Wednesday 31 May 2023


Today's Canal - Kennet and Avon

The promised photo of our overnight mooring in the reeds does not do justice to how it felt! The width of the reed bed meant that we were rather more away from a firm bank than it looks.

As we were beginning to set about casting off - a complicated operation in the context - a boat came up behind us and we let it pass before we fully released ourselves. Fortunately they waited for us at the nearby lock and we shared this and the next at Kintbury.

At Kintbury a horse drawn wide beam boat offers trips along the canal. Not long after we arrived a coach load of eager passengers arrived.

Both we and the lock sharer needed to fill up with water - we arrived second at the lock so had to wait. This was the first CaRT full service facility since Tyle Mill so whilst we waited for the water point we were able to complete the other chores. All the time we were at the lock there was at least one other boat, sometimes two, in the queue for water!

Eventually we were able to continue our journey. Just after leaving we could look  back at these splendid buildings - we believe that the main one on the left is the former vicarage. This house dates from 1860 - and earlier building on this site (see) was visited several times by Jane Austen (she described the village a famous for its apples!). The present day Vicar lives in a more manageable modern property elsewhere in town.

At bridge 78 some work was in  progress preparing for re-pointing the facing brickwork. We guess that these were volunteers as this is rarely a task for a budget can be dedicated.

At Brunsdon Lock there was another volunteer working party - this time cutting grass, painting gates and cill markers, checking for items that might need specialist attention and so on. They were also keen to help boats through - always welcome.

Dun Mill Lock has its offside abutting private property. It would appear that successive owners have been very keen to protect their privacy - one sign says that only boat operators are allowed that side. 

Unfortunately at the moment, the towpath side top paddle is out of order. This is perhaps the first we have seen on the K and A - quite remarkable given that the gates especially are beginning to show their age and are giving rise to a greater frequency of short term closures for emergency repairs.

We moored at lunch time is the first space we could find close to the wooden footbridge, as this is very close to the Tesco in Hungerford. In the end, milk was the only real priority but, with a short list of four items, Mike went off after lunch leaving Christine to sort of laundry for tomorrow.

When we set off again we immediately passed under the bridge that carries the main road into the town's high street.

We did not need to worry about finding a mooring - the main visitor mooring for the shops was completely empty (part is reserved for a trip boat which passed us earlier)

At Hungerford Lock a boater moored nearby came to see if he could help. We chatted about swing bridges as he was concerned to tell us that the next one was rather difficult. He then offered to go and prepare it so when we reached Church Swing Bridge we sailed straight through! Thanks, mate!

Hungerford Marsh Lock is unusual as it has a swing bridge right across the middle. It seems to carry a popular waking footpath. A family of several small children came enthusiastically to help.

Cobblers Lock was our last for today (hence the title of this blog entry!) It is also unusual as it has a lock cottage alongside - of course, now privately owned.

The lock also had an additional task for us: as well as the Please Leave Empty that we have found at several locks today, there is a new IMPORTANT instruction about closing the bottom gates. This took a but more fulfilling than it might seem as the offside lock kept shutting itself before we could get back to close the towpath side FIRST!

Below the lock, a CaRT work boat was moored, carefully just off the end of the landing. We felt that this gave us permission to do the same above the lock. As a result we had a rather simpler process than last night.

A pleasant end to an often cloudy and cooler day.

6.3 Miles - 8 Locks

Tuesday 30 May 2023

Not Quite Kintbury

Today's navigation - Kennet and Avon

Today's schedule included a zoom call with friend from Cornwall that was booked for 10.30. However, we also wanted to make good progress towards Kintbury (the next CaRT service facility since Tyle Mill - hopefully getting there early tomorrow) but also to fill our diesel tank at the marina in the centre of Newbury.

So, we made a prompt start at 9 am, immediately passing under Whitehouse footbridge, which appears to be a modern construction, complete with ramps for accessibility. However, old OS maps indicate that there has been some sort of footbridge here for a long time.

Next came Greenham Lock - just below is a towpath bridge over an arm - a dry dock is located just to the right - hidden by trees we could not get a picture of it!

We pulled in to the marina service point - the owner came to see what we wanted and apologised that she would be a few minutes as a Sainsbury delivery was just arriving - the driver had not been to a boat before as seemed to think that he ought to be lost when in fact he was in the right place! After we filled up we pushed across to the towpath side as there was a convenient space to moor - just the other side of the boat on the left of the picture. Although our mobile signal was not the greatest we managed our hour long zoom catch up albeit with one or two glitches.

We then pressed on through the centre of Newbury - we managed a photo of Newbury Wharf (on our left) but forgot Victoria Park on the opposite side!

The elegant and quite modern Wharf Road Bridge connects Newbury Wharf with a shopping centre on the opposite bank of the river - no private cars are allowed to use it. We have seen a suggestion that it is also called New American Bridge as it replaces an earlier American Bridge built during WW2.

The river gets quite narrow now, with older buildings cramming in on both sides and the water flow increases accordingly.

Access into the next lock is also hampered by the entrance of the river under the towpath bridge to the left of the photo.

Alongside the lock in a small secluded park area is a sculpture called Ebb and Flow that was installed in 2003 as part of a scheme by the local council to use new works of art to enhance the environment. It is carved from a single piece of granite and is connected to the lock in such a way that water only gushes into the bowl when the lock is in use!

The canal then passes another older part of the town, West Mills yard. Now a mixture of shops and offices, we have not yet discovered what its particular purpose was originally.

At the end of the row of buildings in the previous picture is a mechanised swing bridge that carries narrow road giving access to a small number of houses and apartments. This website indicates that West Mill processed corn before being converted into apartments.

Shortly after passing the bridge (which was comparatively slow) we pulled into a convenient slot (only just big enough to moor up for lunch.

A riverside meadow in splendid colour!

On the outskirts of thwe town we passed the remains of an old railway abutment. On one side there is no trace of the railway as it now lies underneath a modern housing estate but there are occasional reminders of its past elsewhere. This was the Lambourn Valley railway, quite a late entrant into the railway era and was initially privately owned but in 1905 was gobbled up by the mighty GWR. A sleepy branch line between Lambourn to the north west and the mainline station in Newbury, it was never sufficiently popular to be a success and it finally closed in 1973. More fascinating details can be found here.

One of the bottom gate balance beams on Lock 83 looks as if it cannot be long for this world! It is, however, amazing how some timbers carry on regardless.

This railway bridge is usually called Pickletimber although we have not found the origin of its name. Some maps more prosaically say Benham Railway Bridge. This carries one of the main lines to the West Country - electrification stops at Newbury so no overhead cables here.

Three locks, including here Benham Lock 82, have signs requesting that they be left empty. Several were also very hard to open at the top end as leakage from the bottom meant that they were unwilling to make a level. Occasionally we were able to accept offers of help from walkers. Never turn down assistance, especially when you need it

Although the navigation from Newbury was meant as a canal to connect the Kennet and the Avon (which much pre-dated the middle section) the original surveyor rs could not resist using the river water when available. The flow was no longer quite so acute as down steam but still needed care when passing weirs and sluices such as this one.

Our last lock of the day was Copse (no 80) just one short of the Kintbury pound. Rather late we spotted that there was a boat waiting to come down. Christine had to carefully reverse back onto the lock landing - not easy with the flow from the side bridge going from bank to bank.

We were keen to avoid doing another lock today so we hoped for a mooring in the next pound. Alas, the banks were overgrown with reeds and other greenery. We thought we had found a possibility but it proved less satisfactory than we expected. Nevertheless we made it do, despite not being that close to firm land! We had to use several of our tricks to get ropes, pins, hammers, planks etc in the right places. The stern was too far out for throwing a line to the towpath but we used the boat pole to catch it! We also slid a mooring pin down the rope, threaded through its eyelet, when it was not safe to toss it ashore as per usual. We made it, but no evening walks are likely with the drawbridge drawn up early doors. No photo either - perhaps in the morning we will capture something as we cast off.

4.5 Miles - 7 Locks

Monday 29 May 2023


Today's navigation - Kennet and Avon

Another great morning as we prepared to set off - the river was still running pretty fast and so we took the precaution of casting off two-handed. Normally, this would be done by one person but from our experience as we came in last night (and also of the story from a hire boat) we knew that if the bow rope was cast off, there was a real risk that the boat would be swept around by the time we reached the stern and freed that.

As we mentioned yesterday, the first lock, Monkey Marsh, was close by, just after the river junction. This was one of 20 locks on the Reading side of the navigation to be built in this fashion. It has conventional straight sides up to the level of the downstream side but then sloping turf banks for the upper section. The width can just be seen from the protective metal railings. According to the accompanying information boated, this lock was reconstructed in this style during the restoration project - the only original one is back at Theale. Operating this lock took even longer as a sign on the balance bream requesting that it beleft empty - and it empties sloooowly.

A manual swing bridge follows very soon - it proved to be remarkably easy to swing but, of course, you do not know that until you try it!

Most of the K and A manual bridges have pin and chain to secure them in position. A picture indicates how it is used - the threaded pin screws by hand into the hole in the end of the bridge deck. If it proves difficult to turn then the top of the pin is the same size as paddles and can fit a standard windlass. Alas, most are located too close to the side structure to allow a windlass to make many turns quickly so it only really is useful to loosen it. 

As we were coming up the next lock a Scouts Association boat arrived with a party of enthusiastic Brownies and their leaders. At least it meant that we could leave the gates open for  them to enter!

In places the reeds in the water have been left to their own devices and so expand rapidly. here , the warning of an impending weir (sluice) is soon to disappear altogether and even now is onlhy meaningful if you know what it should say!

The next lock follows directly after a railway bridge. As it is also on a bend it is not possible to see where the landing is until almost the last moment.

The river flows in under this footbridge, very close to the lock (just out of shot to the left). The landing is in fact opposite and initially we thought that the flow would keep the boat happily against the landing but we discovered that the front end of the boat is pulled sharply away!

Ham Lock, which later proved to be our last lock of the day, appears to have presented a challenge to the restorers who used very large bolts set into the ground at a downward angle to hold the wash walls in place. The whole of the wall inside the lock was similarly restrained.

As we looked back down the river from a junction above the lock we could see the original mill building. As far as we can discover it has been a small hotel but now a private home. 

We hoped to be able to moor between Ham and Greenham Locks where there is a wooden footbridge leading to two supermarkets just metres from the canal. The building behind the moored boat is Lidl and Tesco is visible in the photo to the left.

It was really lunch time but we opted to do our shopping first at the Tesco store. It was convenient not to have to carry two bottles of milk as well as other grocery items any further than over the bridge!

By the time we had had our lunch we readily agreed that we could stay put for the night. Although there is quite a bit of foot traffic it is otherwise quiet.

After stowing away the shopping, Christine discovered that we really needed another four items to last us until the week end! Mike went over the bridge, this time to Lidl (well, we need to be fair!) At least the bag was lighter than the first time.

2.9 Miles - 4 Locks

Sunday 28 May 2023


Today's Navigation - Kennet and Avo 

Despite a slightly patchy phone signal, where we stopped turned out to be quite a good overnight mooring (as well as being close to a bus route - see yesterday!)

We awoke to a glorious late Spring Bank Holiday mooring (OK, pedants can rejoice in reminding everyone that tomorrow is actually the Bank Holiday, but, dear reader, you know what I mean!)

After setting off and passing under Froud's Bridge we had had a short distance along a winding river section (passing the entrance to the marina which is not on the navigation but accessed just a little way down the river). Several times today we had sections where the river entered and left the canal, each time our frate of progress dropped dramatically and sometimes it seemed as if we were hardly moving at all.

We arrived at the bridge waiting mooring for Woolhampton - with the dreaded river and lock just beyond the swing bridge. Fortunately this bridge is mechanised as the advice is to moor before the bridge, set the lock empty and gates open, then open the bridge. Only once everything is ready, cast off and make a beeline for the lock. Christine walked up to the lock and opened a gate (a boat had just come down so we knew that it would be empty) and then applied the Key of Power to the swing bridge.

The flow today through the bridge narrows highlighted the importance of heeding strong stream warnings - anything more and we would not have been able to pass through against the flow.

The particular problem here is that the river enters the navigation just a couple of meters before the lock entrance, directly across the desired direction of boat travel. We followed the advice and almost made it without incident but at the last minute the flow caught us and we made the gentlest of nudges into the tower wing wall, nothing drastic, glad to mention.

Soon after the lock came another swing bridge, this time a manual one. It proved very tough to get moving - Mike had to enlist the help of a passing cyclist and then another walker joined in before it would move. Once underway, it was quite easy and later closed (well almost) without a hitch.

We had a bit of a wait at Old Heale's Lock as a little queue had formed.This was not helped with a sprinkling of wider boats that could not share with a narrowboat so went through on their own. However, this did give a chance to get to know some of the other boaters better.

One of these boats that went just ahead of us offered to wait at the next swing bridge and wave us through. We suspect they may have somewhat regretted the offer as turning the lock took an age - even if not our fault!

This house is a little distance from the nearest lock. we are not sure of its origins even though its present name is Lock House. It seems that at some stage the occupiers  became annoyed at boaters asking them about canal problems - do not ask, a notice says.

We had been warned about problems with the top gates at Colthrop Lock - very hard to open. A young family, two small boys, were very happy to help with the top paddles, one even crossed over the bottom gates footboards `(with help of Dad!) By the way, the industrial buildings alongside the lock point up that we are now alongside Thatcham (almost entirely to the north of the canal).

The gates live up to their reputation and even with three adults and two children they would not move until given a gentle hint from the boat bow! Coming out of the lock proved tricky for Christine as two SUPs were sitting on the lock landing taking When it was suggested that they move to avoid being crushed they were somewhat reluctant. Keeping clear meant that the boat was caught be the strong weir stream just above the lock. The result was another Ever Given moment. We tried to re-orient the boat using the lock entrance but the pull was too strong and we did not want to attempt to re-open the gates. Luckily some of the other boaters came to our aid and we were eventually able to pull the boat across - Mike made a rather quick leap onto the boat with the rope before we were sucked in again.

It was now well into normal lunch time and we a lookout for a mooring as we made our way to Thatcham Bridge were there are a few 48 hour moorings. We were most fortunate to get in to a tight space, helped by yet another boater and one boat moving back into a 'git gap'. This was almost too good to be true - so much that we then opted to stay here the night!

Much later, Mike took a walk back to the bridge for a long shot of the moorings (we are third down) and then up to the next lock - more about that tomorrow, perhaps.

A good bit later still, Christine walked up to the lock and on to the next swing bridge. She found plenty of people to talk with, including a number of dog walkers. She likes taking photos of yellow irises.

On her eventual return to the boat she spotted this mayfly/damsel fly/whatever on the roof and it stayed still long enough to be photographed! Perhaps it is a fashion model fly . . . 

4.3 Miles - 4  Locks