Monday, 30 September 2013

Collision and breakdown on Caen Hill!

Sunday 29th September

Up early for a cooked breakfast to fortify us for Caen Hill.  Pulled pins before 9 and approached the first of the Devizes locks soon after 10, after negotiating the canoe club’s many craft;

too  many canoes

A pair of boats was just starting down and we pulled in to wait with Tony and Jann on Kyakatina with whom we spent the rest of the descent.  There were no boats coming up, so Jann and I had to turn every lock but we soon got a good system working and reached the top of the flight without incident as the first boat came up. 

view from the top of caen hill flight

A little further on a coping stone had been dislodged some time ago when two boats had got wedged in one of the narrower locks, so boats had to enter and leave the lock singly.  Kyakatina left first, passing a single boat coming out of the next lock, and Dave was just straightening up to leave as it approached at some speed and tried to enter the lock before he could get out of the way.  The guy on the bank was waving to her and mouthing ‘slow down’ but she crashed into Chuffed amidships and forced it into the lock wall. She reversed off but gave no apology as the boats passed.  Idiot.

Worse was to come.  I was locking ahead at this point when there was a sudden whistle, a shout and Jann was frantically dropping a paddle.  I rushed up, assuming the boats were on the cill so dropped the other paddle too – but no, Chuffed was stuck in reverse gear.  Eventually Dave got it into neutral so we could continue emptying the lock, and he and Tony stuck their heads down the engine hole but could see nothing apparently wrong.  But with no forward gear, and two ‘narrow’ locks coming up, we had to haul Chuffed through on the ropes – not difficult apart from slinging the rope under the footbridges – till eventually we could rope the two boats together. 

buddied up now

Dave called RCR then joined the girls as crew.  The pair of boats behind us were catching up now and had plenty of crew to give us a hand.

dave closing a paddle

Meanwhile, Tony did sterling work piloting both boats;

sterling work by Tony

As the RCR engineer was out on another call we carried on rather than stop below the main flight and I took the obligatory photo;

leaving bottom lock of the main flight

We got down to Foxhanger by 4.30 and stopped on the 24-hour moorings.  We bade farewell to Kyakatina – many thanks Tony and Jann, you saved us a lot of hassle! 

The RCR engineer arrived as they left, and quickly diagnosed a snapped gearbox cable.  Luckily we had a spare so it was all quite speedily done. 

broken gear cable

We were astonished to hear that although he is actually based at Foxhanger Wharf, his previous call had been in London, and he lives in Wantage in Oxfordshire.  There are only 7 employed RCR engineers to cover the whole network.

We decided to stay where we were for the night.  A pair of boats pulled up behind us and we had a visit from their gorgeous little kitten;


28 locks, 4 and a half miles.

Foxhanger to Trowbridge

Monday 30th September

We walked up to have a look at Caen Hill Marina where we hope to berth Chuffed for the winter, but as the office doesn’t open till 10 on a Monday we moved on, after another visit from our furry little friend;

little visitor

little visitor 2

We also had a look at the solar panel array which helps to power the pumps that raise the water to the top;

solar panels for the caen hill pump

and the display which says how many kgs of carbon it has saved;

carbon saved

We pulled in at Sells Green to water up in case the water point at Seend was occupied (good decision – it was) then joined Dick and Mary (boat name unknown) for the locks.  We had to stop at Seend anyway for a rather urgent visit to the sanitary station, but Dick and Mary kindly waited for us, letting the kitten’s boat and companion go past, to share the rest of the locks.  They pulled in at the bottom, but not before tipping us off about the Tesco Express a short walk from the swing bridge.  We didn’t quite fit on the little mooring, but it was ok so we went off for supplies and had lunch before moving on.

On the way to Hilperton we spotted the other ‘Chuffed’ .

another chuffed how dare they

As we passed the hire base, with the hirers just getting their introductions, the rain started and in a heavy shower we moored at the Biss aqueduct and watched the poor hirers go by.  When the rain stopped Dave had a look down the weed hatch and removed some baler twine – the prop has been making a fair bit of noise this afternoon, which is quite worrying, but he will be surprised if the baler twine was the problem.  He went for a stroll and found a much nicer mooring, and as the boat in front had just turned their engine on we pulled pins and moved to a much quieter location just past bridge 169.  It looks as though someone uses it regularly as the grass is short!  We were alone except for a boat a little way back from which an interestingly herbal scent drifted in the damp evening air ….

7 locks, 6 swing bridges, 8 miles

Sunday, 29 September 2013

On our way to Devizes

Saturday 28th September

A chilly morning – out came my woolly hat for the first time this autumn!  We pulled pins before 9 and were soon through the Bruce tunnel and reaching the end of the summit pound at the top of Wootton Rivers locks.  We were speedily down, just avoiding getting a soaking in Heathey Close lock;

Heathey Close lock

We passed Helio who were at the visitor mooring, and bought some onions from the lock cottage before pausing briefly below the lock to dispose of rubbish and pop up to the village hall which has recycling facilities.

We moored at Pewsey around midday – we were expecting the visitor moorings to be much worse than they actually were and managed to get two rings.  We walked down to Pewsey where we bought some cakes in the bakery then walked down to see Alfred the Great;

alfred 2

We set off again after lunch, not able to stop at the service area which had two liveaboards on it (a widebeam and a tupperware) watering up and also enjoying a pint as they waited.  We enjoyed the luxury of the long pound with no locks, catching glimpses of the White Horse, but took no photos.  We are finding this stretch less beautiful or interesting than we expected, we think because the vegetation is so thick and high (except where the nettles and burdock are beginning to die back and go brown) that we can’t see the views.  Looking forward to spring when we’ll be coming back up!  We filled up with diesel at Honeystreet, but decided reluctantly not to stop by the pub as we want to go down the Caen Hill flight tomorrow.  Some stretches seem to be very narrow and we wonder what happens when two widebeams meet;


We stopped at Horton Bridge, a couple of miles short of Devizes, at about 6.  The pub moorings were full so we moored on the decrepit 48 hour moorings.  It had been a long day so off we went to the pub. 

4 locks, 2 swing bridges, 15 miles.

Above Crofton now

Friday 27th September

This was a lovely mooring except for the trains which are ok except when you can’t sleep!  We decided to move to the top of the flight then decide what to do.  We started off taking on water at the awkward water point where we chatted further to the steam roller owner and took some photos.  Two steam rollers had arrived for the steaming weekend and you can just see the smoke coming from the pumping station chimney.

crofton and steam roller



I can’t give you any more info about the steam rollers but they were certainly getting a good polish ready for the weekend;


     As we left the water point we were hailed by a volunteer who had spotted a boat leaving the moorings so we waited for them in the second lock.  We were joined by Helio, which we moored behind last night.  With two crew and the volunteer we fairly sped up the locks.  I had the exciting novelty of a ride on another boat – my first time on a cruiser stern amazingly – and took this picture of Chuffed up ahead;

chuffed from helio

Greg and Lizzie were good company but were moving on at the top so we said goodbye;

goodbye to Helio

We moored up shortly before Wolf Hall bridge.  This is the same Wolf Hall as in Hilary Mantel’s Booker–winning novel about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII.  Unfortunately the manor is hidden in the woods and not open to the public.  The volunteer Chris told us that there is sometimes an unexplained water loss from the summit pound, and he reckons it is disappearing into the tunnel which connected Wolf Hall with Tottenham House the other side of the canal.  The tunnel was in the path of the canal and was cut through during construction.

After lunch we walked down the hill to visit the pumping station.  The boilers were lit last night and are still warming up, but we had the chance to chat to some of the volunteers preparing for the weekend and enjoyed the  visit.  Here is a selection of photos but I offer little explanation I am afraid!  The first is the well at the very bottom;

looking into the well

Dave admires the beams;

crofton beams 2

Some parts which will be working tomorrow ;

crofton works 3

crofton works 4

The firebricks on the boiler were already warm;

getting steamier

and the Honeystreet clock.

honeystreet clock

We walked back up to Chuffed, picking blackberries as we went.  We decided to stay put.  Dave fitted another ceiling light above the table in the latest improvement to the dreadful lighting we had when we first bought Chuffed, and I made a pie with the blackberries and apples from home in our new pie dish bought in Newbury.

6 locks, 1 mile.

Friday, 27 September 2013

A damp trip to Crofton

Thursday 26th September

A wet night but a dry start, though very grey and dull.  We made a quick trip to the cake shop and Tesco, where we got some rubber gloves with this exciting promise –

“Marigold transforms the dullest chore into one with a sense of purpose, pride and deep satisfaction.  We call it the Marigold cleaning glow”. 

Well, who knew?  I am looking forward to cleaning the loo now!

We set off up Hungerford Lock meeting the only boat we saw till after 2 – they had seen us moving from the 48-hour spot by the green and were leaving their 24-hour mooring above the lock to grab it while it was free.  The next thing was the swing bridge by the church – we heard the ringers practising last night as we came back from the pub.  They were good - their practice of a minor method was lovely.  This is more complex than the name ‘minor’ might sound – this link will tell you more if you are interested or you can always visit a tower on practice night (the ringing you hear on a week night is usually a practice session) and most bands will be delighted to show you the ropes!!

Hungerford church and swing bridge

At Hungerford Marsh lock, with the swing bridge across it, we met Kennedy, who was having a short break from looking after his sick girlfriend.  We had a great chat as we worked the lock before he went back to her and on we went.  As we neared Cobbler’s lock a light drizzle started.  The lock cottage is a sad sight, though with great potential for someone.  What is it about empty properties that invites louts to chuck stones?  At least the graffiti was only marker pen.

cobblers lock cottage

The drizzle wasn’t too heavy, though enough for us to get out the brilliant Nicholson Protector which the previous owner of Chuffed had had made – there is one for Pearson’s too, though we don’t use that for navigation.

handy nicholson protector

The locks were relentless in the murk and drizzle.  The K and A was starting to win us over yesterday, with the lovely stretch from Newbury to Hungerford, but now we weren’t so sure!  Except for the locks that had to be left empty they were all against us.  There is a fair bit of work being carried out at some of the locks on sluices and brickwork, so we had help at a couple of locks from CRT guys.  This lovely pair insisted on doing the top gates for us as the mini digger lifting sacks of sand was a health and safety risk for boaters, and the water was a bit shallow where they were working so both gates had to be opened for us to leave.

two lovely crt guys at a lock with works

Here is the work they were actually doing - ;

the rest of the works

There was nowhere to moor for lunch till we got to Great Bedwyn – after 2 by the time we got there, but a wild mooring on the overgrown and saturated banks did not appeal!  We opened the side hatch as the sun was struggling to break through, and were eating as we heard the grunting and growling of a swan outside.  Expecting to hear a series of taps as it tried to attract our attention, we were astonished to hear a violent splashing and the head appeared inside the hatch -

great bedwyn swans

it was furiously treading water trying to get its head inside and was so aggressive that we could barely get past it into the galley!  You can see the water that dripped from its beak as it lunged in.  Dave managed to chuck a bit of bread out to distract them and shut the hatch so we could finish our meal in peace.  They went off then, but as we moved up to the lock after lunch Dave reports that they shot out from behind another boat and gave chase.

Only three locks this afternoon.  We thought one was very slow to fill but it is not surprising when the bottom gates leak this badly – and the lock was only half full!

leaky bottom gates at lock 62

There were at 7 or 8 boats on the move this afternoon – two Bruce Trust widebeams, a couple of private boats with dire warnings about Crofton moorings being full, then luckily a hire boat which had left Crofton, so we were able to get the last space.  It’s a steaming weekend, which explains the congestion.  Dave immediately got to work on finishing fitting the fender eyelet we lost on the Soar;

crofton mooring

There were two steam rollers at the water point area above the lock – they are here for the weekend.  We will have to decide now whether to stick to our schedule or stop for another day!  The Morse control now seems to be behaving itself so that’s one thing out of the way.  Dave has also finished fitting new lights in the saloon so we can see properly to read.

14 locks, 2 swing bridges, 6 miles

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Newbury to Hungerford

Another failed early start – this time we overslept as the mooring was so quiet.  We went up to the shops for supplies and bought a couple of pie dishes in the kitchen shop and didn’t leave the mooring till nearly 11.  At the swing bridge two Slovakian ladies were snapping away, excited to see the bridge in action.  This is my effort;

approaching west mills swing bridge

As we passed the West Mills moorings, nb Laughing Dog slipped her moorings and joined us in the first lock.  With two crew we made good progress, with one or other of us going ahead to prepare the locks until Kintbury where they went on while we stopped for a belated lunch.  Earlier this morning we spotted this unusual boat for sale; the front is carved and apart from the hull the rest appears to be wood panels.

unusual boat for sale

Apart from the bottom gates at Drewett’s Lock, which both needed 2 people to close them, the paddle gear and gates were easy to use, and the top paddles are less fierce than yesterday’s.  Laughing Dog had two beautiful dogs – a collie who nimbly crosses the lock gates and did a lot of stick chasing, and a beautiful lurcher who was kept on the lead as he has a tendency to go hunting the muntjac deer which are common hereabouts.  This photo unfortunately doesn’t show the dogs -

laughing dog ahead

Before they left us at Kintbury we had swapped some apples (from our garden) for a couple of chillies (from the top of her boat).

Dave walked into the village to visit the bakery but unfortunately was too late – it only opens on Wednesday and Saturday mornings – but got some sausage rolls from the butcher.  While we were having lunch the horseboat came through, but as the guy with the horse prepared to lift the rope above the moored boats the horse decided to misbehave so the helmsman released the rope to prevent accidents and had to continue to the lock with the help of a pole.  Here he is fetching the pole as the Kennet Valley slowly drifts to a halt.

horse boat at kintbury

After disposing of rubbish and emptying a cassette we set off again, passing several boats coming down – more boats on the move today.  Our last lock of the day was Dunmill, which has old-fashioned signs  directing crew over the bridge to operate the lock;

dunmill lock nstructions

As we came under Hungerford Bridge and debated whether to moor before or after the lock the decision was made for us by the Morse control jamming.  Dave managed to get us into a mooring and investigated while I got the mop and bucket to clean the outside of the boat – not only were we moored under a tree last night, but the tree also had roosting birds which had been eating ripe elderberries – a bit of a mess!  Dave has applied grease and WD40 where appropriate and we’ll see how we fare going up the lock tomorrow.

This evening, as the rain started, we walked up into the town and had a delicious meal with excellent beer at the Plume of Feathers.

10 locks,1 swing bridge, 8 and a half miles.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Off we go again–Froud’s bridge to Newbury

Monday 23rd September

We arrived at the marina as the sun came out and spent a pleasant afternoon getting some jobs done. The carpet got a good clean with the machine from home (not such a pleasant job), and the brasses shone.

Tuesday 24th September

Here we are at our mooring on a very misty morning;

misty start at frouds bridge

Our plans for an early start didn’t quite materialise, and we finally got away at about 11, hoping that the two kingfishers we spotted as we left were a good omen for the trip.  It was rather foggy, making for an atmospheric cruise.  Here is Wickham Knight bridge looming through the mist;

wickham knight bridge

What is the reason for these strange bricked-up arches at Wickham Knight?

strange bridge

The boat waiting above Woolhampton lock had only just arrived so we went first as the lock was empty – here Dave has taken Chuffed through the bridge past that lovely creeper on the pipe bridge.

leaving woolhampton swing bridge

The next challenge was the Oxlease swing bridge, which wouldn’t budge until I crossed to push from the other side.  Then it wouldn’t close fully unless I went back over again.  The rest of the morning was a regular passage through locks and swing bridges till we moored for lunch below Monkey Marsh lock.  Between Midgham and Colthorp locks CRT had been dredging and were installing piling on the offside as we passed.  We had rather a late lunch at the 48-hour moorings, where the boat with the turf roof was also moored – they have a small push-mower to keep it in trim along with a pair of scissors to keep the edges tidy!  We did wonder about how they stop the roof rusting though.

grass roof boat

As we rose up Monkey Marsh lock, 3 men came along the towpath, and behind me as I opened the offside paddle I heard the shout ‘Warden here, anyone at home?’  They were standing looking into the pillbox, so naturally I asked whether they were pillbox wardens!   no – they, or at least one of them, is a Neighbourhood Warden and looks after this and the other Thatcham pillbox among other tasks.  Twice a week they have to come along to check the pillboxes for drugs paraphernalia.  They have tried to get the entrances barred, as they have been at Hungerford, but with no luck.  I took this photo just before they arrived.

monkey marsh lock

As we came into Newbury we passed the Victoria Park moorings – plenty of room, but Dave had been warned that kids congregate in the park and make a nuisance of themselves, so we went on through Newbury lock with its pretty balustraded bridge and moored just above.

newbury lock and bridge

We went for a stroll round the town to find out where the shops were – delighted to find them so close! as far as the clock tower. 

newbury clock tower

We also spotted this ‘Henry VIII slept here’ plaque halfway along the High Street.  It was a shame that the shop, along with several others, is empty and to let.

here slept henry 8 and first wife

10 locks, 4 swing bridges (1 electric), 7 and a half miles.