There and Back Again

Ancient and modern – passing a horsedrawn boat at Copse Lock

The paucity of blog posts recently in no way reflects our disappointment with the Kennet and Avon Canal. Even though it’s a bit challenging to moor in many places, it has lovely fluffy banks harbouring reed buntings and interesting places to visit. We really rather like it. We’ve had the opportunity to go home for a couple of days, and had lots of visitors on the boat.

Sometimes you have to do more than a little gardening to moor your boat

It really feels like coming home. Bradford-on-Avon, Bath, Devizes, Trowbridge; these are all places very familiar to us from work and leisure. We used to drive to Bradford-on-Avon on weekends and bank holidays to gongoozle and dream long before we were lucky enough to have Beau Romer. We’ve hired boats from there twice and one year when a week on a narrowboat wasn’t possible due to time constraints, we managed to squeeze in a day hire with most of the family for my birthday.

April 2014, Martyn’s first canal boat holiday on the Kennet and Avon. He’s still wearing that sweatshirt – see the previous photo!

Enough reminiscing. Now we’ve been down the Caen Hill flight and back up it again we’ve completed all seven Wonders of the Waterways in this boat. We aren’t interested in the IWA Silver Propeller award, although we’ve now visited several of its required locations, the Seven Wonders was something I had my eye on from the start.

Descending Caen Hill

If you ever find yourselves in Devizes early on a Friday evening, take yourself to Wadworth’s Brewery Tap, where the beer is superb, the welcome friendly, and they even have a pizza van that turns up outside to keep you there for just one more pint.

There’s no better place to enjoy a good pint than in a brewery

One slight disappointment was we didn’t make it to Bristol, although we did get down onto the River Avon. I phoned the lock keeper at Hanham Lock to get all the information on mooring in Bristol Floating Harbour only to find out it was going to cost £51 to stay there for one night. The cost of a mooring in a marina is usually no more than £20 and we’re miserly so Bath was as far as we got.

The views from the roof of Bath Abbey’s bell tower are awesome

We spent a good few days in Bath. It felt like we were on holiday there. Martyn and I climbed to the roof of Bath Abbey, enjoying the views and the history in equal measure. Lianna, Dan and Rowan came to visit and helped us up the locks from the River.

Bath Deep Lock is 19’5″ deep, and the second deepest lock in the country. (Tuel Lane on the Rochdale Canal is the deepest at 19’8.5″. We did that in 2021)

We like the West End between Devizes and Bath so much that we went up and down it twice. We had Becky from America visiting and it seemed such a shame not to do some proper touristing, so there’s been a lot of eating, drinking and fun.

It was in the unlikely setting of Bath’s Guildhall Indoor Market I had possibly the best cocktail ever – a marmalade martini.

On the return trip we girls went to the Thermae Bath Spa and after a couple of hours floating around in the warm Bath water, I thoroughly recommend it.

The beautiful Warleigh Weir at Claverton, complete with wild swimmers

It wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t find out something obscure to tell you. We were having a stroll around Bathampton one evening when I happened on a plaque on the side of a building. After Wiliam Harbutt invented Plasticine in 1897, until 1983 the factory that made it was sited there. What a shame Wallace and Gromit weren’t from Bath instead of Yorkshire!

William Harbutt looks rather friendly, don’t you think?

Caen Hill is made up of 29 locks, the Lower Seven, or Foxhangers Locks, the main hill of 16, and the 6 Devizes Locks at the top. There are wonderful volunteer lock keepers who help with the 16, but you’re on your own for the rest. On the way down with Penny and Andrew as a pair we did all 29 in one day. I’m not in a hurry to repeat that. On the way up we moored at the bottom of the hill, waited for the locks to open and went up as a single boat. Martyn and I share the driving, but poor Becky wound every single lock. Thank goodness for that brewery at the top.

There she is, waiting for the hard graft in the morning

We think the attraction between us and the K&A must be mutual. The canal wants to keep us here. We are currently moored at Pewsey, and for a few more days at least, we’re stuck. Both the old and new electric pumps failed at the Crofton Summit. They had to resort to firing up the boilers and running the steam pumps to rewater the canal. Those pumps date from 1812 and 1845, thank goodness they are still operational. Now we are just waiting for a repair to a lock at Hungerford (which was due to be fixed during the winter, but it wouldn’t wait) and hoping that another one that looks dodgy a bit further east holds out long enough for us to get through. It’s a long way back to Lancashire.

Bath again – gratuitous charcuterie

No Mooring

Egyptian Geese on the River Thames. I wasn’t familiar with them at all. It’s interesting how the local wildlife changes as we progress

Sorry, it’s been a while, so here’s a rundown of our exploits over the past few weeks – not what I thought I was going to write about at all. We liked Uxbridge, and it didn’t seem to be remotely in the grip of byelection fever while we were there. Martyn and I snuck off for lunch and then unexpectedly to a Muse concert at Milton Keynes, courtesy of my old schoolfriend Alison and her husband Peter. It was our third time seeing Muse, and they were every bit as excellent as I remember.

Nothing to do with boating at all, just enjoying a splendid evening at the National Bowl in Milton Keynes with 60,000 0ther people

After Uxbridge, the Grand Union got a bit grim. I didn’t think much of Hayes and Southall and there was a stretch where I’ve never seen so much rubbish, and we even spotted rats on the bank. It’s not all roses and castles. We spent a couple of pleasant days at the top of the Hanwell flight but descending the locks there was a bit of a trial. First there was no water, then there was too much. Until the CRT properly came to our rescue Penny and I were running up and down trying to let water out at the bottom to mitigate the threat of the overflowing higher pounds. Consequently it took about three times longer than it should have done.

Three Bridges at Hanwell. designed by I K Brunell of course. It’s road above canal above railway

Finally we reached the end of the Grand Union Canal at Brentford and our date with the mighty River Thames – the tidal section between Brentford and Teddington. I was apprehensive; would we be swept away, overturned, or mown down by an Uber boat or a large sea-going vessel? Thankfully none of that happened. We sped along on the tide at a giddy speed for any self-respecting narrowboat, and reaching Teddington was a bit of a anticlimax.

Cruising past Richmond-upon-Thames. Last time we were there we were on our honeymoon!

After Teddington we started to have the sort of problem that was going to become all too common over the next couple of weeks. “No mooring, no landing” the signs say, sometimes there’s a bit of variation “Keep off” or “Private mooring”. You start to feel a bit desperate sometimes for the feel of solid earth under your feet. It isn’t exactly welcoming. There are visitor moorings. You can only stay on most of them for 24 hours before payment is due, so there’s little temptation to linger either. You see boats moored squeezed in and moored up to tiny sections of the bank where the vegetation is just about pnetrable, but those spots with prevailing high banks are generally more suited to the river cruisers than to the likes of us. We might be king on the canals, but on the Thames we’re distinctly second class.

Kingston Railway Bridge, with Kingston Bridge in the background. My old head office is the sandy-coloured building on the right.

We did pay to stay in a few places. We lurked right outside the gates of Hampton Court Palace for the full five days we were allowed. I got to catch up with some old work colleages, and some of them came to see us on the boat. We even risked a short evening cruise, ever fearful that even at 8pm some opportunist would steal our mooring while we were out gallivanting.

Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare. I’ve driven past it many times, but have never seen it from this angle

Windsor was a bit of a disappointment. We arrived on Monday, on the day that POTUS came to visit the King. Can’t say I noticed, although we think we saw the Presidential helicopter leaving. Martyn and I ventured up into the town, which seemed to have a bit of a problem with the drains and an excess of homeless people. It was decidedly inconvenient that Windsor Castle was closed until Thursday and we decided not to stay and wait.

A beautiful evening at Runnymede, interrupted by planes constantly taking off from Heathrow Airport

Marlow was a delight with a lovely park where we enjoyed watching a bit of evening cricket and some very nice window shopping. We had a good mooring and went on a very mini pub crawl. Sadly Henley-on-Thames was only a brief stop for shopping. We jammed into a very tight mooring – twice because I had to move to let another boat out. Three years ago I never would even have attempted it. A historic boat festival was in full swing and once again mooring was at a premium. We should have stayed put because then we had quite a long slog to Reading before we were able to find anywhere to stop for the night. An overnight at Sonning, rubbing shoulders with the Clooneys, wasn’t going to be for us.

Amphicars having fun in the rain at Marlow

I hadn’t meant to describe our sojourn on the Thames so briefly. I like to think that we’ll be back to explore it at a bit more leisure in the future. It is so very different to the canals we are used to; so wide and grand. We kept the binoculars on the stern with us at all times, there’s so much to see they came in very useful, if only to read the “No Moooring” signs.

Windsor Castle of course. We had planned to moor on the playing fields of Eton College on the left, but it was too shallow. I must have winded the boat 5 times looking for a suitable mooring spot

So now we find ourselves on the Kennet and Avon at last. I like it a lot. So far it reminds me of the Leeds and Liverpool. They are both broad canals with a reputation for being difficult, they both flow through some beautiful countryside, they are both lined with pillboxes from WWII and they both terminate in a major port, Bristol and Liverpool respectively.

Gliding between the shops and cafes in Reading

We’ve seen some interesting things, the turf-sided locks for instance. We even survived the fearsome lock entrance at Woolhampton relatively unscathed.

Waiting for Monkey Marsh Lock to fill

For one night only we found one of the nicest moorings we’ve had in a while at Tyle Mill. I think it rates up there with my favourites at Gargrave on the L&L and Barnton Cut on the River Weaver. I’d like to spend a few peaceful days there in the future, enjoying the company of the resident cows. I wouldn’t mind next time though if we didn’t see the cover in which we wrap our pram hood while cruising disappearing down the River Kennet never to be seen again! That’s going to be expensive.

Martyn guarding the protecting the washing from the cows. For some reason he thought a red sweatshirt was a good idea …