Talking the walk

Just look at these fine fellows.


Photo found in the attic – who, when and where lost in the mists of time.

What dapper chaps they are in their highly polished Sunday best, straw boaters at a jaunty angle, a flower carelessly thrust through a buttonhole, and a placid dog persuaded to join the party. What fun they would be to meet along the way.

After the solitude of the mountains, time for the camaraderie of the camino.

Walking with a group of friends (strangers, even) is a delight. This past summer, a gang of pals and I enjoyed leisurely canal side excursions as our company of six – with the occasional appearance of a husband or two – strolled the Kennet & Avon from start to finish. Frequently we were asked if we were doing it for some charitable endeavour. Were we being sponsored and did we need our certificates signing? Er, no. But thanks all the same though. Were we twitchers or naturalists perhaps?  Well, some of us do know one end of a pair of binoculars from the other (not me, alas), and yes, it was a joy to see the ducklings growing and the crops ripening as we passed along. But actually it was a whole lot simpler than this.

We were just out for a walk.

And maybe a cup of tea.


But mainly we were there for the talk. Time slows when we walk. Minds wander. We have the chance to have all those conversations there’s never quite room for in the usual way of things. We get caught up with all the news, share the worries, hear the stories, make the plans.


And laugh. A lot.

At those things intended for amusement


and those things which shouldn’t make us laugh but somehow catch us unawares (A tunnel named Bruce? Really?)


but most especially at the misunderstandings and mis-speaks, the You Had To Be There moments which those who weren’t, no matter how carefully you explain, never quite get. (Don’t worry – I’ll spare you).

A canal path is absolutely tip top for a talking walk. No need for anyone to break up the conversation to put her head in a map because as long as we all remain two paces from getting  wet, we can be sure that we’re on the right track. So with the vote cast in favour of the Kennet & Avon,  only one question remained.

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Which way to walk? Did we want to end our great trek in the World Heritage Site that is Bath? Or at the gasworks?

Tricky one.


We started at the gasworks.

Reading’s an odd place. I lived there for some years as a child and remember it as a town of  worthy Victorian redbrick  endeavour, where you could tell which way the wind was blowing by whether you could smell biscuits baking or beer brewing.


Nowadays it’s gone all satellite city, full  of throw up and blow down architecture. I barely recognised the place. But I did find one vestige of glorious Victoriana


Just look at the decorative brickwork on these canalside terraces. Isn’t it fabulous?

In terms of walking, although the canal did provide a corridor of green, its urban environs were never very far from view at first.


Not until we got beyond Newbury did we begin to feel that we had escaped the city and moved into a land of absolute delight. Of blossom


and reflections


and scenes that came straight from old Ladybird books


and peaceful chugging along.img_6210

We debated the merits of waterborne gardens, from the decorative

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to the productive


to the ingeniously low maintenance.


And we chose our fantasy moorings. Maybe a place in Devizes?


Or this one in Bath?


Never did find out what Fame Free Diesel is though.


All in all, over the course of the summer we spent nine happy days along the canal. That’s way too much to fit into one post,img_6255but perhaps this scene of quiet companionship will sum it up…


6 thoughts on “Talking the walk

  1. Canals are, indeed, a wonder for walkers. We are blessed up here with a large selection – I am near the Leeds-Liverpool – and they never fail to bring joy. I must say, it is tempting to contemplate living on a narrowboat. With a little stove.


    • Yes, narrowboat living does look very enticing on a summer day, doesn’t it? Or even a still autumn one when the woodsmoke floats idly out of the chimney. Very cosy and hobbity.

      But then there is what to do about what I must delicately refer to as The Plumbing (Lack Of). Not sure if I’d be up for getting that far back to nature.


      • From my experience of narrowboat hols, the plumbing is just fine. Well…there was a time when we had to put down a lot of Drain-O down the u-bend, slam the door and rush up on deck. But just the once.


  2. Oh wow, how long did it take you to do the walk?
    I’ve often said I’d like to do something like this but never actually taken the plunge. It does sound fun. And you get a unique view of all the places you pass through.


    • It was indeed great fun. We spent nine days walking the canal between May and September, starting each time where we’d finished last time. And every walk we found surprises – volunteers operating ancient machinery on open days, helpers tactfully and gently guiding new boaters through the engineering marvel that is the Caen Hill staircase of locks, and so on. Do give the K&A a try if you are ever in the area. It passes through some of the loveliest yet unknown landscapes of Southern England.


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