Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Return journey

The journey today was the reverse of yesterday so we ended up back at Hungerford tonight.  We winded at Great Bedwyn and joined up with nb ‘Vigornia’ who was also Hungerford bound.


‘Chance’ with nb ‘Vigornia’ at Little Bedwyn Lock.


Doug, in a strange position – at the tiller!

The weather turned a bit ugly today with the wind getting up and the rain getting worse as the journey progressed.


Here we are at Hungerford Marsh Lock where we were at the mercy of the wind as it blew across the Freeman’s Marsh.  It blew nb ‘Vigornia’ onto the opposite bank and ‘Chance’ is straining at the centre rope while we’re waiting for the lock to fill.

We arrived at Hungerford at 1:15 and moored up in the rain next to Hungerford church with nb ‘Vigornia’ behind us.  Having done the washing (2 loads) during the journey we set about finding a launderette to use the tumble driers.  There are no launderettes in Hungerford only one that does service washes only!  So there was nothing else for it but to get on  the train to Newbury (where there is a launderette).


Have washing will travel!   Doug waiting for the train to Newbury. As it was only £4.40 return at least it got the job done!

This evening the washing is dry, the rain is hammering down and the church bells are ringing out with the weekly practice.  Nice.


Thought we’d include another epitaph from the stone mason at Great Bedwyn.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Bedwyn Bound

It was another short hop of just over three miles today. Like the  last few days the locks come thick and fast along this eastern end of the canal.  There’s not quite enough space between them for it to be worthwhile for Doug to get back on the boat between the locks, so he ended up walking for most of the distance!


Three “beggars” hanging around the boat this morning at Hungerford – very attractive in their ‘half way’ plumage.


The Kennet and Avon Canal has always been a good place to see water voles.  The many tell tale holes in the canal bank suggest they are still around but we’ve yet to spot one this time.


Hungerford Marsh Lock is unique on the K and A for having a swing bridge across it.  The bridge MUST be swung out of the way before you fill the lock (of course)!  


From Hungerford Marsh Lock (looking across Freeman’s Marsh) you can see the house which Johnny Morris used to live in.


Further along and we got to the three locks at Froxfield.  These are set to be closed from November 5th for major repairs.  The infrastructure in place at the moment is impressive – generators, toilets and a very substantial temporary road.


This lovely pile of new lock gates suggests that two of  the locks are going to be looking good in the spring.


Waiting for Doug to set Little Bedwyn Lock we’re  treated to the Great Western main line trains.  Another few feet and they’d be joining us in the canal!

After Little Bedwyn comes Great Bedwyn which was our intended  destination for the day.


‘Chance’ at the very good moorings at Great Bedwyn. 


Doug’s parents used to live here for a while about fifteen years ago and so we took a (nostalgic for Doug) walk around the village.  On the edge of  Savernake Forest, it’s an extremely attractive village with many thatched cottages and some lovely old brick buildings.   This one, which now houses the Post Office, displays some quirky epitaph memorials – most likely from the monumental masons next door which, sadly, no longer exist.


Here’s just one of the plaques fixed to the wall of the building!  We might show a few more in the future.

The temperature changed dramatically after we moored up, with our walk around the village a very chilly one compared to the mild journey we had up the canal.  Still, we’re not complaining as this week has been truly superb for the time of year. Tomorrow we’re using the winding hole the other side of the bridge (95) and will retrace our steps back towards Aldermaston as this year we’ve booked in to Froud’s Bridge marina for the winter.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Arriving in Hungerford

Before we left Newbury this morning we popped into Tesco for few necessities and some free sparklers (courtesy of  a Sunday newspaper).  Oh what a palaver!  We went through three levels of management before the firework cabinet could be opened – all for a 79p pack of sparklers.  Doug likes both sparklers and a bargain!!  After that we had a quick walk around the new shopping centre – very nice and clean but it’s par for the course - we could have been in any town in the country.

Anyway, leaving at 10:30, the morning was mild and dry and we’ve had a lovely cruise today. 


Going though the swing bridge as we leave Newbury today, overlooked by the lovely wharf cottages.

The locks west of Newbury are now all the same (perfectly sized for just two boats) and they are mild mannered (filling very gently) with just about every lock having had major work done since we were last here in 2007. They are a joy this time around – the gates and paddles are excellent.


Idyllic autumn setting – the canal (as the guide book says) is “untroubled by the outside world”.  We seemed to be miles from anywhere and the silence was deafening as they say.


Another lovely setting – the lock landings, as you can see, are really good this time around.


A new type of paddle gear on this lock has an automatic ratchet locking system so you don’t get your fingers trapped – and they’re very smooth to use.


We had a very serene and pleasing journey today – this is just another photo!  Sorry about the roof of the boat in so many of the pictures!

After watering up just outside Hungerford we decided the town would be our chosen mooring for tonight.  We like Hungerford very much and we took a walk around after making the boat safe and tidy.  The town, sadly, has a lot of very overpriced “antique” shops and estate agents these days!


A view of the main street in Hungerford.


We took the long walk back to the boat from the town – this is swing bridge 85 over the canal with the church in the background.  All very rural and lovely.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Continuing our Kennet Cruise.

After a frosty night (and one that saw Oscar needing to use the grass at 5 o’clock this morning – James obliging!) we had a lazy start to the day and didn’t get going until 10:30.  It was another short hop today of only 4 miles and 6 locks to Newbury.


Just to show (as Adam rightly advised) there is a second turf lock on the system – this is Monkey Marsh Lock (no 90) but it is very much modified by steel and concrete compared to Garston Lock which we passed through the other day.


Immediately following Monkey Marsh Lock is swing bridge 44 which was so difficult to move that Doug had to lift and leaver it from the “wrong” side.  Suddenly, after a lot of effort  it started to swing rapidly across the canal, almost leaving Doug stranded on the bank with no way across!  Luckily he managed to leap onto the bridge before it was too late – and someone with an easier job just happened to have the camera handy.


Every so often there’s something unusual to amuse us.


As we mentioned yesterday there doesn’t seem to be two locks the same on the K and A – and, if you care for your boat, this one looked very alarming on first entry.


After a couple of hours we were in Newbury and negotiating the beautiful Town Bridge – a stone structure dating from 1770.  The River Kennet flows through this bridge so the full force of the flow has to be dealt with.  The lock beyond the bridge has the river flowing from the right just in front of it and there is very little lock landing to stop on. Doug managed to get off to set the lock but unless you have a boat of 35 feet or less there is no real alternative but to bounce around in front of the lock, trying to avoid the river to the right and the water flowing from the emptying lock.  All in the course of a days’ cruise!


We found a good mooring just above the lock and went to do a bit of shopping.  In particular, Doug had to change a pair of ‘Trespass’ walking boots which are only a month old and, bizarrely,  leaking through the sole of the heal.  The ‘Trespass’ shop in the Newbury couldn’t have been more helpful.  The boots were bought in Birmingham but the Newbury shop changed them without question. Just thought we’d mention it as these things are not always straightforward.

Getting back to the boat we had second thoughts about moving on as it was getting cold and we really couldn’t be bothered.  So we took Oscar for a surprisingly fast walk (for him!).


Dum de dum de dum – a walk along West Mills where the row of cottages opposite the swing bridge where once a 17th century weaving factory ( a better view of these in the last photo).

We had a cold but dry day today while we were cruising but, as we write, the rain has started falling  so we’re very pleased we stayed put.  Another great day!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Just a short hop.

First thing this morning (after she’d run a few miles before any of us were up!)  Fatima came aboard and gave us a bottle of wine as a thank you for helping her yesterday.  They had a very uncomfortable night, as it was quite cold, and they hadn’t had the central heating explained properly to them.  We got that sorted for them and also gave them some coal, kindling and some fire lighters (oh, and some dental floss!)  With that we saw them on their way – it’s been a lovely sunny, if slight chilly, day so we hope like us, they had a good days’ cruising.


Saying farewell to Fatima and her family this morning.

We also had a welcome surprise visit this morning by Tom from nb ‘Waiouru’ who walked up from Aldermaston Wharf to see us.  It was nice to see him and to catch up over a cup of coffee.

After Doug walked to Woolhampton to get his weekend paper. We got cracking at about 11:30.  We ought to say the Kennet and Avon Canal is much improved at this eastern end since our last experience in 2007.  The locks are much improved and easier to use.  This was something which definitely needed to be done as the rest of the canal (from Newbury westward) was always a great experience in our opinion.

It was a very short hop of three miles and three locks to Thatcham where we’ve moored up on the very good visitor moorings just short of Lock 90.  Now, we have to stand corrected by Adam from nb ‘Briar Rose’, that lock 90 is also a turf lock and therefore (as we said yesterday) Garston Lock is not the only turf lock in existence.  However, Garston Lock is pretty much original and not caked in concrete and other inappropriate restoration like lock 90.

This afternoon James had just enough time to do an oil change on the engine and gearbox before Chris arrived, one of James’ very close friends from his days at the Aldermaston weapons establishment, came to visit us.  We had a very pleasant afternoon chatting and catching up.


Chris and James.

Doug spent some time this afternoon preparing for Halloween by carving a pumpkin – a tradition we always keep up, on or off the boat.


Doug with his pumpkin amid a wonderful sunset.

We’re eating in again tonight, albeit an Indian takeaway being delivered to the boat!  A great day – good company and an engine service to boot!


Friday, 26 October 2012

Celebrity Special.

We had a really quiet night at the “prison” moorings in the middle of Reading – the flood lights from the prison giving us a daylight feel all night! Luckily the boat builders (MGM) made us some blackout bungs for the portholes which came in very handy last night.

Leaving Reading this morning the first thing you have to do is operate the traffic lights.  This is to allow the safe passage of craft through the narrow, and fast flowing, River Kennet as it courses its way through the city centre.


Press the button and the lights turn to green.  We’re off!


Travelling through the city shopping centre -the water course looks quite wide here but it narrows quite a lot in some places.


Leaving the city we arrive at the other end of the traffic light section and moor up at the pontoon ready for County Lock.  Not an easy manoeuvre as the weir to the right of the lock causes the water to eddy around the pontoon so it’s a case of get to the pontoon and tie up quick!


The next lock is Fobney Lock and it too has its own “Wipe out” feature.  We noticed that the old Water Works buildings next to the lock are now being renovated, which was something we were hoping would happen when we came through on our last boat in 2007.


The locks on the Kennet and Avon are nearly all different.  This is Garston Lock and is the sole remaining turf sided chamber.  A weird experience as the picture shows.


Garston (turf) Lock when filled.


Some locks are huge – this one allowing ‘Chance’ to float about a bit.


Some locks have scalloped sides – there must be a reason or was the builder on something?

Moving on and we got terribly held up at the Aldermaston Wharf road bridge, which takes a lot of traffic, and is timed so that boaters can’t “overuse” it and cause major traffic hold ups.  It’s also inoperative between 4:30 and 5:30 in the evenings (also in the morning rush hour).  The consequence of all this was that we ended up travelling quite late this evening.

At Woolhampton, as the light was beginning to fade,  we had to negotiate the notorious 100 yard stretch of canal which has a swing bridge followed by the River Kennet entering the system and then a lock which has to entered.  Both the the lock and the road bridge have to be open before you enter the stretch as the river flows in with such force that the boat will come to grief if you can’t get through the flow and into the lock.  It’s not for the faint hearted and certainly not for hire boaters who have just a couple of hours experience under their belt.  Which is where we met Fatima Whitbread and her family in that very position.

So, with a bit of explanation and encouragement, we got her through the obstacle course and safely into the lock.  She did it without any major problems (no surprize there then!) and we followed behind her until we were both safely in the lock.


Fatima giving James an appreciative cuddle on board ‘Chance’ after the “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here” experience!

After that we managed to moor up just as darkness was falling, with Fatima moored securely behind us.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

“It’s such a perfect day”

We slipped from our moorings at 8:30 this morning amid a very slight drizzle which cleared up quite quickly.  The overcast conditions lasted all day but it made for very atmospheric cruise.


We soon arrived at Wallingford – the scene of our worst flood experience on the Thames in 2008 when we had to moor up on the visitor moorings (right of the picture) for a week and a half. On that occasion the river level rose 5 1/2 feet overnight!

Today’s journey has been much more relaxed as the river is now wider and the water flow is (generally) slower.  We’re glad we’re going downstream though as some of the weirs are still fierce and they affect the approaches to the locks for boats coming upstream.


The wildlife has put on a good show for us today – this Red Kite was one of quite a few we saw. 


Another riverside “love it or hate it” !


We absolutely loved today’s journey – we had the river to ourselves and the autumn colours were magnificent (even better had the sun been out!)


The approach to Pangbourne is very nice.  There’s a whole stretch of these magnificent Edwardian villas – all in a wonderful state of repair.


More wildlife – this time cormorants “sunning” themselves? 


A look backwards at the weir as we leave Mapledurham Lock – we’re glad to be surfing with the flow rather than fighting it!


Not the biggest house on the river bank but certainly an attractive one.  This one is on our approach to Caversham and Reading.

Our journey came to an end at 1 o’clock when we moored up in the centre of Reading – advice we took from a fellow boater who we chatted to in one of the locks yesterday. It’s not something we’d have thought about doing but it seems fine.


Our mooring this evening, right next to Reading Gaol and with one of the towns iconic buildings – “The Blade” in the background. The avenue of trees and the green fenced area behind the boat is the Oscar Wilde Memorial Garden – not sure he would be particularly impressed with its position quite so close to the place of his incarceration and consequent fatal decline!

Despite there being 101 places to eat within a stones’ throw of us, we eating on board this evening – might pop out for a drink later though! (just to celebrate a brilliant day on the River Thames)