Saturday, 20 July 2013

Kennet and Avon Canal Section 5 Kintbury to Bedwyn

Turning Circle
Our second day on this latest trip to the canal started at the last station of the commuter line from London, which rather curiously is the very rural Bedwyn.  It seems rather an arbitrary place to terminate the line and is about as far as you can imagine a Londoncommuter station to look like.  Anyhow, it does mean that this is the last ‘easy’ stage of the route westwards along the canal for the next station at Pewsey is further away and after that there are no stations at all for a while.  All that though is for another day as this time we headed back to where we had finished yesterday at Kintbury.

Large House at Kintbury
Our route today would take us through the small town of Hungerfordback to Bedwyn; a distance of 8 miles.  We hoped that we weren’t pushing the girls too much but had remembered that they completed a similar distance out of Reading on day 1.  The start of the day was a bit grey as the early morning mist and swirling low cloud hadn’t burnt off quite yet.  It did make for cool and clammy conditions to begin with, but none of us were particularly complaining for it had got a little hot the day before.

Goods and Chattles
We passed a cycling family eating their breakfast and soon realised that they weren’t the only ones.  Kintbury seemed gripped with breakfast fever as many of the canal boats had the various aromas of coffee, bacon, eggs and toast all wafting over the towpath.  Fortunately we had already had a substantial breakfast otherwise the smell of all this cooking would have been torture!

Poppy Side
Kintbury is obviously a very popular stop for boating traffic for the line up of boats was surprisingly long considering that we had not seen a moving vessel east of here for some miles.  Some of the vessels were not here for pleasure though as the banging and sawing sounds revealed.  I guess maintenance and DIY is a common theme for Sunday mornings in this corner of Berkshire.

Orange Tip Butterfly
At the next bridge though the moorings gave way to clear canal once again and at this point the clouds finally drifted away to reveal the true nature of the day, which was going to be another hot one.  We passed a very large and ornate house on the left hand bank and off into open countryside.  Bridges seemed to come along at regular intervals on this section and the number of locks seemed to increase too, suggesting that we were heading uphill a little more quickly.

Wire Lock Bridge
The path passed through some lovely shading woodland for awhile before coming out into open fields once again.  This change in scenery was to happen a number of times during the day, providing a nice balance between the two.  Along the towpath the flowers were attracting a number of butterflies, including small tortoiseshells and orange tips which were the most eye catching. 

Yellow Flag
We crossed under the railway and then across the canal itself to resume our trip down the left hand side.  Curiously this was to be the only canal crossing of the whole day.  Across the other side of the canal was the unmistakable features of an old mill, this one called Dunmill. It looked like the old place had had a significant facelift for the brickwork in places looked very new.  I suspect it is now luxury apartments although it was impossible to see them properly from our side of the water.

Dunmill Lock
The town of Hungerford soon came upon us and we took the opportunity to head into town for a little looks around. Sadly the first thing I think about Hungerford is that awful day in 1987 when a large number of people were shot dead by a deranged gunman in what was the first event of its type on this shores.  The fact that it happened in this fairly sleepy but very picturesque town makes it all the more shocking.  By now the day was getting properly hot and so we thought that a nice cold lemonade in the nearest pub would help flagging spirits.  We took the opportunity to sit out in the street and watch the world go by, which was very pleasant. 

Hungerford Town Hall

On the way back to the canal we caught sight of a very pleasant looking bakery, which to our surprise was actually open on this Sunday lunchtime.  I always have a hard time passing a bakery shop and it wasn’t hard to persuade me to go inside.  We grabbed some snacks and made our way back to the canal for our journey westwards.  As with Newbury the canal seemed to find a course through the town that did not seem to prolong the urban stretch very much.  The last sight before we headed into the open meadows was a view of the large and well appointed church that wasn’t dissimilar in style to the one we had passed in Newbury yesterday.

Hungerford Church

As we wandered along the towpath through the meadows to the west of Hungerford I got the unlikely sight of a canal boat coming towards me sporting a Brighton and Hove Albion flag, my local team in Sussex. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of a photo & we exchanged pleasantries as he chugged by.  A little further on and we passed a sadly derelict house before finally finding the seat we had been looking for to stop and eat our snack.

Albion Fan
We passed under the railway once again and our onward walk from here seemed to be very much more open in character. We seemed to have finally left the woodland behind and the canal followed a much straighter course.  This had the effect of the mileage seeming to be chalked off more quickly but it also meant that there was less interest overall.  Every so often the trains thundered or rattled by, depending on whether it was a stopper or an express.  The difference between the two could be identified long before they passed by.

Derelict Lock Keeper's House
A couple of miles of pleasant but unremarkable countryside ensued with the main interest points being offered by the canal-side flowers in the shape of some lovely yellow flag irises and the odd orchid that hid surreptitiously in the grass.  We also passed by a section of canal that was being repaired, which forced us out into the neighbouring road.  Other than this annoyance though we largely had the towpath to ourselves until we got to Bedwyn.

Southern Marsh Orchid
Our arrival at Bedwyn was prefaced by another long line of boats, although this time there was a lot less activity.  We took our leave of the canal after eight miles and four and a half hours of walking - a pretty good effort from the girls & with no complaints.  The only sadness this time was that we didn’t have a third day as we had had last time out.  This was an enjoyable walk but short on highlights after Hungerford.  A stop at this small town is surely a must though for any walkers/ cyclists/ boaters along this stretch.

Burnt Mill Footbridge


  1. Enjoying reading about your walks on the canal. The thing I found interesting once getting west of Bedwyn is that the canals were largely replaced by the railways. But often you'll find the canal still exists but the railway has closed!

    A useful tip if you are planning to travel to Pewsey by train (which as you've noticed doesn't get a very good service) is to book with two different tickets, as direct it can be very expensive.

    For example from Guildford to Pewsey (the journey I made at the time) at off-peak times a return ticket costs £32.30. You have to change at Reading. But if you buy a return from Guildford to Reading and another from Reading to Pewsey, it costs £22.70. So you can save the best part of £10 by doing this. On weekdays (as I did), the prices can be horrific. For example to arrive before mid-day a Guildford to Pewsey return costs a whopping £99. But to travel on *exactly* the same trains you can buy 3 tickets, from Guildford to Reading (£14.30), Reading to Newbury (£8.90) and Newbury to Pewsey (£8.50), giving a total cost of £31.70, so saving almost £70! For this to be valid the train has to stop at all the stations where you change tickets. You can buy all these tickets from the ticket window at the station, but I usually book on the internet and collect from the machine when doing a journey like this - it avoids the hassle, as some ticket clerks can get a bit stroppy about it! The railway ticketing system is such a mess. I did complain to Great Western Trains about this pricing but it didn't make any difference.

  2. Thanks very much Jon. I really appreciate your comments concerning rail tickets in particular. I have heard this before - makes for very strange economics that is for sure!

    We are planning the next foray before the end of the summer, but after Pewsey we are not quite sure what we are going to do. The route looks a lot more difficult from then on.

  3. If it helps I looked up how I did the walk and I have listed the walks I did below. In most cases it is fairly easy, a train along the same line. Pewsey is the most awkward because the trains are infrequent (hence why I did one stretch in reverse, to start from there to avoid a possibly long wait for the train back). But the X5 bus does run hourly to Pewsey from Salisbury and Swindon both of which have stations which makes it easier. From Devizes again there is an hourly bus to Salisbury or Swindon (I wonder if all buses in Wiltshire go to one or both of these places!). After that there are trains as far as Bristol. I decided to continue to Clifton to enjoy the views of the gorge and the bridge. Subsequently I decided to extend the walk to the coast at Portishead but I wouldn't especially recommended the last walk after Pill, it is mostly around fields and busy roads and not especially pretty.

    Reading to Aldermaston
    Aldermaston to Newbury
    Newbury to Hungerford
    Pewsey to Hungerford
    Pewsey to Devizes
    Devizes to Bradford-on-Avon
    Bradford-on-Avon to Bath
    Bath to Keynsham
    Keynsham to Clifton
    Clifton to Portishead

  4. Thanks Jon - I think if I was by myself this is probably how I would do it too. However, with small legs of daughters I have to keep the distances a lot more modest and this introduces a good deal of difficulty from Pewsey onwards. I think I might be able to do it by dial-a-ride buses or by taking my bike along and using that to get back to the car :)