Date walked: 30th May 2016
Distance: 11.4 miles
Time taken: 4 hours 30 mins approx
How we got there: We had stayed at Devizes Travelodge following stage 2 the day before
How we get home: Train back to Newbury from Pewsey
Travel costs: Single train ticket from Pewsey to Newbury: £8.30
Watch out for: A very thin, overgrown towpath in places
Highlight: The stunning, tranquil, tree-covered area approaching Pewsey
Difficulty rating: 3/5
Walking route map:
The morning after our longest walk so far – a 14 mile hike between Bradford-on-Avon and the very eastern edge of Devizes, we were ready to hit the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath once more.
Because of the lack of transport options for us in Devizes, and with a Travelodge hotel just metres away from the canal, we decided to take full advantage of the end-of-May Bank Holiday and stay in the town overnight. This meant we could complete two stages in a row and get to Pewsey, which has a train station with services (albeit infrequent ones), back to Newbury.
Our stage 3 walk would be a bit shorter than the one we completed the day before – something which we were pretty relieved about! It was going to be about 11 miles to the edge of Pewsey, with another half-mile or so along to the road to the village’s train station.
It had also become MUCH cooler than the previous day, when temperatures were easily hitting the mid-20’s. Today a layer of low, grey cloud and a fresh breeze had cooled the air. Whilst the weather the day before was glorious, we weren’t complaining too much about the conditions, which were, to be honest, far more ideal for a long walk in the open.
After buying some refreshments (and a much needed coffee), we made our way along the road to the slope leading back down to the canal towpath, where we had finished the day before.
One of the first things we passed was Devizes Marina. Compared to some marinas that we had seen so far on the K&A, this one did seem a bit neglected. I guess part of this is due to it being so far out of the town, and away from the more touristy landmarks like Caen Hill Lock flight.
Or maybe it just looked a bit gloomier than usual because of the thick grey clouds sitting ominously up above our heads.
We immediately noticed a big difference between the towpath we were walking on today with the one from the first two stages – mainly because of how thin it was! With thick bushes, plants and grass growing on both sides of us, we didn’t really have much choice other than to walk in single file for much of the route.
Of course, in this situation Hannah likes to go in front, so she can set the pace!
As the canal curved underneath Horton Road, The Bridge Inn public house loomed high above us. It was early in the day so there were no boats moored there yet, but there was plenty of space for those on barges to stop here and enjoy a well-earned break in the pub garden.
They’d probably be hoping for a better day weather-wise than this though!
Today’s walk would move us into the Pewsey Downs National Nature Reserve, and it was apparent from the dramatic differences in landscape that we were experiencing from the first two stages that this was the case.
Don’t get me wrong – the section between Bath and Devizes was beautiful in its own way. However, it was very touristy, and some parts felt a bit artificially manicured.
But here, the landscape was far more rugged – the number of walkers dropped dramatically, and we barely passed a single cyclist the whole way. This was great after spending a lot of time dodging out of their way for the previous 24 miles!
Even the swing bridges were far more rustic than those found before Devizes. Here we watched on as these boaters pushed open this old wooden bridge to allow them to get through. You can see how much thinner this part of the canal looks from the section further westwards, and there definitely seemed to be a slower pace to the traffic both on and off the towpath.
The largely “untouched” feel carried on as the canal passed through the reserve, with only tiny hamlets like Horton and All Cannings close by. Here the grass completely covered the towpath – something we’d only really seen on sections of the Oxford Canal, suggesting that it’s not used anywhere near as much as the far busier areas around Bath and Bradford-on-Avon.
It was also a far bendier stretch of canal to what we had been walking next to the previous day. With the hills surrounding us, the water seemed to be following the lowest course around the hills, rather than tackling them head on – as was the case at Caen Hill. This made for a tranquil, river-like scene as we crossed underneath the small road-bridge at Horton, which I couldn’t resist climbing over to get a photo of the bend ahead.
After a short break we carried on – the bushes and trees almost walling us in to the thin, barely-existent towpath. It was different, but I was really loving the change and the nature all around us.
To our left (in a northerly direction), the hills loomed large in the distance. Close by is the start of the historic Ridgeway National Trail, which starts near Avebury, just a few miles from here. Stretching 87 miles all the way to Ivinghoe in Buckinghamshire, it largely follows a route over the tops of hills, providing walkers with some breathtaking views.
We were now getting hungry, so the sight of a pub on the horizon was definitely very welcome. We approached The Barge Inn (yes, another one!), close to Honeystreet and Stanton St Bernard, and decided it would be the ideal place to stops for a slap-up burger lunch and accompanying local ale.
I’d definitely recommend checking out The Barge Inn if you get the chance, and also take a look at it’s rather quirky website. Apparently it’s been visited by a couple of famous faces during the filming of TV shows, including Sir Tony Robinson in Walking Through History, and John Sergeant in Barging Round Britain.
After spending an hour or so at the pub (we had plenty of time until our train back to Newbury departed from Pewsey), we carried on, albeit a bit heavier from the hearty food and beer.
The first thing we came across was Honeystreet Wharf, where a number of boats were moored up – albeit a far smaller amount than some of the more popular areas of canal. It’s also possible to hire boats from here for canal and waterway-based holidays.
Emerging underneath the bridge and looking to the left, we spotted a white horse carved on the hill. There are many white horses dotted around Wiltshire – this one is the Alton Barnes White Horse, which was carved in 1812. Others can be seen near Westbury, Malborough, Pewsey, Devizes, as well as other smaller villages.
We were now close-by to the memorial for the Albemarle V1755. This commemorates an air crash which happened in this area back on October 25th 1944. Taking off in nearby Trowbridge, the aircraft only managed to get 20 miles when, flying in low clouds, it ended up becoming tangled with the glider it was towing. This resulted in the rope attaching the two aircraft yanking the plane’s tail upwards; ultimately ending in disaster for those aboard.
Despite the sombre location, this sociable cow was clearly set on lightening the mood, coming over to have a chat with us as we looked across the fields.
There was clearly something in the Wiltshire air that made cows bizarrely friendly. Whilst admiring this red-bricked bridge, which I believe is only used for farm traffic, we noticed a noise up to our right.
Here, peering its head through the trees was another cow – clearly intent on having a look at who was disturbing their peace. Either that, or it simply wanted to say hello!
It felt like we were deep into the countryside now, and as we crossed underneath this bridge, with just the tiny Church Farm Lane above it, we found ourselves climbing up and over to the opposite bank of the canal.
Here the path really opened up, exposing us to the huge yellow field to our left. Once again the towpath grassed over, showing how infrequently used this section is to everyday visitors.
After half a mile or so, we re-entered the trees, with thick vegetation on either bank. On our side these huge lily pads were growing next to the water.
This bridge was also particularly impressive, with very intricate architecture. This one sits just north of Cocklebury Farm and isn’t used for road traffic. As with many bridges on this stretch, it seems like the ones which aren’t subject to carrying cars every day seem to be in the nicest condition.
A few metres on from this we came across this huge widening of the canal. I have to admit that I’m not sure exactly what it’s for, but this relaxing spot was being used by a number of fishermen when we walked past.
We were in the last couple of miles and all of a sudden, the sun started to emerge from the clouds. And as we approached the small village of Wilcot, we hit one of the straightest sections of canal of the day.
We were focused on reaching Pewsey, and the end of our walk at The Waterfront. Yet I wasn’t expecting an area of beauty which, in my opinion, surpassed everything we had walked through that day so far.
Here, as we passed Stowell Park – the grounds of Stowell Park House – the trees towered above us from all sides, and the canal and towpath widened to create an area which looked more fitting of a national park.
The fact that it was so quiet here only added to its magnificence.
It had taken over 10 miles to reach this point, but I was determined to not let tiredness take the better of me, and make sure that I took in every drop of my surroundings.
Here we approached a bridge carrying a tiny road (which according to Google Maps doesn’t even have a name!). For the final time the towpath crossed over to the other side – something which I was very glad about as it allowed me to take in the amazing scenery from an elevated position, as well as snap some photos of the path we had taken, and we were due to take to reach the end.
On the final few hundred metres it felt like we were trekking through the forest, rather than following the canal. It was a fitting end to our two-day hike.
But finally we had reached the end point – The Waterfront at Pewsey Wharf. A giant England flag was raised on the pole above the building, and after walking 25 miles in two days, it was a great sight to behold.
By the time we arrived (around 3.30pm) the Bistro part of The Waterfront had closed for the day, however the pub upstairs was still open for a drink. This allowed us to grab a quick half pint (I had a Guinness – purely for the iron intake of course!) and catch our breath before walking the half mile south along Marlborough Road to Pewsey train station, before our train back to Newbury.
Overall this felt like an epic trip, and staying overnight to complete two stages back-to-back made the accomplishment seem even greater.
After today we would be entering territory well-served by railway stations. When we came back to Pewsey, we were planning to walk another ten miles to Bedwyn – the start of the frequent stopper services all the way to Reading, where the Kennet & Avon ends as it enters The Thames.
You can find out how we got on in stage 4 of our Kennet & Avon Canal adventure here.