The Old Wilts and Berks Canal
(taken from Country Life Magazine. Date unknown)

    Recently I spent some time exploring the long disused - and mostly dry -watercourse of the old Wilts and Berks Canal in the section cutting through the White Horse Vale, where some stretches run forlornly side by side with the Great Western main line that ruined it. Apparently this canal was begun in 1795, costing nearly half a million pounds to complete, and linked the Thames at Abingdon with the Kennet and Avon at Semington. It brought coal from Somerset to the Vale, and took away corn, carrying on a precarious existence until 1906 when it ceased working.

        Nevertheless it has left itís mark on the Vale landscape. Uffington Wharf, where coal and, according to Alfred Williams, school treats bound for White Horse Hill were once landed, still keeps its name and a group of houses close by is known as Longcot Locks, though the locks have been filled in.

        On a bank near the railway I found a single abandoned milestone face downwards. After some digging out, and much levering with a long pole, - for it was very heavy, I raised it enough to clean and photograph the inscription. This reads: "Semington 36 miles".

        As inland transport the old Wilts and Berks was relatively unimportant, with little industry to provide cargoes, but it must rank high for itís literary associations. In Tom Brown's Schooldays Tom fished in itís shallow waters and envied the canal folk in "the long barges, with the big black men lounging by the side of the horses"; Richard Jefferies made use of the Coate reservoir in Bevis, and Alfred Williams, the Hammerman Poet of South Marston, not only wrote about it in his still unsurpassed regional books, but also carted thousands of bricks from derelict locks for the house he built largely with his own hands.


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