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Guest review on ‘cruise forum’

A couple who cruised with us for two weeks in June to experience the Kennet & Avon from Newbury to Bath recently sent us a copy of an article they wrote about their trip for a cruise forum they belong to. During their stay we really enjoyed their company and after two weeks we were sad to wave them goodbye. They assured us they had thoroughly enjoyed their time with us and when they sent us the review, added a lovely message saying: we certainly did enjoy our cruise on the K&A and our stay seemed, for us at least, like a visit to friends rather than simply a holiday’ 

This is what they wrote about their trip for their fellow cruisers: 

The Wessex Rose is a 5* Hotel Barge that chugs sedately along the Avon & Kennet Canal, essentially between Newbury and Bath in 3,4,5 or 7 day segments …. we booked 7+7 day back to back cruises taking in the entire network in part because we couldn’t decide which bit to leave out.

We joined in Kintbury, Berkshire, on Friday the 13th ( June 2014 ) and were as mentioned above expecting to travel the entire length of the Canal over a period of 14 days, a journey which if taken by road would take little more than an hour. The 10 day weather forecast had been very favourable with no mention at all of the thunder and torrential rain that was to follow later that night. The journey from Dorset was easy enough but it took us three attempts, out of three possibilities, to locate the correct Car Park within ever so embarrassingly small Kintbury for boarding the Wessex Rose. We also learnt that we would not be heading for Newbury due to Lock Maintenance further along the canal in the opposite direction. The forces of Friday the 13th were it seemed conspiring against us so what else could go wrong … absolutely nothing basically.

 The boat …

 Just to mention that the average barge / narrow boat is 6 feet wide and has little privacy, shared facilities and bunk beds else fold down sofas and the food usually consists of Pub Grub. Conversely the Wessex Rose is 12 feet wide and 69 feet long so is huge, also far more luxurious, by comparison but she does fit rather snugly into the locks.

 The Cabins …

There are three double / twin cabins for guests with each having their own en-suite facilities complete with individual water pumps and airline / cruise ship style full sized toilets. The power shower is within the same compact enclosure and is by design akin to a wet room. Tea / coffee is provided in the cabin but we opted to purchase some instant Nescafe Gold Blend Coffee rather than fiddle about with the supplied cafetiere at that (un)certain time of the morning but we did utilise the fresh chilled milk as supplied every evening by Karen in a mini thermos flask. The cabins are compact with the en-suite facilities leading off the main cabin but do have sufficient space for a luxury quality king sized bed equivalent in the double configuration option plus a slim wardrobe and sufficient shelf space for most cruises.. We took a small suitcase plus a carry-on type bag each which we stowed under the bed for additional space, essential for a 14 night cruise but beneficial for dirty washing if nothing else for any cruise duration.

Egyptian cottons rule as do fluffy white towels plus oodles of piping hot water and 13amp sockets. A small LED type torch is thoughtfully provided for guests who may need to get up in the night along with tissues and eco friendly toiletries in the en-suite etc. We didn’t need the torch cos we had taken our own but seemingly managed to return home with two identical ones.

The Journey ….

The order below and no doubt some of the finer details are ‘ ish ‘ as is / are the time and timings on a canal trip, just go with the flow.

The journey itself was from Bridge No 75 / Lock No 78 in Kintbury, Berkshire to Bridge No 189 / Lock 11 in the delightful City of Bath. The Bridges are numbered East to West with No 1 being in London whereas the ‘ Number 1 ‘ Lock is in Bristol increasing thereafter as they head Eastwards. As an aside / major highlight we therefore cruised through the Bruce Tunnel and the 16 consecutive locks West of Devizes known as the Caen Hill Flight in addition to passing through 115 bridges and 68 locks.

 The Kennet and Avon is described by some as being the most beautiful Canal in the Country and we couldn’t possible argue about that given that this was our virgin canal cruise, we have however walked a few towpaths in our time. It was an amazingly scenic journey in a 200 year old setting virtually throughout its length, albeit with all Mod Cons, and we certainly didn’t want to miss a single yard / metre of it by being in the cabin or on published walking routes between the bridges etc. The travel times are varied and the stopping points are in part based on requests from the guests rather than being imposed but we were always parked / moored overnight and for breakfast, lunch and our evening meals.

 Newbury we missed but we were able to visit Hungerford, Great Bedwyn, Alton Barnes with Alton Priors, Pewsey plus Marlborough via the local bus, All Cannings, Honeystreet, Wooten Rivers, Devizes, Bradford on Avon, Avoncliffe village and their aqueduct, Dundas aqueduct, Bathampton and finally Bath. Not a gob-smacking itinerary on the surface I grant you but as a whole it was as interesting as any sea or riverboat cruise that we have ever been on but for entirely different reasons.

Did you know that Bathampton was where the factory was ( until 1983 ) that made all that plasticine for us kids to play with …. thought not.

There is plenty of wildlife to see, ranging from the umpteen cats and dogs resident on the narrow boats to the swans, ducks, moorhens, herons, kingfishers and various birds of prey in their natural habitats … we also saw a few water snakes and fish, plus fishermen with growly faces even though the Wessex Rose had slowed down considerably to pass them.

The K&A was derelict for many years but restoration with the not inconsiderable assistance of Sybil, of Faulty Towers fame, and her other half Timothy West was completed some 25 years ago. The canal was built with a water depth of 5 feet but lack of expenditure over recent years has resulted in nearly half that depth being lost to silt which does of course result in occasional inconvenience and grounding for all the barges. The width of the canal is being reduced due to weed encroachment and trees are over hanging the canal but armed with only a trusty pair of secateurs our resident tree pruner, David, sets to work dealing with this small matter.

The Food …

But remember that timings are ‘ish ‘ !

08:00 – Breakfast

11:00 – Cafetiere of Coffee / Tea plus Karen’s home made cookies.

13:30 – Lunch, single course plus fruit as required

15:30 – Cafetiere of Coffee / Tea plus Karen’s home made cakes.

19:30 – 4 course Evening meal

Menus are fixed and during our cruise rotated at 7 day intervals, this was hardly a major problem but we would have preferred to sample seven more creative dishes from the ‘ Executive Chef ‘, courses are plated but will be served in smaller portions if requested. Dietary issues are catered for but advance notification is of course required.

The standard of food is exceptionally high, think ‘ Master Chef ‘ rather than ‘ Little Chef ‘, it was in reality far better than anything we have ever been served on a Cruise Ship regarding quality, taste and especially so presentation. Gourmet or Fine Dining is an apt description.

Beer and wines are all inclusive and although some restrictions re choice must apply due to lack of on board storage space the provision is generous and of a decent quality.

Main meals are served on three close proximity tables for two in the dining / lounge area at the not so pointy end, an area which is well lit and ventilated due to opening windows on three sides plus a sliding glass roof.

The Crew ….

There is the Executive Chef plus a trained Helmsman and Navigator of course plus a member of the team who replenishes water, diesel and LPG fuel levels as well as dealing with any waste water, environmental and landfill waste. There is also a sous chef, a pastry cook and a Housekeeper who does all the laundry and keeps everything absolutely spotless throughout this splendid craft. There is in addition a cabin Steward, two waiters plus a bar steward as well as a maintenance engineer, luggage porter, tree pruner and a lock operator.

All these people are called David and Karen.

As an aside ….

Gratuities are neither expected nor required.

Flowers are to be found in pots atop the deck along with chairs and collapsible protective rails, the rails need to be taken down while cruising due to a number of low-ish bridges.

A Canal Cruise is by its very nature extremely laid back and entirely casual, thankfully, even in our 5 star Barge Hotel. We did however dress up to something approaching elegant casual for our evening meals, well, most of the time anyway.

Not that it matters but we were the only British guests on board, the other passengers throughout were Antipodean.

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