Bath might be a UNESCO World Heritage city with the draw of the Roman Baths, Georgian architectural splendor, and the medieval Abbey, but just a stone’s throw from the tourist mayhem is a wonderful walk along the Kennet and Avon canal.
It can get busy on sunny weekends, but often it is a quiet and peaceful haven of natural beauty alongside the ever-changing life of the canal. I walk this route regularly, whatever the weather, and it never fails to delight with its infinite variety. In this article, I’ll take you through the main parts of the route as well as where the coffee and rest stops are, plus some recommended reading. Although my pictures are mainly from sunny days in spring and summer, it’s a great walk in every season.
This walk is from Bath Spa railway station to Bradford-on-Avon. You can do the walk either way. It’s about 17km in total, a flat footpath with plenty of refreshment stops and photo opportunities along the way. You can’t get lost because you just follow the towpath! Allow at least 4 hours, especially if you want to amble or have a pint or a coffee on the way.
Walk out the back of Bath Spa station and over the river on the pedestrian bridge. Turn left and head down to Widcombe lock, where the canal meets the River Avon. There’s often a heron here and swans a little further up.
Climb the stairs at the side of the second lock and turn right to walk over the bridge and along the path next to Deep Lock. These gates are sometimes covered in Tolkienesque foliage. The Canal and River Trust clean them periodically by closing the locks and draining the water out. [I’m a Friend of the Trust, a wonderful organization that maintain the waterways for all to use. Definitely check them out if you plan to walk more of the canal network.]
Keep an eye out in the following locks, as there is some poetry below the high water line. You can also look up to the allotments on the right-hand bank.
As you circle around toward a slight incline at the road, you’ll pass a large sundial sculpture on your left.'Time is the waterway of all our days. We are dreamers on its banks.'Click To Tweet
Cross the road a little further on. Weather permitting, there’s a little pop-up cafe next to the lock at the Pump Shed.
At the road bridge, climb the stairs to the left before you go under. If you reach a boatyard, you’ve gone too far. At the top of the stairs is a mini supermarket if you need supplies/water etc.
Cross the road on the zebra crossing and go down the cobbles on the other side. Walk along until you reach the first tunnel, where you cross over the canal, and descend back on the other side.
Walk through the tunnel. Look up to see the dripping foliage and watch out for cyclists!
A little further on, you can enter into Sydney Gardens through a gate on your left. It’s the oldest park in Bath, planned by the architect Harcourt Masters in 1795. Jane Austen lived at 4 Sydney Place nearby (although personally, my favorite literary resident of Bath is Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein while living here in the winter of 1816/1817).
If you walk through the gate, you will find the Holburne Museum which has art exhibitions, toilets, and a cafe. There’s also a block of public toilets in the park which costs 20p in coins.
Walk along by the canal boat moorings. You will find all kinds of narrowboats in various conditions — some newly painted with jaunty colorful flowers or sculptures on the bow, others dilapidated and crumbling into the water beneath. There are only a few permanent moorings on the route, which is why the walk is never the same. There is always something new to see, a different boat moored up with an interesting name or a cat curled up in a sunbeam.
When you reach a wooden bridge across the canal, you might see horses in the field beyond.
Just before Bathampton, there’s a stone bridge and you can often see sheep in the field opposite and rabbits feeding in the early morning. Listen out for robins singing as they dart through the branches. A little further on, keep an eye out for the free-range chickens and pigs.
When you get to Bathampton, there’s a row of charming houses with beautiful gardens in the summer.
At the end of the row is The George Inn, where you can stop for coffee/beer/food if they’re open. They also have toilets. There are often swans and ducks waiting for tourists to feed them here. Sometimes you’ll find a canal boat selling sweets or ice-cream, other boats offering trips up and down the canal.
The St Nicholas churchyard at Bathampton is beautiful if you are a taphophile like me! [If you are, you might also enjoy this article on unusual ossuaries, crypts, and catacombs.]
Walk under the bridge. You can also get a coffee at Cafe on the Barge. They do fantastic cakes!
Follow the canal as it curves around and soon, you’ll find a swing bridge with some moorings.
In the next section, you escape the urban setting for the fields of Somerset. Keep an eye out for herons as you walk. There’s elderflower here in the summer, blackberries in the autumn, teasles in the winter, as well as cows and sheep in the fields and wonderful birdlife.
On the approach to Dundas aqueduct, you’ll find some permanent moorings with little gardens, and another swing bridge with a cute little community farm shop. It’s rarely open but it’s certainly photogenic!
Walk on to Brassknocker basin, over the little bridge to the right-hand side of the canal. Here’s a photo of me and my husband crossing the bridge on one of our regular walks. I’m carrying walking poles as sometimes I find it easier to walk with them, but they’re definitely not needed for this flat terrain unless you have knee problems.
You’ll pass a cast-iron crane before crossing over the side canal to Dundas aqueduct.
If you turn off right here, it’s just a few minutes’ walk to the Angelfish Cafe along the Somerset Coal Canal for coffee, beer, ice-cream, lunch, and a toilet stop. The toilets are usually open even if the cafe is closed. There’s also a boat hire place and you can call a taxi if you want to finish the walk here. I sometimes turn around here and walk back to Bath.
Cross the aqueduct on the right-hand side of the canal. Look down to the river Avon, which can be running high if there has been a lot of rain.
The next stretch is quite long, and the path is wider so it’s easier for cyclists to pass. This is the quietest part of the walk as there are no rest-stops or cafes along the way. The scent of wild garlic fills the air on summer days, and you’ll certainly smell the farm at Limpley Stoke!
Watch out for herons, ducks, swans, and other wildlife.
At Avoncliff, there’s another aqueduct crossing the railway and the river Avon. There’s a cafe, the No 10 Tea Gardens, and also the Cross Guns Pub, so you can find refreshments and toilets.
You can get the train to and from Avoncliff but the service is infrequent so it’s best to walk on to Bradford on Avon. It’s not far from here.
Walk on along the towpath to Bradford-on-Avon.
You can leave the towpath at the 14th-century Tithe Barn, and it’s just a few minutes to the train station with clear signage. The train goes pretty much every hour during peak times from Bradford on Avon to Bath — check TheTrainline.com for details or the station has a timetable. There’s a pub near the station if you have time for a pint, and also a taxi service in the station area if you don’t want to wait for a train.
If you have time, walk on a little further to the Bradford-on-Avon lock where you can have a pint at the Lock Inn Cafe. In the summer, there are often canal boats here selling various artisanal items and art, or doing practical things like repairing bikes.
You can also walk up and over the road by the pub, then watch the boats as they line up for the lock by the canalside Kennet and Avon Trust Tea Rooms.
This is the end of this section of the canal, but you can walk on to Devizes from here (20km) and visit the Caen Hill flight of 29 locks. Happy walking!
Books about canal life or set on the canals of England
Walking the Kennet and Avon Canal – Steve Davison. Cicerone guide book with the full end to end walk as well as 20 day walks, plus notes on plants and wildlife, where to stay and more.
Adrift: A Secret Life of London’s Waterways – Helen Babbs. Journeying along London’s waterways on a canal boat called Pike, Helen Babbs puts down roots for two weeks at a time before moving on. From Walthamstow Marsh in the east to Uxbridge in the west, she explores the landscape in all its guises: marshland, wasteland, city centre and suburb. From deep winter to late autumn, Babbs explores the people, politics, history and wildlife of the canals and rivers, to reveal an intimate and unusual portrait of London – and of life.
Narrowboat Nomads: Exchanging Life on Land for the UK’s Waterways – Steve Haywood. Steve and his wife, Em, have rented out their home for the ups and downs of a life afloat, and there’s no going back now as they cruise from the historic River Thames, through the Midlands and westward into the hills of Wales, meeting a familiar cast of eccentrics and oddballs along the way, and experiencing one of the hottest summers of recent years.
But how, after life in a four-bedroom house, do they manage to survive together squeezed into a space the size of a potting shed? Other books pretend to tell you about life afloat – this one shows you what it’s really like.
Water Ways: A Thousand Miles Along Britain’s Canals – Jasper Winn. Writer and slow adventurer Jasper Winn spent a year exploring Britain’s waterways on foot and by bike, in a kayak and on narrowboats. Along a thousand miles of ‘wet roads and water streets’ he discovered a world of wildlife corridors, underground adventures, the hardware of heritage and history, new boating communities, endurance kayak races and remote towpaths. He shared journeys with some of the last working boat people and met the anglers, walkers, boaters, activists, volunteers and eccentrics who have made the waterways their home. In Britain most of us live within five miles of a canal, and reading this book we will see them in an entirely new light.
The Cosy Canal Boat Dream – Christie Barlow. For the last two years, Nell Andrews has been struggling to stay afloat. As her life tumbled down around her, the only safety net has been her cosy canal boat, The Nollie. Tucked away inside, Nell has found a place to heal her broken heart. And now she’s ready to move on and follow her dream…
I’ve also written about this section of the canal in my split-world fantasy novel, Map of Shadows. It’s partially set in the city of Bath, where Mila, a Waterwalker, lives on a canal boat and has a run-in with a Feral Borderlander in Deep Lock …