The Kennet and Avon Canal, built at the turn of the 19th century to link London’s waterways with the Bristol Channel, is a shimmering 87 mile-long necklace studded with man-made gems.
But the apogee of engineer John Rennie’s genius can be found at the aquatic stairway descending from the Vale of Pewsey to the Avon valley: a series of 29 locks – the UK’s longest continuous flight, dropping half a mile in two – including the 16 tightly packed locks of the Caen Hill Flight.
the 19th century Caen Hill’s locks were gas lit at night ©Oliver Dixon
The Caen Hill car park is an ideal starting point for a day roaming the pathways of central Wiltshire. It takes boats at least four hours to navigate the flight – best tackle the gradient on foot.
Bustling market down
Enjoy views west down over the locks from the dinky café (a former lock-keeper’s cottage) at the top of the flight, then turn east to amble the towpath into Devizes, a bustling market town with a medieval footprint and a generous helping of historic buildings.
Pause at the Kennet and Avon Canal Museum for insights into the history of the waterway. Just across the bridge is Quaker’s Walk (a corruption of Keeper’s Walk, originally used by the gamekeeper in the medieval deer park), a broad, flat path leading to the West Wiltshire Way from which you can admire the Millennium White Horse – youngest in Wiltshire’s stable of hillside chalk ponies, created in 1999.
Continue to the escarpment edge of Roundway Hill, site of the Iron Age fortified settlement at Oliver’s Castle and a royalist Civil War victory, for terrific views.
Back in town, there are plenty of opportunities for wetting the whistle: the Black Swan is pick of the bunch for a refreshing pint of 6X, from Devizes’ Wadworth brewery, before returning to Caen Hill.
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.
Main image ©Getty