The Kennet and Avon Canal, Day Three: A little sugar goes a long way

Again we awaken and set out early. There’s no point in having a lie-in in a tent when you can’t get comfortable, so sleep is limited, not to mention we are attempting a version of “stealth camping” given the somewhat criminal nature of wild camping here as previously mentioned. It won’t do to be seen crawling out of a tent next to a stranger’s houseboat at 9:00, stretching, then leisurely making breakfast. Our goal, as a unit, is to get up and at least packed, if not walking, before the boaters, dog walkers and joggers are out en masse. That way it appears we have simply paused for a few moments and are resting at the side of the trail. My goal, quite honestly, is merely to stand upright. Mark is kind and boils water for my coffee first thing, which helps.

I put my sandals on instead of my boots from the get-go today, having discovered yesterday that the pinky toe on my right foot screams less loudly without anything pressing up against it. The trade off however is the extra weight my boots add to my backpack, and the lack of stability; my feet tend to slide around on the grass more in the sandals which have less tread on the soles. I start walking, resigned to the pain I know is lurking in my immediate future. Much to my delight however, we soon come to a cafe by the side of the canal and we stop for a cup of coffee. Never mind that we’ve only just eaten breakfast, I get my cake (a lovely slice of shortbread layered with butterscotch and chocolate), having quickly learned you have to grab your culinary opportunities as they present themselves in these circumstances. It is so rich that, although I eat the entire thing, I soon wish I’d saved half for later. 

I waddle out of there and back on the trail, where the significant difference today is the appearance of a long series of locks fairly close together and on an incline. Here we can see how the boaters must take precise care in letting just enough water in and out of each section of the canal as they prepare to pass from one to the next. It is a slow tedious process for them to travel this part of the canal. Mark gives me a history lesson as we go about the origin of the canals and the early days when horses were used to pull, and I suppose guide to some extent, the boats from the trail alongside the canal. I look down at my feet on this alternately wide and extremely narrow path and wonder what it must have been like for the horses, and if it looked different back then.

Eventually we come to the small village of Honeystreet where there is a cafe and a pub to choose from, both right on the canal. We’d been told about the pub, called The Barge Inn, but it’s closer to lunch than dinner time so we opt for the cafe. It proves to be a good choice. We both order a panini which comes with a salad, chutney, and potato chips. I glance lovingly at the wide assortment of homemade cakes on offer, in particular at something new to me, a gin and tonic cake, but I decide one piece of cake a day is enough, and I don’t want to carry anything not absolutely essential. I could probably make a convincing argument – at least to myself and let’s face it, that’s all that matters – that cake is essential and worth toting on my back, but the miser in me wins out. We use the bathroom and fill our water bottles at the handy spigot on the patio meant for that purpose.

We carry on until about 5:30 at which point we come upon the Waterside Bistro and Pub; it is, according to what I’ve been able to determine on google maps, the last canalside eatery for miles. We have not passed any stores. There is a very small one here with basic essentials, so Mark buys milk for the morning, then we go upstairs to the pub and order a beer each. Neither of us is very hungry after our late lunch, but feeling the need to eat something with the beer and to stave off hunger later when we’re camped and settled, we buy a couple of packets of chips from behind the counter and nibble on those while we drink. We sit at a table by the window, from which we watch a soft spray of pinky-red roses spread across the sky. The throbbing pain shooting down my legs subsides as I sit quietly, to remain dormant until I stand up and start walking once again. It has been a warm day and the breeze gently drying the sweat on my brow is a delightful sensation, one of those simple pleasures we often fail to appreciate until we’ve experienced something difficult, physically or mentally, that encourages us to concentrate on something positive, no matter how small. 

Our beers drunk and chips gone, we move off down the canal just far enough away from the several boats and pedestrians gathered around the pub, till the boats are few and far between again. We pick a spot on the canal to set up camp, but at the last minute I spot a trail leading up the hill. I climb up it to find a field with a gate that is latched but unlocked and a sign that declares the land to be under the care of The National Trust. I wave Mark up and we quickly make a beeline inside, recognizing instantly our good fortune. We set up our tents, sidestepping the piles of cow manure that pepper the field, just in time to crawl in before it’s too dark to see without a flashlight. Though it takes me quite awhile to fall asleep as usual, I sleep almost completely through the night.

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