Bath & Return
Featured Routes

Bath & Return from Aldermaston Wharf

Duration: 14 Nights

Maps & Guides for this route: P8, N7, L20, H1, E2, E3 

What to expect

Battlefields, an ancient forest, Celtic mounds and mysterious crop circles, steam engines, city shopping and historic locks characterise this route mixed with trade and royalty. This is a boating holiday packed with treats.

Itinerary: Bath & Return from Aldermaston Wharf Route

Setting off westwards from the base at Aldermaston Wharf along the Kennet & Avon Canal, your crew will be kept busy with a series of swing bridges and well-spaced locks as the canal skirts Thatcham. Monkey Marsh Lock is a scheduled ancient monument and is one of only two remaining turf-sided locks in the country (the other is Garston Lock at Theale, to the east of Aldermaston). 

Newbury Wharf was the original terminus of the Kennet Navigation and this former cloth town’s centre is worth taking the opportunity to explore. Newbury became very wealthy from the cloth trade, and was also noted in the Civil War for two important battle sites, one of which holds the dubious title as one of the War’s bloodiest.

The wood-lined canal ascends steadily through stunning remote scenery with the peace and quiet, interrupted only by high-speed trains on the railway alongside. Shortly beyond the pretty village of Kintbury, the canal reaches the small town of Hungerford. John of Gaunt was the town's landowner in the 14th century and the town's Bear hotel is one of the most historic inns in England, having played host to visitors including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, William of Orange and Samuel Pepys. The town is now renowned as an antiques-hunter’s paradise.

Once you've had your fill of sightseeing, your Bath & Return route continues its ascent through the pretty villages of Little Bedwyn and Great Bedwyn, before arriving at Crofton. Crofton Pumping Station, a steam-engine enthusiast’s dream, was built to pump water to the canal and still carries out this task when in steam. The beam engines are the oldest fully working steam engines in the world, and one of them is the original 200-year old Boulton & Watt. The buildings and 82ft chimney are set in a striking setting, well worth exploring. The Crofton Flight carries you up further then through Bruce Tunnel (502yds/459m long), the highest point on the Kennet & Avon Canal and named after Thomas Bruce, of the family who own Savernake Forest.

Meandering through the Vale of Pewsey, the backdrop at Honeystreet includes one of the many chalk-carved White Horses that Wiltshire is famous for. This area is also world-renowned for mysterious crop circles, and visitors come from across the globe to gather at the canalside Barge Inn (which even serves special real ale called Croppie). The glorious flat landscape is peppered with hills, ancient burial mounds and evidence of Celtic and medieval cultivation.

There’s a canal museum at Devizes Wharf and the historic market town of Devizes is renowned for its busy marketplace, range of independent shops, and over 500 listed buildings. The town was a centre for cloth manufacture and many of its cottages were worked in by weavers until one of the first cloth factories in the south was built by John Anstie in 1785, housing 300 looms.

Backing onto the canal, Wadworth Brewery, founded in 1875, is still run as a family business by the family of Wadworth’s business partner. The Victorian brewery and Visitor Centre is renowned not only for its beer but also its shire horses, whose stables are open to the public.

Get ready as you now reach the canal’s main event, the Caen Hill Flight, one of the Seven Wonders of Britain’s canals. Its 16 locks are actually part of a much longer stretch of 29 locks spread over about 2¼ miles. Built by engineer John Rennie, the 29 locks carry boats a total of 237ft down (or up!) the steep hill at Devizes.

The Kennet & Avon Canal was a busy trade route 200 years ago. Competition from the railways eventually forced the canal to close and the Caen Hill Flight stagnated until a new era of canal enthusiasm and restoration brought the canal back to life in 1990. The success of the canal and fame of the Caen Hill Flight along with the attraction of its leafy canalscape make this a very popular area not only for boaters but also for cyclists and walkers, and of course gongoozlers (people who enjoy watching crews like you work through the locks!).

The locks at Foxhangers, Seend and Semington are perfectly spaced to allow your crew a breather after the exertion of Caen Hill, and the canal crosses the Avon valley and railway below over two consecutive aqueducts – Biss Aqueduct and Ladydown Aqueduct. It’s then a short gentle cruise through open countryside before you arrive on the edge of Bradford on Avon.

Bradford Lock is a busy wharf area with convenient teashop and pubs opposite and below the lock, so again expect a few happy gongoozlers watching you work through. Bradford on Avon, sometimes described as a miniature Bath, is built in terraces on the hillside overlooking the Avon valley. The town was once a thriving centre for weaving, and the banks of the river through the town are lined with former warehouses, mostly now converted into modern flats.


The ancient Savernake Forest extends to the north of the canal and was mentioned in the Domesday Book, compiled in 1085-86. The forest extends 3-4,000 acres, most of which is classified as a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI), and is registered as an important historic park. Although privately owned, it is managed by the Forestry Commission and allows extensive public access. At its centre, Capability Brown laid out a 4-mile long 'Grand Avenue' of beech trees in the late 1790s, appearing in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest Avenue in Britain. 

Original brick buildings at Burbage Wharf and the pretty flight of locks at Wootton Rivers are followed almost immediately by the small town of Pewsey, a short walk south of Pewsey Wharf, with a mix of places to eat and explore.

The canal, still tree-lined, passes the edge of Stowell Park, where a unique Grade II-listed mini suspension footbridge (made of cast iron with wood planks) crosses the canal, then the village of Wilcot with its thatched cottages ranged round the green. 

The canal's builders had to adapt to accommodate complaints from the local landowner, Lady Susannah Wroughton, who objected to the arrival of an ugly trade route. Lady’s Bridge is ornately adorned with engineer John Rennie’s stonework and Wide Water is a popular mooring spot as the canal takes on the attractive appearance of a tree-lined lake. 


Just beyond the lock, the canalside medieval Tithe Barn is surrounded by artists’ studios, galleries, shops and a tearoom. 168ft long with timber cruck roof, this awesome barn was built in the early 14th century, and is one of the finest examples in the UK of a monastic stone barn. 

The canal follows the tree-lined river Avon below, before views open up as you approach Avoncliff Aqueduct, where the canal takes a sharp turn to the right. Avoncliff Aqueduct, designed and built by John Rennie and his chief engineer John Thomas, is an architectural gem, and the cluster of buildings around the aqueduct include a pub and tearoom. 

The canal is now bordered by the trees of Conkwell Wood, allowing fleeting glimpses of the Avon valley and fields of sheep below. Dundas Aqueduct again carries the Kennet & Avon Canal over the river Avon and railway below. The aqueduct is a monumental work of classical art built in 1804 with John Rennie’s distinctive mix of architecture and engineering Look out for the carved signatures of stonemasons who worked on the aqueduct. At its end, the former Somersetshire Coal Canal heads off to the left. This is now a short mooring stretch with Canal Visitor Centre, café and restaurant. 

The tree-lined canal soon passes Claverton Pumping Station, worth a diversion down from the canal and over the railway alongside. It used to pump water up from the river to the canal and, restored by the volunteers, can still be seen working on special ‘Pumping Days’. The canal veers round to the west as it heads into Bathampton, passing popular moorings and the George pub, once a 12th-century monastery. 

The next mile towards the city of Bath is high above the valley as you pass long lines of moored boats and the encroaching sound of the busy A4 below. The canal enters a tighter cutting as it sweeps under ornate cast-iron bridges through Sydney Gardens and under Cleveland House Tunnel, which used to be the canal company’s headquarters. 

Bath’s trademark Georgian houses line the canal, and there are sweeping views over the city from the top lock. The original locks 8 & 9 were merged to create Bath Deep Lock which is one of the deepest on the entire canal network, and the canal finally joins the river Avon at Bath Bottom Lock (no.7). The city lies across the river, and has much to explore with its Royal Crescents, Jane Austen, Roman soldiers, Palladian mansions and Regency houses, and of course chic shopping and choice of places to eat. Once you have had your fill, it’s time to turn the boat and make your way back along this fascinating and awe-inspiring journey route back to Aldermaston Wharf. 

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Featured Boats

Featured Boats from Aldermaston Wharf, Berkshire

Two to Five berth Boats

Alvechurch Bunting

Max: 5 People

Length: 47ft

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Alvechurch Weaver

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Length: 49ft

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Six to eight berth Boats

Alvechurch Dove

Max: 6 People

Length: 60ft

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Alvechurch Eagle

Max: 7 People

Length: 66ft

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Alvechurch Gull

Max: 6 People

Length: 66ft

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Alvechurch Lark

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Alvechurch Thrush

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Length: 66ft

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Alvechurch Warbler

Max: 8 People

Length: 69ft

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Alvechurch Woodpecker

Max: 8 People

Length: 60ft

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Up to twelve berth Boats

Alvechurch Tern

Max: 10 People

Length: 70ft

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Alvechurch Swan

Max: 12 People

Length: 70ft

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