Monday, 30 June 2014

Reading and Beale Park

Today's Navigations : Kennet and Avon; River Thames

The day started very pleasant but clouds gathered during the day and by the time we stopped it had been overcast, sometimes a bit chilly, for some while.

Sulhampstead Weir and sunny skies
Hidden warning
This is a canalised river and every so often there is a channel leading off to a weir that takes the main flow of water past a lock. usually they are clearly marked but not always kept visible! This sign should have directed the unwary to the right.

Theale Swing Bridge
We still had a number of locks and swing bridges to negotiate before Reading, including the once infamous Theale Swing Bridge. At one time this was a much more significant commuter route than it is today and long queues of traffic could build up, with the passage of just a single boat. We only managed four cars today! the CaRT pusher tug was not as much an obstacle as it looked from this distance.

The navigation is often very pretty until just before the outskirts of Reading come into sight. At places it is quite bendy but that is not so easy to capture on camera, especially when steering around tight bends. We were heading downstream and the combination of flow and depth meant that we sometimes travelled at a rather unfamiliar speed.

Garston Lock
At Garston Lock a boat had just left and said that they would wait at the next lock for us. Indeed, as we arrived at Burghfield Lock they were in and waiting - not sure whether a boat on the landing below was quite as pleased as we were! In any event, we shared all the locks down to the River Thames where we both moored for a short while on the Tesco Mooring.

As we passed under the railway bridge just before Fobney we spotted the graffiti, wondering what it might mean, suspecting it did not refer to the presence of a security camera!

Fobney Lock can be difficult to exit with a strong flow from the river in one direction and the rather active by-wash in the other.

County Lock
This is training preparation for County Lock, scene of considerable difficulties earlier in the year when the river level was well above normal. Crews have to be dropped under the bridge just above so that boats are not hanging about close to the weir. Although it has a very shallow fall, it can easily pull boats towards it.

Below the lock there is an unexpected eddy that catches the unwary - rather than pushing boats towards the lock landing it pulls them towards the weir itself.

After the race through the narrow channel in the Oracle shopping centre, there is an extra loop which we have not explored before. On the Nicholsons map it shows two good moorings so we went to check them out for future reference. Indeed there was plenty of free mooring and rather better than the limited amount on the main section.

The second mooring seems to be protected by a vigilant angler!

We re-joined the main channel just before Blake's lock where our companion boat was still waiting. We had seen that a boat had just come up through and wondered why the gates were shut. Apparently, this boat had not only shut the gates but also left the bottom paddles open. They must have found it a challenge to open the top gates! To be fair, the paddle mechanisms are rather different from most canals, having a large wheel to turn - common on the unmechanised locks towards the upper reaches of the Thames.

We turned out at Kennet Mouth onto the Thames and our speed dropped dramatically as we encountered the flow in the opposite direction. However, minutes later we moored up for lunch followed by a trip to Tesco to stock up our food stores. By now the clouds had arrived and remained for the afternoon.

At Caversham Lock, the first lock on the Thames, Christine made an attempt to buy our temporary licence but the volunteer lock keeper was not able to do this. He suggested we try again at the next lock!

We passed through the Reading riverside before heading out into the countryside.

For a while there were some highly expensive houses beside the water, mostly uninspiring to look at but occasionally something different.

Back on the river we had to keep an eye out for the occasional rowers.

Most of the remaining route today was along tree and shrub lined sections with a few islands diving the channel.

Inside Mapledurham Lock
Mapledurham Lock came after an hour and a quarter following our departure from Caversham - one of the longest gaps for some time. When the keeper opened the top sluices, it looked as if a tsunami was about to overwhelm us! Christine was also able to obtain our licence.

Just below Whitchurch we came across a group of youngsters taking to the water - literally as several of them overturned their canoes throwing them into the river. Not too sure about the safety supervision, given the flow of water downstream!

Whitchurch Bridge is undergoing major repairs and what seems to be a temporary footbridge has been erected alongside. Only reported this so that we can include this amusing panoramic photo - of course the bridge it not really like that!

A little further and we opted for a mooring space at Beale Park. Just below there was a clear sign indicating a 24hrs space and above we spotted a sign saying Mooring in large letters. After we had tied up a closer look suggests that there might once have been a No as well but as it is not there now we stayed put!

Before preparing the evening meal, Christine took a short walk along the bank and took some photos of the views.

18.4 miles - 11 locks

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Tyle Mill

Today's canal : Kennet and Avon

The forecast promised plenty of sunshine with a scattering of fluffy clouds but we awoke to grey skies. However, they cleared very quickly and the anticipated weather arrived even before we set off and stayed that way all day. At times it was quite warm.

A34 bridge
A couple of locks and then we passed under the A34 Newbury by-pass, which one a Concrete society award in 2000.

We now left the Kennet and Avon Canal proper - the rest of this canal was constructed as a canalisation of the River Kennet, once the Thames and Kennet Navigation, we believe.

New Mill
We were now approaching the outskirts of Newbury - the first landmark is the swing bridge at New Mill, manual barriers but automated bridge swing.

New Mill and swing bridge
Once through we could see that there as a queue for the next lock. Part of the delay was from a boat going down that refused to leave until the boat ahead had collected its coffee from Costa (alongside the river) and moved on on the grounds that it could not pass! (Why did it not go first?)

Newbury Lock
In the end we shared with an ABC hire boat from Aldermaston with two couples on it plus a small girl (called Joanna!) One couple were Portuguese - the husband works in the hotel industry and has a new placement in the UK. Very pleasant - we were more than happy to share locks with them all the way to Woolhampton where they stopped to visit the pub. As we had to wait at most locks and the landing are only one boat in length, we waited breasted up and then entered together - to their delight at doing something new.

Newbury Bridge

Victoria Park
We passed under the ornate Newbury Bridge before Victoria Park - mooring spaces available this time. (We had unforgettable problems here in 2010 when looking for a mooring quite late in the evening and a fast flowing river!)

Below Greenham Lock we encountered a loose work boat - the way in which the blue rope from the free end was resting it appeared that someone had untied it and thrown the rope back on!

At some point during the day - forgotten exactly where - a boat passing the other way commented that they had just found our blog and commended it! (sorry chaps, even forgot your boat name)

There were numerous swing bridges as well as locks to negotiate today, most of them manual. In general they were easy to operate.

Woolhampton Swing Bridge
Woolhampton is famous (infamous?) amongst boaters in this part of the world as tricky to navigate. Immediately below the lock the river re-joins at right angles and is fast flowing. Just after this is a road bridge and the instructions are to wait in the lock tail until the bridge is open and then to head straight for the bridge (not helped by being on a bend) and then fight the flow of water until through what can feel like an obstacle course! Going downstream is also more exciting as the boat is much less controllable. Our companion boat left us at this point a they tied up to visit the pub. They were a delight to share with and we were sorry to see them go.

We passed through an especially pretty river section, with the sun filtering through the overhanging trees.

At Aldermaston we turned into the short arm to use the water point and disposal facilities. We had to reverse out to pass through the lift bridge. This took a little longer than anticipated so we perhaps held up more cars than otherwise we might have done on a Sunday afternoon!

Two features from Padworth Lock:

Our target was Tyle Mill where we had moored overnight when picking up the two girls at half term but had forgotten that above the lock are long term moorings - we only took a space as one of the moorers told us which space was not being used!

So we passed through the lock and road swing bridge - amused that the house nearby is called Canal Cottage!

Canal Cottage at Tyle Mill
Not much further and we decided that we ought to moor but the fast flowing river made it more of a challenge than a simple canal. Still, it was beside an open field with a satellite signal in the line of sight!
13.6 miles - 16 locks

Saturday, 28 June 2014


Todays Canal : Kennet and Avon

We made a good start this morning - the forecast was for short showers through most of the day. generally this was true but they lasted longer, and were heavier, than suggested. Nevertheless, it remained generally reasonably warm, enough for working a long series of broad locks! (At one point the sun emerged and it was almost over-warm!)

As we set off, Christine opted to take the footpath from the bridge by the first lock as she remembered a specially good cake and bread shop in Great Bedwyn. By the time we reached the wharf below the lock she had returned carrying plenty of goodies which we proceeded to demolish throughout the day, culminating in lardy cake with tea just as we moored for the night.

Great Bedwyn Wharf
We disposed of rubbish and emptied the elsan whilst we could and then set off once more. There are few pounds more than half a mile and a mile is about the longest. One or other of us walked most of the way.

At lock 65, fairly recent work had been done to the overflow weir and the coping stones between it and the lock. Sadly, the brickwork does not seem to have been strong enough to resist the efforts of boaters and may well need a further repair before long.

Little Bedwyn
At Little Bedwyn the rain by now was heavy at times . . .

but by Froxfield it was much pleasanter.

The bywash at Lock 71 has plenty of water coming down the system - something that we found all the way today.

Cobblers Lock Cottage
The cottage at Cobblers Lock is a sad sight, apparently abandoned. However, almost alongside below the lock is a brand new house so there must be good access and all the usual facilities. One wonders what the story behind this situation might be.

Hungerford Marsh Lock
The swing bridge across the lock at Freeman's Marsh heralds the imminent arrival of Hungerford, our planned lunch and shopping stop.

Hungerford Church
Hungerford Church , alongside the canal, is the first part of the town we encounter although it is not as far from the centre as it might seem. below the lock we moored and had lunch, including the soda bread from Christine's earlier shopping expedition.

After lunch we walked to the nearby shops - alas we had to resort to Tesco for everything this time. Whilst there is a number of small shops in the main street, no really good food shops other than a butcher.

By the time we were ready to set off once more, heavy rain had returned and we were rather damp!

The towpath changes sides at Dunmill Lock - this sign on the bridge looks as if it has indicated this for some time now. (There is a similar sign beside the road) The River Dun passes under a bridge just a few metres from the canal - after the recent rain it was flowing rather well, to be joined by an equally energetic River Kennet a short distance below.

River Dun

A large workboat almost blocked the canal - its gangplank only just stretching between it and the bank. The state of the towpath and bank shows why this work is needed.

By the time we reached Kintbury the rain had fled and we were left with blue skies and fluffy clouds for the rest of the day until we moored.

The sun streaming between the trees lining the banks made for some rather pretty scenes.

We then encountered the horse drawn trip boat (wide beam) returning to Kintbury after its afternoon excursion. The steerer seemed to have an inverted idea of the proper hand signals to indicate his path! The photographer, having pushed the wrong buttons on his camera, managed to fail to get any decent pictures, alas.

The information panel at Dreweatts Lock explains that the new tilting weir replaces the old Peg and Bar Sluice which originally was used by the lengthsman to control the level of water in the canal.

By now it was really pleasant.

All along the Kennet and Avon are the remains of the concrete guard posts that formed part of a defensive line in case there was an invasion. Since the canal, together with the Thames and the Avon, cross the country completely, this was a natural place to construct the defence. Whether it would have worked is another matter. Fortunately it was never tested.

Dark clouds were again making their presence felt so we opted to look for a mooring in a pleasant location, even if there was little prospect of a tv signal - but Saturday is never a good viewing night anyway!

17.6 miles - 18 locks