Sunday, 14 September 2014

End of the line

Been to Bath by boat before? Illiteration aside, we definitely recommend it. The canal through Bath is about the nicest urban waterway we've ever used as it descends through six locks down to the River Avon.

The best moorings in Bath, on the river below Poultney Weir, have been suspended by the council so we stayed on the canal and moored at the top of the Widcombe flight. These are nice 48 hour moorings and only minutes from the city centre.

Bath is a beautiful city and we did the usual sight-seeing.

The next day we went down the locks and onto the river, still travelling with nb Quaintrelle.

The penultimate lock is Bath Deep Lock, which at over 19' is the second deepest on the system as two locks were combined into one due to road building. For canal anoraks out there the deepest on the system is Tuel Lane at Sowerby Bridge on the Rochdale Canal, which we did in 2012.

Emerging onto the Avon we headed downstream a little way and found a mooring near Victoria Bridge.... especially for Victoria and complete with hot air balloon ride.....!  (for people in the hot air balloon - not us).

 A temporary closure of the navigation the following day meant we had to get off this part of the river or be locked in for a couple of days. We had known about this for a while but still managed to end up rushing to get off the river at the last minute.

The Avon is a lovely river and we had a scenic cruise downstream to a pontoon mooring near Keynsham.

The pontoon is just after the Bristol-Bath cycleway and, while a little short of space (we were three abreast for a while), it's a lovely spot.

We made use of the nearby benches to have a great BBQ with nb Quaintrelle, whose cooking skills have put us to shame the past couple of weeks! We have just about kept up with the drinking though.... and not ended up like Victoria's brother has done today...... (How's the carpet James?).

Having confirmed timings for the tidal section into Bristol with the lock keeper at Netham lock we made a late start the following day (nothing to do with the wine we had with our BBQ you understand).

As we're into spring tides, the river is tidal from Keynsham lock onwards. Spot the chimney from the old Fry's chocolate factory.

At Hanham we rang the lock keeper to confirm timings and he asked us to wait a bit before leaving as he had to nip out. We had a quick lunch in the lock to pass the time - cheeky but it's so quiet down here we didn't hold anyone up - before carrying on to Bristol.

Compared to previous tidal transits we've made, this was a doddle. The river was barely flowing and we had a nice easy trip to join the feeder canal at Netham Lock, which had both sets of gates open ready for us.

I should stress this is only because we followed the lock keeper's advice on timings - if you don't ring you could be in for a rough ride and find the lock not ready to let you into the harbour.

After handing over more money than we would've liked for our visitor mooring permit (£1 per hour for us!) we followed the feeder canal. This leads through an industrial area to join the main floating harbour at a 90 degree bend (which narrows, as Mike from Quaintrelle now knows...!). From here the journey to the visitor moorings is much more impressive, and reminded us a little of Liverpool docks where we went last year.

The harbour area of Bristol is really varied, from modern offices

To old terraces,
A low swing bridge (Duck, Middlewich! Geddit?...),
and Brunel's SS Great Britain

We moored on the pontoons almost opposite the Great Britain, which is a great spot in the harbour.

We took the bikes for a ride down the Avon gorge, which has a great cycleway along it, under the Clifton suspension bridge and scared ourselves looking at the very large mudbanks and racing tide on this part of the Avon.
We'll save that for another year thanks....

Our second day in Bristol got off to a slow start as we'd been invited for dinner the night before by Quaintrelle and managed to half fill their back deck with empty bottles.... Still, we made it out to watch the Tour of Britain finish in Bristol with our uni friend Will and had a meal out with him and his girlfriend Monica, as well as Mike from Quaintrelle whose wife Aileen had (foolishly??) left him boat sitting on his own.

The next day we sadly said our goodbyes to nb Quaintrelle. We've travelled with them for over a fortnight but they are staying on in Bristol a little longer. We will miss them as we head back east.

This will probably be our final blog for this year. We're heading back along the K&A to find a winter mooring and hopefully we will be able to amuse ourselves for the winter. We've had an amazing six months cruising and are already thinking about next year's plans......

This was the view out of our front doors on our final night in Bristol - a great end to a great trip! We've been to some great places and the weather has just been superb.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Up and down down down to Bristol

Oops, where did that last couple of weeks go? We've been travelling with nb Quaintrelle for the past fortnight from Hungerford and the time has flown by... the miles less so as the K&A turns out to be quite slow going.

We had a day off in Hungerford, partly as it was raining and partly to let the hangover subside from a night emptying Quaintrelle's wine cellar. We shared a few wet miles and locks with Quaintrelle to Great Bedwyn.

From there we climbed to the summit the next day, passing the Crofton pumping station which contains two beam engines which used to feed water to the short summit level of the canal. This is now done by electic pumps but the beam engines still work on steaming days.

There are great 48 hour moorings opposite the pumping station but we carried on up the remaining six locks to the summit level to a 'wild' (i.e. shallow and overgrown!) mooring we had marked in the guide, doing a bit of train spotting in the locks on the way up.

From the summit level we went through the short Bruce Tunnel and began the long descent towards the River Avon. The scenery immediately starts to open up as you descend and we had some great views on the run into Pewsey.

We had a lovely meal at the Waterfront in Pewsey, and quite a lot of guest ales so it was a slightly late and foggy start the next day as we made our way across the Vale of White Horse towards Devizes. The scenery on this stretch was really pretty even though the weather wasn't great (still waiting for that promised late summer heat wave....).

The weather got worse later on and it was slow going with the canal quite overgrown in places so we stopped short of Devizes and lit a fire to dry out.
That left us with a very short trip into Devizes the following day so we arrived in plenty of time to get a decent mooring. There are plenty of 48 and 72 hour moorings around Devizes Wharf.

To prepare ourselves for what lay in store we took the little bikes for a ride down to see what the 29 lock Caen Hill flight looked like. The flight has a warm-up and warm-down of about 6 locks either side of the 16 lock flight itself. The 16 locks drop 130' in less than a mile so it looks like the canal drops off a cliff from the top.

We agreed with Quaintrelle to make an unusually early start of 9:00 the next morning and, bleary eyed, we set off down the locks right on time. The 16 locks are closely spaced, with barely enough room to pass boats coming the other way. We managed to squeeze a pair of breasted-up hotel narrowboats between Pas Mèche and Quaintrelle without a bump, despite the crowd of onlookers.

With help from some of Quaintrelle's friends who came to visit we made it to the bottom of the main 16 lock flight by lunchtime and stopped on the beautiful visitor moorings there.

The next night stop was near Seend and from there David decided it was time for a bit of exercise so cycled ahead of the boats most of the day to operate swing bridges and set locks ready for the boats.

Apologies to Mike from Quaintrelle for posting this photo - despite appearances here he is not actually an 80 year old with a stoop.... at least your boat looks nice Mike!

After a night at Hilperton we stopped for good value diesel at The Boatyard before carrying on to the very picturesque Bradford on Avon.

The scenery from Bradford on Avon is stunning in places and you have plenty of time to admire it with all the moored boats in this area! Here we are crossing the Avoncliffe Aqueduct, with Quaintrelle in hot pursuit.

From one aqueduct to another, after a couple of miles we moored just before the Dundas aqueduct, which also crosses the Avon and the railway line.

We've moved on to Bathampton today and are hoping to get to Bristol next week. The lock keeper on the way to Bristol harbour warned of 11.5' high September Spring Tides when we called him this morning so we'll have to get our timing right.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Blogging in the bank holiday rain

We called time on our extended Thames jaunt at Henley, mooring up to do some shopping as well as gawping in estate agents at the multi-million pound properties in the area.

Returning upstream we stopped above Shillingford lock for the night before joining the Kennet & Avon navigation at Reading early the next morning.

Even though it hasn't rained much recently the Kennet is a frisky little river and there was noticeably more flow against us as we worked through the city. Part of the navigation is one-way and controlled by traffic lights so we had to press the button and wait for the green light.

The Kennet winds out of Reading in a narrow, fast flowing channel. Virtually every lock seems to be a different size or design and the first one out of Reading is a whopper, probably over 100' long, which is no bad thing given the strong bywash which crosses the lock at its entrance.

We stopped early once we got a little way out of Reading, giving David time to mentally prepare himself for his annual baking effort - a (belated) birthday cake for Victoria.

Next day we came across a really unusual lock - these are turf sided locks which have no walls as such, the water fills all around the boat and the boat is held in place by metal beams. They were a feature of the K&A (amongst others) but only two now remain.

Because this end of the K&A is a mixture of river and artificial canal cuts it can be hard to find moorings. We eventually stopped above Aldermaston lock, after a long wait at the lift bridge (time delay in rush hour, 8 minutes between lifts) which seems to be a major irritation for local motorists!
From Aldermaston the next lock upstream has a lot of big red warning text in our guidebook as there is a skewed swing bridge followed by a lock where the river flows strongly across the entrance. Victoria walked on to prepare the lock and it all went smoothly - as seems to be the way when nobody is around to watch.
We were glad to meet nb Quaintrelle above Woolhampton lock. The K&A locks are pretty ferocious, many only have gate paddles which let a lot of water in at once and throw a single narrowboat around. Sharing locks is much quicker and easier and we had a great run to Thatcham with nb Quaintrelle, where they stopped to meet friends. We carried on to Newbury where we moored at Victoria Park.
Newbury is a lovely town with a bustling centre. We liked it so much we somehow didn't get round to moving on the next day and ended up having two nights there.

The river is right at the heart of Newbury and the channel up to Newbury lock is really pretty. This is another lock the guidebook suggests you set ahead as the river current can be quite strong through Newbury and there are cross-flows beneath the lock. Again we did as we were told and had no problems.
Another boat had set off from above the lock just as we were coming up and waited for us after West Mills swing bridge. We made good progress with nb Darcy, especially as she had plenty of crew to help with the locks.
Darcy's ship's cat tried to make a break for freedom at every lock and probably used up a few of his nine lives but we enjoyed the cruise to Hungerford with them. We are most likely staying put today enjoying the usual bank holiday rain.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Over thirty and still.....boating!

Oops, being the technological wizzards we clearly aren't we have managed to delete the last blog... so here's a quick summary - completed the south Oxford, did the tourist thing in Oxford, got on the Thames at Dukes Cut and went upstream to Lechlade. All clear? Good, we'll pick up where we left off then!

Lechlade is the official upstream navigable limit of the Thames. The river is wide right through Lechlade itself but the Nicholsons guide assures you there is ample room further upstream to turn a full length (~70') narrowboat.

So we tried in our 57' boat and failed. Quite badly. The turning point is at the junction with the river Coln and the disused Thames & Severn Canal, which looks like this:

The idea is to put the bows into the River Coln on the right and pivot the stern upstream in the Thames, stage left. Maybe it was the after-effects of a dodgy meal and a few too many pints at the Boat House pub the night before but we made a bit of a mess of this. The flow from the Coln took the front of Pas Mèche into a tree and the stern became firmly wedged on the opposite bank.

In our defence the river level is very low and the left bank in the top photo is very silted up from cows walking down into the river to drink. It was also reassuring to note that the tree that caught us was covered in all shades of narrowboat paint so we're obviously not the first to make a mess of this turn.

With the help of a lot of shoving on poles and a few passing walkers pulling a rope we managed to get ourselves free and tried again.

Second time around we powered up into the Coln and beached the bows well enough to stay put while we swung the stern around. Success at last but with the river this low and silted up I'd recommend anyone with a boat over about 50-55' turns further downstream nearer the bridge in Lechlade.

Drama over, we set off at a decent speed going with the flow downstream and managed an unusally long day to Farmoor Reservoir on the outskirts of Oxford.

On Sunday we stayed put as ex-hurricane Bertha passed over. We managed a wet and windy walk around the reservoir but fortunately the weather wasn't as bad as forecast.

The following day we were up and off early, aiming for Oxford. This is a stretch of the Thames we haven't done before and the reach below Godstow lock is more like a flooded field than a river - the edges are incredibly shallow so it pays to stick to the middle of the river.

Unless that is you enjoy a dip. We spotted a boat aground and offered to tow him off the mud. The owner seemed surprisingly relaxed and declined, prefering to jump in wearing just his swimming shorts and push the boat off himself. Takes all sorts but we think he was French so maybe that explains it.

Passing the Sheepwash Channel entrance to the Oxford Canal we had cold sweats and flashbacks to 2012 when we were towed off the river on red boards. Fortunately the river was calm this time and we squeezed under Osney Bridge (the lowest on the river) with room to spare and moored above Osney Lock (free for 24 hours).

From Oxford we took our time over the next few days, stopping in Abingdon and Dorchester on the way.

The next day we were due to have university friends visiting so we gave Pas Mèche a thorough clean in their honour. Even David was spotted wielding a duster - Tony I hope you appreciated the effort!

We got to Wallingford (home for 11 days in the floods of 2012 so we know it well!) and moored up in time to meet Tony & Charlotte and their son Harry who had come to see us.

It was great to catch up and we even managed to sleep 5 onboard which is a record. Thankfully little Harry wasn't the least bit bothered by having to sleep in the kitchen and we set off for a short cruise the following day with Captain Salmon at the helm.

Amazingly we all survived Tony's steering and moored up in Goring before Tony and David recreated their university cycling team days with a flat out folding bike sprint back to Wallingford to collect the car.

The following day was Victoria's birthday and it was an important one. Being a gentleman I won't say how old she is but it was such an important milestone she was treated to special birthday porridge
Victoria's friend Carolyn and partner Rob came to visit which was well timed for the birthday girl. It was lovely to see them and we had a nice walk in the hills above Goring.

As we still have a few days left on our Thames visitor license we have gone past Reading today instead of turning onto the Kennet & Avon canal (which we will soon) and carried on to Wargrave. In Reading we saw a familiar boat who we were marooned in Wallingford with in 2012. Rachel - if you manage to find our blog it was good to see you again albeit briefly and we hope you don't mind us giving your boat its 15 minutes of fame on our blog!