The stone balustraded Newbury bridge.
The stone balustraded Newbury bridge.

The Kennet & Avon Canal

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 reopened in 1990 after decades of dereliction.

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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 on to the River Kennet, which can be tricky after heavy rainfall, 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.

Caen Hill locks
Caen Hill locks

Honeystreet is a small canal village with a beautiful name, Pewsey has its White Horse, cut into a local hillside, Hungerford and Newbury are market towns and Reading has shiny office blocks housing computer firms.

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 be seen in working condition.

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Key Facts

Kennet & Avon Canal Broad canal, 86 miles Bath to Newbury, 106 locks, 1 tunnel, at least 1 week to cruise.

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.


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