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.

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