Moore 2 Life:Exploring the waterways

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Book:'LIFE WITH A NARROWBOAT' © Chas Moore

Chapter 2: Weekends & Holidays, 1996

Boat safety

We are back again in the New Year. A short trip in the boat for us while all wrapped up warm. Down to Bulls swing bridge and back. British Waterways have improved the boat safety requirements. Next year (1997) we are obliged to renew the Boat Safety Certificate. The first step was to get Reading Marine to convert our gas system to use Propane. Butane is not so good in the winter. Some new pipe work was required to reduce the possibility of leaks and provide a test point.

Working parties

Many working party days saw more improvements. Mains power sockets fed from a shoreline via a safety cut out of course. Fixed the fridge to the floor. Moved up the bathroom sink to improve its use and drainage. Would you believe it, the wastewater was expected to go up hill! A cold-water filter was fitted and new drainpipes were fitted to the Galley sinks. On the outside two holes were drilled into the Hatch sliders so that trapped rainwater could drain away. Several lunches were had at the Swan pub to keep us going through January and February. Terry fitted new wooden panels to the rear doors. Then tried to take Nomad out but there was ice in the basin despite it being a lovely morning. He could not turn out past the berth. So the engine was put into reverse to give it its monthly exercise. Terry had been busy building a new double bed for the cabin and has now fitted it into the boat. A good job well done as there is now space under the mattress and drawers for clothes. The water tank was re-filled now that the risk of frost has gone.

More members of the family came up for a trip near the end of March. We went east to Monkey Marsh lock. They are putting real turf on the sides. Previously it was lined in concrete. One of the paddles would not lift up so the lock took a long time to empty. Had lunch once we turned and gone back up. A nice sunny day with several other boats seen out and about. We returned with another boat all the way to Newbury Wharf. Continued on under the low bridge and into the rapids. The river joins the canal at Newbury lock and is particularly fast here at this time of year. On our return we had dinner on board.

Monkey Marsh Lock is a Listed structure, and a reply from BW told me that they had to comply with a request from English Heritage to return the lock to as near a condition as original.

An Easter trip, Kennet and Avon canal pictures

It is Easter in April and we all have some time off work heading for Burghfield. Newbury to Burghfield is 29 Lock Miles. Went east to Woolhampton on Thursday. The girls got some provisions in the village while the boys find an oil leak and tightened up a few nuts on the engine. We continued on under the big swing bridge to Aldermaston. Terry got a new chimney for Nomad. This may stop tar leaking down the side of the boat. Light the fire for a warm night inside.

On Friday we stop by Sulhamstead swing bridge. We have been told of a canoe race that left from Devizes. The first of them are due to go by soon. Which is really why we have stopped now. As they go by we notice that some have torches! They apparently travel on through the night to Westminster on the Thames. Terry's friend went by early in the evening.

The race has been held on the K and A for many years. It started before the restoration in 1990 when there were many stretches of dried up canal. They have to get out and carry the canoe past locks and swing bridges. We saw one pair tip their heads to one side to get under the swing bridge but they fell in!

Difficult canal equipment

Saturday saw us past Theale Swing Bridge. It was so difficult to operate that I wrote a letter of complaint to BW. They replied saying that the bridge is to be replaced with an up to date automatic bridge. We had lunch in the Cunning Man at Burghfield. It was just warm enough to sit out in the garden and watch many more canoeists go by. They were being given drinks and chocolate bars at many places along the canal. We turned the boat round here and returned to Sulhampstead.

The next day we wandered into the village. Not much here but houses. Tyle Mill on the river was more interesting. Then we got back on Nomad and she took us on to Aldermaston. The lift bridge was already up as we approached and there were many gongoozlers at the lock this Easter Sunday. Aldermaston Lock is another rebuilt one. "Terry remembers seeing it in a very poor state many years ago. Never imagining that he would be on a boat going through it." East of Newbury the canal is the navigable river Kennet. The river sections are quite different to canal. It wanders about a bit more and is surrounded by trees. We go by Wickham Knight footbridge constructed of wood and brick. Negotiating Woolhampton Bridge and lock is easy with four people. The lock has to be set before opening the bridge. The problem is that they are out of sight of each other. We stop at Midgham.

Above the lock there is a good mooring opposite to the towpath. A walk to the main road gets you to a phone box and two pubs. The first is more expensive than the second. On Monday we head back to Newbury and our safe haven. Tidy up and empty the loo before going home.

A trip to Kintbury, Kennet and Avon canal pictures

At the end of April Mum and Dad get a two-day trip and have booked a room at the Dundas Arms in Kintbury. They have been looking forward to this trip and the weather is kind to us being at least dry. After checking the engine and fitting a new oil filler cap we get going. An hour passes and we have managed Greenham and Newbury locks, and the swing bridge at West Mills. We stopped for a picnic lunch here, where new dwellings for the elderly are being built. Continued on with dad having a go at the tiller. Ann does the locks and mum has a go with the windie and pushing gates open. After a stop for tea we get to Kintbury by 6 o'clock. Ann provided the dinner before M and D went over to the Dundas Arms for their Bed and Breakfast.

The next day they rejoined us after their cooked breakfast. We had our usual cereal and toast with coffee. It was a cool and sunny morning and the ducks were looking after their brood of many chicks. Some way towards Newbury we met some young walkers. They were very helpful at the locks and were in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Got to Newbury swing bridge to find four boats coming through. There was some activity with novice canoeists all over the place at Newbury Lock. "Must be careful how I go with Nomad." The canoes are above and below the lock. M and D enjoyed the new experience as we returned to our mooring.

A Major trip to Bath

We all have two weeks off and start in the rain on Thursday. This is a major trip and required some forward planning. Newbury to Bath is 80 locks and 57 miles away. Plus some swing bridges. The Caen Hill flight at Devizes was booked in advance. There are more locks than miles but there is a 15 mile lock free stretch before Devizes, then there are 29 locks over a distance of two miles! So a total of 137 lock miles to do in 14 days. That is a good average at ten lock miles a day.

Terry had the fire going when we arrived so it was warm and cosy inside. Would you believe it! The gas has just run out to night. That was not part of the plan. Thankfully we can change over to the other bottle. The gas is used to heat water and cool the fridge.

It is pouring with rain as we moved off. "So we get a shower before we get to Bath!" I quipped. There was no gas at Greenham Island so we went on to Kintbury by lunchtime. The hot soup and sandwiches went down well, prepared by the girls on the way. Paid a visit to the bakers in the dry. Then we moved on to Hungerford in the rain. Really pushing it and got there just after five. A good place to stop, but there are a lot of noisy ducks here. After supper we paid a visit to the John O'Gaunt pub. We keep dry with the fire going. Done 38 lock miles, which is far more than usual in a day.

Crofton pump

Next day we move on and have lunch in Great Bedwyn on Saturday. Crofton Pumping station is in steam to day. While Terry and Myra take the boat on up the flight we go in for a quick visit. The steam engine is massive. There are two of them with huge swinging beams. Good to see it moving. They are pumping water up to the top where we catch up with T and M by walking up the towpath. We stay the night at the top having got through the tunnel. A boat had passed us inside with no light on! Travelled for 7 1/2 hours to day, again more than usual.

Down the next flight of locks at Wooton Rivers and on to the 15 mile pound which gets all the way to Devizes with no locks. Got to Pewsey Wharf and stay for lunch. Done the loo and taken on more water. Had a coffee in the Trust shop. Moving on to unknown waters now and we get to Honey Street. Gibson Boat Services have a Chandlery, moorings, and some gas. George Gibson is booked to do our Safety Survey next year.

Passed the Barge Inn and stopped for the night. The boys went for a jar. Up with the lark early on a warm and sunny Monday! It was an easy trip getting to Devizes by midday. The Wharf already has several boats gathering for tomorrows trip down the flight. The narrowboat Rakes Progress comes along side due to the fact that there is not enough mooring space. We get a Chinese take away to celebrate Myra's birthday.

The Caen Hill locks

We got up and had breakfast early. It is cloudy but not raining on the day we go down the flight and we move on down the 100 yards to wait at the top gate of Lock 50. We pared up with Rakes Progress as other boats were paring up with each other. The BW man in green arrives at 9 and checks our boats for size and lets the first two in. Then it was our turn. The crew on each boat operates the locks, not the BW man. I did not take a count but at least 10 boats are going down today.

The Caen Hill flight actually starts at lock 44 and ends at lock 29. That is 16 locks, but the controlled decent and ascent is between Lock 50 at the top to lock 22 at the bottom. That is a total of 29 locks and we have to do it all without stopping. Breasting up with the much larger Rakes Progress was not a good idea. Nomad simply had no control relying on the skilful aiming by Shirley. Most of the time it was perfect, with only an inch of clearance both sides!

By 11 o'clock we were half way down and met the first pair of boats coming up. Here we separated and the boats coming up went between us. Managed to make coffee on the way. You would think that it would take all day, especially when you see all the locks at the same time. But with all the willing help we get to Lower Foxhangers by half past one. Once at the bottom we had time to rest and get the Pot Noodles heated up while watching the other boats arriving behind us. The new pumping station is built but still waiting for the electric pumps. The pumps will push the water back up to the top. Then more boats will be able to go up and down without having to book the passage.

Maintenance

Seend is the site of the next set of five locks about eight miles away. "Once seend, never forgot," I quipped. Nice and easy getting there by four. Some work on the engine was required to reduce or stop an oil leak by fitting a new rocker box gasket. Got up late on Wednesday. Still in bed at eight! "Oh well it was a hard day yesterday," I thought. Half way down the Seend flight we passed the Barge Inn. It is a very nice looking place with a good mooring for your boat. Shame it was not yet time for lunch! Go onwards and stop at the Kings Arms near Hilperton. After lunch we continued on our way west, it is all very flat now. Turned into a marina just before Bradford on Avon. The Sally Line hire boats operate from here. Moor up and take a look around. It is very quiet and nobody to ask about the facilities. There is a pub here called Gongoozler. Eventually find help, do the loo and take on water. We are asked to move over to a spare mooring and paid to stay the night. Then we were invited to attend a meeting of the Taverners Boat Club. They were pleased about progress with the back pumping at Devizes and reported about the proposal for a lottery grant.

The next morning we moved on round the corner to Bradford Wharf. Went to the shops and got more provisions. The traffic fumes are very noticeable having enjoyed the fresh air of the canal and it is noisy. Back on the canal we move into the 10 foot 3 inch deep Bradford lock. (The deepest lock on the canal is yet to come). This one drops down under a major road bridge. By midday we had got to the Avoncliff Aqueduct. It jumps from one side of the valley to the other over the river Avon. The canal is now lined in concrete and clinging to the side of the hill. We ate our hot pasties for lunch while cruising along.

Long pounds to Bath

The canal manages to stay flat all the way to Bath crossing the river again at the Dundas Aqueduct. Lots of boats gather at the aqueducts. It is difficult to moor because the concrete lining prevents the boat getting close to the edge. We passed Bathampton and through Sydney Gardens. "So we have arrived at Bath in seven days," I concluded. There are great views of the stone architecture of Bath from above. It is our intention to go down the Widcombe flight of locks to the river Avon. The deepest lock here is 19 feet. In fact it is the deepest by a few inches on the entire canal system. Created not by the original designers but forced to exist because of a new major road. Perhaps we should have filled the next lock as we emptied the deep one, for the pound was flooded. I looked up back from the boat and wondered where the canal had gone. For it had blended into the hillside among the houses. It was an amazing piece of work constructing this flight. The last lock got Nomad onto the river Avon with its high walled sides. The river flow was from the right and just out of the lock I had to reverse to the landing stage to pick up the crew on the left. We progressed up river close to Pultney Weir and tied up against a high concrete wall. Just able to climb out and put ropes round large concrete bollards. A few other boats were seen chained to the railings!

It had been a very hot sunny day and we had done 16 lock miles in 5 1/2 hours. An average of three miles an hour! Terry went off to get the ticket for the mooring from the Leisure Centre. We all had refreshing showers before having Myra's meat dish with pastry for dinner. The night was disturbing for all except me as I slept through it. It had got very windy and the ropes were chaffing on the concrete. People were passing by in the early hours and empty crisp packets were blowing about on the deck.

Friday and it is sunny with a cool breeze. We have been asked to move by midday because there is to be a Dragon boat race tomorrow. But first we were off to meet my brother Mik who had come over from California this week. He arrived by car from Winchester a bit later than planned having got lost in the city looking for our arranged meeting point. It was just time for some photographs before moving off down river and back up the flight. Mik enjoyed the ride. We went all the way back to Bathampton before returning to Bath for lunch. A well-kept towpath is here and it was only a short walk down the hill to the river where Mik left the car to return home.

Bath and entertainment

We spent the next day on a bus doing the tour of Bath. Luckily it had stopped raining so we went up on the top deck. A boat gathering has filled all the mooring spaces down on the Avon. All decorated with bunting. The dragon boat races were in full swing. Pleased that we had got back up out of the way. We saw people in fancy dress looking for treasure during the evening. Then there was a fireworks display. It was a much better night on the canal away from the town.

Rakes Progress had arrived and moored up near us. We are off after breakfast and get fresh water and dumped the loo at the boat yard for which we were charged 4. At Claverton water was being pumped up from the river Avon. So we stopped to pay a visit to the pumping station. The design uses no fuel but uses the river flow itself. A massive water wheel rotates by the force of the river Avon and is connected to two swinging arms that pump the water up to the canal.

Up the flight

We start the journey home, get past Dundas and stopped at Avoncliff for the night. Visited the bookshop, then the Cross Guns for dinner. It was so popular that all tables inside were booked! So we sat outside and had our meal. Get up a bit late on Monday. Our navigator reckons we should do 20 lock miles today so we have breakfast on the move. Need to be sure of getting to the Caen Hill flight on Tuesday. Met Stokie a working boat owned by Briony Sharman and John Chard. They had just sold their load of charcoal at the Festival of the Sea in Bristol and were on their way back. They also sold wood and coal up and down the K and A. We go up the Seend flight and passed the Barge Inn again. Despite a bit of rain we get to Foxhangers lock by teatime. Have done the 20 lock miles as required today. So we can relax in the evening playing our game of Mah-Jongg. There are two boats in front and we team up with Queen of Clubs to go up the Caen Hill flight.

Up early this Tuesday and ready to enter the bottom lock at nine. It is sunny and hot. Half way up we met our friends from Hythe. They watch the proceedings and Ken gets a ride. Back up at Devizes Wharf just after one and take on more water. Very hot sun to day. Go shopping in Devizes and get some Wadworth 6X from the local brewery.

Problems ahead

The towpath telegraph tells us of a problem at Burnt Mill lock 65. The bottom cill has broken and major work is required to repair it. Our navigator thinks the lock is a good day from Newbury. So it all depends on how soon the lock is re-opened. Maybe Friday. No need to rush back but it was considered better to get as far as we could down the cut to Pewsey if possible where we could rely on the facilities. Terry made several calls on the canal free phone to check on progress with the lock repair. The BW men had to put up a temporary dam, pumped the water out of the lock and were busy pouring concrete on Thursday. It was hoped that it would be dry by Saturday. We had some confidence about getting home providing we could get through on Saturday. So we continued up over the top through the tunnel and down to Crofton where we went to the Tearooms at the Pumping Station. It was now Friday so we continued on to Church Lock at Great Bedwyn. Many boats were gathering here, but not so many as we had feared. It was very noticeable that no boats were going west! Stokie was here and as we were in need of new Fire Extinguishers for our safety certificate we purchased three from John.

We all dressed up after showers and went over to the Cross Keys for dinner. Returning that evening just before a violent thunderstorm. It was very noisy with hail coming through the vents. Then there was a very loud bang. A tree had been struck not far away from the boat.

A long day to get home

Then it was Saturday, sunny and bright. During breakfast a boat went past going west! We then realised that the Lock must be open. We paired up with another boat and went through the repaired lock together. Thanking the BW men in green on our way. We then had a long day ahead because we needed to do 37 lock miles. We teamed up with a boat called Harry to go through some locks. Then we found Hanna at Hungerford that belongs to the Bruce Charitable Trust. This Barge is twice the width of our narrowboat so we could not share the next lock. Luckily they stopped for lunch and we got past them. Now we are finding all the locks are set against us. Obviously a boat is going our way ahead of us. So we try to catch them up.

We finally got to Ham Manor Basin at 6:30 in the evening. Ten hours on the move in one day must be a record for us. So the Bath trip is over. We have done a total of 270 lock miles and some swing bridges to Bath and back in 16 days. An average of 17 lock miles a day which is a respectable average considering the problems we faced. A letter of thanks for all their hard work on the lock was sent to BW.

More weekend visits

Terry and Myra took a friend down to Thatcham. While aboard Terry refilled the stern greaser and got a new bottle of gas. We were together again for a long weekend and went to Midgham. This is becoming a favourite spot with the Coach and Horses pub just down the road. A bit expensive for food though. Made a picnic and went for a walk through the village up the hill to the church.

We let Chris and Tracy use Nomad with some friends for a weekend. After a cooked breakfast they proceeded west in hot sunshine to Hungerford. On arrival late they found no moorings, turned round and tied up by the bridge. Then went off to the Railway Tavern for a drink and a meal. They left at midday on Sunday and got all the way back to the basin by early evening. Not bad going and they all enjoyed their weekend.

Then it was the turn of Ann's brother and his wife to share a trip with us. Setting off east to turn at Woolhampton and stop for the night at Midgham. We all went to the Coach and Horses for a meal despite the cost! The next morning we all went up the hill to the church and round the fields before returning.

Another weekend just over half way through the year found us all back on Nomad. This time we set off to Hampstead Marshall. Terry was shaking the crumbs off the tablecloth and there was a loud plop in the water. We lost a spoon! On our return we joined John and Sue with Evening Cloud. Good to see them out on the cut.

Our good friends Mary and Ray from Dibden Purlieu came for a day out. Left the basin at 11 o'clock. As always the skipper notes the time of departure. Turned right and went west. Our guests were thrown in the deep end and given the windie to open the lock paddles. By 1 o'clock we arrived at Guyers Lock (84) where we had lunch. Later we continued past the site of the Newbury bypass and on to Benham Lock. There is one of those typical brick bridges just before the lock. It is possible to turn the boat round here and is easy to moor so it is another of our favourite moorings. On our return and while in Guyers I saw Arthur Pen Dragon all dressed up with his queen by his side, walking past. They were concerned about the new bypass cutting through the trees. On to Newbury and stop at the swing bridge for tea.

A week for two

We stayed the night on Nomad, just the two of us. It was cloudy and cool first thing and we fancied going east this time to Burghfield. Newbury to Burghfield is 29 Lock Miles. The first lock was empty with the paddles open. Not considered very friendly, as it takes longer to set up. Never mind. We always try to follow the instructions from BW and leave all paddles down and gates shut. We continued on past the swing bridge and through Bulls Lock. Here we find that somebody has tied a very long length of blue rope to the railway bridge. The river joins the canal here and is running quite fast. The rope is floating on top of the water and going out of sight round the bend. It would present a considerable hazard to a boat because it is difficult to see and could get wrapped round a propeller. We managed to hover under the bridge and cut the rope free, coiled it up and put it in the boat. Got all the way to Aldermaston in seven hours and into Padworth lock with a narrowboat full of men having a party. They were returning to the Thames and were friendly enough but we wished we had avoided them. At one point I was on the wrong side of a swing bridge with Ann driving the boat and the men on the same side. We stopped just past Towney lock and waved them by but the mooring was not ideal being a weedy edge.

Swing bridges

The next morning we see Hanna go by. After breakfast we continue to the next swing bridge. As you progress towards Reading there are more swing bridges and many are difficult to use. One requires 90 turns of the handle to lower the clamp before the bridge can be opened! Having got Nomad through we closed it. Just then another boat comes into sight round the corner! We felt obliged to open it again. We travelled on with the other boat into Sheffield lock after Theale Swing Bridge. That is just about the worst one on this canal. Boats called Robin Thrup and Miffy were both going our way. They continued on their way as we turned and moored by the Cunning Man at Burghfield. Went for a walk south of the pub and found a post box. It is always good to note where post boxes and phones are just in case you need one. We had a jolly good meal at the Harvester pub later but the phone in the pub just ate money and did not get through. (Mobile Phones were a thing of the future, for us anyway.) Had a shower before going to bed.

Return journey

The next day, Thursday, was sunny and warm and we were on our way by ten past nine. Lock 103 at Burghfield needed a push with the boat to get it open. Remember that Ann is the only crew and we are now going west up the canal. We need to use the bow rope if on our own in the locks. However several boats were seen. Harlequin went through at Sheffield lock. We tackled the Theale swing bridge and let ourselves and other boats through. We stopped for a look round here and found a NatWest bank, a Co-op and a phone. I used the phone to tell Terry and Myra that we hoped to meet them at Aldermaston the next day. On to Tyle Mill to get water, dispose of rubbish and dump the loo!

We got all the way to Padworth lock near Aldermaston by five pm. where we tied up by the lock on a bollard at the front and a pin at the back. The next two days were spent wandering around with Terry and Myra. Then on Sunday all four of us took Nomad on up and past the big swing bridge at Aldermaston. Continued on to Woolhampton where we stocked up with more food at the village shop and stopped for the night at Midgham. Had dinner at the Berkshire Arms, which provided better value further down the road. Back on Monday Bank Holiday to clean up, take our friends back to Aldermaston to pick up their car which they had left at Reading Marine. Then home after another good week on Nomad.

A weekend in September

We did some painting just to keep the rust away. Then off to Midgham lock for the night. Played a few games of Mah-Jongg in the morning. It is a good game for four people. There were several boats moving up and down the cut as weekenders are out and about. It had been sunny and warm this weekend but on the way back it started to rain. One of the difficult times for rain was when we are trying to pack up and go home. So we kept our fingers crossed. This was quite effective because there were only a few spots of rain!

October anniversary

Terry and Myra were married this month some years ago and they make an effort to spend some time on the boat. This time we join them for a week away. We all joined Nomad on Friday and had lunch at the Swan across the road from the basin. Then moved on to Guyers lock 84 for the night. The next day we got to Kintbury where we stayed to have lunch on board. Some more painting was done as it was warm and dry and the fire was not needed that evening.

By Sunday we had got into Dunmill lock 75 but found that the gate would not shut behind us. Another boat was in with us and several were waiting. One of the skippers used his mobile phone to ring BW for help. We got both boats back out of the lock and waited. It was not long before the two men in green overalls arrived. They came from Hungerford and asked for one boat to go in so that they could do some fishing with their hooked rake from the back of the boat. A large lump of heavy weed root was dislodged and the gate closed after getting both boats back in the lock. On then to Hungerford to moor up at what used to be the wharf. Not much left of the old buildings. No facilities here accept a reasonable hard edge. There are always a lot of ducks here getting fed by the local bakery most evenings and are very noisy.

During a wander about Hungerford we discovered a Launderette, which may prove handy, if ever we need to clean a lot of clothes. I suppose that if we were on board for more than two or three weeks we may. The ducks proved to be too noisy so we moved back to Dunmill where another hard edge is available by the lock. The next morning started off bright and shiny but later it was very wet as we cruised down to Kintbury. After lunch the sun came out and we continued with another boat called Three Way Cut. The crew of two was pleased to have help with the locks as of course we were. They shared the boat with two other couples hence its name.

A major refit

We had decided to have a new ceiling fitted as the existing one was falling down! Once back at the basin we stripped the boat bare and drained out the water system. Nomad looked very sad inside with no curtains and many cosy items removed. Many other improvements were planned to achieve the Safety Standard as well. Reading Marine was chosen to do the work because we were impressed with their carpentry. We did expect to get the work done in a few weeks. But the journey to Aldermaston proved to be our last of the year. And it was still only October!

We had spent 53 days on the boat during the ten months it was available for use.

Thank you for reading Chapter 2. Return to Book.