Saturday, 27 June 2015

Kennet and Avon Canal Section 9 Semington to Avoncliff

Leaving Semington

The forecast for our second day of walking was terrible but we discovered that if we left early enough we would be able to complete the day's walking before the arrival of the forecast rain.  Being a Sunday we had the added complication of no bus service from Trowbridge, meaning that our only option was to take a taxi for the last stretch of the trip.  In order to fit as much walking as possible in before the arrival of rain we headed down to Semington once again and parked close to where we had finished our walk the day before.
Morning Horse Ride

Almost as soon as we started my eyes were drawn to a sign that described the former Wilts and Berks canal that joined the Kennet and Avon just here.  This canal once took a wandering route across these two counties to Oxford, cutting off a significant dog leg if taking the journey via Reading.  Sadly this canal was not profitable and always struggled for water supply, not helped by the fact that leakages were commonplace.  The canal finally closed in 1901 although it had barely functioned for years.  Despite its closure there is a Trust that has been set up with the intention of restoring the 52 mile long canal.  At this end the sign details how the canal trust are going to deal with the problem of the route being obliterated.  It seems that an entirely new parallel channel is going to be dug between here and Melksham, although construction has yet to begin.

Semington is clearly a popular place to moor if you are a boat owner.  It took us some time to pass the line of boats but when we finally left the last one behind our onward journey initially picked up very much where it left off with wide open spaces and empty looking fields on either side of us.  There were some suggestions that a major fishing match had taken place along this stretch had taken place the day before for some of the signage was left behind.  In one of the fields we came upon a tepee and fire - not sure these were among the fishing crowd? I was rather glad that we weren't there on the day as our chatter along the towpath would not have been welcome I am sure.

In contrast to yesterday our children seemed to have a spring in their step as they raced ahead of us all the way to Trowbridge.  I think the overcast conditions actually suited them as they weren't getting too overheated.  One of the things we had remarked on the previous evening was how few birds we had seen the day before.  It was ironic then to come across a chiffchaff on the opposite bank giving it what for.  It's song certainly made us stop and listen before it flew off out of earshot.  Not long after we came across a duck with at least 12 babies in tow - what a clutch!  She is really going to have her work cut out to make sure they reach motherhood themselves.  This was a scene that we would see a lot along the towpath although I think this was the biggest set of ducklings that we saw on the whole walk.

Hilperton Marina Bridge
Boats soon started appearing alongside the towpath once more - our clue that we were reaching another settlement; in this case Trowbridge.  We would really only flirt with the town though as the canal passes its northern flank.  We did come across a strange little marina though - this seemed to be only a boat park rather than any kind of commercial yard.  Surrounding it was a housing estate of fairly recent vintage - I imagine the houses are quite sought after considering their view.  We paused for a moment on top of the arch bridge that is used to take the towpath over the entrance.  In fact this was the only 'hill' of the whole day!

After seeing the huge brood of ducklings earlier the next stretch brought us a sighting of a huge brood of cygnets - at least 8 in the family this time!  I am not sure I have ever seen so many in one place.  They were fascinating to watch and we all stood and watched for some time before moving on.  A sprinkle of rain was largely to blame!  We crossed the railway just beyond - I hadn't appreciated from the map that we would actually go over the top rather than underneath.  Looking down at the track it was easy to see that the line would have been built for Brunel's broad gauge, such was the wide expanse of the trackbed.  It was a line that we would be travelling later.

Rescue Boat
The way ahead was heavily populated with boats and not all of them were typical canal boats.  As well as cruising boats there were plenty of 'projects' and also a couple of lifeboats and even an emergency boat from some kind of merchant ship complete with canopy.  It didn't look the most well appointed vessel it has to be said.  The scenery had changed too - gone were the wide open fields and our route into Bradford-on-Avon was now heavily wooded on either side which changed the character of the canal considerably.  With all the fresh new leaves on the trees the canal felt a lot more closed in and intimate.

Bradford Wharf
Soon we reached the wharf at Bradford-on-Avon.  By now it was mid-morning and we stopped for a welcome drink at the small cafe here and boat and people watched for a while.  The cafe is to be recommended - the breakfasts looked good and the cakes definitely looked good - well worth a stop I would say!

Tithe Barn
Feeling fortified we pressed on and passing the first lock of the day which was in use.  The way ahead was blocked by the main road and we had the rather annoying wait for a gap in the traffic to be able to cross - there appears to be no easy way to do this by the bridge.  On the other side we had to pass down the side of a pub to regain the towpath.  As we did so we passed a whole load of ladies all wearing pink shirts and appearing to be on some kind of sponsored walk I guess for a breast cancer charity judging by their outfits.  They did brighten up a grey day that is for sure!
Avoncliff Aqueduct

A little way further on we passed the Tithe Barn.  This remarkable structure wasn't originally built as a barn but became one for a good many decades until 1974 when it was transferred to the nation for preservation.  Apparently it was originally part of a Grange that was part of the Shaftesbury Abbey estate.  When dissolved in 1539 during the reformation the Grange than became a farm - the barn is all that is left from this time.

The last section of walk from Bradford to Avoncliff can only be described as delightful and was certainly very popular with walkers and cyclists.  I imagine many people come here from Bath and walk or cycle back since the two town are connected easily by rail.  Our final destination though was Avoncliff, a hamlet just about two miles from Bradford.  This is where the canal crosses the River Avon via a very impressive looking aqueduct built by John Rennie and completed in 1801.  Just the other side of the aqueduct is the tiny Avoncliff station where we would be getting the train back to Trowbridge and from there back to Semington by cab.  The transport arrangements eventually worked beautifully but only after a lengthy wait for the train.  This was softened by the cafe on the opposite bank of the canal where we had a very enjoyable cuppa while we waited.  We did get a short burst of rain while we were there but that was all we saw all day despite the poor forecast!

1 comment:

  1. Looks like we were only a few days apart on the Devizes section of this Walk.....
    Glad you enjoy the K&A so much.....