Sunday, 21 March 2010


Whilst allowing time for Andrew to do his weekly shopping from home, Mike set about adding some sealant around the sink to see if this would cure the wet patch in the cupboard. This proved a little trickier than expected and afterwards he fitted the two new lights in the bathroom - which was much simpler. Meanwhile, Christine did some of the packing and cleaning ready for the return home tomorrow.

Shortly before midday we set off expecting to meet up with Andrew, cycling along the towpath before very long. It was a pleasant day - we had been right to do the car swap yesterday in the rain.

At one point the the canal becomes a bit broader and the bridge is more ornate. It is said that the bridge was specially designed by Rennie for the lady who owned the land and wanted some landscaping in return for allowing the canal across her land.

The Wolds make their appearance along the northern edge of the Vale of Pewsey - today we could see not only the white horse (dating from Victorian times we are told) but also quite a number of paragliders sailing over the crest of the hills.

After a while, we regained mobile signal and discovered that Andrew's bike had broken and he was slowly pushing along a muddy towpath. We eventually met up with him at All Cannings Bridge where we also moored up for lunch.

More boats were on the move today and we passed around six in the afternoon - only a flotilla of canoes passed us whilst we moored before setting off.

During the final run in to Devizes, Mike put sealant on the other kitchen fitment. Late afternoon we arrived at Devizes Wharf. Unfortunately there are only 72 hours visitor moorings, but we sussed out suitable places just away from the wharf area. Before finally mooring for the night we reversed up to the water point to empty the elsan and dispose of rubbish (it was occupied when we arrived earlier). Meanwhile, Andrew took his bike back home.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Fetch the car

It was forecast wet all day so we opted to fetch the car from Lower Heyford today, hoping for better weather tomorrow. Andrew had left his car in Pewsey (where he caught the train to reading last Sunday) which we collected and drove up to Oxford. We called at Homebase to check out possible alternative lights for the bathroom which might be less susceptible to dampness. Nothing here but we did pick up some sealant for the kitchen.

On then to Oxford Caravans near Thame where we opted for a couple of fittings that take bulbs and which can be fitted proud of the ceiling if we chose.

Lastly we headed up to Lower Heyford where we had bacon and brie baguettes at Kizzie's for lunch. Then it was back down with both cars to Devizes. We left our car at Andrew's house whilst we all used his to return to Pewsey with sufficient time to move the boat about ten minutes down the canal - hoping to find a spot where we could received satellite tv but had to settle for a place behind the trees!

Friday, 19 March 2010


The first day so far with real rain, although for the second half of the morning it was only a very light drizzle. By the end of the day, however, it was persistently wet!

We began the day with some maintenance, after moving up to the visitor moorings above the first lock. The rear doors needed yet another attempt to find the right thickness of mounting for the bolts. We came prepared and this time they were just about right. Mike also gave the doors another coat of varnish. Meanwhile, Andrew sorted out some of the lights.

Christine and Andrew went to take a look at Crofton Pumping Station - not much more to see than last night but with better light they could see where the feeder channel runs from the pumps to the top lock further up the canal.

Late morning we set off and continued up the remaining six locks of the Crofton flight to reach the summit pound. Immediately there we moored up for lunch, during which the real rain arrived. There seemed to be very little water being pumped up to the summit and, as a result, this and the long 15 mile pound to Devizes were very low.

After passing through the summit tunnel we arrived at the four locks going down to the Devizes pound - seemed quite strange to be descending after having been ascending all the way from Reading.

Christine wisely retreated to the cabin for the afternoon - making the evening meal amongst other things. Mike and Andrew were decidedly wet through by the time we reached Pewsey Bridge. Here we used all the usual services - moored alongside a couple of boats where the family in one were 'moving house' to the other which they were renting whilst theirs went for a refit. (We had seen several notices alongside locks where they had been advertising for a boat to rent)

Time then to moor up for the night but the shallow pound did not make it easy - the plank only just bridged across to the bank!

Thursday, 18 March 2010


Although we had planned only to visit the paper shop before setting off, Christine had a little list, so Mike and Andrew went over to Tesco to stock up on the few items required to keep us going.

On the outskirts of Hungerford, the parish church is alongside the canal - said to be the furthest east church built from Bath stone - looks in better condition that those parts of Truro cathedral affected by the salt air.

After the previous largely river sections, to be on 'proper' canal seemed quite a relief - the scenery was slightly different as well. At one lock, a swing bridge is built across the lock chamber itself. At least one other we saw later was built in the same way but in that case the bridge had been removed apart from its support base.

We stopped at Great Bedwyn for the full range of usual services. The church alongside the canal is a striking cruciform shape with a stocky, ornate tower.

A little later we were at the bottom of the Crofton flight. Since boaters are not supposed to moor in the flight, we were looking for a bank-side mooring just before the bottom lock but it was all very shallow. In the end we gave in and moored up on the lock landing - after all, we had seen only one other moving boat all day.

After tea and hot cross buns, Mike and Andrew decided to take a closer look at the pumping station that keeps the summit pound full - there are no reservoirs on this canal. By now it was beginning to drizzle - the first rain we have had since we set off! As luck would have it, another boat came along to go up the flight and pointed out that there were official 48 hr moorings in the next (short) pound! Even more to our surprise there was a further boat coming down the flight.

The pumping station was closed until Easter and the footpath access under the railway was closed so we walked on to the next bridge and around by the road, coming back to the boat over Crofton Crossing (over the railway).

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Newbury to Hungerford

We had moored in the centre of Newbury so that we could go to the Post Office with the control panel to be returned to the manufacturer. Andrew and Mike set off to do this first thing and called also at Sainsbury for some more milk and to replace some of the boat's mugs which have been broken since they were originally bought. A different range of colours but matching ones were found. They also returned with some hot cross buns!

Although it was a greyer day, for the most part, it was also relatively warm. We continued the climb through an unceasing succession of locks. The first part from our mooring, under Newbury Bridge to Newbury Lock was rather a challenge to our engine which had to work flat out to make progress against the stream in a narrow channel. At one point it seemed as if we would have had a forced stop at a canal-side coffee shop!

The stretch up to Hungerford is constantly changing from canal to river with some of the locks having strong cross current at the entrances. Never a dull moment!

The canal was a strategic defence line during the last war and former pill boxes are still to be seen at frequent intervals.

We spotted a good visitor mooring in the centre of Hungerford and opted to take it - then we went for a walk along the town's main street. It is still possible to see how it was once an important coaching town, although today most of the shops are selling antiques or designer clothes!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


We began by filling up with diesel at Reading Marine, the boatyard next to the Visitor Centre where we moored. As a result we had a long chat about the woes of boatyard ownership as it is about to be taken over having had to decide that it could no longer continue independently. We also stopped just after the lift bridge for Elsan disposal.

The section up to Newbury is generally very pleasant - the nearby railway does not create too much disturbance. For quite a few of the locks we were in the company of another boat which had just come down from Northamptonshire, via the Thames, which had proved quite a trial as there had been Red Boards and a stoppage to contend with.

Andrew contacted Sterling Power about the battery monitor by email and they advised that it will need to be returned to them. So, over lunch, we removed it from its mountings and disconnected the wiring. In so doing we found interesting things!

The afternoon continued as bright as the morning and we made our way up to Newbury. At Greenham Lock, Christine spotted a passer-by in a Sainsbury's uniform so obtained detailed instructions on how to find the store!

Mooring: we tried first opposite Newbury Marina but were surprised that although the bank was recent and good piling as an edge, it was very shallow so we went onto the river section and moored in the official place at the park, below the next lock. At least it is convenient for shopping and finding a Post Office in the morning.

Monday, 15 March 2010


After several days of early starts and lunch-on-the-go, today was a chance to be a bit more laid back! Andrew walked to the nearest (well, not that near in the event - mobile phone info systems are not always entirely accurate!) Morrisons for a newspaper and returned with a bag of croissants as well.

Somewhat after ten o'clock, we eventually set off and soon found that the river current would be slowing down our rate of progress for some time yet. It was, as forecast, a warm spring day and we progressed through a succession of locks, swing bridges, river and canal cuts. The locks, being wide, can be quite vicious, requiring at least a bow rope tether to avoid too much banging about in the lock. (Remember, we are going up hill at this stage)

Much of this stretch has former gravel pits on either side - at times it feels as if we were passing along an embankment through the middle of a lake.

When we stopped for lunch we took quite a good break during which Andrew managed to restore the link between the Ipaq and the laptop, also showing how his mobile phone could act as a replacement for the Ipaq - we were planning to do this in time for the start of the season but Andrew has persuaded us to wait for the next generation of HTC phones, out soon. A newspaper article today highlighted some of the issues.

Some of the locks were originally turf-sided and vertical steel guides have now been added to assist in operation. Other locks have an unusual scalloped profile.

We stopped at Tyle Mill for all of the usual services - helpful as the guide book indicated only water and rubbish. The swing bridge above the lock is mechanised - the first of several along here which gives us the pleasure of stopping the traffic! One swing bridge not mechanised reminded us how difficult they can sometimes be when not properly maintained.

One of the old turf locks has been replaced by a more conventional shape with steel piled edges. The old lock can still be seen ahead of the new one.

It seemed a little uncertain where we might find a good mooring as we approached Aldermaston but Christine went ahead from the first lock and chatted to a man from the boat yard who gave us permission to moor overnight at the Visitor Centre mooring - we were only the second boat he had seen moving today!

Sunday, 14 March 2010


Another beautiful morning as we set off, stopping shortly afterwards at the water point above Cleeve lock to fill up as there are no other points available today. Into the lock and we were on our way, planning to reach Reading in time to meet with Andrew who was arriving by train at 13:43.

All went well through Goring and the long reach to Pangbourne - we saw now moving powered boats almost the whole way, just three scullers as we set off.

Arriving at Whitchurch Lock, a fisherman in a small dinghy was attempting to empty the lock in order to come up. Somehow he had managed to confuse the automatic mechanism which stubbornly refused to recognise that both sets of sluices were closed. A call to the Environment Agency promised a lock keeper within the hour and, true to the promise, about 50 minutes later one arrived and quickly reset the system. By this time the fisherman had disappeared elsewhere!

We had lunch on the move - Christine's latest soup based on the carcass remains of the chicken from two days ago - delicious, especially with kazakhstan bread!

By one o'clock we were in Reading and decided to moor alongside Reading bridge as it is closer to the station than the planned meeting point. We contacted Andrew who was at Pewsey, just about to board his train and re-arranged the meeting. Within the hour he was on board and we set off straight away.

After Caversham Lock it was a short distance to the Tesco mooring where we stopped to stock up on food before beginning the 'interesting' cruise up through the Oracle Centre on the River Kennet. The channel is narrow for the amount of water coming down - presumably it was created before the canal was re-opened for navigation. Progress is immediately much slower, with the constant risk of being forced to one bank or the other by the current.

One section is too dangerous for two-way traffic - downstream is especially difficult to control - there are several blind bends as well. A traffic-light system enforces one-way traffic and even landing at County Lock is tricky. The weir - less than a metre drop, is immediately adjacent to the lock and creates swirling currents.

We continued up the winding section to Fobney Lock. The entrance here is complicated by a fast mill stream just at the tail of the lock with the river coming in from the opposite side! As it happened, the bottom gates were open and we could go straight in. The top gates have an interesting latch mechanism - will the others be the same on this canal?

Above the lock we moored for the night. There is some concern about the electrics as the battery monitor display has shut down entirely, although some lights still operate! Life on a boat is never uneventful!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Down the Thames

Up at the crack of dawn and ready for the off just after eight.

It was a delightful, sunny day as we passed through Oxford - the main hazard was to avoid all the rowers!

The journey was uneventful and only a few of the locks were manned - the rest self-service. Below Abingdon on the reach to Culham Cut there were even more rowers out. Just below the main bridge at Abingdon we felt a hard bump which turned out to be an upturned green marker buoy, drifting down river - except that the only part above the water was barely noticeable.

Culham lock was annoying - it said that on public power it takes 20 minutes to fill! (In fact it was over 25) Note: the Thames locks on 'public power', that is when no lock keeper is in attendance, draw the upper paddles slowly in case there is a boat in the lock. For whatever reason, these were designed to be very slow indeed.

Although there was a colder breeze in the early part of the afternoon, towards evening the sun came back and it was still a pleasant pre-spring day.
By the time we reached just above Cleeve lock it was half past five so we decided to find a mooring rather than risk going through the next two locks for the mooring below Goring. However, the bank looked good, but the depth of water was not too great and we needed the gangplank to establish contact with land!

Friday, 12 March 2010

To Oxford

Well - what a three days! As we attempted to start off on Wednesday morning, having moored overnight at Washford Quarry, the engine started and then died, quickly deciding not to do anything at all. A call back to Lower Heyford resulted in a visit from Mitch, the latest engineer to Oxfordshire Narrowboats, ex RN. She established that fuel was reaching the pump but there was a lot of water in the trap.

By lunch time she had not made any progress so went back to base for further advice. She returned after a break and everyone concluded that there must have been a lot of condensation in the tank and the solution was to drain off a few litres, hoping to remove the contamination. Eventually the engine suddenly roared into life, over revving but dying again after a few seconds with no further response.

End of Day one - Mitch promised to return next morning with Chris. He discovered that there was no fuel to the injectors - although Mitch had managed to check this yesterday. By lunch time the general consensus was that the injector pump needed replacing. Back at base we found that a spare part could be obtained from Daventry - the only down-side was the price: around £600! We both set off to collect the part, plus new injectors and a couple of gaskets but by the time we had picked them up, Chris had decided that there was insufficient time to fit them today.

We did a little shopping (mostly unsuccessful!) in Banbury before returning to the boat and another evening on minimal lighting! Bring out the candle again . . .

Next morning, Chris set about fitting the spares. Whilst this was happening, a couple of elderly local men asked for help to get to the other side of the canal! They had hired a young civil engineer to take a few levels for some plans they wanted drawn up for a footbridge. They hope to persuade the local council to pay for it! They wanted to measure a level on the opposite bank as well as measure the width with a rope! Mike took one of them across, punting one end of the boat with the long pole!

After a couple of hours, Chris was ready to fire up the engine and it was with great relief all round when it started - and sounded smoother than before. There was a little fine tuning to do and a quick look to see where the rear leak is coming from, but that problem will have to wait until we are next back at base. By 12:30 we were on the move!

We continued down the Oxford canal - it was generally very pleasant and not quite as cold as it had been, although there was an occasional shower - just minutes after setting off there was even a quick hail storm!

Still hoping to make Reading for Sunday lunch time we had soup and sandwiches on the move and in between locks. Christine made a quick dash to the Co-Op at Kidlington Road Bridge for some milk and returned also with a reduced price chicken - change of menu for tonight!

It was half past five by the time we reached Duke's Cut but we could not find a mooring in that stretch before reaching the Thames itself. This meant going down Kings Lock and we were quickly entering twilight before we found a mooring just above Godstow Bridge, almost where we had planned. (The last time we moored here it was below the bridge)

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Start of Spring

We set off from home just before 8:30 but called in Bodmin for some logs as well as to fill up with diesel. With a quick stop at Taunton Deane (Christine was ready for coffee by this time!) and a very short comfort break at Michael Wood, we arrived at Lower Heyford only a few minutes after 1 o'clock.

Nigel was keen to chat about the work they had done on the boat - as far as we can see all the scheduled work has been completed, including an engine service, new water tank overflow, repairs to leaks from pump and an automatic bilge pump.

Unloading the car did not take long but there were several things to do before we could set off, including putting up the new curtains. However, just after three we were ready to cast off and it took the customary 20 minutes to extricate ourselves from the mooring and to wind so that we could head southwards. We were already quite surprised by how many boats were on the move - perhaps the majority were just out for the day from local moorings, however.

It was rather cold but still very pleasant as we cruised south, passing through a couple of locks before finding a mooring at the old quarry. Despite the lack of a satellite signal - the trees and hill were in the way - it would not have made sense to press on as soon we will enter the River Cherwell although Thrupp would have made a better mooring!

There was sufficient mobile signal to know that Andrew was calling but Mike had to walk up the steps to the quarry itself to get be able actually to talk! Andrew's intervention with BW has meant that the proposed stoppage for bridge maintenance just before Devizes is no longer a problem.

The shepherd's pie which Christine prepared last night had only one failing - we wished there was more, even if it had looked at least sufficient when it was made! Must be something to do with being out in the fresh, but cold, air!