After the rain a canal walk ending with a pub lunch
It was a day that reminded me of the opening words in Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre. "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. The cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that out-door exercise was out of the question".
That was the Saturday before last, the end of a week that had seen the network of local river valleys transformed into something not dissimilar to the Lake District.
Come the Sunday, the need for fresh air and exercise was overwhelming, but where to walk with fields resembling primeval bog and tracks more akin to disused canals?
There was only one answer – a there-and-back walk along the K&A Canal towpath with a decent pub at the turning point.
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Today there seems no end to the number of 'themed' walks that have sprung up in the countryside.
Looking at the back cover of the OS Explorer map for Bristol & Bath, for example, there are no fewer than 10 such 'recreational trails' in this area alone.
These range from the Community Forest Path and the Limestone Link to the Three Peaks Walk and the Two Rivers Way.
In the pre-austerity days, there must have been plentiful funds and subsidies available for such projects, no doubt aimed at boosting local tourism.
This week's walk could be added to this list – maybe as 'The Avon Aqueducts Amble' – with Southern Britain's finest aqueducts lying at either end of the walk.
The walk starts at Dundas Aqueduct, a fine construction of local Bath Stone completed in about 1800 in the Doric style.
The central semi-circular arch, some 64 feet in diameter, carries the K&A across the River Avon, while the smaller outside arches carry the waterway across a footpath and the Bristol to Southampton railway respectively.
The aqueduct is 150 yards in length and enjoys a stunning location where fields and woodland sweep down to the Avon from the surrounding hillsides.
The inscription on the southern side of Dundas explains the origin of the name: 'To Charles Dundas, Chairman of the Kennet and Avon Canal Company from its commencement. The proprietors, mindful of his important services and his unremitting exertions through a period of XL years, gratefully erected this tablet AD. MDCCCXXVIII'.
The far end of the 'von Aqueducts Amble is Avoncliff Aqueduct, the second finest aqueduct in Southern Britain ... although pedants would probably be hard-pushed to name any other aqueducts in this part of the country!
A mere 110 yards in length, and carrying the waterway across a similar combination of river, railway and footpath, its essential features are three arches, a solid parapet and balustraded ends, with close study of the stonework revealing an interesting selection of masons' marks.
The prominent sagging of the centre arch actually occurred during the construction of the aqueduct in 1798, and in no way signifies a dangerous structure!
The section of the K&A between Dundas and Avoncliff is quite simply superb. Don't just take my word for it – listen to what Niall Allsop says in his excellent User's Guide to the K&A Canal. 'Picturesque' and 'scenic' seem somehow inadequate appendages to a description of the Limpley Stoke valley.
'Sylvan' and 'resplendent' are closer to the mark; even with the intrusion of the occasional train this is a peaceful place, its magical quality quite seductive.
And this is no marketing team's strap line to promote tourism in the area – rather it is just as one regular guy sees it and, if anything, it is understated.
And as for that decent pub at the turning point – it is none other than the almost legendary Cross Guns at Avoncliff.
The Cross Guns dates back to the 17th-century, and was therefore frequented by the local weavers long before it became a bargees' watering hole. The inn enjoys a most attractive location, sandwiches between the K&A Canal and the River Avon. It is a marvellously old fashioned place, with a vast stone fireplace – far more alluring than the terraced gardens at this time of year – stone walls, low beams and solid oak tables.
And a real bonus – the Cross Guns is owned by the Box Steam Brewery with several of their fine brews available at any time. These might include Tunnel Vision or Steam Porter, Chuffin Ale or Piston Broke, the railway related theme obviously related to Box being located on the GWR adjacent to the well-known tunnel.