Down the flight

 

From Hungerford we had about ten days to get to Caen Hill Marina where we were planning to leave Ginger Bear and go to Bath for John’s wedding. There was no need to rush so we had a very pleasant but wet circular walk to the South of Hungerford. We crossed the green common land of Hungerford Port Down and then circled round through some very lush estates where beautiful sleek suckler herds of Hereford crosses grazed alongside some very pampered outdoor pigs. We returned along the towpath and were struck by the density of the tufts of sedge grass that were deliberately planted to protect the banks. This was the same tough grass that plagued the river meadows at Bearley and gave Dugald fond memories.

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We had an easy day to Great Bedwyn under a mainly grey sky. On the last lock two teenage girls were conspiring just like the heroines of Tamara Drew, one of Dugald’s favorite films.

We moored close to the town bridge, not far from where we had moored on a hire boat trip in 2001. Great Bedwyn is a pretty village. We decided to go up into the village and have a quick memorial drink in a pub where we had met Dugald’s mother for lunch all those years ago. Alas it had just turned into an interesting looking gallery, so we went a bit further up the hill to another attractive looking pub, but it was not yet open – plan foiled.

The next day we had planned a short trip to allow us to visit the Crofton Pump House where the beam engines still work. This plan went well except that it is closed on Wednesdays and it was Wednesday – so we’ll have to try on the way back.

We moored on the straight near the pumping station.

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Here the GWR track runs very close to the canal.

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The canal was completed in 1810 and the railway followed in 1841. By 1851 the GWR had bought the canal and although they were obliged to keep it open, ensured its decline by ignoring its maintenance.

Nearby there is another delightful Wiltshire village, Wilton, with a friendly pub, the Swan. It was a pretty half mile walk from the canal.

 

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The Crofton Flight up to the summit of the Kennet and Avon had restricted opening hours to control the loss of water from the summit. So we made a half past six start to ensure we were in a good place when Lock 56 was unlocked at 10am. We got there just after 8am and were the first in the queue. We were soon joined by Provencale Rose. The lock was opened on time and we were on our way and soon through the Bruce Tunnel which was short high and dry – a nice change.

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Now on the summit it would be downhill all the way to Bristol. We made good progress with Provencale Rose.

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But at Heathey Close Lock we had a major dog poo alert which took some time to sort out. A lot of expletives about the thoughtful owners who leave it about. But they are angels compared with the man we met next.

On the lock I found a lock key and one open paddle. Looking below and into the distance there was no-one to be seen. I assumed a novice crew on a hire boat had left it, shut the paddle and started filling. Our companions thought they could find a home for the key. As we went into the now full lock a man arrived incandescent with rage that we had taken the lock he had in his mind booked from half a mile away by leaving his key – not to mention our companions appropriating the key! He ranted and raved, shouted and screamed. It was a genuine misunderstanding and I don’t think he had any prior right to the lock. I apologised and offered to help him through the lock, but  he carried on ranting. He made the mistake of calling me an ignorant Englishwoman, so I eventually used some of my Irish genes to match his! On reflection most people on the waterways behave with great courtesy, but he was an unusual and striking exception.

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We left him behind and found a mooring at Pewsey just short of the wharf. On the following day Philip and Annie Mangnall arrived with their grandson Jun and their dog Ludo. We had an agreeable lunch at the Waterfront and then cruised slowly to the Barge Inn at Honeystreet. Jun enjoyed himself but Ludo was very unimpressed and squeaked in protest most of the way.

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We cruised on very slowly getting to Horton Bridge the next day. It was a warm and sunny day as we walked up to the Wansdyke, an intriguing bank and ditch whose origin is still disputed.

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Dugald was reminiscing about drilling oilseed rape in Home Field on August Bank Holiday Sunday in 1983 – not sure how or why he remembers this sort of thing. But we then came across someone doing the same thing – so lots of tales and admiring photos.

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The next day was supposed to be the hottest Bank Holiday Monday since 1965 and it certainly felt like it. We made the short trip to Devizes and moored opposite the wharf.

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We were waiting there for our daughter Claudia and 5 year old granddaughter Eliza. They arrived on the Tuesday and we set off to go down the beginning of the Caen Hill Flight with them. At first Eliza thought it might be fun to help with  with the locks.

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The novelty soon wore off, and having brought her new bike with her, she was soon racing down the tow path, with Claudia in pursuit.

 

Stopping at the Black Horse at the top of the main flight we moored for the night and some supper.

On Wednesday the forecast looked dire – a lot heavy rain. Nevertheless we set off at 11.00 with our heavy weather gear on.

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We were very lucky to team up with Michaela  and Peter on an Oxford hire boat “Bath”. They were great companions and we got into a good rhythm in the locks.

I helmed Ginger Bear while Eliza alternately entertained herself inside the boat

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and in the cockpit with her lifejacket and whistle.

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Peter and I decided to try driving into the locks together, a new trick for both of us, but it worked out pretty well.

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We got through the main flight of 16 in just over two hours, but there were no moorings to be had below so together we went through the next six locks until we peeled off at Lower Foxhangers to moor. We said goodbye to Michaela and Peter.

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As in the past a good partnership with another boat makes a lot of locks much easier with the bonus of meeting some nice people.

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Eliza had another blast down the towpath before she and Claudia went back to Devizes by taxi and we settled down for a rest a few hundred yards from our destination Caen Hill marina.

Heading West

Ginger Bear got back to Brentford on 17 May and set out again on 8 August. So she had a stay of 83 days. Phineas Fogg was supposed to have gone round the world in 80 days, we had seemed to be very busy but did rather less. The  interlude included our daughter Anna’s 40th birthday, the birthdays of two of our grandchildren, time in Dorset and in France and quite a lot of boat scrubbing, blacking and so on. But the big boat event was to replace the cockpit floor and put in 32mm sound deadening. The engine noise had become increasingly annoying, and the floor was starting to warp and deteriorate. It could be regarded as a boatyard job and I have to admit I wasn’t sure that Dugald would be able to create a new floor without access to more complex cutting tools and a workshop. My worries were unfounded, after much measuring, sawing and swearing, we have a beautiful new floor, cutting out most of the engine sound.

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The aim of the late summer cruise was to go slowly down to Devizes in time for our son John’s wedding in Bath at the beginning of September. The forecast for the beginning of August was not promising, and there was much talk of a lack of water on the Kennet and Avon. So maybe the one problem would resolve the other.

On the morning of 8 August Dugald was fuming about a barge that had been hogging the service berth for 24 hours. Admittedly it turned out that the pumpout needed repair but it was nevertheless blocking the services. We had to catch the tide on the Thames, so left without doing the normal loo cassette emptying, Dugald confident that we had a spare one for the near future.

By early afternoon we were on the way up the Thames. It was grey and cold, not at all like August, but quite like the forecast.

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There were very few other boats about, but the moorings at Hampton Court were full, so we carried on through Molesey Lock. In the early evening we moored in Sunbury. Dugald had checked the weed hatch and bilges before we left, but a routine check again found quite a lot of water in the bilge. Much pumping and cursing and the weed hatch, which he had checked before we left was reset properly on its register. We were lucky, one of the commonest causes of narrowboat sinking is a weed hatch that has not been fully clamped down after checking, or where the seal has failed.

The next morning the forecast was appalling. But the comfortable decision to stay put was demolished by finding all the cassettes were full. We had to go to Shepperton at least. Again the barge was cursed although the fault was really Dugald’s – but it’s a lot easier to blame someone else. We left quickly and were through Shepperton Lock in constant drizzle by 10. Half an hour later we were moored outside the Thames Court pub, cassette problem resolved. Ten minutes later the heavens opened. The only answer was a very slow and long lunch at the pub.  The option with five puddings was very good – not such a bad day.

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The rain stopped and next day we decided to travel the short distance to the green moorings at Runnymede. We had ringside seats as a dragon boat went through her paces next to us.

IMG_8322We set off for Cliveden the next morning and the sun shone on the meadows and hills. Going into Windsor there was suddenly a lot of traffic. In Bray Lock we were alongside Fringella with a champagne fuelled party in full swing.

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At 1400 the situation on the Cliveden Island looked bad, but as we arrived a cruiser left our favourite spot and we slotted in – very happy. Later a number of other boats came to check out the spot and looked very disgruntled. We first moored here in 2009 and it has been our favourite mooring ever since.

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On the Sunday the aim was to hop from one favourite island to another – the Lynch above Shiplake. We left Cliveden and were going through Bourne End with a large number of canoeists, mixed with rowers. Through Marlow and on to Temple Lock which disgorged a large number of boats packed in like sardines.

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Our luck ran out at Hurley Lock where there was a queue. The lock keeper packed us in alongside Never Say Never from Windsor whose owner was very nervous about us and fiddled constantly with his fenders.

Heading towards Henley we slowed down to admire a lovely old boat – Llanthony, a Dunkirk Little Ship. Dugald has a thing about classic boats and cars!

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Then as we arrived, Dugald was excited to see a traction engine towing a water tank across the bridge.

 

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Passing through Wargrave we saw a house that had featured on Grand Designs. The design had upset the neighbours, they had felt it didn’t blend in.

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Later we encountered a party boat exiting a lock with inebriated crew and some erratic navigation, nearby there were overcrowded boats, children dangling their feet from the bow without life jackets. No mishaps but plenty of potential for them.

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We pressed on to our target island, but we had left it too late in the afternoon to be looking. All the good positions had gone and eventually we set off towards Sonning and found two friendly trees. We did a bit of ‘wild mooring’ between them.

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The next day would be our first day on the Kennet and Avon for 8 years. After a quick visit to the Reading Tesco we were on our way up. The canal goes through the busy centre of Reading.

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Before winding its way quietly out into the countryside.

IMG_8388I did not much like the K and A the last time we were here, large river locks with fierce gate paddles which squirted large amounts of water towards the boat even if you opened them gently, narrow lock beams to walk along with very low rails. But someone has been listening and at least the rails across the lock gates now seem to be at a sensible height. With our pink fore and aft line rigged and coupled to a ratchet block and a clam cleat (Dugald’s sailing influence), controlling the boat on its own in a rising lock is easy even when the gate paddles are pretty fierce.

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We made good progress in the next couple of days and even the turf locks seemed OK.

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A walker on the towpath asked Dugald if the boat was electric because she was so quiet. Dugald was very chuffed and it is true that the sound deadening under the cockpit floor has made slow cruising at low revs very quiet and pleasant indeed.

A bit later we came across Anne, a WOB (Women on Barges) with an elegant restored butty firmly on the ground. A bit of lateral heaving got her afloat again and she was able to proceed later. We ended the second day at Aldermaston on the visitors’ moorings just below the Aldermaston Lock. This coincided with ABC Boats releasing at least four hire boats at the same time and some chaos ensued.

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All of this was proceeding at a more civilised pace than our rushed cruising in the past, but Dugald is still seized by a sense of urgency about it all. I think he’s learning slowly.

Setting off from Aldermaston the next day we broke the day above Woolhampton Lock so that I could concentrate on a Skype call. Dugald contented himself with polishing part of the topsides.

As we went along parallel to the GWR line we could see new pylons erected without any wire attached – part of the electrification project.

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By this time we had joined forces with Old Lady owned by Ioan who was accompanied by his very good humoured boxer Hudson.

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We moored at Thatcham and then moved on to Newbury with Old Lady the next day, mooring  at New Mills.

On the Thursday I went off to a meeting in Edinburgh and was back late that night. Dugald had moved Ginger Bear out of the shade of a large ash tree and found the panels worked a lot better. Friday was a stand still day.

On Saturday we set off again. At the first lock we met a broadbeam coming out. A young woman was doing all the winding, looking after the baby in a pushchair and then walking half a mile to the next lock. She seemed to be doing 90% of the family’s work. We stopped at Hamstead Lock near Marsh Benham. My sister Anne and husband Richard lived here in the early 80s so we went off to look at their house and have a drink at the now reopened Red House. Her neat hand painted sign is still there over thirty years later.

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It is generally difficult to moor close to the bank on this canal, there tends to be a mud shelf along the edge. We had generally moored on visitors moorings on this trip, where edge has been dredged. There were no visitor moorings in this area, and we had moored among some reeds as close to the bank as possible, then used our slightly wobbly plank to get ashore. I had commented several times that I thought the boat was listing more than usual and was probably aground, Dugald was very unconcerned. The next morning we had rather a struggle getting the bow unstuck so perhaps we were after all rather firmly on the mud. We set off towards Kintbury and the canal became ever quieter, more rural and beautiful. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning. As in 2009 the water tap in Kintbury is very slow at its work so we were there for some time. Dugald helped a maintenance boat through the lock while we waited watched by a group who were waiting for a trip on a horse drawn barge.

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In the middle of the afternoon we arrived in Hungerford and moored in the centre of the town on a 48 hour mooring – perfect.

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This is as far as we brought Ginger Bear in 2009 when work meant we had to turn round and go back to London. So the next stage is new ground for her.