ANDREA Eames discovers an eco-friendly and relaxing way to take in the sights along the picturesque Kennet & Avon Canal in Berkshire…
In this era of climate change, it is a rare and precious experience to make a journey completely zero rated in its carbon emissions.
We arrived at our destination after a two-hour journey in a 17-ton vehicle, secure in the knowledge that our only impact had been the consumption of a few nettles and the passing of a little wind.
A 17-ton vehicle that runs on flatulence and stingers? Whatever next, I hear you say, but this was not some new, weed-fuelled, high tech, ludicrously expensive form of locomotion devised to beat rising fuel costs.
Oh no, this was extremely low-tech, large-buttocked, one-horsepower Bonnie, whose tendency to snack on nettles was the only distraction in her long plod down the towpath pulling a 67ft barge.
As for us, she didn’t really seem to notice the 40-odd passengers in the Kennet Valley barge floating peacefully along behind.
There is something sublimely English about the Kennet & Avon Canal at Kintbury, not far west of Newbury.
It is a gentle intersection of country lane, canal, chalk stream and railway, with a waterside pub, the Dundas Arms, offering steak and kidney pie and crab au gratin on its outside terrace.
It’s an idyllic country scene worthy of any teatowel or jigsaw puzzle, with beech trees and summer lawns sloping to the water’s edge, made all the more delicious by not being on any tourist map.
This is the sort of place where you think to yourself: “Why don’t I live here?” Then you see the size and makes of the cars in the driveways and you realise why.
Entertainment, however, is accessible to all, particularly where the canal traffic enters Kintbury Lock. Here, boat owners and boat hirers of varying degrees of inexperience set out to demonstrate great expertise while being scrutinised from behind the steak and kidney.
Secretly, we would all like to see someone fall in but the worst that actually happens is a bit of scraping of paintwork and a muttered profanity or two.
The Kennet Horse Boat Company has been operated from Kintbury by the same family for nearly 30 years. Its barge can accommodate 70 people and is by far the largest passenger boat on the canal. Alarmingly, it is also the only one with no engine and no brakes.
So what about emergency stops? Does Bonnie jump into the water with the rope in her teeth? The skipper grins. “Strapping posts,” he says. Aah.
There is the inevitable safety talk (emergency exits galore, mind your fingers on the locks) and then the Kennet Valley does a slow pirouette, Bonnie leans into her harness and we’re away. it’s not the sort of acceleration that pins you back in your seat and if you close your eyes, it’s hard to detect any movement at all.
Everyone on board remarks on the peace. We travel effortlessly through the countryside, completely unaccompanied by noise, although if you listen hard you might hear a gentle clip-clop from up ahead.
The scenery slides past so smoothly and silently that we might in fact be sitting perfectly still while the crew unrolls wallpaper of country scenes past our eyes.
Bonnie herself is a good 75 yards ahead, accompanied by the skipper’s mate, although the height of the canalside vegetation sometimes completely obscures her from view.
When she’s out of sight, the behaviour of the towrope is a good indication of what she’s up to. If it’s slack, drooping into the water, it’s a fair bet she has found a clump of juicy leaves.
When it’s taut, scything through reeds and raising clouds of dragonflies and butterflies, she’s back on the case. Either way, nobody’s in any hurry and the bar on board is open.
After an hour or so we transit a lock, do another slow pirouette and Bonnie starts on the slow plod back, leaving only hoofprints to mark her passing.
Sure, she may have executed a few snails by the time we get back to Kintbury but her emissions will have been of the kind that will eventually nourish many more baby snails in seasons to come.
Now that’s the sort of environmental impact all transport should aspire to.INFORMATION: Parkmore Holiday Cottages
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£1. School pack includes; Tin pencil case Pen, pencil ruler and rubberKennet Horse Boat Company (01488 658866/www.kennet-horse-boat.co.uk) offers a two-hour trip for £7 (£6 children) until October, resuming in April.West Berkshire tourism: 01635 30267/visitwestberkshire.org.uk.