Thursday, 29 May 2014

Day out with the girls

As we had parked the car at Bedwyn, today was planned as a say out away from the canal. We had given the girls plenty of information about the options and they had chosen Bowood House, about 30 miles away. However, the forecast was for more rain. Just after breakfast, Andrew rang and suggested Devises Museum as an indoor possibility.

After further discussion the girls opted for the museum - you never know what you may find there (Alice) - as well as Crofton Beam Engines. Also, Christine was not feeling too bright, suffering from the inherited cold. So Mike agreed to take Alice and Jess out for the day to give her a bit of a rest.

We drove to Devizes, parked the car (free as the pay machines were not working), and followed the finger posts to the museum.

We were made very welcome and given a worksheet to follow as well items to find and spaces to stamp. The main subject of the museum was about ancient Britain, from prehistory, stone and iron ages as well as Roman times.

As well as the traditional displays, there were chances to dress up in costumes. Jess was especially impressed with both the Romnan and Saxon helmets. Alice did sterling work reading many of the information panels to the others. She did not even pause a moment when faced with 'paleontologist'.

We spent about two hours there and then searched out a place for lunch. Whilst we waited for our orders to arrive we had some interesting conversations, including not having two 'ands' in  sentence (Jess).

As a result we say carefully that we had tuna melt, soup of the day and ham baguette. They were very tasty and eventually disappeared.

Back to the car (collecting some raspbverties and blueberries for dinner) and drive back through Marlborough to the Crofton Beam Engines museum. These are the oldest working beam engines in the world, still able to do the task for which they were installed.

Unfortunately this was not a steaming day they are quite few- but by the boiler still felt warm where the water is held. Jess put her hand inside the firebox and could feel quite a draught as air is drawn up the chimney.

We climbed up three levels to see the driving level, the huge cylinder heads and,right at the top, the huge iron beams. The older engine dates back to 1812 whilst the Boulton and Watt alongside is from 1846.

The engines pump water up to the summit level from a lake as the canal had serious problems with an inadequate supply from the intended sources. Today the steam pumps have been replaced by electric ones although a few years ago they were needed when the modern ones broke down.

We had tea before leaving including some delicious chocolate cakes -  Jess took a sample back for Granny!

On the way back to the boat we passed Great Bedwyn parish church with its unusual embattled tower. Jess asked if we could take a look and fortunately it was a still open. In the churchyard we also saw a 14C preaching cross.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014


Canal today - Kennet and Avon

The day started as it went on: gray and drizzly, although not especially cold. Before leaving our overnight mooring, Mike and Jess went to Martins to collect today's paper.

The immediate feature was a swing bridge which was not difficult, followed by three locks in quick succession.

Alice and Jess were not keen on being outside at first but later on emerged to help, especially catching ropes as we negotiated into each lock.

At the next set of three locks, Mike was left to bring the boat up and out of the lock whilst the other three walked ahead to set the next.

Mooring is never easy along this canal but there seems to have been no grass or weed cutting this year. In wet weather this guarantees soggy ends to trousers as even the grass around locks is very long. When we saw a possible place to stop for lunch we pulled in, even if one end was unusually out from the bank!

On again and by miud afternoon we arrived at Bedwyn Wharf in Great Bedwyn, next to the railway station. Here we used all of the usual facilities and checked that the car was still where it had been left a few days ago.

We had hoped to moor as close to the wharf as possible so that tomorrow we can take a trip by car. Alice has been looking at some of the options via the internet. However, the two boats that arrived just as we were about to leave our lunch stop had taken the last two spaces on the visitor moorings.

We tried to come alongside before the next lock, just beyond the wharf but could not get close enough. Instead we went up through the lock and found a place just beyond. Even so it was necessary tohacnk through very tall weeds!

Xx miles - 10 locks

Tuesday, 27 May 2014


Canal today : Kennet and Avon

It was a very but dry day as we set off. The cuckoo was still around for a little while.

Christine and the two girls walked between the first two locks, looking at all the wild flowers - and the many slugs out after the rain yesterday!

Few boats were on the move today but we still seemed to have most of the locks against us.

We made full use of the services at Kintbury - the last water point was at Tyle Mill so it too some time to fill up.

After a further lock we pulled in just after the lock landing to have our lunch. Eggy bread seemed popular today. Must have seen Mike secretly cooking some yesterday!

The towpath above Brunsden Lock is in poor condition with several sections eroded sufficiently to allow a continuous steam of water to escape from the canal. Let's hope that this is not another breach in the making.

As we were ready to resume cruising, the restored work boat came up the lock and we went through the next couple of locks together. The boat was originally built in 1930's as a standard 70 foot boat but was later shortened by BW and a longer cabin added. The family on board live aboard a wide beam boat at Rickmansworth but use this one for trips away from base.

We stopped at Hungerford Wharf so that we could do some shopping. The main street is adjacent to the wharf bridge.

After returning to the boat with fresh supplies we ascended the nearby lock. This lock appears to have had recent extensive renovation as well as new gates which fit extremely well.

By now a light drizzle had arrived and was now giving the impression of hanging around for some time so just above the lock we moored for tgenighgt in a convenient space on the visitor mooring, complete with rings.

Xx miles - 8 locks

Monday, 26 May 2014

Newbury and Pickletimber

Canal today : Kennet and Avon

After the wonderful sunshine yesterday, today was totally different. It was raining when we awoke and stayed that way pretty much all day.

As a result, Christine, Alice and Jess opted to stay inside most of the time - Alice had a pile of books to plough through.

The day's cruising began with another swing bridge which, unusually, proved exceptionally difficult to move. Made it in the end!

The route towards Newbury is rural and generally pretty, following the river once the navigation left the Long Cut. Each time we came back into the river above each lock, our speed over the ground dropped dramatically - the rain has done nothing to reduce the rate of flow.

Just below Greenham Lock we spotted a large Tesco store, a little closer than the Sainsbury we had planned to visit for the usual top up supplies. As the back was quite soft and we were not confident in leaving the boat in case a passing boat pulled out the mooring pins, just Christine and Jess went. They came back with more than planned including some strawberries for dinner.

We stayed moored for lunch, which included the sausages rolls which Jess had requested.

A little further we came to Newbury Marina. The only CRT facility is rubbish disposal. Water would have been £4 (even more for hire boats!) so we passed on that but did stump up £2 for the elsan disposal!

There were plenty of free mooring spaces all through Newbury, a contrast to our last visit four years ago when we had a bit of difficulty finding somewhere.

Newbury Lock is another challenge, although the river flow through the narrow section just below meant that we approached rather slowly. The lock landing is not easy to spot until the last moment, taking care over a strong flow from both right and left.

A couple of onlookers were keen to help which gave Christine a chance to do some more instruction.

This lock was the start of the canal link between the older Kennet and Avon river navigations. Some pieces of old tram tracks. And a puzzling notice are attached to the walk beside the lock, but, dear reader, you will have to come back here in the future to see any pictures.

Above the lock is a swing bridge which a few cars use to access the houses beside West Mill. Alas, one arrived just after Christine - and her two helpers - had closed the barriers. The wait was even longer as two boats came the other way after we had passed. The controls for the bridge are unusually hidden behind a small locked door in the power cabinet.

Mike was left much to himself through the next three locks. Once into a routine the locks proved quite straightforward (won't say 'easy' as that might tempt fate for tomorrow's locks!) although two had to be left empty.

Shortly after Benham Lock we found a possible mooring spot - there were several other boats here already - and we had seen very few just before. Although we had to deploy the gangplank again, we were closer to the bank than last night, but reeds and weeds made it impossible to come close enough to step on and off.

Xx miles - 7 locks

Sunday, 25 May 2014


Canal today : Kennet and Avon

Before we set off Mike was instructed to pack up the non-finctional laptop, but he did conclude that it is probably repairable - if you know what you are doing, which he clearly does not!

While he was doing that the other three walked back to the lock and bridge to dispose of the latest rubbish bag. They discovered that they last boat through was held up because they bridge would not close properly and release their key. At least it was shut enough to walk over. We later received a stoppage email confirming that out would take all day to fix.

The weather today was much better that the past couple of days and remained sunny and warm throughout. In places there was a sharp wind but by lunch time extra layers obf clothes were discarded.

Our cruise today was a long success in of locks and swing bridges with rarely more than a few minutes between each. The first swing bridge was not far and Mike and the girls walked, passing through some delightful meadows with lots of different flowers.

Most of the bridges are mechanized so Alice was able to work several of them. Just a couple were manual. The second was well maintained and Jess could do most of the opening and shutting as well removing and replacing the large screw and chain qused to restrain the bridge in place.

We called at the ABC base at Aldermaston Wharf where we replaced our empty gas cylinder.

The bridge just after the wharf is a lift design and carries a lot of traffic. Even today we held up about 30 cars in each direction!

We shared most locks today mostly with a boat that was on its way to Pewsey - it had been bought in the autumn in Tamworth.

Just before Froud's Bridge we managed to moor for lunch. It is not easy to find casual mooring spots on this navigation.

The swing bridge and lock at Woolhampton is always quite a challenge as a fast flowing river joins immediately below the lock and creates a difficult cross current. Boats coming upstream have to moor just below the bridge and to set the the lock before opening the bridge. Once there is a clear run a to the lock it is best to make forward at best speed, turning into the lock just at the last moment. Can be quite hairy and scary for the inexperienced. Not sure what the hire boats make of it!

Monkey Marsh Lock is the other of the old turf locks but is better adapted than the one we encountered yesterday, with two access platforms on each side.

Just above this lock we moored. Not ideal as we had to deploy the gangplank to get between bank and boat. Not often that we have to do this.

Time soon for the roast dinner which Mike and Jess had been working on through the last few locks and bridges.

Xx miles - 8 locks

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Tyle Mill

River Kennet

After Mike had been back to Tesco for a paper and some olive oil, we set off. Overnight it had been raining steadily and continued off and on most of the morning. We left the overnight mooring well before ten and quickly turned into the River Kennet.

It was immediately apparent that the river was still flowing well and, even with the throttle well open, we progressed over the land no faster than on the Southern Oxford!

The first lock, Blake's, is still part of the Environment Agency waters and has typical Thames paddle mechanisms, which work smoothly. A boat arrived from the other direction and confirmed that County Lock was indeed open. (We never did get a call back from CRT). A second boat had joined us coming through Blake's.

The section through the Oracle Center is narrow, twisty and fast flowing, even on a good day. As a result there are traffic lights to control one-way operation. We pulled in to the push button stand and allowed the other boat to pass before we set off - with the river pushing us into the side this might have been tricky.

The weir at County Lock was flowing well and there was no great rise - at least we could see the lock. About a month ago it was overwhelmed by the amount of water flow. The first boat prepared the lock and moved cautiously forward to go into it. Bad move! The weir is notorious for creating large eddies and he ended up being sucked towards the turbulent water just below the weir. He was able to make a full turn and came up behind us.

Forewarned, Mike eased our boat back as far as he could at the lock landing and charged full throttle for the entrance. It was not a pretty approach but we did get in first go without too much banging around, even stopping before colliding with the top gates!

After this excitement, Fobney Lock seemed a little tamer than either boat remembered. It has a substantial overflow from the adjacent waterworks but the lock landing seems now to dissipate most of the energy. As with many locks along this river, the bypass channel for the main river flow comes very close to the tail of the lock. Overall, this was a day for honing one's boat handling skills under some challenging situations.

By now we had left the urban development of Reading and were in open countryside. To one side is a string of lakes that were once gravel workings, and on the other side is the railway line that takes the same valley route as the canal and navigation for some considerable distance. However, it is usually sufficiently shielded by trees that it is not too much of a nuisance.

We continued for a further lock before finding a place to pull in and have our lunch. By now they rain had largely cleared - although there would be a couple of very heavy showers later on.

The next lock was on be of the two remaining turf sided ones which were originally more common on this canal. In more recent times, metal structures have been built either side to help boaters keep within the main chamber, especially useful when descending but also provide a means for the steerer to gain access to the lock side if needed.

Another unusual design followed at Sheffield Lock which has been built with scalloped sides. (Must find out why!)

Christine walked the short distance to Theale swing bridge which was once an opportunity to hold up streams of traffics. As it is only wide enough for a single vehicle, even without boat operations it was a bottleneck. Today, other routes are available and we only created short queues!

We now learned that the Windsor car had left earlier than we were told this morning and we arranged to meet at Tyle Mill as we were keen to replenish our depleted water stocks. This is the first water point after the start of the canal and there was no obvious facility at the boatyard before we left yesterday.

We had to wait a while for another boat to move off - looked as if they had planned a long stay there! So we were only just begiininbg to attach the hosepipe when the car pulled in to the wharf. (We had already used the other services)

Alice and Jess unloaded their baggage and settled in to their usual spaces. Adrian and Joanna were despatched to prepare the lock and then operate the swing bridge when we were ready to enter. There is a very short gap, less than a boat length, between the bridge and the tail gates.

Above the lock, Ellie, Adrian and Joanna bade us farewell and we went not more than 200 meters where there was a vacant space just after the permit holders only section.

Soon after, disaster struck. Looking for a slot on the new laptop for the camera SD card, Mike managed to insert it in the wrong place, lose it inside and then fatally damage the laptop in his efforts to retrieve it. Oh dear! We are now once more back to using the tablets (Mike needed something to calm him down - a good scream!)

9 locks - xx miles

Friday, 23 May 2014


Canal Today : River Thames

We are now back on the boat after a long and tedious day. There was a number of things that needed to be done before we could set off so we set the alarm early. We felt quite pleased that we managed all the items on our list and still set off at 10 o'clock.

However, a combination of rain and spray, with the Devon County Show and a lot of holiday traffic meant that it was about an hour longer than expected before we reached Better Boating at Caversham.

They had brought the boat to the nearside - we understand that it had stayed most of the time on the little island - but on the outer side of a wide beam under renovation. It was rather difficult to clamber across to Take Five so we made a quick decision to take the boat across to the other side and moor beside Tesco, where we have moored a number of times in the past. Christine took the car around and Mike steered the boat. By the time he had tied up, Christine arrived with the car and we could begin unloading.

It was at this point that Mike's pride in completing so many tasks before setting off this morning was seriously dented - he had forgotten to pack the laptop. This fulfils a number of functions on the boat, not least running CanalMap which we use to plan and predict our journey each day as well as keep a log. It would also be difficult to do the blog on a tablet but at least we could read our emails and respond briefly to them.

After a quick cup of tea Mike set off again with the car to leave it at Bedwyn and come back by train. This trip went well and he was back at Reading station before 18:30 with a 20 minute walk back to the boat. where he found that Christine was still shopping in Tesco.

It was clearly now too late to move so we accepted that we will spend the night on this mooring, setting off properly tomorrow morning.

Whilst looking around Christine had seen a low price laptop and persuaded/tempted Mike to agree to buying what was the only one in stock, but at least we can now do some of the usual things on the boat, although CanalMap will have to wait. It may, however, mean that we do not have to move the laptop to and fro each time we leave the boat but it will mean working out a new update process. (If only we had the time!)

Christine had already put jacket potatoes in the oven and we had a welcome meal with some prawns from Tesco and using up other odds and ends!

Afterwards, Christine pleaded with Mike to go and find something tempting for a dessert! He retured with a Tiramisu!

At the moment it is not clear that we will be able to add photos to the blog during the trip but, if possible, we will try!