scallop lock

Kennet and Avon Navigation- Reading to Hungerford

Steve trips 0 Comments

Apologies, but I have been lax at writing blog posts recently. Having been on the River Thames for a few days, it was time to explore a new waterway. The Kennet and Avon Navigation

Kennet and Avon Navigation – Reading to Hungerford

The navigation from Reading to Newbury is on the River Kennet with lock sections to avoid weirs on the river. From Newbury to Bath it becomes the Kennet and Avon Canal and for the final section to Bristol you are on the River Avon. We only plan to go as far as Bath.


A feature of the navigation are the locks. There are two turf sided locks. These and the flood lock on the Wey Navigation are the only surviving examples of this type of lock remaining. We have also had a couple of scallop edged locks that were originally turf sided.

turf lock empty

Empty turf lock

Several of the locks have proved quite tricky as they sometimes have strong channels close by. At Woolhampton you have to open the nearby lock before you go through the swing bridge. The cross current and strength of flow mean you can not easily stop between the two. We were pushed to the right and just managed to get into the lock entrance without hitting the side. Anyone in a hire boat from Aldermaston heading west would have this as their second lock. A baptism of fire for an inexperienced crew especially if the river is running fast after heavy rain.

full turf lock

full turf lock

The locks themselves can be hard work. When going up you need to open the paddles very carefully as they can go from hardly any water to loads very quickly. Some have gated paddles and others ground paddles and its hard to know what to expect. Normally I can control the boat using tiller and throttle and maybe a centre line. With these locks it’s much harder and a few times I have really struggled to control the boat. Tying the bow close to the side has proved to be the best method.

Swing bridges and lift bridges

So far we have had 12 swing bridges and one lift bridge. The ones that take cars are electrically operated whilst the footpath bridges are manual. When using the electric bridges it seems to take ages from the barrier going down to the bridge starting to open. You are always conscious of holding motorists up, so it feels like everything is even slower than it probably is. In Aldermaston, the lift bridge will not work in the rush hour periods.

swing bridge

swing bridge

The manual bridges have proven to be quite hard to swing. On a couple of occasions I have had to moor up, to help Angela push them open.

The River

With so little rain the water levels are currently quite low. Away from the official overnight places or piled sections, mooring can be difficult. There is often a ledge stopping you getting close without going aground.

The river is however very enjoyable. Most of the time you are in countryside with lots of trees close to the water and apart from the railway being sometimes close by, very little to intrude on the tranquility. There are quite a few twists and turns but nothing that has proven to be tricky.

mooring at Newbury

mooring at Newbury

Once out of Reading most of the places you pass through are only small, until you reach Newbury. Happily Newbury is a place that is good to travel through by boat. There are good moorings and you go under the main shopping street on your way through town.

newbury high street

The canal goes under Newbury high street

Our Journey

We travelled for about 30 minutes on the Thames from Sonning to the junction at Reading. We found that the turning wasn’t very obvious, as there were boats moored just before the junction. Fortunately, we knew it was after a marina so were looking out for it. The only sign is for boats coming down river.

Kennet and Avon Navigation entrance

K&A entrance

It’s about 10 minutes to the first lock and this section is still managed by the Environment Agency. They finish with an unusual lock. The lock paddles are raised and lowered using a wheel instead of using a windlass.

wheel paddles

Gate paddles opened with wheels

We were now back on Canal and River Trust (CRT) waters. Soon you arrive at another unusual feature – a set of traffic lights. Traffic is one way only and you need to pull over to set the light before you can proceed. If something is already coming the other way, the wait can be about 10 minutes.

navigation traffic lights

navigation traffic lights

On our last rest day we did an interesting walk, taking in 4 local Wildlife Trust reserves. One of these was Greenham Common, famous for the anti-nuclear peace protests back in the 80’s. The US air base has now closed and Europe’s longest runway, at over 3000 metres, has gone. To do this, over one and a quarter million tons of concrete and gravel was removed. The site has now reverted back to being heathland with swathes of gorse and heather. It is hard to believe the air base was ever there.

Greenham Common

Greenham Common

The engine was due an oil and oil filter change after 150 hours and as often happens when I do anything technical, blood flowed. Bending down to get to the oil filter, I cracked my forehead on the corner of a cupboard leaving a V-shaped cut. Not quite a Harry Potter lightning scar.

Approaching Kintbury we met up with a horse-drawn trip boat. To avoid their rope we had to pass them on the wrong side of the canal.

horse drawn boat

horse-drawn boat

In our first week on the navigation, we have travelled for 21 hours and only covered 27 miles. But there has been 33 locks and 12 bridges. We are in no rush and have been following our normal routine of setting off by 8am and finishing around lunch time. We expect it to take us about another 4 weeks before we get back to the Thames.

22nd April – Sonning to 28th April – Hungerford

30 miles

33 locks

12 swing/lift bridges

1 tunnel


343 miles

261 locks

15 swing/lift bridges

1 tunnel

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