Tuesday, 22 April 2014

To Newbury, and canoes till after dark

Saturday 19th April

We had a leisurely morning – I raised a paddle on Hungerford lock as I went to get the paper and some milk, and Dave was in the lock by the time I returned.  At the next lock we met up with ‘Splash’, who had been at Hungerford yesterday lunchtime, and shared some locks with them.

There were some pretty stretches in the spring sunshine, this little section in particular, though we have left the really lovely section (Devizes to Hungerford, in our opinion) behind now.  These woods were near Dunmill I think.  There were no bluebells though – perhaps they don’t like the chalk – and we really miss the Midland woods with their clouds of blue at this time of the year.

woods no bluebells 2

But there was a crab-apple coming into blossom to make up for it.

crab coming into blossom

Between Wire lock and Brunsden lock I was walking the towpath with Meg and was alarmed to see 2 small breaches in the towpath.  As we approached Brunsden there were two more, much bigger, and I called the CRT emergencies line to report them.  You can see Meg picking her way round on the right in the top picture – she doesn’t like paddling, little wuss!

breach 2 at brunsden lock

breach 1 at brunsden lock

There was a party of walkers in front as I walked but I didn’t think to get a photo of them paddling their way through in their bare feet!  I just sloshed through in my old trainers, having dry shoes on the boat ….  the water was over my ankles. 

Meg is getting on quite well learning safe locking – here we are at Brunsden lock.

meg doing well at brunsden lock

At Kintbury we had to stop to empty a cassette so said goodbye to ‘Splash’.  The water tap is slow here and there was a boat waiting as well as one watering up, so we decided to skip the water and shared the next few locks with a boat from Newbury, who advised us on suitable lunchtime stops.  The first turned out to be too close to a weir – the pull was too strong – but the second was delightful.  As we had lunch, the first of the canoes came by.  It is senior doubles day today and many crews are from the forces.  Yesterday’s crews will finish on Easter Monday, with organised stops (last night’s was in Newbury) but today’s racers will go through the night and finish the race in one go.  The whole distance is 125 miles, with the crews having to carry their craft round all 77 locks – it’s impressive, whichever one they do!

first forces canoe

We paired up with a hire boat from Aldermaston for the locks to Newbury.  They had 7 crew, so I could get away with staying on the boat in Newbury Lock – useful, because the very short lock landing was congested with canoes!  The flow was very strong and we shot round the corner and under Victoria Park bridge in double-quick time. 

The canoeists took advantage of the locks when they could to reduce the portaging distance.

taking advantage of lock for portage

We moored for the night between Ham Bridge and Bull’s lock.  As it’s Saturday on a bank holiday weekend the works on the opposite bank are all silent.  But no rest for the racers – there has been a constant stream of them all afternoon, and into the dusk with their lights bright as the darkness fell.  The last one we saw went by in the pitch dark at 9.30.

A long day today – 14 locks, 1 swing bridge, 10 miles

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