18th July 2019
Today the dice directed us to Midgham, around four miles from home. It rained last night so I decided against the path through Midgham Marsh! Instead we walked the canal towpath from Midgham Lock (X on the map) to Woolhampton Lock (Y on the map).
As can be seen from the map, this is on the route of the old Roman London-Bath road and the later Great West Road, also known as “London Road” or “Bath Road”, depending in which end of town you happen to be. It’s also the route of the Kennet & Avon Canal (1810) and the Great Western Railway (1852). This area has seen some traffic in its day. About five miles north is the M4 motorway from London to the west and Wales.
We started the walk at the road bridge just east of Midgham lock. The road bridge over the canal here is new because the nearby rail bridge had to be extended in height to accommodate electric power lines, which came into operation this year. It has been a major task to replace almost every road bridge between London and Bristol.
The towpath here is on the south side of the canal. Horse-drawn pleasure barges still operate on the canal, but I believe not on this stretch. As we walked along the canal I was vividly reminded of the origin of the modern “steeplechase” in horse racing, which is a course involving jumping constructions resembling hedges, sometimes with ditches and water obstacles. The origin is from cross-country races between two village steeples. To my right, just visible between the trees, was the steeple of Brimpton Church (circled on the map)**
and to my left, clearly visible, Midgham Church, outlined with a square on the map.
Both churches are on the highest point in their local area. Continuing along the towpath we had to cross the canal by a manually operated swing-bridge, Cranwell Bridge.
The red sign to the left of the picture is a warning about crossing the railway, showing how close the transport links are. We continued on the north side past Heales Lock (I did not see the indicated aqueduct – allegedly the first thing the Romans did for us!) and then crossed back to the south side at Oxlease Bridge.
When we reached Woolhampton Lock there was a couple in the process of lowering their narrow boat, and in conversation they said they were not looking forward to having to halt traffic at the bridge about 100 yards further downstream. I have occasionally been caught here as a motorist, but it is not very frustrating, unless you then get held up at the railway crossing for up to four consecutive trains!
Our destination was in sight. A very friendly pub/restaurant. It appears that we missed a performance yesterday evening in the pub garden by a small theatre group that travels the canals in a narrow boat over the summer, performing at canal-side pubs for voluntary donations. They are returning to the Rowbarge on 23rd July so, weather permitting, we may catch the return performance.
Before entering the bar for refreshment I spotted this sign with the history of the canal.
After a refreshing locally-brewed rhubarb drink for me and a pint of water for Sparky we returned the way we had come. The whole walk took about an hour and three-quarters. Once again it was an exploration for us both.
** incidentally, until two years ago the land in the foreground of this picture was a gravel pit, now sympathetically restored to grassland and cut for silage this year.