Friday 30 June 2023

Caen Hill

Today's Canal : Kennet and Avon

It is not going to be a long blog today : (1) We have been covering mostly familiar territory and seen very  little of novelty (2) it was very grey from the outset and after mid morning there have been frequent spells of drizzle, even donned waterproofs for a time (3) after the initial run to Semington we have been working through 13 locks until we finally moored (and 7 swing bridges).

We were still having to pass slowly a lot of moored boats for the first hour, not as many but spaced out so that there was little opportunity to open up the throttle.

At our first swing bridge this car confronted Mike as he followed the path from the bridge landing. In fact it was parked as far off the farm track as it could but it did mean pushing though brambles to get by.

At Semington Bottom Lock there is a massive hedge of honeysuckle, at its best in flower, and a very heavy scent that was impossible to ignore.

The two Semington locks and then the five Seend flight were generally straightforward if as heavy as is bound to be the case on this canal.

We spotted this sign for a boat based business. We thought that they might have avoided putting the name in an arc (rather than straight!)

We shared the last few locks with a hire boat, due back at Foxhangers tomorrow morning. The young daughter of the family came back to help. They had shared the previous couple of locks with another boat but then it caught up with another seeking to share so the hire boat opted to wait for us. The lass was especially helpful. It may have been their first canal trip but she had been learning very fast! We stopped for a lunch break just before Sells Green.

It was mid afternoon before we set off once more. With the main Caen Hill flight still on restricted hours we wanted to be as close to it for opening time (10 am) as possible. We knew that there were several boats ahead of us that would already be in the queue.

This meant working up the first six locks of the overall Caen Hill flight. Alas, it turned out that this set were some of the worst we have encountered. Only 2 had both top paddles functional and the second lock has to be left empty because the bottom gates leak so much. As we discovered to our cost, the lock would only make a level with both top paddles open (lucky that is is one of the two with both working!)

We were mighty relieved to find that there was a space to moor as we planned (the main waiting area above the next lock was already full, at so we were told)

7.5 Miles - 13 Lockswas

Thursday 29 June 2023


Today's Canal : Kennet and Avon

It was bright and sunny when we awoke - the rest of the day was very mixed but only a few drops of rain, not amounting to anything much.

The batteries we a little low this morning and it was hair drying (which usually involves turning on the engine for the alternator). Christine suggested to Mike that he might like to move the boat the 100m to the water point just the other side of the bridge in Bathampton. This would give an excuse for running the engine! She also wanted to start a load of laundry.

Before long (it was a surprisingly fast tap) we were under way properly. With only the one lock at Bradford on Avon ahead of today, it was otherwise plain level cruising. The main downside is that almost the whole way is stem to stern moored boats, all expecting passers-by to slow down just for them! For long periods we were limited to tick over.

On the way down we noted a couple of sculptures on the off side. Today we saw several more, some almost buried in the undergrowth. (The difficulty with projects like this is that all the focus is on setting it up and forgetting about the maintenance in the future!) This one, however, is in a much better state.

We called at Dundas Wharf, long enough to use the sani station. We might have stayed longer but two more boats arrived and we had to finish up and move on as quickly as we could.

Immediately after this we crossed the Dundas Aqueduct. Although it stands high above the river  and rail, the substantial walls and wide towpaths mean that on the water it does not feel that way at all!

Just after the tight bend at the end of the aqueduct (where there are moored boats and it is narrow anyway) we spotted a very wide beam boat coming the other way. Not sure what it was doing, we backed off and gave him plenty of room to pass at a gap in the moorers. However, nothing happened and eventually we edged forward. It seems that he had stuck on the bottom and was going nowhere fast. Just after we had finally passed him, another wide beam came along. We tried to warn the steerer to stop as the boat ahead was in difficulty but initially he made no change in speed. He then spotted the problem, by which time he was almost running into the other wide beam! We left them to it and by the time they were out of sight, not much had changed . . .

Then followed a long wooded section until Avoncliff Aqueducts where we crossed back to the other side of the river and rail.

Around the corner, where the canal is rather narrower, yet another very wide beam (wide beams vary quite a bit in width) was moored up, taking up more than half of the channel. We only just passed and leaving enough room not to run into it or the overhanging trees on the offside. We could not work out what might happen if another boat of the same size came along!

A boat was emerging from Bradford Lock as we arrived - crew have to be dropped off before the cafe and bridge - but we guessed that there must be volunteers on duty as the other boat did not have to stop to pick anyone up. Indeed there were two very helpful chaps who cheerfully did all the work and brought us up very gently. It is a deep lock and not easy to secure when only one boat is in the lock. 

Nevertheless, we had an extremely smooth and effortless ride up. They obviously knew their lock well. This is a very busy lock with a lot of hire boats based just above - many of the hirers having to encounter their first and difficult lock within metres of being set off! Thanks chaps!

We were fortunate to find a space just, but only just, large enough to fit our boat in, right at the end of the visitor moorings and the bridge to Sainsbury! By the time we came back from shopping, the last boat in the line had left and it looked as if we had had an easy moor! If only.

Another slow cruise for just under an hour. We were at first behind a day boat out from Hilperton but they tried to pull into a gap to let a couple of kayakers, hard on their tail, to go in front. Alas this manoeuvre proved to be a bit more difficult than they had expected and they ended up across our rapidly approaching bows. Brakes on hard - and we avoided running into them but they were then able to let us pass them.

ABC Hilperton is a major hire centre (along with the others at Bradford) Fortunately by the time we arrived here we were still ahead of the mass on their way back at the end of their holiday. One or two were already in position for 9.30 am tomorrow.

Our diesel tank quenched its thirst at the adjacent Boatyard - a very friendly and helpful place it is.

Time then to look for a mooring. The designated stretch just after Hilperton is not very good. (Perhaps that is why it was empty, room for at least 8 boats) The problem with most of the length is that erosion has taken away almost all of the bank between the water and the hard towpath so that there is nowhere in which gto hammer mooring pins - no rings. After a couple of tries we eventually found that the final space would work and we quickly grabbed it! Mobile signal is not especially good however.

10.8 Miles - 1 Lock

Wednesday 28 June 2023


Today's Navigations : River Avon, Kennet and Avon Canal

A shortened navigation day today as this morning we took part in an online Zoom training course, still sat at the Bath Quays mooring.

As soon as the course finished at 1.30 after which we needed our lunch! It was around 2.30 before we actually set off, leaving the converted warehouses behind us. 

Although only a short distance, the  rest of the river to the canal junction is crossed by many bridges, rail, vehicular and pedestrian. This is the last one.

We tied firmly to the pontoon lock landing as it takes some time to prepare the lock and. as we found on the way down, the currents can easily pull the boat out into midstream and unless well tied. Th#e time as also extended as, a boat appeared from Bath Deep Lock just as we were starting to empty the River Lock. By the time we were ready to come in another boat had joined us on the pontoon and we shared all six locks today.

As soon as we came out of the first lock, the dark abyss of Deep Lock loomed in front of us. Actually, it is quite a bit easier ascending this lock with another boat as securing a single boat to the risers is barely possible with only the steerer on board.

On the way down we missed taking a picture of the mechanism to open the bottom gates - so here it is. Can we just mention again that each gate takes 110 turns of a windlass either to open or to close! That's 440 turns altogether, before even starting to fill from the top! At least this time we shared the task with the boat that had just come down and our partner crew!

We also failed last time to work out the origins of the chimney alongside the Pump Shed refreshment stop. This time we spotted a recently installed information board.

You may not be able to read the text so here it is: "The chimney is all that's left of the pumping station that once pushed water up to the pound above Bath Top Lock. This kept the canal flowing smoothly. Posh Bathwick Hill residents insisted on an ornate, not an ordinary, chimney."

The pound between the top two locks is short and direct, unlike those below. Hence the two boats could transit in close formation.

Just before we reached open country between Bath and Bathampton we spotted this house. We noted elsewhere to Bath Human Society life belt on the lock cottage beside the top lock. At the distance from the boat it was a bit difficult to read all of the dark blue sign but the first part says that it is Bath Humans Society's Station for Lifebouys and Drag Poles. A photo taken from much closer distance can be found here along with a bit more about the Society and the social conditions of its time.

Not long after leaving Bath we found ourselves behind a very slow hire boat. We found that we had to drift out of gear for much of the time to avoid running into them. OK, so there was a long line of moored boats and it is good to slow down past them but . . .

We guessed that they were looking for a mooring and spurning the few rather rough ground openings. They too were heading for bathampton as they pulled onto the good visitor mooring where we stayed a few days ago. Fortunately for boating neighbourliness there was still room for us as well even if we are on the bend part!

3.3 Miles - 6 Locks

Tuesday 27 June 2023

Bath Quays

Today's Navigation : River Avon

For the most part, today was very grey and at times quite chilly. With a long session ahead of us we, as on the way down, made an early start and left the visitor moorings at 8 am. 

We went under the Pero Bridge where the water is a bit wider coming back under a different arch to pass the moorings once more, but on the outside.

Our first task was to cross over to Wapping Wharf to empty all three of our elsan cassettes. Close to running out of time! On the way we passed a number of ships. The first is MV Balmoral. Built in 1949 she first served as a ferry, running between Southampton and the Isle of Wight, carrying up to 10 cars on its deck, as well as passengers and small freight.. After that role finished in 1968 she has had a chequered career including for a short time providing a service to Lundy Island. For some time she has been adapted to a life as a day cruiser and needed several very expensive refits. Alas in 2017 she was deemed unfit to set to sea and has been tied up in Bristol since then, used as an education centre.

Next, we passed John King a former tug that assisted ships into and out of the harbour out as far as Avonmouth. The work gradually tapered off as less and less sea freight traded into the harbour and, in any case, modern ships did not need such help. In 1970 she was sold off and had various used but was eventually bought by Bristol Museums and now runs trips around the harbour.

We mentioned the replica of John cabot's Matthew in an earlier blog.

Moored next to Wapping Wharf is a large motor yacht now called Miss Conduct. yet a nother vessel that has ended up here after a long career. She was built in US and completed in 1990, initially used as a top of the range super yacht restaurant. Gradually every billionaire wanted an even larger yacht and this one slipped down to 195th largest! For a while she was laid up, rusting away but after an extensive refit for a then reclusive wealthy businessman she became his home, permanently moored here. Earlier this year his identity and the source of his wealth became known when he was convicted of numerous offences as a rogue landlord and received a hefty fine. But he still lives here with his non-flying helicopter!

We tied up on the services pontoon but, alas, quickly discovered that we needed a different access code from either of the two we had already. We had to wait until 8.30 for the Harbour Master's office to open.

We were now able to return back aln the rest of the Floating Harbour, followed by the Feeder Channel. The poor light meant that we could not take any better pictures than on the way down.

We stopped briefly at Netham Lock to chat to the lock keeper who was out watching boats through - we had already passed the first arrival heading to the visitor pontoons.

These cottages appear, from old maps, to have been for the workers at several large quarries alongside the river.

We left the semi tidal river at Hanham Lock - only a small rise and thankfully already empty and ready for us (it was the only one of the six today, alas!) We shared most of the locks coming down but none today. However, there was a steady stream of hire boats on the move  - not all entirely familiar with lock protocols.

Spotted a couple  of dinosaurs feeding at the Avon Valley Adventure Park - which started life as a Pick Your Own Farm!

As on the way down, Swineford Lock proved very slow to fill - it all but stopped just a few cm short of being able to be opened. We had to resort to an advanced boating procedure to make progress.

Here, at the Avon County Rowing Club, the facilities were totally deserted, in sharp contrast to when we passed on the way down. Overall, we saw almost no water users, other than hire boats, save for one group of 10 canoes. Still had to maintain a careful lookout, just in case.

Weston Lock (the one with an extensive sand bank below) was almost as slow to fill as Swineford. Thanks to crew waiting to come down, we did not need special measures - just two people pushing rather than one. The time gave a chance to chat to the other boater who had been accompanying her father on a transit from Sharpness to Bristol, with the help of one of the Gloucester Pilots. She remarked how interesting he made the trip, pointing out endless landmarks accompanied with many tales and histories. 

As we arrived at the Quays mooring we could see that there was plenty of room and we actually tied up in almost the same place as before. (As also in 2014 on our first visit to Bristol, but now with much better railings). Later on, several more boats did arrive and most slots were occupied by nightfall.

Whilst Christine prepared the evening meal, Mike walked to the nearby Sainsbury supermarket for a few items. This store has introduced the latest security measure - you now have to scan a barcode on your receipt to be allowed out through the gates from the self checkouts.

17.5 Miles - 6 Locks

Monday 26 June 2023


After we completed yesterday's blog we went for a meal at Za Za bazaar, a buffet restaurant just across Pero's Bridge, which we had booked on Saturday. In part this was re-visiting the place we went to 9 years ago but we had heard positive reports about it since.

As we left the boat, it was still very sunny and hot - space was at a premium for quay-side sitters!

We managed to obtain a quiet (comparatively!) table in a corner. The layout of the food was as we remembered with a wide variety of dishes from different world cuisines. Somewhe re between street food and comfort food rather than haute cuisine, it aims to be  popular and open to families, groups as well as individuals. We did rather stand out age-wise!

Much more so then we remembered from our previous visit, the staff were very friendly and chatty. Most are students, particularly those from oversees doing a Masters. As we left, even the door security chap was keep tlo chat about himself! Not really a chance to take photos but just one to set the scene.

The restaurant was heavily recruiting support for its objection to a planning application by a developer to close the restaurant and rebuild as offices, putting all the staff out of work. We suspect that there is perhaps another side to the story but it would be a shame to see the vibrant waterside area disappear into yet another set of offices. The sum of the businesses is more than just the individuals and it could well precipitate a complete chance to the character of the area.

We walked back in the twilight via Queen Square, a large open space surrounded by posh terraced houses. At the centre is a statue of William II. We suspect that those who planned it did not intend to spoil his dignity by becoming a permanent perch for the local gulls!

According to Wikipedia, "The square was named in honour of Queen Anne, who visited Bristol in 1702, and it became the home of the merchant elite." However, the state of the harbour eventually drove the wealthy to move up the hill to Clifton, away from all the nastiness in the water!

In the gathering twilight we could see the rock/pop concert still continuing in the Amphitheatre across the opposite side of St Augustine's Reach.

We had planned to visit first the M Shed museum just across on the other side of the harbour. It contains, amongst a lot else, recent curations regarding the slave trade history specifically the Colston statue that was famously duped into the harbour three years ago. However, when we checked the opening times we discovered that it is closed on Mondays!

We had three other options for this morning - The Georgian House, The Red Lodge (both museums with free entry) and also M & S for a shopping opportunity for Christine who has several vouchers burning a hole in her purse. Google told just that it was located not far from the second museum.

We followed the same route we had taken yesterday as far as the cathedral and then climbed up the steep Hill. Street. At its top are the imposing buildings of Bristol University but the Georgian House is in a side street just before the top.

The Georgian House was built for John and Jane Pinney when they returned from the Caribbean after two decades running the plantations which John had inherited from an uncle. Although they were in poor condition when he arrived, aged 22, he was very wealthy by the time he left. The house is now kept much as it would have been when he lived here. It became a museum in the 1930s when it was gifted to the Council by a local clergyman.

John later inherited two other properties in this country and also bought himself a country house 35 miles from here is Somerset where the family spent much of there time. In general, this house became the centre of John Pinney;s new business: a merchant supporting the sugar and slave trade. He probably made even more money from this venture than the plantation itself.

Although very much a family home, in practice it was set up to impress, not only that the owner could afford various luxury features (like elegant cornices in the major room) but also that he was no push over and guarded his wealthy extremely carefully. No-one was expected to try to pull a fast one on him!

We learnt a lot about the family and the place from talking to several of the staff who were both enthusiastic and well informed.

One room is set up with a detailed account of John's approach to owning a plantation. On the one hand, he sought by the standards of the day to be a good owner and to treat his slaves better than most others. On the other han, he was quite clear that slavery was not a problem: "Since my arrival I have bought 9 negro slaves at St Kitts . . .  I was shocked at the first appearance of human flesh, exposed for sale. But surely, God ordained them for use and benefit of us; otherwise his Divine will would have been made manifest by some particular sign"

Soon after returning to England, he sold the plantation but retained some interests as when the plantation owners were compensated for losing ownership of their slaves (as their 'property') John received considerable sums.

After we finished our visit we walked back down the hill to our next destination: The Red Lodge. This too is in the care of Bristol Museums. This property, although at first sight not dissimu]ilar gto the previous house, was actually very different. It was built as part of a large estate and house, just below the present building. 

It was primarily intended for entertaining - one owner was a leading member of the Elizabethan court. Visitors needed to be impressed and 'royally' entertained. 

The original garden would have been much larger and this knot layout is modern, based on a design set into one of the ceilings in the house.

In 2020, work to repair one of the floors revealed an hitherto forgotten well which was probably at the time the house was built the main source of water.

Over the centuries the house had had many different uses - in the mid 19C, Anne, Dowager Lady Byron, bought it "for the purpose of rescuing young girls from sin and misery. and bringing them back to the paths of holiness" She entrusted the running of the school to a remarkable woman Mary Carpenter who had particularly enlightened views, including an avoidance of corporal punishment. This is aid to have been the first girls reform school in the world. MAny of the girls went on from here to find good jobs as domestic servants, something they would not otherwise have been able to aspire to.

Leaving here we followed the directions on our phone map to the M and S store in the city centre. Along the way we spotted three violin shops, one specialising in bows. We cannot recall ever having seen such before. And then three all at once - like buses!

Alas, we could not find the store and were then told it has now closed. Thanks Mr Google! Time then to head back to the boat for a very late lunch.

0 Miles - 0 Locks