Barely had the ink dried on “when transit can’t reach” then it dawned on Mr Fueled by Beer that there is an obvious circular pub walk right on his doorstep, and not only that, it is also readily accessible by transit from Reading town centre. Yep, you can jump on the Lime 2 bus, get off at the Cunning Man stop, then enjoy a nice 7.7 km (4.8 mile) off-road circular walk…
The Cunning Man is first and foremost a very nice walk and dine destination; a member of the Vintage Inns collection of country pub restaurants. Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer have stopped by several times for visits ranging anywhere from a full-on sit-down dining experience to a quick in/out for a pint and bag of crisps at the bar. It’s a welcoming place for any occasion. However this post is about the Cunning Man as the start/finish point of a circular walk so without further ado…
Stage 1: Cunning Man to Hissey’s Bridge (1.9 km)
The pub sits alongside the Kennet & Avon Canal at Burghfield Bridge. The Lime 2 bus (timetable) from Reading stops right outside and a pedestrian gate from the pub car park opens out to the canal. We’ll walk the route clockwise so when exiting the car park turn left and head west along the towpath, which along this stretch forms part of national cycle route 4 (NCR4).
After a short distance (350 m) NCR4 branches off to the left; ignore this and continue straight on to the pedestrian footbridge known as “Swan’s Bridge”. Cross to the other side of the canal, then continue west along the opposite bank. After another 300 m or so we pass Burghfield Lock.
After Burghfield Lock the footpath continues on grass along the canal bank with open meadow to the north. The meadow may contain cattle so keep any dogs under control and be on the lookout for what cattle typically leave on the ground. Continue along the meadow section until it reaches the next footbridge, known as “Hissey’s Bridge”.
Stage 2: Hissey’s Bridge to Calcot Mill (1.0 km)
At this point the canal path crosses the footbridge back to the south bank and continues west. You may notice NCR4 rejoining the towpath at this point however do not cross the canal – stay on the north bank and instead turn right to head northeast towards the railway. The well-trodden right of way between the canal and railway is readily visible across the meadow. At the railway cross the tracks through the pair of kissing gates then turn right and start heading east.
You are now in the Calcot section of Linear Park; originally farmland it now provides open green space between the housing estates and the railway. The Holy Brook enters the park here (next to the railway crossing) and forms one of the park’s central features.
From here follow the trail along the Holy Brook with the railway to your right, cross the wooden footbridge over the water, then continue along the waterway on the opposite bank. Eventually you will exit this section of the park at Calcot Mill.
Stage 3: Calcot Mill to Burghfield Road Crossing (1.6 km)
From Calcot Mill walk a short distance (200 m) up Mill Lane until you reach an alley/footpath on the right leading to Hawkesbury Drive. Once through the alley this section of the walk may be a bit tricky so walk along the right side, ignoring the first right turn.
When you come to the second right turn, turn right, then turn right again in front of a row of houses that starts with number 35. Walk past the front of these houses and enter the next section of Linear Park. During our brief detour on Mill Lane and Hawksbury Drive, the Holy Brook passes under the railway and flows on the other side; it will return later.
The footpath is gravel here; continue east with the railway on your right as before. Eventually the path makes a slight rise to the left to emerge beside Burghfield Road. Cross with care and resume the footpath on the other side.
Stage 4: Burghfield Road Crossing to Southcote Mill (1.7 km)
You are now in the Southcote section of Linear Park where the Holy Brook flows in under the Burghfield Road bridge to our right. Continue on the footpath past the small parking area with the Holy Brook on your right until it turns right to pass beneath the railway once again. The footpath also turns right to pass under the railway: immediately after passing through, turn left to continue on the footpath.
This next section is short – just 200 m – sandwiched between the railway on your left and the Holy Brook to the right. At the next intersection turn right onto the paved roadway: this is Circuit Lane, better known as a north-south arterial through the Southcote housing estate.
South of the railway, however, all it does is provide limited access to Southcote Mill and the adjoining lock and is therefore mostly devoid of motorized traffic. This is where we’re headed next – back to the Kennet & Avon Canal.
Stage 5: Southcote Mill to Cunning Man (1.5 km)
At Southcote Mill cross the narrow metal footbridge quaintly known as “Milkmaid’s Bridge” just downstream of the lock to rejoin the towpath. Turn right off the bridge and continue west along the towpath. This is the home stretch that takes us back to the Cunning Man.
To Recap The Walk…
- Cunning Man to Hissey’s Bridge 1.9 km
- Hissey’s Bridge to Calcot Mill 1.0 km
- Calcot Mill to Burghfield Road Crossing 1.6 km
- Burghfield Road Crossing to Southcote Mill 1.7 km
- Southcote Mill to Cunning Man 1.5 km
The following OS map shows the footpaths as green or (by my addition) red dotted lines. Click on map to view full size.