Kennet and Avon Canal

Kennet and Avon Canal

The Kennet and Avon Canal is a canal in southern England. The name may refer to either the route of the original Kennet and Avon Canal Company, which linked the River Kennet at Newbury to the River Avon at Bath, or to the entire navigation between the River Thames at Reading and the Floating Harbour at Bristol, including the earlier improved river navigations of the River Kennet between Reading and Newbury and the River Avon between Bath and Bristol.cite web | title=The Kennet and Avon Museum, Devizes | work=Kennet and Avon Canal Trust | url=|accessdate=2006-08-20]

The River Kennet was made navigable to Newbury in 1723, and the River Avon to Bath in 1727. The canal between Newbury and Bath opened in 1810 and is 57 miles (92 km) long. The two river navigations and the canal total 87 miles (140 km) in length.cite web | title=The Kennet and Avon Museum, Devizes | work=Kennet and Avon Canal Trust | url=|accessdate=2006-08-20] In the later 19th century and early 20th century the canal fell into disuse following competition from the Great Western Railway, who owned the canal. In the latter half of the 20th century the canal was restored, largely by volunteers, and today is a popular heritage tourism destination, for boating, canoeing, fishing, walking and cycling. It is also important for wildlife conservation.

The section from Bristol to Bath is the course of the River Avon, which flows through a wide valley and has been made navigable by a series of locks and weirs. In Bath the canal separates from the river but follows its valley as far as Bradford on Avon. The ornate Bath Locks lead to a stretch through Limpley Stoke valley with few locks. The flight of locks at Devizes raises the canal to its longest pound, which then ascends the 4 Wooton Rivers locks to the short summit pound which includes the Bruce Tunnel. Pumping stations are used to supply the canal with water. The canal continues through the rural landscape of Wiltshire and Berkshire before joining the River Kennet at Newbury and becoming a navigable river to Reading, where it flows into the River Thames.


The idea of an east-west waterway link across southern England was first mooted in Elizabethan times, based on the Avon and Thames being only 3 miles (4.8 km) apart at their closest. The sea route between Bristol and London was hazardous during the 18th century and early 19th century, because Atlantic storms and the rugged coast line took their toll on the small coastal sailing ships of the day, and also because a succession of conflicts with France and her allies frequently made British cargo ships navigating the English channel the prey of both privateers and warships of the French navy. [cite web | title=Kennet & Avon Canal Trust | url= | accessdate=2006-09-20]

Although plans had been discussed for a canal, no action was taken until the early 18th century when the Avon navigation from Bristol to Bath and the Kennet navigation through Reading were built to meet local needs, independently of each other but both under the supervision of surveyor-engineer John Hore. In 1788 the so-called "Western Canal" was proposed to improve trade and communication links to towns such as Hungerford, Marlborough, Calne, Chippenham and Melksham, although there were doubts about the adequacy of the water supply. In 1793 a further survey was conducted by John Rennie and the route changed to a more southerly course through Great Bedwyn, Devizes, Trowbridge and Newbury. This was accepted by the Kennet and Avon Canal Company, chaired by Charles Dundas, and on 17 April 1794 the Kennet and Avon Canal Act received the Royal assent and construction began. The canal opened in 1810, after 16 years of construction, including Dundas and Avoncliff aqueducts, locks, and pumping stations at Claverton and Crofton, needed to overcome water supply problems. The final engineering feat was the completion of the Caen Hill locks at Devizes.cite book |last=Allsop |first=Niall |title=The Kennet & Avon Canal |year=1987 |publisher=Millstream Book |location=Bath |id=ISBN 0-948975-15-6 ]

The opening of the Great Western Railway in 1841 removed much of the canal's traffic, and in 1852 the railway company took over its running, levying high tolls at every toll point until the canal was hardly used. The Somerset Coal Canal and Wilts and Berks Canal, which supplied some of the trade from the Somerset coalfield to the Kennet and Avon, closed in 1904 and 1906 respectively.

During the Second World War, a large number of concrete bunkers known as pillboxes were built as part of the GHQ Line to defend against an expected German invasion, and many of these are still visible. cite book |last=Pearson |first=Michael |authorlink= |title=Kennet & Avon Middle Thames:Pearson's Canal Companion |year=2003 |publisher=Central Waterways Supplies|location=Rugby |id=ISBN 0-907864-97-X ]

By the 1950s large portions of the canal were closed because of poor lock maintenance. In 1956 the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust successfully petitioned against its legal closure. In 1963 the newly formed British Waterways took over the canal and began restoration work.

The Kennet and Avon Canal Trust was formed in the 1960s to restore the canal from Reading to Bristol as a through navigation and as a public amenity. In partnership with British Waterways and the riparian local authorities the Trust has continued to work to safeguard the navigation. In 1990 Queen Elizabeth II reopened the canal. In 1996 the ongoing problem of water shortage was resolved when new backpumps were installed at the flight of 29 locks at Caen Hill in Devizes at a cost of £1 million. The pumps raise water 235 feet (72 m) at a rate of 300,000 imperial gallons per hour (380 l/s). The Kennet & Avon Canal Partnership attracted the largest single National Lottery grant awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, £25 million towards a £29 million project, to complete the restoration and to make it operational, sustainable and accessible for the enjoyment of future generations. The restoration's completion was celebrated in May 2003 by a visit from HRH Prince Charles. [cite web | title=Kennet & Avon Canal Museum | url= | accessdate=2006-09-19] [cite web | title=Kennet & Avon Canal Trust | url= | accessdate=2006-09-20]

Canal today

The canal today is a heritage tourism destination. Boating, with both narrowboats and cruisers, is popular, particularly in the summer months, with privately owned craft and hire boats from the range of marinas being much in evidence, and there are numerous canoe clubs along the its length. The Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Marathon is held annually starting from Devizes Wharf, the site of the Kennet & Avon Canal Museum, at first light on Good Friday each year and the competitors have to negotiate 75 locks in the convert|125|mi|adj=on route between Devizes and the finish at Westminster. [cite web|url=|title=Mileage chart|publisher=Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race|accessdate=2008-10-05] The winning time is usually around 17½ hours. [cite web|url=|title=DW – What’s it all about?|publisher=Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race|accessdate=2008-10-05]

Cycling is permitted along the canal towpath except for a convert|656|yd|m|0 section near Woolhampton. Some sections of the canal towpath have been improved to provide a wider path that is more suitable for cyclists and disabled users. Under a partnership arrangement involving British Waterways, Sustrans and the riparian Local Authorities, two main sections of the canal have been improved, and, with a few short diversions, run from Reading to Marsh Benham and from Devizes to Bath as part of the National Cycle Network (NCN) Route 4. [cite web|url=|title=NCR 4|publisher=Sustrans|accessdate=2008-10-05] Fishing for bream, tench, roach, rudd, perch, gudgeon, pike and carp is permitted throughout the year from the towpath of the canal, but almost the whole length of the canal is leased to angling associations or fishing clubs. There are a variety of riverside public housess, shops and tea rooms. The Kennet and Avon Canal Trust also operates shops and tearooms at; Aldermaston Lock, Newbury Wharf, Crofton Pumping Station, Devizes and Bradford on Avon. [cite web | title=Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, Information for recreation | url= | accessdate=2006-09-20]

The canal is also important for wildlife conservation, with a variety of birds including herons and kingfishers, small vertebrate and invertebrate animals, and reeds and other plant life along the edges of the canal. Over 100 different species of bird have been recorded in surveys over the length of the canal. [cite web|url=|title=Chapter 3 Wildlife|work=State of the Environment Report|publisher=Reading Borough Council|accessdate=2008-10-05] Of those, 38 could be classified as specialist waterway birds with 14 species confirmed as breeding, including sand martins ("Riparia riparia"), which nest in drain-pipes in the brick walls of the canal in the centre of Reading. [cite journal|last=Youe|first=Michael|coauthors=John Tate|date=1998|title=British Waterways: a study in the search for sustainability|journal=Sustainable Development |publisher=John Wiley & Sons, Ltd|volume=6|pages=68-77|url=] The rare reed bunting ("Emberiza schoeniclus") is found at various places along the canal. Wilton Water by Crofton locks and the Kennet Valley gravel pits provide habitats for breeding and wintering waterfowl. The red kite ("Milvus milvus") has also been seen in Great Bedwyn. Several Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which exhibit great bio-diversity, are along the canal. Key sites that are home to several rare species include the Aldermaston Gravel Pits,cite web | title=Aldermaston Gravel Pits | work=English Nature | url= | accessdate=2006-09-23] cite web | title=Aldermaston Gravel Pits nature reserve | work=Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife turst | url= | accessdate=2006-09-23] Woolhamptoncite web | title=Woolhampton Reed Bed | work=English Nature | url= | accessdate=2006-09-22] and Thatcham Reed Bedscite web | title=Thatcham Reed Beds | work=English Nature | url= | accessdate=2006-09-22] [cite web | title=Thatcham Reedbeds and Greenham Common | work=Royal Society for the Protection of Birds | url= | accessdate=2006-09-22] and Freeman's Marsh, Hungerford. [cite web|url=| title=SSSI Citation for Freeman's Marsh|publisher=English Nature|date=1986|accessdate=22 September|accessyear=2006] There are also many non-statutory nature reserves throughout the length of the canal. Several species of odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) have also been identified. Measures to preserve and create water vole ("Arvicola amphibius or A. terrestrisis") habitat have had considerable impact on the restoration of the canal, and new "vole-friendly" techniques of bank protection have been developed. [cite web | title=Kennet & Avon Trade Association | url= | accessdate=2006-09-23]

Bristol to Bath

The Floating Harbour in Bristol is a convert|70|acre|km2|adj=on harbour created by installing lock gates on a tidal stretch of the River Avon in the centre of the city, given the name Floating Harbour because it is unaffected by tides. The harbour branches from the navigable River Avon at Netham Lock in east Bristol. The first mile of the harbour is the artificial Feeder Canal, the river following its original route. Beside Bristol Temple Meads railway station the harbour rejoins the original route of the Avon and meanders through, Bristol city centre, Canon's Marsh and Hotwells, where it rejoins the river and flows into the Avon Gorge. Between Temple Meads and Hotwells, never more than a kilometre south of the harbour, the Avon flows through the artificial New Cut, reducing currents and silting in the harbour and preventing flooding. East of Netham Lock is the Avon Navigation, which continues upstream for 12 miles (19.31 km) as far as Bath. The river Avon was navigable from Bristol to Bath during the early years of the 13th century but construction of mills on the river forced its closure.cite web | title=The Kennet and Avon Museum, Devises | work=Kennet and Avon Canal Trust | url=|accessdate=2006-08-20] The first cargo of "Deal boards, Pig-Lead and Meal" arrived in Bath in December 1727. The stretch is made navigable by the use of locks and weirs at Hanham, Keynsham, Swineford, Saltford, Kelston and Weston, which together overcome a rise of 30 feet (9.15 m). The Avon is navigable from its mouth at Avonmouth as far as Pulteney weir in the centre of Bath. The Kennet and Avon Canal connects with the Avon just below this weir and Bath Locks. Together with the Kennet Navigation and the River Thames it provides a through route for canal boats from Bristol to London.

Several areas along this stretch have been designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, including; Bickley Wood, [ [ English Nature citation sheet for Bickley Wood] (accessed 9 July 2006)] Cleeve Wood, Hanham, [cite web|url=|title=Cleeve Wood, Hanham|work=SSSI citation sheet|publisher=English Nature|accessdate=2008-10-05] Stidham Farm near Keynsham, [ [ English Nature citation sheet for Stidham Farm] (accessed 13 July 2006)] and Newton Saint Loe (for geological reasons as it represents the only remaining known exposure of fossiliferous Pleistocene gravels along the River Avon). [ [ English Nature citation sheet for Newton St Loe SSSI] (accessed on 2006-07-07)]

Bath to Devizes

K+A-B-D Bath Locks mark the divergence of the River Avon and the canal, convert|656|yd|m|0 south of Pulteney Bridge. [cite web | title=Bath Bottom Lock | work=Images of England | url=|accessdate=2006-09-04] Alongside the bottom lock are a side pound and a pumping station that pumps water up the locks to replace that used each time the lock is opened. [cite web | title=Former engine house | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04] The next stage of Bath Deep Lock is numbered 8/9 as two locks were combined when the canal was restored in 1976. [cite web | title=Second Lock | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04] The new chamber has a depth of 19 feet 5 inches (5.92 m), making it Britain's deepest canal lock. Just above the 'deep lock' is an area of water enabling the lock to refill and above this is Wash House Lock, [cite web | title=Wash House Lock | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04] followed by Abbey View Lock, [cite web | title=Abbey View Lock | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04] by which there is another pumping station and, in quick succession, Pultney Lock and Bath Top Lock. [cite web | title=Top Lock | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04]

Above the top lock the canal passes through Sydney Gardens including two short tunnels [cite web | title=Tunnel under Beckford Road | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04] [cite web | title=Tunnel under Cleveland House and Sydney Road | work=Images of England | url=|accessdate=2006-09-04] and under two cast iron footbridges dating from 1800. Cleveland tunnel is 173 feet (52.73 m) long and runs under Cleveland House, the former headquarters of the Kennet and Avon Canal Company. A trap-door in the tunnel roof was used to pass paperwork between clerks above and bargees below. This is now a grade II* listed building. [cite web | title=Cleveland House | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04] Many of the bridges over the canal are also listed buildings. [cite web | title=Footbridge Adjoining Top Lock | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04] [cite web | title=Footbridge adjoining Wash House Lock | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04] [cite web | title=Footbridge over Canal | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04] [cite web | title=Footbridge over Canal | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04] [cite web | title=Canal Bridge | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04] [cite web | title= Bridge over Canal | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04] [cite web | title= Canal Bridge (Pulteney Gardens) | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2006-09-04]

In the Avon Valley to the east of Bath the classic geographical example of a valley with all four forms of ground transport is found: road, rail, river, canal. The canal passes the remains of a loading dock, used in the past for Bath Stone from the quarries on Bathampton Down which was carried down a straight track to the canal over the Dry Arch rock bridge (demolished in 1958 to allow double-decker buses to use the A36). Next, the canal passes Claverton Pumping Station, which pumped water from the River Avon into the canal, and then crosses over the river and railway at the Dundas Aqueduct and back over them again at the Avoncliff Aqueduct. At the western end of the Dundas Aqueduct the canal is joined by the remains of the Somerset Coal Canal, of which a short stretch has been restored to form the Brassknocker Basin. [cite web | title=Origin of Brassknocker Basin name| url= | accessdate=2007-11-21]

The first sod for the Kennet and Avon Canal was turned in Bradford on Avon in 1794 and soon afterwards there were wharves above and below Bradford Lock. Next to the canal, a little way west of the lock, is a huge 14th-century tithe barn. [cite web | title=The Wide Way West | url=|accessdate=2006-09-09] Further east are swing bridges, Semington Locks in the little village of Semington, where the Wilts and Berks Canal joined, and Seend.

This section of the canal passes through agricultural land with occasional woodlands. Several sites on, or very close to, the canal have been designated by English Nature as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, including Brown's Folly,cite web|url=|title=Brown's Folly|work=Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)|publisher=English Nature|accessdate=2008-06-02] [cite web|url=|title=Brown's Folly|work=Reserves|publisher=Avon Wildlife Trust|accessdate=2008-06-02] Gripwood Quarry [ [ English Nature citation sheet for Gripwood Quarry] (accessed 22 July 2006)] and Inwood, Warleigh. [ [ English Nature citation sheet for Inwood] (accessed 16 August 2006)]

Devizes to Newbury

Caen Hill locks, at Devizes, provides an insight into the engineering needed to build and maintain the canal. The main flight of 16 locks is part of a longer series of 29 locks. [cite web|url=|title=Devizes Branch - Locks |publisher=Kennet and Avon Canal Trust|accessdate=2008-10-05] [cite web|url=|title=Caen Hill Locks|work=Kennet and Avon Scrapabook 2000|publisher=University of Portsmouth|accessdate=2008-10-05] The total rise is convert|237|ft|m|0 in convert|2|mi|km|1 or a 1 in 30 gradient. [cite book|last=Cragg|first=Roger|title=Civil Engineering Heritage: Wales and West Central England|publisher=Thomas Telford|date=1997|pages=154|isbn=9780727725769] The locks come in three groups: seven at Foxhangers, 16 at Caen Hill, and six at the town end of the flight. While the locks were under construction in the early 1800s a tramroad provided a link between Foxhangers at the bottom of the flight and Devizes at the top, the remains of which can be seen in the towpath arches in the road bridges over the canal. Because a large volume of water is needed for the locks to operate a back pump was installed at Foxhangers in 1996, capable of returning 32 million litres (7 million imperial gallons) of water per day to the top of the flight, equivalent to one lockful every 11 minutes. They were the last part of the convert|87|mi|adj=on route of the canal to be completed. Because of the steepness of the terrain there was not the space to use the normal arrangement of water pounds between the locks. As a result, the 16 locks utilise unusually large side ponds to store the water needed to operate. [cite web | title=Caen Hill Locks | | url= | accessdate=2006-09-18] In the early 19th century, 1829–43, the flight was lit by gas lights. [cite web | title=Caen Hill Locks | work=Kennet and Avon Scrapbook | url= | accessdate=2006-09-18] The locks take 5–6 hours to travel in a boat, and lock 41 is the narrowest on the canal.

in the world, dating from 1812, [Booklet 'Crofton Pumping Station' edition 2, printed by ESP Color Ltd in 2001, no explicit publisher or copyright details but believed to be published by the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust. Obtained from the Crofton Pumping Station in 2004.] [cite web|url=|title=About Crofton Pumping Station|publisher=Crofton Beam Engines|accessdate=2008-10-05] [cite web|url=|title=Crofton Pumping Station|publisher=Crofton Pumping Station|accessdate=2008-10-05] although for day-to-day operation the pumping station now uses electric pumps, automatically controlled by the water level in the summit pound.

Near Crofton are Savernake Forest [ [ Savernake, A History of the County of Wilshire, D.A. Crowley, 1999, Victoria County History, British History Online] ] and the remains of a railway bridge that carried the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the canal. [cite web|url=|title=KandAC mile 36|work=Kennet and Avon Scrapabook 2000|publisher=University of Portsmouth|accessdate=2008-10-05]

This section of the canal passes through agricultural land with occasional woodlands. Several sites on or very close to the canal have been dsignated by English Nature as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, including Jones's Mill, [ [ English Nature citation sheet for Jones's Mill] (accessed 15 August 2006)] Freeman's Marsh, [cite web|url=| title=SSSI Citation for Freeman's Marsh|publisher=English Nature|date=1986|accessdate=22 September|accessyear=2006] Kennet and Lambourn Floodplain, [ [ English Nature citation sheet for Kennet and Lambourn Floodplain] (accessed 16 August 2006)] Kennet Valley Alderwoods, [cite web | title=Kennet Valley Alderwoods | work=English Nature | url= | accessdate=2006-09-24] Irish Hill Copse [cite web | title=Irish Hill Copse | work=English Nature | url= | accessdate=2006-09-24] and the River Kennet SSSI. [cite web | url = | title = SSSI designation for River Kennet | accessdate = 2008-03-18 ]

Newbury to Reading

The River Kennet is navigable from Newbury downstream to the confluence with the River Thames at Kennet Mouth, in Reading.

The stretch from Newbury to High Bridge in Reading is an improved river navigation known as the Kennet Navigation, opened in 1723. Throughout this navigation stretches of natural riverbed alternate with 11 miles (17.70 km) of artificial lock cuts and a series of locks that overcome a fall of 130 feet (39.63 m).

Below Colthrop Lock in Thatcham the river leaves behind the built-up area of Newbury and runs in generally rural surroundings. The village of Woolhampton and the canal settlement of Aldermaston Wharf are the only significant settlements until the river enters the built-up area of Reading at Sheffield Lock in Theale. Even after this, the river is isolated from Reading's suburbs by a wide flood plain surrounding the river, and the surrounding town is far from obvious. In this stretch Garston Lock, the last remaining turf sided lock on the navigation, is passed. [cite web | title=Garston Lock | | url= | accessdate=2006-09-16] [cite web | title=All change for the K&A | url= | accessdate=2006-09-16]

Shortly after passing Fobney Lock and the associated water treatment works, the Kennet flood plain narrows and the river enters a narrow steep-sided gap in the hills forming the southern flank of the Thames flood plain. At County Lock the river enters the centre of Reading, where it formerly flowed through the centre of a large brewery. The narrow and twisting stretch of the river here became known as "Brewery Gut". Because of the poor visibility and difficulty of boats passing in this stretch, boat traffic has long been controlled by a set of maritime traffic lights. Today the Brewery Gut forms a major feature of The Oracle shopping centre.

Immediately after The Oracle, the river flows under the historic arched High Bridge, which forms a historical and administrative divide on the river. The last mile of the River Kennet in Reading below the bridge has been navigable since at least the 13th century. It was the absence of a floodplain on this stretch of the Kennet that enabled the development of wharves and led to Reading's importance as a river port in the middle ages. [cite web|url=|title=Reading Branch - Local History|publisher=Kennet and Avon Canal Trust|accessdate=2008-10-05] Originally this short stretch of river, which includes Blake's Lock, was under the control of Reading Abbey, but today it is administered by the Environment Agency as if it were part of the River Thames. [cite web | title=Blake's Lock | work=River Thames Guide | url= | accessdate=2006-09-17] [cite web | title=Lock Statistics | work=Floating Down the River | url= | accessdate=2006-11-13]

Sites of Special Scientific Interest on the stretch between Newbury and Reading include reed beds at Thatcham and Woolhampton and Aldermaston Gravel Pits.


ee also

*Locks on the Kennet and Avon Canal
*Waterways in the United Kingdom

External links

* [ The Kennet and Avon Canal trust]
* [ Photographs of the K&AC]
* [ National Cycle Route 4] – "Severn & Thames"; more info at [ waterscape]
* [] – Official Kennet and Avon Canal information
* [ Visit K&A] – Kennet & Avon Canal Rural Transport Partnership
* [ Kennet & Avon Trade Association]

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