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Monday, 11 November 2013

Kennet & Avon Canal - Part V (Devizes to Bath to Bradford-on-Avon)

Following our evening in Devizes, it was an early start to take on the challenge of Caen Hill Locks for a second time. It was my turn to steer and, just to make things a bit more difficult we shared our passage with a cruiser! Doesn't sound so bad until you realise that our narrowboat was made of steel weighed more that 5 tonnes and the cruiser was made of fibreglass/plastic and weighed probably less than a tonne. Any loss of control of the narrowboat could result in serious damage (and possible sinking) to the cruiser. Made the descent just a little bit more interesting for me.

Both boats survived the ordeal and we ended up at Sells Green for lunch at this pub.
Three Magpies, Sells Green
A pleasant country pub and fairly busy for lunch, including a raffle for the local pensioners who seemed to be having a good time.

In the afternoon we continued our journey, again not quite getting as far as we expected. We ended up mooring at Semington in a heavy downpour...once we'd found a decent spot to moor!
The Somerset Arms, Semington
Yet another one pub village, but fortunately for us almost all of the village pubs we came across did good food - this was no exception!

Next morning we realised that we still had two full days to go before we had to give back our boat, meaning that we had time to go back to Bath for a third pub crawl around the city. This decision also meant that we could visit  a recommended pub that we'd passed by (twice) and not gone in. This is where we had our lunch.
Cross Guns, Avoncliff
This is not just a pub; it is a tourist attraction with added brewery and well worth a visit. Road access looks quite difficult, but from the canal it is an easy place to get to!

The trip to Bath was slow (again), but we managed to get there and moor up above the locks so that we could 'attack' the city from a different angle. We passed a few pubs that we earmarked as possibles for the last drink of the night on the way back to the boat! This was the first port of call.
Pulteney Arms, Bath
Judging by the décor and memorabilia, this is a stronghold for Bath rugby followers...and also a proper pub. It was while we were pondering our next move I realised that, if we'd continued along the road we'd been on before going into the pub we would have found The Star Inn. This is the other Bath pub listed in the book  Britain's Best Real Heritage Pubs. So we set off up the hill and this is what we found.
The Star Inn, Bath
On the one hand it was pretty much as expected - a proper old pub with several small rooms and wood panelling all tastefully maintained in the same manner as for the past countless years. Most old school city pubs tend to have a narrow frontage, but then go back an improbably great distance so that you end up with a place that is much larger than it looks from the street. But, The Star Inn has a wide frontage and, from what I saw didn't go back too far, almost as though it had been built sideways. A real gem and well worth the visit.

We then went for a long stroll through the city looking for somewhere to eat, getting quite lost, but finding a nice, reasonably priced Italian restaurant. Then it was time to head back toward the canal and see which pubs we could find. Not as easy a task as you'd imagine even on a Thursday night!

The first one we tried was signposted off a main street and advertised as a welcoming, traditional English pub. It was neither, having been redesigned in a modern style and after five minutes waiting no-one appeared behind the bar to serve us. So we left!

The next one we attempted, looked promising. There were a couple of people inside, but the door was locked. One of the people came to the door to tell us they were closed. It was only then that we noticed their opening hours blackboard. Sundays they close at 6pm; Mon, Tues, Wed, Fri and Sat it is 11pm, but on Thursdays closing time is 10pm. It was 10:05!

Back on the road, we finished up at one of the pubs we'd passed earlier and went in.
Crown Inn, Bath
A fairly large pub, but with hardly any customers. So after getting served and bearing in mind out recent experiences we asked what time they expected to close. Probably 10:30 was the answer, but it depended on how many people were in the pub. Apparently, the owner studies the CCTV footage and, if there aren't enough customers he'll give the manager grief over staying open when he should be closed!

The next day was the final full day of the trip, so we headed back to the hire boat base at Bradford-on-Avon. On our first trip along this bit of the Kennet & Avon Canal I didn't fully appreciate the scenery, but this time I realised what a spectacular piece of cut it is running halfway up the valley sides of the River Avon and crossing over the river twice on magnificent stone aqueducts. We decided to have lunch by the first of these, the Dundas Aqueduct.
Angelfish Café & Restaurant
We were expecting a pub, but as they only served bottled beer we had one drink and decided to to move on to the Cross Guns which is by the other aqueduct at Avoncliff.
Cross Guns, Avoncliff
Another pleasant lunch in the Cross Guns where the music of choice was Roger Whittaker's Greatest Hits!

The last leg of the holiday took us back to Bradford-on-Avon where we moored up at the hire base in preparation for departure on Saturday.
 But there was still time to visit some of the pubs we missed on the last visit.
Three Horseshoes, Bradford-on-Avon
This was our first stop. A proper local pub that was very lively with people seemingly having drinks after work - it was like pubs used to be on most evenings and shows that pub going isn't dead...yet! Next we strolled into the centre of Bradford and went into a pub that had been shut on our last visit.
Bunch of Grapes, Bradford-on-Avon
From the front it looked like an upmarket café/restaurant, but the back room housed a very comfortable lounge bar. Considering what a pleasant place it is we were surprised that there were hardly any people in there.

Our final stop...and final pub of the trip was this one.
Swan Hotel, Bradford-on-Avon
From the outside it looks like a traditional small town hotel, but inside it had been 'modernised' making it bright, but characterless. Still, we had a couple of pints and had a chat with a couple of people that worked at the Bunch of Grapes who filled us in on the gossip as to why it wasn't doing so well. (Basically, the previous tenants had moved to the pub opposite and taken most of their customers with them!)

That concludes our odyssey along the Kennet & Avon Canal and a brief snapshot of the pubs we visited. Hopefully, one day we'll revisit this part of the world and catch up on the changes (if any) to the hostelries we visited.

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