It's not easy trying to dodge the showers on an April Sunday walk, but we managed it. The Kennet & Avon canal is the picturesque heart of Newbury and we really should do more to enhance it, but a swift stroll along its banks makes you realise that it is already one of the town's greatest assets.
We started at Victoria park, and threaded our way through the town in the direction of West Mills, which has the power to transport you back in time, as the cottages that stand by the banks of the canal are from an age when the industrial use of the waterway was at its height. On the way, we passed the backs of the restaurants and pubs which fill one side of Newbury's cafe quarter, the Market Place. The council has great plans for this, effectively turning it into a continental piazza, free from traffic and able to be enjoyed by residents and vistors alike.
After this, we passed the bridge that has become the symbol of Newbury, a narrow stone arch that separates the northern shopping area of Northbrook Street, with its high street names, from the independent traders of Bartholomew Street in the south. The path disappears through a small tunnel next to the Lock, Stock and Barrel pub and here the wall is grooved from the tow-ropes of the barges which plied the canal. The vista opens up after the dark of the tunnel, and the gem that is Newbury lock appears before you, with its wooden gates only just able to hold the pressure of the upstream water. One of the forthcoming 'Town Trail' sculptures is sited here, a granite bowl that fills and empties along with the lock: it is not that exciting to look at, but you have to admire the physics.