Thursday, 6 June 2013

Kennet and Avon Canal Section 2 Theale to Woolhampton

Shenfield Millhouse

Today our walk started back at Theale, but before walking we took the train on the short ride over from Midgham station.  Amazingly the train was as packed as the day before – maybe there is a case for a more frequent service?  Luckily we were uncomfortable for only a few minutes for the short distance between the two stations.  At Theale we wandered back down to the Swing Bridge, seeing that this time we didn’t have any boats to wait for.
Passing Traffic

The onward walk was immediately fantastic with beautiful and classic canal scenery from the off.  The day was shaping up to be better weather than yesterday and the light across the water was particularly good.  A pattern developed on the walk almost immediately – one child would walk off with Mum further on while the other child would hang back with me and be on ‘nature patrol’.  Every so often we would swap children to keep things fresh!
Hovering Gull

For us nature patrollers the first interesting sight was watching the aerobatics of the black headed gulls that seemed to like this stretch of canal.  We thought they might be helping themselves to the hapless Mayflies that buzzed around just above the water.  We soon passed the first historical building of note, Shenfield Millhouse.  This is apparently a grade II listed building but sadly we could only see glimpses of it from our side of the canal.  We did see a boat moored on our side though that was from Arundel; it was good to see this local connection so far from home.  The boat itself looked as if it was still equipped to carry goods rather than passengers.
Purple World

The canal had a tree-lined course for quite awhile and with the still weather the reflections in the water were quite special.  Sadly it also meant that we could not see the surrounding countryside and felt like we were largely cocooned from the countryside around us.  One place that we did manage to see beyond the towpath was one of the many gravel workings along the way that had now been landscaped into a delightful fishing lake.  As I took the picture of the lake I couldn’t understand why my youngest daughter was so scared and worried – turns out that she had seen signs saying ‘Danger – Quicksand’ and thought I was going to be sucked down to a horrible death.  The fact that I was standing on a tree stump at the time appeared to have escaped her…
Sulhamstead Weir

It was apparent along the next part of the canal that the waterway was becoming less river and more canal at last.  Each lock passed by saw another height differential between the two and the canal was finally coming into its own.  Just before the next lock we were also treated to the opening out of the countryside too.  I probably made a mistake at this point by handing over a compact camera to my youngest daughter to play with and grab some shots as we went along.  I thought it would help keep her interested in what she could see and find some cool things to take pictures of.  I was completely unprepared for the amount of time that was subsequently spent on taking pictures of the cow parsley alongside the canal.  When she discovered that trying to capture the black headed gulls was impossible she finally gave up.  Later when downloading the shots, I discovered well over 100 of cow parsley and a further 20 self portraits!

Tyle Mill
The open countryside didn’t last long, which was a pity for we had a respite from the cycling traffic.  They found it easy to get round us on the open field – not so easy along a narrower towpath.  The next lock was a popular mooring spot – this was Tyle Mill Lock.  There were lots of boats moored here and much maintenance activity from proud owners making repairs, adding stuff and repainting their boats.  I noticed a nearby car park, which probably explains the popularity of this spot.

Quarantined Vessel
A little way past the lock we saw the curious sight of a boat that had been quarantined on account of it being mostly destroyed by fire.  It looked rather a sad sight lying next to the bank.  The bunding around it had managed to contain the debris and pollution though, which was some good news for the local area.
Tea on the Go

We were starting to feel the heat a bit from this point.  Jumpers and fleeces came off as we basked in the sunshine of the warmest day of the year so far.  Sweets and drinks were passed around to keep the girls going.  They worked to a point but what really grabbed their attention was watching a canal boat negotiate the latest swing bridge at Ufton.  Strangely for a moment we had found ourselves on the adjacent river and so crossing the bridge to maintain our onward course was a stroke of luck before the boat came.  We sat and watched as one of the crew got off and controlled the bridge by button.  I can’t imagine how much effort these electric bridges must have saved.  As the boat passed through I was amused to see that the man at the tiller had a cuppa on the go.  I have decided that all canal boat crews have permanent cups of tea on the go.

By now the pace was slowing considerably so at the next bridge we gave the girls a breather and allowed them time to explore a bit and lay around enjoying the sunshine.  Our rest was punctuated by the arrival of a boat called Avent Got One – one of our favourite names of vessels we have seen so far.  The boat needed to get through Towney Lock so my daughters both seized the chance to help out with the locks!  They git to turn the handle and heave the huge gate open, much to the amusement of the lady crew member who had been sent to do the job.
Lock Keepers

After that moment of excitement onward progress became a lot easier.  We were now approaching Aldermaston, where a lot of canal holidays seem to start on this particular route.  I expected a large boat yard to service the holidays but all we saw was a lengthy mooring spot where a couple of guys were doing some painting of one of the vessels.  Sadly the tea shop that is adjacent to the hire shop was closed for renovation.  This was a big disappointment as we had hoped to stop here for refreshment.  It was now lunchtime and we were in a bit of a quandary – should we push on with the momentum we had built up or stop somewhere for lunch?  We decided to push on and have lunch at the end – probably a wise choice as we only had a couple of miles more to do.

Aldermaston Yard
The last section from Aldermaston to Woolhampton was largely through woodland.  The shade was very helpful and the pace picked up again as a result.  Our path suddenly became a lot fluffier along the way.  At first I couldn’t see where the fluff had come from but eventually we passed by the culprit – a large willow tree shedding what I assume are its fluffy seeds.  My daughter wondered why it wasn’t used as cotton wool, so soft it was.

Aldermaston Tea Shop
We crossed and re-crossed the canal passing by lots of walkers along the stretch near Aldermaston.  Clearly we weren’t the only ones who wanted to enjoy the route of the canal. We passed by some very fit and active young girls, who rather looked like they might be in training for an award of some sort judging by all their gear.  My daughters looked at them in awe – I think the sight of older girls always sparks their interest.  It certainly helped push them on to the end!  The second footbridge was huge, much like the one we had crossed the day before and clearly designed to help bikes get across the canal smoothly.
Hand in Hand

The end of today’s walk was much like yesterday in that we finished at a swing bridge, this time the one at Woolhampton.  Next to the bridge the pub was serving up some fantastic looking barbecue food.  The smells were delightful and we were seriously tempted to stay.  Sadly there were no available tables and we didn’t really want to wait.  Maybe another time?
World of Fluff

For me this was the most scenic and enjoyable of the three days we had away.  The weather really helped too, as did the amazingly lush canal banks which were all alive with flora and fauna for the girls to check out along the way.  All in all a thoroughly enjoyable six miles, which felt like so much further due to the amount of interest that we packed into this short distance.

Wickham Knight Footbridge


  1. Looks like it was perfect weather. I love the camera story. When I was given the camera by my parents they kept a very close eye on me to make sure I didn't waste the precious and expensive film (remember that?). How times change!

    1. Yes I do remember film & the concept of 'using it up' to enable it to be developed. Every rotten picture was cursed as it cost money!