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1

Reading to Hungerford

The Kennet & Avon Canal takes a curious course through Reading. It’s actually the River Kennet at this point – indeed, the Kennet meets the Thames one mile west of Reading station. But the ‘natural’ river has been corraled into an artificial course through the Oracle shopping centre, with traffic lights to regulate the movement of boats through the town.

You can cycle through the town to join the towpath at the Oracle, or do the completist thing by starting on the River Thames. Whichever, keep an eye out for National Cycle Network route 4 signs; this is the number you’ll be following all the way to Bristol. (You’ll also see route 5 beside the Thames, which runs from here to Oxford and beyond.)

After a brief diversion on residential streets, the towpath strikes out into the flat Berkshire countryside. The ‘K&A’ (as it’s universally known) is a particularly interesting canal for those with watery interests. It fell into dereliction after the Second World War, and was only reopened in 1990 after a mammoth volunteer restoration campaign. Even then, it was hardly in pristine condition, and required a £28m Millennium grant to ‘finish the job’.

The towpath is mostly solid, compacted earth, though there’s a short gravel path diversion before the M4 crossing. The Rowbarge at Woolhampton, 13 miles into the ride, is a good place to sit and watch the boats go by. (It’s now an outpost of the highly regarded Cheshire-based Brunning & Price pub company, so not a bad place for lunch.)

In Thatcham, the official route follows cycleways along suburban streets. The towpath is more attractive, passing the turf-sided Monkey Marsh Lock, but the surface can be muddy and is best avoided after rain. It returns to the towpath until Newbury, where the canal runs right through the pedestrianised town centre.

Three rural miles on, and the route leaves the canal at Benham Lock. Despite the bright blue metal sign, it’s easy to be lulled into the rhythms of towpath riding and miss the turn. After a sudden climb out of the Kennet valley, country lanes take you to attractive little Kintbury, with its village stores and pubs, before the canalside town of Hungerford.

Bike shops

Aldermaston

Caversham

Newbury

Nr. Reading

Purley on Thames

Reading

ShopScukco

Shinfield

Tadley

Campsites

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Hotels

from £84The Tally Ho

Berkshire

Burghfield Common

Cutting Hill

Foxfield, Nr Marlborough, Wiltshire

Froxfield

from £60The Pelican Inn

Hungerford

from £60The Bear Hotel

Kintbury,

Midgham

from £85Meadow Thatch

Newbury Berkshire

Newbury

from £48Bell at Boxford
from £70The Lodge
from £163The Vineyard
from £113The Vineyard

Padworth, Reading

Reading Berkshire

Reading

from £90Bull Inn
from £190Burgh House
from £59Hinds Head
from £89La Baguette
from £135The French Horn

Reading, Berkshire

Shalbourne

Shefford Woodlands

Tadley

Thatcham

from £0The Bunk Inn
from £79The Bunk Inn

Theale

2

Hungerford to Devizes

Though the 32 miles from Hungerford to Devizes are all on country lanes rather than traffic-free towpath, it’s far from a second-class section of route. True, there’s a little more climbing to do, particularly either side of Burbage – close to the summit of the canal.

Cycling through quiet Wiltshire villages is a delight in itself, and a welcome contrast to the isolation of the canal. The thatched pubs, stone cottages, rolling pastureland and wooded lanes make this a delight on sunny summer days and autumn evenings alike.

Hungerford, too, is an attractive little town. Its direct train service to London inevitably makes it popular with commuters, but its centrepiece High Street retains a small-town character with butchers and greengrocers rubbing shoulders with antique shops. The striking railway viaduct dominates the view downhill, especially when a High Speed Train rumbles across.

The road runs close to the canal around the two immaculate Bedwyns (Great and Little). A little further on, at Crofton, the canal pump-house still stands proud; it’s in steam once a month during the summer. There’s a final railway station at Pewsey, together with a brace of shops.

We’d suggest a brief diversion at Woodborough. Turn right instead of left at the T-junction, and after a mile you’ll arrive back at the canal and, more importantly, the splendidly eccentric Barge Inn at Honeystreet. An international centre for crop circle research, where “research” means “cider-fuelled speculation and implausible schemes”, it starred in the BBC’s Village SOS series as locals clubbed together to rescue their pub. Do visit, though we can’t guarantee that you’ll be in any fit state to get back on the bike afterwards.

Returning to the route, the winding lanes take a gentle course to the attractive market town of Devizes. Take an hour to venture away from the towpath into the town centre; the Market Place is especially fine, with buildings from the 15th to 19th centuries.

Hotels

from £84The Tally Ho

Aughton

Berkshire

Cutting Hill

Devizes

from £0Black Swan
from £60Castle Hotel
from £222Cedar Lodge

Foxfield, Nr Marlborough, Wiltshire

Froxfield

from £60The Pelican Inn

Hungerford

from £60The Bear Hotel

Kintbury,

Marlborough

Melksham

from £79Cleeve House

Near Chippenham

from £0Wayside B&B

Newbury

Pewsey

from £45Circles B&B
from £85Follets B & B
from £55Follets B&B

Potterne

Rowde

Seend

Sells Green Seend

Shalbourne

Shefford Woodlands

Upavon

from £90Antelope Inn

Urchfont

Wiltshire

3

Devizes to Bath

Back on the canal, the ride begins with the emblematic image of the Kennet & Avon Canal – the flight of locks at Caen Hill, Devizes. This is one of the steepest descents on the canal system, and the 16 broad locks are a tough workout for any boater. Going downhill on a bike is much easier, but do keep your speed down; several accidents have taken place here.

The towpath is better surfaced here than around Reading, and busier, too. It’s still rural, but feels less isolated than the summit section with boatyards and canalside pubs to provide interest.

Bradford-on-Avon is a famously pretty village, its narrow streets often crammed with tourist coaches. The towpath is barely less thronged, thanks to the popular café and pub. (There’s a bike shop here, too.)

From here, the canal follows the valley of the River Avon all the way to Bath. A 1920s traveller wrote that “The scenery of this canal from Bradford-on-Avon to the Dundas aqueduct surpasses anything this writer can adequately describe”, and it’s no less true today. The natural beauty of the valley is only enhanced by the elegant aqueducts at Avoncliff and Dundas. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many live-aboard boaters have made this section of the canal their home. The towpath can be a little cluttered as a result, but that’s no hardship – slow down and enjoy.

Immediately after Dundas Aqueduct, National Cycle Network route 24 leaves to the left. For an alternative route to Bath, you can follow this, then after two miles, turn along the stunning new Two Tunnels route (NCN 244) on the subterranean line of the old Somerset & Dorset Railway. NCN 4 along the towpath more than holds its own against this competition, sharing the Avon valley with the mainline railway through pretty Bathampton. This is a very busy section of route, particularly at weekends.

Hotels

from £55The Barge Inn

Bath

Bath

from £1491 Hot Bath St
from £01 Park View
from £9010 Lime Grove
from £90Abbey Hotel
from £75Astor House
from £88Astor House
from £85At The Manor
from £105Bailbrook House
from £109Bailbrook Lodge
from £160Bath Circle
from £16Bath YMCA
from £99Bathen House
from £77Bear Hotel
from £0Bodhi House
from £109Brindleys
from £0Brooks View
from £100Chestnuts House
from £79Cranleigh
from £78Cranleigh
from £145Crescent Mews
from £150De Montalt Wood
from £114Dorian House
from £205Eastwood Lodge
from £100Elgin Villa
from £488Esterelle
from £107Garden Villa
from £60Glenade
from £100Greenways
from £104Grosvenor B&B
from £100Grove Lodge
from £150Grove Lodge
from £122Hill House
from £139IV Percy Place
from £95Ivy Cottage
from £78Lamppostvilla
from £182Leopold House
from £130Little Owl Barn
from £80Lynwood House
from £110Number 17
from £80Oldfields
from £106One Three Nine
from £59Parade Park
from £71Parade Park
from £109Percy Place
from £89Poplar House
from £55Redcar Hotel
from £75Royal Hotel
from £65Shrubdown
from £108Tasburgh House
from £132The Art Studio
from £120The Ayrlington
from £80The Bear
from £90The Boathouse
from £80The Boathouse
from £150The Gate House
from £115The Hollies
from £85The Kennard
from £125The Kennard
from £67The Thief
from £60The Westwoods
from £112Waterhouse
from £80Weston Lawn
from £105Weston Lawn
from £13YHA Bath
from £10YHA Bath

Bath City

Bath, Avon

Bath, Somerset

Bathampton

from £0Mayfair
from £284Rose Cottage

Bathampton

Batheaston

from £142The Stables

Beanacre, Wiltshire

Bitton

Bradford on Avon

from £70The Swan
from £90Widbrook Grange
from £60Bear Inn
from £100The George

Bradford-on-Avon

from £75Widbrook Barns

Bristol

Corsham

from £0Spinneycross

Devizes

from £0Black Swan
from £60Castle Hotel
from £222Cedar Lodge

Freshford

from £72Ford Cottage

Freshford

from £55Longacre

Hilperton, Trowbridge

Holt

Holt, Wiltshire

Kingsdown Corsham

from £0Cleeves Wood

Melksham

from £68Brookside
from £79Cleeve House
from £0Poplars
from £65The Conigre
from £87The Conigre

Near Chippenham

from £0Wayside B&B

Norton St Philip

Nr Bath

Potterne

Priston

Rowde

Saltford

Seend

Sells Green Seend

Somerset

Trowbridge

Trowbridge

from £0Cleeve House
from £75Gaston House
from £95The Studio
from £65Watergardens

Trowbridge Nr Bradford on Avon

from £75The Polebarn

Urchfont

Whitley

Wiltshire

Winsley

from £79Serendipity

Wraxall, Bath

4

Bath to Bristol

The Kennet & Avon Canal formally ends at Bath, and the natural River Avon forms the rest of the watery route to Bristol. Our cycle route changes, too. Instead of the towpath, it follows the Bristol & Bath Railway Path, a superb cycling highway between the two cities.

First comes Bath itself, where the route wisely chooses to plunge right through the heart of this architecturally marvellous city, even if there’s a little more traffic to dodge. Great Pulteney Street is stunning, a Georgian avenue leading to the famous built-up bridge over the River Avon. NCN 4 has its own one-way system through the city centre, so keep a careful eye out for the blue stickers. (Connoisseurs of bike media may spot the offices of Future Publishing, owners of several top-selling cycling titles; the rather good road-cycling site road.cc is also based in the city.)

The riverside path leads us to the incongruous start of the railway path at the Maltings Industrial Estate. From here, 13 miles of gentle cycling lead us straight to the heart of Bristol with barely a car in sight. You’ll see trains, though – part of the route is shared with the Avon Valley Railway, a tourist steam operation – and the occasional boat on the River Avon below.

Don’t be tempted to put your head down and aim for a speed record along here. Though bikes are in the majority, it is a shared path, and you’ll encounter walkers and nervous family cyclists along the way.

Finally, the path deposits you on quiet city streets just a mile from Bristol city centre. The route is well signed from here to the harbour-front, which makes a fitting end to the ride. Take a picture of yourself in front of the nicely sculpted National Cycle Network map by the @Bristol centre. Bristol rightly calls itself a ‘Cycling City’, and there’s much to explore here; but if your time is limited, Temple Meads station is directly signposted from the cycle route.

Hotels

Bath

Bath

from £1491 Hot Bath St
from £01 Park View
from £9010 Lime Grove
from £90Abbey Hotel
from £75Astor House
from £88Astor House
from £85At The Manor
from £105Bailbrook House
from £109Bailbrook Lodge
from £160Bath Circle
from £16Bath YMCA
from £99Bathen House
from £77Bear Hotel
from £0Bodhi House
from £109Brindleys
from £0Brooks View
from £100Chestnuts House
from £79Cranleigh
from £78Cranleigh
from £145Crescent Mews
from £150De Montalt Wood
from £114Dorian House
from £205Eastwood Lodge
from £100Elgin Villa
from £488Esterelle
from £107Garden Villa
from £60Glenade
from £100Greenways
from £104Grosvenor B&B
from £100Grove Lodge
from £150Grove Lodge
from £122Hill House
from £139IV Percy Place
from £95Ivy Cottage
from £78Lamppostvilla
from £182Leopold House
from £130Little Owl Barn
from £80Lynwood House
from £110Number 17
from £80Oldfields
from £106One Three Nine
from £59Parade Park
from £71Parade Park
from £109Percy Place
from £89Poplar House
from £55Redcar Hotel
from £75Royal Hotel
from £65Shrubdown
from £108Tasburgh House
from £132The Art Studio
from £120The Ayrlington
from £80The Bear
from £90The Boathouse
from £80The Boathouse
from £150The Gate House
from £115The Hollies
from £85The Kennard
from £125The Kennard
from £67The Thief
from £60The Westwoods
from £112Waterhouse
from £80Weston Lawn
from £105Weston Lawn
from £10YHA Bath
from £13YHA Bath

Bath City

Bath, Avon

Bath, Somerset

Bathampton

from £0Mayfair
from £284Rose Cottage

Bathampton

Batheaston

from £142The Stables

Bitton

Bradford on Avon

Bradford-on-Avon

Bristol

Bristol

from £115Berkeley Suites
from £127Berkeley Suites
from £60Clifton House
from £113Magnolia B and B
from £15Rock n Bowl
from £45The Ashville
from £44The Horseshoe
from £75The Old Star
from £15YHA Bristol
from £49YHA Bristol
from £16YHA Bristol

Bristol, Avon

Bristol, South West England

Corsham

from £0Spinneycross

Filton

Freshford

from £72Ford Cottage

Freshford

from £55Longacre

Hambrook

from £0The Old Star

Keynsham

Keynsham, Bristol

from £24The Crown Inn

Kingsdown Corsham

from £0Cleeves Wood

Norton St Philip

Nr Bath

Priston

Pucklechurch

Saltford

Somerset

Trowbridge

Winsley

from £79Serendipity