Saturday 6 May 2023


Today's navigations - River Thames, Kennet and Avon

It was really a very wet start to the day, which continued little abated all morning. Of course, it had to be as this was the Coronation day! Despite the celebrations and ceremonies taking place some way downstream, we opted to set off, hoping to reach the relative calm of a canal. Of course, the K & A begins, as its name suggests, by making use of several sections of the River Kennet and, with more rainfall, we expected that the river stream might well be increasing before long, even leading to closure.

We left our overnight mooring bu 9.30, leaving a hole that will no doubt soon be filled.

Ever since we started to come his way there has been some sort of boat on the bank opposite Tesco. In the past it seemed almost uninhabitable, resting on the mud at  the bottom of the river. Today, this one was clearly inhabited as they lit their stove fairly early. Despite its solar panel hanging over the edge, it otherwise seems to be making a good job of camouflaging itself.

Within a very short distance we reached Kennet Mouth where we left the Thames to continue its rush towards London. Immediately we felt the impact of pushing against the flow - very different from the past few days when we had been carried downstream almost without power from the engine. Even with increased revs we still moved slowly, following another narrowboat that turned in from downstream just moments before we did.

The first lock - Blakes -  after the junction is still a Thames lock. It is not mechanized and uses paddle gear similar to that on the upper Thames - the only lock we came through on this trip like it was King's Lock, where we bought our visitor licence.

We expected it to be on self service - every previous time we have not seem a keeper here. Together with the other boat we emptied the lock and started to enter. We were then surprised to discover that a keeper was indeed on duty (he had changed the sign at the top but not yet at the bottom!) Another boat arrived to go down - so we did not have o close the gates.

The navigation through the centre of Reading is rather narrow and the flow can be - and indeed was - very fast with several tight bends and low bridges to negotiate. As a result, traffic lights have been installed. The boat ahead took a look and decided to pull over to a mooring opposite whilst they worked lout what they should do. 

We crept up to the light and, stretching from the bow, Christine pushed the button and the light immediately turned green, (It can be up to 12 minutes delay if a boat has just set the light at the other end)

This bridge is on a bend and it would be rather tricky if boats attempted to pass underneath it - the headroom at the edges is not that high. Going up allows a steerer some chance of controlling the speed and direction of the boat but coming down is just the opposite.

The modern redevelopment has many different outlets - mostly eating and drinking places with a variety of cuisine styles but nowhere for boaters to stop.County Lock - the end of the controlled section - needs care. Unless the boat is quickly tied up on the pontoon, a forceful eddy can quickly catch the boat and turn in in circles! However, as we rounded the last corner we could see that the single hander coming down at Blakes Lock had left both gates open so we blasted our way straight in, making a rapid stop once within the safer confines of the lock chamber! 

After making the boat secure we filled the lock - despite its challenges, it is only a very shallow lock. Normally, leaving at the top also requires care to avoid being swept onto the weir which is very close. As we were waiting for the lock to fill, a boat arrived to come so we were pleased that we would be able to leave the gates open and just drive straight out. However, the crew on that boat must have missed the large sign on the upstream approach which warns boaters to keep well to the right and to wait before the adjacent bridge until the lock is ready to enter. They took some persuading that they needed quickly to reverse to avoid being trapped by the weir flow. By then we were not able to stop and make sure they managed to escape but we did hear later that they managed to make it through safely. All tis effort and concentration meant that we failed to take any pictures!

We were not finished with challenges: after nearly half an hour pushing against the flow we reached Fobney Lock. As well as being on a sharp bend with the river water taking the boat in every direction except the right one, the pumping station and waterworks beside the lock discharge right under the lock landing! The mooring is only long enough or our boat so it is not possible to avoid the effect. Tying up is a priority.

We could then take our time - the lock was full so first it needed emptying. Mike opened both gates (we would normally only use one) to give Christine a larger target to aim at as soon as the last mooring rope was released! In fact she made it into the lock without any crashing into the sides or being dragged back into the river stream. Phew.

Whilst waiting for the lock to fill, Mike added to our collection of  brick maker marks. We found this information: 

John Francis Eastwood started the Eastwood Company in the early 1800’s. He had military connections and was once a serving commissioned officer, probably with the Duke of Wellington. Certainly John Eastwood owned Wellington Wharf, in Lambeth, which is named after the Duke of Wellington.  A clever businessman, his company soon became the main force in brick building.  It was suggested in 1880 that Eastwood would merge with five other brick field owners, Edward Frederick Quilter of Belstead - Suffolk, Joseph Edward Butcher of Frindsbury - Rochester, Josiah Jackson of Shoebury - Essex, John Woods of Singlewell - Gravesend and Charles Richardson of Vauxhall, London. Together the new company would be called Eastwood’s Limited. 

Further information can be found here and here. Belvedere Road lies between Waterloo Station and the river, just behind the London Eye. In the present age when anonymous bricks are mass produced, it is easy to forget just how significant this industry once was, especially in making the fortune of various industrial entrepreneurs.

The boat we shared with at Blakes then arrived as well as another hire boat coming down. Again this meant that we could leave without the bother of closing up! We thankfully found a useful mooring spot above the lock and stayed here for the rest of the day (drying out!)

3.6 Miles - 3 Locks

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