We began our weekend cruise along the lovely Kennet & Avon Canal from the pretty town of Bradford on Avon, next to the lock. We were staying and cruising on the Princess 2, which was perfect for just the two of us, plus our two dogs. The Princess 2 has a ‘reverse’ layout, which means that the kitchen and saloon area is at the back of the boat rather than the front, making it easier to get drinks or snacks when required without completely deserting the person who is steering the boat. The Princess 2 also had a very comfortable sprung mattress and plenty of storage space (including a very useful wine rack).
Day 1, arrival at the boat yard:
On our first afternoon we turned away from Bath and proceeded east along the canal towards Semington, where we stopped for a delicious meal at the Somerset Arms. The scenery along this stretch is mainly farmland and the bright yellow fields full of rapeseed flowers looked stunning. En route we passed two other boat bases, our 2nd base at Bradford-on-Avon (approx 20 minutes cruising from the first base) and the marina at Hilperton, with it’s imposing offices suspended above the water. We particularly enjoyed looking at some of the attractive stone cottages and typical ‘English Country Gardens’ that we passed along the way, many with painted rowing boats moored nearby. After a couple of hours we passed through the white swing bridge (using the windlass) at Semington and moored up at the next bridge within easy walking distance of the pub.
Day 2, cruising to Bathampton:
The next morning we awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed and went under the bridge, turning just before the first proper lock at the wide ‘winding hole’ there, and cruised back the same way that we had come on our first afternoon. Being late Spring, there were numerous ducks with their cute, fluffy ducklings paddling about along the way and it was great fun to feed them little tit-bits of bread. Moorhens sat on their nests, still awaiting their tiny arrivals, and rabbits hopped about, grazing in the surrounding fields.
After doing the Bradford-on-Avon lock, surrounded by picturesque waterside cottages and town houses, we moored up next to the nearby 13th Century Tithe Barn and walked the short way back to the canalside Lock Inn, where we had an excellent lunch (served in rather large portions). There were plenty of other boats moored along the towpath here, including a floating café and a floating hair salon! Moving off again, we headed towards the aqueduct at Avoncliff which stretches over the River Avon and we crossed over whilst taking in the view. After this there is a long almost straight run for a while, with wooded land and sandstone rocks to the right, hillside villages to the left, including Limpley Stoke where the Hop Pole Inn is situated just 10 minutes’ walk from the canal (serving food once again). The second stone aqueduct at Dundas followed soon afterwards, passing over railway tracks set deep in the valley. At the end of the Dundas aqueduct there is another ‘winding hole’ and a water tap to replenish your water on the boat. Close by, you will find Monkton Combe boat base which has another little café on site or you could walk up the steep hill into the village itself and stop at the Wheelwrights Arms for refreshments.
Along the next stretch of the canal there are lots of people living on their own boats, known as ‘live-aboards’. It is very important to slow right down as you pass by, just in case the people onboard are cooking or boiling the kettle (as any water movement causes waves which will rock their boats). This does make the journey a bit slower, so you will need to allow extra time for this when planning a route. The various boats moored along here are rather interesting to look at and come in all shapes and sizes. Often there are bikes chained nearby, so that the people who live there can commute to their jobs in the daytime and there is usually a wave or a ‘hello’ as you cruise past. Along this route you will encounter two more swing bridges (at Millbrook and Bathampton) before you reach The George at Bathampton, which has mooring outside and serves rather good food in my opinion. We moored here for the evening, even though we could easily have carried on to Sydney Gardens on the outskirts of Bath, or Bath itself, if we had wished to.
Day 3, arriving at Bath:
The next morning we puttered away from The George with a spring in our step and continued towards historic Bath with panoramic views of the City laid out before us to the right. Soon we spotted the small wrought iron entrance gate that leads in to ‘Sydney Gardens’ as we passed under the ornate bridges and tunnels at Bathwick, followed shortly afterwards by the pretty boatyard at Bath (Sydney Wharf) with it’s interesting architecture and the first of six locks which took us down onto the River Avon, these include the extraordinarily deep ‘Bath Deep Lock’ which is not for the faint hearted (and definitely not for the claustrophobic)! Turning right after the last of these locks, we moored near the centre of Bath and walked into the City. Bath is such an amazing place and well worth allowing 3 or 4 hours to discover. We bypassed the Abbey and the Roman Baths as we had visited them before and headed down the cobbles of Bath Street and into a very pretty square where we had coffee. Last time we visited Bath we went to the Theatre Royal in the evening. For those of you who like cakes, a trip to nearby ‘Sally Lunn’s Tea Shop’, set in one of the oldest houses in Bath and housing it’s own kitchen museum, is good fun and if it’s your first visit to the City, there are plenty of bus tours or walking tours available too.
Here we turned the boat around and made our way back to Bradford-on-Avon, stopping for lunch just after the Avoncliff Aqueduct at the nearby ‘Cross Guns’ and then continuing at a leisurely pace towards the lock at Bradford-on-Avon, which we decided to tackle in the morning, having had a walk around the pretty stone-built town in the afternoon and another lovely meal at the Lock Inn.
This is a very interesting and scenic route. If you don’t wish to do many locks you can turn at Sydney Gardens instead of going into central Bath, moor nearby and walk in or get a taxi. Thoroughly recommended, particularly for a weekend or a mid-week break.