I’ve briefly mentioned that for July’s microadventure we had something a little special planned.. it’s funny how plans develop and morph from the initial idea. We had looked at doing a bike packing microadventure along the Kennet & Avon from Westbury back to Newbury… I hadn’t spent much time in the saddle, so started using the light evenings to train, with the hope of being semi fit to attempt the 45mile trip. The more I trained and chatted to Mark about what the plan was we started discussing how to make it harder, more of trip with a purpose.. This eventually developed into us riding the full 75 miles of the Kennet & Avon canal from the river Avon at Bath to The Thames in Reading. Given my slightly increased fitness level I was confident that this was achievable..
We were being joined by another Friend, Nick, on this one. His first microadventure. We spend the week before getting the final plan together, important things like train tickets, mileage info and certainly not forgetting pub identification along the route (which thankfully is well catered for along the K&A).
The day of departure was a pretty crazy Friday, which started with an unplanned trip to the Dr, which could have put a stop to the trip… Fortunately this wasn’t the case and although feeling pretty rubbish decided to crack on, and hope that a painkillers, fresh air and exercise would help..
The first step was to get three bikes to Bath on the train, our first leg provided us with booked cycle storage, then we would need to reply on local train services to get us the last leg to Bath. It turns out that local service trains are only good for 2 bikes, which is pretty poor options for green travelers, thankfully the train manager allowed us to get all three bikes into the cartridge (despite there only being room for 1). Bath was only a 20 minute journey away and once there we soon headed off towards Bath locks, the point at which the Avon river creates the Kennet & Avon canal. We aimed to ride the whole distance along the towpath as the national cycle route 4 deviates away from it at some points.
The first section from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon was a very easy 10 miles, this took just under an hour on lovely towpath trails, over aqueduct’s intertwined with the river Avon and the mainline railway we had just ridden. The stunning countryside and enthusiasm made an ideal fast and fun first leg of the journey, a quick refreshment at the canal side pub lead us onto the second section.
Bradford-on-Avon to Devizes was very similar to the first section, 10 miles of good towpath, moving away from the train line and out into the rolling countryside, the trail was again fast and we were greeted with the view of Calne Hill locks, the 29 locks have a rise of 237 feet over 2 miles, thankfully there was a café waiting at the top. We made a quick resupply stop and made our way towards the final 10 miles to our Dinner stop.
The Devizes to Honeystreet section of the towpath is best described as quite wild, the path disappears in places, overgrown in others and generally quite bumpy and uncomfortable, it’s only now we understand why the cycle route 4 takes cyclists around this bit down quiet country roads. We pressed on, knowing that the pub wasn’t far and the promise of beer and food drove us through. The Barge at Honeystreet soon appeared. The pub is famed for being in the heart of crop circle country and the “most famous pub in the universe#. Its Green Alien beer was sadly not on that evening, but the Roswell ale and area 51 cider made up for it. We found a table outside and took a well-earned break for a few hours. Shortly before sunset we rode a short distance away and made our way up hill to our wild camping spot.
We were welcomed to our sleeping spot for the night by a stunning cloud specked sunset, the air was still and we soon were unrolling bivi bags and setting ourselves up for the night, a few slightly shaken cans were opened to wash down the crisps and snacks. For the first time in this year of #microadventure we spotted a Landrover very close by, heading towards us. It stopped beside our bivi site and for a second we exchanged slightly surprised looks, We said hello and I politely checked if it was ok for us to stop where we laid, surprisingly the farmer mentioned that most people camp in the woodland 100m behind us, we explained that we didn’t want to disturb the cows, which seemed like the right answer, he gave a nod, wished us a good night and drove off down the field.
We watched the clouds gently pass by above us, chilled out and recalled moments of the day, sleep arrived easily for me that night, the exercise, fresh air, good food and cider did their job.. I woke in the night, it was still warm, and we were spoilt with a crystal clear sky above, I stared up for 20 minutes of so, watching satellites silently pass overhead. Given that we were in the heart of Crop Circle country I was very disappointed not to see any unusual activity in the skies..
The morning was once again still, the sun was shielded from us just behind the hill, it would soon appear to us, bathing us in early morning energy as we woke, made coffee and porridge and packed our kit away and set off to start our big push of a day to Reading and The River Thames.
From our Overnight stop to Crofton Beam Engines was around 13 miles away, which was our first scheduled stop for a cup of tea, cake and toilet stop.. The towpath was still poor, it was hard going for much of the way, even cycling a loaded bike on grass was hard work compared to a well-worn trail, as a result it look a lot longer than we expected to reach Crofton. Our anticipated Tea stop was quickly foiled by the fact we had arrived 90 minutes before they opened. We opted for a quick fuel up on nuts, water and left over coffee and head off towards Hungerford.
Again we were faced with challenging towpath conditions from Crofton to Hungerford, with the tow path improving as we reached Hungerford we carried on, knowing that in 3 more miles we would reach my mums house in Kintbury, where Bacon sandwiches were waiting for us. Thankfully this stretch of the path was good and we arrived in Kintbury, some 20 miles from our days start point in 3.5hrs (almost twice the time as 20 miles took from bath!)
After a full on fryup we pushed on with heavy legs, still knowing we had 25 miles left. It’s safe to say that at this stage I was probably at my lowest ebb, I still wasn’t feeling great, my back and shoulders are hurting, my head was banging and I could have probably got on a train and gone home to my bed. What started to help was the vast improvement of the towpath, which was now well surfaced and fast to cycle along.
The 6 miles from Kintbury to Newbury flew by, the continuing tail wind and good pace started to bring back the fun. Mark discovered he had a puncture, so a quick pit stop was needed to switch out his inner tube and once again push on. Physically I was in a good place, the smoother path had given me some conformable ride time, now the only blocker I had was the mental one as we got closer (within 400m) to home. Once past that point my head cleared, a smile appeared and we cracked on. Mentally I had broken through and now fully committed to getting to the end! Mark had focused our minds on arriving at the Row Barge pub in Woolhampton, a seat, a cider and crisps drove us, along this stretch I hit my top speed as I was chasing Mark. I felt like we had just started the ride over again, obviously the fry-up had hit my system and I felt energised and positive.
A quick pint, and a look at a map showed there was only 12 miles between us in Woolhampton and Reading.. Again we were blessed with fantastic towpath, all the way through till we had left the countryside behind and entered the hustle and bustle of Reading and the Oracle shopping Mall. The canal flows through the middle of the busy restaurant area. It seemed so odd where we were given that we had woken up on a hill in the wilds of Wiltshire earlier in the day.
The last mile was along smooth tarmac road, we had finally reached the River Thames, and for us the end of a long journey. It was a journey with a purpose, to ride all 75 miles of the Kennet & Avon canal from one end to the other. We celebrated for a few minutes. Enjoying the satisfaction of knowing we had made the full trip.
We were so very luck on almost every count.. we were lucky to get the bikes to Bath on the train, we were lucky we had great weather and a tail wind most of the way and we were lucky we all pushed each other to get to the end. The Kennet & Avon is a super place to ride, stunning countryside, nice little towns, plenty of good pubs.. Stretch yourself, over achieve what you originally set out to do, the mental and physical work out is worth it!