Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Kennet and Avon: The Final Push to Bath

An extra day in Devizes and a couple of rescues as we continue our way west on the Kennet and Avon.

We planned to spend just one day in Devizes but with the first lock of 29 just 100 metres away, heavy rain was an extra challenge we didn’t need. We spent most of the day indoors and took a stroll to the pub in the late afternoon. Devizes is a lovely old town with a large market square.

Boaters who have cruised the length of the K & A, I am sure look back at the two miles of canal that is a combination of the Devizes, Caen Hill and Foxhanger locks with contentment. Well, we are half way there, having just completed all 29 locks for the first time. We will do it all again in a week or so! It is rather a strenuous way to fill in four and half hours for so little mileage gain. It's a daunting sight, looking down from the top of the Caen Hill Locks.

We continued on a short way, mooring at Sells Green. Not much at Sells Green, the moorings were reasonable but when the wind blew across the caravan park elsan you knew you were alive. We made sure there was a pub close by for dinner after a big day.

A water fill first thing in the morning and then we were off for the day heading for any spot about three hours outside Bath. A busy day for the cheaper version (free) of Canal and River Rescue. Waiting for two boats to come out of a lock, one did, the other had stalled and wouldn't start. I must admit, with the size of the tree growing out of the stern fender, this boat hadn't moved too far for a long time. Anyway, after several attempts to jump start the engine we opted to tow the boat out of the lock and leaving it in front of the boatyard just forty metres form the lock.

Only a short cruise further on and the canal was blocked by an unmanned boat across the canal. It took quite a bit of maneuvering to get the boat back to the canal side and tied up again, with Kevin from NB Dunslavin on the stern and me on Serafina gently nudging the bow.

We passed through Bradford on Avon, and being such a lovely day there were plenty of gongoozlers at the lock to watch the boats move up and down.

Bradford looks like a nice town, we plan to stop here on the way back to have a look around. Just from the canal there were a few interesting sights. Rachael has already earmarked The Lock Inn for tea.

A little further on, just a short stroll was the ice cream boat, or on such a warm day that seemed to be their main fare. They seemed to be doing quite well with a significant number of tourists walking the tow path.

You get to see a lot of variations on what a canal boat looks like while cruising the Kennet and Avon Canal and this was just another example, just a little further on. Whoever owns this boat cruises in comfort.

We cruised on for around another hour from Bradford, where most of the canal wasn't your usual ragged sides.

The day finished when we moored up on the side of the canal at Limply Stoke positioning ourselves to get into Bath around 11 am and score a mooring above the locks. This site didn't turn out to be the best mooring we have ever had nor the worst but I wouldn't recommend it. We had no internet coverage from Three and no phone either from O2, otherwise I would have posted this blog earlier. Oh, and I didn't mention waking up with the boat listing slightly to starboard.

Thirty minutes cruising further up the canal this morning revealed much better moorings. However, it was around three hours of speed up, slow down to tick over cruising before arriving at our destination of Bath, tying up in the moorings above the lock.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Slow Cruising on the Kennet and Avon

We continued our journey west on the Kennet and Avon (K & A) Canal leaving from Kintbury and arriving in Devizes, a three day journey for us.

After completing our short walk around Kintbury and picking up a few essential items it was time to drop a line into the canal and see if there were any suicidal fish. Turns out there was! We kept the fish just long enough to remove the hook and take a photo then it was back in the canal.

Our starts are beginning to get earlier and earlier as we get closer to Bath in a quest to find moorings for both boats rather than breasting up. It's not so bad breasting up but having solid ground beside you is best if you want to work on the side of the boat, like washing and polishing it. Walking along the gunnels of each other's boat starts to make the inhabitants sea sick after awhile. There is also the moored boat factor to consider. Boats seem to be staggered right along this canal and as we get closer to Bath they are becoming more prolific so you are constantly slowing down, passing a moored boat, then speeding up again.

There have been a few firsts for Rachael and I along this canal. This time we came across a swing bridge across the middle of a canal at Hungerford's Marsh Lock.

Nothing difficult involved, it was just a case of something extra to do after you exit the lock. In our case a boat appeared just in time for us to be able to leave the bridge open and the front gates open. The other regular thing on the K & A is finding someone moored in the lock landing. This time, moving out of the lock and with a crosswind blowing,  it made it rather difficult to pickup Rachael since the boat was moored plum in the middle of the landing rather than at least mooring on the end so that it was possible to use part of the landing.

Our Great Bedwyn mooring was once again breasted up but this time by choice. We were about thirty seconds ahead of a boat coming from the west and looking for a mooring, we managed to grab the last one. They cruised on for a few hundred metres resigned to mooring well out from the bank and with the long weeds to contend with. Oddly, boats moved off the moorings later on around 5 pm making room for Serafina to slip into a spot, but with moorings tight and us already settled we decided to stay put and let someone else fill the void, which they did in a short while.

Friday morning I poked my head outside and the weather, as predicted, looked ominous. I donned my wet weather gear prepared, I thought, for what looked like a rainy day. It was already lightly raining when we moved our boats down a few hundred metres to the water point to fill our tanks, by the end of the day we would be sick of water. As we cruised on, the rain became heavier and just didn't let up. The only repreive we got from the rain was Bruce Tunnel, built in 1810, which compared to outside was warm and dry but sadly it is only a short one at 502 yds.

We were heading for Pewsey today but by two o'clock we had had enough, mooring up at some nice moorings in Wootten Rivers. We tied off the boats, I came inside and peeled off the layers of wet clothes. The only dry clothes were my jeans. Straight into a hot shower and relax for the rest of the afternoon and evening as the rain continued to pelted down.

Today Rachael awoke comfortable in the knowledge that it was a rare one lock day. She stayed up with me on the stern off and on but The Long Pound, the name given to this part of the canal, seemed to go on and on. I spent much of my time with reeds to the left and right.

A couple of swing bridges and some interesting steering techniques from a couple of boaters were the only things to break the monotony, not to mention the speed up, slow down of the even more prolific moored boats that were well spread out along the Pound. I did find a few other things as well to entertain myself, I spotted this interesting boat moored along the canal, looks like an old lifeboat.

These Canadian Geese were keen for a race.

Something different; we stopped for lunch rather than have it as we were cruising. There were a couple of moorings right outside the The Barge Inn at Honeystreet so we popped in.

This interesting pub seems to be in the middle of nowhere but it was quite busy. It has a rather eclectic collection of 'stuff' inside that kept us amused for quite a while.

Back cruising Rachael poked her head out of the cabin just in time to take the standard photo around these parts of the white horse on the hill. That is, if you are not taking photos of crop circles, The Barge has a great collection of local crop circle photos.

We cruised into Devizes and took up a couple of nice moorings just above the Caen Hill Locks, a reminder of the pain to come tomorrow!

One thing the trusty Canal Companion doesn't allow for in its timing estimates is the number of moored boats. We have easily exceeded an extra hour per day, taken up slowing for moored boats. Very frustrating when they are spaced out at approx. 100 metre intervals over several kilometres.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Stuck Fast and a Quick Trip to Birmingham

It was quite a long stay in Newbury but we had a higher purpose and while we were there I caught up with Tom and Jan from NB Waiouru. We also managed to get ourselves into a bit of bother in one of the locks.

We were running a day ahead of our schedule having shortened our time on the River Thames by a day, this meant we had an extra day to spend in Newbury. The main reason for our long stay was so I could take a train to Birmingham for a specialist appointment. Newbury is a lovely town with lots of shopping so now the cupboards are bulging, not to mention our suitcases filling up with clothes and toys for the grandchildren. I was on the phone to Rachael's cousin and he mentioned jokingly that we maybe nearing the boat maximum capacity. I did take a quick glance at the Boat Registration Plate and I think we have just a little way to go!

Before we got underway today, I managed to catch up with Tom and Jan from NB Waiouru for just a short chat as they filled Greenham Lock, on the way east. Rachael had knocked on their door while I was away and mentioned that we would like to catch up, it was unfortunate I was in Birmingham over the period they were in Newbury.

We moored in the 14 day moorings for all five days of our stay. We had walked the towpath, a ten minute walk to the centre of town a number of times. Today we cruised through the centre of town giving us another perspective. We cruised by the 48 hour moorings near the park.

Across the canal from the park is now a carpark but the information boards tell how this use to be a canal basin. The building in the background, now a museum, was previously the warehouses servicing the canal.

Newbury has used the canal well with all the entertainment venues having views and outdoor areas along the canal.

It was a beautiful day for cruising and everything was going fine until...we moved out of a lock together and then came to a halt. Stuck fast in the lock, the rubber fenders acting like a cork. No amount of power forward or reverse would budge the boats. We managed to get the fender off Serafina but not Dunslavin, even cutting the rope didn't help. So, it was out with the dishwashing liquid around the fender and both boats full power in reverse, finally they were freed up and we were off again!

After around three hours total cruising (including getting stuck) we cruised into the small village of Kintbury. Just before the final lock in Kintbury we met a horse drawn boat. I gave them a wide berth as they turned and headed down the left hand side of the canal using the towpath as it was originally intended. The boat was full of elderly passengers who seemed to be enjoying their time on the boat waving furiously to us.

There was one mooring left as we arrived at the moorings in Kintbury so it was another breasted up mooring. Once moored we locked up the boat and headed into the village for a look around. It was a nice short circular walk, Kintbury's main street consisting of a church and around four shops. The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing the boat for polishing, no thanks to Tom and Jan's photo of a grubby Serafina.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Cruising the Kennet and Avon (K & A)

We disentangled ourselves from breasting up at our mooring in Reading. I moved off across the shallow water towards the centre of the canal with a minimum of fuss. Kevin and Carol in NB Dunslavin had a little more trouble having been the closest boat to the bank, eventually sliding across the mud and weed and into slightly deeper water. Our first day of cruising on the K & A and we were heading for Aldermaston.

We moved out of the bypass on to the canal proper and almost immediately came to a traffic light controlled section of the canal, with the red traffic light glowing brightly our way. A press of the button and straight away green meant GO! We cruised through quite a pleasant part of Reading, shops and cafes built around the waterway with lots of small kids watching the boats go by. I said in my last post how well catered for Reading was for shopping and we hadn't even made it to this part of the city!

It took a little time to get use to being back on what is essentially a canal, this part of the K & A being mainly the navigable parts of the River Kennet joined together with canals, generally the canal sections were placed where a lock was required (to move boats up or down). The way ahead was always well defined, making sure no one knowingly steered their boat into the weir.

It was a pleasant day for cruising, not so many sights along the way today. The widebeam boat we met from the opposite direction, as expected, on a narrower part of the canal, took some work to get by. Murphy's Law says you will always meet other boats at locks, bridges, blind corners and narrow parts of the canal! The person on the front of the widebeam shouted to me that they have a 3 foot draft so they couldn't move over too far. I agreed that that maybe the case but if they didn't move over no one was going anywhere (or words to that effect), there was simply no more room. The scenery along the way was excellent.

You always seem to come across something different when you are cruising, in this case a grass lock. Not what I visualised when I first heard of them, I was thinking of beautiful sweeping lawns on the sides of the lock. As you can see from the pic it was more a mixture of weeds with a basic steel framework to keep the boats in place. And, oh so slow to fill the last 3 feet!

As on the Thames, we came across several more of these pillboxes along the way. I haven't read any history of the canals during wartime yet, but they certainly had this canal covered with one on each side. Several of the locks were protected like this.

It's been double locks all the way which speeds up the process somewhat. Big locks and lots of water, coming very quickly if you're not careful!

We reached our destination around three o'clock however, we had no luck scoring a mooring from the limited number available around Aldermaston. We picked up water, with the tank well down after three loads of washing, and headed off out of Aldermaston, under the lift bridge and into the lock.

We cruised on for at least an hour, making one attempt to moor at a likely spot but with no luck, it was much too shallow. There were a few boats moored in the location below so we tried our luck and got close enough to the bank to call it a mooring. Despite a shaky start with an angry wasp Serafina was secure for the night in a pleasant little spot just before Bridge 29.

Day 2 didn't warrant me dragging the camera out. Once again it was pleasant cruising with much more of the scenery of day 1. We arrived in Newbury just after lunch, mooring up in the 14 day moorings, locking up the boats and heading back along the tow path a few hundred metres to the large Tesco we had just passed.

Just a quick note on moorings between Reading and Newbury. Without getting political, a few more moorings wouldn't hurt, they are currently few and far between.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Cruising the Thames

Not the best day to go cruising but Rachael and I were looking forward to cruising the Thames. We donned our wet weather gear as the rain fell lightly, it had been raining off and on overnight. It was our first time we would be on a genuine river rather than a 'tame ' river like the River Cherwell, that forms part of the Oxford Canal.

The night before I had prepared our newly purchased anchor, attaching the chain and rope, hoping to never have to use it. By leaving the Oxford Canal we had now exhausted Kevin's canal knowledge so I had prepared a basic cruising plan for the next six weeks, this was Day 1.

First stop was Osney Lock, no shortage of room in this lock! Time to part with our hard earned cash to cruise on the Thames. Using the Environment Agency's pricing structure, not sure which Einstein came up with it, we paid our £61 for seven days of cruising, expecting to be on the Thames for four days. I say Einstein, since three days was over £70, why? Anyway, two big boats and we didn't even come close to filling the lock.

Rachael thought having Lock Keepers was a shear luxury although she didn't get to just sit back and relax since on the Thames the boat needs to be held at two points, it's stern and bow ropes not just a centre rope. So with all the work done for us we left the lock a few pounds lighter but were off down the Thames.

Once off the canal the first thing you notice is the different boat traffic. Still cruising through Oxford we were negotiating punts, common for university cities, quite a few narrow boats since we were so close to the canal at this stage a mix of large and small cruisers. Then there's the wide open spaces and how well the boat handles in the deeper water. The speed limit on the river is 8 kph, a little more than the speed on the canal, so I was able to push the throttle down a little further than usual.

The wide open spaces...

I didn't find the weirs much of a bother, some were quite ornate...

Others gave you a good idea of just how much water you were dealing with...

I planned to stop over night in Abington but besides making such good  time, there we no moorings available so we continued on. After cruising for quite a few more hours looking for moorings it became obvious that you had to make the best of what was available. The mooring we finally took near Shillingford were marked in the guide as moorings although you would have hardly known it was a mooring.

Finding water to fill our tanks was also a bit of a challenge. We had already passed by one tap marked on the guide that didn't seem to be there so that was a priority for day two on the Thames. Cruising for less than half an hour there were several boats buzzing around a tap at a marina. We had almost passed by in Serafina but the beauty of the river, unlike the canal, is you can turn virtually anywhere. We turned into the mooring and quickly made use of the tap after checking out the sign that said 'Drinking Water - Please pay at Reception'. The price; £2 or  £1.50 if you use your Australian charm on the receptionist. Wow! not use to paying for water! Fuel was another killer, at this marina, £1.40/Lt, lucky I've got a full tank! I paid 69p/Lt (base price) at my last stop on the Oxford.

As we trekked on the next morning we saw more of these WW2 pillboxes, many of them in people's backyards.

We were luckier with our mooring for the second night. It doesn't take long to work out that the lock keepers are the people who know the ins and outs of what's going on. A quick word to the lock keeper at Goring and he pointed out two nice moorings just down from the lock...perfect! The view from the back of the boat was terrific, my photography skills don't do it justice. We seemed to be surrounded by weirs.

Goring was a quaint town where we managed to stock up on a few vital items from the local store. It was then over to the local cafe for coffee and cake. Later that evening after dinner, we trekked the few hundred metres to the Miller of Mansfield pub for a few pints.

Now a day ahead of my carefully prepared timetable, thanks mainly to the Environment Agency for their lack of the provision of suitable moorings along the Thames, we were up and ready to go at 9am to complete this leg of our Thames sojourn. Our destination today was Reading. I did notice that the further we got along the Thames, the bigger the houses seem to get. Many of these houses were quite old with very ornate boat houses.

We entered the Thames side of Reading and once again it was obvious there was a canal around somewhere as the number of canal boats moored along the Thames at Reading was significant. The entrance to the Kennet and Avon Canal wasn't quite what I expected, just a little opening behind some trees with a faded sign pointing to Reading. I slowed and after a short deliberation turned off the Thames and slowly cruised into Reading to find our mooring for the night.

We turned into a small navigable by-pass off the main channel near the Reading city centre and managed to moor, breasted up, in a rather shallow but reasonable mooring. Once moored up, Kevin and I took a stroll to see if there were more suitable moorings a little further on. We passed five boats moored ahead of us in the temporary moorings, most in disrepair, several with their license currency questionable, since no boat name, no boat registration number and no license was displayed. They also looked like they hadn't moved for some time with the amount of junk collected on the bank. Further down, the moorings were full and several boats were breasted up, so we returned to the boat content that we had the last moorings available.

Once back, the girls announced it was shopping time and we were off into town for yet another shopping tour. I must admit that Reading is well catered for in the shop department so we easily knocked over three hours before we headed back to the boat. On the way back, I came across a boat I knew from a blog I read from time-to-time, it was Maffi sitting up at the stern of his boat. After a chat I was off back to Serafina where I had a few small maintenance jobs to do.

Cruising the Oxford to the End

Oxford is only a short cruise from Thrupp so no need to get too excited about an early start. We pulled up our mooring pins around 10 o'clock and cruised off towards the Oxford Canal terminus expecting a relatively easy day with four locks and four lift bridges to negotiate along the way.

The day turned out to be as planned, which makes a nice change. The crowds at the locks seemed to have petered out at Thrupp, no more queues at the locks or the bridges, it was just a nice day for cruising.

We negotiated Duke's Lock and continued along the Oxford rather than take Duke's Cut on to the River Thames. There was no shortage of moorings along the canal if you could call them that! Many of the designated moorings were overgrown with tall weeds and not a mooring ring in sight! We cruised on, mainly at tick over, due to the high number of permanently moored boats, many unlicensed, many without names or numbers. In fact, many were in such poor repair they looked abandoned. We had little trouble finding a mooring right before the terminus, just across from College Cruisers. These moorings were the closest you could moor to the city, while on the canal and were in by far the best shape of any of moorings we had seen today.

It was early afternoon by the time we arrived so, once moored, we locked up the boats and headed into the city to take a look around. A ten minute walk and we were in the centre of a very overcrowded Oxford.

We have been to university cities before, Cambridge included, so it was no surprise to see lots of young people of university age and lots of bikes. I guess what we weren't expecting was the number of school tour groups both from the UK and Europe. The malls were shoulder to shoulder and the streets with road traffic had people spilling out on to roads.

Rachael had a shopping list to complete so we managed to hit all the right spots to strike things off the list. After the shopping was done there was plenty of time to wander the streets to have a look at the many beautiful old buildings. Oxford Castle was our starting point, a large portion of which has been taken over by a hotel chain.

Oxford University was next on the list but we weren't going to wander all over Oxford for all the campus'. The main entrance, quadrangle and green were beautiful buildings.

Christ Church meadow with Christ Church in the background.

Another shot of Christ Church.

The entrance to Christ Church from the meadow.

Rachael managed a few interesting nick knacks for the grandkids at Lewis Carroll's Alice's Shop.

After quite a few hours walking around and in and out of shops, Kevin knew a nice pub by the River Thames. A few pints and a snack at The Head of the River were in order. An outside table at this pub also gave us a view of what we were getting into tomorrow when we go down through the lock on to the River Thames. Several narrow boats passed at a fair clip as they cruised down the Thames with the current.

No need to stay any longer, tomorrow it is down Isis Lock and on to the Thames.