Monday 24 August 2020

A day in dry dock

 Thursday 13th August; Harvington dry dock to Barton Lock

We set the alarm, as we needed to run the engine to top up the batteries before Paul arrived and the dock was drained – non-boaters may not realise that on some narrow-boats coolant runs through a skin tank in the hull and is cooled by the water the boat is floating in.  Not floating – no engine cooling!  Paul arrived by 8 and the dock was drained.  It was quickly apparent that the stock (the 32mm solid steel rod connecting the tiller to the rudder), which should be straight and resting snugly in its cup on the skeg below, was neither straight nor snug.


The bend in the stock (at the top of the picture) prevented it being lifted which is why the rudder could not be replaced in the cup.  We got Meg off the boat before the dock was drained, and the gangplank was put across the gap, with the rubber mats that normally sit on the engine boards to provide grip.  Paul had climbed up onto Chuffed to pass it across, held out his hand and was so confident that I could walk across that I did.  Looks quite scary, doesn’t it?  Well it was, at least the first couple of times.

Paul started using a hacksaw to cut the stock - Dave took his turn too - but eventually had to go and fetch an angle grinder to remove it. I wandered around with Meg, taking photos and watching the fish still swimming in the channels which run round the edge of the dock.  There were some lovely little perch, about 5” long, and a roach or two, though there was too much reflection for a decent photo.  Eventually they found their way through the drain out into the river. 


While Paul was off getting the angle grinder, we went down the iron staircase into the dry dock and shifted the set of steps which we thought might make it easier to get on and off the stern.  But as you can see, it was still a bit of a scramble for a short person like me.

I went off with Meg around the weir island where the dry dock was built.  Nicholson’s, now pretty out-of date, says it has been disused since the turn of the century – though whether it meant 1900 or 2000 I couldn’t say!  But it was drizzling, so after a tour of the fishing pitches we went back under cover.  I cracked the balancing act across the gangplank, Dave preferred the steps, but Meg had to stay ashore – she wouldn’t use either the gangplank or the iron staircase.  Paul returned with the angle-grinder, removed the whole shebang, then drove off again to source a suitable steel rod for a new stock and weld it to the swan’s neck (the curved bit sticking out at the top).  We had lunch and took turns strolling round the area with Meg who, of course, had no idea what was going on.  There were quite a few jobs to be done but we couldn't do anything requiring water or power in case we had to spend another night here.

So, more wandering.  I picked some nice blackberries and noted the ripening elderberries all drooping sadly in the rain.  I have to say I felt like that too.

This lock, along with all the others on the Upper Avon, was rebuilt or restored during the restoration of the navigation.  One of the prime movers was Robert Aickman, and for a while this lock was named after him.  Our Nicholson’s gives alternative names for all the Upper Avon locks which at the time had been renamed in honour of various people donating to or active in the restoration (eg Elsie & Hiram  Billington, WA Cadbury).  Now they are referred to once more by their old names.

Harvington Mill stood on the weir island, and was Grade 2 listed in 1994.  The ruins are almost lost in the jungle and it seems to have been long abandoned.   


There are much better photos and more information here.  Most of the people who visit the island are fishermen, who access the site from a locked gate at the road several hundred yards along a track, and then cross the bridge over the lock to park next to the dry dock.  I wonder if they even notice the old mill as they pass by.  It was gone 4 by the time Paul returned and thank goodness he had managed to get the right sized steel rod and get it all fixed.

It was a two-person job to refit it and make sure everything was straight and true.


I must say we have rarely felt so relieved.  It didn’t take long to put the steps and gangplank back in their places, refill the dock, open the gate and LEAVE!  We were very impressed with Paul’s dedication and thoroughness and will use him when we need work in the future (Paul Aspinall, trading as PA Marine).  He won’t take on work unless his dog can go along, but Alfie is a gorgeous boy and very well behaved.  I think he’s a Siberian Husky.  I am gutted I didn’t think to take a proper photo – this is the best I can do (as Paul closed the gate behind us he was busy scratching his ear!).

One weir tends to look much like another, but we had spent too much time looking at this from the ‘wrong side’ – the fishing pitches - and were glad to be able to photograph it from a moving boat.


We really wanted to moor at Bidford, but at well after 6 pm that was never likely to be possible.  But we did see a young Great Crested Grebe which was some compensation.

We went on to Barton lock instead where there are good moorings.  It was after 8.30 before we sat down to eat.

3½ miles, 2 locks, one excellent engineer with a lovely dog, and a massive sense of relief.





  1. That does look painful, poor Chuffed! Very glad you got sorted ans straightened out. Pip

    1. Thanks Pip, not as painful in the wallet as it might have been as the insurance quickly stumped up!

  2. Just caught up with this Debby - definitely not what you want to happen, but good news that you found such a good and dedicated engineer and that the insurance covered the cost.