When John Rennie designed the Kennet and Avon Canal from Devizes to Bath, he had to overcome a steep hillside which from the Vale of Pewsey drops 72 metres within approx. 4 km. The Caen Hill flight which covers most of this is known as one of the wonders of the Inland Waterways.
The flight was completed in 1810 and forms 29 locks in total. There are 6 locks above, starting in the town of Devizes, followed by 16 in the long flight, then a further 7 going down to Foxhangers. Some people think that the flight resembles a giant’s back bone or huge staircase.
The locks took a long time to build and were expensive. Large amounts of bricks, stone and wood were used as well as a lot of people and transport being needed. The bricks were made from gault clay which was dug locally between the towpath and the road.
Between 1829 and 1843, gas lights lit the flight and each boat passing through them in darkness were charged 1 shilling. This allowed traders to continue to work through the night and boost profits. Coal was the main cargo, which was carried in large flat bottom barges.
It is now mainly pleasure craft and a few commercial boats that work the flight.
Along the stretch from Devizes to Bath are the magnificent structures of the Dundas and Avoncliff Aqueducts & Claverton Pumping Station.
The Dundas Aqueduct is a magnificent Grade 1 listed structure and is another of the seven wonders of the Waterways. The Aqueduct carries the canal over the River Avon and also the Wessex main line railway. Again John Rennie designed this and it was built from Bath stone taken from local quarries. Rennie was concerned that this stone was not suitable and was proved right when leaks and cracks started to appear. These areas were later repaired using brick.
In 2002 a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund enabled major construction work to be carried out and so we see it today.
The Avoncliff Aqueduct is yet again another of Rennie’s great achievements. What would we have done without him? This had its own challenges as the valley was very narrow and so they were forced to build the aqueduct with a right angled bend at each end. The structure is built of bands of ashlar (dressed) and rusticated stone and is a Grade 2 listed structure.
Like the Dundas, the Avoncliff aqueduct leaked quite badly but was restored in the 1970/80s. Avoncliff is the only aqueduct to have its own railway station, which is accessed by crossing the canal towpath.
In 1833 between Bath and Bradford on Avon there was a wrought Iron boat named The Swallow that provided a passenger service. Locally known as the Scotch boat as it came from Scotland, it provided 1st and 2nd class accommodation and made 2 trips a day and took 90 minutes to complete its route.