Thursday, 13 June 2013

Kennet and Avon Canal Section 3 Woolhampton to Newbury

Newbury Station

This section was the last for our current trip and the route was a seven mile section from Woolhampton to Newbury.  We pitched up at Newbury station, a rather grand looking place with some fine old Great Western Railway features.  Today’s short train ride to Midgham was a much more relaxed affair as not only did we get a seat but also had most of the carriage to ourselves – a rather surprising change from the previous two days.

Setting off From Woolhampton
At Midgham we wandered down the short stretch of road to Woolhampton Swing Bridge.  The beer garden, so full of drinkers and diners less than one day ago was now very quiet early in the morning.  We resumed our trail westwards passing lock number 94 almost at once.  It was rather odd that we had not clocked the numbers of the locks before, but once we had spotted them the children wanted to count each one as we passed.

Express to the West
I passed the compact camera to my younger daughter to try and keep her interested in her surroundings.  This proved to be a bit of a mistake as for the next mile or so she played ‘click it’ and progress proved to be very slow indeed.  When I downloaded the pictures after getting home later I discovered dozens of pictures of seemingly every cow parsley plant that we passed!

Tiger Moth Caterpillar
The walk today had a slightly different character from yesterday.  We had lost most of the tree cover and alongside the canal in the early stages we were followed closely by the railway line.  Every few minutes trains rattled or thundered by depending on whether they were stoppers or express trains heading for Devon and Cornwall.  Eventually the memory card on the camera became full and so it was handed back to me for safe keeping. 
Distant Church

Sadly the lack of available memory meant that daughter was unable to capture a picture of one of the very hairy caterpillars that we found on the path.  I am fairly sure it was a Tiger Moth caterpillar looking for somewhere to pupate.  It certainly caused a lot of fascination for the girls and turned out to be one of a number that we saw along the way.
Canal Keeper Cottage

By now the canal seemed a lot less busy than the previous day.  There were fewer boats moored alongside the towpath and hardly any cruising by.  Even the number of bike riders seemed to have reduced, much to our relief.  There isn’t really room for walkers and cyclists to share the towpath simultaneously and we had got pretty fed up with giving way to the bikes.  One boat that we were not expecting though was a two person rowing boat, which passed us at fairly high speed!  The lack of other canal traffic did give us the opportunity to take in our surroundings more and the countryside through which we were passing.  Away on the hill we passed a grand looking church on a hill and then a beautiful canal cottage that we were all rather tempted by!

As we approached Thatcham the surroundings took on a decidedly more industrial look, with gravel pits starting to show themselves and large brick built warehouses on the opposite bank.  Not much of it looked very used though and those areas that were being used seemed to be for demolition rather than anything more constructive.  A couple of pipe bridges across the channel rather heightened the feeling of industry.

Getting the Best Leaves
The feeling of industry didn’t last too long though – when we reached the bridge by Thatcham Station we soon left it behind.  The towpath took the opposite bank now and as we reached the next lock we took the opportunity to stop for a rest.  We watched yet another boat pass through the lock in front of us and this was quickly followed by the crew of the row boat that we had seen earlier.  They didn’t use the lock though – merely portaged around it carrying their boat on their heads as they ran through.  I feel fairly certain that they were training for something or other.  It wouldn’t be the Devizies to Westminster race that is for sure – that was completed a couple of months earlier.  The famous kayak race has been a fixture on these waters for many years.
Canoe Sliding By

The next corner that we went around proved to be the last for awhile as we entered the longest straight section so far traversed.  Sadly I found this very uninteresting, except for a solitary cow on the opposite shore that had trampled through a bramble bush and was using its extremely long tongue to help it reach some more juicy leaves. I was astonished – I have never seen a cow eat bramble leaves before!

Eventually we did reach a corner and suddenly everything got interesting once again.  Away to the right we passed by another gravel pit, this one looking very pretty as it had been almost completely reclaimed by nature.  I was astonished to see a common tern fly over the gravel pit as we passed – sadly much too quick for my clumsy fingers on the camera shutter button.
Winged Craft

Further on we passed underneath the railway that we had been following all day so far.  The canal climbed through another lock and by now we were starting to see the buildings that suggested we were entering Newbury.  Fortunately, as with Reading at the start of our journey the canal cuts a pretty rural path through the town and maintaining a tranquil air about it.  Runners and more cyclists suggested that we were into short trip territory once again.
Newbury Boat Yard

By now the miles covered were beginning to catch up with the girls and lots of sweets were required to keep them going for the last mile or so into town.  They were also on the promise of a nice lunch if we could find one!  We crossed and re-crossed the canal and even had tree matter blocking our path along the way (that must have been fun for cyclists!).  The canal got steadily busier and as we reached the centre of Newbury it became quite clear that this was a major hub for the canal.  Boatyards had boats aplenty and there was even a repair yard stuffed to the gills with vessels all needing refurbishment.

All the boat traffic and activity made the last mile or so into Newbury rather fascinating.  It needed to be for the children were getting very tired by now.  They did manage to get to the end of the walk without too much complaining but 21 miles over three days was clearly their limit.  They loved the whole experience though & it was wonderful to have such good family time.  One thing is for sure – we’ll be back to continue our journey along the next stretch of the canal very soon probably for a shorter weekend.


  1. I walked the Kennet and Avon canal a few years back (and continued along the Avon to Bristol and the Clifton Bridge). This is the best canal walk I've done, it is very varied and goes through some lovely towns on the way and mostly easy from a transport point of view (it parallels railway lines most of the way as you've found). A nice idea to do it as a family walk as there is plenty of interest and it's almost entirely flat (the main exception being Caen Hill).

    1. Thanks Jon, this really is an excellent introduction to walking for my children. Plenty of interesting things along the way and not too taxing. We are praying for good weather as we are planning another assault this weekend coming!