Moore 2 Life:Exploring the waterways

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Book:'LIFE WITH A NARROWBOAT' © Chas Moore

Chapter 4: Changes A Foot, 1998

Short days, Kennett & Avon canal pictures

It is frosty in January and we take the boat out to Midgham in lovely warm sunshine but the short days do not allow you to go very far. All four of us are on board, anxious to give the engine something to do! On entering Monkey Marsh lock we saw what looked like a large piece of lock gate. Turned out to be an old fence post, which we removed with some difficulty. A boat seen left here last October has now suffered some broken windows. The dark evening was spent playing Mah-Jongg, after a walk to the Berkshire Arms for an early dinner of course. We only saw one other boat moving while on Nomad this time. The next morning, Sunday, we awoke to a pink sky with last night's fog all gone. On returning we needed to change the engine oil and refill the stern tube greaser. "There is always something to do."

More problems

Early February now and we arrive from our new Bungalow. Good to be back on board after the move. Lit the fire and made coffee. Fog seen on the journey up is now gone and left a clear sunny morning. The engine started after a few goes and a full 20 second pre heat. We set off out to Greenham lock but the river section is flowing quite fast and it proved tricky to get out. Keep bow well over to the right next time. When ticking over the charge light came on. Is the alternator belt slack? Must check it later. After lunch on board we returned to the basin. After cleaning the connections to the alternator a healthy charge current was delivered to the batteries once more.

Terry and Myra are on board and found the clock had stopped so Terry replaced the battery. Then the gas ran out! Change the bottle over. Then went to Benham lock for a quiet weekend away. No other boats about and a beautiful moon light night. Next day spent walking round Hampstead Park. Then peace shattered by the passing of canoes racing from Great Bedwyn to Newbury. Came back with Jennifer from Greenham Island. They cleaned the brasses and got another bottle of gas from the boat yard.

And now it is March. With all four of us on board we set off westwards with loads of water about on the river. Rescued a frog from Guyers lock. Moored up just below Drewets lock, a new spot for us but television reception was poor here with only ITV available. We only have a small black and white TV running off the 12v battery. The analogue picture is often grainy. Met Wellingtonia and Kestrel at Benham lock on the way back next day.

Water tank

It is April and we have had Nomad nearly three years now and are a bit concerned about what the inside of our steel water tank is like. The water is not rusty but the boat is about eight years old now and we don't know if the tank has ever been inspected in that time! The tank is still empty having been pumped dry for the winter months. We unscrewed the lid to look inside. "No nasties, just a bit rusty in the corners", I reported. The tank goes right up to the bow below the gas bottle store. I volunteered to get inside with a wire brush. Got a mask on and disposable overalls. With a vacuum cleaner sucking out the dust I set to work with just enough room inside to move around. Applied a coat of black bitumen paint to the front end then got out for fresh air. We did not need the rain in the night or showers during the next day but managed to finish the painting before it got too damp inside. Now the tank has to be left open for a week or two to dry out completely.

Terry and Myra came on a Friday near the end of April, washed out the tank and put the lid back on with new bolts and sealant. Then filled the tank for the summer. Good to have hot and cold running water again. The next day we arrived and all went out east this time. Stopped for lunch at Widmead lock, then on to moor up at Midgham. On Sunday we had lunch at Widmead lock and visited the Nature Discovery Centre in the afternoon. A large lake with ducks and other wild birds and a path to walk round.

British Waterways need more money to go with the Lottery money for major restoration work so Terry adopted Midgham and we adopted Kintbury. A way to get more public money to help pay for the maintenance of the canal system.

Kintbury

On the first weekend in May we all took the boat to Kintbury this time. The sun came out and made the trip very pleasant. We paired up with Sawena. T and M's cat Honey was also on board and spent most of her time asleep. Next day after breakfast and when the early rain cleared we continued west and turned just before Dunmill lock. The fields are all filled with a yellow Rapeseed crop and Ann gets bad with hay fever. So she and Terry go off to the hospital in Newbury while Myra and I take Nomad home. A sunny hot day ended with us all watching the Crafty race in Newbury.

A week later while staying on board in the basin Honey went missing. She was later found under the staging in the marina. Managed to get her out using the water hose! Went west to get 90 litres of diesel and stopped at Newbury wharf for a cup of tea in the stone building owned by the K and A Trust.

Then on to Bulls swing bridge where we stopped. Discovered a Nature Reserve called Bawdown Copse over the bridge towards Greenham Common. The next day on returning we met Four Miles On in Ham lock. Owned by Phil and Deborah Miles and their two girls. Braunston Boat Show was on at the end of May and we used our boat as a stop over for the weekend. Then Chris and Tracy borrowed her for a weekend with friends and also went to Kintbury.

On our own

We got a weekend to spend on our own aboard Nomad. Lit up the fire with some wood because it was cold even though it was mid June! The rain last night did not help and it is surprising how quickly the boat dries out and gets warm. We set off after breakfast and went west, stopping for coffee at West Mills. When we got to Higgs lock we found that it had been left shut. Most locks on the K and A do not have by ways and being a navigable river the water has to pass through the lock. So the next pound ended up a foot higher than it should have been. Even though we were able to open the bottom paddles, too much water prevented us from opening the gates. Another boat Ashleworth arrived and we both decided to have lunch while the level came down. Then Harlequin arrived, a wide barge so we let her go first to push the gates open. Then opened the top paddles to allow even more water to pass through the lock.

The Length man is on holiday so these locks have not been checked this week. It is sad that some boaters do not heed the notices on these locks. Travelled to Kintbury with Ashleworth and arrived at our adopted short length of canal by Vicarage Bridge just before the thunder and lightning started. We are safe and dry inside but Ann is feeling insecure. Our dog Allie is OK because she is slightly deaf now. Sunday morning started dry and we left after breakfast heading for Benham by lunchtime when it rained again. Sorted the wood in the front locker to get more to burn on the fire. Then back to Ham Manor Basin.

Water ?

We arrived late on a wet Friday night to stay on Nomad. Filled the kettle for a cup of tea but the water smelt tainted. Pumped the water out of the tank and re filled it on Saturday. It was that freshly painted tank. John and Sue turned up with their daughter on the boat Evening Shadows next to our mooring. We both had planned our trips but went in opposite directions. We went east to Widmead lock for lunch. It rained hard at one o'clock while we were inside eating which is just as well. The sun came out after lunch and we joined a new boat called Twister and continued the journey. We had got into that deep Heals lock while dark thunderclouds went round us. Down in the lock it got very dark and we just made it out on to the bollards and inside the boat when the heavens fell on us. We both agreed to travel together when the rain stopped after a cup of tea and got away at five.

Problem in a lock

Twister went in to Woolhampton lock first followed by us. As we went down I noticed that her bow was a bit high. The back end was going down in the water and could have sunk. She was tied to a bollard at the front! I shouted to Ann to close the bottom paddles quickly and open the top ones to re fill the lock. The crew should have known better but they were new to the game and had already gone off to open the next swing bridge. Then another boat came up to the lock before we could get out. Not the way to do it because you should give way to boats going down stream! What a day! Twister is on its way to Froudes Marina.

We set off the next day for Aldermaston only an hour away. The lock here is one of my favourites having scalloped edges using bricks. Did not go under the swing bridge but parked by the facilities. We are here to see Terry and Myra's new boat. The new grey shell arrived at Reading Marine and has already got the floor in. Did not stay long because we took advantage of the lock being in our favour with another boat going up. Stopped at Wickham Knight Bridge for lunch. This is on the river Kennet that is wider with several bends through the trees.

More problems at Woolhampton lock going up this time. I have to stay with the boat and wait for Ann to first set the lock open then come back and swing the bridge. When the bridge opened I then moved the boat through. The river is quite strong and you need to make a sideways rush to the lock and wait at its tail. There is a bend in the river and I did not see that the lock had been taken by a boat coming down and had been closed. So I had to wait at the mooring just after the bridge by the pub. It was a tricky situation with the river water rushing by. Thankfully these problems do not occur too often. It is much easier with more crew or when with another boat going the same way to help.

Stopped at Midgham lock for the night, another of our favourite spots. While cooking dinner the gas ran out! The next morning was cloudy and dry. There are three young ducks here, one male and two female. We moved on late at eleven with another boat Merchant Taylor. Joined by another at Monkey Marsh lock that is big enough to take all three boats! The next lock at Widmead took all three as well. Two other boats went by while we enjoyed a cup of tea. Back at the basin we purchased more gas and went home.

Maintenance and a cat

Terry and Myra came again with their cat, which this time promptly fell in the water when trying to jump from another boat to Nomad. The soggy cat was rescued by pulling it out with its tail! Terry cleaned out the sedimenter that separates water from the fuel. Also changed the fuel filter but during the trip out going east a diesel leak was discovered so decided to return to base. The seal was not seated properly. Two gallons of diesel was removed from the bilges, put into a bucket and disposed of at Greenham lock in their dirty oil tank.

Reading

The fab four are together again in July with a plan to go to Reading 40 lock miles away. Travelled down all the way to Reading with Phil and Deborah on Four Miles On who are having a holiday on their boat. We said goodbye at Chestnut Walk as they continue on to the Thames. It has been an enjoyable sunny day. Makes all the maintenance problems worthwhile.

Woke early Sunday morning by noisy ducks and it was cool and cloudy for our return after breakfast. Strong river flow was noted at Burfield lock where we were joined by a plastic petrol boat while going through two locks. We stopped at Garston lock to let it go on because the petrol smell was quite noticeable. I am a bit concerned about petrol on boats.

After lunch we continued to Aldermaston where we all had a look at Terry and Myra's new boat now named Butty Lark. The next day was cloudy and cool. After breakfast we travelled some way with Jemima an old wooden boat owned by two elderly gentlemen. They told us that the boat was 33 years old. We stopped for lunch in the pub at Thatcham.

25 years of work

It is August and we bring a bottle of Champagne and four family members to celebrate the fact that I have worked for 25 years at RACAL Recorders. Left in hot sunshine with five boats at the lock. We stopped at Widmead for a picnic lunch under the willow tree. It was an enjoyable time with family to celebrate. Moved on to Midgham seeing many more boats out and about and moored under a cool Willow tree till nine o'clock before returning home.

Going west on holiday

Just Ann and me arrive in the dark on Friday for a holiday having got a week off work. This time we head for Honey Street, 60 lock miles distant. Filled the tank with diesel at the boatyard, as it was only half full. Going west this time in hot sunshine and got past Hampstead Marshall by midday to stop. After a walk round the park we continued on to Kintbury and moored at our adopted spot by the bridge.

Next day we move off behind the Dutch barge Dudley Thomas that had just gone by. She was first seen back at Newbury. Got to Hungerford and by this time it was raining. "There is nothing worse than being wet while trying to tie up!" The wharf was full so had to follow the barge through the lock and moor above it. Not such a nice edge up here. Had to use our pegs with the plank out because it was a bit shallow. When a boat went by fast a pin got pulled out and was lost in the mud.

We went shopping in Hungerford and found a new pin at a farm store. Before moving on we waited to watch two boats coming up Hungerford Lock. Some how they had got stuck trying to get out! So it was nearly lunchtime before we got to Coblers Lock. The canal is very shallow above Hungerford, which makes it difficult to get off at the locks. Stopped at Froxfield above Lock 69 where there is a nice hard edge and is deep enough for the boat to float.

Dave and Caroline on Madrigal, the orange/green boat from Ham Manor, joined us. They have two daughters to help. It is much easier with another boat going through the locks so get to Gt. Bedwyn in record time on a warm sunny day. Later continued up the Crofton flight to the summit. The water level is only just sufficient up here. We keep to the middle where it is just deep enough to move slowly. The water is pumped up from Wilton Water by the oldest working steam engines in the world. But they only operate at weekends in the summer. Most other times electricity does the pumping.

Got through Bruce Tunnel and down the other side past Wooton Rivers and on to Pewsey Wharf by teatime. There are 15 boats here so we moor along side Madrigal having requested permission. Terry and Myra came up in their car to pay a visit next day. We all enjoyed a short day trip to the Barge Inn at Honey Street where we ate some good grub. Turned the boat round and returned to Pewsey.

After dealing with the rubbish and loo we set off on our own to join a queue at Wooton Rivers lock. Due to the water restrictions it is only open at nine am and one pm. There are four boats in front so we will be the third pair up as another joins us. It took an hour to get to the top going through just four locks. The level is well down at 18 inches below normal. It is just over two miles to the next lock past the tunnel and is slow going. Had to move over into the mud to let a boat pass going west. It is getting late so we stop near Mill Bridge just short of Gt. Bedwyn.

We moved on to the village to do some shopping the next day. The train station is near the canal and the trains stop here every hour. It goes off into a siding to let the Great Weston Express through before returning to Reading. We continue east to Froxfield. The towpath telegraph has told us of a problem at Hampstead Marshall. Apparently a lock gate has been knocked off its hinges! A contractor working for Fibreway did the damage with his equipment barge and was sacked on the spot! Fibreway is the new glass fibre data cable being laid all over the country under the canal towpaths. Men from British Waterways have been working hard all day to fix the lock gate hinge.

A sunny Sunday and we get going with several boats travelling east and west. It is a bank holiday weekend. Madrigal has caught up and is going east with us and by lunchtime we are at Kintbury together. The lock has been mended so we can at least return home! But not before spending an extra day on the boat away from work. Returning to Ham Manor Basin in Newbury by Monday afternoon.

Bright new paint, Nomad of Erehwon pictures

Then in September we all prepare Nomad for painting. There is a wet dock in the basin that provides a covered space on the water so painting can proceed even if it rains. We returned three weeks later in October to inspect the freshly painted hull. What a difference it makes. All clean, bright and pretty with the new choice of colours. Carried out an oil change before the winter to protect the engine. Then went out to our favourite spot at Midgham where we walked up to the main road for a meal at the White Swan. Roast Lamb was on the menu so we all had that. Then returned home.

Four on holiday

The Fab four are back again for a week off at the end of October. The four of us have had a fabulous time together relaxing on the boat that is so different to working. Even though the weather is wet and windy today. Spent all day playing Mah-Jongg. Next day was better so we moved out and went up to Higgs Lock. So much water now that it proved difficult to open the gates. Many locks on this canal need to be left empty because they don't have by ways. The water has to flow through the lock. We had lunch at Benham then moved on to Kintbury for the night. Managed to change over the gas bottles in the dark when it ran out again. The gas is used to heat water and cool the little fridge.

Got to Hungerford and found a space behind the trip boat Rose of Hungerford. "The plentiful Ducks seem quiet at the moment," I commented. Then it was windy and wet again. So two days later we returned with another boat all the way to Marsh Benham. Then the next day we decided to continue all the way to Midgham. A sunny day this time made the trip very enjoyable. Continued the next day to Woolhampton and decided to take the train to Aldermaston. Terry and Myra wanted to see progress on their new boat. By the end of the month we had returned Nomad of Erehwon to her mooring in Ham Manor Basin at Newbury. As it turned out it was to be the last time the Fab four went together on that boat.

Celebrate a new boat

Terry and Myra now have their own boat but we are still sharing ownership of Nomad. So Ann and I are now able to use her exclusively. During November our friends property was transferred to their new boat and we gradually got used to being on our own in Nomad. Then we were invited to a celebration dinner on board the new Butty Lark. We then helped each other to winterise both boats. The fresh water in the pipes needs to be drained out in case it froze during the winter. We had used Nomad for a total of 79 days at the end of this fourth year together.

Thank you for reading Chapter 4. Return to Book.