Sunday, 6 August 2017

A Day Out On the Kennet & Avon Canal

How's your summer holiday panning out so far? Two weeks of wet weather down, we've managed to stick two fingers up to the rain with a trip to Oxford and a festival, but it ain't easy coming up with imaginative ideas for budget days out when the weather isn't on your side. It's important, I think, to capitalise on the dry days with cost-free outings so you can save the expensive stuff (trips to the trampoline park, cinema, bowling, etc) for times when there really is no alternative but to be indoors.
I find myself in a perpetual state of weather and radar app checking during the holidays, corralling the children out of the house whenever there's the merest glimmer of sunshine on the horizon. So I was up with the larks at the weekend when it looked like conditions were fair for a trip to the countryside. Not wanting to to travel too far or spend too much money, we decided to head to the Caen Hill Locks, a pretty patch of the Kennet and Avon canal located in the Wiltshire town of Devizes.

Coming in at about 40 minutes journey time from Bristol, it's a great place to visit for a morning or afternoon if you fancy hanging out canalside and watching the waterways in action. During the Industrial Revolution, the canal was a vital means of ferrying goods between Bristol and London; today, the Caen Hill Locks are the perfect place for a riverside stroll or a bike ride.
Essentially a staircase of 29 locks, it's a surprisingly photogenic spot, the locks rising up into beautiful surrounding countryside. And if you have small people who are fascinated by that kind of thing, there are plenty of opportunities to watch the locks open and close as a steady stream of canal boats wind their way along the river.

The stretches around the tow path are taken up with nature reserves, plus there's an area for pond dipping - ducks, heron and other waterfowl paddle across the water, plus you can fish in designated areas. 

It's a truly tranquil spot for a picnic, plus there's a lovely cafe with gardens overlooking the canal - strung with bunting and paper lanterns, it makes an ideal pit-stop for a cup of tea and a slice of cake. If you're on bikes you can follow the towpath up to Bradford-on-Avon (a feat best reserved for older kids or grown ups) or you could jump in the car and head down to another pretty patch of the canal towards Bath at Dundas - the aqueduct here is spectacular and is a 'Scheduled Ancient Monument' (the same status as Stonehenge.) 

A short walk along the canal path brings you to another of our recent discoveries - the idyllic Warleigh Weir. A legendary spot for wild swimming and unleashing your inner Enid Blyton, it can get busy, but if you're lucky you can spread out a blanket on the tiny patch of 'beach' by the waterfall and dip your toes in the water if you're not quite ready for the full wild swimming experience. 

If you want to do the canal in true style, you can, of course, hire your very own narrowboat for the day. Accommodating up to 12 people to make the cost more affordable, take a look at Bath Narrowboats for more information (they have bases at Sydney Wharf, Bath and Brassknocker Basin, just outside Bath.) This is an experience I've definitely got on my bucketlist - watching the boats glide by at the kind of pace I like when it comes to watersports (i.e. slow) I kind of wished we had another 8 people in tow on the day of our visit to give it a go. 
I totally wouldn't be navigating (that would be a bad idea) but I'd be perfectly happy to open a few locks now and then, in between sipping on a glass of Prosecco or two - now, THAT is my idea of water-based fun...
For more information about Caen Hill Locks, visit the Canal River Trust website here.


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