Here is a walk that Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer completed recently and found so enjoyable they decided to share. It begins and ends at Great Bedwyn, contains three pubs, and provides a rare opportunity to explore 200 year old technology from the dawn of Britain’s industrial revolution. The 5.5 mile circuit also provides scenic diversity incorporating canal towpath, country lanes and public footpaths through woodland and open fields…
To begin the walk first ride the rails to Bedwyn station. Trains run hourly from London-Paddington to Bedwyn calling at Reading and Newbury (every two hours on Sundays). From intermediate stations connect at Reading or Newbury (timetable). As with many of our walks our primary source was iFootpath: full step by step details of the walk can be viewed and printed via their website or downloaded to the free iFootpath mobile app for Android and iPhone (recommended).
The walk begins at Bedwyn Wharf; on leaving the train station, cross the rail and canal bridges then enter the wharf on the right. From here the walking route heads off along the towpath towards Crofton (lock numbers descend). See below for some photos from our walk.
Crofton Pump Station is the first historic landmark reached on the walk and well worth visiting when open; check website for steaming weekends and other opening times. Refreshments are available in the cafe and there are loos on the site too. We didn’t visit during steaming but still saw plenty of interesting stuff to make clambering over the lock-gates worthwhile. Whether or not a detour to the pump station is taken continue the walk by leaving the towpath just before lock 60 to follow the footpath skirting Wilton Water (signposted “Wilton Windmill”) that leads to Wilton village and the first pub stop.
The Swan Inn at Wilton (Website | WhatPub) is a remarkable pub considering its ‘out of the way’ location. Despite our arrival during the peak lunchtime rush we received a friendly welcome, prompt service and excellent beer and food. Two ales were on cask plus three more on gravity; all excellent. In the spirit of full disclosure, CAMRA purists beware: the pub openly uses cask breathers to facilitate a wider choice of ales in tip-top condition. The rest of you, I feel confident, will not be so constrained in your ability to appreciate well-kept tasty beer.
The Swan is roughly halfway around the walk so it makes an ideal place to stop off for a break; whether a quick in/out or a longer stop for food, etc. the pub should fit the bill for everyone.
Wilton Windmill is the second historic landmark reached on the walk; it is perched at the end of the wooded ridge that rises up from Wilton to lead us back to Bedwyn. Since our walking route passes the windmill, it’s worth stopping to take a look. Tours are available between 2-5pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays but the mill can be viewed from the outside at any time. Interpretive signs provide a wealth of information about windmill technology and how it is employed at Wilton.
The Cross Keys (Website | WhatPub) was not open when we arrived back in Great Bedwyn a few minutes before 4pm. Although the website advertises Saturday opening from noon to midnight, a note on the door said closed 3-6pm; perhaps it was a one-off. In any case, since we did not plan to stay in Bedwyn into the evening we were unable to check out the pub. Hopefully next time we’ll have better luck.
Update July 2016: we just made a second trip to Bedwyn and sadly, once again, the Cross Keys was closed 3-6 pm on a Saturday afternoon. Although it’s not obvious from outward appearances the pub’s opening hours have been updated at the front door but not at their website. I don’t think we’ll be back anytime soon.
The Three Tuns (Website | WhatPub) was open as advertised and given the time of day; the slack time between lunch and dinner, it was understandably very quiet. The three cask ales on offer were conservative but well kept so we stayed to check out the really nice beer garden. This is where we found several other customers already enjoying the pleasantly warm Saturday afternoon. Checking back inside we observed that the pub has a very attractive dining area and is well regarded as a food destination, albeit on the pricey side. Frankly we’d prefer to compare the Three Tuns with the Cross Keys before passing judgement but based on our experience, and outward appearances, the Three Tuns didn’t strike us as the kind of pub that people would leave feeling disappointed.