Monday, 22 June 2015

Kennet and Avon Canal Section 8 Devizes to Semington

Setting Off
We have finally made an opportunity to finish this walk after a few false dawns.  Ultimately we wanted to finish on the basis that we want to find a new project but also because the children kept asking when we were going to go again.  We have passed the section where public transport was a problem and although we really wanted to include our friend Christine we could not find a time that we were all free and so had to pursue this section alone.

Devizes Wharf
We headed out from Worthing a little later than we wanted to but we managed to reach the bus stop in Semington in time for the bus into Devizes.  Luckily the bus heads on further to Swindon and so we were able to go to the point that we had left off last time without making an extra walk out from the town centre.  The early part of the canal heads through the suburbs of Devizes in a cutting where many of the houses have manicured gardens with landing stages at the back.  Not too many had canal boats to go with the landing stages however.
Top of Caen Hill
Just before heading under the main road the canal took a 90 degree turn.  This sort of feature is surprisingly common on the canal and I assume was on the basis that roads were easier to be bridged if the canal passes underneath at 90 degrees rather than on a diagonal basis.  The next section of path was being improved for cycling use, which made for slightly tricky walking.  Just beyond the next bridge is the old wharf for Devizes.  Our lunch was already feeling very heavy in the rucsac and so we took the opportunity to scoff it down by the visitor centre.  We also had a drink in the cafe here and although we were tempted by the museum we decided that we couldn't spare the time as we had a long way still to go.  It is a most interesting place though and the feel of its former use is as apparent as the look of it.  The centre was also quite busy with plenty of people dropping by to have a look and water activities also taking place on the canal itself.

Caen Hill Pools
This part of the canal is also the only one truly hemmed in by housing on  both sides.  Not far past the wharf we came to the top lock of Caen Hill Locks.  Over the next couple of miles the canal would drop down the side of a hill so that we could regain the same level that we left in Reading.  There are twenty nine locks ion total on this section including the staircase of sixteen that form the most famous part of the descent.  Overall it takes 5-6 hours to traverse all the locks - practically a day's activity!  As we headed down through the staircase we passed a crew half way up that looked very fed up with the whole process.  The towpath was naturally very busy with lots of visitors eager to see this most famous of canal features. We had perfect weather too with sunshine and puffy white clouds being the order of the day.
Round in Circles
At the bottom of the staircase of locks the path and canal settled for a short section before heading down another flight of six locks known as Foxhangers.  The weather was by now very still and the heat was building.  In the canal itself were some fantastic reflections as well as swans and there families effortlessly gliding along through the water.  It was scenes like this that reminded us why we love this walk so much.
Bottom of the Lock Staircase

At the bottom Foxhangers Lock we passed the remnants of the old railway bridge that would once have passed over.  This is the remains of the old railway to Devizes to Bath, closed in 1966 as part of the Beeching Cuts and unlikely to be reinstated dyue to the obliteration of much of the line and buildings along it.  The canal almost went the same way, closing in the immediate aftermath of World War II but seeing a renaissance which started with preservation back in the 1960s, ironically just as the railway was closing.  Just by the bridge parapet were a couple of interesting features; the first being a solar powered pump that helps keep the lock system in water and the second a large boatyard also known as Foxhangers.  From here a fleet of holiday rentals looked ready to depart at any time.  All were named after fox-related things including a flying fox, foxterrier, foxglove and many others. I have to say that going on one of these holidays looks so tempting...
From Foxhanger the onward route was rather less exciting as the canal once again returns to pastoral West Country beauty.  The weather was glorious although occasionally the clouds threatened a bit only to blow over.  The canal seemed a lot straighter through this section too - there was no pretence of having to follow the contours - the height was largely dealt with by locks which continued to come along periodically.  At Seend we passed by a very popular looking pub on the other side of the water.  We thought better of visiting ourselves as a quick reckoning suggested that we would struggle for a seat.
A Sheep That Doesn't Belong
Outside was a large boat called Diana - we would see this several more times along the way.  It is adapted for use by disabled people although at this point there was no-one in evidence apart from several crew getting the boat ready for the next set of passengers. They had obviously found the equivalent of a disabled parking bay for I could not otherwise see how they had got so lucky with their berth when the side of the canal was choked with boats for several hundred metres either side of the pub.
Surprisingly we had covered a lot further distance than we thought by now - passing by so many locks certainly made the mileage go a lot quicker.  The heat was starting to get to us a bit but it was also responsible for ensuring that the air was heavy with the scent of spring flowering, mostly May blossom but also cow parsley the chief culprits.  Other flowers much in evidence along the banks were yellow flags, comfrey and wild roses.  It all added up to a very colourful scene.

Semington Wharf
Our pace slowed considerably for the last couple of miles as the children tired.  They didn't complain but I think that a long week of school had caught up with them.  This was also marginally the longest of the three days that we had scheduled to be here and it showed.  Nevertheless walking at such a slow pace was a good thing for it provided the opportunity to really take in our surroundings - something we don't always do when we walk much faster.  Eventually we reached the village of Semington, which was to be our final destination for the day.  We had been looking forward to our arrival for we knew that there was a pub there and a large glass of ice cold lemonade was just what the doctor ordered on this very hot day.  It felt good to have another 9 miles under our belt - the finishing line is now in sight!  We picked the perfect day to undertake this section of the walk and the lock staircase at Caen Hill did not disappoint.

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