River Kennet

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The Kennet at Stitchcombe

The Kennet is a river in Wiltshire and Berkshire, a tributary of the River Thames. The lower reaches of the river are navigable to river craft and are known as the Kennet Navigation, which, together with the Avon Navigation, the Kennet and Avon Canal and the Thames, links the Bristol Channel and the North Sea, between Bristol and London.

The River Kennet has been designated a "Site of Special Scientific Interest" from near its sources west of Marlborough down to Woolhampton, primarily because it has an extensive range of rare plants and animals that are unique to chalk watercourses.[1]


Upper reaches near Avebury
Wharf Stret, Newbury

One of the Kennet's sources is Swallowhead Spring near Silbury Hill in Wiltshire and the other a collection of tributaries to the north of Avebury near the villages of Uffcott and Broad Hinton which flow south past Avebury and join up with the waters from Swallowhead Springs.

In these early stages the young river passes close by many prehistoric sites including the Avebury ring and Silbury Hill. From these early patures, the river flows through Marlborough, then into Berkshire at Hungerford.

At Hungerford the Kennet is joined by its close companion for several miles, the Kennet and Avon Canal. Together they head east on roughly parallel courses until they join, split and join again just above Newbury. In Newbury the River Lambourne enters the Kennet.

From Newbury the Kennet continues eastwards, for some of the time serving as a part of the canal and at other times escaping it, past Thatcham, to Aldermaston Wharf, to Theale and eventually to Reading. The Kennet flows through the midst of Reading until it enters the Thames on the reach above Sonning Lock.


The upper reaches of the River Kennet are served by two tributaries. The River Og which flows into the Kennet at Marlborough and the River Dun which enters at Hungerford.

The Kennet's principal tributaries below Hungerford are the River Lambourn, which joins in Newbury, the River Enborne between Woolhampton and Aldermaston Wharf, and the Foudry Brook.

For six miles to the west of, and through, Reading, the Kennet supports a secondary channel, known as the Holy Brook, which formerly powered the water mills of Reading Abbey.


Tyle Mill Lock, Sulhamstead
County Lock, Reading

The River Kennet is navigable from the junction with the Thames at Kennet Mouth near Reading, upstream to Newbury where it joins the Kennet and Avon Canal.

The Horseshoe Bridge at Kennet Mouth, a timber-clad iron-truss structure, was built in 1891 as the method for horses towing barges to cross the river.

The first mile of the river, from Kennet Mouth to the High Bridge in Reading, has been navigable since at least the thirteenth century, providing wharfage for both the townspeople and Reading Abbey. Originally this short stretch of navigable river was under the control of the Abbey; today it, including Blake's Lock, is administered by the Environment Agency as if it were part of the River Thames.

From High Bridge through to Newbury, the river was made navigable between 1718 and 1723 under the supervision of the engineer John Hore of Newbury. Known as the Kennet Navigation, this stretch of the river is now administered by British Waterways as part of the Kennet and Avon Canal. Throughout the navigation, stretches of natural riverbed alternate with 11 miles of cuts dug through the land and locks. It has a series of locks including; County, Fobney, Southcote, Burghfield, Garston, Sheffield, Sulhamstead and Tyle Mill Locks to overcome a rise of 130 feet.


The River Kennet is a haven for various plants and animals. Its course takes it through the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the river between Marlborough and Woolhampton is designated a "Site of Special Scientific Interest". The protection that this status affords the Kennet means that many endangered species of plants and animals can be found here. The white drifts of Water Crowfoot in early summer are characteristic of chalk and limestone rivers; there are superb displays by the footbridge at Chilton Foliat, and by the road bridge in Hungerford.

Animal species such as the Water Vole, Grass Snake, Reed Bunting, Brown Trout, and Brook Lamprey flourish here, despite being in decline in other parts of the country. Crayfish are very common in parts of the river. However, most, if not all, are now the alien American Signal Crayfish, having escaped from crayfish farms, which has replaced the native White-clawed Crayfish in most southern rivers, although a small population still survives in the River Lambourn. The insects which support this varied wildlife food chain are found with many hundreds of species, common and rare in and around the River Kennet.

Alongside the river, the reed beds, grasses and other vegetation support many other insect species, including the Scarlet Tiger Moth, Poplar Hawk Moths and Privet Hawks.[2]

Resource uses

Throughout its history the Kennet has been used as a source of power for various pre-industrial and industrial activities by the use of water mills. In places the river has been built up to provide additional head of water to drive them. Three mills remain in Ramsbury alone, and there are many disused or former mill sites, such as at Southcote, Burghfield, Sulhamstead, Aldermaston, Thatcham, Newbury, and Hungerford. Aside from the mills, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the river water was also used for the brewing and tanning industries of Ramsbury and Marlborough.[2]

Name of the river

The Kennet appears in Old English as the Cunnit. The name has no obvious English origin and is likely therefore to derive from the British language. A Roman settlement named Cunetio was at today's Mildenhall in Wiltshire,[3][4] and may be named from the river or have the same origin

Xavier Delamare's analysis of the Gaulish language proposes that cuno meant "dog",[5] in British Celtic languages the otter is a "water dog", suggesting the Kennet as the "otter's lair", though this remains mere speculation.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about River Kennet)


  1. "SSSI designation for River Kennet" (PDF). http://www.english-nature.org.uk/citation/citation_photo/2000164.pdf. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 http://www.riverkennet.org/about_river_kennet.php Action for the River Kennet website
  3. Dames, Michael (1976). The Silbury Treasure. 
  4. "Footsteps of the Goddess in Britain and Ireland". Societies of Peace - Second World Congress on Matriarchal Societies. http://www.second-congress-matriarchal-studies.com/dames.html. Retrieved April 30, 2007. 
  5. "Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise" by Xavier Delamare