Monday, 15 July 2013

Kennet and Avon Canal Section 4 Newbury to Kintbury

Newbury Market
Only a month after our last trip and we were eager to get back for more although this time we didn't have the luxury of a bank holiday so had to settle for a two day trip.  The weather had not promised anything other than being dry so it was particularly good to see some sunshine out when we got to Newbury.  We parked at the small station of Kintbury and took the short train journey to Newbury.  When we arrived it was rather busier than last time out & the town itself was busy with Saturday market traffic.

Feeding the Swans at Newbury
We wandered over to the park where we had completed last time out & found that it was full of kids and families out enjoying the warm sunshine.  It was quite a contrast to the deserted state that we found it in before.  We relieved ourselves of our picnic lunch in the park to enable us to have light loads for our walk today.

Newbury Lock
With full tummies and a sweet in mouth to get ourselves going we headed along the canal after lunch.  Like so many towns the canal seems to manage to avoid most of the built up area.  The town of Newburyseems to have grown up around the canal with it being only incidental to the town.  In that sense canals are very different to rivers, which tend to be the focal point and reason for being in many towns.  However, we crossed the main shopping street at level and for a moment at least we witnessed the hustle and bustle of the place.

Newbury Church
The busy High Street was a fleeting moment in otherwise peaceful surroundings and the canal cut a channel past the substantial church and past some beautiful old buildings that I guess were built around the same time as the canal (if not before).  There was also some buildings that clearly had some canal use although inevitably these are now just residential places.

Reflections at Newbury Wharf
Newbury is clearly a popular spot for mooring canal craft as the queue of boats continued for a long way along the towpath.  Eventually they petered out just before a rather strange looking wall on the opposite shore.  It turned out that this belonged to a long lost railway to Lambourn, which closed to passengers in 1960 and never managed to reopen despite an attempt to preserve it as a heritage railway.  It has now almost completely returned to nature here, with the brick wall of the bridge abutment as the only clue of its existence.  The bridge also rather strangely marked the limit of the built up area of Newbury and it would be countryside from now on.

Newbury By-Pass
Our progress westwards was along rather a straighter canal than we had been used to thus far.  We swapped to the other bank at Enborne Bridge and this was surprisingly the last time we would do this on this section.  According to the interpretive board here this was something of a milestone as we had moved officially from improved river to cut canal and this probably explained why we were now following a much straighter course.

Pickletimber Bridge
The next bridge was far less sympathetic to its surroundings as it carries the main A34 Newbury By-pass.  This was perhaps the most controversial road scheme of the 1990s and the one that became the watchword for fights between the Government and environmentalists.  I suspect it even contributed to the pulling of the plug of so many other subsequent road schemes.  Even though the environmentalists lost the battle here they could arguably have won the war on road building.  For my part I have mixed feelings about road schemes.  As a motorist I get frustrated by bottle necks, but as a walker I value the countryside.  It’s a very difficult one to balance.  However, I couldn’t help but smile at the permanent marker under the bridge.  The design had been celebrated by the Concrete Society and yet the environmentalists had also managed to scrawl ‘death to 10 thousand trees’ on it as the plaque had been placed.  I wonder what the local population made of the canal when it was first built?

The climbing was still slow and steady with another lock just after the by-pass bridge.  We had already passed three locks and so far they had all been uphill since Reading.  We briefly headed through a wooded section of canal and under the wonderfully named Pickletimber Railway Bridge.  As we approached we heard the distinctive rumble of a train but for a change it wasn't one of the ubiquitous Inter-City 125s but a freight train; something almost unheard of for the girls to see.

The Red House
The next couple of miles was very pleasant walking. There was nothing remarkable to see and the countryside was nothing particularly special and yet it was.  Summer was in full flow and the canal banks were a riot of colour with thistles, cow parsley, buttercups and wild roses among the many flowers trying to vie for the attention of the local bee population.  Every now and again we would stop and catch up with each other but the afternoon wore on pleasantly with the adults nattering and the kids swapping stories.

The Drinker Moth Caterpillar
At Hamstead Bridgewe began to realise that the children were starting to lag behind and we noticed a sign inviting us to a nearby pub.  We thought that the perfect tonic, although we weren’t prepared for the fairly unpleasant walk up the road.  Fortunately the pub, The Red House, was well worth a visit.  Sadly we weren’t much in the mood for food because the dishes being served looked absolutely mouth-watering.  Instead I grabbed a cup of tea (the first time ever in a pub) and the girls some fizzy pop and we sat outside in the delightful garden, enclosed by a large hedge.  It was the perfect antidote to tiredness as the pace quickened a bit after we returned to the canal.

Dreweats Lock
The remaining couple of miles of the walk were very peaceful and we saw no boat traffic whatsoever apart from a couple of boats moored some distance away from any settlement.  One in particular seemed to be the focus of a lot of work by its occupants as they hammered and chiselled away to the sound of heavy metal. It rather ruined the peace and quiet of the surrounding countryside but I couldn’t help but smile because it was obviously helping their productivity.

Other than a few cyclists though we had the towpath pretty much to ourselves, in contrast to the earlier sections.  After a section of open countryside in which we got to see a lot of the surrounding area we were suddenly plunged into woodland again and this persisted for the last mile into Kintbury.  By the time we got there we were feeling pretty hungry and saw what looked like the perfect spot on the island ahead of us.  The Dundas Arms certainly looked idyllic and we flirted with the idea of having an early dinner there until we saw the prices.  They were certainly proud of their food!  I think if had been just the two of us we probably would have gone for it, but with two tired children in tow and in our present state we thought twice.  Sigh – maybe next time?
The Dundas Arms
This was a smashing walk, every bit as enjoyable as what had gone before but quieter and more understated. While the countryside could not be described as remarkable it was English pastural scenery at its very best.  We all thoroughly enjoyed the six miles over from Newbury and were happy that we got to have a second helping the following day!

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