Aldermaston to Woolhampton on the Kennet & Avon Canal

Aldermaston is a small village in West Berkshire near to the Hampshire border, 46 miles (74km) from London and close to the towns of Basingstoke, Newbury and Reading.  It is best known as the home of AWE, which is located just a mile outside the village, and responsible for the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

Village Green, Aldermaston
The Village Green

We’d planned a walk along a stretch of the Kennet and Avon canal but before starting, decided to take a stroll around the pretty village one and a half miles from the wharf.  Aldermaston’s main thoroughfare is called ‘The Street’ and walking along there we came across numerous attractive 17th and 18th century worker’s cottages many of which are listed buildings.

House with 'missing windows' Aldermaston
One of the houses in the village with some missing windows

Some of them had ‘missing’ windows most probably from when King William III created a window tax to assess the wealth and prestige of homeowners.  To save money, homes at that time were either built with fewer windows or some of the existing ones were bricked up.  The effects of this tax were often detrimental to health and well-being due to lack of sunlight and fresh air.

The Hind's Head, Aldermaston
The Hind’s Head – the village pub

The village pub, The Hind’s Head is a former coaching inn with an unusual feature as around the back of the building is a single gaol cell with a domed roof.  It was last used in 1865 by someone who was drunk but has not been put into use since then.  The pub opens it up on National heritage days for all to see.

Telephone Box Library, Aldermaston
The village telephone box library

As with numerous other villages up and down the country it was so nice to find that Aldermaston has turned its traditional red telephone kiosk into a community library which was filled to the brim with an assortment of books for everyone to enjoy.

Tea Room and Visitor Centre, Aldermaston Wharf
Tea Room and Visitor Centre, Aldermaston Wharf

Having completed our tour of the village, we popped back in the car and continued on to Aldermaston Wharf which is located on the eastern end of the Kennet and Avon canal.  We began our walk from the car park located just behind the canal basin near to the visitor centre and tea rooms.  If arriving by train, Aldermaston station is just five minutes from the canal with good connections from Reading (journey time 13 minutes) or London Paddington (55 minutes).

Narrowboats for hire at Aldermaston Wharf
Narrowboats for hire at Aldermaston Wharf

Despite the visitor centre being closed we were still able to learn about the canal’s history from some useful information boards located along the towpath.  We discovered that Aldermaston was once a busy industrial wharf connecting to the ports of Bristol and London via the River Thames.  The coming of the railway signalled the end of the canal’s prosperity as it offered quicker journeys for both goods and people.  Canal trade then gradually decreased and by the early 1950’s the canal had fallen into disrepair.  Thankfully, the Kennet & Avon trust was formed in the 1960’s who reversed the decline and enabled the canal to re-open for pleasure traffic in the 1990’s.

Canal boats moored at Aldermaston Wharf
Canal boats moored at Aldermaston Wharf

From the wharf, narrowboats can be hired for a leisurely holiday exploring the canal and stopping off to visit interesting places such as Newbury and Hungerford. Several of these brightly coloured boats were being prepared for boaters as we passed by.  I’ve taken three canal boat holidays in northern France but surprisingly never been on one in the UK, but hopefully that will happen one day.

Aldermaston Lock, Kennet & Avon Canal
Aldermaston Lock, Kennet & Avon Canal

Leaving the canal basin, the towpath crosses a narrow electric lifting bridge carrying the busy A340 Basingstoke road over the canal.  Directly after the bridge we came to Aldermaston lock where two lock keepers were on duty at the lock gates but sadly no boats were passing through.

Aldermaston Lock Gates, Kennet & Avon Canal
Aldermaston Lock Gates, Kennet & Avon Canal

The towpath is reasonably well maintained but looks as if it could get quite muddy in places.  After passing numerous canal boats and cruisers moored on both sides of the bank just beyond the lock the footpath leads through shaded wooded areas, which were a lovely shade of bright green in the May sunshine.

Towpath between Aldermaston and Woolhampton
Walking along the towpath

Few people were about and it was a peaceful stroll with just the sounds of the occasional train as the canal runs parallel to the Great Western Railway line.  It was a pleasant walk along the towpath and the still water presented a mirror like reflection of the boats and trees which was lovely to view.  One of the information boards we passed informed us that the canal is a haven for wildlife but they must have all gone into hiding during our visit as we didn’t even spot a solitary duck.  The towpath switches sides a couple of times before reaching Woolhampton Lock.

Pillbox near Woolhampton Lock
Pillbox near Woolhampton Lock

Nearing Woolhampton bridge we spotted a pillbox constructed from brick.  The structure is one of many on the canal bank which were designed in 1940 to defend against German invasion.  Some of the pillboxes were disguised as sheds whilst others were secluded under trees.  Most of them now lay empty but one further along the canal at Reading has been turned into a ‘bat mansion’ as part of efforts to combat habitat loss.  The Canal and River Trust considered that its position near the water was the perfect place for bats to roost so perhaps others will be re-purposed in this way too.

The Rowbarge Inn, Woolhampton
The Rowbarge Inn, Woolhampton

Most of the village of Woolhampton lies across the swing bridge except for the Rowbarge Inn which has a gorgeous setting with its large garden leading down to the canal and is a delightful spot to sit outside with a drink when the weather is nice.  The historic pub is where ropes used to be made and dates back hundreds of years.

View from Woolhampton Bridge
View from Woolhampton Bridge

Before stopping for some lunch, we decided to explore the village centre which was only about five minutes walk away.  On our way, we passed the local railway station and I was intrigued to find out why it was called Midgham when it was clearly in Woolhampton.  My research revealed that the station was originally called Woolhampton when it opened in 1847 but in 1873 it was decided to rename it Midgham after another village two miles away.  

Level crossing, Woolhampton Station
Level crossing, Woolhampton Station

The reason for the name change was that it was thought to be too confusing for passengers to have both a Woolhampton and a Wolverhampton on the rail network.  I found this amusing as the two places are like chalk and cheese with Woolhampton being a tiny picture postcard village with fewer than 1,000 residents whilst Wolverhampton is a sprawling city 120 miles to the north with a population of 250,000.  Another interesting fact about Midgham station is that it is Berkshire’s quietest with an average of only 100 passengers per day (pre COVID) whilst only ten miles away in Reading, the station averages 3.8 million passengers in a normal year.  We did in fact have to wait at the level crossing as the barriers were coming down as we approached but it was one of many fast trains that do not actually stop at Midgham.

House with clock over the door, Woolhampton, West Berkshire
House with clock over the door

After passing a row of pretty cottages and a house with a clock mounted above its door we arrived at the village centre which straddles the A4 between Newbury and Reading.

Jubilee Fountain, Woolhampton
The Jubilee Fountain

Arriving at the junction of Station Road and Bath Road we came across an ornate fountain which was presented to the village by one of the estate owners of that time to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

Corner Shop, Woolhampton
The attractive Corner Shop

Strolling around Woolhampton was a delight as more than 25 of its small collection of buildings are listed for their historical or architectural interest.  The village also boasts some lovely small shops such as the Corner Shop housed in a row of pretty Tudor cottages and filled with lots of good quality gifts and items for the home.

The Gill-Campbell Hall, Woolhampton
The Gill-Campbell Hall

Slightly further along we came to the Gill-Campbell Hall which is now privately owned but was given to the village by a Miss Blyth to be used as a religious meeting house and working men’s club.

The Village Shop, Woolhampton
The Village Shop

After crossing the road we spotted the village store and what a gem it was.  Chatting to the owner, I learnt that this family run shop has been trading since 1936 selling locally sourced produce and speciality groceries all beautifully displayed on traditional wooden shelves.

Interior of the Woolhampton Village Shop
Inside the village shop

There’s also a small café with seating out on the terrace and it’s the sort of shop that I wish was still around in more of our villages rather than the soulless mini-supermarkets that are increasingly taking over.

The Angel, Woolhampton
The Angel Inn along the main street

Nearby, The Angel also looked inviting, originally an old coaching inn, it was rebuilt in 1931 when the road needed to be widened.

Swing bridge at Woolhampton, West Berkshire
Swing bridge by the Rowbarge Inn

On our way back to the canal we were just in time to watch the electric swing-bridge open as a narrowboat was waiting to get through.  It’s a difficult section for boaters because of the combination of cross currents, the swing bridge and then the lock in quick succession.

Canal boat in Woolhampton lock
Watching the canal boat in Woolhampton lock

As we continued along the towpath, a boat was entering the lock and we stood and watched whilst the two lock-keepers operated the lock gates.  Unfortunately the boat wasn’t lined up properly in the lock but with the help of the lock-keepers it managed to pass through safely.

Lock-keeper operating the lock gates at Woolhampton Lock
Lock-keeper operating the lock gates

Afterwards, we spoke briefly to one of the lock-keepers who told us that the majority of the locks on the Kennet and Avon do not have assistance provided with lock-keepers only being stationed at the more complicated locks.

The Rowbarge Inn, Woolhampton
The Rowbarge viewed from the canal

Wandering back to the Rowbarge Inn for a spot of lunch we reflected on our enjoyable canal walk including strolls around two pretty little West Berkshire villages.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this post you may also like:

A walk along the Kennet & Avon canal in Newbury

Odiham and the Basingstoke Canal

 

If you use Pinterest please consider sharing and pinning the image below:

Aldermaston Walk

 

73 thoughts on “Aldermaston to Woolhampton on the Kennet & Avon Canal

  1. I used to work at AWE, so seeing The Hind’s Head was a blast from the past! I had some good pies in there in the past …
    Thanks for a lovely walk down memory lane! (Or memory canal …?)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I was picturing you walking along and along and being so engrossed in the lovely sights that you had to catch a train back to retrieve the car. I spent some time in Wolverhampton, even bought a second hand car there, and it definitely did not look like this. If we ever choose to tak a cottage in England for three months, I’ll have to pick your brains on where to choose. So many delightful gems, and this has the advantage of being relatively close to London.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re one up on me as I’ve never had cause to visit Wolverhampton! These are such pretty villages with larger towns such as Newbury being attractive too and having rail links. Hopefully we’ll be able to meet up here, at your end or better still, both at some point! Marion

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My first port of call is always Westgate-on-Sea in Kent and then we branch out from there. It would be great to meet in person when the day comes! My trip to Wolverhampton was quite the adventure in the day. My Aussie girlfriend and I showed the local lads a bit of competition on the pool table 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Looks like a wonderful walk! What fun it would be to rent a barge and travel the canals. So interesting how the locks work. I watched one at Bath and was so fascinated. Also love the name change of the railway station…hahaha. That’s too funny with the differences in the towns! No mistaking them I’m sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Linda for taking an interest and commenting on this post. I also thought it was hilarious about the station name change! Slow travel on canals looks so relaxing once mastering the lock gates is achieved. Hope you’re having a good weekend. Marion

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s cottages galore in these petit villages! And that canal looks to make for the perfect stroll in any season of the year. This is a part of the UK that I have little knowledge about, but I’m glad to have learned about Aldermaston and Woolhampton to merit a trip over someday!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I particularly like the village green and the house with a clock above the door – what lovely finds. It looks like a lovely walk; shame it’s still over cast and raining and we’re not having glorious long summer days like last year!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was a lovely walk Hannah and I’m always drawn to canal boats! What fun to have a house with a clock above the door. I wonder whether they have to climb up a ladder to change the time or they can access it from indoors! Have a lovely weekend despite this incessant rain. Marion

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What an interesting town! I loved learning about the lock keeper and the window tax that changed the faces of these buildings. And I love the red phone booth that is now a library! what a wonderful way to preserve the booths in this techy world! Wonderful post. I hope you have a great weekend-Meg

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so pleased you enjoyed this post Meg and learnt a few quirky things about rural village life. Those phone box libraries are wonderful, it’s such a shame that so many were demolished before someone had the idea! Have a good weekend. Marion

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love narrow-boating! When I saw the picture here of the lock-keeper, I was wondering: we had to manage the locks on our own, and we got some good advice from experienced boaters not to push the beams like the lock-keeper does here [facing forward, with his hands on the beam] but, as that woman told us, to “use your butts”. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  8. What a cute little town. I hear about the window tax. Thanks for the illustration of oldentimes tax avoidance. I am always fascinated by canals, locks and swing bridges, especially those still not automated. I watch the one work in Ottawa on the Rideau Canala. A nearby American asked impatiently why it was not all done by computer automation. The answer was it was a historical treasure and that the users did not mind waiting for the experience. The inns look inviting and I could picture stopping here for a refreshment. Thanks for sharing Marion. Have a great weekend. Allan

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Looks like a beautiful village to go for a stroll. That’s such a neat use for an old telephone booth to turn it into a small library. I got a good laugh about the window tax. What were they thinking!? Glad that didn’t stick around!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love the re-use of the old telephone boxes too, just a pity that so many had already been demolished or vandalised before someone came up with the clever idea of a community library! Hope you have a good weekend – wet and windy here! Marion

      Liked by 1 person

  10. ThingsHelenLoves

    Oh this is lovely and not so far from me! Definitely would make a nice walk out with the dog. Thank you so much for the inspiration… don’t suppose you could sort the weather out as well, could you? Need some weather more like in your photographs and less like what is currently raging outside! Fingers crossed for Summer arriving soon.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. So pleased I’ve brought Aldermaston Wharf to your attention Helen. The linear canal walk would be perfect for a stroll with a stop off for a coffee and a bite to eat at the Woolhampton Village Shop before heading back. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Marion

      Like

  11. This was something of a blank slate for me, so great to be informed of another quaint corner of England. I really do love those brick houses in Aldermaston and had a chuckle over the window tax thing. I remember reading something about that at school. The canal looks picture perfect and, I see, there’s an abundance of olde pubs along the way. Sladja and I have so many ideas about our “potential” trip to England later this year and this is another one for the list.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. That was a great Friday morning stroll, thanks Marion 🌸.
    It was interesting to read about the ‘missing windows’ and I do like the idea of those telephone box libraries. The Village shop in Woolhampton looks like a place where I will spent some time. I agree, this looks like really lovely walk along the canal.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your welcome thoughts Corna. It was a lovely easy stroll along the towpath and the village shop such a great find. Hope you have a good weekend. We’re setting off for a weekend away shortly so I hope the rain will pass! Marion

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.