Travellers' Tales: The Kennet and Avon canal

The Kennet and Avon canal
Richard Shortridge spent a day riding beside the Kennet and Avon canal

Canals are an underrated off-road riding resource. While not technically challenging or wild, they are superb at taking you away from roads and between places of interest. They’re also easy to navigate!

I followed the Kennet and Avon, an 87-mile waterway connecting London to the Bristol Channel. Constructed in 1810, it was used until the 1960s when its decline meant sections had to be closed to boats. In the 1990s, its fortunes revived through hard work by the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust. 

I joined the canal at Kintbury in Berkshire and cycled to Bristol, where I live: 66 miles, off-road. Most of this was towpath, although at the end I joined the Bristol and Bath railway path. My Toad custom steel ‘gravel bike’ was fine on the different surfaces.

Dragonflies and damselflies darted across the crystal clear, shallow water"

The towpath on the first leg to Pewsey was narrow and grassy. The River Kennet ran alongside here and was splendid. Dragonflies and damselflies darted across the crystal clear, shallow water. On long rides like this, it is always nice to get into a rhythm. However, the many gates on this section required cyclocross-style dismounts.

The section from Pewsey to Devizes was overgrown. Sometimes the grass was a metre high. It caught in the chain and cassette and meant sketchy shifting. But the dense undergrowth was perfect cover for a young fox who nipped out across my path. 

Just outside Devizes, the path improved vastly and became a fast gravel track. I stopped at the Caen Hill Locks café, where I chatted with a bloke on a fat bike. There are 29 locks, which some narrowboat owners told me took two-to-three hours to pass through. 

I arrived home happy, despite the drizzle, and gave my bike the wash it deserved.