Kennet & Avon Canal: Hungerford to Thatcham

This is the first day of our walk along the towpath from Hungerford to Reading. The first day concluded with a stop overnight in Thatcham. The next post will cover the second day and remaining stretch from Thatcham to Reading.

We returned to Hungerford to pick up where we left off on the last stretch of the K&A Canal. This was by far one of the best walks we have done in terms of things to see along the way but also one of the most challenging due to its distance (30 miles over 2 days). For those wishing to replicate the route, nearly every major settlement on this walk has a train station (Kintbury, Newbury, Newbury Racecourse, Thatcham, Midgham, Theale and Reading). After an early rise in Bath and two trains and a bus, we started our journey along the towpath across Berkshire.

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Canal, Hungerford, Start of Walk

Heading east along the canal out of Hungerford, the scenery was instantly promising. The River Kennet and various streams and tributaries ran adjacent to the canal. Although some were not visible from the towpath, you could hear the rush of weirs and the trickle of small streams. In places we were surrounded by water with the canal on one side and the Kennet on the other.

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Canal, leaving Hungerford

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Left: River Kennet, Right: K&A Canal

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Canal, approaching Kintbury

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After four locks, several bridges and thoroughly enjoyable first 2 1/4 miles, we arrived in the extremely desirable village of Kintbury.

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Canal, Kintbury

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Lock, Kintbury

Here we arrived at our first watering hole of the walk, The Dundas Arms brilliantly situated next to the canal with its beer garden benches looking over the water. We liked this place so much it made it into our Top 10 pubs ever.

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The Dundas Arms, Kintbury

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View from beer garden, Dundas Arms

After refreshments, we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from this attractive spot and continued along the towpath. As we walked on we noticed we were surrounded by wildlife; the normal waterbirds were enjoying the good weather, as was a plethora of insect life – the good kind, like butterflies, mayflies and dragonflies.

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Left: River Kennet, Right: K&A Canal

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Every so often we would come across an old pillbox as depicted below. We noticed several during our walking of this canal. I would later learn from an information board that there are many of these all along the canal, most out of sight from the towpath and overgrown with brambles and nettles. Constructed during the Second World War as a line of defense against German invasion, most of the remaining pillboxes are listed buildings.

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Pillbox

As we wandered further toward our next rest stop in the direction of Newbury, the canal and its surroundings were truly enticing; the waterway was littered with locks, bridges, weirs and flowery verges. You could always hear water pushing its way through lock gates or crashing down from flow control installations. With the Kennet flowing close by in clear view and the area buzzing with creatures, everything seemed lively and in constant motion.

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At Hamstead Lock we came off the towpath, crossed the bridge and followed the road about 1/2 km to find the The Red House in Marsh Benham near Speen with its neat thatch and well-kept gardens, all complete with resident chicken.

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After once again enjoying a drink and struggling to find reasons to leave such a good location, we followed the road back to the canal and pressed on toward Newbury, passing wooded areas, weirs and other striking features.

Continue reading on the next page…

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