The Kennet and Avon is about seventy-five miles long. That's from three to five days, depending on how fit you are and how fast you want to travel. It's easy going - after all, canal towpaths are flat! - and you couldn't get lost if you tried. For some strange reason, known only to their authors, guide-books describe the route from west to east. However I would definitely recommend walking east-west, as the scenery improves in that direction and your last sight will be of Bath and not Reading.
You are never far from civilization, so there are no problems with food or transport. No need to get thirsty either. There are lots of pubs on or near the towpath, many offering accommodation; and in small towns such as Hungerford they know all about tourists. A fair number of B and B's have websites these days, so a bed shouldn't be hard to come by. Bath and Reading are both easily reached by train, and there are good rail and bus links along the whole length of the walk. The relevant OS map numbers for the walk are Landranger 172, 173, 174 and 175.
If I were finishing the walk in Bath now (having lived in and around the city for some years) I wouldn't bother with the last bit of the canal. It finally encounters the Avon in a sort of concrete trough behind the railway station - not the most romantic end to any journey. Purists who wish to travel every step of the way will want to endure it, but for the rest of us... well, try this!
About a mile after you pass the George Inn at Bathampton the canal enters a tunnel. On the other side are two wrought-iron bridges. Between them is a gate, leading into Sydney Gardens. Pass through the gate and ahead of you, and slightly to the right, you will see a path crossing the railway line. Follow this until you come to the road, turn left and take the second right. This is Great Pulteney Street, surely one of the finest architectural achievements in the world. It leads straight to the heart of Bath, via Laura Place and Pulteney Bridge
Should you fancy a pint before hitting Bath - and if you have made it this far you will have well earned it! - try the Pulteney Arms, just round the corner from the start of Pulteney Street. Coming from Sydney Gardens, turn left as before and it's the first right (just after the house that Jane Austen used to live in). The pub is the end building of an 18th century terrace, and they still have original Victorian gas-lights above the bar, so a bit of history there! They are open from 5 p.m. every day, and most lunchtimes too. From the pub, find your way back to Great Pulteney Street and it's a short walk to the centre of things.
Jeremy Smith, who has now walked the K and A five times, writes:
I would strongly recommend The Garden House in Hungerford and Greenfields in Devizes. Other places I've stayed down the years are The Three Swans in Hungerford and Black Swan in Devizes which were just about acceptable.
Have a look at:
- britishwalks.org: this link is the first of several pages covering the section from Bath to Newbury (use the arrow at the bottom of the page to navigate through them).
- Walking Pages: contact details for local Tourist Information Centres and public transport.
- KA Trust: information about the canal, links to schematic maps, plus a history of the waterway.
- Jim Shead's site: some interesting stuff, including a useful table of distances.
- Overview of the route by Peter Hardcastle.
- Slowtravel UK: some general information.