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