The Green Man of the Kennet & Avon Canal

12th October 2023

The Green Man is an ancient pagan signal of rebirth and of nature’s cycles. On Kennet and Avon Canal in England’s South West, there have been reported sightings of a green-faced man as well as celebrations of the Green Man in folklore. Our blog explores the Green Man’s origins in Folklore along with the legend's significance to the canal route.  

The Green Man Legend

The Green Man may be a popular name for a pub these days but where did he come from? The original interpretation of the Green Man is a Pagan Spirit, who is a symbol of the forests that used to cover the UK in ancient times. The Green Man is the symbol of rebirth, representing the season of Spring and the new growth that comes with it. The Green Man is depicted as a man with a green face and is often shown as being covered in leaves and foliage. 

History of the Green Man

The earliest references to the Green Man date back to the 2nd Century AD in wood and stone carvings found across Europe. In the UK, the earliest examples appear in a 4th Century Roman Villa in Suffolk, thought to represent a pre-Christian pagan figure related to nature and tree worship.  

From the 18th Century onwards, the Green Man has been a staple in English May Day celebrations, known as “Jack-the-Green”. Wearing a wicker frame covered in foliage and a mask covered in leaves as a symbol of new life and the beginning of summer.  

The Green Man and Religion

The pre-Christian population of Anglo-Saxon Britain were illiterate, which means much of the history of the Green Man’s significance has been lost. From the end of the 6th Century, missionaries from Rome and Ireland converted the rulers and most of the population to Christianity.   

To ease the transition to Christianity, pagan imagery continued to be used in early churches, which continued into the medieval period until it started to go out of fashion in the 14th century. The symbolism of the Green Man shifted to represent the Christian figure Seth the Son of Adam. 

Green Man Revival

The Green Man had a popular revival period at the end of the 18th and 19th centuries which coincided with Canal Mania, which might explain why you’re likely to see a number of Green Man pubs on your canal route. Green Men were added architecturally to Gothic Revival buildings and Arts and Crafts style buildings and later to Neo-gothic Victorian Architecture.  

The Green Man of the Kennet and Avon Canal

The Green Man is said to have greater significance over areas of ancient woodland. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the area where the Kennet and Avon Canal spans (across Berkshire, Wiltshire and Somerset) is home to much of England’s ancient woodland. Notably, the Great Wood in Wiltshire is one of the country's largest ancient woodlands and Savernake Forest is so old it was mentioned in the Domesday Book. 

Sightings of the legendary Green Man

The Green Man has prominent ties to the South of England, where there are large expanses of ancient woodland, and while he has become symbolic in these areas, you’re not likely to see him unless you’re in the pub or taking part in a May Day festival – despite what social media reports say!   

Bradford Upon Avon Green Man Festival

 The Bradford Upon Avon Green Man festival starts on the 11th May 2024 and is a free, family-friendly event celebrating folklore, traditional music and dancing. You’ll also see the legendary Green Man as well as have the opportunity to explore a local arts & crafts market inspired by the Green Man legend. 

Green Man Pubs

There are a number of pubs on the Kennet and Avon Canal that are related to the Green Man including:  

The Barge Inn:  The Barge Inn in Honeystreet, Wiltshire is set on the banks of the Kennet and Avon Canal features a large mural of the Green Man as well as all other local legends.  

The Green Man: The Green Man in Hurst, Berkshire is a traditional pub set in a half-timbered cottage, first licensed in 1602 and a great stop before hitting the nearby Kennet & Avon Canal.      

Ready for your own Green Man legend adventure?

Experience the historic route of the Kennet & Avon Canal by boat with a number of enjoyable trips where you can explore ancient woodland, historic pubs and quirky towns.  

Bath and Return from Aldermaston Wharf

Turn back time as you start your journey at Aldermaston Wharf and cruise to the Roman city of Bath via the legendary Kennet & Avon canal. The journey takes 14 nights, and features 176 locks!  

Reading & Return from Hilperton Marina

Starting in Wiltshire, at Hilperton Marina, travel down the Kennet & Avon canal to Reading through the Pewsey and Honeystreet where you’ll witness the famous chalk white horses of Wiltshire, another local legend.  

<h3>Pewsey and Return<h3> 

Head down from Aldermaston to one of the oldest settlements in the UK - Thatcham. Through ancient woodland to the village of Pewsey. The journey takes 7 nights, perfect if you’re looking for a shorter journey.    

If you’re looking for more events on the canal why not check out our guide to Canal Festivals? Or if you’d like to know more about the trips on offer explore our featured routes today. For more information simply get in touch with our helpful team today. 

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