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Thursday, 24 July 2008

Caen Hill, Avoncliff, Dundas & Claverton

Mon 21st July
Dawned bright and warm with light breeze, just right for the task ahead. After filling, emptying & a bit of last minute shopping we set off from Devises Wharf at 10.30 and arrived at the first lock at 11, and there was no other boat there preparing to descend. In fact we had only seen one pass us to go down in the previous hour or so, so it was up to us on our own. We caught up with a lady working down single handed after two locks and worked through the next 3 or 4 with her till she stopped to await friends, but fortunately Blue Nun had caught up with us.

Blue Nun is a converted 1931 Wooolwich Butty stern at 50 feet long and freshly repainted, with a Ruston twin engine. We worked well together and started on the main run of locks at 12.30.

What a sight, such a stretch of wide locks, all about 90 feet apart and with side ponds for water storage, but we were so lucky to have such a beautiful day giving us pleasant lock working conditions and wonderful views.

We had a problem shortly after starting these locks, we could not open the bottom gates. We called on the assistance of about 6 other onlookers, but still we could not open them. It seems that the locks were built without by-washes to let surplus water above a lock pass by to the next pound. As such the water cascaded over the top of the ground paddle mechanism at the top end of the lock and kept flowing into the lock we were trying to open, and was doing so faster than the bottom paddles were letting it out. The solution is simple, install a by-wash, except English Heritage will not allow it.

Eventually we were through it and working well until we met another pair of boats working up. To get past each other we had to do a shuffle with them manoeuvring into line astern, then our partner cruised into the space they had vacated. They then moved forward to the lock we were leaving & Carol did a shuffle past them to get into the next lock. Simple really, interesting too but it slowed our progress.

We ended the descent of the main, close-set locks at 14.45 had a cup of tea and carried on through the remaining 7, passing just through one pound that was nearly 18 inches low, there had been a problem over the weekend and levels had yet to equalise.

We said farewell to Kathryn, Lydia & Benedict as they had quite a way to travel still and not much time to do it before Kathryn had to be back at work. We poddled on a mile or so and stopped at Sells Green where Carol did another of her amazing space judging tricks. I thought I was going to have to get one of the boats to move forward 6 to 8 feet, not her!

The Three Magpies was just along from our mooring and was a very welcome sight after 3 1/4 miles and 29 locks. Carol does well with her flower tubs, nearly everyone compliments her, but the landlord goes a bit further.

Tuesday morning was bright at first but soon clouded over and wth the breeze was a bit cool. We cruised to The Cross Guns at Avoncliff Aqueduct. We had realised we were passing Trowbridge and that two friends that we had last seen around 25 years before lived there. We had exchanged Xmas cards over the years but directory enquiries found them and John arranged for us to meet at this pub alongside the aqueduct, and amazingly we managed to moor within about 50 yards of it. It was a great meal, do try it, and the years between our last meetings melted away so quickly, we are looking forward to seeing them again as we return through the area.

We had cruised through several of the locks with "Joyce" and one of her crew was wearing a Leics County Cricket Club Cap & jacket. I asked if he was from Leics, and he said he now lived in Woodhouse Eaves, having moved from Old Woodhouse some 8 years ago, but he was a Loughborough lad. It turned out he went to the same school as me, but was a few years my junior. I asked if he got to see much of the cricket, he said he did as he was the Chairman! It also turned out that he was acquainted with a very old friend of mine who lves in Woodhouse Eaves........small world, especially as this was his first time on a boat and was helping his friend down the locks.

The next morning was a late start and we were greeted by these pirates just as we set off, perhaps it was part of a stag do.

We cruised at tickover to the Dundas Aqueduct and were fortunate to find a mooring right at the end of it where the Somerset Coal Canal joins. Carol did her gardening whilst I walked down to river level to get a few pics. It is a wonderful structure named in honour of the original Chairman of the Kennet & Avon Canal Co.

We walked along the length of the Coal Canal that exists and took a coffee at the very pleasant cafe that has been sited there. They also do bike hire and electric launch and canoe hire, but we put back the ice lolly Carol was about to eat when they tried to charge about 50% above the going rate.

We followed this by cruising to the Claverton Pumping Station, where we arrived just at 3.30, last entry time. It was interesting, but not so much as Crofton, with a very large water wheel driving a beam pump lifting water 48 feet from the river Avon into the canal. It is operated several times a year at weekends, but we fear we will miss it working when we return.

Great mooring here, limit 24 hours and the other 3 boats on it have clearly been here a long time! I have emailed strongly to BW about this as it is absolutely rife along this canal. We dined outside this evening, the cyclst & jogger race track (sorry towpath) was busy till dusk. Sorry about the blobby lump on the left.

Carol's sister was at Uni in Bath & told us of a few things we really needed to see. One of these was the American Museum. We mentioned it to a couple who had stopped near Lily & they were locals & said it was just over the road, so that was great and could be seen tomorrow before we moved onto Bath.

A good night's sleep, though as for much of the length from Reading the railway was close at hand. We set off on the lovely morning, it was warm and sunny. The road from the canal to Claverton village was about 250 yards, very steep and very narrow. We reached the main road, bore left and saw the brown sign to the museum, and set off. Carol does not walk very well, but she has determination. The road was steep and went round several bends and into a wood, and it carried on

and on

and on

But we got there.

We got there at just after 10, but the place didn't open till 12!! It was OK, the coffee shop was open & we could walk around the gardens and enjoy the sights, including this reconstruction of George Washington's garden.

Eventually we were able to go round the museum that showed a great collection of reconstructed rooms that showed American living through the ages, along with wonderful Native American art. It really is a good visit, we are really glad we did so, but be warned of the walk.

When we got back to Lily, Carol retired to stretch out on the bed.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Hungerford to Devizes

Thurs 17th July we set off on a mild, overcast and breezy day. Intermittent light drizzle during day. We set off early for us as a boat came out of Hungerford Lock & it seemed a pity to waste it! We left the lock at 9.10, so you can see what early is for us nowadays!.

We crossed with 6 boats during the day when we cruised 5 miles and 10 locks and moored up at Gt Bedwyn. We were close by the railway station but the noise was not intrusive. The village is lovely. It has 2 pubs ( far from the best we have seen ) but also a Baker, a Store, a Post Office which was being run by volunteers to keep it ticking over till a new postmaster arrives, plus an interesting stone masonry exhibition. The Church was interesting and held the tomb of Jane Seymoor's father, and the village also had its own primary school, bowls and tennis club plus a British Legion hall. There was a large number of pretty houses too. It is well worth a visit and only 1 1/2 hours from London.

The next morning dawned very dull with the air full of drizzle. We moved forward early to the water point but found it occupied so we set off west at 8!! We shared several locks with an engineer holidaying here with his mother and his 2 boys who were complaining about the weather as he works in Chile and Peru. We arrived at Crofton Pumping Station just after 10, it does not open till 10.30 so we had a wander along Wilton Water for a while before entering and being assailed by the aroma of bacon sarnies...........we just had to have one.

Crofton houses the oldest beam engine in the world that is still mounted and working in its original building. Their web site is very useful ( and will give details of steaming days. I add a pic.

The weather had not improved a sight and we worked our way through the top lock at 14.45 and out onto the fairly short top pound. Most locks were for us as on the K & A they often get you to leave locks empty. I suppose it is to stop water seeping through the walls and washing out the fines behind the brickwork. Shortly after the top lock we passed through the Bruce Tunnel. Incredibly straight and almost totally dry. We watched several Kingfishers, Kites and Buzzards which helped to make up for the poor weather. We stopped for the night at Wootton Rivers. 5 1/2 miles and 13 locks.

Nicholson says it is a very pretty village with lots of thatch. We visited it on Saturday morning, and reckon that Gt Bedwyn is far better. We then cruised on for 12 miles and 1 lock to stop at Horton Bridge. The weather had been bright but with a strong cool breeze. Moorings along the canal are not good. We often moored with our bows into the bank in deep weeds and the stern out, kept out by the stones under water. We tried to watch qualifying for the German GP but found it difficult to see through the "snow", particularly annoying after the struggle we had to get moored up. So on Sunday we cruised for a couple of miles into Devizes and were fortunate to get a mooring in the Wharf. We had a visit by cousins of two f our friends who were anxious to see what a modern, fitted out narrowboat was like. Carol, of course, gave them tea and cakes. We had watched the GP with excellent reception, and we then wandered off to look around Devizes which is a peach.

There is an interesting Medieval walk around the town guided by cast plaques, one of which is just down the road from the Wharf. We followed round most of it on a lovely late afternoon and the town has a wealth of lovely buildings and sights. Do plan a stay to explore it, we will catch it again later.

Tomorrow its Caen Hill Flight

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Newbury to Bristol

Tuesday July 15th:-

After an interesting weekend visiting my cousin and her daughter, Victoria, at Victoria's home near to Newbury at Crookham, it was time to get rid of the car so at 8 on Monday I set off to Debdale. I picked up the mail, went to see my mother, and got parked up at 12.30 and set off on my hike to catch the bus. I clocked it in the car at around 2 1/2 miles and I had not got too long to spare so I even ran a bit of the way....very strange action for me. National Express coaches ran me from Leicester to Oxford, change of bus there and into Newbury and I was back on the boat by 7 at night. A long day for 45 minutes with my mother and 30 minutes collecting post & having a coffee.

Carol had cleaned and tidied up the boat whilst I was away, as well as making a loaf of bread, filled with water & getting Lily ready for the off. I had changed the oil and filter on Sunday and applied an extra coat of paint to part of the engine bay. I noticed a slight water leak from the skin tank. It seems to be about 3 drops a day so it will be observed & we'll wait till we get back to base in the Autumn if it gets no worse.

So on Tuesday morning it was bright and fine. I emptied the loo & squeezed a few more gallons into the water tank and went into the engine bay to reset the drip tray below the stern gland after the painting, only to find the paint was far from hard! Never mind we set off about 10 and passed through Greenham Lock, the water was flowing much, much slower than on our arrival fortunately. We then went on about half a mile and tied up alongside Victoria Park, opposite Newbury Wharf (picture including the Canal Society building ) and meandered into town to do a bit of shopping, and to let Carol look at the flows around Newbury Lock.

Newbury Lock is very picturesque and is just a few yards off the main street, with a very good butchers shop almost on the bridge. We love Walkers pork pies but their pie was nearly as good. Lily arrived at Newbury Lock at 13.45 and the afternoon followed with very slow cruising at just above tickover with my shirt off & Carol wishing she could have done so too! Although the railway is very close along all this length, it was never really intrusive and the scenery was wonderful. I made a few notes to pass on to the BW Customer Services Manager, might as well keep them on their toes, though they do at least mow the towpath here.

We stopped for the day just above Copse Lock at 16.15. Just 4 miles and 6 locks. It is as far away from the railway as anywhere along this stretch, but moorings along the canal are not easy, I must get a mud weight!! We got out our chairs and sat on the towpath in the sun, and were pleased to see far more btterflies than we have seen previously this summer. Our butterfly book is not good but one was a White Admiral I believe and another a Comma and possibly a Marbled White. We also ate on the towpath later, by which time it had almost become the M4 for cyclists! They were all very pleasant. A really lovely day.

Wednesday dawned bright but initially overcast, though the clouds were breaking as we set off at 9.15 and my shirt was off for a short time a little later, but the wind blew a bit cool. Fabulously beautiful along here. We left Kintbury Lock just after a couple of other boats, and greast excitement as we approached the next lock as we saw a pair of water voles. As we were leaving the lock we saw another boat arrive so we waited in Wire Lock for them to arrive. Whilst waiting for them there was the whistle of a steam train and a heritage express flew past pulled by a streamliner. A Google search showed it to be "Bittern", unfortunately I didn't get a really good look at it, but it was good to see and hear. Magic Moments with Marayn & Steve joined us and we this lock & Dunmill Lock too, though kindly boaters coming the other way did all the work for us.

We have been undecided about travelling all the way down to Bristol, but reports from the last few people we have asked has decided us, we are going to do so. It was nearly lunchtime & we all wanted to stop & upon reaching Hungerford found pretty good moorings and wandered into the town. It is very pretty, and if you want antiques or ladies hairdressers or clothes, it is ideal.

Friday, 11 July 2008

The Thames plus the K & A to Newbury

29th June:- We were up early on the Sunday morning, I fetched my copy of the Sunday Times to which I have been addicted for nearly 50 years, and we set off for Osney Lock. The cross current nearly caught Carol out but fortunately the lock keeper just got the gates open in time for us to cruise in. I had to buy a licence and as we expected to need 2 days to cruise to Reading, I was delighted to find that the Environment Agency gave us two days licence for just one day's payment, but at over £30 for the day it is expensive.

It was a day of reasonable weather, though a bit breezy, and we cruised steadily downstream after leaving Osney Lock at 9.20. There were other boats cruising along, but far fewer than we expected and lock-keepers said there seemed to have been a significant reduction in boats this year, possibly reflecting the terrible flooding experienced on the river last year. At 17.40 in lovely sunshine we tied up at Beale Park near Goring. We could have made Reading in the day, and this without cruising above 1200 rpm. We did 29 miles and 10 locks in the day, and all locks were worked for us. We were delighted to see a pair of Kingfishers flying, the first we have seen on the cruise!

I have to confess to idiocy on the cruise. We were in a long stretch between locks & Carol was down below preparing something. As we reached Shillingford, the river turns sharp left and I noticed two narrowboats ahead, one towing the other off some obstruction. I was busy making sure I didn't get involved when I got hard aground. I must have been 15 feet from the bank but there was an enormous shoal, and no marker buoy as seen elsewhere. It took a lot of pushing with the pole to get free.

We shared a couple of locks with a very interesting river launch. Beautifully varnished but I felt a rather odd shape, the cabin looked a bit like some very old railway carriages. We also passed a chap enjoying his lager whilst being towed upstream, and we also had to negotiate a set of dingies that was racing on a reach, made more interesting by a lad overturning just as we approached.

Our mooring was far from ideal as you can see from the photo. We had the bows tight in to the bank and there was a good stake to tie to, but we had to keep the stern about 6 feet out because of a pretty significant shrub/tree. We must get a mud weight, though I was able to fix the stern by pushing our pole into the river bed fixed against the hull.

Beale Park has a very significant part in our lives. We attended the IWA National Festival at Beale Park in 2006. All was going well, the weather was good, our mooring great, Carol was enjoying various demonstrations & I had attended a couple of talks on boat maintenance. On the Saturday afternoon Carol set ff to a cookery talk/demo & I was about to set off to view the overall site, but I remembered I had not put up our bunting so I hopped onto the roof to fix it up. I then tripped over myself and crashed off the boat and into the edge of the boat moored alongside, shattering the ball at the top of my right arm ( yes I am very right handed) and ended up in the river. Being the quiet mouse I am my shout was heard by others, I apologised to the members of the Boaters Christian Fellowship alongside, and was helped out. A night in Reading Hospital ( excellent ) and this was followed by us experiencing tremendous help from our friends and fellow boaters. I now have restricted movement in the arm, and have Carol shouting at me whenever she sees me going near the roof! In fairness to her she had a terrible shock that day & didn't know if I was dead or alive for over half an hour.

Monday morning was bright and sunny with patch clouds as we set off at 9.30. We had two locks to pass through on the way to Reading and I had decided it would be a good idea to fill up with fuel. I rang up Caversham Boats to check their price and found it was 85p a litre, so not bad for round the area. The boatyard is situated on Fry's Island in the middle of the river and all access is by boat. There is even a bowls club on the island! I asked how they fill up their fuel tanks and was amazed to hear that they get the filling hose carried over the river from the opposite bank, after stopping boats from passing down that side of the island. We had used 113 litres since leaving Debdale.

On from there through Caversham Lock and we turned right into The Kennet & Avon Canal at 13.30 in bright sunshine. We expected the first lock to be manned, but thought it wasn't as it was lunchtime, it seems now that it is no longer manned. It was actually "birded" with a heron sitting contentedly on the top gates, and unusually reluctant to move, herons usually are very nervous and fly off as you look at them. The lock was pretty and we then turned right into a side loop and moored up alongside "Chocolate Island" opposite new flats where I understand Huntley & Palmers factory used to be.

We decided to stay there that night & set off into Reading plus a bit of Wimbledon watching. The following day, 1st July dawned bright and sunny and with a good forecast and we set off fairly early and were a little concerned about the rate of flow through the town, reading of the Nicholson Guide warned of some potential difficulties ahead. The first was to get through the narrow centre past the Oracle centre. This is controlled by traffic lights...........on red of course. Our wait was enlivened by watching a chap cleaning windows with a veeeery long pole.

It was interesting passing right through the centre of Reading & then we approached the next lock. It only had a rise of just over a foot and I only opened one gate for Carol to get through. MISTAKE. There was a very strong cross flow from the weir and she did not enjoy the trip. Flows on the Kennet are strong.

Later on this day we met Lady Eleanor from Debdale at Garson Lock. At Theale swing bridge on a fairly busy road we had a car rush across as the barrier was almost down, I wish I'd had the nerve to carry on lowering it & swinging it with him on it!!! We stopped the night at Aldermaston Lock. The bottom gate was very heavy and I was overhanging the water as I stretched out to try to pull it closed. The river/canal is beautiful but care is needed with the flows. The bottom gates so far and some of the top gates have a walkway across on boards at lock height. Where there is nothing there is a toe iron to put your foot in and in many cases quite a height to go up to get onto the gates to walk across. Many of these irons were quite narrow for my foot and were not easily seen to get down from the gate, not my favourite design.

We ate out at a nearby pub. Pretty expensive & not very good. At Woolhampton Lock & swingbridge Carol starred. The cross flow was horrendous and a largish tree was in the water flowing out of the side flow, further restricting maneuvering. She made it in one and her skills were appreciated by the skipper of a trip boat moored above the lock.Much to our delight we shared several locks with another couple on the way to Newbury on Tuesday. We were delighted to see and actually photograph more kingfishers.

We had arranged to stay in Newbury Boat Co for the next week and entry was just above Ham Lock. We went to look at getting in. There was a pretty fast flow past the narrowish entry and we were very unsure how to tackle it. Fortunately Olive & Colin from the marina came & gave advice which was to take the bow rope to a bollard in the entry and then power the stern round against the flow. It seemed to take about 10 minutes to make progress against the flow, but we made it eventually and tied up. It is a pleasant little marina with pretty good facilities and about a mile from the town centre.

We stopped here for a week to look after our 3yr old grand daughter Annabel, and collected our car to facilitate entertaining her. We survived but are now enjoying a day of rest!