The Kennt & Avon Canal is a magical and stunning place to be no matter what the weather, season or time of day. No matter if you are upon a boat or walking the canal paths, it is always a great place. I’ve been on a canal boat several times and motored around the Kennt & Avon Canal and so when my friend announced she would like me join her and our friends on a canal boat for a Kennt & Avon Canal holiday (it was her birthday holiday!) I was mightily placed and couldn’t wait to get planning and eventually board our boat. Weather forecasts are always handy when planning a holiday but as the holiday date fast approached the weather forecasts started to become challenging and ever so slightly depressing. With impending snow, ice, wind and rain it really did sound like the birthday canal holiday would be very wet and icy cold, some of which became true. However for most of the holiday it remained dry and we couldn’t have asked for more than that. The cold skies made the Kennt & Avon Canal look dramatic and simply divine, with frosts coating the fields and canal paths. The icy weather did prove a bit of a challenge as we battled frozen canal waters for a whole day and then woke up on the last day to find yet again that the canal was frozen, all of which didn’t stop us from enjoying the holiday, and in fact I think it added a little something to the holiday. However I am a little sad (and Rob as well) that we didn’t have any proper snow (only snowed a little) had we had proper snow we would have experienced almost every type of winter weather one could be subjected to upon the Kennt & Avon Canal!
The boat (called George, which was nicknamed “The Party Boat” and “Floating Caravan” by some and “HMS George” by me) was berthed at Bradford-On-Avon marina. George was a 69 foot long Narrowboat that was really in fact 70 foot long once you included the fenders at the Stern and Bow of the vessel in question. George wasn’t a traditionally decorated Narrowboat, yet it was cosy and homelike in many ways. I can’t say warm as the Stern bunks were very cold indeed each night, but that could be partly sorted by having a warm sleeping bag and a blanket, as well as funny and lively conversation each evening. Our Narrowboat for the week had a good galley in which a friend produced some fantastic lunchtime and evening meals in. The Bow cabin and seating area was large and was equipped with a television, radio, sockets (which had a mind of their own) and a charging point (which also had a mind of its own). After a while we had brought all our belongings aboard and sorted out who was bunking up with whom and where, once that was all sorted out we sat down and opened a can of well-earned cider and looked forward to the week-long holiday!
When morning came we woke up and had a wonderful breakfast of porridge and fruit to help battle the cold air and weather outside and once we had washed up the breakfast things we were ready to start the adventure. For the first half of the adventure we wanted to head towards Devizes and to the Caen Hill Locks. We had no intention of doing the Caen Hill Locks but we did really want to see them and with luck maybe stop a few narrowboats using them. But as we found out later on in our adventure, we in fact we passed less than 5 moving narrowboats for the whole weeks holiday! The pootling engine on the narrowboat took us slowly though the countryside and what fantastic countryside it was. We stopped for lunch between Hilperton Marsh Bridge and Whaddon Lane Bridge and what also allowed the dogs on board (of which there was three) to have a bit of a stretch and wonder around. Only problem with moving off from where we had moored up was the fact we got stuck, but after a good fifteen minutes of maneuvering and two friends armed with poles pushing our narrowboat off we managed to move off! Once lunch was over we made good time but alas we only made it to Seend Bottom Lock, which as luck would have it was very close to an inn called ‘Barge Inn’. Once we moored up between Seend Bottom Lock and Seend Wharf Bridge, we walked over to the ‘Barge Inn’ for evening drinks before heading back to the narrowboat and to bed.
After a very good breakfast which was much needed (as the previous night was very cold) we set about setting off again and we continued on our current destination which was Devizes. It was not long before we had slipped our moorings and tacking the locks with force and we even managed to avoid a collision close to a winding hole just after the Seend Top Lock. Once past the last lock we had a relaxing motor towards Devizes, it soon things started to indicate that things were not all well with our narrowboat. The problem was that we had loss of power in reverse and in fact we found it hard to reverse fully to port and lost most of reverse to starboard. This didn’t stop us though and we carried on our way, but we felt that we shouldn’t get to close to the Caen Hill Locks, but there was nowhere to turn around and soon we had reached the Caen Hill Marina. Once at the Caen Hill Marina I surveyed the situation and after a while I carefully and with little constant nudges of the tiller and throttle I managed to get us turned around in the marina without innocent! Which was tricky in a tight marina with a boat that is seventy foot long, but neither the less I managed it. Once I turned the boat around we headed back to Bradford-On Avon Marina as on Monday we had more guessed arriving for the week! The holiday was really picking up speed now.
After a short while (a few hours delay) Rob and Kathryn arrived at the Marina and after a not short span of time (an hour) everything was packed, sorted and the narrowboat was ready to depart the marina on yet another adventure. This time we piloted the boat towards Bath, which was to be the target destination of this section of the trip. So far the trip had gone according to plan and only a few things had slightly changed, so all in all everything was running on time and as smooth as clockwork. The stop off point for the night was over the Avoncliff Aqueduct and the Dundas Aqueduct but due to the slightly slow start I / we knew this was going to be pushing it and so instread we aimed for a mooring just past the Avoncliff Aqueduct. But before that we passed through the Bradford-On-Avon lock and through a lovely stretch of canal. We then stopped off just before the Avoncliff Aqueduct and went to a lovely old inn called ‘Cross Guns’ which was rich in history and mystery. Once we enjoyed a few drinks we walked back to the narrowboat, slipped our moorings and headed over the Avoncliff Aqueduct and then we moored up for the night. That night got very cold indeed and things began to freeze over in next to no time at all.
Waking up was a surprising yet slightly pleasing occasion as the whole canal (and inside of our cabin) had frozen, it was made even more fantastic as I saw a single narrowboat pootling slowly passed as and I crapped my phone and filmed it slowly passing us, smashing the ice as it did so. After a good breakfast we struggled with frozen mooring lines and once they were defrosted we managed to start the diesel engine, which took some time and soon we were motoring through the ice. Motoring through the ice was simply magical as well as tricky. Everything was frozen and coated with frost and ice which was really beautiful to look at as we slowly made our way through the icy canal. Piloting the narrowboat proved tricky at times due to the frozen canal due as the ice we cut though with the stern started to be pushed over the unbroken ice which started to make our bow ride up over the ice and then we lost all steering and at times, which didn’t prove much of a problem until we reached the Dundas Aqueduct. Once at the Dundas Aqueduct we had to navigate a sharp corner and then line up to motor over the aqueduct, which proved a tricky task but it didn’t prove too much of a hard task in the end and soon we were over the Dundas Aqueduct we encountered less and less ice as the trip went on, which was pleasing in some ways and a little sad in many other ways, as having the navigate the ice was a fun challenge. Our mooring for the night (as we had planned) was the town of Bathampton and the Bathampton Mill. It wasn’t long before we moored up outside the ‘George Inn’ and getting ready to go out for the birthday girl’s birthday dinner out!
The large meal we all consumed at the Bathampton Mill in the past evening was greatly needed as Wednesday was going to be a full-on day of adventuring and motoring non-stop! We had to be in Bath for the birthday girl’s mother so she could disembark the narrowboat and catch a train from bath home. This meant we had to make good time on our trip to Bath, which was easier than we had thought as there was no traffic on the canal to hold us up. Only two things slowed our trip to bath down and that was the swing bridges and passing moored up narrowboats at slow speed. Once in bath, Rob and I couldn’t stop where I had planned due to many moored narrowboats (we also missed the drop-off point, but we shall gloss over that…), which meant we stopped past a winding hole, so we had no option but to carry on down two locks once the birthday girl’s mother had disembarked. Motoring through the tunnels of Bath was simply stunning and such a wonderful experience. Soon, we tackled the locks and reached a large winding hole, once we had turned around we then tackled the locks once moor and soon we were on our way back to Avoncliff, but Rob and I knew that the daylight was drawing in so we Rob piloted the narrowboat like a stock car and we made good time. We were both cold, wet and drinking wine out of tea mugs but we were also having great fun as well (ignoring the fact that we had bumped the narrowboat around a bit). We soon tackled the Dundas Aqueduct and then the Avoncliff Aqueduct, once over the Avoncliff Aqueduct we moored up and once everyone was settled in we strolled to the ‘Cross Guns’ inn.
Thursday… this was a leisurely day and a day to be taken slowly and softly as there was no rush to read on back to Bradford-On-Avon marina. We had a really nice breakfast at the ‘Cross Guns’ inn and once we had let breakfast go down we started up the motor and made our way to Bradford-On-Avon where we stopped to have a wonder around and to visit the Tithe Barn there, which was constructed in the 14th century and which is very impressive to see and has a fantastic roof structure. It really is a must see if you are ever in Bradford-On-Avon. Once we had finished looking around the town of Bradford-On-Avon we once again started the narrowboat’s motor and we were on our way to the marina. Once there we sorted out things that could be backed up and once we had a good dinner and finished packing all we could pack, we headed for the inn across the way from the Marina. It got very cold and the canal started to freeze up again by the time we had got back from the inn!
We woke up to a very frosty, icy and cold scene in the morning. The whole marina had frozen over and the whole place looked magical and really very beautiful. It got so cold inside the stern bunks that once again we had thick ice growing on the inside of the cabin’s windows! I am really glad that we opted to arrive at the marina the night before as if we had gone with our first place of motoring into the marina early Friday morning we would have had really big problems getting in! Once we packed our luggage into the cars we then gave the narrowboat a clean and tidy and then once we had disembarked the narrowboat the holiday came to an end. It was a brilliant holiday with lots of things going on, all in all it was one big adventure and I am glad I was able to be part of it.
Take it easy,
Arctic Tundra Fox
The photographs in this blog are owned by ©Arctic Tundra Fox unless otherwise stated, and not for public domain use, thank you.