Moore 2 Life:Exploring the waterways
Book:'LIFE WITH A NARROWBOAT' © Chas Moore
Chapter 9: Moore Exploring, 2003
Josh is to be christened in March so we plan to travel south again. Some serious forward planning is now required because of the stoppages. British Waterways are doing a lot of work repairing locks, bridges and towpaths. Some parts of the canal will even be de-watered. The closures start on 6th January so we have to get to Cropredy before then. From there the canal is open almost to Oxford and we won't be able to return till mid March. Coal and Diesel may not be so easily obtained so we left Braunston with a full tank and hope to have got enough coal. Ivor with his supply boat plans to come south when the canal reopens. He warned us about the River Cherwell flooding where it joins the canal at Aynho and we may not get under a bridge there. We hope to leave the boat at Aynho Wharf.
Flooding, Oxford canal pictures
We have got past the Napton and Claydon locks which are now closed till the 8th of March. We saw that the river Cherwell has flooded at Cropredy. The canal is also well up to within an inch of the towpath with water rushing over the top of the next lock gate. March is proving to be a wet start to the year with over a hundred flood warnings through out the country. The road is flooded and several cars are pushing bow waves to get through up to their headlights. Water pored out of their doors as they come out. Then it got very cold. Down to minus four and ice formed around us. Terry and Myra paid us a visit on the way to their boat.
The ice melted, the river level went down a bit and we continued on to Banbury. Breaking thin ice on the way. Stopped in the centre by Tom Rolt's bridge. Here, back in the 1940s, Tom had a boat converted to live on and toured some of the canal system. Canal cargo was in decay and he wanted to keep the canal system working. He formed the Inland Waterways Association. A new shopping development has sanitised the old historic Tooley's boat yard.
Stuck in ice
The visitor moorings in town allow you to stay for only 24 hours. Hardly time to see the museum and shops. However the ice formed overnight and we were forced to stay for a week! Another boat called No Problem stayed as well. Multi story car parks either side lit up at night. It is a bit public during the day with people looking in at us. Children and parents will throw stones on to the ice and it is noisy when they try to break the ice.
By the end of the week the canal looked like a rubbish tip. We saw the cars come and go. At night the youngsters gathered to play football in the empty lit car parks. Mary and Ray came up to see us at Banbury and gave us lunch on board. We walked round the park and down the canal to see shopping trolleys, wheelbarrows and buggies stuck in the ice. It was good to have the shopping centre close by during our stay. Luckily we had enough water, diesel and coal to live with and keep warm.
We got to know Vic and Sue on No Problem. Sue had gone off and found an Internet Cafe and set up a quiz about the Canal on her web site. Turned out that she knows a lot about the network and has designed her own web site for her business. Sue encouraged me get on the net. Car Phone Warehouse provided the phone and lead and after a considerable learning curve, by the end of the week we were on line!
When the canal rippled again the local mooring warden asked us to move on. Got water below the next lock, moved on round the corner only to find more ice so we had to stop another night not far from Morrison's. On our way Ann fished out a buggy and cleaned it up good as new! After collecting post we moved on down to Aynho. Passing the weir where the river Cherwell joins the canal. The level was such that we just got under the bridge by removing the chimney! Made arrangements to have some work done on the boat when we leave it for the Christening. Deddington is too far to walk so we asked for a lift in to the shop. Allan willingly obliged and bought us back as well.
No working facilities
Continued on down to Lower Heyford to discover that there are no shops or Post Offices near the canal. According to the locals the river Cherwell is threatening to flood into the canal here. So we turned the boat round to get back up the next day. Got above Somerton deep lock to be well above the river. It rained a lot during the day and we watched the river flooding over the fields either side of it! Back at Aynho we got diesel and a pump out. Their pump is unreliable so we decide to use the porter-poti. Then we needed gas but they were waiting for a delivery! Got some coal delivered so feeling a bit better. Cannot empty the poti because the cesspit was full! Then the river went down so we got back to Banbury and used the BW facilities. Better now and got gas at the local boat yard. They are only open four days a week but at least their pump out works! We stopped short of Cropredy after travelling against a strong cold wind. Woke up to snow in the morning.
Plan for the summer
Our plan for this year after getting the boat blacked at Braunston is to go up to the Llangollen canal early to avoid the crowd, then to the Stratford canal, through Warwick and down to Oxford. From that canal we go down the Thames to Reading and the Kennet and Avon. Maybe stay for the winter if facilities let us. The restoration of that canal is now finished so it should be better.
The Inland Waterways Association are holding a National Waterways Festival at Beale Park near Pangbourne on the river Thames. The festival is open to boaters and visitors alike in August. We have booked our mooring there.
On a sunny spring like day we moved up to Cropredy and more ice formed. Got food and post here. The Post Office is in a private house and is run by an elderly couple. They have a box of mail to be collected by many boaters here and have got to know us. When we call for our post they give it to us without asking. Almost accepted as a local. The river Cherwell has shrunk to its normal level and is back in its winding track now several feet lower than it was.
Moved up to Claydon and stayed for a week. The locks here are closed and we walked up to see BW rebuilding the middle one of three. Water has been drained between the locks so you can see the muddy bottom. One complete side of the lock has been replaced by a thick wall of concrete and was being lined with brick. It is amazing how these structures have survived for so long. The brickwork on the next lock down needs a lot of pointing where normally it is under water.
We are running out of bananas, milk and bread. Back at Cropredy we can stock up, get water and loose the rubbish. Moor up and it got icy again. Pete and Deanna came up for the weekend when luckily it turned mild for a few days. Went for walks across the Cherwell valley and up and down the canal towpath and in to the village. We provided each other with food.
Before moving on we stocked up again and got some coal. Got through one lock and hit solid ice past the next bridge. Backed up to moor by a soft grassy bank that needed the plank to get off. The ice came and went through night and day forcing us to stay four days. Our post is being sent on to Banbury and we were anxious to get it because our boat insurance needs to be paid soon. This the first time we have been unable to move for a while in the middle of nowhere.
A long walk
Our food supply is running low so we decide to walk just over two miles to Tesco near Banbury. It took an hour. There was a lot of thick ice on the way. We went with Allie so I sat outside watching people and their cars, an ever-changing scene. I wondered how many people realised that a half frozen canal is not far away behind that row of trees. We have learnt to live without a car. "Good job we still have legs," I thought. The return trip was slower because our trolley wheels kept jamming up with mud off the towpath.
It stays light to five now as we watch the sun go down. Two boats have passed us coming from Banbury. Must have broken up all that ice. But it froze again. A couple of spring days later several more boats passed so we moved on down and stopped below Hardwick lock by the woods. There is a path through the trees so that became our walk the next day.
Access to the shops
Water from the reservoir passes under the canal near Tesco so there is a good concrete edge to moor against. Although opposite the towpath, the wasteland does belong to British Waterways. The council wanted BW to pay for a bridge over the road for safe access to Tesco here. But we had to climb over a locked gate and cross the road at a roundabout. After shopping we moved on and got diesel at Sovereign boats. 32p a litre at the moment but is on the way up due to problems abroad. There are plans to improve the towpath either side of Banbury and to provide more visitor moorings.
We are enjoying the quiet countryside while lighting the coal fire to keep warm. But while stopping at Aynho for a delivery of coal, Ian told us about vandals at Claydon middle lock. This is the one undergoing a major rebuild. Apparently a digger was hijacked and ended up in the lock. While on the rampage it managed to damage the new brickwork, the lock gates and the roof of the old maintenance building. The re-opening date was only a week and a half later than planned. Thanks to British Waterways.
There are several lift bridges south of Aynho that are usually left open for boats to pass as they are in fields. We had moored out of sight of one when a boat passed us. Later there was a knock on the window. The lonely boater found the bridge down and asked for help. We both pulled down on the chain to lift it but it was stuck. A mooring pin used as a lever released it and the bridge slowly rose by itself.
After a day of light rain we walked across the field to watch the water rushing round the bends in the river. We had got over a drainage ditch to get there. Gradually the field became soggier, a bit like the tide coming in. Had to get back over another bridge because we were cut off from the one we had used. While watching TV during a windy night the picture suddenly went snowy. The aerial had blown round! Had to get wet several times to adjust it.
Go home for a Christening
We went home to Winchester and left the boat at Aynho Dock for engine maintenance and filling the old chimney hole in the roof. Chris came up with a borrowed people mover with Mum and Josh to fetch us. It was only one and a half hours on the road to get there. We spent a week away to see Josh being christened at Emery Down in the New Forest. A large family gathering in the Church Hall followed. We borrowed Mum's car to get about. Several days and late evenings were spent getting to know Josh at Eling. We fed, bathed and played with him learning to be grand parents now!
Return to Aynho
Chris had to go to Scotland for work on the Monday so he took us back to the boat. An early start got us back by nine o'clock. He continued on to find a B and B on the west coast near Glasgow.
All work done on the boat at Aynho Dock so we were away. Claydon Lock is open early so we head back to Braunston stopping at Banbury for the shops. The majority of winter stoppages have been completed by British Waterways and there are more boats on the move. We saw Ivor Batchelor with his coal boat and Dave and Georgina going south. Spring is in the air and the daffodils are out providing a cheery sight where boaters have planted them along the towpath. We got some more pansies for our boxes on the roof.
War is not meant to be spectacular or entertaining so do not expect it to be. There will be fortunes and misfortunes. Friends can become enemies and enemies can become friends during and after a conflict. World oil production is in decline and the consumers will fight for it.
At Braunston we have the boat out of the water for the second time. Pressure washed and two coats of black pitch paint on the sides above and below the water line. The steel was in good condition. We are reassured that the boat will stay afloat for another two years!
Friends at Braunston
George and Magie from Bramble came to deliver a picture that we had asked George to paint for us. He copied a photo that I took last year. They are selling their boat and moving to Suffolk so sadly we won't be seeing them again. Mark and Margaret on Knot Normal are back from Spain and looking for more work. He is a boat fitter and has done a lot for us in the past. They have more work in London where boaters live and work there. They plan to stay there this winter. Bob and Jane on Hobo are having yet more work done on their boat. They were never happy with what the builders made for them and just wanted to enjoy their retirement. They know all about dogs, as they were judges at Crufts. Jane was kind enough to clip Allie's claws for us. Mary and Ray came up to stay at Braunston and were just in time to see the boat re launched.
We moved on to Calcutt to meet Terry and Myra on their boat and celebrated Ann and Terry's birthday when at Newbold near Rugby. A bunch of flowers from them are in the boat. We then travelled together northwards to Springwood Haven marina just past Nuneaton on the Coventry Canal. The boat yard engineer was able to sort out a few problems with our boat systems. Our friends turned round ready to return to Calcutt. The next day we went in opposite directions as we continue to Atherstone. Walked to the medical centre and booked a visit with the nurse. "Come back this afternoon" they said, much better than down south where it is more likely to be next week! Then took Allie to the vet for a check up where she was given antibiotics for a slight infection.
Spring has arrived, Coventry canal pictures
Easter weekend saw hot sunshine and every body out on their boats. Hire boats near Tamworth are all lined up ready to go and going fast. They do not seem to go slow past other boats. Expect to see a boat at every bridge where you slow to let it pass. While travelling we do some fishing. With a net and a black bag we gather up loads of plastic bottles. Filled up three bags this month.
We have of course seen many ducklings and lambs this Easter. A heron is standing motionless looking for that fish, it takes off in front of us, flying forwards and landing again. Only to repeat the act as we catch up. There, in the tree, a Jay, quite large and colourful, while five buzzards were flying above.
The Coventry and Trent and Mersey Canals pass round several towns like Nuneaton, Tamworth and Rugeley. You travel past many back gardens of houses. Some are tatty but many are a sight to see being full of colour this spring. Some gently slope down to the canal with grass and bedding plants. Others are terraced with brick walls and wooden platforms.
To Stone, Trent & Mersey canal pictures
We had stayed a while at Great Haywood and made more detailed plans. It is our intention to travel over most of the canals in England. So far we have done most of the Trent and Mersey. So to do a bit more of it we moved up to Stone stopping on the way at Weston, a small village with a Post Office shop. A milepost near Stone indicated Shardlow 46 miles one way and Preston Brook 46 miles the other so we are half way between the ends of the Trent and Mersey. Stone was full of boats. Luckily we found a space below the lock and can stay one night. There is a turning point and a water tap here. But there are not enough visitor moorings as many permanent moorings take up most of the space. Next day after visiting the town we got water and turned round. Made difficult by lack of space and a boat mooring in the turn! What is it about holiday time congestion? Even canals seem to suffer.
To Market Drayton
Back to the junction we turn right onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. Then another right turn on to the Shropshire Union Canal. Eventually arriving at Market Drayton six days later. On the way we passed the Shellmore Embankment. Now open after extensive work to prevent the canal slipping down the hillside.
Collected several packets of post at Market Drayton. A moorings code feedback form to fill in and send back to British Waterways giving us a chance to suggest improvements. Our Internet phone is working well now and proving to be cheaper than expected now that we are paying as we use the data. It is quite fast as well. We have got pictures from Chris and Tracy of Josh and even done some banking on the web. Also got some postal voting forms but too late for Thursday's elections. At least we tried.
The Shroppie, Llangollen canal pictures
We are on the Shropshire Union Canal heading for Wales, sixty odd lock miles distant. There are fifteen locks down past Audlem to the flat pastoral land beyond. Black and white cows graze on the lush green grass. You can hear their munch munch as they eat near the canal. It was very windy and there are few trees to provide shelter. The canal seems endless to the horizon crossed by several bridges.
Then suddenly a left turn to the locks, unseen as we pass a bridge. The canal continues to Chester here and we turn for the Shropshire Union, Llangollen branch. Four locks get us up 34ft. by the side of the Hurleston Reservoir. The Welsh canal delivers water to the reservoir from the river Dee at Llangollen. The water is used by two local towns but is not available for the locks. At busy times the locks can suffer from lack of water! The canal from Hurleston to Ellesmere was originally called the Ellesmere Canal.
Now we start discovering this new territory for us. There are many visitor moorings along the way with rings to tie to and mowed grass on the towpath. Very civilised. The water moves slowly towards us slowing our progress at the bridges where the canal is narrow. Passing several lift bridges and locks get us to Whitchurch a useful town for supplies at Tesco that is twenty minute walk away through Jubilee Park.
We continued to and stopped at Cole Mere. A huge lake surrounded by trees, Beech, Ash, Birch, Fir, and Maple. Took a walk down to the lake to see sailing dinghies quietly gliding across the water. You could hear the crew talking to each other and the sails flapping as they changed tack. The woods were full of honeysuckle, blue bells, primroses, cowslips, violets and rhododendrons. We moved just a few miles more to Ellesmere, another shopping town. A short arm takes us nearer the centre. Sadly the fine old warehouses are derelict where canal trading was carried out. We walked to see the Mere next to the town. An interesting variety of birds were seen including Ruddy Duck, Geese and Cormorants.
Up two more locks, the last of 21 in all along the total length of 46 miles. The next 12 miles are level all the way to Llangollen, which is remarkable because the canal winds its way round hills, valleys and mountain rocks into Wales.
The Welsh boarder
At Chirk the canal crosses a valley and plunges through a tunnel into Wales. A railway crosses here as well. Both on grand stone viaducts. We walked to Chirk Castle, thirty minutes up hill through the estate. A back road through fields of sheep and lined with 36 oak trees which were planted for the Coronation back in 1953. The castle gardens were a sight to see. The topiary yews and hedges were magnificent. Several tons of clippings each year are used to make a treatment for cancer.
The approach to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is along the edge of a deep valley in a narrow concrete channel. Then turn right to cross it. No spectacular views of the aqueduct to be seen because of the trees. The aqueduct a very narrow metal trough and it is a long way down to the ground where the river Dee passes under. On the right, the towpath and railings to stop the horse falling off but nothing on the left! Trevor is one of those places where every body comes to see the aqueduct. The village has one shop up the hill and a hire boat company occupies the old wharf.
It took ten years to build the aqueduct, and then the company ran out of money because so much was spent on the aqueduct! The intention was to continue to Chester to get a water supply from the river Dee.
To get a water supply a navigable channel was dug to Llangollen much of it only 2ft. wider than the boat. We moved on the four miles to Llangollen. The last two miles were very narrow. Ann went on ahead to be sure no boats were coming out as we followed a boat going in. At one point a shear rock face was passed. We were both lucky to find a mooring, as there was room for only eighteen boats. At Llangollen the river Dee is still several hundred feet below the canal. A turning point marks the end of navigation. An un-navigable feeder continues on to Horseshoe Falls where the river Dee feeds twelve million gallons of water every day into the canal. We walked the two miles in just under an hour with Allie to see the falls. A Steam train from Berwyn to Llangollen got us back.
Having stayed two nights we left and several other boats also returned with us. Ann went ahead again to see that no other boats were coming in. At a passing point we waited as three boats went by. They continued even though we had told them about other boats behind us. There are a few blind bends and a few emergency stops prevented collisions with boats unseen till the last minute. We were glad to get back over the aqueduct, past Chirk and into England with the Welsh hills and mountains receding into the distance.
The Monty, Montgomery canal pictures
The Montgomery Canal branches off near Ellesmere through 13 lock miles to Maesbury. The locks at Lower Frankton are only open for limited times in the day and controlled by a lock keeper. The canal heads back into Wales to Newtown through Welshpool but is not all navigable. Only last month a further length had been opened at Aston Locks making seven more miles to explore. The canal passes unspoilt countryside and sights of special scientific interest but we did not see the Otters or the special plants. It was obvious this was a newly opened canal. More weed and soft edges made progress slow and had to stop the night at the new Crofts Mill lift bridge where we turned. An enterprising boat builder has already established his business here!
We walked to the end of the navigable canal to see the muddy ditch continue to Welshpool. Makes you realise how much effort is required to open an old canal. The Waterway Recovery Group, a voluntary organisation, is mainly responsible for all the hard work. On our way out we noticed many more boats coming in as we approach another bank holiday weekend. With the flow of water going in our direction it was quicker getting out.
By the end of the month we got back to Market Drayton where we met John and Sue. They have a house with a mooring and keep their boat Day Dream there. We had known them from our time in Newbury where we both kept boats. They kindly offered to take us to the shops in their car. We collected post, went to the market and did the shopping. Then we admired each other's new boats and had a cup of tea.
Discovery, Staffordshire canal pictures
Having done the northern canals we were ready to return south. We are a long way north between Manchester and Birmingham. We stopped at Norbury Junction and sorted out our application for a Gold Licence at the BW office, as we need this to go on the Thames later. The Shropshire Union seems endless again but it only took three days to get to Birmingham and on to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal where this time we turn right to go south. Now in discovery mode as we have not been down this way before. This canal was opened in 1772. Coal from Cannock Chase was transported to Stourport power station until 1949. We travel through densely wooded country past Wolverhampton. Much of the canal is hidden from the town and is clear of floating rubbish.
Bratch Locks are built like a staircase. One lock goes directly into the next. Normally they share a gate between them. But here there are two sets of gates. A lock keeper helps you through and took note of our licence number. Between Bratch and Kinver is a lovely stretch of wooded canal. It winds round rocky ledges passing over the River Stour.
Steep sandstone edges have been cut back to make room for a lock. The sandstone has even been hollowed out to make stables for several horses. Stourport on Severn is at the end of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. It was created as an inland port to transfer goods from the River Severn to the Canal. There are still some original 18th Century terraced workmen's cottages here. Now listed as ancient monuments and still lived in!
We had our engine serviced here and were told that our batteries needed replacing. Our alternator has been playing up so we had that sorted as well. The power system has done well lasting three years of almost continuous use.
Terry and Myra paid us a visit here on their way to Myra's sister. After a meal in the local pub we walked round the basins and watched boats going through the locks down on to the river. We had not planned to stay so long as a week here. Originally we were to travel up the Worcester and Birmingham canal from Worcester. Then down to Stratford. A total of 181 lock miles and 15 days hard work just to avoid the rivers Severn and Avon. A friendly boater on the Dale and Shire hotel boat persuaded us that the rivers are not difficult at this time of year and it was only 90 lock miles. So that is the way we went.
Hear a tale of two rivers, the magnificent Severn and the unique Avon. The Severn was used by the Romans from deep in Wales down to the Bristol Channel. We can navigate it from Stourport to Tewkesbury. Below that the river becomes tidal. The huge locks are all hydraulic and operated by keepers and we went through four of them. At Tewkesbury the two rivers meet. Up on the Avon we pay for a special licence. The Lower and Upper Avon are controlled by two separate Trusts. The Lower Avon was reopened in 1964 and the Upper in 1974 both by the Queen Mum.
River Severn, River Severn pictures
It took nearly two hours to get down to the Severn. There were five boats in the queue to go down the four locks in Stourport basin. Then we were on it, the river with wide, deep and fast moving water. It was a culture shock. At the first lock two other narrow boats got in with us. When the gates opened they left us behind in a rush of speed at full throttle never to be seen again. We passed several pump engines being used to irrigate the crops. A few engines were housed in brick sheds but most were exposed to the elements.
Three hours later we had got to Worcester, famous for sauce and crockery (Royal Worcester Porcelain). But there was nowhere to stop on the way, but good moorings to be paid for by the racecourse for one night only. We walked into the city to find a post box. The first was blocked off in a rough area but found another in a wall on the way back to the boat. Next day move on to Upton. The only mooring to stop at was a rough floating pontoon up against a wall below a pub. This was our lunch stop and almost impossible to get off for Allie to relieve herself. A fence prevented access to the village so we did not stay long.
Lower Avon, River Avon pictures
We continued on down to Tewkesbury and turned onto the Avon. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon to cheer us up. We were obliged to pay a fee to navigate both lower and upper Avon's. Backed up at the top of the lock as a boater called to say he was just leaving. A mooring for the night, or two as it turned out. Access to the town is over the bridge. This is getting better. Ann got me the latest Harry Potter book as I had just finished the previous one. Next day a violent thunderstorm passed over so we stayed.
Next day we travelled up the Avon through three locks to one night public moorings at Great Comberton. The moorings are clearly marked with blue four inch steel tube to tie to. We walked up to the residential village with their well-kept gardens and a church. On our way to the next mooring we were nearly hit by a huge plastic boat coming fast round a narrow bend in the river. An elderly captain hardly acknowledged our existence. Luckily I avoided contact. So far we see more narrowboats moving on the rivers. At Evesham there is a ferry crossing. Just a raft pulled across on a wire. Three toots on the hooter and the operator lowered the wire. Stopped the night at good moorings by Abbey Park. The town has a number of Tudor buildings and a modern shopping centre.
The Upper Avon has all new locks. Made of steel and very ugly. They are wider than normal but just not wide enough to get three narrowboats in. Clearly designed for plastic cruisers. Our next stop was at Bidford, a small village with all your needs. Then it was on to Stratford upon Avon, an obvious tourist trap. The river is full of boats and the town is full of people. We were just lucky to get a mooring under a tree on the Avon. The shops were a long way from the river. We were unimpressed with the red brick wall of the theatre!
On our first night we lost our red boat pole. Somebody took it in the early hours and chucked it in the river. Tried looking for it in the morning, reported the fact to the Warden and put a notice in the window. We are not the first or only to suffer that night. The police had at some time arrested several people for being drunk and disorderly. Shakespeare was not a saint either when he was young. The warden found our pole down river and returned it.
Travelling on the rivers has been a rush. One night stops only and the best were found at or near locks. Most moorings were private. One week to do both rivers and we have saved some time for the rest of the trip. One evening we noticed lots of Swallows swooping and diving over the water. Outside it was obvious that thousands of flies and insects were swarming. Glad to get inside again! Then a family of Canada Geese paddled by late in the evening with their mums, dads, uncles, aunts and children. Then a flock of homing pigeons all landed on the roof of the boat. After a short rest they were off again.
Stratford, Stratford canal pictures
We got off the river in June and headed up to Wilmcote on the Stratford Canal. It was here that William Shakespeare's mother lived. Mary Arden was the daughter of a farmer. A grand timber framed farmhouse was thought to be the family house. But Latin documents discovered in the 1990s revealed that they had actually lived next door! Luckily that house was also purchased by the Trust otherwise it could have been knocked down. On visiting the house we saw a demonstration of Falconry, which included a European Eagle Owl that landed on Ann's arm. A Snowy Owl called Ricky looked familiar. Perhaps better known to some as Hedwig in the Harry Potter films.
The Stratford Canal runs north to Kingswood Junction where it kisses the Grand Union and continues west to Birmingham. There are many narrow bridges with gaps in the centre for the towrope. When horses pulled boats the rope was passed through the gap because the towpath did not go under the bridge!
Warwick, Grand Union canal pictures
We need to go east down the Hatton flight of 21 locks to Warwick on the Grand Union canal. A welcome sign invites us into the Saltisford Arm. The remains of what was the Warwick and Birmingham Canal, now part of the Grand Union. It is a quiet place to stay but full of residential boats. We found space at the end and were able to walk to the shops. That night we were treated to a fireworks display from the castle. The castle was built in 1068 and is the finest medieval castle in England and owned by Madame Tussauds. On a walk round the town we saw many timber-framed buildings. A stonewall and trees surrounded the castle so you could not see it all. The museum was closed because it was Monday! Up on the roads it became difficult to find the canal as it was so well hidden from view. Good job we knew it was there.
Been advised to rush through Royal Leamington Spa. A few new moorings are provided but among the backsides of industry or new residential sites where we choose not to stop. At Tesco pathetic moorings prevented a stop because it was concrete and had no rings to tie to! We pass the old quarries at Stockton that produced Blue Lias, a local stone used in the construction of the Thames embankment. Huge fossils have been found in the clay of the lowest layer from the Jurassic period.
Saint Swithans, Oxford canal pictures
Now we are back in familiar territory near Napton and heading south. After several long travelling days we catch up with Terry and Myra on Butty Lark at Claydon on the Oxford Canal. Time to relax and enjoy a video and some home movies. It has been extremely HOT in July. All windows open and a fan on the fridge to keep it cool! Where are those trees for some shade? Outside it got cooler in the afternoon. Tea towels were hung outside the windows to keep the heat out. The temperature got up to 100 F on the roof in the sun and it was 90 inside. Do we need to get used to it because St. Swithans was a very hot day?
Tesco is north of Banbury but the mooring was full so we continued on to the centre of town and got food there. Another supermarket is south of the town where more visitor moorings are available. Moving on we eventually get to Thrupp. This was a canal village but there is not much of it left apart from a pub and lots of private moorings. Never mind, a good mooring was found further on. A walk across the railway found a supermarket in Kidlington not far away.
River Thames, River Thames pictures
We are heading for the Thames and leave the Oxford Canal by turning right on to Dukes Cut. This gets us on to the Thames without having to go into Oxford. We turn north for Eynsham. The wind and river flow is against us and the engine needs to rev up a bit. Have to get a special licence from the Environment Agency at the next lock. The lock keepers are far more welcoming these days. Holiday boating has reduced significantly and the river needs more money to keep the lock keepers going. Despite the extra costs it seems more narrowboat owners are moving on to the river to look. The Royal River is a culture shock. Stopped for the night past the bridge and are reminded of the time we first hired a narrowboat many years ago. The landowner asked us for money.
Next day we turned and headed south. Fine and sunny and less wind made the trip more enjoyable. Many sharp bends and a changing landscape with more Coots than Moorhens. Passing through Oxford we see Hobo from Braunston and exchange greetings. Got to Abingdon and stopped near the lock on free moorings! Abingdon was the home of Morris Garages (MG cars). Many other places were visited on the way to Reading where we turned right on to the Kennet and Avon canal. We had spent a total of seven days since joining the Thames.
Locks and swing bridges
We head up the navigable river Kennet to Newbury. There are many locks and swing bridges on the way. Ann and Myra doing the locking together while Terry and I drive the boats into the locks. As we progress we are reminded of happy times together on Nomad of Erehwon, the boat we shared. Two stops later we were in Newbury. Some improvements were noticed like new push button swing bridges, but at least one old set of lock gates remain encrusted with weed.
We left our boats in Ham Manor Basin, the very same place we used to keep Nomad. She was still there but in a sorry state having been damaged by fire. We hired a car to get to Winchester to attend a funeral and our friends went home to family.
The I. W. A. Festival
We returned to the boat in August and set off back to the Thames to attend the Inland Waterway Association's national festival near Pangbourne. Stayed over night in Chestnut Walk, Reading with Butty Lark along side with many other boats, a quiet retreat near the entrance to the Thames. The local supermarket has moorings on the Thames and there were so many boaters shopping that they ran out of bread! 650 boats got to the festival from all over the canal system causing traffic jams at the locks.
As we approached the mooring our harbour master called out "You're here." Paul is a volunteer for the IWA and is responsible for a group of about 20 boats. He stayed to ensure the boats security. We are three boats out from the edge with three more to arrive later. Got to know our new neighbours as they arrived. As they walk ashore the boats wobbled. It took 20 minutes to walk to the show ground that was open from Friday to Monday.
Mum came up with Brod to enjoy the activity. Our program of events indicated many activities to see from motorbikes ridden by four to sixteen year olds to historic boat parades, from dramatics in a theatre tent to Punch and Judy. Classic cars and steam lorries. There are many new boats on display to walk through. On the last evening we saw lots of boaters driving their illuminated boats down the river in the dark, an event well worth seeing. We met up with many friends on their boats at the event.
After the IWA show on the Thames many boaters were encouraged to travel up river to Letchlade. We were told that special moorings were provided for the extra numbers of boats. The Thames above Eynsham Lock has many sharp bends in it. Some bends were shallow and we got stuck more than once. The lock keeper gave us a flag on a whippy rod to be attached to the roof of the boat so we could see where other boats were. The flag could be seen moving across the fields on the other boats. We arrived next weekend as many boats were coming and going. Where are those special moorings? Some signs indicated No Mooring but eventually most of the half mile of bank had a boat beside it. Trip boats and hired motor dinghies were travelling up and down the river making more wash than we could.
The gathering of boats here is to celebrate the start of the restoration of the Cotswold Canal system. This would take ten years to complete and connect the Thames to the Gloucester Canal. We collected our free Medallion from the local pub having read a coded message sited at the end of navigation.
We sat outside the boat ashore in brilliant sunshine with Terry and Myra. Enjoying an evening meal and watching the sun go down. The moon rose with Mars now at its closest, large and bright. Next day we parted, our friends going north on the Oxford canal while we go south on the Thames back to the K and A.
As we passed through Wallingford we watched the local regatta. Had to travel down the wrong side of the river. Two boats with four rowers each were racing towards us as we passed their finish line. Then we stopped at Beale Park and paid a visit. First a ride on a train then walks round to see many varieties of bird and animal. On returning to the boat we noticed another boat had squeezed in behind ours. It was Ohmega belonging to our friends John and Jean. We exchanged stories of our adventures over a cup of tea.
Next day we travel on down the Royal River that gets ever wider, lock keepers welcoming us in, now usually two boats at a time and once on our own. Got a mooring at Tesco as another boater leaves. After shopping we get off the Thames and back on to the Kennet and Avon. The Thames has now been done from Letchlade to Reading. Reading to Henley was cruised in Nomad back in 1997. Getting the gold licence has proved worthwhile this year. Grebe, heron, king fishers, swans and cormorants have all been seen on the Thames and a survey is being undertaken to find out how many mink there are. The returning Otters will drive mink away from their territory.
Back to the Kennet and Avon
We are on our own at Chestnut Walk for a quiet evening in Reading. Heading west we stop at Aldermaston for an engine service. Nearly done 3000 hours. Then stop at a bridge where we set to work painting the roof. Cleaned out the fire and swept out the chimney. Now need to find some coal to get set for the winter. Then Vic and Sue stopped by for a chat on their boat No Problem. They were last seen back in January at Banbury, had kept in touch and wanted to spend the winter on the K n A. We wanted to go home for Josh's birthday so agreed to meet again near Hungerford.
We left our boat at Newbury again in order to see family and hired another car. The company have an office in Winchester so we only need to hire for the day we travel. Once home we can use Mum's car. Good to see our grand son again, now one year old. The party was in the Church hall and many children with their parents came to enjoy the Jungle event. Chris and Tracy had made palm trees and blown up balloons to make parrots. There was music and organised games like passing the parcel. Spent some more time with Josh and family before returning to the canal.
Back to boat
On our return we filled up with diesel and water at Newbury Boat Company but they had no coal. The locks are large and were hard work as we proceeded to Kintbury. At the Post Office we asked about getting some coal delivered. A customer was kind enough to recommend one back at Thatcham. Several misty mornings indicate the subtle change to autumn. The fire being lit for a few hours some evenings using coal left over from last winter.
More coal delivered
We turned the boat round and headed back to Newbury Wharf. A call to the coal yard discovered that they would deliver to Newbury. The small lorry turned up early and we had to move across the canal before finishing our breakfast. Never mind, it is good to know we can get coal while on this canal. We can get diesel at Newbury and Aldermaston.
We are trying to get used to this canal because it is closer to the south coast so maybe family will visit. But there are many more locks to go through. Some visitor moorings are limited to 48 hours but we have found many places where we can stay longer. The visitor moorings have good edges and bollards or rings to tie to. Facilities are much better than they were. BW is providing self pump out machines at several villages but you have to remember to pay for a card in the town before you get there.
Mum got a National Coach from Winchester to Newbury. The bus station was not far from the canal so we could walk back to the boat through the shopping mal. We spent a few days going to Kintbury and back. It was sunny and mild for October, which made for an enjoyable comfortable time. Mum used our bed while we were on a pump up mattress by the fire. There were over 60 swans in Newbury and during the trip we saw a family of swans, a kingfisher and many ducks. We returned to Newbury and Mum got the coach back to Winchester.
We wanted to go a bit further to Hungerford. Chris and Tracy with Josh arranged to visit us there a few weekends later. So we set off slowly. Time to do some work on the boat and spend two nights at each stop. Ann got a flu jab at Kintbury. When at Hungerford we passed Sue and Vic on No Problem. We had to go up several locks to turn the boat round for our visitors next weekend so did not stop. Just past the turning point the Navigation was temporally closed due to water shortage and some boats were seen waiting. Someone had left the lock open and let the water out! Here, above the river feed, the water comes from a reservoir that is very short of water. Luckily there was enough water to turn and we returned to Hungerford and stopped near No Problem. Sue and Vic were pleased to see us again.
We managed to get a fireguard as our little visitor is walking now. C T and J arrived after travelling 40 minutes up the A34 and A4 to find us. It was another warm sunny day and we went for a trip down one lock and had lunch at the next. It was fun to walk down the towpath with Josh and family. Back at Hungerford we stopped next to No Problem again and said good by to our visitors.
Next day a car nearly went into the canal at Hungerford. Its boot was under water! The man from British Waterways and others prevented it from going further in until the fire engine and a crane arrived. Ann and Sue went down with cameras and took pictures. Sue has a mobile phone that takes pictures! Back on No Problem we were able to see the pictures and a short movie on Sue's computer.
Sue and Vic wanted to get to Aldermaston for an engine service and we needed a spare belt for our engine so we agreed to go together. It is so much easier with two boats and crew to do these double locks. A week later we were in Aldermaston. On the way we stopped at several favourite places including Widmead Lock. There is a wild life park here to walk round.
While at Aldermaston we were entertained on No Problem by visiting a chat room on Sue's computer. Several friends sending live text to each other on the Internet. It all appears in a window on the computer screen. Sue was quizmaster, putting in questions and the friends were providing answers. I was trying to keep a score of the two teams Elves and Fairies. We returned to our boat at midnight! Next day we both move our boats towards Newbury. Vic and Sue continue west while we stop for a wedding.
Thankfully the boat can stay in the marina at Newbury Boat Company and we have booked a car for the long weekend. Once in Newbury we go shopping for suitable clothes for the occasion and get a gift for the happy couple. Ann had made a Cross Stitch wedding card. After moving in to the marina we got the car and packed it with clothes, cat, dog and food out of the fridge. Switch off boat batteries and gas and set off south.
We stayed with George and Ann and next day we take them to the wedding at Alton and Frensham Ponds and did not get lost once! Interesting to see all the men in Kilts. It was a bitterly cold day and we felt sorry for Katherine and the bridesmaids while having their photo's taken outside. So Jeffrey now knows what is under a Kilt! Hope it kept him warm. Once at the hotel we warmed up and had a jolly good meal. Pete did well with his speech getting a few laughs.
Back to the canal
When we got back to the boat, we returned the car and moved the boat back on the canal. Got some winter pansies to plant in our pots on the roof. A few handy molehills provided some good earth. We received some sad news about our friends on Watermouse. Ian had died suddenly in hospital. He and Margery made knitted toys and painted roses on boats and small items. Always busy selling in the summer. Must try to see Margery soon. Meanwhile we drift about going east and west. Getting coal delivered and filling up with water, diesel and gas at Newbury. Did our Christmas shopping in Newbury, a jolly time of year with lots of interesting things to see and buy.
Then a day when it all went wrong when cooking and cleaning preparing for a family visit. Our vacuum cleaner used all the power from the batteries, the fridge complained with a flashing light, the gas ran out and the sponge in the oven went flat! Next day we had a total of six people for lunch. Unfortunately it was a very wet day and we could not take Josh to the playground in the park.
Saving the canal
As you may know this canal has had 25 million pounds from the lottery fund spent on it over the last six or so years. We expected better than we found between Reading and Hungerford for that is all we have done so far. There are still many locks with gates that have holes in them! If it weren't for the covering of weed the water would pass through them like a sieve! I have listed at least five that need attention and a further six are to be replaced this year. This canal has wide locks. They take longer to fill up and there is one almost every mile. There is room for two boats side by side. OK if you can find another boater to travel with. If it weren't for meeting and travelling with Vic and Sue on No Problem we would lead a lonely life here. Some boaters just come out of the marina at the weekends. At this time we are not encouraged to spend another winter down on this canal.
By the end of November we had got to Kintbury, a village with a Post Office a Baker and a Medical Centre. Jane and Cassandra Austen were known to the Reverend Thomas Fowle and often stayed at the Rectory. At the end of the 1700s the K and A canal had passed Kintbury but had not yet reached Bath. "I wonder what they thought of the prospect."
We used the facilities here before continuing on to Hungerford. Coblers Lock is still closed and waiting for new gates so we cannot get past. Our friends Sue and Vic on No Problem are waiting at Pewsey. We collected post and went to the Launderette.
Time now to set about putting up Christmas decorations in the boat. Hungerford has also decorated the street that runs up under the railway bridge and is festooned with lights. A tall Christmas tree just beyond the bridge draws you up the street. A town band plays carols at the weekend. The town is known for its Victorian Evening held every year. A damp evening did not stop lots of people arriving to see the steam engines, helter-skelter and Ferris wheel erected in the street. Several people dressed up in top hats and black coats and most of the shops were open for inspection. A person dressed as Charlie Chaplin was blowing up balloons for the children.
We looked for the Bell Ringers but did not find them before they had finished in the Methodist Church. Mince pies and coffee were on offer. Then it was time for the fireworks. We had got back in the boat by then and very loud bangs sent all the ducks into frenzy and the water got very stirred up. The rockets were exploding directly above us. People gathered on the canal bridge to watch.
Got another delivery of coal while at the wharf. We continue to cook on the fire with lovely stews cooking slowly all day. The kettle sits there singing just off the boil. It once got down to minus six degrees F. Having the fire going is quite comforting. Between October and May we burn about a ton of coal.
When Coblers Lock opened we went up past it through the smart new gates. Ann saw a small water vole swimming round in the lock. I came to the rescue with the fishing net into which the little creature jumped and was lifted to safety above the lock. It was a damp day and a fishing match was in progress, so many in fact that we had difficulty finding a space to moor. Even the turning point was occupied! The fisherman got upset when we turned there stirring up his fishing spot.
We returned to Hungerford to get water and awaited the arrival of our guests. Tracy, Josh and Mum arrived and fed the ducks. We all had a meal on board before walking round the shops. Ann and I took turns pushing Josh round in his pushchair. We enjoyed it all on a bright sunny winters day
Then our friends Vic and Sue arrived and we discussed our future travelling plans over a cup of tea. It seems that we both have the same desire to get to Bath and back early next year. Two stoppages on the Caen Hill flight and at Semington mean that we need to get past there before the end of January.
Home for Christmas
Then it was Christmas and we all packed and left the boats above the lock at Hungerford. It was a quiet spot away from the public and several other boats were being left as well. Tracy kindly came to fetch us in the car. Water was drained from the pipes in case of frost, electric and gas turned off before we left. Tara the cat travels in a wire cage. An hour later we were in Winchester.
While we were away we had to go to our medical centre in Hythe for our annual check up. Ann had a blood test the result of which indicated that she has mild form of rheumatoid arthritis and is waiting for an appointment with a specialist. We spent much of the time with Joshua at his home playing with his new toys. We all had Christmas lunch at Winchester with Mum. She did remarkably well with all our help. Went to Hythe again to see the new cruise liner Queen Mary over at Southampton.
Thank you for reading Chapter 9. Return to Book.