Monday, 6 July 2015

Kennet and Avon Canal Section 10 Avoncliff to Bath

Avoncliff Aqueduct
Well here it is the last section of this walk.  It has taken two years to complete but like the end of a good book it leaves you slightly bereft when you finish.  I have to say that I was really pleased that we left this section until last as finishing in Bath seemed somehow more interesting than finishing in Reading.  The scenery along the way more than justified our decision too.

Limpley Stoke Section
We started by driving over to the hamlet of Avoncliff where we had left off the day before.  Getting to the station in a car is not easy as it is at the end of a lengthy narrow lane and there are only a few spaces available.  We struck lucky on the basis that we were quite early and not all of the half dozen or so spaces had been taken.  There is another car park available on the other side of the aqueduct but there is no physical road connection between the two so be warned!

Perfect House?
Once we had got ourselves together we started by crossing the aqueduct and then crossing underneath the canal on the far side to gain the towpath.  The terrain of the walk was much changed from a little further east as we have now reached the southern end of the Cotswolds.  The canal now follows the wooded Avon valley and to say it is picturesque would be an understatement.  The weather had improved markedly on the day before too with bright sunshine and puffy clouds the order of the day.

Avon Valley
Initially the towpath took a route high above the railway that superceded it and all around were lush green pasture fields; some with livestock and some without.  The canal had lots of boats moored along the sides - Avoncliff is clearly a popular place.  As we looped around the contours pastures gave way to woods and the cool dappled shade was really welcome as the day warmed up.  Although the bluebells had long since disappeared from the woodlands there were still plenty of other flowers to spot along the way including red campion, which grew in profusion and heaps of wild roses and may blossom.  The bright sunshine certainly brought out the best in the colours.  As we passed through the woods I could not help but notice a particularly fantastic looking house along the canal side.  It could not have been a more perfect setting if it tried!

Dundas Aqueduct
When we finally left the wood views of the Avon Valley opened up again.  I have passed along here on the train before and always thought how fantastic it looked.  Walking along the towpath really gave us the opportunity to see the scenery properly.  The only sounds that broke the peace and quiet were the occasional roar of a train or the chug chug of the odd canal boat.  All along the valley sides are houses that are dotted on the valley sides, each competing for the best views.  Yet despite how many houses there are it cannot be said to be anything other than a truly rural setting.

Somerset Coal Canal Basin
Eventually we came to Dundas Aqueduct.  This fantastic engineering feature carries the canal over the River Avon a second time in order that it can maintain the same level heading towards Bath.  The main Bath to Bradford-on-Avon railway line also passes underneath.  The aqueduct was named after the Chairman of the Kennet and Avon Canal and was built between 1797 and 1801 by John Rennie and it still very ornate even 200 years later following restorations in the 1980s and approximately 10 years ago.  Perhaps unsurprisingly it was the first canal structure in Britain to be designated as a scheduled ancient monument.

Dundas Wharf
Luckily for us we got to watch a couple of boats cross the aqueduct as we arrived.  The thought of anyone doing this in the 1950s must have seemed very remote when the canal was dry and disused.  Back then it was actually possible to cross the aqueduct on foot using the canal basin itself rather than the towpath!  At the western end of the aqueduct is the junction of the former Somerset Coal Canal.  Only a short stub of this remains and the access is a very narrow strip of water passing between some gardens.  It would once have been used to ship out coal from the old coalfield around the town of Radstock.  Seems hard to believe that coal mines were part of the landscape in this part of Somerset but the towns themselves do suggest something more industrial than you might expect.

Restoration Required
Before continuing on our way along the main line of the canal we took the opportunity to walk down to the visitor centre just a short way down the Somerset Coal Canal.  Here there is a cafe, boat hire, cycle hire and (perhaps most importantly) toilet facilities.  We had ourselves a nice cold drink and a little freshen up.  In the little visitor centre I also took a look at the small exhibition of pictures showing how life was on the canal and surrounding railways.

After double backing to the main line our route now took us north along the western side of the valley.  As we headed towards Bath the route now resembled the M1 it was so busy.  It was sometimes hard to enjoy our surroundings as there were so many cyclists zooming along the towpath.  I suspect this is a particularly popular route because of the railway line that follows us all the way into Bath enabling linear bike journeys as far away as Trowbridge.  There was a significant amount of boating traffic too suggesting that this end of the canal is also perhaps the most popular with boaters.

Largely the scenery was woodland and fields along the Avon Valley with few more features on the canal itself until we reached the edge of Bath.  The only exception was Claverton Pumping Station, which would have had a similar function to the one we had passed at Crofton near Bedwyn.  This one was not nearly so obvious though - it was tucked away in the trees and we passed it without me noticing!  The station does serve a very important purpose however as it brings water into the canal from the nearby River Avon and moves it 48 feet in the process.

Sydney Gardens
Sadly as we walked along towards Bath the weather really came on overcast.  This rather spoiled my picture taking but it did allow us to travel a bit quicker along the towpath.  All too soon the houses started up suggesting that we were heading into Bath.  First we came into the suburb of Bathampton and a very popular looking George pub.  The houses alongside were beautiful too made of the celebrated Cotswold stone for which the city is famous.

If we thought that it would be a passage through the suburbs though we were to be mistaken for after a brief flirtation with the suburbs the canal seemed to want to return to countryside for as long as possible for the corridor of the canal itself was still very rural feeling almost until we could deny that we were in the city no longer.  Yet even as the urban area closed around us the canal had one last surprise for us as it entered the other worldly Sydney Gardens.  We entered via a short tunnel and the gardens were all around us for a short stretch before we entered another tunnel and suddenly they were gone again!

Journey's End
Once beyond the gardens the canal needed to get down to the level of the River Avon rather quickly and the last half mile or so was punctuated by a series of locks that brought us down the hill to the junction of the river very quickly.  Thus we entered Bath through the back door and not that close to the city centre.  Bath Spa station was pretty close but being a Bank Holiday the trains weren't that frequent and so we decided that we were early enough for a look round.  I cannot begin to write about the city or add anything that hasn't already been said except to say that it is a fantastic place to finish any walk.  We had a really good time wandering about the city and having some well deserved refreshments and musing on our 80 odd mile trip from Reading.  The girls felt immensely proud of their achievement and why not?  Now the fun will be planning the next trip!

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely write up, and well done on finishing it I have walked a few canal towpaths, but the Kennet and Avon remains my favourite. There was a lot more to see (and variety) than I had expected. I rate that western section as the best, especially with those two wonderful stone aqueducts. The area around Pewsey was also a highlight. I agree that Bath is also a fantastic city to finish in. I'm glad you also enjoyed it.