Tag Archives: Caen Hill flight

Britain’s Great Journeys – a cruise along the K&A


Discover Britain Magazine (1 October 2014) describes a canal boat holiday from Bath to Devizes: distance – 22 miles (and 43 locks); duration – about two days, longer if you stop to look at all the sights:

Our narrowboat holiday begins at the historic city of Bath, where the Kennet & Avon Canal leaves the River Avon Navigation. However, before heading eastwards along the canal, we start with an absolute ‘must’ for anyone visiting the city by water.

Just before the point where the river meets the canal there’s a short dead-end length of the Avon that leads into the heart of the city. Having taken the diversion, we cruise right up to Pulteney Weir, in full view of the city’s famous Pulteney Bridge, Parade Gardens and the Rec, Bath Rugby club’s famous stadium, before turning round and returning to the junction.

Here, a sharp left turn takes us into the bottom lock of the Widcombe Flight and the start of our trip along this superlative stretch of canal.

Although there used to be seven locks in Widcombe, there are now only six. Back in the 1970s when a new road was being built that needed to cross the canal, two of the locks were combined into one new one to make the job easier. The result was the cavernous Bath Deep Lock – one of the deepest on the entire canal system, which raises us almost 20ft.

As the locks lift us up the valley side, there are splendid views across the city.
With the locks safely negotiated, two short tunnels take the canal on through Sydney Gardens: the impressive Georgian Cleveland House which stands directly above the tunnel entrance was once the canal company headquarters.

Then Bath is left behind as we cruise eastwards along the hillside through Bathampton, with an assortment of moored houseboats for company and a couple of swing-bridges to provide some gentle exercise for our crew.

The hills close in and the wooded valley narrows as we enter one of the most attractive parts of the route, through Limpley Stoke and Avoncliffe. Twice, the canal turns and abrupt corner and launches out the river on the find Dundas and Avoncliffe aqueducts, both built in the characteristic local Bath stone.

Avoncliff Aqueduct is accompanied by the Cross Guns canalside pub, but apart from that it’s a quiet, secluded route with little to remind us of the outside world apart from the occasional train passing on the nearby railway line.

The valley opens out again as we arrive at Bradford-on-Avon, an attractive old town and a handy stopping-place for boaters with its shops and pubs.

We also reach the first lock since we left Bath; the wharf area around the lock is popular with local people so we’re assured of an audience as we pass through.

Quiet open countryside characterises the canal as it continues eastwards, skirting the north edge of Trowbridge and passing Hilperton and Staverton villages.

Semington is a pretty village, which was where the Wilts & Berks Canal used to branch north eastwards for Swindon and the River Thames. It closed a century ago, but there’s a campaign to reopen it, so perhaps Semington will one day be an important junction once again.

The two Semington Locks are followed by a flight of five (accompanied by a waterside pub) at Seend – but there are just a hint of what is to come.

By Lower Foxhangers Bridge we reach the first of the 29 locks leading up to Devizes – the second longest flight of locks in the country, and by far the most impressive. They begin gently enough, but after we’ve climbed the first half dozen we catch sight of the main series of 16 locks marching up the hillside at Caen Hill, in close succession with barely a boat’s length between them.#

The final six locks are more spread out, but we breathe a sigh of relief on arriving at Devizes Wharf in the knowledge that it’s another 15 miles before we’ll have to push a lock-gate or wind a paddle again.

This is where we end our journey, tied up at the historic wharf by the canal museum, at the heart of the historic market town of Devizes in Wiltshire.

Nearby Attractions

Bath’s famous sights – the Pump Room, the Roman Baths, the Royal Crescent and the Abbey – are within easy walking distance of the canal. And there are other less well-known attractions, such as the Herschel Astronomy Museum, the Jane Austen Centre and Postal Museum.

Just a few miles further east the canal passes Claverton Pumping Station, open to the public and in operation on occasional weekends in summer.

Dundas and Avoncliff aqueducts are splendid structures well worth stopping to look at, and on the approach to Bradford on Avon the canal passes the Great Tithe Barn.  Built in the 14th century and one of the best examples in the country, it is part of Barton medieval farm which is open to the public. Bradford is a fine old town on the Avon and its Saxon church is one of England’s best-preserved.

Devizes is an old country market town with many attractions – not least the flight of 29 locks by which the canal arrives in the town. The Kennet & Avon Canal Trust runs a shop and museum on the wharf, and for real ale lovers Wadworth’s Brewery makes its presence felt, with the company’s traditional horse-drawn drays still used.

Visit one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways

Canal scenery

The list of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ was compiled half a century ago by Robert Aickman, co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association and published in his book Know Your Waterways.

The scale of these extraordinary structures – which built by the engineering superstars of their day – still amazes visitors today.

We’ve revisited the list and added details of our nearest canal boat hire bases so you can plan a visit to one or more of them on your next canal boat holiday:

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct…carrying the Llangollen Canal 38 metres (126ft) high above the River Dee, the awesome World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the highest and longest in Britain.  It was built between 1795 and 1805, uses 18 magnificent piers made of local stone and a 307-metre (1007ft) long trough for the canal to run through.With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the views of the breath-taking Dee Valley below, narrowboat holiday-makers literally feel like they are floating above the earth!***Our nearest base is just a 20-minute cruise away at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham.The Anderton Boat Lift…also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’ this extraordinary structure raises boats 15 metres (50ft) from the River Weaver to the Trent & Mersey Canal.  Designed by Edwin Clark and opened in 1875, it consists of two caissons, each large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats.Sadly, in 1983 problems with the mechanism caused the lift to close but it reopened in 2002, following a restoration programme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.***Our nearest base is a nine-hour cruise away at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire.The Caen Hill Flight…with 16 of its 29 locks falling in a straight line, the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire is visually the most impressive in the country.

The locks were the final link in the Kennet & Avon Canal’s construction, opening in 1810.  By 1950 they had become derelict but after a major restoration effort, they were reopened HM The Queen in 1990.

***Our nearest base is a seven-hour cruise away on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire.

The Burnley Embankment…also known as the Straight Mile, the Burnley embankment on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal stretches almost a mile long and is up to 60 feet high in places.

This impressive structure was designed by Robert Whitworth of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Company and built between 1795 and 1801.  It carries the canal above Burnley and meant that the engineers did not have to build two sets of locks to cross the Calder Valley.

***Narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to Burnley as part of the Pennine Circuit which takes three weeks from our Great Haywood base.

The Bingley Five-Rise Locks…completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal 17 miles from Leeds, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres (60ft) in five cavernous chambers.  The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom gate of the next.

***Canal boat holiday-makers can travel through Bingley as part of the Pennine Circuit which takes three weeks from our Great Haywood base.

The Standedge Tunnel…at over three miles long tunnelling beneath the Pennines, this incredible feat of 18 and 19th century engineering is the longest, highest and deepest tunnel on the canal system.  Cutting through solid rock, it took the navvies 16 years to build, opening in 1811.

Unfortunately, the Huddersfield Canal became un-navigable in 1948 but after a long restoration programme, both the canal and tunnel were reopened in 2001.  Today’s boaters pass through the tunnel with a Canal & River Trust pilot, giving a vivid personal commentary.  There is also a trip boat operating from the Marsden end.

***Our base at Bunbury is a week’s cruise away from Marsden or Diggle.

Barton Swing Aqueduct…originally built in 1761 by James Brindley to take the Bridgewater Canal across the River Irwell, the Barton Aqueduct was considered a marvel at the time of its opening.

But when the Manchester Ship Canal company decided to use the course of the Irwell at Barton as part of its navigation channel, Brindley’s Aqueduct was replaced by the Barton Swing Aqueduct in 1893.  The 1,450 tonne, 100-metre long aqueduct swings open, full of water, to allow the passage of ships along the Manchester Ship Canal.

***Our base at Bunbury is a three or four day cruise away from the Barton Swing Aqueduct.



Top 10 Canal Boat Holidays

Ponycysyllte Aqueduct

‘Pontcysyllte Aqueduct’

1.      Float along ‘The Stream in the Sky’…the Llangollen Canal’s awesome 305-metre long World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales stands at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley.  With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the stunning views of the valley below, narrowboat holiday-makers literally feel like they are floating above the earth!  Take a short break from our base at Trevor, and as well as journeying across the aqueduct, you could visit the picturesque town of Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains and the beautiful Ellesmere lakes (AKA The Shropshire Lake District), teaming with wildlife.  Prices from Trevor start at £385 for a short break and £595 for a week.


Bath Centre

‘World Heritage City of Bath’

2.      Visit the World Heritage City of Bath…Our base at Bradford on Avon is just a seven-hour cruise along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal from Bath City Centre.  Moor up close to Pulteney Bridge (reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence) and use your hire boat as a base to enjoy views of Bath’s fabulous Georgian architecture, fantastic shopping and restaurants, a visit to the Thermae Spa or one of the City’s superb museums.  There are 17 to choose from within a square mile, including the newly refurbished Holbourne Museum, Number One Royal Crescent and the Jane Austen Centre.  Prices from Bradford on Avon start at £440 for a short break and £630 for a week.

Brindley Place - Birmingham

‘Brindley Place – Birmingham’

3.      Cruise into the heart of Birmingham…boasting more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by water.  City centre moorings are available at Gas Street Basin with easy access to Brindley Place, the Mailbox and Bullring shopping centres, theatres, museums and restaurants.  In 2013, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery is holding a special exhibition of The Staffordshire Hoard Anglo-Saxon collection and War Horse comes to the Birmingham Hippodrome in the autumn.  Our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal is just a five-hour lock-free cruise away from Birmingham City Centre.  Prices from Tardebigge start at £465 for a short break and £660 for a week.

Caen Hill Flight of locks

‘Caen Hill Flight of locks’

4.      Cruise up the incredible Caen Hill Flight…not for the faint-hearted, the Caen Hill Flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire is considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways.  Sixteen of the 29 locks in the flight run in a straight line in close succession up the hillside creating a truly awesome vista.  It takes approximately six hours to travel through all 29 locks.  We recommend hiring a boat for a week from our City of Bath base and heading east, reaching the bottom of the flight in approximately 10 hours.  Having negotiated Caen Hill, you can travel on to Pewsey Wharf through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey.  Prices from Bath start at £525 for a short break and £745 for a week.



5.      Discover ‘The City of Dreaming Spires’…the World famous City of Oxford is just a three-hour cruise away from our base on the River Thames near Witney.  Moor close to Hythe Bridge in the city centre and use your canal boat as a base to explore the City.  Just some of the of the exciting things you can do in Oxford include: climbing the 14th century Carfax Tower to take in a view of Oxford’s ‘dreaming spires’; seeing the witch in the bottle and shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum; touring the incredible Ashmolean Museum, with collections from the Neolithic era to the present day; discovering the real Harry Potter Hogwarts Hall at Christ Church College; and stocking-up on goodies in the Covered Market.  Prices from Oxford start at £465 for a short break and £660 for a week.

Warwick Castle

‘Warwick Castle’

6.      Tour the Warwickshire Ring…our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire is ideally placed for a tour of the Warwickshire Ring.  This wonderful canal journey can be done in a week.  It covers over 100 miles, 94 locks and takes approximately 48 hours of cruising.  Along the way, boaters enjoy a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, travelling sections of the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals.  Highlights include: the flight of 11 locks into Atherstone; the pretty canal village of Braunston with plenty of historic pubs; Napton junction with awesome views of the Warwickshire countryside; Newbold and Shrewley tunnels; the Hatton Flight of 21 locks; Warwick Castle, considered to be Britain’s greatest Medieval experience; Royal Leamington Spa; and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin.  Prices from Stockton start at £525 for short break and £745 for a week.

Stratford Upon Avon

‘Stratford Upon Avon’

7.      Explore the Shakespeare’s Stratford…Stratford upon Avon is a lovely six hour journey along the pretty Stratford Canal from our base at Wootton Wawen near Henley in Arden in Warwickshire.  There are centrally located moorings on the River Avon close to the famous Swan Theatre and the town’s museums, shops, markets and restaurants.  Whether on a week’s holiday or short break, there’s plenty of time to explore Stratford’s quaint side streets, with many buildings still surviving that would have been familiar to Shakespeare.  Prices from Wootton Wawen start at £465 for a short break and £660 for a week.

8.      Travel the Four Counties Ring…our base at Great Haywood on the junction of the Staffs & Worcs and Trent & Mersey canals is the perfect base to depart for a tour of the Four Counties Ring.  The journey travels 110 miles, 94 locks and takes 55 hours, so it’s achievable on a week’s holiday.  Predominantly rural, this ring’s highlights include: the World famous 2670-metre long Harecastle Tunnel; the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man; Wedgewood Visitor Centre; stunning views of the rolling Cheshire Plains; the Roman town of Middlewich; the National Garden Festival site at Stoke-on-Trent with dry-ski centre, cinema and Waterworld; Lord Lichfield’s historic working estate at Shugborough Hall; Churche’s Mansion Elizabethan Mansion House in Nantwich; the waters at Tixall Wide; and the flight of 15 locks at Audlem.  Prices from Great Haywood start at £465 for a short break and £660 for a week.

9.      Potter through the Leicestershire countryside…our base at North Kilworth is on the 20-mile lock free summit of the rural Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal.  Holiday-makers on a short break can travel to historic Market Harborough and back via the famous Foxton Locks, with stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside.  The Foxton flight consists of two ‘staircases’ of five locks with a pound (or layby) in the middle.  Once you’ve started if you have to finish, and the lock keeper will tell you to remember “red before white, you’ll be alright” when working the paddles!  There’s also a small Museum alongside the locks giving details of the Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift which once hauled boats up the hillside in two giant bath tub-like structures.  Prices from North Kilworth start at £465 for a short break and £660 for a week.

10.  Visit the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’…from our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in the heart of rural Cheshire, the Anderton Boat Lift (AKA ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’) is a peaceful nine-hour cruise away.  This extraordinary structure raises boats 15 metres from the River Weaver to the Trent & Mersey Canal.  Designed by Edwin Clark and opened in 1875, it consists of two water filled iron caissons, each large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats.  In 1983 problems with the mechanism caused the lift to close but it reopened in 2002, following a restoration programme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Prices from Bunbury start at £465 for a short break and £660 for a week.