During our travels we have covered many miles along canal towpaths, I find the industrial architecture around the construction of canals fascinating. Lynnie thinks too many miles on a towpath can be boring. It is a while since we last walked together by a canal and as we are staying only a few miles from the Kennet & Avon canal it is too good an opportunity to miss.
We have decided to join the canal at Bradford-on-Avon which is a short drive from Barrow Farm CL. As we enter the town we spot the signs for the Canal & River Trust car park. After feeding the ticket machine money for a long stay I am dismayed when it fails to keep its side of the bargain and fails to issue a ticket! Thus begins thirty minutes of frustration as I try to ensure I don’t end up with a penalty charge through no fault of my own. In the end a helpful chap from the Canal & River Trust reports the problem and I leave a note on the windscreen explaining the situation.
My annoyance at the delay is soon dissipated by the view of the marina as we join the canal towpath.
We follow the towpath in a westerly direction along the edge of Bradford-on-Avon. I realise that although I have driven through the town on many occasions it is not a place that Lynnie has visited, we decide on our return loop to wander into the town centre. The towpath is busy with folk.
For a long time I have hankered after walking the route from Westminster to Bristol, this takes the Thames Path to Reading and then follows the Kennet and Avon Canal all the way into Bristol. When I worked and commuted to London I spent hours on the train reading and planning the walk, but as yet I have not got around to sorting a time out to trek the 171 miles.
The route between Reading and Bristol covers 87 miles of waterway, the section from Reading to Newbury follows the River Kennet and from Bath to Bristol the River Avon. John Rennie made the section between the two rivers navigable between 1794 and 1810.
Like most canals this one suffered competition from the railways and the opening of the Great Western Railway in 1841 removed most of its traffic. By 1852 GWR had taken over control of the canal and increased tolls significantly to persuade the remaining traffic to move to the railway. Then in 1925 GWR sought to close the canal all together but by then pleasure boats had started to use it.
After World War II the Transport Act 1947 saw the canal transfer to the British Transport Commission, under their stewardship the canal fell into decline with large sections becoming unnavigable. In 1962 the charitable company the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust was established and they immediately started work on restoring sections and by 2003 the canal was fully navigable again.
The mile and a half between Bradford on Avon and Avoncliff is a popular spot; there are lots of people out taking a stroll.
On reaching Avoncliff the canal sweeps to the right and we wander onto the aqueduct to take a view back along the valley. The elaborate chimney is the site of a former flock mill.
Apparently it was Rennie’s original plan to cross the River Avon on the Bradford side of the mill, however, he then decided to head downstream because the valley was narrower. Work on the aqueduct commenced in March 1796 and it was completed in late 1798.
To continue on the towpath we have to go down and under the aqueduct. This provides a great opportunity to look at the magnificent structure.
After going under the arch we rejoin the canal towpath and cross the bridge, once again stopping to admire the view from this side. It is a great place to see how the river, railway and canal all run closely through this attractive valley.
In front of us, as we cross, is a World War II pillbox. This is one of a series of such boxes built along the edge of the canal to form the GHQ Blue Line a section of the General Headquarters Line which compartmentalised the country to thwart the expected German Invasion.
The towpath now follows the canal high above the river and railway line. On the opposite side of the canal is Muirhill and a plaque by the canal explains that the wharf we are passing was used to load stone transported down the hill on a tramway from the Winsley quarry at the top of Muirhill. The quarry opened in 1803 and closed in the 1830’s.
This section was particularly prone to leakages and during the restoration was subject to special treatment to prevent water loss. It is hard to believe that this stretch of canal was dry from 1954 until the early eighties.
It is very pleasant walking as we head towards Dundas Aqueduct. We pass occasional walkers and runners but we are mainly on our own.
Things get a bit busier as we reach the fine structure of Dundas Aqueduct. Work commenced on the aqueduct in 1796 but it took nine years to complete due to the poor quality stone sourced from the nearby Conkwell quarry. The aqueduct takes its name from Charles Dundas the first chairman of the Kennet and Avon Company.
After crossing the aqueduct we stop to look at the old Toll House.
It was my original intention to leave the canal here and walk uphill to Monkton Combe, however, crossing the aqueduct we passed, on our left, signs for the Somerset Coal Canal so we decide to follow this for a while.
This is an interesting stretch of canal, nowadays just short of a mile is open and it is mainly used for moorings. However, at one time it was a ten-mile canal running to Paulton and serving the Somerset coalfields which had over eighty collieries.
Built around 1800 it operated successfully for around a hundred years before the coal ran out resulting in the closure of the canal in 1902. This canal is said to have transported the coal that fuelled Bath for a hundred years and it was obviously busy, it is reported that in 1838 138,000 tonnes of coal came along this canal. Reaching the end of this section of canal we stop for a cup of tea at the tearooms.
Refreshed we cross the B3108 and then go under the A36 to follow a path along a driveway to Monkton Combe School. The footpath leads through the school to reach a lane where we turn left passing old school buildings. This independent school was founded in 1868 by the Reverend Francis Pocock and boasts a list of distinguished former pupils including the musician and songwriter Sir Richard Stillgoe and Sir Richard Dearlove the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service.
After passing the school we continue on to reach St Michael’s Church.
After visiting the church we retrace our steps, turning right by the Wheelwright Inn
Now heading downhill we pass the village lock up which was built around 1776.
We continue down the lane to join a footpath leading across the Midford Brook before heading steeply uphill to a lane leading into Limpley Stoke. Following the minor road we reach the busy A36 where we cross with care and follow the road on the opposite side to reach St Mary’s Church.
This fine church has many interesting features including the 15th Century stone pulpit which Lynnie decides is a suitable vantage point to view the church. It must be a challenge for a tall vicar to preach from it.
Continuing down this country lane (Church Lane) we head into Freshford
This is a delightful village with many interesting properties. We stop in the High Street to look at Morris’ Lion which sits above the stone doorway to Manor Barn. The Lion used to sit above the doorway of Morris’ store on the opposite side of the road.
Our route now takes us downhill on a road aptly named “The Hill” to pass the local pub equally aptly named “The Inn”, clearly folk around these parts had no lack of imagination!
We cross the River Frome and take a footpath cutting across the corner of a field to re-join the road at the junction to Freshford Mill. We head uphill and just after passing a row of terrace houses take a footpath on the left which continues uphill. We join a road, Staples Hill, and follow this to a junction where we turn left along lane sign posted to Avoncliff and Upper Westwood.
In Westwood we turn left opposite the telephone box to walk down towards some small industrial units and then join a footpath that heads downhill with views of Avoncliff aqueduct below us.
The wooded path leads to a lane which heads down to the canal.
At the canal we re-join the towpath and head back towards Bradford on Avon.
Instead of following the path back to the car park we take a left as we approach Bradford to visit the Tithe Barn in the Barton Farm Country Park. This barn was built in the mid 14thcentury and is said to be one of the largest medieval barns in England.
The barn was part of the Barton Grange Farm which belonged to Shaftesbury Abbey in Dorset. After King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1536 the farm moved into private ownership and the barn was part of a working farm until 1974. The site is now run by Bradford on Avon Preservation Trust and is owned by English Heritage.
We follow the River Avon into Bradford.
After briefly wanderer around the town before heading out over the Town Bridge with its lock-up. The original bridge was built in the 13thcentury and when it was widened in the 17thcentury the lock-up was added. The lock-up was built to hold prisoners until they could be brought before the magistrates. It is surmounted by a brass gudgeon wind vane, which apparently gives rise to a local saying that prisoners are ‘Under the fish and over the water’.
It is time for us to wander back to the car, so we follow the Frome Road to reach the canal and then the car park. Our walk has covered just over eleven miles and we have encountered many interesting things along the way.
To follow our walk you will need Ordnance Survey Outdoor Explorer Map 156 – Chippenham & Bradford-on-Avon; and Outdoor Explorer Map 155 – Bristol & Bath
2nd October 2018
© Two Dogs and an Awning (2018)