Friday 19 March 2021

Lockdown on the Exeter Ship Canal

This time last year we had just failed to have our first cruise of 2020.  It was horribly windy for two days, and without bow thrusters we would have got pinned against the opposite pontoons before we could turn.  We had to be home again soon anyway, and with the towpaths so wet the thought of muddy paws all through the boat if we did go cruising was too much and we went home on the third day.  The Cheltenham Festival had been running a week earlier than this year (probably the first UK super-spreader event) and we were all becoming aware of hand-washing and social distancing, though it wasn’t obvious in the motorway services.  I opined in the blog that it might be better to catch the virus early and ‘get it over with’ – now we know of course that might have turned out very badly.  I’m glad we have had our first jabs though.

We have worked hard to keep our walking going in spite of some rubbish weather.  We went back to the River Otter where we finally saw the elusive Cattle Egret.  If it had a black beak you'd think it was a little egret which we often see on the Severn.

And we have had two trips to the Exeter Ship Canal.  It’s over the 5 miles ‘local’ distance but in both cases we had shopping to do or a delivery to make.  The first one was a trip to buy a sack of dog food and to drop off a birthday present to our little grandson.  We walked on the towpath side rather than the busy cycle track on the opposite bank, so Meg could be off the lead.  There is a canoe-type place at Countess Wear where we parked and there was plenty of activity with kayaks and blow-up paddleboards.  The bascule bridge that allows boats through towards the sea is just round the bend.

There was brilliant sunshine all the way, gleaming off the celandines, the pussy willow and the mature tree twigs.














We passed the Double Locks pub, which was closed of course.

Double Lock is big.  The top gates are open.

Our second trip was again on a lovely day.  I had cycled an old bike into Exeter on the cycle path to donate to a charity there, and Dave drove in with some other bike bits surplus to requirements.  The cycle track passes on the landward side of the still closed Double Locks,

and the swing bridge where the only road access to the pub crosses the canal.  The workers are repairing the wall.

Once I’d found Dave, we didn’t walk far – our little grandson just happened to be around with his Daddy so we enjoyed a slow stroll around the quay and the docks.  There were plenty of boats to be seen, but there are no narrow-boats on this canal.

Most were out of the water.  They spend their summer moored on the Exe Estuary or somewhere else with salt water, but all come up to the canal basin in the autumn for safety.  When they go back, there will be hold-ups at Countess Wear where the bascule bridge is lifted – I’d love to know how many cars they hold up, it’s a major road!  The closest to our sort of boat was a beautiful Dutch barge, which is on the other side of the basin in the photo above.  I couldn’t get close enough for a decent photo (this is zoomed in a fair bit) as the hard standings are not really open for the public.

Some of the boats were having their bottoms scraped and done with whatever anti-fouling they use these days, thankfully no longer the toxic-to-wildlife TBT.  But much more interesting than boats was a van with a compressor running and men in hi-vis …

What's going on here?

A diver was just being helped out of the water, where he had been clearing the silt from the top gates of the lock out to the river Exe.  It would have been a big job and the compressor was driving the air jet he was using.

He was in the full gear, with a helmet and air supplied through a line.  In the foreground you can see a recovery stretcher.  For safety’s sake, there have to be two people on the bank as well as another diver at the ready (you can see his foot at the back of the van!) in case the one in the water gets into trouble and needs to be rescued, hence the stretcher.  As you can imagine, the river deposits a great deal of silt during the winter floods.

                                                                                Top gates 

It was great to be out and about round a canal again, but even if all goes well we are unlikely to make it back to Chuffed for another month.  Though if you saw the Quay that morning you would be forgiven for imagining lockdown had ended.

 Lockdown? What lockdown?

Quite a few miles walked or cycled, 2 locks (to the river and Double Lock), 2 swing bridges, Forever Summer.