Steam Fayre

September 26, 2011

On Sunday we walked along to the steam fayre at Crofton Pump House. It was the closing weekend of the summer for the Pumping Station and there was a weekend of activities. We had seen two steam tractors on their way to take part as we travelled from Hungerford to Great Bedwyn on Friday.

As we walked along to Crofton we caught up with Paul on the cabin cruiser. We had travelled with him to Kintbury and knew that he was looking for someone to do the Caen flight with him. He has just started on a two week holiday and will be going down the flight tomorrow. We aren’t available to help him with the descent but have said that, if possible, we will help him work his way back up the flight the following week. We also passed great long gravel trains stationary on the line next to the canal, with teams of workmen. The railway was closed for maintenance but this meant that there was a noisy stationary engine between the pumping station and the canal which did interfere with the enjoyment of some of the activities in the programme.

When we reached the lock in front of the pumping station we caught up with the diesel boat, who we last bought diesel from three years ago. They had turned above Great Bedwyn so we had missed them. They will be travelling to Bath and returning to pass through the Crofton Locks and turn back before the closure at the beginning of November. They will look out for us.

The steam tractors were on the level by the canal. We went on through the tunnel under the railway and found a fairground organ playing a very jazzy repertoire. There was a beer hut and other stalls, and one of the many volunteers was giving a very interesting talk on the history of the canal and the Pumping Station. The steam pumps were working hard doing the job for which they were designed, raising water from Wilton Water to the summit. There was a steady stream of volunteers moving wheel barrels full of coal to power the engines. We spent some time with a group of model boat makers from Swindon, who were showing off their models in a large pool. Some of the models were battery powered but there were also steam powered boats based on the steam launches that we have occasionally seen on the canals.

Instead of the more usual Morris dancers there was a group of clog dancers supported by several musicians. They were followed by a most entertaining man playing the hammered dulcimer. Though it was very enjoyable listening to him play his greatest talent was as a raconteur. No wonder he is in demand performing for groups.

I bought a pump out card from the shop hoping that it is more effective than the last one I bought there, which didn’t work when we were in dire need. A phone call from the pump out at the Dundas Aqueduct elicited the advice that we should change it at the BW office in Gloucester!

Statistics so far:-

3025.26 Miles, 2002 Locks, 190 Swing Bridges, 118 Lift Bridges, 57 Tunnels

Country Cab

September 25, 2011

When we had got ourselves settled in Great Bedwyn we needed to collect the car from Kintbury. There are no ticket machines at either Great Bedwyn or Kintbury. When we went back to Heyford to get the car a week ago we had to pay at the platform ticket office when we changed trains. This time we boarded the train at Great Bedwyn, went on through Hungerford and got off at Kintbury with no means of paying any fare: there was no conductor. No doubt the occasional short fare that they miss out on would be less than the cost of paying a conductor. I’m not sure what happens when we have to get the train to London for the day.

In the evening we went up to the Cross Keys, a pub we particularly like. (Haven’t tried the Three Tuns yet but will doubtless do so). We were there just as it opened at 6.00 and it was quiet. In fact we were the only ones there for some time. By the time we left at 7.00 it was getting very lively, the numbers greatly swelled by a group of twelve or more who arrived in a cart being pulled along behind a tractor. We are sure there is an interesting story there.

Statistics so far:-

3025.26 Miles, 2002 Locks, 190 Swing Bridges, 118 Lift Bridges, 57 Tunnels

Great Bedwyn

September 24, 2011

There was a boat in front of us that we thought might be going on to Great Bedwyn. Bearing in mind that there are ten double locks between Hungerford and Bedwyn we got up briskly and popped along to say hello. They were a very pleasant pair who had bought an Amber boat and were told almost immediately after purchase that the company had gone under and that any warranty was no longer valid. They have had to pay for all the things that have gone wrong over the first year of which there seemed to have been many. The problem this morning was the batteries and they rang RCR. It seemed that they would have to wait until the afternoon for someone to come out to them. We did have a good chat and left feeling sorry that we couldn’t travel along with them.

The delay did mean that we set off only just ahead of the Rose of Hungerford who had a charter party on board to take to Great Bedwyn and back to Hungerford by 4.00. One of the volunteers came along to help us on our way through the first lock while the thorough health and safety briefing was given to the passengers (required since the Marchioness disaster). We found that although a narrowboat had just left the lock as we pulled away the owner of a little cruiser had failed to see us and had filled the lock. Hmmm.

When we got to Hopgrass Farm Lock we had to wait for a boat to descend. We tied up at the lock mooring so that Hungerford Rose, which approached just as the lock was ready, could go ahead. We could then go on at our own pace without pressure. After Cobblers Lock I was steering and Alan walking. A man approaching on the towpath ran back to a foorbridge when he saw me coming. I then spotted two little white Egrets circling above me. What a treat. As I passed under the bridge than man was taking photos of the boat. Did you see the Egrets I asked. No, he was too busy taking pictures of the boat – don’t think he knew what Egrets were.

Just after Picketfield Lock we were joined by a braided-hair girl on a small boat towing a canoe with two bikes on board – could she travel with us to Great Bedwyn? As we left Oakhill Down Lock two steam-powered steam rollers towing work huts passed us on the way to the weekend’s steam fair at Crofton locks.

With two boats working together we made Great Bedwyn in time for a late lunch. We hope to stay here for a couple of weeks so moored before the 48 hour moorings. We are a little off the side so for the first time in eight years we are walking the plank. I forsee the possibility of a splash before we leave. It’s wonderful to be back in Great Bedwyn, one of our favourite villages.

Today we did 4.63 Miles, 10 Locks and 2 Swing Bridges

Statistics so far:-

3025.26 Miles, 2002 Locks, 190 Swing Bridges, 118 Lift Bridges, 57 Tunnels


September 23, 2011

We have been spending a lot of our time driving round looking at houses. So far we have a short list of three or four places, none of which meets all our desires, but some more than others. It has made a great difference to the travelling times being based on the K & A. We also bought a sat nav for the car we are using (during our travels we had sold another car with a built in sat nav) and it has been taking us on beautiful and interesting routes out of Kintbury towards the Somerset / Dorset borders. Every day we started by travelling across Hungerford Common and one day we spent some time waiting for the herd of cattle that were wandering along the road. On Wednesday we arrived back in Kintbury after a long day of viewings, resolved to eat at the Dundas Arms, where we had enjoyed meals three years ago. We went along to find a very busy pub and realised that we would be well down the list when waiting for meals. There also wasn’t anything on the board that really took my fancy. After one pint we decided to wander further to the Blue Bell which had been recommended by Paul, who we travelled with the other day. It was a very pleasant pub with a nicely done up restaurant upstairs. They had a special pizza night, two pizzas and a bottle of wine for £20. The pizzas were made in a wood burning oven outside by (I think) the landlord and they were the best pizzas (excluding Alan’s!) that I have eaten outside Italy. It was a Wednesday night, so do go along if you are in Kintbury.

Thursday’s journey to Hungerford was relatively short and we were lucky to team up with a boat load of recent graduates that were more hands on than others we have encountered recently. They were out for a couple of days on a boat that belonged to the parents of one of the girls, and had moored behind us the previous night. They jumped on and off the boat to take their full share of the work load and chatted while we waited for the locks to fill. Four of them were engaged in the dispiriting process of job hunting.

We left them at the water point at Hungerford. I went along to the High Street leaving Alan in charge of filling the water tank. We had first bought Stinking Bishop and some other delicious cheeses from a deli near Hungerford Bridge last time we were there. I was looking forward to more of the same but found that it had disappeared to be replaced by a kebab house, so it was back to Tesco for more of the usual choice. The Rose of Hungerford trip boat, manned by volunteers, was moored behind us, and around 2.00 several wheelchair ensconced elderly folk were embarked and off they went for a trip back towards Kintbury.

We have virtually no phone or internet coverage in Hungerford so, although it is an attractive town, it’s a one night stop for us.

Today we did 3.19 Miles, 3 Locks

Statistics so far:-

3019.63 Miles, 1992 Locks, 188 Swing Bridges, 118 Lift Bridges, 57 Tunnels


September 20, 2011

I was feeling a bit lukewarm about travelling along today but we were determined to get to Kintbury before having a day or two off, so we set sail around 9.30. We were on our own through the Newbury Lock and swing bridge. When we reached the second lock, Guyers, the top gates were wide open and a boat was disappearing off among the reeds in the distance. It’s particularly annoying when someone is lazy at that lock (it has happened to me before) because there are no footways across either set of gates and to work the locks I had to go backwards and forwards over the bridge below the lock. (Probably why people don’t bother to shut the gates.) It’s also a very leaky lock so both paddles have to be up to open the bottom gates, you can’t put one paddle down and leave that side of the lock sorted out. As we were about to close up behind the boat we spotted a cabin cruiser coming up behind us. We were well roped up so the cruiser came safely in next to us. We went on through all the remaining six locks to Kintbury with Paul and got into a very good work pattern. The journey seemed much shorter than yesterday’s.

We caught up with the errant single hander who had left the gates open a couple of locks on. We thought that he could fit in the locks with us ahead of the cruiser to make it easier for him but he was having nothing to do with it and we were left to follow him, emptying every lock again. When we reached Kintbury he was leaving the lock and scuttled to what looked like the last mooring. Aha we thought, he wanted to make sure he got there first! When I walked along to the end of the moorings I found spaces for us that weren’t apparent from the lock, thank goodness. The rain started with a vengeance as we moored up.

We passed the horse drawn barge below the lock, and the beautifully dressed Shire horse waiting for a coach load of passengers to embark. On Country File tonight we saw that a picture of the horse and barge was one of the finalists in the calendar photography competition.

Paul is planning to descend the Caen Flight on Monday 26 September. All his workmates who would help him with the locks can’t take a day off. There may be a reader who would like to spend a day on the Caen Flight (I know when we did it there were friends who hadn’t done the flight and welcomed the opportunity). If so, please let me know with your phone number and I will pass it on to Paul. He was a lovely bloke and we really enjoyed travelling along with him.

Today we did 6.11 Miles, 8 Locks and 1 Swing Bridge

Statistics so far:-

3016.44 Miles, 1989 Locks, 188 Swing Bridges, 118 Lift Bridges, 57 Tunnels


September 18, 2011

I omitted to say that on Friday, as we went past the Cunning Man and on through Burghfield Lock, that we came across a group of about 30 volunteers being supervised by more mature expert volunteers. They were new graduate recruits at a local company sent on a team building exercise. I hope the company hired them for their intellect rather than their practical abilities, though they were probably handicapped because there were undoubtedly more of them than there were jobs or tools for. A small handful (one girl stood out as working more than the rest combined) were energetically painting the lock (they should go far), three or four were half-heartedly hacking at undergrowth, or at least moving it here and there, a couple were looking appraisingly at swathes of brambles and then delicately snipping off an inch or two with their secateurs, one was carefully scraping a thin line of dirt from between the decking on the bridge with a large shovel, another brushing gently at the moss on a randomly chosen section of railing mid bridge. The rest were wandering around, all attired in bright visibility vests, presumably in case a narrow boat ran them over. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that I am in any way exaggerating!

Today’s journey took us on to Newbury, a favourite stop for us. We dawdled through the swing bridge / Woolhampton Lock combo with absolutely no effect from the current which is usually very brisk. As we entered Heale’s Lock a hire boat came up behind us and pulled into the mooring. We waved them in to join us, delighted to have a boat to ascend with. They finally understood that the lock could take two boats. There seemed to be three young couples aboard. One of the guys said to Alan as they came in “Oh you want us to join you so you have less work to do”. Well, they were nice enough but Alan still did far more than half the work of operating the locks. They were close clones of the volunteers. When they stopped off at Thatcham leaving us with five locks to tackle solo on to Newbury it was a bit of a relief.

On paper it hadn’t looked like a very long day but we ended up travelling from 9.30 until 3.30, when we had a late lunch. We had thought that we might make it to Kintbury. No way: we had had enough. We did very much enjoy our walk around Newbury. It’s a lovely town centre, all the shops one might need (or that I might need as there is a T K Maxx) but it still feels pleasantly small town. The town centre is divided in two by the canal and river and there is a market square, pedestrianized streets and the church of St Nicholas with a gorgeous four-spired tower. It was a Saturday night so we stopped well back from the town by the Newbury Boat Company marina, but we were still woken by someone banging on the boat at 1.00 a.m. Alan looked out and says that the drinkers going home were well equipped with torches! Maybe naughty boy scouts.

Today we did 6.32 Miles, 9 Locks and 5 Swing Bridges

Statistics so far:-

3010.33 Miles, 1981 Locks, 187 Swing Bridges, 118 Lift Bridges, 57 Tunnels


September 17, 2011

I forgot to say yesterday that as we were on the Thames approaching Pangbourne we passed Timothy Spall on his dutch barge Princess Matilda. Alan waved at him but said Timothy didn’t recognize him in his new sunglasses.

Back to today. We set off around 9.00 and slid under the bridge before Bel and the Dragon with masses of room to spare. Alan did go to the left of the central pier this time, having not been able to get through on the right last time, but the water was also much lower. Everything was easier as we went along because the river current was so tame. We idled through Reading town centre and the approach to County Lock was insipid, not frantic. Fobney Lock is absolutely vast, especially on our own as we were in every lock today. We followed our normal practice, when ascending double locks alone, of roping bow and stern and opening up the paddles.

As we came round a bend we had a clear view along the straight to Gasrton Lock, about 300 ft ahead. There was a man letting down the bottom paddles: it’s one of the locks where the bottom paddles are left up on exit. We watched as he walked across the lock and he must have had a perfect view of us approaching. To our surprise, as we pulled up towards the landing he went back towards the top paddles. We yelled, waved our arms and sounded the horn. I wondered if he was deaf. As I jumped onto the mooring stage he started filling the lock. I ran up to the top yelling “Hello, we can go into the lock, didn’t you see us?” Now what I would do under those circumstances would have been to drop the paddle, as the water had only gone up a tiny fraction, apologise for not seeing them, let out the water and help them work through the lock. Not this man. He opened the other paddle and advanced on me yelling abuse and brandishing the most enormous windlass at me in a very threatening manner. He was shouting that I was lying, he didn’t see a boat. I said that he must have seen us as we had watched him winding down the bottom paddles. He kept on screaming at me and thrashing at the air with the windlass while his companion/partner watched from their boat. Alan was tying our boat up so I decided to retreat. We waited while the lock filled very slowly as it was the turf sided lock. They then descended very slowly. In fact it took so long that we were able to have our lunch. The couple had swapped places and the man steered the boat out while his partner waited by the open lock gate. He yelled at her to shut the gate as we were moored up! We wrote down the boat number and name as we were determined to make a written complaint about his threatening behaviour to BW. When I went up to the lock I told the woman that we would do that. She was obviously waiting to speak to me, though it was a pity that she hadn’t intervened earlier. She apologised profusely and said that he suffered from bipolar disorder and could be aggressive: she would have worked the lock if she had known there was a boat there. Please would we not complain to BW. I agreed that I wouldn’t, but I still have my concerns about that. We have two close family members who suffer from bipolar disorder so I know that this sort of aggression towards complete strangers is not characteristic in any way.

After that unpleasant incident we went on steadily towards our mooring at Woolhampton. Everything went well, the electric bridges all performed as they should, and we met some much more pleasant people! As we sat in the pub garden of the Row Barge we watched two boats filled with young men on a stag do (behaving in the particularly daft way obligatory at stag dos) tackling the swing bridge / lock combination. Usually the lock has to be prepared before the bridge is opened and then you steam through fast against the strong current. We knew that the river was particularly benign as they drifted around, totally oblivious to the fact that there were cars waiting, and the current didn’t cause a wobble.

Today we did 12.33 Miles, 11 Locks, 1 Lift Bridge and 5 Swing Bridge

Statistics so far:-

3004.01 Miles, 1972 Locks, 182 Swing Bridges, 118 Lift Bridges, 57 Tunnels