be found in a number of places on the route.
TAKING IT EASY ON THE K&A
With restful views over the rolling Wiltshire farm and down land as you head towards Wilcot. The wooded clumps on small hills and acres of flat fields spread out before you as geese paddle past in formation.
When you switch sides on the canal at Church Lane Bridge some of those anti-tank cylinders are on the bridge as you pass. Here you carry on your walk but now on the northern side of the canal.
Wild flowers abound and birds like kingfishers can be spotted as they dart from there over water perches to feed their offspring with their newly caught fish in their beaks.
A little further on and the next bridge is an eye-opener no common or garden red brick arch here. Lady’s Bridge is a regency stone statement with swags and pillars built in 1808 by John Rennie to placate the landowner in order to let the canal pass through his land.
The turn around point for us was the small village of Wilcot which is famous for the Stancester Hoard a collection of over 1,000 Roman silver coins found by two metal detectors in a nearby field in 2000.
Returning to Honey Street was a chance to view a small collection of World War II pillboxes that can be found in a field almost opposite to the Barge Inn on the northern side of the canal.
No treasures or gold hoard to be found here for us, just a scattering of old tins and litter with a major helping of earth washed in over the years. This small set of bunkers were part of the General Headquarters Line this would have been the major military defensive barrier to help keep England secure.
For an outing on the next day we went to Little Bedwyn and headed west to Crofton just over 6miles return. The old pumping house is a Grade 1 listed building and houses the oldest beam engine in the world. Also that it is still in its original location some 200 years after it was installed in 1812. Although closed for the winter the buildings are pretty special and well worth seeing and do check there website for times when it will reopen and when the engines are to be next in steam.
This very old technology is joined by an up to date one with the high speed Internet literally running under your feet on the towpath as fibre optic cables were laid nearly 20 years ago and they are owned and operated by Sky and they run from near Newbury to Limpley Stoke near Westbury.
I highly recommend stopping off in the village at Great Bedwyn for lunch at the Three Tuns. This dog friendly pub provides first class food and I do also suggest that weekend visitors book in advance.
This section of the canal has several locks where you see can barges being raised or lowered depending on their direction of travel and I understand that the term for such people is ‘gongoozlers’!
GONGOOZLING ON THE KENNET AND AVON
If you really want to go lock spotting and see the barges and people that use them then Caen Hill to the west of Devizes is the place to go 29 locks in one flight where the canal raises the boats 237 feet in two miles. A gongoozlers paradise it would seem!
Honeystreet is just one location for hiring narrow boats there are a couple of operators based there who are keen to get you aboard but we declined their offer this time!
But who knows next time we may sign up for a week before the mast. However by water or land the Kennet and Avon offers a quiet, calm and relaxing get away.