Newbury Velo news

Velo Quest - The Kennet and Avon Canal 2020

NV quest

Hi everyone and welcome to this weeks Newbury Velo Quest! The ride you can share with club mates on our Facebook page will still following the governments COVID safety guidance.

The theme for this weeks Quest is The Kennet and Avon Canal. This 87 mile long jewel in West Berkshire's crown runs from Reading to Bristol & has a history that stretches 300 years. At either end of those 300 years are two West Berkshire residents who were vital to the success of the canal.

The route planners have excelled themselves this week and we've produced 21, 30, 45 and 61 mile road routes, as well as a great 34 mile dirty chai off road option (it's even tempted me to get my 20 year old mountain bike out of the shed). 

The canal had two main construction phases, in the 1720's the Kennet river between Reading and Newbury was improved so that boats carrying freight could travel along it. After this, the Avon between Bristol and Bath was also improved for the same purpose. The same engineer was responsible for both projects: Newbury resident John Hore. This improvement was not popular with everyone, the residents of Reading were afraid that Newbury would become a transport hub and take business away from them. The Mayor of Reading therefore raised a mob and attached the workers constructing Aldermaston lock and did considerable damage. Mayors were much more "hands-on" in the old days.

Next stage was the linking of Newbury and Bath with a new canal. This started in the early 1800's and was completed by the great engineer John Rennie in 1811. Unfortunately for the shareholders of the canal, only 30 years later the villain of our story entered the in the guise of The Great Western Railway. By 1841 GWR linked Reading to London and in the 1850's linked Reading with Newbury and then spread further west.

By 1852 the canal faced bankruptcy and GWR took over the running of it. As the canal competed for freight business with the railways, GWR were not motivated to maintain it. This led to a long and sad period of decline for the canal. In 1926 GWR tried to get permission from the government to close the canal altogether, but this backfired and they were charged with creating a commission to maintain it. Little changed however and the decline continued until the 1950's when we meet our 2nd local hero:

John Gould had been a Newbury grammar school pupil and during WW2 was an engineer and artillery officer. With this experience he was unlikely to be daunted by taking on a railway company. In the 1950's his business was based on the canal and used it for moving goods. Such was the state of the canal that it was badly affecting his income. In 1955 he won damages for the loss of business due to the commissions failure to maintain the canal. In 1956 the commission tried to close the canal again, but this time there was a groundswell of opposition led by John Gould and others that led to the decision in 1960 to regenerate it. After 30 years of hard work often by volunteers and those on work experience, the canal was formally re-opened by the Queen in 1990.

Our routes will take to various placed along the canal: Hungerford March Lock with its unique pedestrian swing bridge in the centre that boaters must open before using the lock.

Monkey Marsh Lock (1723) just west of the railway crossing at Thatcham station. This is one of only two grass sided locks on the canal.

The beautiful stretch around Little and Great Bedwyn.

The 459 metre long Bruce tunnel near Great Bedwyn, built because the local landowner didn't want to have to look at a canal..

And finally, Crofton Beam engine which is used to pump water to the canal. This 1812 steam engine still works today and is a great place too visit properly once things get back to normal.

As ever, please post your photos back here. All will be entered into the fabulous Newbury Velo Bottle prize (good chance you'll win!). Anyone dressing as a 1800's civil engineer will win a special mystery prize.

21 mile route with thanks to Rhian Salmon

30 mile route with thanks to Rhian Salmon

45 mile route with thanks to Andy Hockedy

61 mile route with thanks to Rachael Elliott

34 mile dirty chai with thanks to Beckie Hamilton Unwin