Dave and I have had a fascination for canals and canal boats for many years. Back in 2006 we traveled to Wales and hired a canal boat on the Llangollen Canal, crossing over the majestic 126 foot high Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
It was just a magical week and after all these years it still stands out as one of our most exciting adventures. Managing the locks was exhilarating, nerve-racking and hilarious. Negotiating the single lane long dark tunnels was sometimes stomach churning, hopeful that another canal boat didn’t approach from the opposite direction.
Fast-forward 10 years and although we didn’t take a canal boat trip while we were in Bradford on Avon we had a great nostalgic time wandering along the Kennet & Avon Canal. We had thought of going out in a boat just for a day but the weather was never really clear enough to make it worthwhile.
The K&A Canal passes through Bradford on Avon, linking Reading & Bristol for 140km. The canal was constructed in the early 1700’s but once the Great Western Railway commenced in 1841 the canal became gradually less popular as a means of transportation and fell into disrepair. Volunteers started working on the restoration of the canal in the 1960s and today the canal is fully functional and enjoyed by so many people, on and around the water.
There is a brilliant UK TV series called “Great Canal Journeys” featuring Prunella Scales and husband Timoth West (you’ll remember Prunella from Fawlty Towers). It really is fantastic watching and you might be able to pick up some episodes online at UK Channel 4 if you’re interested in getting a sense of life on the canals.
Many canal boats are permanently occupied. There are Council rules about the length of time a boat can remain moored in the same spot yet some of the boats look like they haven’t moved in years.
The personalised styling of the boats is unique and we’d find ourselves wondering about the occupants. Fascinating stuff, I love sticky-beaking into other people’s lives.
Driving towards the nearby town of Devizes we came across a huge canal boat marina.
Around Devizes the land descends by 72 meters over 4 km. 29 locks were built to allow the management and flow of the canal water and it can take 5-6 hours for a canal boat to traverse all 29 flights of the locks.
Out and about in the car we accidentally came across a quaint little place called Avoncliffe. We were heading home but decided to take a tiny downhill road just to see what was there. Then this! Just like magic.
There really is not a lot in Avoncliffe. Just a pub, a crystals shop and a train station. A few cute holiday cottages and of course the canal and an aqueduct. Lovely.
It was the perfect place to stop for coffee and take in the ambience of the place.
Hopefully one day we will have another opportunity to take a canal boat trip. It would be fun to travel with friends & family in tandem (the boats are a bit cozy for sharing, like a skinny caravan). It is a slow, peaceful, gentle way to see beautiful countryside. You have no choice but to take it slowly. And that’s how we like it.
And just to reminisce back to 2006…. doesn’t seem so long ago and there have been so many wonderful travels since.