Towpath Trails

Kennet and Avon Canal

First and foremost I need to say that we aren’t living on a boat!! Those of you who saw our starring role on TV (Escape to the Country) may think we were tempted after being seen chatting to the owner of a wide beam canal boat. The title, however, refers to our wanderings while we are staying in Wiltshire along parts of the Kennet and Avon Canal.


Canal Connections

This may be the most boring sentence I have ever typed in a blog but here goes (although Jonno will probably say that there have been many)…….. I have always been mildly fascinated by the history behind canals and the amazing amount of engineering and sheer manual work needed to build them.

Originally built and used for cargo giving a link to main industrial cities and rivers but now the 2,000 miles of navigable waterways are used for leisure and as a home to many. One figure says that there are more boats on the canals now than at the height of the industrial revolution.

The canal nearest to us is the Kennet and Avon. Apart from the countless footpaths and bridleways that criss-cross the canals and tempt us to wander down, what we love most are the incidental things we come across like this fairly unique narrowboat.

Kennet and Avon Canal

The Kennet and Avon Canal

Running from Bristol to Reading the K&A is 57 miles long with a length of navigable river at each end which adds another 30 miles (the Avon and the Thames). The canal gradually became used less and less in the late 19th and 20th century after the opening of the Great Western Railway.

Teams of volunteers completed years of restoration work and it was fully reopened in 1990. We both find tow path walking both relaxing and interesting. Comparing narrowboats, seeing the wildlife and watching the crews negotiate narrow locks and swing bridges. It gets particularly entertaining when some of the hire boats with their less experienced sailors rock up.

Kennet and Avon Canal

Below are just a few of our tow path wanderings:

  • Junction of Kennet and Avon and Wilts and Berks Canal. There is just a concrete wall and painting where these canals linked up. The W&B Canal was abandoned in 1914 partly due to the collapse of an aquaduct leaving much of the canal unnavigable. Some of it has now been restored and rewatered.
  • Caen Hill Locks. The 16 locks are part of the 29 which are known as the Devizes Flight. It can take between 4 and 6 hours to get through the whole system covering the height difference of 237ft from top to bottom. Overnight mooring is allowed in a couple of basins between certain locks. It must be a fairly demanding physical effort manoeuvring all the gates. A pumping station was installed to replenish the large amount of water needed to operate the locks. At maximum capacity it can pump the equivalent of one lockful every 11 minutes.
Kennet and Avon Canal
  • Bradford on Avon and Avoncliff. On a beautiful sunny day, we walked from Bradford on Avon to Avoncliff and back. Bradford on Avon was buzzing with canal boats stopping off to have breakfast in the canal side cafe but as we walked along towards Avoncliff the tranquillity and slow pace of canal life resumed. There is an aquaduct at Avoncliff which traverses both the River Avon and the railway line. There is a pub nestled down by the river called the Cross Guns which had gardens overlooking the aqueduct but we opted for the tea gardens and had coffee and some rather yummy homemade scones.
Kennet and Avon Canal
“Bradford on Avon”
“The Avoncliff Aquaduct”
Kennet and Avon Canal
“No.10 Tea Garden at Avoncliff”
  • Semington to Bowerhill. This was our most recent short walk. We parked near the Semington bridge over the canal and walked east towards Devizes. A mix of swing bridges and a few locks along the route plus a few fellow towpath walkers to pass the time of day with made it the usual pleasant stroll. After around a mile and a half we came across a little picnic site just off the towpath which was obviously maintained by the residents of Bowerhill. It had around a dozen sitting areas completed with racks for disposable BBQs, a bug hotel and various other ingenious art and design features including Paw Paving.
Kennet and Avon Canal
Kennet and Avon Canal

There were a couple of noticeboards and it was on these that we read about RAF Melksham and Bowerhill. Despite Jon’s RAF background and interest in long lost RAF stations, this one had passed him by. RAF Melksham was never an operational base. Bit difficult really because it didn’t have a runway!!

But from 1940 to 1965 it was home to the No 12 School of Technical Training so there were plenty of aircraft parts being worked on. It was also No 10 School of Recruit Training and at it’s height it averaged about 100 airmen and women passing out. In it’s lifetime the Armament School was also based here. Year by year each training school was moved to other bases and it finally closed in 1965.

RAF Melksham
“RAF Melksham in it’s heyday”

The RAF legacy continues though with some of the streets in the area having names such as Lancaster Road and Falcon Way.


Future Canal Capers

Back in June 2020 we were due to walk the length of the Llangollen Canal on the English Welsh Border. After working out our route and places to stay along the way, for all the obvious reasons that was shelved but we did manage to walk some of the Thames Path as an alternative from Tower Bridge to Hampton Court and visit Llangollen as part of our Shropshire and Staffordshire Road Trip.

We are still hooked on canals and walking by water in general and both feel a new towpath tramp (as they say in NZ) needs to be planned. Can’t sign off without a mention of the Canal and River Trust and their staff and volunteers who we have to thank for being guardians of over 2,000 miles of waterways, heritage buildings and structures in England and Wales. We have met some of their volunteers on our walks who have given us an extra insight into the particular area.

Just to answer the question that you may be thinking…..no, we are not planning to live on the water, we are land sailors although the simplicity and pace of life makes it rather tempting.

Kennet and Avon Canal

01/11 – 11/11/2021



32 comments

  1. I love a good canal walk. Coincidentally I stayed at the RAF Melksham when I was about 8. I think the American Air Force was based there and my aunt was a GI bride and they were stationed there for a while. We had a holiday there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We have always liked the idea of having a holiday on a canal boat as part of a UK trip. But the last time we were there, in 2016, the cost for just one week was crazily expensive. We didn’t bother and spent that week exploring the Lake District instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am sorry to say I missed your Escape to the Country episode. I will try and find it online somewhere. You certainly know a lot about canal life Jo. I understand what you say about walking by water. I love it and so does my dog. You will often find us walking on the Ria Formosa.

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  4. I once bought a small canal cruiser when I was with my partner, it needed a lot of refurbishment but sadly we split up before it was finished and I had to sell it. I love a good canal walk though and there are two sections of the Leeds/Liverpool both within a short drive from home which make good dog walks. My favourite has to be the Lancaster Canal though, 42 miles of lock-free sailing and passing through some really pretty countryside – I walked a ‘new to me’ section of it beyond Morecambe during the August bank holiday weekend.

    As for Escape To The Country, I’ve just read your post about it and it confirmed why I gave up watching it – it started to irritate me that they always seem to show properties that don’t fit the house hunters requirements, particularly when people say they have pets or young children yet they get shown something right on a busy main road 😦 I’ll try to find your episode though, just to see what they showed you πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • You have inspired us to walk some of the canals further north. There are endless opportunities. Good luck finding the Escape to the Country episode. It was an experience to take part and we took it for what it was but a little frustrating as well.

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  5. Definitely not boring to be fascinated by canals, I am too! It’s the combination of whimsical and technical for me. Don’t think I’d actually want to live life onboard on though, I suspect it’s not as romantic as I imagine. I’ve been at Pewsey Wharf when they pump out the tanks for the on board plumbing, bit grim!

    Lenin is fascinating, got to be a story behind that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely a life through rose tinted summer glasses but I love the slow pace of canal life. Lenin looked a bit intimidating tbh but like you I would love to know the story behind the naming of the “red” boat.

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