Bradford on Avon to Bath by barge takes you on a cruise down the Kennet & Avon canal via gorgeous scenery with plenty of pubs, restaurants, activities to do and places to see en route.
We were on our own now, chugging away from Hilperton Marina on the Kennet and Avon Canal, having just watched a 10 minute DVD on how to navigate locks, followed by a briefing from Ken, the helpful instructor.
‘Corn Bunting’, a traditional dark green, red and yellow painted narrow boat, came complete with roses painted around its doors. Sleeping four, two in one bedroom and two on a convertible sofa, it was equipped with a cooker, microwave, TV, DVD, radio and even a coffee maker.
Bradford on Avon was only 45 minutes away and we’d been warned it would be busy on a beautiful Friday evening in June. It was, with barges moored nose to tail against the reeds and sunshine yellow irises. Spotting a space on a bend, we thrust the boat into reverse and tried to moor. Another couple chugged by, shouting, “We tried there last night - it’s too shallow. Go through the locks – more room there.”
Why hadn’t I paid more attention to the DVD? What were paddles? How did you open them? Either side of the locks, people had a ringside view of us as they sat in the garden of The Canal Tavern on one side and the Locks Inn Café on the other. “Turn it CLOCK-WISE," yelled helpless husband, boat bound, in the lock. I did but the mechanism wouldn’t budge. Luckily, a woman leaning over the bridge had helpful advice. “’E’s telling you to turn it the wrong way.” I threatened husband with the spanner and divorce, the crowd loved it and we cruised off under the bridge and luckily found a mooring.
After, a drink at the lovely Locks Inn Café (Frome Road, Bradford Lock, Bradford on Avon, BA15 1LE; Tel. 01225 868068; www.thelockinn.co.uk) and a takeaway from the Maharaja Restaurant(12 Frome Road, Bradford on Avon, BA15 1LE; Tel. 01225 866424; www.themaharajarestaurant.co.uk) things became more peaceful as slowly the sun dropped and our reflection in the canal became like an old, sepia photograph.
Next day, we cruised along spotting red beaked, baby moorhens peeking from their nest. Fluffy ducklings split from their family by our barge, squeaked in panic as we passed over two aqueducts, the Dundas and Avoncliff.
We moored to have an al fresco lunch of wraps and paninis we'd bought from Out to Lunch (Silver Street, Bradford-on-Avon, BA15 1JX, Tel. 01225 864600; www.outtolunch.org.uk). Then a stroll uphill from Bridge 175 brought us to the Hop Pole at Limpley Stoke (Avon, Somerset BA2 7FS; Tel. 01225 723134), a traditional, friendly pub with good beer and a pretty garden.
Another good stop a couple of miles on for eating and drinking is at the intriguingly named ‘Brassknocker Basin’. There you’ll find the Angelfish Restaurant (Canal Visitor Centre, Brassknocker Basin, Monkton Combe, Bath, BA2 7JD; Tel. 0845 2021125), who serve cream teas, lunches and dinners either outside on the terrace or in the airy, glass fronted restaurant.
For a break from the boat, Dundas Enterprises (Brassknocker Basin, Bath, BA2 7JD; Tel. 01225 722292; www.bathcanal.com) offer day boat, canoe and cycle hire from Brassknocker Basin.
Bathampton looked a tempting stop with it’s pretty stone cottages and the George Inn (Mill Lane, Bathampton, Bath, Avon, BA2 6TR; Tel. 01225 425079), but we were on a mission to get a mooring as close to Bath as possible, without having to negotiate it’s challenging lock path.
We arrived at the last bridge before an imminent encounter with the Bath locks and luck was with us. A canoe was being rowed out of a space big enough for our boat. With a self-satisfied smile at the boat behind us, and experts at mooring now, we nipped into the space.
A 10-minute walk among the wide streets, lined with three storey Regency houses, where you could imagine a Jane Austen character strolling past, brought us into the centre of Bath.
Should we do Italian or Thai? We plumped for Thai at Thai by the Weir (16 Argyle Street Bath BA2 4BQ; Tel. 01225 444 834; www.thaibytheweir.co.uk), aptly named as it had a fantastic setting, its windows overlooking the Pulteney Weir and the River Avon. A good choice we agreed, snacking on rice crackers before going straight in for mains, highly spicy and highly delicious. For its setting and good service, prices were extremely reasonable with mains mostly under £10, which we washed down with bottles of Thai, Singha beer (£3.50 each).
· We booked our boat through UK Boat Hire (Tel. 0330 3330 590 - UK local rate - www.ukboathire.com) which would have cost over £700.00 for 3 nights, but using Tesco clubcard vouchers (www.tesco.com/clubcard) really kept the price down.
· Although generally very peaceful, keep an eye on who you moor next to if you want a peaceful night. There were one or two stag parties – good-natured but noisy at 2.00 am in the morning!
· Try and get a mooring before 4pm at the weekend. After this, available spaces are taken up by anglers, out for their evening's fishing.
· Pace yourself – don’t try and cover too much canal in a day.
· If you’re a family, you may want to take it easier so you can have time off the boat. You can hire bikes or canoes at Bradford on Avon and Brassknocker Basin.
· You can get to Bath from most points on the canal without having to moor there. Trains are available from Bradford on Avon, as well as buses from most places en route.
· Reception is not great for TV, so you may want to take some DVDs with you.