Kennet and Avon canal
Walks following the canal path Wiltshire and West Berkshire.Reading - Theale
Theale - Aldermaston Wharf
Aldermaston Wharf - Brimpton
Brimpton - Newbury
Newbury - Marsh Benham
Marsh Benham - Kintbury
Hungerford - Froxfield
Froxfield - Great Bedwyn
Great Bedwyn - Durley
Durley - Wootton Rivers
Wootton Rivers - Fyfield
Fyfield - Pewsey
Every half decent day is worth the risk of venturing out now autumn is upon us. With a cold northerly wind this has been the first day that tempted me to turn on the heating. Still the sun is still quite strong and was forecast to shine for most of the day.
My last blogged walk was curtailed due to lack of time, I had planned to walk from Great Bedwyn to Wooton Rivers in one long walk (14 miles) this is the second part from Great Bedwyn to Durley. This now completes the Kennet and Avon canal all the way from Reading to Pewsey, so a cause of minor celebration. Here is a map of the 12.5 mile walk:
View Great Bedwyn - Durley in a larger map
I started at Great Bedwyn which has a good many interesting buildings, I quite liked the Cross Keys pub which as at the centre of the village.
To add more interest to the walk and avoid a walk along a road I took a detour into Chisbury Wood. Here I was pleased to still see one or two Speckled Wood butterflies, there is one hiding in this picture. It was keen to hide away from the cold wind.
In the wood there were plenty of fungi coming out and I was lucky to see five deer (probably fallow deer), too dark to get a picture of them. I then passed Stokke Manor and entered some woodland that links to Savernake Forest.
There were a few late summer flowers around and a few ancient trees, the track led through large puddles to St. Katharine's Church. A rather strange place as it is set far away from the local villages in the middle of the wood. The history is that it was dedicated in 1861 to the Russian-born Catherine Vorontsov, Dowager Countess of Pembroke and mother of the Marchioness of Ailesbury who had their home at nearby Tottenham House. I went passed Tottenham House on the last walk where I saw the Monument in Savernake erected by the Duke of Ailesbury. The church has a striking exterior.
Inside it has a fine rounded chancel which was just catching the sunlight streaming in. Another Victorian church I quite like, whatever next?
My path took me through the grounds of Tottenham House with dire warnings about Gurkha Security Patrols. Luckily I saw no Gurkhas, instead I saw some waxcaps growing in a meadow.
I walked down to the Kennet and Avon canal to rejoin where I left it a fortnight ago. The canal here is underground, the only tunnel on the canal as it reaches its highest altitude (a dizzying 450 feet above sea level). At the tunnel entrance I was surprised to hear the distorted sound of people singing as they sailed their way through the 502 yard tunnel. The Bruce tunnel is another commemoration of Thomas Brudenell-Bruce, 1st Earl of Ailesbury (of Tottenham House) who insisted on a tunnel rather than a deep cutting when the canal was opened in 1810. A panel has the inscription ‘The Kennet and Avon Canal Company Inscribe this tunnel with the name BRUCE in testimony of their GRATITUDE for the uniform and effectual support of the Right Honourable Thomas Bruce, Earl of Aylesbury and Charles Lord Bruce his Son through the whole Progress of this great National Work by which a direct communication by Water was opened between the cities of London and Bristol Anno Domini 1810.’. The building of the canal was a major enterprise linking the two greatest cities in the UK at the time, the only alternative transportation was by sea around Cornwall and along the English Channel. The threat from Napoleon was a spur to create an inland route.
No wild-flowers yet! Along the canal bank there were some plants still putting on a good show, there was a lot of Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria).
I took lots of pictures of the locks along this stretch and this is the best one. You may note that the locks are descending in level towards Hungerford. At the time this was a bit of a puzzle as I had thought Crofton was at the top.
The Industrial history is rich along this stretch of canal. Crofton has a still functioning steam engine that was installed to bring water to the top level of the canal at Durley. The problem was that there was no adequate source of water to divert into the canal - the area is mainly on chalk bedrock. To save building a long tunnel the plan was to pump water from downstream where a reservoir could be built, this was at Crofton. Here you can still see the oldest working steam engines in the World (doing the same job at the same place they were originally built to do). They hold steam up at weekends through most of the year. There is an 1812 Boulton and Watt engine as well as a 1846 Harvey engine which raise the water 40feet (12m) from the reservoir level to a channel (leet) that leads back to the highest section of the canal.
Wilton Water is an essential part of the scheme, to ensure it holds water I assume it had to be sealed with clay. It is a haven for birds, loads of ducks; geese and swans. On the canal I did not see many birds, one Grey Wagtail did dart around for a while. This stretch of the Wilton Water had Canada geese.
At this point I decided to make a large detour to Wilton as the canal can become fairly boring in large doses. I walked along the bank of the reservoir to the picturesque village of Wilton. Confusingly there are two Wiltons in Wiltshire, the other Wilton in the far south of the county is the origin of the name Wiltshire. As I passed I was delighted to see a grape vine on the front of a house on the main road. It seems to have been a good year.
I planned to cut back to the canal but saw a sign to the Wilton Windmill. This is local landmark, visible for miles around, and I decided to visit it as I was unlikely to get this close again for ages. Wilton Windmill was spinning away in the stiff wind, it is still kept working by a dedicated band of volunteers. Its history is surprisingly tied up with the canal yet again. Building the canal meant that watermills on the Rivers Kennet, Dun and Avon had to be demolished. As compensation a 'new' windmill was built at Wilton in 1821.
I bought a bag of flour there; here is the proof.
After all that industrial heritage I was pleased to escape out into the countryside again. Blackberries were still looking tempting as there has so far been no frost.
The Wilton Brail woods turned out to be a gem. There is a good mixture of trees and several ancient ones. It was still too early for autumn colour, fungi were the main interest. An upturned tree had lots of Orange Peel fungus (Aleuria aurantia) growing from the exposed root ball.
More traditional fungi were there too. I think it is Blusher (Amanita rubescens), it is poisonous raw but edible when cooked, but not something I am tempted to try.
Here's an unidentified one.
I made my way back to Wilton Water to continue the canal path back to Great Bedwyn. The clouds had come over and there was little new to see. I did spot some Comfrey in flower.
The walk worked out at 12.5 miles or so and I was quite relieved to at last see Great Bedwyn again. The last stretch had a large number of house boats on the canal. Many had lit a fire to keep warm in the descending gloom.
Here is a map courtesy of the British Waterways Board that just happens to cover the whole stretch from Pewsey to Reading (about half the full length of the canal).