Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Bells and the Bus Driver

Town Bridge Bradford-on-Avon 
Morning Jotters

What a week it's been! This last stretch has truly been the most spectacular and the weather has made it extra special. We reached our destination (Bath) almost 3 months after starting out from our home mooring last March - it does seem like an awfully long time ago. The highlight of this week and possibly the whole trip so far, was coming down the Caen flight on Tuesday. I've seen pictures of this famous landmark but they can't do it justice. The black and white lock arms stretch away in front of you and seem never ending but your reward comes in the following days as you reach some of the most magnificent scenery anywhere on the waterways. Bradford-on-Avon, Avoncliffe, the Dundas Aquadeuct, Claverton, Bathampton and finally, Bath, the jewel in the crown. I hardly know where to begin to share the delights of this week with you.

Did you notice it's been a little warm? We studied the forecast and saw that Tuesday was going to be the coolest day of the week, so we made an early start from Honey Street on Monday morning, arriving in Devizes in time to stock up with a few treats from M&S and have a look round the town. There's a very pretty market place with statues and a fountain, lots of lovely old buildings and its own brewery situated in a very imposing building right by the town centre. Apparently there are more pubs than people in Devizes and we certainly saw plenty of public houses as we walked around. The very imposing Bear Hotel dominates the Market Place but there are many more tucked into the surrounding streets. We also spotted a sign for a castle but I'm sorry to say it was too hot to go exploring, my mind was already on the exertions of the Caen flight.

Sunset st Seende Cleeve
I was up early and wielding my windlass at the first lock by 8am. There are 6 locks before the main descent, 16 in the flight and a further 7 locks before the job is completed. I can't tell you how glad I was to see the Canal and River Trust volunteers setting the locks ahead of us as I completed number six and walked down to the flight. This happy band were working in pairs and as Carl came down one lock, they had the next one ready for him to enter - all I had to do was close a few gates and walk down the flight, lending a windlass at every third lock or so. I watched a Kingfisher hovering over one of the side ponds and swooping down to catch a fish, I've only ever seen them fishing on the canals, I've not seen them hovering like a humming bird before - such beautiful birds. The volunteers left us at lock 29 and walked back to the top for their well-earned tea break, I was really very grateful for their help and after a short tea-break ourselves, we completed the last 7 locks and moored by the Foxhangers boatyard at the bottom. I could only manage 3 locks the next day and we spent a lazy afternoon by the pub in Seend Cleeve, watching the sun set with a glass of Old Mout cider and watching the hordes of hire boats rushing by us .

The Bridge Tearooms Bradford-on-Avon
Tricky and I don't like very hot weather, so it was a bit of luck to find a mooring under a horse chestnut tree in Bradford-on-Avon. The tree shaded the cabin but left the panels in full sun - a perfect combination for us. I caught the bus into town, leaving Carl and Tricky minding the solar panels. I was so busy looking at the sights that I missed the stop and was carried on to the top of the hill. To tell the truth, I was waiting for the pensioners; they usually get off in the centre of things and I can follow the grey-haired trolley draggers to the shops, only this time they didn't get off and it was a while before I realised we were leaving the town behind and rang the bell. It was a happy accident though, and I clicked away with my camera as I walked back through the prettiest streets you have ever seen. I've taken far too many photos and I'll post the best of them on the blog - I hope you can find them, I'm especially pleased with the one I took of the town bridge, have a look and see what you think.

It was another hot day on Friday with storms forecast overnight so we decided to sit tight in our shady spot and leave Tricky on guard while we both went into town for more sightseeing and shopping in Sainsburys. We waited in the shady park for the bus to arrive, trying to ignore a pair of hippies canoodling on a park bench. There was a lot of tutting going on from the benches around us - I don't think the upright citizens of Bradford-on-Avon approved. The bus turned up but it was going up the hill and around the estates before coming back down into the town and then on to Sainsburys - oops! I got it wrong again. The bus driver was a nice young man and said he didn't mind if we came along for the ride, rather than waiting in the hot sun. Now that makes a nice change - a pleasant and friendly bus driver. We rattled off up the hill and round the residential estates, enjoying the cool air and the view over the valley. The bus pulled up outside a house, where an elderly lady waited on a chair by her front door. The driver hopped out of his seat, ran up the path and handed the lady a newspaper - now I really am impressed with this young man, it might have been a relative but even so, my heart was warmed by his kindness.

I've really not left time to tell you about the delights of the Claverton Pumping Station - we were so lucky to arrive on the one Saturday a month that the pump is working. We were shown around by an enthusiastic volunteer and had the full guided tour. We saw the huge water wheels driving the pump, which originally kept the canal topped up with water from the river Avon. It's a marvellous piece of engineering and gave us a fascinating insight into what life was like for the people living in Engine Cottage during its working life.

A lady stopped to talk and told us a very interesting story. She was on a bell ringing holiday with a group of friends, travelling along in a narrowboat and ringing a quarter peal at churches along the way - now that's a new one on me. You do meet the most interesting people when you're sitting on the towpath watching the world go by.

And so, finally, we arrived in Bath. I'll write more about that next week. I hope you're enjoying this lovely weather, I thought I heard someone say it was too flipping hot – surely not!

Lots of Love and Hugs
The Floating Chandlers

ps The meadow by the river in Claverton was filled with families enjoying the sunny weather with a picnic and a paddle in the river. I was amazed to see so many people in the water so early in the year, I bet it was freezing! 



Sunday, 21 May 2017

Cuckoo's Knob and Slack Alice

Wilton Thatched cottage
My dear friends

I make no apologies for this week's title - there really is a place called Cuckoo's Knob and Slack Alice is a very nice cloudy cider. If you wanted confirmation that our beloved England, with all its eccentricities, still exists, then take a trip along the Kennet and Avon Canal and explore some of the pretty villages along the way. This week we've chugged from Hungerford to Honeystreet and it's been well worth the 250 miles and 210 locks we've travelled to reach this beautiful countryside. I don't think I've ever seen so many thatched cottages - there are whole villages of them, each one perfect enough to grace a chocolate box (except, I don't think they do that anymore). I've had to adapt my locking technique (because I can't cross the lock arms - see last week's rant about the stirrups!) so it's taking us longer to get through each lock as I can only open one paddle, but that's ok as it gives us more time to stop and stare at the beautiful scenery. There's a particularly stroppy lock just by a beautiful farmhouse - it's mentioned in the Nicholson's guide as an attractive tile-hung 17th century farmhouse. The description can't do justice to the mixture of ochre tiles and mellow brickwork and the whole thing is surrounded by ancient pasture dotted with sheep. Who cares if the lock takes an age to fill when everything looks so picture perfect in the morning sun.

Until yesterday, we'd only met two boats moving all week. It's really unusual for the waterways to be so quiet at this time of the year, there are lots of moored boats everywhere we go but hardly anything moves. Perhaps they saw the terrible weather forecast and decided not to come out. We didn't have the choice on Monday morning, it was waterproofs on and hoods up as we set off towards the first lock in a light drizzle. By the time we reached the strange combination of lock and swing bridge which is Hungerford Marsh Lock, it was raining steadily. I trudged backwards and forwards, dropping paddles, swinging gates and finally swinging the bridge, before letting in the water to bring the boat up to the next level. A red kite wheeled overhead and the swallows dipped and swished across the meadow - no-one minded the rain, not even me. We found a stretch of armco (steel railing that you tie the boat to) just below lock 70 - it was a bit close to the railway, but the showers had turned into heavy rain so we made the best of it. Those trains thundered through my dreams all week - it was bliss to finally leave it behind when we reached Pewsey. Instead of being woken by the rumble of the goods train at 5am, I was woken by the blast of the dawn chorus - a much nicer way to start the day.

Our stay at Great Bedwyn stretched into two days thanks to the extremely heavy rain on Wednesday. We managed a walk to the church and found the remains of the Bedwyn Stone museum attached to the front of the village shop-cum-bakery. It's unusual to find tombstones used to decorate a building but these were very funny and brightened up a very damp day. The bakery sold a local delicacy called 'Lardy Cake' which sounds like it might supply all the calories required to get us down the Caen flight (29 locks in just over 2 miles). It will be interesting to see how I feel next week when, hopefully, I'll be able to tell you all about it.

On Thursday morning, we woke early, thanks to the terrible racket of that goods train and set off by 7.30am just because we were happy to see the sun again. Tricky and I jogged ahead up to the lock and I waved to the London bound commuters rushing by on their way to Paddington. There really wasn't any need for the early start as we didn't get far. There was a mooring spot, in full sunshine, just by the tall chimney of the Crofton Pumping Station. I would have loved to see it working but the next steaming is May 27th, so we had to content ourselves with a self-guided tour and a few photos. We could have moved on after that but I had spotted a field walk to the nearby village of Wilton which promised a working windmill. The torrential rain of yesterday had magically dried up and the footpath was dry as a bone as we walked by the reservoir and came into Wilton just by the village pond. A sign pointed the way to the Windmill and also to the local pub, The Swan. We made a half hearted attempt to find the windmill but to be honest, Tricky said she really wasn't interested in windmills and dragged us into the shady pub garden. It's a pleasant way to pass the time, watching the local delivery people trying to find Apple Tree Cottage in a village full of thatched cottages with quaint names, we saw the Tesco's van go by three times while we were sipping our cider.

We made another early start on Friday - the forecast is again for afternoon rain so it makes sense to make the best of the sunny morning. We reached Wootton Rivers and Carl got the panels up while I hung out the washing and then settled down to fill up my e-reader with library books. The phone and wifi have been a bit intermittent as we venture further into the wilderness of Salisbury Plain so don't worry if I suddenly disappear – I'll be in a virtual black hole! Cuckoo's Knob is right next to Wootton Rivers and I was tempted to walk there just to get a photo of the village sign but I caught a glimpse of more thatches in Wootton so we walked that way instead. We found a thatched pub just crying out to be photographed. I thought we'd earned a night out after all those locks so we had a fish supper in the Royal Oak and just made it home before the next shower of rain came bucketing down from the sky.

White Horse seen from Honey Street
Just time to mention the lovely village of Pewsey, a rather wet walk from the mooring but needs must when you've run out of milk. The town was humming with Saturday shoppers, the Co-Op was heaving and the two little charity shops were doing a roaring trade. We found a tiny little second-hand bookshop and picked up some treasures for our already overflowing bookcase, I read mine in one sitting - it was called 'Notwithstanding' which was the perfect book to read in this rural idyll, as its full of tales of village life.

It's been a lovely, sunny Sunday and we've moored right outside the Barge at Honey Street. The view from the hatch is spectacular - a white horse carved into the hill opposite and a flurry of colourful paragliders have been wafting off the hill all day and circling along the valley, it must be the most wonderful sensation to be skimming along on the breeze.

That's all from us for this week, I'll be back next week to tell you all about the Caen flight and how I got on

Lots of love and Hugs
The Floating Chandlers

PS There was a tap tap tapping on the side hatch this afternoon and a swan poked her head in to beg for scraps. When I looked out she had 8 babies - there now, I'm happy, I've seen my first cygnets of the year.

PPS I've taken loads of pictures and I'll post the best ones in the blog, just in case anyone else has a thatch fetish too. 
Just Cruising Along

Great Bedwyn

Great Bedwyn Village Shop

Crofton Pumping Engine

The walk to Wilton
Thatch Art in Wootton Rivers
Cygnets at last
The Village Shop in Great Bedwyn
Carl sampling the local cider - Slack Alice
Wootton Rivers

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Scallops and Stirrups

Hungerford in the sunshine

Morning All

For the first time in ages, we've needed to brolly up as we chugged between locks. We've had several very wet evenings and some heavy overnight rain including a bit of thunder one night, much to the disgust of our little pooch! Generally, it's been sunny and we're two layers warmer than chilly April.

We reached Newbury mid week and liked it so much we dallied for a couple of days, then carried on through Kintbury to the delightful town of Hungerford where we moored in full sun by the town bridge. Families picnic on the benches nearby, couples stroll along the towpath and tourists snap photos of us from the footbridge over the canal - thank goodness I managed to get my hair cut in Newbury! We wandered up the High Street with Tricky on Saturday, and found that Hungerford has several large antique shops with names like 'Below Stairs' and 'Aunties Attic' as well as the more usual gift shops and charity shops. It's a very attractive town and once again, we're in no hurry to leave, this may be our one and only trip down the Kennet and Avon so we want to make the most of it. The number of locks between us and Bath is still a bit daunting and they'll all still be there on the return journey!

Beautiful house in Hungerford
The Kennet and Avon locks are broad and often very deep, the design changes every few miles as if no-one could agree on the best combination of gates and paddles, so they tried them all. The top gates have a stirrup arrangement, which I've not come across before. It's a very poor design - too narrow for wide feet in big boots. Once you've jammed your foot in and heaved yourself up onto the lock arm and walked over to the other side, that's when you find out that you can't see where to put your foot to get down. I tried mounting the lock arm like a horse, one foot in stirrup, swing other leg up and haul with arms until I had both feet together on the arm - so far so good. I reached the other side, turned round and lowered my leg over the edge, toe swinging backwards and forwards trying to locate the stirrup, arms gradually lowering me closer to the ground until it was easier to step straight onto the ground than to keep searching for the stirrup - talk about splitting your difference (now that's an expression I haven't heard for a while!)

We'd heard a lot about the turf-sided locks and I was looking forward to seeing the quaintly named Monkey Marsh Lock. The Nicholson's guide book told us that it's listed as an Ancient Monument by English Heritage and one of only two remaining on the system. I walked up from our mooring at Thatcham in the evening, hoping to take photos that captured the sun setting over the gleaming green turf. I was very disappointed to find a weedy old lock with very ugly iron scaffolding preventing the whole thing from collapsing. It didn't look very picturesque at all. It may be an engineering miracle but I'm afraid I couldn't see what the fuss was about. I took a photo for the blog - see what you think. I was more impressed by the scalloped walls of Sheffield lock at Theale. Lock walls are normally straight, both vertically and horizontally, very sensible. I can find no reason for the crimped arrangement of the walls on this lock which does make the Kennet and Avon a very interesting waterway as you don't know what to expect next.
Sheffield Lock with scalloped sides

Carl is paying particular attention to the Navigation Notes in the Nicholson's these days - every page has some dire warning about 'Strong Currents' and 'Hazardous Weirs'. I'm very glad that it's been a dry year and that the river levels are low. If we get any significant rainfall while we're travelling to Bath then we may find ourselves stuck on the K&A for longer than we anticipated. Did I mention the swing bridges? Some of them are notoriously hard to swing and sure enough, we arrived at a bridge in the middle of nowhere and it was jammed solid. We're not scared of any old swing bridge though - we've been over the Pennines on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and if you can swing those bridges then you can tackle anything. Once we realised that no amount of huffing and puffing was going to move it, and looking in vain for a dog walker or cyclist to press-gang, we decided to put a rope on it and pull it open with the boat. Carl had to explain the laws of physics to me - something about fulcrums and levers, so that we got the rope tied in the right place (Mr Dye, my physics teacher, was right when he advised me to drop sciences in the fourth year - I did parley-vous francais instead and look how useful that's been!)Eh Voila! The bridge swung open and Carl nipped through while I wedged it shut again and we chugged off feeling pleased that we'd won that little battle.

I have a lot to report from the Nature Table this week - a kingfisher, a water vole and a great spotted woodpecker all seen on one stretch of the canal near Brunsden Lock. We heard a cuckoo in Thatcham and again in Kintbury. Red kites are a common sight along here and we never tire of the fluffy yellow goslings swimming along in a line between their parents. No cygnets yet, but I'm sure they'll be along any day now. Swifts were spotted last night by Eric the Eagle Eyed Twitcher – My sister Jean and Eric happened to be passing and popped in for an evening of jollity which was mainly spent discussing our advancing old age and choosing our favourite funeral hymns. Come again soon you two - it was great to see you.

The sun's going down here and we've missed Countryfile - no amount of aerial twitching could locate BBC1 so we've no idea what the weather will be this week. The weather app on my phone has been wrong everyday this week so I think we'll do it the old fashioned way - look out of the window!

That's all from me for this week my lovely friends. I hope you're getting out and about, maybe getting into the garden at long last. Let me know that you're receiving me loud and clear - this cyber attack is very worrying, I hope you're not raking through your purse looking for bit coins!!

Lots of Love and Hugs as always

The Floating Chandlers

PS  We fuelled up at Newbury Marina and it was a relief to pay just 77p per litre  - its been double that on the Thames. Not only did we get good service but the chatty proprietor gave us a free bottle of boat shampoo and a pen - we'll make sure to call there on the way back.  

Monkey Marsh Lock - a turf sided lock

Sunny morning at Bull's Lock

Bulls Lock with Swing Bridge

Newbury town moorings

Someone wouldn't have been happy to get this wrapped around their prop

Newbury West Mills


Pretty church in Newbury

Newbury Lock

Kintbury - a very interesting turnstile gate

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Love in a Cynical World

Hello again

We're finally enjoying a warm day and I can't think of a better place to enjoy some nice weather than on the Kennet and Avon Canal. We're pottering along again in order to recover from a couple of longish days on the Thames. We'd dawdled along until last Sunday, not really thinking about how far we still had to go and it wasn't until May Day dawned that we realised we had to put our foot down if we were to get off the Thames before our license expired.

St Mary Magdalene of Boveney
The weather was chilly and cold as we set off on Monday and the early sun soon disappeared as we passed through Windsor. The river was busy with all sorts of craft from tiny day boats to large trip boats, dutch barges to splendid gin palaces. I took a quick photo of Windsor Castle as we passed by but the background of grey clouds in a grey sky couldn't really capture the splendour of this imposing monument. We carried on through Boveney Lock and moored by the Olympic Rowing Lake at Dorney, thinking ourselves very lucky to have bagged the last space on the visitor moorings (little did we know!!). The quaint church of St Mary of Magdalene is just by the footpath and this being Bank Holiday Monday, the doors were unlocked for visitors. The church is owned by the Friends of the Friendless Churches - thank heavens that people still care enough to save
Inside the church
these lovely old buildings. After a wander round the little church, we walked down the lane towards Dorney Common and were overtaken by a horse and cart. I peered at the driver, hoping to see the craggy features of Prince Phillip, and took a quick snap, just in case. It wasn't him of course, I bet he was on the other side of the river at Windsor Races.
People often ask us if the boat rocks much, visitors do sometimes comment on the gentle rocking motion as they move about. We don't notice it much at all unless we're in deep water, then I sometimes have to yell at Carl to stop fiddling with the solar panels while I'm in the shower. As he jumps up on the roof, I'm hanging onto the towel rail to stop myself pitching over the side of the bath and cracking my head on the sink. On Monday evening, we heard a boat roaring up the river, throttle wide open, and I sprung up from my chair to see what the hell was causing the racket. It was a powerful launch, something like the one that David Beckham used for the Olympic ceremony. It was flying along and leaving a wake behind it that looked like it might sink us. When the wake hit us, our boat heeled over, smashing us against the concrete quayside and rocking us from side to side as each wave smashed into us. There was chaos inside, the contents of the bookcase fell onto the dog, who was minding her own business, asleep in her bed. She ran and cowered in the corridor by the bathroom. Cupboards flew open and all the drawers too, and there was a mighty crash every time we hit the quayside until finally the wash faded away. The driver of this turbo charged ski boat had already been reported to the lock-keeper up stream and he had no option but to pull over and have his wrist slapped by the lock-keeper. Apparently he'll get a warning letter too so that's alright then, he certainly won't do that again. Except he did! He waited till the lock-keeper had gone home and then came zooming back later that evening, still going far too fast but this time the contents of the bookcase stayed put.

Tuesday and Wednesday sped by as we cruised extra hours to make sure we could get off the Thames before our license expired. We had a 'wild mooring' at Westfield Farm on Tuesday - a wild mooring is when you can find a bit of bank where the water is deep enough for you to get close enough to jump ashore with a rope and hammer in your mooring pegs. Luckily for me, Carl is quite agile and can leap ashore without endangering life and limb. The farmer came by in the evening and charged us £7 for the privilege of mooring on his sheep field, I didn't begrudge him the money, the sheep were very entertaining.

It was late afternoon on Wednesday by the time we turned off the Thames and came to the first of the broad locks on the Kennet and Avon, I was pleased to see another boat coming along to share the first lock, I found it hard going after 7 days of being pampered by the Thames Lock-keepers. It's all very picturesque along the Thames - the locks are neat and tidy, some with a pretty lock cottage and a little hut for the lock-keeper. Lots of very English towns and villages to visit, a deep, wide river with spectacular houses to ogle at as you drift by, little islands that you can moor on and explore (although the most interesting ones are private). And yet, even though it is all so perfectly lovely, we're looking forward to doing a few locks again. Be careful what you wish for!

The first lock on the K&A is grubby and unkempt, the little hut is shabby and empty and the lock is stubborn and surly, taking an age to empty and then even longer to fill up again for us to rise up into Reading and set off through the litter into the infamous Jail Loop in search of overnight moorings. It wasn't very inviting so we kept going and found that we needed to press a button and wait for the traffic lights to turn green - now that's a first for us, traffic lights on the waterways. The next section took us right through the heart of the city towards a fearsome looking weir with a lock just by it. Carl managed to keep well clear of the weir and I quickly opened the gates and got us through without any trouble and we chugged off in search of somewhere, anywhere to moor. We reached Fobney Lock, and as I started the process of emptying and setting it for Carl, in the distance I could see a stretch of Armco with our name on it. For those of you who don't boat, Armco is that stuff you see miles of on the motorway and it's used on canals to provide a place for boats to tie up to with a steel pin called a piling hook. We do love a bit of Armco! Now I've wittered on so much about the Thames that I've not left time to tell you about the rest of this week. Don't worry I'll bring you up to date next week as we're moving at the rate of 2 locks a day now that we're on new territory. So far the K&A is living up to everything we've heard. We're expecting to need a full repaint by the time we've been to Bath and back.

I hope you've all had a lovely weekend and enjoyed the sunshine
Lots of Love and Hugs
The Floating Chandlers

Ps - I've had a terrible cough this week and went off on the bus to visit a local doctor for a check up, All's well, nothing to worry about but I missed the bus back and had an hour to wait with only a bakery and a pet shop for entertainment. Needless to say, I went into the bakers for a bun and, when they heard I'd missed the bus, one of the ladies got here car out and ran me home. There's still a lot of love left in this cynical world – once again my faith in human nature is restored.

The Temple Folly at Henley

Another Folly at Fobney

A beautiful hotel on the Thames

I wonder who lives here?

That's a weir
A ' Wild Mooring'