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