Providing a link from the River Thames at Reading to the River Avon in Bath, the 87-mile waterway is one of the greatest achievements of the canal restoration movement, and has become a haven for people and wildlife in Wiltshire, Berkshire and Somerset, as well as visitors from across England and indeed the world.
The story of the Kennet & Avon Canal provides the blueprint for many of our inland waterways - once a linchpin of the area's economic development, it fell into decline and disrepair before being painstakingly restored by volunteers. Once reopened, a second phase of restoration, made possible by a £25 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, ensured the waterway would survive for generations to come.
Now owned and cared for by the Canal & River Trust - the charity that looks after 2,000 miles of waterways across England and Wales - the canal today:
- Boasts seven scheduled monuments and 129 listed buildings, including historic locks, bridges, aqueducts and tunnels
- Provides crucial habitat for many of the UK's rarest species – such as water voles, Nathusius' pipistrelle bats and otters - with 14 designated SSSIs
- Supports over 1,300 local jobs and contributes an estimated £42m to the local economy
- Is cared for by all year round by hundreds of active volunteers
- Hosts nearly 3,000 private leisure boats, and around 140 hire boats serving visitors from around the world
The anniversary is being marked with a free event held jointly by the Canal & River Trust and the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust at Caen Hill Locks today, with activities for all ages, from boating and pond-dipping to cycling and live music. Bringing together volunteers past and present, the Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire will re-enact the opening of the canal.
Richard Parry, chief executive at the Canal & River Trust, said: “It's a privilege for all of us at the Trust who work on the canal, and it's all down to the volunteers and the incredible amount of work they did that it's here. Whether it's in providing an escape from everyday life, or a home for the area's amazing wildlife, the Kennet & Avon Canal really does enrich the lives of everyone around it, and this is a great opportunity to celebrate it and the achievement of those who restored it.
“It's fantastic to see more and more people getting involved with the waterways in so many different ways, so if you're interested in our heritage and in our stunning countryside please do get involved. The future of the Kennet & Avon Canal, and the nation's inland waterways as a whole, has never looked brighter.”
Rob Dean, chairman of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, said: “Restoration of the Kennet & Avon has proved a huge success for our community. The volunteers who led the restoration from the 50s to the 90s have given us a great legacy which we're pleased to help care for and improve."
The Kennet & Avon Canal was opened in 1810, after 16 years' hard work by famed waterway engineer John Rennie. Major structures include Scheduled Ancient Monument Caen Hill Lock Flight, Dundas and Avoncliff aqueducts and Bruce Tunnel.