newbury_bridge1
Stone balustraded Newbury bridge. (Photos courtesy Waterway Images)

The Kennet & Avon Canal

The Kennet and Avon is an impressive feat of engineering, made up of two river navigations, the River Avon and River Kennet, and a linking stretch of canal. It runs from the Bristol Channel near Bristol to the River Thames at Reading, nearly 90 miles long with more than 100 locks, some magnificent engineering and crossing some of the most beautiful scenery in southern England. It was reopened in 1990 after decades of dereliction.


The Avon Navigation cuts through wooded hills and beneath the famous Avon Gorge on its way from Bristol up to Bath. 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. The historic spa baths have been restored and extended with the contemporary New Royal Bath. It contains much 18th century classical architecture, including the famous Royal Crescent. From Bath the Kennet & Avon Canal then takes us to Bradford on Avon which also has fine Georgian stone terraces, then on to climb the imposing Caen Hill flight of 29 locks up to Devizes with its medieval buildings and Norman remains. Salisbury Plain and Neolithic Stonehenge are close by. The canal now runs amidst rolling hillsides along the Vale of Pewsey and through Honeystreet, a small canal village proud of its beautiful name!

Caen Hill locks

Pewsey has its White Horse, cut into a local hillside then on towards the market towns of Hungerford and Newbury to descend through pasturelands, woods and watermeadows on to the River Kennet, which can be tricky after heavy rainfall. Finally comes Reading with its shiny office blocks filled with computer firms and then the junction with the River Thames.

Many bridges, aqueducts and other structures were built in impressive classical style, designed by John Rennie. However his work on the canal was not totally successful. He used unseasoned Bath stone for ornamental work on bridges which weathered poorly, and the summit level was too short, causing the water shortages from which the canal still suffers. Pumping engines had to be installed to supply the summit level and at Crofton the original steam pumping engines have been restored and can often be seen in working condition.


Key Facts

Kennet & Avon Canal; Bristol to Reading – Broad waterway, 88 miles, 104 locks, 1 tunnel, at least 1 week to cruise.
(River Avon; Bristol to Bath – Broad waterway, 10 miles, 5 locks)
(River Kennet: Newbury to River Thames – Broad waterway, 19 miles, 21 locks)

Locks on the Kennet and Avon Canal were built to take barges with maximum dimensions of 73 feet long by 13 feet 10 inches wide.


All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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