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Monday, 4 November 2013

Kennet & Avon Canal - Part IV (Newbury to Devizes)

After the previous evening's excesses it was time to turn our boat Anitra and start the journey back towards Bradford-on-Avon. It was a lovely Sunday morning and we made it as far as Hamstead Lock. On the way down the local pub had been recommended to us by a fellow boater and we weren't disappointed.
The Red House, Marsh Benham
It is a bit of a walk from the canal and is actually in the middle of nowhere - it would be difficult to find via road as well - but it was busy with the type of people who drive Bentleys, BMW's, Range Rovers, etc. In reality it is more a restaurant than a pub, but equally welcoming to drinkers and diners alike. One neat touch, there were no 'Reserved' signs on any table, but instead we were told that we could sit at any table that didn't have napkins on it!

After a very satisfying lunch it was back to the boat for a pleasant afternoon's boating in the Autumn sunshine. We moored up at Hungerford with the expectation that we could have a proper pub crawl - how wrong we were! The first pub we approached had closed at 6pm, so we had a pint here.
The Bear Hotel, Hungerford
Perfectly pleasant, but quiet and without atmosphere. Although it looks like a traditional hotel, the inside had been modernised with the consequent loss of charm that small hotels often have.

At the next pub, the Carling ran out just as we got there and there was no-one present who could change the barrel successfully. In the absence of a suitable alternative, we moved on! After a stroll through the town, we quickly realised that Hungerford was pretty much closed on a Sunday evening! Off the beaten track we found this pub.
The Railway Tavern, Hungerford
This is a typical, proper pub which I'm sure would have more atmosphere when there are more people than the handful that were there on that night. After one pint it was back out into the dark to find somewhere to eat. For the first time on this trip, the only place open (that we could find) was the Indian restaurant. On most previous holidays, we'd have had at least a couple of curries by this stage, but so far we'd been well served by the pubs along the way!

Time for a final pint on the way back to the boat...and a repeat pub.
Three Swans Hotel, Hungerford
Pleasant, but very quiet like the rest of Hungerford!

The next day, like so much of the two weeks was grey, but quite warm and we continued the climb towards the summit of the canal. Along the way we came across a new sight for us. Although we'd seen the boat at Bath, we'd not seen it in action before. The owner is disabled and operates the boat on his own. I got quite a shock to see him at the lock and the boat coming towards him under radio control! Fantastic use of technology...I want one of those!

For lunch we intended to stop at Little Bedwyn, but the moorings were so poor that we pressed on to Great Bedwyn where the moorings were a little bit better.
Cross Keys, Great Bedwyn
Another pleasant visit to the Cross Keys...and then it was off again to tackle the last few locks before the summit. The summit level of the Kennet & Avon Canal is quite short and we were soon on our way back down to Wootton Rivers. It was quite dark when we moored up and so we didn't get to see much of what is reputed to be a pretty village with almost all the buildings having thatched roofs.
Royal Oak, Wootton Rivers
Fortunately for us, the only pub in the village was open and serving food. It was busier than I expected for a Monday evening and we had a pleasant chat with some Aussie tourists who were on a driving holiday, staying at a nearby village. By 9:55 we were the only people in the pub and I casually asked the barman, as he was cleaning tables, what time the pub closed. "10 o'clock" was the surprising reply! However, he did let us have one more so we were all happy!

Another grey day and we were now in the Vale of Pewsey with a White Horse cut into one side of the valley. For lunch we moored at Honeystreet and a visit to a famous pub.
The Barge Inn, Honeystreet
It featured in the BBC One programme "Village SOS" in 2011 which followed the pub's resurrection as a community pub with a grant from the Big Lottery Fund. The pub was built in 1810 and has a fantastically varied history which includes a devastating fire, the filming of an episode of "Inspector Morse" and is now a centre for crop circle 'studies'! More details are on The Barge Inn website. It was quiet while we were there, but we were served a very good lunch of proper pub grub.

In the afternoon we continued our journey down towards our evening destination of Devizes...just before the Caen Hill flight of locks.
Black Horse, Devizes
The perfect mooring again...in the pub garden! However, this was a perfect example of how not to run a pub. There were a handful of people in the place, the manager (I assume) was reading her paper at the bar and, whilst the service was fine, it wasn't the most welcoming I've ever had! Our plan was to go on an exploration of Devizes and have a final pint back in the Black Horse, but when we asked when they were going to close we were told that it would probably be sometime between 9 and 10 pm! (Essentially when there was no-one left!) Not unreasonable in the current economic climate, but the main killer is that the other room was closed...and this is the room closest to the road. When we left to go into Devizes it looked as though, from the road, that the pub was shut, so there's unlikely to be any passing trade. Looks like a vicious cycle of decline to me!

After quite a stroll, I'm not sure that we found the real Devizes, but we did find a couple of pubs and somewhere to eat. This was our first port of call.
The Crown, Devizes
This was reasonably busy for a Tuesday night, but there was a large party eating in the back room and a few people watching the Champions League football. (Something the Black Horse didn't offer even though they have a large screen TV!)

Our next find was this place.
White Bear, Devizes
Although this is a hotel, the bar felt like a proper pub which is quite rare these days it would seem!

We then went to eat at the nearby Chinese restaurant and then had a final pint in The Crown before heading back to the boat. The Black Horse was long closed for the night!

In the morning we were due to tackle the Caen Hill lock flight again and I'll take up the story from there next time. 

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