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Enborne and Britain's Second Line of Defence

Follow the pretty Kennet and Avon Canal to Hamstead Park.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 90ft (27m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Tracks, roads, estate drives and canal tow path, 1 stile

Landscape Lowland country bisected by Kennet and Avon Canal, elegant parkland on south side of Kennet Valley

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 158 Newbury & Hungerford

Start/finish SU 435657

Dog friendliness Under control on canal tow path, on lead in Hamstead Park

Parking Car park by Enborne church

Public toilets None on route

1 From the car park by the church, turn right and follow the road towards Newbury. Pass Church Lane and, as the road descends a gentle slope, the buildings of Newbury edge into view in the distance. Take the next signposted footpath on the left, at the entrance to Step Up Cottage, and as the drive sweeps left, continue straight on along the track beside Enborne Copse. Follow it across open fields and soon the Kennet and Avon Canal comes into view ahead. Once over the bridge, turn left by a pill box and go down to the tow path.

2 Head west, passing Benham Lock. Pass a tributary stream running into some woods. The railway line, transporting speeding inter-city trains as well as local services, is seen on the right along this stretch. A little further on, at Benham Broad, the natural river and the canal unite. Cross the weir by the footbridge and continue on the tow path, passing a cottage on the opposite bank. A line of poplar trees and the buildings of Marsh Benham edge nearer. Join the road at the next bridge, turn left, cross the Kennet and pass Hamstead Mill, formerly a model mill belonging to the Craven estate.

3 Avoid a drive on the left, just beyond the mill, and continue on the road, following it alongside a brick wall. When the road curves right, continue ahead on a footpath leading to Hamstead church. Originally Norman, St Mary's occupies a delightful corner of Hamstead Park, its brick tower looking out across the Kennet Valley. In the corner of the churchyard is a mausoleum containing the Craven family vault. Keep the church on the right, make for a gate ahead and turn left, following the grassy track as it bends left and descends between trees to a drive and waymark.

4 Turn right, following it through a stately landscape dotted with oak and beech trees. This is Hamstead Park. Pass over a cattle grid and keep to the drive as it sweeps to the right, with the parkland estate extending to distant horizons. Follow the drive as it curves left, pass a turning on the left and as the drive sweeps right towards a gate and bungalow, go straight on along a path to an avenue of beech and horse chestnut trees. On the right is the former home of the Craven family, which later became a nursing home. Turn left and walk along the drive, following it as it curves left. Make for a gate and a cattle grid, cross a stile and exit to the road. Opposite is the car park where the walk began.

Completed in 1810, the 87 mile (140km) long Kennet and Avon Canal took 16 years to construct. The final bill was in the region of £1 million. With 104 locks and many other impressive features, the canal is regarded as a triumph of engineering.

The Kennet and Avon was built to provide a direct trade link between London and Bristol, thus avoiding the treacherous south coast route which took ships around Land's End. The canal eventually became redundant in the late 1940s but dedicated armies of supporters were determined not to let it die. Restored over many years, the canal was eventually re-opened by the Queen at Devizes in 1990.

Since then it has become one of the south's most colourful and vibrant waterways. But 60 years ago it would have been a very different story. Follow the canal tow path and you'll spot ugly brick and concrete pill boxes strategically placed at intervals along the bank. Unsightly though they undoubtedly are, they are vivid reminders of the Second World War and the time when Britain braced itself for invasion.

Cutting a swathe across England from east to west, the waterway was to act as the second line of defence if the Germans had breached the south coast blockade. Tank traps were laid to deter the enemy from making deeper inroads and concrete machine gun posts were positioned along the tow path to guard the open, undefended country to the south.

What to look for sir william craven built a magnificent mansion at hamstead park in 1660, but the house was tragically destroyed by fire and all that remains of it are several sets of crumbling gate piers and some overgrown castle mounds. said to have been modelled on heidelberg castle in germany, hamstead park was designed by the eminent dutch architect sir balthazar gerbier.

Where to eat and drink

A few minutes' walk from the route, towards the A4, lies the Red House at Marsh Benham, offering a quality, up-market restaurant and bar menu with such dishes as slow roasted leg of duck, roast fillet of salmon and chargrilled rib-eye steak. The Red House is closed on Sunday evening and all day on Monday.

While you're there

Have a look at the historic 12th-century Enborne church located at the start and finish of the walk. The church, built on land once owned by Romsey Abbey, has a Saxon font decorated with emblems of the Passion, a fresco painted by an Italian monk from nearby Sandleford Priory and a bell cast in 1260.


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