May 23 – June 9, 2014.
The Kennet from Reading to Newbury is a river navigation known as the Kennet Navigation. Not having done my homework (nothing new!), I’d not read up on this beforehand and the fast flow, which was against me, took me by surprise and caused me some difficulty mooring on my first night in Reading.
First day on the K&A, making a later start than usual, I had the help of two friends, Dave and Pete, which was greatly appreciated as the presence of strong cross flows at some of the locks makes them more difficult to navigate as a single-hander. The river through the centre of Reading up to County Lock is controlled by a traffic light system and you shouldn’t proceed until a green light is displayed. Going against the current also made progress slow. The target for the day was to reach Aldermaston a distance of approximately 10 miles with 11 locks including Fobney and Garston turf sided, 5 swing bridges and Aldermaston lift bridge where we had to wait 15 minutes before the bridge could be lifted to prevent road traffic being held up at peak times.
Notice the pillbox to the right of the lock in the photo above. Pillboxes feature along the Kennet & Avon built as part of the WWII defences.
We made it to Aldermaston, where Dave and Pete caught the train back to London after visiting the pub for re-fueling. I stayed the next day in Aldermaston, not because there’s a lot to see, but because the journey from Reading was made in rain, torrential at times, and rain was forecast for the following day Saturday. Sunday was sunny so I thought I’d sit tight until then, after all there’s no rush?
I moored at Newbury Marina for a week leaving Little Blue while I went home to attend to some business.
Leaving Newbury on a fine sunny day I travelled the 6 miles to Kintbury passing through some beautiful country side – the sun helped – and 7 locks. I sure I spotted an otter swimming across the canal. West Mills Swing Bridge is part manual – lowering and raising the barriers across the road is achieved with lock windlass, while swinging the bridge is mechanical and requires some button pressing. Approaching Kintbury Lock 78 I passed Kennet Valley, the horse drawn trip boat that operates from Kintbury. I moored at Kintbury, a pleasant village, for a couple of nights.
I left Kintbury with the intention of reaching Great Bedwyn, however, 7 hours, 9 locks and 2 swing bridges later I hadn’t made it that far and decided to moor just above Froxfield Middle Lock 69. The journey took me through Hungerford in Berkshire, and some of the countryside the K&A is famed for, to finish in Wiltshire.
The next day with the sun shining I made it to Great Bedwyn, passing through Little Bedwyn on the way. I didn’t stop, I carried on to the Crofton Pumping Station next to lock 59, mooring just above it, next to Wilton Water. Only 4 miles and 9 locks further on, but in the heat that was far enough. Wilton Water supplies the water that’s pumped to the summit of the canal by the pumping station. I paid a visit to the pumping station and Wilton village which is on the other side of Wilton Water, and the local pub – natch! You can see from the photos how attractive the village is.
I stayed the maximum time on Crofton visitor mooring – 48 hours – leaving to work my way up through Crofton Locks 60-55 to the summit of the canal and Bruce Tunnel which is 502 yards long and the only tunnel on the canal. The tunnel is named after the landowner at the time the canal was being built, who would not allow a deep cutting to be made through his land and insisted on a tunnel – so Wikipedia tells me 😉 Once through the tunnel you find yourself in a deep cutting before passing by Burbage Wharf and eventually starting the descent through locks 54-52 to arrive at Wootton Rivers another picturesque village of thatched roofs.
To leave Wootton Rivers I had one last lock to negotiate – Wootton Rivers Bottom Lock 51 – before a lock free section of the canal that follows the land contours twisting it’s course through open countryside to Devizes approximately 14 miles. Passing through the Vale of Pewsey and Pewsey Wharf, and further along the village Honeystreet from where one of the famous Wiltshire White Horses can be seen carved into the chalk of the hillside. I spotted another White Horse further along towards Devizes but don’t know the particular location. After about 6 hours none stop cruising I finally reached Devizes, the end of this journey, a pleasant market town and, for beer drinkers, home of the Wadworth Brewery. Wiltshire pasties are nice too 🙂
To continue onto Bath from Devizes the famous Caen Hill Locks, 16 in all, a flight which is preceded by 6 locks and then followed by a further 7, making 29 locks over a distance of 2.25 miles, has to be negotiated. This time around I decided against this as I don’t think it’s sensible as a single-hander. Next time!