Berkshire walk alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal
PUBLISHED: 10:43 02 August 2016 | UPDATED: 10:43 02 August 2016
Follow Steve Davison as he heads to Hungerford for an easy figure of eight walk beside the Kennet and Avon Canal, visiting Hungerford Common and Freeman’s Marsh
From Dun Mill Lock the walk heads out across Hungerford Common – or Common Port Down – an area of open grassland on the eastern edge of Hungerford, grazed by commoner’s cattle. The name ‘Port Down’ is derived from the Saxon and French word porte (gate) and the Saxon word dun (hill), giving ‘gated hill’ or ‘gated down’, and there are still gates (and now cattle grids) at all entrances to the common. After meandering over the common we arrive at the market town of Hungerford, which lies close to the western edge of Berkshire. This is the only place in the country that still holds the Hocktide Festival, the highlight of which is Tutti Day (second Tuesday after Easter), when the Hocktide Court is held and the Tutti Men visit every house with common rights.
In 1688, during the ‘Glorious Revolution’, an important meeting between William of Orange and King James II’s commissioners took place at the Bear Hotel (junction of the A338 and A4). Shortly after this meeting, James II fled to France, which opened the way for William to rule jointly as William III with his wife, Mary II.
From the Town Hall we continue past The Croft (village green), which was given to the town by John Undewes in the 16th century ‘to sport herein’, to reach St Lawrence’s Church. The present building, which dates from 1816, is built from Bath Stone transported along the Kennet and Avon Canal; inside is the much mutilated effigy of Sir Robert de Hungerford (d.1352).
We now meet up with the Kennet and Avon Canal and soon head through Freeman’s Marsh and Hungerford Marsh, through which the River Dun flows. Owned by the Town and Manor of Hungerford, the marshes provide several important habitats, including water meadows and reedbeds supporting a rich and varied wildlife.
The final part of the walk follows the canal back to Dun Mill Lock, passing Hungerford Wharf; once an busy industrial wharf from where you can now take a trip along the canal on The Rose of Hungerford (01635 255367) during the summer. Just before Dun Mill Lock, the 18th-century Dun Mill can be seen on the opposite bank (there was a mill here as early as the 1400s). Whilst to the left along the road, past a pillbox, is the picturesque Denford Mill (private house) straddling the River Kennet; this was once a fulling mill, where rough woven cloth was cleaned and thickened.
• Start/finish: Dun Mill Lock car park (SU351681); 500m south off the A4 to the east of Hungerford
• Map: OS Explorer 158
• Distance: 4 miles (6.5km)
• Terrain: some gates, path, tracks and sections of road
• Time: 2 hours without stops
• Refreshments: several choices in Hungerford
1 (SU351681) – Exit the car park and turn left up the road passing some World War II pillboxes and crossing the railway line. At the junction, fork right (signposted Hungerford and Inkpen) for 75m to reach a footpath sign on the left. Turn left and head south-westwards across the open common. Cross the tree-lined track and keep ahead to reach a cattle grid at Inkpen Gate. Cross over the road to a path junction and take the right-hand fork heading north-north-west across the open common (passing a water trough on the way) to reach a road on the edge of Hungerford, beside a car park and the Down Gate pub.
2 (SU341683) – Keep ahead along Park Street (after 250m Station Road on the right heads down to the railway station). At the junction with the High Street (Town Hall opposite), turn right, then left across the road via the zebra crossing and turn right. Some 50m after passing under the railway bridge turn left along Church Lane. Keep ahead along the tree-shaded lane passing ‘The Croft’ to reach St Lawrence’s Church. Follow the path through the churchyard and just before the swing bridge turn left alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal. Pass through gates to enter a field that forms part of Freeman’s Marsh and keep ahead to reach Hungerford Marsh Lock (73).
3 (SU326685) – Turn right across the swing bridge between the lock gates to a signposted path junction. Turn right (north-east) across the common, cross a footbridge and continue north-eastwards to a fence, with the River Dun beyond. Turn right and follow the fence on the left. Go through a gate, cross a footbridge over the river and keep ahead, soon passing a gate to enter Hungerford Marsh. Ignore a path to the left and follow the path as it bears right to pass some gates and a footbridge. Cross the canal via the swing bridge and turn left along the towpath, soon passing a lock (74) to reach the A338 road bridge; this area was once a bustling wharf.
4 (SU338687) – Keep ahead along the towpath passing under the bridge; the track to the right at the next bridge leads up to the railway station. The walk continues along the towpath for three quarters of a mile to reach Dun Mill Lock (75). Keep ahead to the road and turn right back to the car park, which is on the left; to see Denford Mill turn left along the road (100m each way).
To find out more about Steve, including information on his walking books, visit: www.steve-davison.co.uk; for more canalside walks, Steve’s latest book Walking the Kennet and Avon Canal is available now from bookshops.