Walking the Kennet and Avon canal path from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon

If the canal path from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon had its own theme tune it would consist of bicycle bells and whirring tyres; to say it’s a popular cycling route is an understatement. Indeed, if you’ve arrived here from my UK bucket list link you’re probably expecting to read about our cycle ride beside the canal. But, for various reasons, we ended up walking instead; read on to find out how we got on.

Bath to Bathwick

We joined the Kennet and Avon canal path immediately behind Bath railway station. Connecting Bristol to Reading, the canal opened in 1810 but fell into disuse and dereliction following the opening of the railway in 1841. Restored and fully reopened in 1990 it’s now a popular amenity for locals and visitors.

The first mile or so winds through the city; past locks, under bridges and opposite mansions with their honeyed stone and pristine gardens. Two hundred years ago the canal would have been busy carrying coal into Bath and stone out. Several features along the route hark back to those days, including the pumphouse chimney. This was built in an ornate style as the local wealthy residents didn’t want to look out on to an industrial structure!

Kennet and Avon canal, Bath
Kennet and Avon canal, Bath

At Darlington Wharf we came across a floating market. Narrow boat businesses were moored alongside the path offering, amongst others, a sweet shop, wooden crafts and clothing. A little further on we spotted a boat with a Polling Station sign; not sure if it really was or whether the sign had been relocated from elsewhere!

On a warm spring weekend the canal towpath was busy with dog walkers, weekend joggers and cyclists. Ah yes, the cyclists. I’m far from anti-cyclist but when they whoosh past at great speed or cycle in groups across the entire path it’s hard to have a positive view. Of course there were plenty of considerate people too but given that we rarely walked more than 100m without meeting cyclists it only took a few to spoil our enjoyment.

Tunnel near Bathwick, Kennet and Avon canal
Tunnel near Bathwick, Kennet and Avon canal

Bathampton

At Bathampton we couldn’t resist a stop at the Cafe on the Barge, a tiny café in a narrow boat. Primarily offering drinks and cakes, I highly recommend the carrot cake. We sat on the small open deck, completely forgetting we were on a boat until another craft came by and rocked the waters. There are seats on the canal towpath too as there’s not much room on the boat itself.

Walking on we enjoyed watching the variety of canal users. A mix of holiday barges, day rentals, homes and (further on) a defunct lifeboat chug up the canal and line the moorings. It’s easy to tell the difference. Those belonging to long term residents are often laden with bikes, wood, pot plants and Buddha statues. The hire boats were usually more pristine, with traditional decoration aside from the holiday company logos.

Claverton

We heard the swimmers and picnickers at Warleigh Weir, near Claverton, way before we saw them. This beauty spot on the river (not the canal) can be reached by a short walk downhill and across the railway line. I’ve no idea what it’s normally like but on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday the field beside the river was packed with people. Rather like Bournemouth beach on a sunny day.

Kennet and Avon canal near Claverton
Kennet and Avon canal near Claverton

Elsewhere in Claverton there’s a pumping station which was built to transport water from the River Avon to the canal. Fully restored it operates on selected dates (advertised on the canal noticeboards). It was closed during our walk but reviews suggest it’s worth a visit when it’s open.

Leaving Claverton behind we walked a rural stretch of the canal. The bees and butterflies were out  and everything looked a vibrant green in the spring sunshine. A little further on there’s a small wooded area beside the path where the garlic smell hits you before you see the white carpet of ramsons.

Dundas Aqueduct

Dundas Aqueduct
Dundas Aqueduct

One of the highlights of this walk are the two aqueducts built to carry the canal over the River Avon.

Completed in 1805, Dundas Aqueduct is 137 metres long with three arches. We walked across it and down the steps to the river bank for the best view. It’s a grand imposing structure but has had its problems over the years. It spent much of the 1960s and 1970s drained dry due to leaks and has now been lined with polythene and concrete. Materials not available to the original builders!

Kennet and Avon canal near Avoncliff
Kennet and Avon canal near Avoncliff

Avoncliff Aqueduct

It was another three miles to Avoncliff aqueduct. Three more miles of cyclists. Three very warm miles with empty water bottles. You can hardly blame us for another cafe stop. This time at the No 10 Tea Gardens, handily located alongside the aqueduct. I smiled inwardly as I watched a couple of teens revising for their GCSEs in the tea garden; well, their books were open but I think they were on a break.

View from Avoncliff Aqueduct
View from Avoncliff Aqueduct

Avoncliff Aqueduct was designed by John Rennie (who also designed Dundas Aqueduct). Not bad for a first attempt at an aqueduct, albeit the central span sagged soon after completion and had to be repaired several times. Where were the Romans when you need them?

I had a navigation ‘moment’ after leaving the tea room. Seriously, how can anyone get lost following a canal? Er, it’s quite easy if you end up on the road because you can’t find the canal path! (Hint, walk under the aqueduct). Navigation error aside the last couple of miles passed uneventfully. Still plenty of cyclists but this time along a broad track so plenty of room for all.

The very last section took us through Barton Farm Country Park. Not quite Bournemouth beach busy this time but it appeared very popular with family groups.

Bradford-on-Avon

We reached Bradford-on-Avon late afternoon. I’ve only driven through the town before so thought we’d do a spot of sightseeing before taking the train back to Bath. But our cafe studded walk meant we arrived later than planned. And everywhere appeared shut. And we were hot and tired. So after a celebratory ice cream we headed straight to the railway station. Next time…

Bradford-on-Avon
Bradford-on-Avon

If you’re looking for an alternative route in Bath (without cyclists) head over to my Bath Skyline walk report.

More info:

  • The route from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon is approximately 10 miles. For further details on the Kennet and Avon Canal pop over to the Canal & River Trust website.
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15 things to do with the family in Ghent, Belgium

After the success of our short break to Lille a while back I was keen to explore other destinations  accessible via Eurostar. Ghent fitted the bill perfectly; a Belgian city just a couple of hours from London.

What did we do in Ghent?

We travelled as a family of  four; two adults and two teenagers. With this in mind you’ll appreciate our sightseeing and food choices were attuned to pleasing the whole family. Or attempting to at least!

View from Kraanlei across the Leie, Ghent
View from Kraanlei across the Leie, Ghent

So, how did we spend our time?

1. Climb the Belfry

I always make a beeline for the highest viewpoint in any new city. In Ghent it’s the 91 metre belfry, the highest one in Belguim.

View from Ghent belfry
View from Ghent belfry

A lift can take you part of the way up but we climbed the steps (to offset the waffles later). At the top there’s a 360 degree viewing platform with excellent views over the town centre, churches and cathedral. You’ll also discover how much building work is happening in the city.

View from the Belfry, Ghent
View from the Belfry, Ghent

Aside from the views check out the Roeland Bell (which was chimed to warn of approaching enemies) and listen to the carillon which plays every 15 minutes.

2. Wander the streets around Graslei and Korenlei

In the Middle Ages this area was a busy port and the centre of the Flanders grain trade. Nowadays it’s tourism central but for good reason; cobbled streets, historical buildings and, in the summer at least, pavement cafes. It’s a good place to take a boat tour or simply wander.

Korenlei
Korenlei

After dark it’s a completely different view with the illuminated buildings reflected in the water. Visit it as part of the Ghent light tour (see below).

3. Visit Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts)

This medieval fortress has seen many changes of use in its lifetime. From the seat of the Council of Flanders to a prison to cotton mills; at one point it was even going to be demolished and the land sold for development. Fortunately saved by locals it was restored extensively and is now one of Ghent’s main attractions.

Gravensteen - Castle of the Counts
Gravensteen – Castle of the Counts

Don’t expect lavish decorations inside the castle. For me the appeal was very much around the physical architecture, the towers, turrets and staircases. Although, thanks to those restorations, it was rather weird to walk up a heated staircase; the last thing you expect in a castle.

One room that is decorated, in a macabre way, houses the torture equipment. A reminder of the castle’s gruesome history. I found this fascinating but you might want to avoid it if you have younger children.

4. Ghent by light

We missed the Ghent Light Festival by a few days. Held every three years this would have been a spectacular sight but sadly it didn’t correspond with half term.

Ghent belfry at night
Ghent belfry at night

Even though we’d missed the festival Ghent illuminates many of its key buildings and monuments after dark, making an evening stroll obligatory. We followed the route on the Ghent light plan which took us to parts of the city we hadn’t seen in daylight. I highly recommend the walk but wrap up warm in winter.

5. Eat frites with mayo

A Belgian classic. We got ours from De Frietketel, a student hangout famous for its fries and burgers. Oh my word, the portion size! We ordered two small portions with mayo between the four of us and couldn’t even finish one portion.

It’s not haute cuisine but is tasty and cheap. Veggies and vegans can have their fill of junk food too; there are loads of options for non meat eaters. Indeed Ghent is known as the veggie capital of Europe.

6. Discover the city history at Stadsmuseum Gent (STAM)

I really enjoyed STAM, a museum covering the history of Ghent. I’d suggest visiting as early as possible during your visit to get an overview of the city. I’ve chosen my highlights below.

City map, STAM, Ghent
City map, STAM, Ghent

The first room houses a huge map of Ghent printed on the floor. Once you’ve donned protective shoe covers visitors ca walk across it. It gives a sense of scale and geography of the city, particularly outside of the main tourist area.

The museum also includes a room dedicated to the Ghent Altarpiece (evidently one of Europe’s premier art works) which is in St Bavo’s Cathedral. I discovered it’s the most frequently stolen artwork of all time. Indeed following the most recent theft in 1934 one of the panels is still missing. It was really interesting to read about the police investigation and conspiracy theories, even if, ahem, we didn’t visit the actual painting whilst in Ghent.

Lego building, STAM, Ghent
Lego building, STAM, Ghent

The family dived into the huge pile of white Lego bricks left out for visitors to enjoy. Experts can attempt to recreate Ghent’s towers. Mere mortals can build small block houses.

7. Enjoy some warmth at the Botanic garden

If, like me, you prefer warm weather then head for the greenhouses at the University botanical gardens. It’s a little way out of the city centre but you can combine it with a walk through Citadelpark.

Botanic garden, Ghent
Botanic garden, Ghent

The outside garden didn’t contain a huge amount of interest in February but there was plenty to see inside the tropical and sub-tropical greenhouses – and they were warm!

8. Eat waffles

Another Belgian speciality. I realised halfway through my chocolate and cream covered concoction that I’d never eaten waffles in Belguim. It bore no resemblance to any waffle I’ve ever eaten before. It was sweet, light and slightly chewy, delicious!

Waffles cost a couple of euros from most street vendors, more if you cover them in melted Nutella. Ignore the calories, you’re on holiday.

9. Saviour the view from St Michael’s Bridge

The three towers, Ghent
The three towers, Ghent

This is the quintessential Ghent view, described as the Manhattan of the Middle Ages. Or, in non-tourist talk, it’s the opportunity to see three towers in a row; those of the Belfry, Saint Bavo’s Cathedral and Saint Nicholas’ Church. I think it’s the one picture all tourists attempt to take even if it does mean getting mown down by a bus whilst you’re standing in the road.

10. Wander the streets around Patershol

This trendy neighbourhood is a small area of cobbled streets and restored houses. A place to wander aimlessly.

Cobbled streets of Ghent
Cobbled streets of Ghent

We visited during the afternoon when it was very quiet. Lovely to look at but almost deserted. I assume the restaurants liven things up in the evenings.

11. See the vineyard at St Peter’s Abbey

We stopped here on our walk back from the botanical garden as I wanted to see another city centre garden.

Vineyard at St Peter’s Abbey, Ghent
Vineyard at St Peter’s Abbey, Ghent

This garden is unique as it contains a vineyard. In the middle of a city. Although only planted in the 1980s there are references to earlier vineyards onsite from the 9th Century. The monks must have loved their wine. I wonder what it tasted like?

12. Graffiti street, off Hoogpoort

This is a pedestrianised alleyway full of graffiti which gives you a break from the medieval-ness of Ghent. It is as its name says; full of tags rather than street art. The teens liked it.

Graffiti street, Ghent
Graffiti street, Ghent

13. Ride a tram

Ghent tram
Ghent tram

The centre of Ghent is easily walkable so there’s no great need to use the trams. However my son was desperate to ride one so we took a tram to the railway station on our final day. It would have been cheaper to use a taxi but nowhere near as novel.

14. Little noses (cuberdons)

Cuberdons, Ghent noses
Cuberdons, Ghent noses

These cone shaped sweets (like noses) are a Ghent speciality. You can buy them for around 3-5 euros from street vendors. Fruit flavoured, with a hard shell and soft filling, they were an acquired taste but my son insisted he liked them.

15. Visit the cathedrals and churches

I’m not religious but do appreciate the history and architecture of churches, particularly ones as huge and ornate as those in Ghent. That said, with teens in tow visiting the cathedrals and churches was never going to be top of the sightseeing list.

St Peter’s church, Ghent
St Peter’s church, Ghent

Despite this we visited St Bavo’s Cathedral, where we spotted a whale skeleton but missed out the Ghent Altarpiece.

We also popped into St Peter’s church (next to the Abbey) and admired several others from outside.

Ghent – the verdict

We loved Ghent and I’d highly recommend it as a short break destination. We easily filled two full days with sightseeing. Another day, or even two, would have been ideal so we could see more museums and perhaps take a boat tour.

View from St Michael’s Bridge, Ghent
View from St Michael’s Bridge, Ghent

Ghent isn’t as overtly pretty as Bruges but I preferred it. There are far fewer tourists (in February at least) but lots of students which gives it a different feel.

More info:

  • We travelled by Eurostar to Brussels. From Brussels we took a train to Gent-Sint-Pieters Station. The train takes about 30 minutes; we’d already bought a Eurostar ticket which was valid to any Belgium station so there was no need to purchase a separate ticket.
  • We stayed in a studio apartment which you can see on the Stay at Ghent website. The second floor duplex studio was perfect for us but had a mezzanine and is reached via a steep staircase so not suitable for those with mobility difficulties or young children.
  • Belguim has two official languages; Flemish and French. Whilst I can get by in French Ghent is in the Flemish speaking area. It pains me to say but you’re better off speaking English.
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A circuit of Llangollen’s highlights, Denbighshire

I’ve driven through Llangollen many times whilst en route to the mountains in Snowdonia. But it was only during a visit to the town last autumn that I discovered what fantastic family friendly walks we’ve missed out on.

Llangollen has a number of attractions dotted around the town and local area. This circular walk covers many of them but it’s easy to add in others such as Valle Crucis Abbey, Llangollen Railway or Motor Museum and make a full day out.

Coed Hyrddyn – Velvet Hill

As we were staying in a holiday cottage at the foot of Velvet Hill it made sense for us to start our walk here, with a trip to the top of the hill.

View from Velvet Hill, near Llangollen
View from Velvet Hill, near Llangollen

It was good to start with a brisk uphill walk; these days my knees much prefer going up than down. Although a damp day, with a touch of drizzle, this didn’t detract from the views out towards Llantysilio.

Walking Velvet Hill, near Llangollen
Walking Velvet Hill, near Llangollen

Horseshoe Falls

From the summit of Velvet Hill it was downhill all the way to Horseshoe Falls. Don’t get too excited by the name. This is not a thundering waterfall but a semi-circular weir designed by Thomas Telford. Of course, it is impressive in an industrial heritage way, but personally I prefer the natural alternative.

Horseshoe Falls, near Llangollen
Horseshoe Falls, near Llangollen

Nowadays the Falls appear to be the starting point for an entirely different activity, presumably never envisaged by Thomas Telford. White water rafting along the River Dee into Llangollen. We walked past several groups of rafters still on dry land and kept hoping to see them on the rapids later on but no such luck. Perhaps they chickened out.

You may notice Mr Telford’s name pops up a lot in these parts. Head over to my post about Pontcysyllte Aqueduct to see another of his masterpieces.

Chain Bridge

From the Falls we walked towards Llangollen, bordered either side by the River Dee and Llangollen Canal.

The Chain Bridge, a footbridge over the River Dee, reopened in 2015. We didn’t need to cross it on our walking route but it would have been a shame to miss out so we diverted through the hotel terrace to do so. On the far bank there’s an information board which shows what the bridge looked like pre-restoration. Wow. That would have been an exciting crossing!

Chain bridge, Llangollen
Chain bridge, Llangollen

Llangollen Canal

We followed the canal towpath into Llangollen. Opened in 1805 to transport slate and to feed the Shropshire Union Canal it’s much narrower than our local canal. In some spots it was only wide enough for one boat, although there are plenty of passing places. Horse drawn boat trips are popular along this stretch, they’re certainly the way to travel if you want a slow relaxing trip.

Llangollen canal
Llangollen canal

We passed a lot of canoeists as we walked. I was intrigued by one man wading in the water beside his canoe rather than actually sitting in it. I’m sure he had a perfectly valid reason but I didn’t think to ask him why!

Castell Dinas Brân

The canal took us directly into Llangollen where we stopped for a coffee break and to view the birds and animals in the taxidermy shop. I wonder if they do much business?

From Llangollen town centre we crossed back over the canal and walked up the hill to Castell Dinas Brân. I’d been eyeing this up since we’d arrived the previous day. The ruined medieval castle sits imposingly atop a hill overlooking Llangollen. I rather like the English translation – the crow’s fortress, or crow castle.

Walking up to Castell Dinas Bran (Crow Castle), Llangollen
Walking up to Castell Dinas Bran (Crow Castle), Llangollen

After a short sharp walk up we mooched around the ruins for a while, enjoying the views over to the limestone escarpment of Trevor Rocks. The castle only had a brief working life, destroyed by Edward I’s troops just a few decades after it was built. It once featured a gatehouse, keep, hall, D shaped tower and a courtyard but only ruins remain nowadays. Given its exposed location it’s pretty impressive that even these are left.

Castell Dinas Bran (Crow Castle), Llangollen
Castell Dinas Bran (Crow Castle), Llangollen

Clwydian Way

From the castle we walked down to join the Clwydian Way. This circular route covers 120 miles of Welsh countryside and was created as part of the millennium celebrations.

Along the Clwydian Way
Along the Clwydian Way

Our route took us through beech woods and along bracken lined paths, back towards our holiday cottage. There was time for a short break and photo stop at a handily placed viewpoint.

Taking a break on the Clwydian Way
Taking a break on the Clwydian Way

We could have extended our afternoon by popping into the Cistercian Valle Crucis Abbey. I actually feel rather guilty about not visiting. But there was a tea room, next door at the Abbey Farm caravan site. And I really needed a cup of coffee!

If you’ve enjoyed this post you might also like to read about the short break I enjoyed, walking the Llantysilio hills and Trevor Rocks escarpments.

More info

  • Our walk was approximately 7 miles. Much of it is flat easy walking but there are a couple of steeper sections up Velvet Hill and Castell Dinas Brân.
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Crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Wrexham

Thomas Telford was one heck of a busy man. In between designing bridges, roads, churches and tunnels he also found time for the magnificent Pontcysyllte (and Chirk) Aqueducts.

We visited Pontcysyllte Aqueduct as part of a longer walk. I cannot recommend the walk. Particularly the section past a landfill site, walking beside a 50mph road. Lorries whizzing past. Whipping up leaves and dust. Instead I’m just going to tempt you with the highlights, the canal and the aqueduct.

Llangollen canal

I have a love-hate relationship with canals. On a grey winter’s day they can be deserted and pretty dreary. But at other times they’re magical.

Autumn on the Llangollen canal
Autumn on the Llangollen canal

We visited in late October when autumn was busy turning the leaves yellow and orange. Reflecting the colours in the canal. Plenty of boats chugging along the still waters. Walkers and dogs parading the banks.

Ducks on Llangollen Canal
Ducks on Llangollen Canal

Approaching the aqueduct we came across these ducks all in a line. Which got me thinking. I wonder what they make of it. Do they ever paddle across?

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the longest and highest in Great Britain, is an impressive beast. Built between 1795-1805 it carries the canal 38 metres over the Dee Valley, linking the villages of Froncysyllte and Trevor. Someone, presumably a marketing guru, has named it the ‘stream in the sky’. Not technically correct but a great description; easier to pronounce too.

Crossing the Pontcysyllte aqueduct
Crossing the Pontcysyllte aqueduct

If we’d timed our visit better we could have taken a narrowboat ride across the aqueduct. Regular trips allow you to experience the scary side of the structure, with just a few centimetres of iron trough to stop you going over the edge. Although I’m sure no boat has ever sailed off it.

Crossing the Pontcysyllte aqueduct
Crossing the Pontcysyllte aqueduct

Instead we just walked. The path can easily fit two people side by side. But most people naturally gravitate to the handrail side. Which results in a moment of nervousness when you meet someone in the middle. Be polite and risk slipping in the canal? Or stick rigidly to the railings?

Footpath beside the Pontcysyllte aqueduct
Footpath beside the Pontcysyllte aqueduct

I stopped to enjoy the view and take a few photographs halfway over. Ignoring the sewage works. Focussing on the swirling River Dee far below. Watching birds fly beneath me. And checking that my son hadn’t gone for a paddle.

View from Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
View from Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

The aqueduct and part of Llangollen canal achieved Unseco World Heritage status in 2009, a worthy tribute to Thomas Telford’s vision. Could you imagine it being built nowadays? It would be festooned with barriers and safety nets. And I’m sure the mortar wouldn’t have been made with ox blood!

 

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

At the far end we stopped for lunch, before continuing our walk down the steps and alongside the River Dee. Turning round every so often to marvel once more. The further away you get the more it looks like boats and people are crossing the canal with no protection at all.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

The walk across isn’t for everyone. But it’s easy to appreciate Telford’s engineering mastermind from plenty of vantage points without stepping foot on it. Well worth visiting!

If you’re looking for other walks in the area you might also enjoy my posts about walking in the Llantysilio hills and a circular walk around Llangollen.

More info

  • I’d suggest parking at Ty Mawr Country Park and walking beside the River Dee to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. There are great views as you approach, although you’ll need to climb a few stairs to access the aqueduct itself.
  • The towpath and canal are occassionally closed for maintenance.  Check further details in advance of your visit on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct website.
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