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Avoncliff Aqueduct, Kennet & Avon Canal, Wiltshire

Avoncliff Aqueduct, Kennet & Avon Canal, Wiltshire

It’s not easy to reach Avoncliff except, of course, on a boat.

South of Bradford-on-Avon the Kennet & Avon Canal follows the narrow valley of the River Avon.  Brunel’s Great Western Railway squeezes alongside John Rennie’s waterway and there are two tiny roads on each side of the valley, with no connection across the river.

Rennie carried the canal over the river on the stately Avoncliff Aqueduct, not perhaps his best advertisement because the sixty-foot main arch sagged very shortly after it was finished in 1798, yet it has stood ever since.

As early as 1803 heavy repairs were needed.  It seems that Rennie’s advice to use brick was disregarded to retain the goodwill of local quarry-owners who would bring trade to the completed canal.

In the course of restoring the entire canal, the aqueduct was made securely watertight with a concrete bed in 1980.

It’s not a good idea to take a car down the valley, especially on summer weekends.  Indeed, it’s inadvisable to take anything much bigger for lack of turning space.  There is a railway station, with a two-hour service between Bristol, Bath and Bradford-on-Avon, which is particularly useful if you want to walk the couple of miles along the canal from Bradford-on-Avon and then ride back.

Once you reach Avoncliff it’s a pleasant spot to while away the hours.  There’s an excellent historic pub, the Cross Guns [http://www.crossguns.net], which provides meals and refreshments, and usually something passing by along the canal.

This was not the case between the wars when, according to Kenneth Clew, the canal’s historian, most of the tolls collected at Bradford-on-Avon were cycle permits.  The toll-book also records a shilling toll “for carrying a corpse across the aqueduct at Avoncliff”.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Waterways and Railways between Thames and Severn tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

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