Wednesday 23 April 2014

Easter Sunday, Froud’s Bridge and a thunderstorm

Sunday 20th April Easter Day

The forecast was pretty poor and the day dawned grey and gloomy so we were on our way by 9 to get as far as we could before the rain started.  There were only 2 boats on the move this morning, unlike yesterday which was pretty busy.  From a distance these looked like china ornaments – all lying down, so it’s going to rain …

like china ornaments but all lying down in the rain

As we passed through Thatcham’s deserted industrial units these flowering cherries provided an incongruous sight;

more incongruous cherries

We approached Colthrop Lock as the rain began and it was heavy with thunder and lightning for a while.  A cheery cyclist wished us ‘Happy Easter’ and a laughing group of walkers waved as we passed in the pouring rain.  Luckily the rain eased off as we approached Woolhampton.  The moorings were pretty full, but we hadn’t planned to stop and went to check out the river flow - quite fast - while the lock was filling.  Dave planned his strategy, which worked well.  This photo doesn’t really show the speed of the river between the lock and the bridge. 

rushing to woolhampton bridge

I only held up one van at the bridge; the occupants got out and seeing that Chuffed was over 50 yards away, got back in their van and reversed to turn round, but by the time they were done, Dave was through and I was closing the bridge!  Here is Chuffed racing through.

racing through the bridge

The flow was so strong that he couldn’t get over to the landing and I had to walk down to Wickham Knight footbridge before I could – just about - get back on.  We arrived at the marina at lunchtime and spent the afternoon on the service wharf as the rain poured down, before moving onto our mooring as the sun came out at 6.30.

7 locks, 5 swing bridges, 6 miles

Monday 21st April Bank Holiday Monday

Dave was away before 9 to get back down to Caen Hill and collect the car, getting back in time for lunch.  We got on with various jobs for a couple of hours before packing up and going home.  I took the cratch cover off and cleaned it; it’s beginning to show its age but should be good for this year at least. 

We left the marina soon after 6, and had a straightforward and trouble-free journey home down the A303, unlike the hundreds of families crawling back to London on the other carriageway.

Our plan is to be back in a couple of weeks to go down the Thames to London, but we’ll have to see what the rivers are doing.  CRT are still recommending that even experienced boaters don’t risk going through Reading yet.  Seeing the flow at Woolhampton we were surprised that the hire boats at Aldermaston were sent out this weekend, though nobody had had problems going upstream.

Here’s hoping for some dry weather!

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

Sunday 20 April 2014

More rubbish internet signal and a canoe race!

Thursday 17th April

We set off around 9.30 in a freezing wind but bright sunshine.  We needed bread so we stopped at Great Bedwyn, making sure to moor near the lock, well before the visitor moorings as we had heard such awful reports of the congestion caused by overstaying liveaboards.  In the event the visitor moorings were deserted and there was no problem at all.  Anyway, we crossed at the lock bridge and took the footpath over the railway and up to the village past the church.  Great Bedwyn is another fantastically pretty village.  We wonder what the property prices are?  Our internet signal has been so poor we have no idea!  Anyway, we bought some bread, cake and a pasty in the bakery (which has recently changed hands) and got some milk and dog food in the post office where we took the obligatory photos -

stone museum 1 

stone museum 2

I do seem to be having trouble getting my camera straight and level.  The Stone Museum is sadly now closed – when I finally got a decent internet signal I found that the Post Office is now on the site but some of the stones have been retained on the Post Office wall

The church was still there of course, with its unusual tower parapet.

great bedwyn church

After lunch we moved on, intending to moor below Oakhill Down lock, but there was a cruiser moored there with the noisiest generator we have ever heard on the canal so we went on down Froxfield Middle lock and found a delightful mooring – on armco too!  Though we could still hear that generator when the wind was in the right (wrong) direction.

We were relieved to stop today as many of the locks were pretty tough – heavy gates, stiff paddles, or both! but we got on with some jobs – Dave touched up the blacking on the towpath side and I cleaned the window channels and drain holes on that side too.

9 locks, 3.5 miles

Friday 18th April  Good Friday

Another chilly start but plenty of sunshine as well as the cold wind.  We got going by 9 as we wanted to get to Hungerford before the canoes – today is the first day of the Devizes to Westminster canoe race.  The derelict cottage at Cobbler’s Lock is still a sad sight but the Clematis montana is surviving  – you can just see the first flowers on the right above the window.

clematis clings on at cobblers lock

The bywash below the lock was very fierce and Dave needed a lot of power to keep Chuffed straight. 

fierce bywash at picketfield

We moored above Hungerford lock in time for lunch, just by the canoe race checkpoint.  It was being manned by the scouts, who also had a cake stall and bacon butties for fundraising – great cakes!  The first canoes were expected by the time we moored, but the start of the race had unfortunately been delayed by 2 hours (it should have been 7:30).  A body had been found in the canal and they had to wait for the police to finish before the race could be started.  Today was the civilians – they get to Newbury today, somewhere on the Thames tomorrow and finish on Sunday.  There were many teenage crews as well as adults.  Eventually the leaders came by -

leading civilian canoe

I walked Meg up as far as Cobbler’s Lock and took photos there and at Hungerford Marsh lock;

poratge 2 at hungerford marsh

portage 3 at hungerford marsh

portage 4 at hungerford marsh

We went back to Hungerford Church swing bridge to meet Dave and watch the canoes going underneath -

hungerford church swing bridge 1

hungerford church swing bridge 2

In the evening we went to the Plume of Feathers where we had a lovely meal last year, but unfortunately it was rather mediocre this time.

4 locks, 2 swing bridges, 2 and a half miles

Saturday 19 April 2014

A good walk, good beer and on to Crofton

Tuesday 15th April posted Saturday 19th as we watch the Devizes to Westminster Canoe race.

On to All Cannings.  After a stroll into Devizes for some bread we pottered along gently to moor at All Cannings for lunch.  There were a few canoeists at the Wharf and we spotted this notice -


Interesting because this year’s race starts next Friday morning and the competitors should be passing us on their way to Newbury.  There were quite a few boats out today – several hire boats from Hilperton and Bath making their way back to Caen Hill and private boats too.  We saw a kingfisher, our first ducklings (13 little bumblebees) and some tiny moorhen chicks.

moorhen chicks

There was a space on the 48-hour moorings at All Cannings so we moored there for lunch.  It was such a peaceful spot we decided to stay put.  We needed some milk so we took the long way to All Cannings village – via Honeystreet.  We walked along the towpath, past the pub and the boatyard, to find the memorial to the airmen who died in the wartime plane crash at Alton Barnes.  You get to the memorial from a stile opposite the winding hole into the field.  It’s a bit covered in lichen but very poignant.

air crash memorial

There was a training airfield here though we couldn’t see where it had been.  I found a blog online where the writer was visiting, investigating and photographing all the pillboxes and other artefacts from the war, and he described ‘anti-tank cylinders’ at bridges – this is what I think he was talking about;

anti tank cylinders

It is bridge 123, close to the memorial, with what looks like a pillbox on the far side. 

We walked back to the pub at Honeystreet for a refuelling stop and to check out the crop circle pictures;

crop circles

It is relief to know someone is keeping an eye on ……… something or other – not entirely sure what though.captain croppie

After a couple of refreshing pints of ‘Croppie’ in the garden we set off again and took the path to All Cannings along tracks and lanes.  It wasn’t well signposted but we made it ok through bright fields of oilseed rape, winter wheat with larks singing above, and past a pig farm – a huge barn with artificial light inside and a lot of squealing.  It sounded grim and we hoped they were just being fed, but we’ll stick to free range outdoor pork thank you.  We stopped in the little shop for milk and made it back to Chuffed at about 6.  I had meant to wash the cratch cover today but that’ll have to wait.

6 miles, 2 swing bridges.

Wednesday 16th April

We made up for a lazy day yesterday with a longer day today.  It was pretty cold as we set off – it was quite cloudy to start with and the wind was freezing, so it was out with the fleeces again.  We paused at Gibson’s for diesel – all their hireboats were out – and on we went.  We had much better views of the White Horse than on our trip last summer – I took this picture yesterday from the towpath.

white horse

The sun was shining on Pickled Hill at the perfect angle to show the terrace remnants of Celtic and mediaeval cultivation.

pickled hill terraces

At Wilcot we passed under the miniature suspension bridge.  It is the only one left of its type according to Nicholsons’s.  The sun was out again by now but there is a long stretch of woodland casting deep shadow past here so it was back on with the fleeces.

mini suspension bridge

We stopped at Wootton Rivers for lunch, then up the locks to the tunnel, which was clear and dry.  We descended the locks to Crofton in warm sunshine with only a couple of problems.  The first was we had to turn all the locks, as the bottom paddles have to be left up and the gates had usually blown open too. The second was that Meg took her second dip into the canal.  The first was at Devizes, where she got distracted as she trotted along the edging of the moorings and missed her footing; the second was at the first of the Crofton locks, though thankfully I hadn’t started to open any paddles.  Still a bit of a panic, though she didn’t seem to be worried in the slightest.  We think she was trying to get a drink.  Anyway, on went the lead for the rest of the way down, and I tied her up to the metal handrail on the lock beam to keep her away from the edge.

We stopped towards the lower end of the Crofton moorings, and after a cup of tea walked up to Wilton village with the dog.  It is an inordinately pretty village, with a duckpond -

wilton duckpond

a windmill – the picture is zoomed and cropped, as it was a long way up the hill and we were thirsty!

wilton windmill

and a lovely dog-friendly pub serving beer straight from the barrel.  We didn’t stay to eat, though it looked good – Meg is doing well, but still learning how to behave in pubs.

10 locks today, 12 and a half miles.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Lots of work but great to be out again

Not much luck with internet access so we are a bit behind with our posting….

Sunday 13th April

Finally on the water again!  We’ve been waiting for the Kennet to go down as well as various commitments at home, and arriving at the marina in glorious sunshine was the icing on the cake.  We didn’t go far to start with – we thought we’d better give Meg a walk before shutting her in for a couple of hours so we just went round to the mooring below the start of the Caen Hill locks opposite Foxhangers and walked her up to the bottom of the main flight.  Two boats had already started up the bottom 7 locks but we could see there would be room at the waiting area below the main flight, so we started up as soon as we got back.

locks below the flight

We got a good system going, locking ahead where the locks were closer together, and arrived at the pound below the flight to moor as bloggers Qisma were finishing the flight.  We had been following their blog as they had been stuck at Newbury waiting for the Kennet to subside, so we moored on the waiting area and went back for a quick chat. There still seem to be lots of live-aboards apparently overstaying on the visitor moorings – we hope there’ll be room to moor when we need to.

We took poor fed-up Meg out for a blast up Caen Hill – over the bottom footbridge to the wide grassy slope beyond the side pounds.  It was fabulous in the late afternoon sun. 

fun on caen hill

We’ll have to give her a good walk before we set off tomorrow as she’s not lock-savvy yet and will have to be shut in.

Here is our mooring for the night, taken from the bottom of the flight:

moored in the waiting area

Half a mile, 7 locks and lots of lovely sunshine.

On Monday 14th April we continued up to Devizes, in glorious sunshine.

I took Meg out for a good early walk as she would (supposedly) be spending the morning inside and we were ready to go soon after 9.  There was an interesting notice by our mooring (interesting for pedants anyway!).  But a good sentiment from people who are often blamed for the rubbish along the canals.

notice by canal

Dave opened the bottom lock and we motored in, and were joined shortly afterwards by a lovely family on the Anglo-Welsh boat that arrived yesterday evening after the lock gates were padlocked.  Their boat ‘Bradbury’ turned out to be the one used by Tim ‘n’ Pru in the recent TV series and sounded much better than the boats we had in our hiring days! 

bradbury - tim n prus boat

Sara and Duncan, with their two teenagers Ella and Freddy turned out to be very experienced and we went flying up the flight, even more so when their friends arrived to help!  There was only one hitch, at lock 41.  The resident swans have nested on the offside between the lock and the side pound, so that lock is single-usage only for the time being!

nest at lock 41

The lock was supposed to be closed for the repair of the coping stones which had become dislodged last year – we saw the work had started when we walked up a few weeks ago -

coping stones

but the work had to be abandoned as the swans were upset by the tarpaulins flapping in the wind.

swans delay repairs

We made good time after that, though Meg got bored and thought it was very unfair that ‘Bradbury’s’ dog was allowed out on the stern, so we relented and I took her off (on the lead) once we were past the swans.

The time from leaving this morning till clearing the top lock below the Wharf was under 3 hours, even with the swan-related delay.  We moored opposite the brewery, while ‘Bradford’ went on towards Honeystreet.

bye bye bradford

It was great meeting you – thanks for all your help!

After a relaxed lunch we left Meg on the boat and went off for some supplies.  We had hoped to visit the canal museum, but it was closed today for lack of volunteers.  We spent the rest of the day generally lazing about with the occasional dog walk – lovely in the sunshine after the rotten winter we had.

22 locks, 2 miles and more fabulous sunshine.