Kennet & Avon Canal Cycle Route Overnighter: part 2

Steep hill climbe up a tree-lined lane in FroxfieldI took my time over breakfast and the Sunday paper with Peter & Carolyn at the Upper Westcourt B&B, leaving about 10am for the 15 minute ride, arriving at The Crofton Pumping Station well before it opened (blog posts on both pumping stations coming up shortly).  Unlike the day before, it was still sunny after this day’s  industrial heritage stop.

The first half of today’s trip would still follow country roads, before rejoining the tow path, but looking at the map, they didn’t diverge as far from the canal, and at least seemed to be less steep.  It turned out that I had multiple opportunities to practice coasting, preceeded of course by the obligatory climb.

Like Saturday, the first half of the trip was characterised by attractive country towns, like Great Bedwyn, and pretty villages, like Little Bedwyn.

The biggest town of the day was Hungerford, which under other circumstances would have been worth a longer stay. On the far side of Hungerford, the road crossed a cattle guard and a gate, and I entered the Hungerford Common Portdown.

Hungerford CommonsThe commons is a 200 acre shared pasture.  I stopped to take some pictures, and watched a farmer walk out to check on his cows, all of whom seemed to have a healthy suspicion of  the road (in spite of the nominal 30mph speed limit).

Kintbury

Kintbury was the last town before rejoining the towpath.  Many of the buildings were built directly on the narrow High Street.  I stopped to take a picture of my bike in front of a colorfully named pub, and then continued on, finally rejoining the canal and towpath at Hamstead Lock. The path was much narrower and yellower than it had been at the start of the trip in Bath.  In many places, it wasn’t wide enough for 2 bikes to pass between the nettles and the canal.

The route zig-zagged through Newbury, which is a relatively large town with a busy high street.  Newbury merges almost seamlessly with the town of Thatcham, where the route diverges from the canal for several miles.  I grabbed a Sunday roast at a pub for lunch, and after another mile of city biking, was back on the towpath along a section of the canal lined with industrial buildings.

Swing Bridge From here on, there were a number of swing bridges, movable bridges that were too low for the narrowboats to pass under.  In the photo above, I had to wait for boat crew to swing a bridge closed, and fasten it into place.  Most of the swing bridges were actually open to automobile traffic, powered by electric motors operated by a special key that each boat carried.

Aldermaston LockAt Aldermaston, I stopped to look at the lock. Originally sided with turf, it was enlarged in the mid-1700s using masonry, resulting in a very attractive scalloped shape for the lock walls.  I bought a Magnum bar at the Visitors Centre, and continued down the towpath past a very large timber frame building.

Crossing the canal on a swing bridge at Ufton, I had my final bovine encounter. Purportedly an attempt to recreate the original towpath conditions, the cycle trail passes through a couple of cattle gates and is very rough as it crosses a pasture. Hitting my first cow pie confirmed the wisdom of my last minute decision to install fenders.

Sulhamstead grazing commonsThe high point of this particular offroad section was a close encounter of a canine kind. Approaching the second of multiple cattle gates, each of which required a dismount, I passed a Swan and several large cygnets. When they hissed, I assumed it was an aversion to cyclists, but then I heard a loud splash behind me. A greyhound that I’d passed at least 1/10 of a mile earlier had run behind me, and jumped into the water after the birds. Who knew that a greyhound would do something like that? Who knew that a skinny dog like that could actually swim?

The outskirts of Reading distinctly lack charm. The towpath continued through a marshy area, and then the bike route diverged onto a very bumpy road (NOT an intersection that is well signed), paralleling the busy and noisy M4 motorway.  Faced with a choice to continue into the city centre on a bike route, or remain on the Kennet & Avon Navigation, I decided to see it through.  A guy on a mountain bike I’d seen in Aldermaston caught up to me, we chatted a bit, and he offered to guide me through the busy parts of Reading, all the way to the Thames, and thence to the railroad station.

Steep hill climbe up a tree-lined lane in Froxfield

End of the TrailFollowing Alan turned out to be a good plan, because the route through Reading was very complex. Threading through some narrow ramps, and crossing a busy street, I suddenly found myself on the busy canal path at Reading’s Oracle Shopping Centre.  I’d been here multiple times as a shopper, so it was kinda fun to come through on my touring bike with bags and silly clothes. We dodged pedestrians, passed the former Huntley and Palmer’s Biscuit Factory, threaded through a couple more industrial and residential sections, and there was the Thames. It was the end of the Navigation and the last of 85 miles on the Kennet and Avon Cycle Route.

Reading StationAlan and I had a nice chat about bikes and boats, and then we rode for a mile along the Thames on the number 5 National Cycle Route from Oxford.  We left the Thames, crossed a busy street, and Alan waved me off as he continued up a ramp.  I circled a busy roundabout and headed towards the Reading station on a lane restricted to taxis and busses.  I bought a ticket back to Ascot and immediately hopped onto my train.

According to my GPS, I covered 90 miles on the trail and between the house and the Ascot station.  It was a great weekend, and I enjoyed all of it.  More photos can be found in the Kennet & Avon Cycle Route gallery on this web site, and several more blog postings will discuss the Crofton and Claverton pumping stations, both fascinating examples of early 19th century engineering. A map of the trip between Claverton and Reading appears below:

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