Walking Kennet and Avon Canal
You might find this local information useful. between the Thames and the Bristol Avon
The Kennet & Avon Canal weaves through spectacular scenery between the Thames and the Bristol Avon, as natural rolling landscapes give way to the World Heritage Site of Bath.
England's most southerly cross-country broad-beam canal links London and the Bristol Channel. The route of the Kennet & Avon takes it through some of the nation's best loved landscapes, including West Berkshire - an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - and the southern tip of the rolling Cotswolds.
The Kennet and Avon is an impressive feat of engineering, made up of two river navigations and a linking stretch of canal. It runs from the Severn Estuary near Bristol to the River Thames at Reading, over 100 miles long with more than 100 locks, some magnificent engineering and crossing some of the most beautiful scenery in southern England. It was only reopened in 1990 after decades of dereliction.
The Avon Navigation cuts through wooded hills and the famous Avon Gorge on its way to Bristol and then meanders up to Bath. The canal then climbs the Caen flight of locks to Devizes and runs amidst rolling hillsides along the Vale of Pewsey towards Hungerford to descend through pasturelands, woods and watermeadows to Reading and the junction with the River Thames.
Bristol has some fine old buildings and the dock area has preserved craft including the SS Great Britain, the first iron steamship. Bath was a Roman spa town and has many Roman remains, though the spa baths are no longer open. It contains much 18th century classical architecture, including the famous Royal Crescent. Bradford on Avon also has Georgian stone terraces. Devizes has medieval buildings and Norman remains, Salisbury Plain and Neolithic Stonehenge are close by.
The waterway includes the Georgian splendour of the City of Bath and the pastoral pleasures of rolling Berkshire and Wiltshire, with unique architectural and engineering features of majestic aqueducts and bridges.
Starting at Brunel's historic Floating Harbour at Bristol, close to the city's theatres, shops and restaurants, the route first takes the tidal River Avon to Bath. This spectacular World Heritage City has Georgian architecture and Roman remains including the famous Baths, Abbey and many historic attractions.
The Kennet & Avon company fell into such bad financial trouble that their bankers forced them into instructing Rennie to cut back on his construction costs. This can't have gone down well with a man currently in the middle of his greatest creation! Things got worse when it was found that the canal treasurer, Francis Page, was swindling money from the accounts. He admitted to taking £10,000 and to pay it back his brother Frederick, who conveniently owned the River Kennet Navigation, offered to sell his waterway to the canal company.Unfortunately for both Page and the canal company, he'd left them in such a financial state that there was no way they could afford to buy the river navigation.
While Rennie struggled with his aqueducts, water supply problems, the mighty lock flight at Devizes, lack of money and the demands of the upper classes on his approach into Bath - the Wiltshire & Berkshire Canal company opened their route. However, the Wilts & Berks company appear to have got a little over confident with their early successes gained before the Kennet & Avon was fully open; They began thinking they could become the dominant through route to London.They planned to cut out the Kennet & Avon Canal and the Thames & Severn Canal by creating a line direct from Wootton Bassett into Bristol.Although this plan never came to fruition, it sparked the Kennet and Avon company into promoting a new route of their own which would link their canal to the Basingstoke Canal at Old Basing. The scheme was opposed by Frederick Page who still owned the River Kennet Navigation and by the Commissioners of the River Thames. Both feared that the new route would rob them of trade and both were very much looking forward to the Kennet & Avon Canal providing them with through traffic between London & Bristol, they didn't want traffic diverted and the scheme was defeated in Parliament.