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HOME AT FIRST'S

ADVENTURE

ENGLAND

BIKING (OR WALKING, OR CANOEING) ALONG 22 Miles of MAINTAINED TOWPath
Along a REMARKABLE RESTORED CANAL through Rural England

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN SUMMER, 2010.                                MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2014.

          An elderly American veteran I met in Switzerland some years ago bristled as I extolled the virtues and rewards of hiking the Alps. “Not for me,” he spat after I paused for a reaction. “I’ve seen all I want to see of Europe on foot fifty years ago during the Battle of Bulge.”
          I expect the old GI probably couldn’t be coaxed onto a bike either. Some folks see picnics. Others only see ants.

          This article preaches to picnickers. We postulate that among the more relaxing and rewarding of activities for any holiday are excursions by bicycle. We present a sampling of our favorite bike trips in some of our favorite holiday destinations. Included for each is some practical info: where to rent bikes, a weather forecast, and where to get your picnic items. Expect no ants
.

 

Cycling along the Kennet & Avon Canal

 

200 YEARS OF HISTORY:
          An engineering marvel of Georgian England, the Kennet & Avon Canal was built between 1723-1810 to enable commercial shipping to avoid the dangers of reaching the Atlantic from London by way of the Thames Estuary and the narrow, stormy, and contested (by French and pirates) English Channel. The canal connects the Thames watershed at Reading via its Kennet River tributary with the navigable Avon River at Bristol near the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel entrance to the Atlantic. The canal crosses England’s “Divide” at a low point, the Vale of Pewsey, avoiding the encroaching — and visible — Chiltern, Mendip and Cotswold Hills. Nevertheless, the construction of a handful of impressive aqueducts, the boring of several tunnels, and the fitting of dozens of canal locks were necessary to work the canal route through the hilly English countryside between Reading and Bath. Despite the completion of
I.K. Brunel’s parallel Great Western Railway in 1841, and its takeover of the canal in 1851,

John Rennie, principal engineer of the Kennet & Avon Canal, whose elegant innovations have passed the test of time. Portrait by Sir Henry Raeburn. PD-Art.
John Rennie, principal engineer of
the Kennet & Avon Canal, whose
elegant innovations have passed
the test of time. Portrait by
Sir Henry Raeburn circa 1810.

through boats between London and Bristol continued to

 

use the Kennet & Avon for another century until the line was broken in 1951. The apparent commercial end of the line inspired enthusiasts to renovate the waterway, resulting in a success that has encouraged similar efforts throughout Britain.

 

Hitting the Bricks: A vacationing canal boater uses leg power and the raised bricks of the semi-circular push-path to close a lock near Foxhanger Wharf on the Kennet & Avon Canal. The canal's former towpath (right) has been converted to a nearly flat, dedicated walking and cycling path that crosses rural portions of scenic Somerset and Wiltshire counties in western England. Photo © Home At First.
Hitting the Bricks: A vacationing canal boater uses leg power and the raised bricks of the semi-
circular push-path to close a lock near Foxhanger Wharf on the Kennet & Avon Canal. The canal's
 former towpath (right) has been converted to a nearly flat, dedicated walking and cycling
path that crosses rural portions of scenic Somerset and Wiltshire counties in western England.

 

TODAY: Following a grand reopening by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990, the K&A has attracted great numbers of walkers, cyclists, anglers, canal boaters, kayakers, and canoeists to its tranquil route through the English backwater. History buffs and picnickers find lots of opportunities to poke around and relax. Alongside the canal

 

numerous pubs, restaurants, and watering holes

have popped up like the weeds they have replaced. Arguably, the canal has never been busier or more popular than today, two hundred years after its opening.

TWO ROUTES: From the canal-side market town of Bradford-on-Avon, bike routes depart west for Bath and east for Devizes. Both are sections of National Cycle Route 4 and except for a few short rural road segments stay on the improved canal towpath.

 

BRADFORD-ON-AVON: Historic town (pop. Approx. 10,000) near the western border of Wiltshire on the young River Avon (the Bristol Avon, not the Warwickshire Avon of Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon). Bradford grew up at a ford along the river. A Roman villa has been found here. The current town has Saxon roots. St. Laurence’s Church, along the river west of the Town Bridge, is a late-Saxon structure built shortly before the Norman Conquest. The arched Town Bridge dates from the 1600s when it was widened from a narrow medieval packhorse bridge. Situated on a navigable river near the wool production ranges of the Cotswolds and the Salisbury Plain,

The busy Kennet & Avon Canal basin by the lock at once-sleepy Bradford-on-Avon, with the towpath in the foreground. The former wool market town has reawakened with the restoration of the canal.
The busy Kennet & Avon Canal basin by the
lock at once-sleepy Bradford-on-Avon,
with the towpath in the foreground. The
former wool market town has reawakened
with the restoration of the canal.

Bradford-on-Avon grew wealthy during the late

 

medieval period as a wool market and mill town. Many buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries still populate Bradford. When the Kennet and Avon Canal reached a point just south of Bradford in the late 18th century a new period of prosperity came to the town. Quickly and quietly the prosperity departed when the canal was replaced by a parallel railway within 60 years. Bradford went to sleep, only to be discovered 150 years later as a pristine survivor of an earlier, prosperous time in Wiltshire.

 

CLICK TO ENLARGE MAP

CLICK ON MAP TO SEE LARGER VERSION

Canal boats moored at Dundas, the intersection of the Kennet & Avon Canal and the Somerset Coal Canal. Here are services for canal boaters as well as a shop renting bikes and boats and selling snacks and drinks. Photo © Home At First.
Canal boats moored at Dundas, the
intersection of the Kennet & Avon Canal
and the out-of-service Somerset Coal
Canal. Here are services for canal
boaters as well as a shop renting bikes
and boats and selling snacks and drinks.

I. THE BATH ROUTE is short (about 9 miles from Bradford-on-Avon) and crosses the canal twice at two landmark aqueducts at Avoncliff and Dundas. From Dundas the bike path follows the towpath between the canal and its parallel railway by the Avon River. Those interested in the original canal will want to stop for the aqueducts and to inspect the K&A’s junction with the former Somerset Coal Canal at Dundas. Between Dundas and Bath is the restored Claverton Pumping Station which kept water flowing properly in the canal starting in 1812. Beyond Claverton the canal circles counterclockwise into the World Heritage Town of Bath. Those wanting to see Bath’s Roman spa and medieval Bath Abbey should stay on Cycle Route 4 when it diverges west from the K&A through the tunnels of Sydney Gardens to Beckford Road, leading past author Jane Austen’s house on Sydney Place to Great Pulteney Street thence into the city center. This last part can be heavily trafficked. Care should be exercised: ride on the left (with traffic) and use the bike lanes whenever possible.

MILEAGE: Bradford-on-Avon to Bath: 9mi o/w; 18mi r/t. Plus 2-mile loop in Bath. Total: 20mi r/t.

TIME REQUIRED: 4-8 hours depending upon tourist time in Bath and meal stops.

 

THE BATH ROUTE: SEGMENTS WITH GAZETTEER

1. Bradford-on-Avon to Avoncliff Aqueduct: 1.4 miles.
     Facilities at Bradford-on-Avon:

Railway Station: Frome Rd (B3109) ¼ mile N of
canal.

Bike rental shop: Towpath Trail (T. T.) Cycle & Canoe Hire at The Lock Inn, Frome Road (B3109) by the canal. Mountain bikes, kids bikes, helmets & other accessories by the day or part day. Canoes, too. Pre-booking recommended: +44 (0)1225 867187.

Tourist Information Office.

“Barbara McLellan” canal cruiser: public trips from Wharf Cottage, Bradford-on-Avon We, Sa, Su March through October. Tel: +44 (0) 7503 445393.

The Lock Inn: Frome Road (B3109) by the canal.

Canal Tavern: Frome Road (B3109) by the canal.

Canal Side Café: Frome Rd (B3109) by the canal.

The Canal Tavern at Bradford-on-Avon.
The Canal Tavern at Bradford-on-Avon.

   

John Rennie's landmark aqueduct carries the K&A Canal across the River Avon at Avoncliff.

2. Avoncliff to Dundas Aqueduct: 2.85 miles.
     Facilities & Points of Interest at Avoncliff:

Avoncliff Aqueduct carries the K&A Canal &
towpath across the River Avon.

Railway Station.

Cross Guns: canal-side pub with food.

The Mad Hatter tea room.

John Rennie's landmark aqueduct carries the
K&A Canal across the River Avon at Avoncliff.

   

3. Dundas to Claverton Pumping Station:
     1.35 miles. Facilities & Attractions at Dundas:

Dundas Aqueduct carries the K&A Canal & towpath across the River Avon.

Somerset Coal Canal junction with the K&A Canal.

Tourist Information Centre.

Canoe and Cycle rental.

The Angelfish restaurant.

“Jubilee” canal boat trips: Su April — October plus Tu July — August from Dundas Aqueduct.

The K&A Canal and towpath passes through lovely Somerset county landscape between Dundas and Bath.
The K&A Canal and towpath passes
through lovely Somerset county
landscape between Dundas and Bath.
 

   

The K&A Canal and towpath pass through the outlying village of Bathampton near Bath.

4. Claverton Pumping Station to Beckford
     ROAD, Bath:
3.6 miles. Along the segment:

Historic (1810) Claverton Pumping Station: 
Open 10AM-4PM We, Sa, Su from April-October.

Admission charged.

The George pub at Bathampton, 1.6 miles from
Claverton and 2 miles from Bath Abbey.

The K&A Canal and towpath pass through
the village of Bathampton near Bath.

   

5. Central Bath Loop: 2 miles of city streets(many with bike lanes).

     Facilities/attractions in Bath include:

Numerous historic sites: Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, Jane Austen's home, United Nations listed World Heritage Site.

Restaurants, shops, cafés.

Major Mainline Railway Station: Bath Spa, with hourly connections to Bristol, Swindon, Reading, and London Paddington.

       Roman Baths at Bath
       Photo by David Iliff

The K&A Canal enters Bath discreetly and elegantly via this tunnel beneath Sydney Gardens park. Cyclist must dismount for the tight clearances of the tunnels and many bridge underpasses along the canal.
The K&A Canal enters Bath discreetly
and elegantly via this tunnel beneath
Sydney Gardens park. Cyclists must
dismount for the tight clearances of
the tunnels and many bridge
underpasses along the canal.

   
   

 

II. THE DEVIZES ROUTE from Bradford-on-Avon is 50% longer than the The Bath Route, but straighter, more pastoral, and much less traveled. While it has fewer historic and architectural points of interest than the route west to Bath, it does have some lovely, tranquil views, remote picnic spots. The segment is less hilly and winding because the Avon River turns north into the Cotswolds while the canal heads east away from the Cotswold and Mendip hills, climbing gradually into the Vale of Pewsey. This section is noticeably agricultural. The few villages the route passes through are sleepy farming supply centers in western Wiltshire. Conveniently, each offers a pub or restaurant that welcomes cyclists and walkers needing a break from the canal towpath. At Foxhanger Wharf you encounter a stretch of seven canal locks over a mile, leading to Caen Hill and one of the great engineering landmarks of the early 19th century: the 16 consecutive “stair steps” of the Caen Hill Locks. Shortly after climbing Caen Hill, the path reaches the sizeable town of Devizes with its many restaurants, pubs, tea rooms, and cafés, plus the Kennet & Avon Canal Museum.

Sixteen locks arranged like a fish ladder enable the K&A Canal to climb Caen Hill into Devizes. Photo © Home At First.
Sixteen locks arranged like a fish
ladder enable the Kennet & Avon Canal
to climb Caen Hill into Devizes.

MILEAGE: Bradford-on-Avon to Devizes: 13mi o/w; 26mi r/t.

 

 

TIME REQUIRED: 5.5-9 hours depending upon tourist time in Caen Hill & Devizes and meal stops.
 

THE DEVIZES ROUTE: SEGMENTS WITH GAZETTEER

1. Bradford-on-Avon to Hilperton: 3 miles.
Facilities, Pubs, and Cafés at Bradford-on-Avon:

Railway Station: Frome Rd (B3109) ¼ mi N of the K&A Canal.

Bike rental shop: Towpath Trail (T. T.) Cycle & Canoe Hire at The Lock Inn, Frome Road  (B3109) by the canal. Mountain bikes, kids bikes, helmets & other accessories by the day or part day. Canoes, too. Pre-booking recommended: +44 (0)1225 867187.

“Barbara McLellan” canal cruiser: public trips from Wharf Cottage, Bradford-on-Avon We, Sa, Su, April thru October. Tel: +44 (0) 7503 445393.

Tourist Information Office.

The Lock Inn: Frome Road (B3109) by the canal.

Canal Tavern: Frome Rd (B3109) by the canal.

Canal Side Café: Frome Road (B3109) by the canal.

Rental bikes lined up outside The Lock Inn at Bradford-on-Avon.
Rental bikes lined up outside The
Lock Inn at Bradford-on-Avon.

   

The Barge Inn at Seend Cleeves, just west of the Caen Hill Locks.
The Barge Inn at Seend Cleeve,
just west of the Caen Hill Locks.

2. Hilperton to Semington Bridge: 2.5 miles.
Facilities at Hilperton:

King’s Arms pub 1/8mi SE of canal along Marsh Road.

3. Semington Bridge to Seend Cleeve: 2.2miles.
Facilities at Semington:

Somerset Arms pub ¼ mi SW of Semington Bridge on Semington High Street.

4. Seend Cleeve to Foxhanger Wharf, west end of Caen Hill Locks: 3mi. Facilities at Seend Cleeve:

The Barge Inn canal side pub/restaurant.

   

5. Foxhanger Wharf via Caen Hill Locks to Devizes:
2 miles. Facilities in Caen Hill and in Devizes:

Of the 57-mile-long K&A Canal’s 107 locks, 29 were clustered by designer John Rennie to  climb east 237 feet up Caen Hill from Foxhanger Wharf through the town of Devizes. Sixteen of these comprise the successive “stair steps” of the Caen Hill locks, the most impressive landmark on the canal and a wonder of early 19th century civil engineering.

Black Horse pub at Caen Hill Lock #48.

Wharfside Restaurant, Town Bridge, Devizes.

Kennet & Avon Canal Museum, Canal Centre, Devizes Wharf, Couch Street, Devizes: open daily 10AM-4PM.

Canal boats tied up at Devizes Wharf by the Kennet & Avon Canal Museum.
Canal boats tied up at Devizes Wharf
by the Kennet & Avon Canal Museum.

   
 

 

IF YOU GO:

GETTING TO BRADFORD-ON-AVON AND BACK:

BY CAR from Home At First’s Lodgings in the Northern Cotswolds in/near Chipping Campden:

Take the A44 SE to Moreton-in-Marsh, then the A429 S to its end at the M4 junction 17.

From the junction, take the A350 S around Chippenham to Melksham.

At the Bradford Road roundabout just outside of Melksham, take the B3107 SW into Bradford-on-Avon. The B3107 becomes Silver Street in Bradford.

Follow Silver Street (it becomes the A363 in town) across the River Avon bridge.

After the railway station roundabout, follow Frome Road S (it becomes the B3109) to the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Stop at The Lock Inn at the canal for parking and bike rental.

Total driving distance: 63.5 miles.    Total drive time: 100-110 minutes.

BY CAR from Home At First’s Lodgings in the Southern Cotswolds in/near Tetbury:

Take the A433 SW from Tetbury to the A46.

Take the A46 S to its end at the A4 roundabout just N of Bath.

Take the A4 NE toward Box.

Take the A363 SE to Bradford-on-Avon.

Continue through Bradford-on-Avon past the turn for the railway station, where the A363 becomes Frome Road.

Stay on Frome Road once it becomes the B3109 to its crossing of the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Stop at The Lock Inn at the canal for parking and bike rental.

Total driving distance: 28.5 miles.    Total drive time: 45-50 minutes.

BY RAIL from Home At First’s London Lodgings near
    The Tower of London:

Take London Transport’s Underground Circle Line from Tower Hill about 30 minutes to London Paddington.

From London Paddington, take the high-speed train
about 90 minutes to Bath Spa.

From Bath Spa, take the local train about 15 minutes to Bradford-on-Avon station.

From the station walk about ¼ mile S along Frome Road to the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Total travel time (with connecting time between trains): about 1hr 50min.

Rail Fares (round-trip): from £30/adult; £15/child (5-15).

Train arrival, Bradford-on-Avon rail station.
Train arrival, Bradford-on-Avon station.

 

RENTING BIKES: rent mountain bikes (best for the sometimes muddy towpath), helmets, and other accessories at Towpath Trail (T. T.) Cycle & Canoe Hire at The Lock Inn, Frome Road (B3109) by the K&A Canal in Bradford-on-Avon.

Bike Rentals (with helmet) by the day or partial day from £15/adult/day &  £10/child/day.

Canoe rentals: £10/hr. £40/day.
Pre-booking recommended: +44 (0)1225 867187. Open daily 9AM-6PM April thru October.

 

MAPS & TOURIST INFORMATION:  including the K&A Cycle Route leaflet are available at Bradford-on-Avon Tourist Information on the south side of the River Avon Bridge in the town center, and at the Wharf Cottage by the Bradford-on-Avon canal lock.

WEATHER: English. Expect a shower even on the finest of days. Bring a poncho, and plan to duck into any of the many pubs along the way when the shower begins.

English weather at the Caen Hill Locks near Devizes.
English weather at the Caen Hill
Locks near Devizes.

 

 

SAFETY: The towpath is partially paved and partially dirt and mud, ideal for mountain bikes despite not having any hills. Because hikers, strollers, and anglers are also drawn to the towpath, cyclists often need to proceed slowly — and occasionally dismount — in congested sections, especially between Bradford and Bath.

A special note of caution: we recommend dismounting from bikes before passing under bridges over the canal where the towpath is often too narrow for two bikes or a pedestrian and bike to pass without risking one or the other falling into the canal.

 

PICNIC GROCERIES: Stop at the Sainsbury’s Supermarket 3/8 mile south of the canal bridge. Follow Frome Road across the canal bridge. Turn left onto Moulton Drive. Sainsbury’s is along the canal at Moulton Drive at Rowden Lane.

RESTAURANTS: In addition to the restaurants, pubs, tearooms, and cafés listed in the segmented itineraries above, more way stations are found in isolated locations and in nearby off-path villages along the K&A Canal Path.

TOILETS (WCs): are available at pubs

There is no shortage of places to stop for a break and a bite along the K&A Canal, like the Cross Guns Free House pub, visible from the canal at Avoncliff.
There is no shortage of places to stop
for a break and a bite along the K&A
Canal, like the Cross Guns Free House
pub, visible from the canal at Avoncliff.

and restaurants along the K&A towpath. A few public WCs are available in towns and villages.

 

OTHER FACILITIES: Public phone booths (“call boxes”), shops, medical offices, and other facilities are found in villages along the route. Nevertheless, unless you fall into the canal, carrying a cell phone (“mobile”) with you is a good idea, especially in case of emergency.

 

FOR MORE EASY CYCLING IN WESTERN ENGLAND, SEE:

THE BRISTOL-BATH RAILWAY PATH

CYCLING COUNTRY LANES FROM GLOUCESTER TO BRISTOL.

 
Bath, Devizes, Bradford-on-Avon, and the Kennet & Avon Canal
are easily reached as a day trip from HOME AT FIRSTS lodgings
in LONDON and throughout THE COTSWOLDS.

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