Regular readers of the Oakley Ramblers Club section of The Link may recall that the club has embarked on a mission to walk the length of the Kennet and Avon Canal from Reading to Bristol. Three sections having already been completed, ten members gathered at the school layby early on the morning of Saturday 1st August ready to tackle the fourth section of the canal walk from Kintbury to Great Bedwyn.
After the 35 minute car journey to the start of the walk, these ten members were joined by four more who had agreed to meet them at Kintbury. There was a few minutes pause to allow everyone to get booted, use the facilities in the canal car park and for four more members to join the rest of the party after their coffee and cake break at the café in the village.
So a little before a quarter to eleven the party of eighteen set off. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining and the temperature was just right for walking. They had not gone far along the canal path when the leader Chris Williams stopped to give everyone some historical information about the area.
Amongst other things, the party learned that Jane Austen visited Kintbury several times because the Austens were distantly related to the local vicar, the Rev. Fulwar Craven Fowle, whose brother was once engaged to Cassandra, Jane’s sister. In one of her letters Jane referred to Kintbury as being famous for its apples. She last visited the village in 1816, just a year before her death, when the canal would have been open for almost 20 years and at the height of its use before the Great Western Railway reached Hungerford in 1847, spelling disaster to the canal trade.
The Ramblers continued on their walk passing several locks where narrowboats were passing through, until they came to Port Common on the outskirts of Hungerford. They paused briefly at Hungerford Wharf to enjoy the view and read the information board on the canal side there. They then passed Freeman’s Marsh and arrived at Freeman’s Lock in time for a lunch break.
Freeman’s lock has a swing bridge across the lock chamber and is unique on the Kennet and Avon Canal. It was built when the canal was constructed to allow the commoners from Hungerford their ancient grazing rights and rights of passage on Freeman’s Marsh which were granted to them by John of Gaunt back in the late fourteenth century.
At Freeman’s Lock the party split up. Most stayed to enjoy a picnic lunch by the lock whilst five others walked the short detour across the A4 to Cobb’s Farm Shop and Kitchen where they had a very pleasant lunch in the café. It was not long before they were joined in the café by two of the picnic group who had a tale of woe to tell. One of them had been sitting by the canal, quietly enjoying the view and his picnic when a large black Labrador appeared and helped himself to the rambler’s pork pie! So the bereft rambler had come to the café to drown his sorrows with a drink and a large piece of coffee cake!
After an hour’s break the party, feeling reenergised from their lunch, regrouped and set off on the remaining four and a half miles. (Two members of the group had decided to press on ahead to Great Bedwyn as they needed to return home a little earlier than the others.) The remaining sixteen soon passed a series of three locks which were quite close together and at the last of these met up with a beautiful narrowboat called “Tinker” whose crew of two were very grateful for some extra help to close and open the lock gates. They were taking six weeks to travel from Marlow to Bath and were happy to talk about their boat of which they were very proud. It had several solar panels on its roof and was fully equipped with all mod cons including wifi. The ramblers learned that narrowboats cost around £1,000 a foot and Tinker was 66foot! It just fitted into the lock chamber with little room to spare. The walkers kept pace with the narrowboat for quite a way along the canal until it eventually put on some speed and disappeared into the distance.
The village of Great Bedwyn was reached at about half past three, just in time to catch the train back to Kintbury. The return journey took a mere ten minutes, retracing the route which had taken several hours and with the special group travel rates was very reasonably priced! On arrival at Kintbury some, tired from the nine mile walk and all the fresh air, decided to head home, but the rest of the group enjoyed a little liquid refreshment in the pretty garden of the canal side pub, The Dundas Arms, before returning home after a lovely summer’s day’s walking in interesting surroundings with friendly company.