Canal boat holidays—Kennet & Avon Canal

Published: Wednesday, 19 January 2011

THE Kennet & Avon is not really a raw holiday hirers' canal, it being heavily locked with 104 broad locks over its length to the tidal section at Hanham a distance of 93 miles.

It also has many swing bridges, some extremely difficult to operate. Yet it has some of the most unusual features of any waterway on the whole system, so is worth considering as a boating holiday.

By far the most difficult part to cruise is the section from the Thames at Reading, with County Lock being most troublesome for newcomers due to there sometimes being such a small difference between the water levels of the river. Others too on the Kennet are awkward caused by a rushing bywash from the  river that can be narrow and fast flowing.

At one particular lock, the incoming river means a member of the crew has to go forward to prepare both a swing bridge and the lock before the boat can proceed, there being no mooring stage.

For mile after mile the locks come fast and furious, with a swing bridge over the centre of one lock that must be opened then closed after use, which is extremely difficult to move. Many of the locks on this Eastern section have precarious landing stages if at all.

Yet this part of the Kennet & Avon has the only remaining turf sided lock on the system, listed as an ancient monument, with turf sides and timber framing, being most interesting to boaters and visitors alike. Another unusual lock is scalloped sided, giving it a most unusual appearance.

Mooring along this Eastern section is not too good, and virtually impossible on the river sections, yet it is a waterway that is very well worth cruising for the more experienced with a good crew.

After Bruce Tunnel there is the sheer relief of a 15 miles pound to Devizes without a single lock. This is a town that really should not be missed by the holiday hirer,  as it has some very interesting original streets and shops. It is at Devizes  that the hirer will meet the  famous Caen Hill Flight, which though hard work, where  the use of extra length windlasses are a must for the stiff paddles, somehow is a pleasure in its achievement, we having done it four times.

Much of the waterway into Bath has had a great deal of money spent on it, and it shows, with a plethora of moorings, though many near the city are taken up by resident moorers. But the many swing bridges  on the waterway from Devizes to Bath again can be a pain.

At Bath the waterway joins the Avon to Bristol, and after Hanham Lock is tidal.