Friday, 31 August 2012

The Generation Game

One of the Kingfisher narrowboat family, “Dai”, from “Jandai” contacted me after reading last week’s blog, asking if we were trying to do the whole waterways network in six months, so frantic was the pace we  had set ourselves.
Well the brakes have now been firmly applied (not sure you can do that on a narrowboat though!), and since Bank Holiday Monday we have been ensconced in a marina in Newbury, where we will now stay for the next two weeks. So in the last week we have travelled just 2 miles, and are now very comfortable thank you. One of the plus points being that we can now use our washing machine on a shoreline, without it keep stopping or cycling.

Our mooring over the Bank Holiday by the swingbridge in Newbury
This stopover is to enable us to be within striking distance of our daughter and her family, James and Livi, who arrived from New Zealand on Tuesday afternoon. Erica is having a belated 30th  birthday party this Saturday and the following weekend we have her daughter “Livi’s” christening in Little Marlow. They are based in Marlow area, so this seemed a convenient location, though on doing the journey a couple of times now, our home in Welwyn Garden City was nearer Marlow, than here.  So we have gone from a life where we rarely know what the day of the week is, to planning buses, trains and  table reservations. We have had to reinvent a diary again such is the whirl of activity we find ourselves in.

The Harvison Gang with Pat and Livi at the arrivals gate at Terminal One
The other reason for being in a marina is so we I can give the Cat’s Whiskers some TLC. She’s had a good clean and polish, both inside and out, and between us we gave the gunwhales and rubbing strakes two fresh coats of black paint on both sides.

Roger admires his handiwork (Amazing what you can do with a jar of Nescafe)
Last Friday we ventured back home for the first time to see our tenants, book doctors and dentist appointments and pick up our car. It was a bit strange driving again, after 6 months, and only the second time we had been in a car, during that time.
Last weekend was, of course, another Bank Holiday weekend, so it was not surprising that it rained a fair bit on the Monday, though the rest of the weekend was quite warm and sunny, with the occasional shower. My pal Sid from and his wife Mave, visited us on the Monday and we took them from our mooring on the outskirts of Newbury through the town and on to our marina where we had lunch. I worked with Sid at John Lewis, and he had always shown a lot of interest in the project, so it was good to invite him and Mave aboard. They were on their way to a steam fair in Dorset.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Wiltshire Wolds

I don’t particularly care for the unexpected, so I was delighted that our return up the 29 locks on the Caen Hill Flight at Devizes, last weekend, was every bit as pleasant as our passage down the Saturday before. Our plan, to be at base of the flight on Friday night, ready for the off, first thing on Saturday morning, proved a sensible move and  our premier locking crew of David and Caroline returned to The Cat’s Whiskers late Friday evening to make our ascent as painless as possible.
Dave and Caroline brought with them a third team member and we were delighted to pipe on board “Toby the Terrrier”, for whom this boating lark was a whole new experience. As it happens, Toby’s conduct was exemplorary, and the little fellow really seemed to enjoy the experience, though he was flat out on our floor when we finally moored in Devices Wharf later that afternoon.

Toby the Terrier on roof patrol
We shared our ascent with Bernie and Jenny on NB Varakei. They were two-handed, but promised even more help with the guests they were expecting for the weekend, though at 78 and 83, we didn’t expect their guests to be “hands on”.  They certainly did their bit though.

David & Caroline. Our premier locking crew
Devizes still retains the atmosphere of an old country market town, and the major moorings for the town, at the Wharf, means you are only minutes from the town centre. As luck would have it, we collided with the start of the Devizes Carnival celebrations. The opener being a grand concert in the local town park. So, yet again, chairs under our arms, we sought out some Sunday afternoon entertainment, and had a very enjoyable few hours, listening to a wide variety of music, in the warm sunshine.
We woke up Monday morning to a smell I knew very well. Wadworths were brewing and the smell of the malt permeated the whole area. Luverly! Since then we have slowly journeyed east  through the Vale of Pewsey and have just crossed back into Berkshire, where we are moored at Hungerford for the night. There have been lots of locks and we have befriended a number of boaters on our journey. We even saw another "Cat's Whiskers", without the apostrophe. I have heard of one other.
The Cat's Whiskers at rest in the Vale of Pewsey. If you squint you can see The White Horse on the hills

Snap!... but where is the apostrophe

Pat and I are unusual in that neither of us care much for fishing.  On most boats there is at least one fisherman, and no sooner have their boats moored up for the night, than the rod comes out (oooh missus!) and fishing commences. But though I am not a big angling fan, what I saw this morning has changed my mind a bit.  Whenever the crew of Narrowboat Bumble have pork chops they save the bones and then attach them to a line and dangle them over the boat all night. The result, as I saw for myself this morning, is a big catch of crayfish who attach themselves to the bones. They then fry the little critters, or boil them, or make soup, and they look to be good scoff. These are Signal crayfish, so the crew of Bumble are also performing a public service as this invasionary species should not exist is this environment, though they are rife in the Thames. And in the Kennet and Avon, it seems.
This Friday, we catch a train from these here parts and head for St Albans, to pick up our trusty old Citroen Picasso. It will be the first time I have driven a car since Easter and only the second time I have been in a car during the time we have been on the water. Must remember to drive on the left!
On our return with the car, we will be moored in a marina in Newbury for two weeks, so if any of you fancy a land-based visit, with a mini-cruise as an optional extra, then get in touch.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Way Out West

While Pat thinks the Kennet & Avon is a bit dull, compared to some of the other waterways we have travelled on this summer, I am slowly warming to its charms, albeit if only for the crazy sights we keep seeing as we have headed  west.
One craft, moored up just outside Devizes, had built a greenhouse on the front and had planted a lawn on the roof. It was quite green and verdant. Must make a great putting green, but God knows how they get the mower up there.

Who says you can't take your garden with you!
Then there was the “Skip”. Yes, folks, this was a regular skip, that an enterprising boater had used to make into a little boat, which he had fitted with an outboard motor. He was very proud of it, painted in its primary “Lego” colours, and he was taking it through a lock, so it must have been pretty stable.

Pat admires the floating skip
As as we entered Devizes I saw the slogan on a board at the end of a garden. “What if the Okie Cokie is not really what it’s all about!” How profound and wacky is that.
As for our navigation over the week, Newbury slowly gave way to the delights of the rolling hills of the Vale of Pewsey. We have been lead to believe the photo (below) that we took last Thursday, was of the famous “Watership Down”, which many years ago we walked over with our chums, the Scotts, (Dory & Chris), who visited us on Monday. As a big fan of the book, but not so much the film, I am happy to think it is true – it certainly fits the bill, and seems to be in the right part of the country.

Watership Down.... we think
Last weekend we duly fried again as the nation had its third slice of summer. We were in Devizes, in Wiltshire, where we descended the famous Caen Hill flight of locks. Here we said goodbye to Barry and Helen, who had been our travelling companions for the last 30 miles or so from Kintbury. They had moored in a marina a couple of miles outside Devizes, but walked down the flight on Saturday morning to say goodbye. We shared the rest of the journey with Peter and Helene, from Guildford, who were hiring narrowboat “Bath”, and needed to go down the flight on Saturday.
The previous evening all three of us had both moored at The Barge Inn, Honeystreet, right outside the pub. The hostelry is run by the local community and was featured on BBC last summer, “Village SOS”, with Sarah Beeny. The series looked at attempts by villages up and down the country to restore the fabric of their community via lottery grants. The pub was resurrected and is clearly successful. My verdict: they could look after the beer a bit better. One ale was just on the turn, and when I mentioned it, the reply was, of course, “well nobody else has complained”. Their other beer, called Roswell (not sure who brews it) was much better. As was the grub, which was quite acceptable.
We found Devizes to be a very attractive town which is dominated by the Caen Hill flight of locks and Wadworths Brewery. We also welcomed back to TCW some old friends of the boat, Dave and Caroline, from Gloucester, our “Locking Posse”, who finally got to have some time with us in the sunshine.
There are 15 locks on the Caen Hill flight; another seven at the bottom and  five at the top. It was a piece of cake with four helpers opening and closing paddles and setting up the locks. We passed only one other boat on the flight, which was quite surprising, especially being Saturday. The Caen Hill flight attracts huge number of “gongoozlers” (look it up in the dictionary) and they snapped away with their digital cameras as we dropped through each lock. They all wanted to ask the same old question and poor old Pete in his hire boat, beside me, could have been invisible.

"Gongoozlers" check out our progress on the Caen Hill Flight
We parted ways on Sunday evening, after an excellent roast in a local pub and three hours in front of the telly watching the closing ceremony of London 2012.

Roger sporting the latest in "must have" narrowboat wear - the exclusive "Cat's Whiskers" polo shirt

Gold Post Box in Bradford On Avon
We are currently in and around Bradford-On-Avon. Here we saw our first gold post box. This one commemorates Ed McKeever, the sprint canoeist who won gold last week. We were intending to cruise into Bath, before turning round and returning to Newbury, but a lock gate at one of the city’s locks is badly damaged, and is being repaired, but the navigation will not open again until this weekend. So we went into Bath yesterday by bus and had a great day. I hadn’t been there for several years, and we took advantage of the free walking tour and really enjoyed the experience. The sun shone as well. It’s a different story today and we went a few more miles, before winding at the Dundas aquaduct, in the driving rain. So now we are pointed east and ready to go back up the Caen Hill flight this weekend.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Medal Winning Performance

Putting aside the exploits of Messrs. Ennis, Farrah, Rutherford and Pendleton at the weekend, I have patted myself on the back and awarded Pat and my good self an honorary Gold Medal this week for our sterling work navigating this part of the Kennet & Avon Canal, which is really the River Kennet from Reading to Newbury.

Sharing locks with Barry and Helen on "Midnight", our companions from Kintbury to Devizes
I thought I had got the hang of this boating lark, and to be fair a number of boaters warned us it would be demanding, but the journey from Reading to Newbury was very hairy, with the river still very high and flowing much faster than I remember the last time I was on it, some four years ago.
Most of the issues have come approaching locks. Many aof these have a fast flowing weir on their immediate approach, some right on the gates. Now I am used to this scenario, but while you are battling the flow, you have to moor the boat and let your crew (Pat) off. There have been a few leaps of faith from my “First Mate”, I can tell you on to very short pontoons.
 I think we have just been spoiled up to now, and have quickly learnt that on this waterway you can’t just assume that the next town along will have a suitable place to moor up and if it does appear to have services such as rubbish and water, they may not be available.  And the worst thing is, there are very few riverside pubs to try, especially as we enter Wadworth country.

Monkey Marsh Grass Lock
But this bit of the K&A does have its features. There have been two “grass” locks, which resemble the sides of a river bank, once you are in the chamber. It’s a bit of a change from bricks and the odd steel and concrete ones. These grass locks are the only ones on the network, protected as a “Site of Scientific Importance”, and are a bit strange to go through
And then there are the pill boxes that crop up every few miles. This was going to be the “tank line” in the Second World War, a natural obstruction that the Home Guard would defend in the event of a Nazi invasion.

Defending the "Tank Line" along the Kennet & Avon
So, a challenging week, which has become easier, as we move on to the canal section. Yesterday morning we met up with “Monty”, a jet black shire horse, that pulls a horse barge for tourists, out of Kintbury, a few miles from Newbury.

Pat gets friendly with Monty
He was magnificent, as was the barge he pulls, and a rare example these days of what would have been a common canal sight 150 years ago.
Monty earns his keep in around Kintbury

One of the main reasons for us to venture down the Kennet & Avon, was to check out the marina in Newbury that we are booked into at the end of August, when our daughter Erica, and her family, come and stay with us, on arrival from New Zealand. The marina is on the outskirts of the town, and quite comfortable, though the pontoon we will probably moor up to is a bit short.
Where there is a canal, you will often find the railway running alongside, and the line from Paddington to Bristol, hugs the canal from Reading, criss crossing it at various points all the way down to Bath. Monday morning at 9.45am we went under a railway bridge and above it stationery was a commuter train of three carriages. I always wave to trains (not sure why) and, surprise, surprise, the driver waved back.
Yesterday morning we were chugging along and the same train (the 9.45am) passed us on our right, and the driver tooted to us. This is becoming just like “The Railway Children” I thought. By the end of the week I should have all the customers waving handkerchiefs out of the window. I’ll tell you how I get on.
The boat continues to behave itself and we are piling on the miles; in fact today we topped 500 miles and 385 locks.  We still have a bit of a drip from the side hatch when it rains heavily, and one of the burners on our hob, keeps cutting out. We have cleaned it thoroughly and still have the same problem, otherwise all is well. The weather forecast is good for the weekend as we head for Devizes and the legendary “Caen Hill” flight of 26 locks over 2 miles.
Toodaloo  playmates.