Bruce’s Tunnel – Kennet and Avon Canal – between Wootton Top Lock and Crofton Locks in Wiltshire
Canal Paddle – October 2021
Launch from – SN8 4NQ, There is parking on the side of the road next to the canal gate entrance, there is also a car park (near the pub) up the road if it gets busy.
When launching – You want to be on the side of the canal that’s on the left, if you’re looking up the road with your back to the village and the pub.
Getting to Bruce’s tunnel – This paddle is moderately easy for paddlers who are used to 3-5 mile paddles. With only about 3 or 4 lock gates to walk around which adds to the fun and the challenge and with one part of the canal so short between gates, we walked the boards that stretch.
Weather – We did this trip when the weather was forecast ‘absolutely awful’, with fairly high winds and rain and as predicted it was well protected from the elements. That said if your new to paddling and don’t understand wind, water or what to wear etc, go with someone who does (pointing out the obvious).
Getting to Bruces Tunnel is about a 2.5 mile paddle up to the tunnel and you do have to come back the same way but it’s not boring, as you get a totally different perspective of the same part of the canal, we paddled in autumn and all the trees were turning red and orange and it was absolutely stunning. You may notice the date of the post? We paddled on Halloween weekend and just before the 2nd Lockdown and the beauty of this place was the perfect distraction to the bad news shortly to follow. One of the lovely things about this paddle is even though it’s short, there is little parking and few roads near this paddling experience, we only saw 5 people, 3 at the beginning with kayaks and 2 walkers, no one else paddling and other than very large container trains passing every now and again the place was ours to enjoy.
Now for the scary bit… if you’re a silly sausage like me…
Getting to the Tunnel is a stunning experience and it then looms in front of you,.. knowing its 459m long, I was expecting something ‘loooooong’ so seeing the light at the end was sort of disappointing.. My son, 10 years old (on the front of my board) said ‘is that it?’ sort of disappointed, as he was expecting more! Me, completely relieved we can see the light at the end, starts paddling though. Entering the tunnel you can see the chains on the right-hand side, where the workers on the barges in the 1800’s had to pull themselves along as there is no side path. As you get deeper and deeper the light completely dies and you’re in the pitch black with only the small amount of light in front of you to to keep you straight…my knees knocked, so much I had to kneel down and the scary cat I am, I didn’t focus and went into the left-hand side of the wall several times with the lovely carbon paddle (undamaged after the event) crashing in to the side.. Gary was in front with Jack (sat on the front of my board) both cool as cucumbers and loving it.. When we finally got to the end, there was absolutely no movement on the water and a completely uncapturable moment with photography caught the illusion of the tunnel been spectacularly magical, the illusion was something out of Harry Potter, where the tunnel bricks and structure looked so vivid in the water you could barely see which way was up..
After a couple of pictures of the Brunels tunnel historical plack and photographs of that side of the tunnel, it was time to head back, the scary cat of the family stayed on her feet the whole way and didn’t crash into the sidewall again and Gary the man of the house, dutifully stayed behind this time instead of zooming ahead, there was no magical harry potter moment on this side as the wind was rippling the water .. back on the home straight the river was just as beautiful on the way back and the wind in front of us.
The Pub Stop
The Royal Oak is a local pun in the village next to the paddle with b&b facility it’s possible to make a weekend trip of the paddle – http://royaloakwiltshire.co.uk/
All in all its a nice 5 ish mile paddle (with a pint at the end ) easy assess to and from the launch point and taking our luck into consideration, a fabulously bad weather paddle.
Links – Wikipedia – Bruces Tunnel
Emma & Gary (and Jack the photographer)