Another half a dozen locks uphill from the Crofton Pumping Station and we had made it to the summit of the Kennet and Avon. The long haul from Reading up through more than fifty large and hard to work locks was over. Cruising 457ft above sea level, without the aid of oxygen.
But not for long! Biggles said we could take it easy for a bit, but we were soon in our first “proper” tunnel – Bruce Tunnel in Savernake Forest – 502 yards long. Just before the entrance, in a deep cutting in the middle of nowhere, we were somewhat surprised to see moored up a widebeam barge. We were even more surprised to see that it was John Pinkerton , a trip boat that the Basingstoke Canal Society used to run, and on which we celebrated an old friend’s 60th birthday a few years ago. We knew it had been sold, and a John Pinkerton II acquired, but quite what it was doing there looking rather unloved was a puzzle.
Just after the tunnel there’s the historic Burbage Wharf, with a recently restored and rather fine wooden crane.
The summit pound soon ends with three locks, dropping down (a novel experience) to the Long Pound, a very welcome 15 mile lock-free stretch eventually leading into Devizes. With views opening up over the Vale of Pewsey, White Horse sightings in the distance near the delightful and delightfully named Honeystreet Wharf, the struggles of the early section of the K&A were soon forgotten.
Just as we were mooring up at Wilcot, the local fuel boat came along offering (amongst other goodies) the cheapest diesel we’d seen, was happy to sell it at the 100% domestic/red-diesel rate, and took plastic. It would have been rude to refuse! Tying up alongside, a queue soon formed…
Like the Upper Thames, there were loads of pill boxes – apparently the K&A played a major role in defending the industrial Midlands against a German invasion/advance. Most of the bridges also had these strange round large concrete objects (called Dragon’s Teeth, it would seem) to stop tanks. A forerunner of the things you see at airport terminals and American Embassies these days. Wonder why no one has ever moved them.
Lock-free, but also towpath maintenance free it would seem: a broad beam canal with the un-overgrown width down in some reed-infested areas to just about that of a narrowboat. Don’t know how the big boats get on: just passing oncoming traffic is entertaining. Where’s the Amazon Queen when you need her. An engine failure or someone needing to put ashore in an emergency would have been a real problem.
Still, autumn draws on – elsewhere the widely prevalent Man-Eating Rhubarb (Gunnera Manicata) is fast dying back, so there are quite long stretches when you can actually see the tow path for a change.
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