Sapperton Tunnel circular (4.5km)

I knew from the moment I woke up that the light was different today. It glowed from behind the curtains, rather than simmer softly and grey like the previous weeks.

November was bleak, or, as Alexander Armstrong said during one of his daily broadcast on Classic FM, it was simply “obligingly seasonal”. Either way, as much as I like a foggy November morning, I also like the feel of vitamin D soaking my skin. Murphy must have felt it too, he was more bouncy than usual, keener to go out and less patient with me and my morning coffee antics.

To celebrate the sun’s appearance I decided to experiment with a new walk near Cirencester, along a stretch of the Thames and Severn Canal I hadn’t been before. The canal used to connect the river Thames with the river Severn and it was about 36 miles long, it opened in 1789 and closed in 1927 and for years it was the main route for transporting goods from London to the region. Quite a few stretches have been restored, especially around Stroud, but much of it lays derelict still. This was not supposed to be a long walk, my back is still playing up after all, but I hoped that the ‘new might feel like a rest’ after weeks of the same old same old paths. I had my fingers crossed for a lack of pheasants and deers too, which would make for a much more relaxing walk in Murphy’s company. He would disagree wholeheartedly.

The walk itself begins by the village of Coates, near Cirencester, and I can confirm, now that we’re back safely, that it is good for dogs, there are only a couple of fields with horses and Murphy is good with them, he ignores them possibly because they’re so big. I suspect that in spring/summer there might be quite a few sheep around, but today it he could run free.

It was pure joy to be out in this weather. Yes the air was ‘fresh’, but I am slowly learning to wear the right layers so the temperature hovering around 0C was not a negative factor. It felt… cleansing…

Just outside the village there is the charming church of St Matthews. Sadly it wasn’t open, but you can read more about it here.

The path towards the canal is through open fields that could have been very muddy from the recent rain, but were mercifully frozen enough not to be a nuisance.

… and who doesn’t like a wide open space under a wide open sky?

… And breath… breath in the good… breath out the bad…

Scarily, you do need to cross an unguarded railway line, but then you’re immediately reworded by the canal path and all the danger is forgotten. (Just watch dogs and children!)

This is the entry of the Sapperton Tunnel which was built between 1784 and 17889 and was an incredible 3490m long. The Tunnel House – a pub now closed – began its life as an inn for the Tunnel builders. The facade of the tunnel entrance is built in a beautiful Georgian style and is rather grand.

And the path along the canal is charming. The low winter sun illuminates the way, the water at the bottom of the canal is shallow and crystal clear.

Vapour rises from the water in the cold air. There is ice in the shade today, but the air is golden.

It feels a little bit magical, and with a tiny bit of imagination it’s easy to conjure the heavy breathing of the horses and donkeys pulling the boats along the canal, people calling off to each other in greetings, with news and gossips, the dins of life.

We were alone, Murphy and I but we didn’t feel alone.

Frankly he would have loved to jump in, but the drop was higher than the photo would suggest and I didn’t quite fancy having to jump in to help him out… next time buddy…

(looking back towards the tunnel entrance)

There’s also an interesting round tower/building, now completely abandoned… it looks like there might have been a lock along the canal here, so maybe this was the lock keeper’s house. I’ve seen a similar one by the canal near the water park in Cirencester.

The canal dries up from here, but the path is still easy to follow, even if smaller and smaller and more overgrown. It continues under a few bridges, the railway line – an incongruous noisy intrusion in such an old place, and a road too. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why the canal is not in use anymore.

Leaving the path for the sunny expanse of empty fields feels like a jump back into modern times. The village is a short distance away and Murphy seems to sense its proximity and races ahead. His paws make a soft crunching noise on the semi-frozen glass and I’m sure he’s already thinking ahead to breakfast and the sofa…

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