Sunday 23 July 2023

Frouds Bridge

Today's Canal - Kennet and Avon

A better day - weather-wise, with good sunny spells for much of the time and pleasantly warm, but not hot. (No El Nino here, please!)

We were much later than usual in setting off - leaving our mooring just below yesterday's last swing bridge.

We were very close also to our first lock of the day: Old Heale's. Although deeper than the average or the K and A, it was not difficult.

And then, by contrast. came the (in)famous Woolhampton Lock and Bridge. The lock itself is quite standard. although also deep.

Closely following is the mechanically operated road bridge. There is a space to stop in between but, under most conditions, this is  not safe to use. Hence boaters are advised to wait at the tail of the lock until they are sure that the bridge is open and clear. 

The problem is that the river, now quite fast flowing, even today, come in almost immediately below, at right angles to the direction of navigation. This means using high throttle to avoid being swept in to the moored boat on the opposite bank.

There is then a sharp S bend before the bridge with the confused water trying to push the boat into the side of the abutment, with the landing only just beyond. Once arrived at the landing, the steerer, or crew if you have any, must quickly make secoure, tying the stern rope first to avoid it being pulled out into the main stream. Then, someone has to go back to the lock and shut the gate!

The next river section has several tight bends with the navigation leaving the river just before the entrance to Frouds Bridge Marina, where we will be heading on Tuesday. in the photo, we came from the right, with the marina off top the left. We are now in the Aldermaston Wharf direction.

We moored for lunch in the place where we stopped overnight on the way up. We decided this would be a good place for tonight (and tomorrow's car shuffle day). But first we had to turn around and we also needed the services at Aldermaston Arm.

Only about ten minutes to Aldermaston Lock, just above the short arm where the services and winding hole are located. Going down and returning all got a bit busy at the photogenic times and so we have no more picture for today. a brief alarm - as the lock was nearly empty the boat started to heel over significantly. Mike realised what was happening and managed, luckily, to prise the boat away from whatever was catching it on the side. Despite looking very closely at the empty lock side, we could not see anything that would cause this! But we did drop abruptly!

Winding (turning around) is always a bit of a test but here there is the busy road lift bridge just beyond the space. After going into the arm and completing our service (except that the water tap was so slow that we abandoned that task once we had enough to last until Tuesday) we began to reverse out and make our turn back to the lock.

Before we had finished the move,  the bridge started to lift and then a long hire boat from the nearby base emerged without waiting to look if the hole was free. It was closely followed by another boat, ready to go up the lock. In addition, a boat coming down filled the lock (which we had left empty) We moved to the waiting area and Mike stepped ashore with the centre line to await the lock becoming ready. Alas, two things then happened: firstly, Mike knocked the throttle into gear as he got off which then pulled the stern right out into the winding hole. Fortunately, he secured the centre line before the boat escaped entirely but he could not pull it back in again. Then before he could sort this situation out, the boat coming down emptied the lock with full force, again pulling our boat back into the main channel! In the end all was sorted but we would rather not have provided entertainment for the inevitable onlookers. (No-one looks when you get it perfectly!)

We continued back to our lunch time mooring, close to Froudts (road) Bridge, ready for tomorrows travel which begins with a short walk up to the main road to catch the 1 Jetblack Bus into Reading.

3.8 Miles - 4 Locks 

Saturday 22 July 2023


Today's Canal : Kennet and Avon

When we awoke, quite early, the rain promised for later in day had already arrived. It was only a light drizzle at first but gradually, as the morning wore on, become more persistent. Not heavy rain, but the sort that tends to get in everywhere.

We had a little think about how to diminish the impact of two or perhaps three, wet days. We came up with a possible plan of breaking our journey in order to go home for a week, at Frouds Bridge Marina. As we cruised down to the first lock, Christine gave them a call and they are able to fit us in and so we have booked it from Tuesday to Tuesday. Gives us a chance to at least dry out in the afternoon after a morning in the wet.

A reminder that we started today still on a river and the weirs get larger.

The first lock, Widmead, was well-behaved and we were through in just 11 minutes.

In addition to the locks we had a couple of swing bridges to operate. Both turned out to be really easy.

Monkey Marsh lock is the special turf lock and we had to wait for a hire boat that had just arrived. They were fairly inexperienced and needed some support (like pointing out that the lock would not fill with a bottom paddle half open!)

The section we have just come through is canalised but the river joins just below this lock. 

The sign is a reminder of just how the flow affected boats when we came up and moored close by on the visitor moorings at Thatcham Station.

The first problem we encountered at Coltrop Lock was that a hire boat was tied up on the lock landing (which in any event is confined by a large wide beam moored as close as it can get). Mike warned them that we might need to walk across there boat when we had finished - there is no other option. Their excuse was that they were sheltering from the rain (despite it being obvious that it might last all day - it did) and that they were having a bacon butty whilst waiting for the weather to clear. They knew that they should not be there but . . .  

Fortunately we did not fall out over it as we needed their help when it came to opening the top gates for jus to come in. The leakage at the bottom was so great the top gates would not make a level. After some time with the level static, Mike opted to demonstrate a technique for gaining better leverage that we should not perhaps talk about in case CaRT are listening, but the work Spanish is in there somehow! At least it worked without causing any damage . . . Overall,  it took over half an hour to fill and then empty this lock (most of it filling!)

With lunch looming, we now agreed to go down the next lock and then look for a mooring that might also do for overnight.
Despite having to turn the next lock it was much speedier and was followed by a swing bridge. We tried three times to get alongside the bank to moor without success. However, we could see that the edge just below the bridge landing was a bit deeper and we indeed did moor. It was fortunate that we had our new longer gangplank as even when against the reeds we were still some way from firm ground.

Lunch - special sausage sandwiches thanks to the Hungerford butcher and a lazy afternoon followed - heating was needed.

3.7 Miles - 4 Locks

Friday 21 July 2023

Newbury Racecourse (if only we could see it)

Today's Canal : Kennet and Avon

If we were into giving our blogs enigmatic, or even meaningful, title, this one might well be A long walk for a short plank. But more of that later.

Although there was somewhat more cloud around today, it was still very pleasant and the only short period when potential rain clouds put in an appearance still remained dry.

A reminder that we are now on the navigable Kennet came with a significant weir, although they will get larger as we go on down to Reading. There are some longer canalised sections but most is the river itself, Often it is deeper and wider than the canal we have been on for this trip thus far and we could travel noticeably faster and smoother. (The canal part officially begins at Newbury Lock)

The first lock, Benham, is another Leave Empty and the top balance beam has already had extra metalwork to extend its life. Despite this the angle of the outer part of the beam suggests it will need more work ere long.

Higgs Lock has also had a recent life-extending operation since the en of May when we came up this way.

The state of  the remaining top beam on this gate suggests that it too will need further work.

Guyers Lock, on the other hand, is much newer and worked with much more ease. And it was not Leave Empty.

We were now nearing the outskirts of Newbury and soon passed through west Mills Swing Bridge, which very recently had a stoppage for a few days. We could not work out from the description what had to be done nor, looking at it, were we any wiser. Alas, for once we did not catch any cars wanting to cross.

There were plenty of onlookers at Newbury Lock, including a young family with two small girls very keen to help.

The top of the lock originally had the type of sluice mostly seen on the Leeds and Liverpool.ore conventional gate paddles operated by a standard lock key.

The opposite side of the lock has a well-tended garden that looked very smart.

Looks like it is feeding time at Victoria Park.

As when coming the other way we stopped at Newbury Marine to fill up with diesel as it may be some time before we have our next opportunity. On the Thames and on the Wey we have in the past found prices somewhat higher.

We found a good mooring just by Tesco and Lidl - time first for lunch.

After stocking up in Tesco (and a couple of items from Lidl - alas they no longer stocked the rather delicious small ice creams we had before) we continued for another couple of locks. In the second one we shared with another boat that was being delivered from Devizes to Banbury by a couple of boat movers. It was quite an historical boat, especially the water-cooled engine.

We opted to moor just after Bulls Lock - in theory close to one end of Newbury racecourse but there was too much vegetation in the way to see anything at all.

We moored reasonable conveniently but on this occasion, unusually the stern was closer to the bank that the bow. Mike was able to leap ashore to tie up to pins. When he was satisfied that all was as safe as he could make it he turned to thinking about how to get back on board. Jumping ashore was one thing but getting back is another and needed the boat to be just a bit closer for comfort. The gangplank was at the bow/ So we hatched a plan to attach a rope at one end (we do this regularly both the prevent it falling off and also to manoeuvre it). Christine then threw the rope to Mike on shore and he proceeded to pull the gang plank across. It was almost there when suddenly the rope gave way and the gangplank fell into the river. DISASTER!

Somewhat cautiously, Mike did manage to get back on the stern - but he was not happy! We poked around with our boat hook - we could see the ladder in the water but it kept sliding further away, underneath the bat. We then realised that actually the two parts to the gangplank - the ladder and the flat attachment to walk on, had become separated. We quickly retrieved the ladder part but there was no way we could catch hold of the other.

We checked with the manufacturer on their website and the earliest that a replacement could be despatched would be Monday - and where to? In any case, we knew that mooring without a gangplank is all but impossible along most of the Kennet and Avon. Would we be marooned for ever? Could we get a timber plank instead? Good old Google Maps showed a Wickes store, about a mile away, as the nearest timber merchant. They remain open until 8 pm tonight (it was now about 5.30) A quickly phone call established that they had scaffold boards in stock and another call to find that they could not deliver until next week (despite saying Next Day Delivery)

Mike leapt ashore yet again and set off to walk - Google estimated 20 minutes (about right). Hooray, there was Wickes!!! Within minutes we were the proud owners of a means of crossing between boat and shore! Of course there was just the little matter of carrying it back to do first.

With numerous breather stops along the way, taking a bit longer than the outward trip, Mike finally made it back, rather more worn than we planned when we first started to moor. Ah well, we can now move on in the morning.

5.3 Miles - 7 Locks

Thursday 20 July 2023

Benham Marsh

Today's Canal : Kennet and Avon

A really pleasant day with a lot of sunshine and fluffy clouds, with an occasional light breeze to keep everything fresh.

We had moored just below a lock and here we are before leaving.

A short distance and we passed under the main railway line - again. Although the rail track follows the canal closely for a long distance it does also cross it several times and substantial bridges. They look larger as they are at a slight angle to ours and so we see more of the abutments.

Another boat passed us just as we were getting ready to leave this morning but we tailed them closely (they did not seem to have much speed) and we happily shared the first lock. However, we were planning to stop for services just above Kintbury Lock so this was just the one share.

On the way up we saw a couple of volunteers repairing the pointing on the upper face of the bridge, and this time there was a larger group of 5 or 6 and at the moment they have been repairing the top of the walls. Interesting to see that CaRT are now training volunteers to do skilled work on jobs that perhaps would not otherwise have been possible within budgetary constraints. How far will this go?

At Kintbury, waiting for the lock and the water tank to fill (Not quote simultaneously or with the same source!) Just before we left, going down, another boat arrived and we wondered whether they would be able to share with us at the next one.

Below the lock, the Kintbury Horse Drawn Boat Trip was shortly to leave having just competed the introductory talk. It seemed to be about full. The horse was still, however, munching away  in the field.

At Dreweats Lock, a chap arrived with a hi tech surveying pole. ¬He was looking for something. We will give you a clue - it is in the above picture, can you spot it?

No, nor would we as it is a small stud in the corner to denote the survey point. It was last measured 15 years ago and someone (not sure which organisations) is updating the coordinates with the latest satellite data.

Give in? Here it is in detail. By the time we were in the ,ock the other boat was nowhere to be seen so we carried on. Of course they arrived when we were well over halfway down. Perhaps next time.

The same lock, from below - just to show the good weather!

When we arrived at the next lock, a boat coming up was having to take some time to empty - made worse by the fact that one top paddle had not been fully closed. The lock has also had quite a repair since we came by earlier in the season. A new, temporary, balance been has been fitted to the nearside bottom gate.

This design seems to be gaining favour for avoiding a lengthy closure - we first saw it a couple of years ago in the Oxford. The discarded section is in the hedge bottom, learning how to become a bug hotel. By the time the up boat had made it through, the boat following us had arrived and we could share.

This meant that we could also go through the next lock, Hamstead, together.

However, it was now lunch time and so we bade farewell to our companion in case we found somewhere to stop in the next pound. It was not looking well - we could see how shallow the edges were - until we spotted a place where we were able to get the bow close in and then the stern almost. The plank was in much less danger of falling into the water than most places we have had to deploy it!

After lunch we took a break - and after an hour and a half we agreed to take an other one and so we stayed here for the night.

4.1 Miles - 5 Locks

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Wire Lock

Today's Canal : Kennet and Avon

The day promised mixed fortunes with the weather although a low probability of rain, just sun and clouds. This pretty much how it turned out, with periods remarkably hot, and hyet others where a pleasant breeze picked up.

Rather later leaving than in recent days, here the mooring was just below the lock. 

The first lock was Cobblers Lock, a pretty former lock keeper's cottage right alongside. It was sold off by BW about 12 years ago with no illusion but that it was a difficult project. One of the problems was that the property had no right of way for vehicle access from the nearby A4 and also that water leaked through the walls of the lock into the basement. It seems that it took some time for someone to come up with a successful plan but it is now looking splendid. The couple living there now have been so for just a year and enjoying it. It seems to have quite a sizeable garden, perhaps the original lock keepers had to be as self sufficient as possible. 

This photo from below shows how the lower part of the property lies below the level of the top of the lock. This is not uncommon, especially on the Grand Union.

Next came Hungerford Marsh Lock, adjacent to an ancient grazing marshland, Freeman's Marsh. The lock is unusual in that it still retains a swing bridge across the middle that connect two parts of the marsh.

This is another 'Leave Empty' lock with a strange explanatory notice on the bridge. We just wonder what incident must have given rise to this request - it is not an official CaRT notice.

Even stranger is the hand scribbled note on the top ground paddles. What is it that should not be lowered before checking that the bottom paddles are closed? If it means the top paddles then it ought to be have been obvious that water was running through the lock at a fast frate. If it refers to the bottom paddles, why check that they are closed before attempting to lower them? In any event we eventually got through intact!

On then through Hungerford Church Swing Bridge where we were fortunate that another boat coming the other way had just opened it. We also dropped down Hungerford Lock and were also fortunate that a wide beam was just leaving from the closest moorings to the shops. 

We went up the main street - on our way to Tesco we spotted a good butcher (so popular that there was a long queue and so we opted to come back later) and a bakery where we picked up some bread, cakes and a pasty! We collected quite a range of items from the supermarket - being laden down is our excuse for forgetting to take any photos of the town centre.

After lunch we set off once more/ Just after the main road bridge we noticed this rather unusual house. (If we had noticed earlier we might have taken a picture of the listed pedestrian bridge that gives access to the house at the upper level.) According to here, the house was originally built before the canal and so was at the level of the road. The canal builders had to raise the road to cross the canal (presumably it was already quite a busy street).

At the next lock we had a delay, firstly because a K and A Trust trip boat was about to go down and secondly because only one top paddle was working. One of the trip boat crew said that it now awlays takes 9 minutes to fill.

At Wire Lock we also had to wait for the trip boat. It had given its passengers a change to disembark and watch whilst it went down to the nearby winding hole and return to ascend the lock once more. Then the passengers had to climb on board again. A boat which had just arrived at the previous lock as we were leaving now appeared in the distance so we waited. Alas, they decided to moor just above the lock so we had waited in vain. In any case, we now took the opportunity of a good mooring below the lock to end our cruising for the day, just one lock short of our sort-of target for the day.

The bridge below the lock has taken quite a battering, not for the first time it looks. The very minor road that crosses the bridge has a sharp bend just before the bridge. Alas, CaRT has to pick up the tab for the repairs most of the time, money that would be better spent on repairing the lock!

3.3 Miles - 5 Locks

Tuesday 18 July 2023


Today's Canal : Kennet and Avon

By the time we were ready and took a look at Crossing Lock, it had already had had the padlocks removed.

Today was largely one of working through one lock after another - with much the same distance between most of them. This was too far to want to walk but not long enough to recover from the previous one!

The second lock is today called Longmans Cottage Lock. The cottage itself is obviously in private hands, behind a substantial privacy hedge, but still calls itself the Lock House. We have not had a chance to see if there is more information about the naming but we wonder whether it was perhaps once call Lengthmans Cottage, or that lengthsmen were called longmen. (A lengthsman used to be an important feature in the upkeep of the canal - they would all manner of minor maintenace and repair but are no longer deemed affordable, or easy to fit within present day Health and Safety ideas. Apart from anything else they would have to go on so many trainig courses there would be little time left for 'real' work!

Contemporary guides all call Bridge 99 'New Lock'. presumably it was not built as part of the original canal but for some later purpose. It at least dates from before the Second World War as it still has tank traps - the concrete domed cylinders can just be seen over the parapet.

Interestingly, the 1877 OS map shows the next bridge as New Bridge but the above one seems to be part of a long, straight drive through Wilton and Bedwyn Brail, two wooded areas either side of  Wilton Common and both once part of Savernake Forest. There are also links to Wolfhall (see here)

Here is another bridge with similar defences - we are not sure whether the width has subsequently been increased by removing some of them, or whether originally they were placed so that the farmer could still get his tractor through but not an invading tank!

At Bedwyn Church Lock we spotted this strange metal object, standing next to a classic diamond shaped railway weight limit sign. The purpose of the item is not obvious and we do not recall seeing anything like it elsewhere. Anyone know more?

Just as we neared Bedwyn Wharf, where we needed all the usual services, we were pipped to the post by a boat coming the other way. We had to secure ourselves alongside one of the Bruce Trust boats until it was our turn. Almost immediately another boat arrived had had to come alongside use while we filled and emptied. We also heard that the Bruce Trust are still suffering from effects of Covid with bookings very much down on what they once were.

The bank alongside the lower lock landing at Little Bedwyn was a riot of wild flowers.

We struggled to find a lunch time mooring, eventually managing to tie up with difficulty just before the first of the three locks at Froxfield.

It was almost 3 o'clock before we continued, unsure where we might find to moor for the night. It seemed that it would take just a bit too long to attempt to get as far as Hungerford, and in any case, it might by then be full. An added complication was mobile phone signals, both of which were too weak at the first place we found (which had good armco, alas!) In the end we came in just beyond the lock landing below Lock 71, still 4 locks away from the centre of Hungerford. That is now a treat for tomorrow and a chance to replenish our larder.

We would have had abetter picture of our overnight stop but the camera battery had run out of juice - a lack of attention by the battery charger, we are afraid. Usually top it up at lunch time but all the effort of the morning distracted us. (Well, that's the best excuse we can come up with!)

5.0 Miles - 11 Locks