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The Waterways Wanderings of Narrowboat “Just Heaven”

Bath

We left Bristol at 7:20 under a clear blue sky and set off for Bath. Our first plan was to moor for the night on the outskirts of Bath and spend part of the day perusing the shops. Then on Thursday go up the flight and on to Bathampton where we were due to meet Nikki and Paul (in two cars) who would leave a car with us so that we could get to the wedding the next day. The plan changed because Nikki was running late with the wedding cakes. So instead we carried on to moor up partway between Bath and Bathampton. Then we walked back to Bath Spa rail station and caught a train to Bristol Parkway, where Nik met us and took us home.
The river from Bristol to Bath is really attractive, and looked particularly good with the early morning mist rising off the water.

Bristol

We have been here for three days. It’s a great place to moor, though there is some noise from the clubs and bars. Bristol’s harbourside is very much at the heart of the city’s social life. Up until the nineteen sixties it was a busy working docks, but the tidal nature of the river Avon and the size of the entrance lock made it uneconomic for the larger modern ships, so the commercial activity moved down river to Avonmouth. For a while the city docks were a bit of an embarassment as they became run down and dirty. There was even a plan to fill them in! But in recent years there has been a lot of redevelopment and a real effort to restore and renovate the best of what was left.

Bigger boats that us used to moor up here

We have had various freinds and family come to visit whilst we’ve been here. Daughters Liz & Nik and all the grandchildren (except Josh who was working) cam for lunch on Monday to celebrate Becca’s 15th birthday. On Tuesday afternoon Heddi’s sister Val with husband Dave and daughter Claire called by for a chat and a glass of cider. Later that evening Teresa, her sister San and parents Polly & Albert joined us on the pontoon for wine and cheese & biscuits on a lovely warm sunny evening.
We have really enjoyed our time in Bristol, it’s the nearest city to where we live but we dont tend to go there except maybe in the evening for a meal.

The Matthew, a replica of John Cabot’s ship, with a hot air balloon behind.

Bristol Harbour

Well we are here at last!
It’s been a really great day, the weather has been warm with blue skies, though the strong wind hasn’t helped at times.
We set off around seven and descended the Widcombe flight in Bath. One of the locks here is 19 feet deep, making it one of the deepest in the UK.
The river Avon from Bath to Bristol is really attractive. For much of the way it runs in a wooded valley. You wouldn’t know that you are close to major settlements at all. We saw lots of herons and kingfishers, but the kingfishers were too quick for a photo!
There are seven locks on this section, unfortunately we managed to get behind a couple on an old wooden cruiser style boat who had little experience of locks. This slowed us down quite bit, but we eventually arrived at half past two. We stopped at Netham Lock to pay for our licence as the docks are under the authority of the City Council, not C&RT.
Coming into Bristol via the river was rather strange. I wasnt always sure of where we were, things looked familiar, but different.
We are now moored on the visitor’s pontoons by the Arnolfini right in thr heart of the Harbourside area.
As we were coming into the docks we got a phone call from daughter Nikki. She was in the area with Paul and the girls, so they came to visit. Later Heddi got a Facebook message from her former school colleague Julie, she and husband Tim were also nearby, so they popped in for a while.

Bath top lock

A slightly frustrating day dealing with less than competent narrowboat helmspersons!
We started out early at just before 7:00 am. Those aboard “The Bath Tub” seemed to be still in bed.
It was a lovely morning, we saw several kingfishers.
From Bradford-on-Avon onwards things started to go dowhill.After Bradford town lock there are miles of ‘continious moorers’, boats that dont have a permenant mooring and abuse the 14 day rule, which says that you can only stay in one place for up to 14 days. This means passing them involves long periods of slow progress at tick-over.

Looking over Dundas Aqueduct
We also encountered several hire boats whicj were going very slowly. Two boats had onboard a group of young men who appeared to be on a stag week, or similar sort of outing. They clearly had not steered a narrowboat before and were making a complete hash of it, including crashing into other boats. They stopped at the pub at Bathampton so we left them behind, but soon caught up with an other boat steered by some girls (young women) who were going just as slow. Eventually we arrived at a very pleasant mooring just above Bath top lock, so decided to stay here for the day.
Friends Jan & Mike called to find out where we were and joined us around fiveish, we later enjoyed a barbecue in the late evening sun with stunning views over the lovely city of Bath.

Seend bottom lock

Only 3.9 mile but 28 locks today.
The C&RT guys opened the locks up at 11:00 and with Larry and Fiona on Amelie May we were the first boats down the flight. We worked though as an efficient team and completed the 23 locks on just over three hours. We had to fill almost every one in front of us as the whole flight had been left empty. Simon and Karen on NB “The Bath Tub” were following close behind.

We felt a real sense of achievement on reaching the bottom! In the 5 days we have been waiting at the top we have been socialising with the other boaters and it was sad to say goodbye to Peter & Stephanie and Larry & Fiona.
Only two locks later, in the middle of the Seend flight, our throttle cable snapped. I’m used to this and always carry a spare. It seems to be a design fault with our ‘Morse’ control. We have got through 3 cables on 5 years. I got down into the engine ‘ole and replaced the cable. Just as I was finishing off ‘The Bath Tub’ came down the lock above. Simon needed to go back to fetch his car, so Heddi steered their boat and I did JH through the next 3 locks whilst Karen and her freinds crewed. We moored up just below the bottom lock and socialised in the evening sun until it got too cold when we retired to our respective boats.

Still here

Only about half a mile and five locks today. The damaged lock won’t be repaired for several days so we have moved partway down the flight, along with two other boats, to make more room at the top for any boats that arrive to queue up. It’s quite a bit quieter here, though further to walk to the town.

We are getting various rumours about the accident, but what seems certain is that a hire boat’s bow lifted the gate out of it’s seating.
At first, we were told that a floating crane would need to come from Newbury, then that a crane was going to hired locally, but that there was a weight restriction on the towpath because of cables burried underneath.
We are just going have to wait, probably until Friday or Saturday.

Devizes

We dropped down three locks then into the “long pound”. This is about 15 miles long and was deliberately engineered by the canal’s designer John Rennie to provide a reservoir for the Caen Hill flight at Devizes. The canal winds it’s way through the lovely Vale of Pewsey. We managed to catch a glimpse of the famous White Horse.
The canal here is supposed to be a wide one i.e. at least 14ft , but in many places the reeds encroach so much that ony a narrow clear space is available.

We arrived here just after one o’clock. At various points along the way people called out “You know the Caen Hill flight is closed don’t you?”, “Yes” was our reply. We had already heard about the hire boat that had lifted one of the top gates out of it’s seatings. Usually when this happens it’s about a 3 or 4 hour job for the C&RT guys, so we didn’t expect too much delay. But this time it seems it was going to take longer.
As soon as we arrived here we were hearing rumours that it would be at least the weekend before it could be fixed as a floating crane had to be brought from Newbury. We found a mooring just down from Devizes Wharf and wandered into town where there was some sort of carnival festivities going on.
We have been told that it could be Monday before the locks are open. That will put our schedule completely out of kilter and mean that we will have to re-arrange our various rendezvous.

Wootton Rivers

We have made really good progress today, 10 miles and twenty locks. The locks have been relatively easy, or is it just that we are getting used to them?. As usual we made an early start at around seven thirty, the sky was grey with drizzly rain. This lasted most of the day on and off. We stopped at Great Bedwyn for a Full English and to top up with water. We hadn’t seen many other boats until then, but in the afternoon it became busier. One thing I’ve noticed about the the K&A is that there are quite a few wide beam boats about. Other wide canals, e.g. the Grand Union, seem to have few wide beams, but here there are almost as many as narrowboats.
We were very fortunate to arrive at Crofton on one of their “Steaming Days”. Crofton pumping station houses two historic steam engines that were originally installed to raise water from a reservoir to the canal’s summit pound. The oldest one, the “Boulton & Watt”, is the oldest steam engine in the world still doing is original job. It is a huge beam engine, with a steam piston one end on the beam and a lift pump the other end.

Click below for two videos of the working engine
Video 1 Video 2
We then carried on up to the summit of the canal and through the Bruce Tunnel. We had hoped to moor near there for the night, but there wasn’t anywhere suitable. We eventually moored up just before Brimslade lock. We are engulfed in foliage and reeds etc, but there are very few good mooring places here abouts.
We have heard from other boaters, and later confirmed online, that a hire boater has lifted a top gate on the Caen Hill flight. It has caused enough damage that C&RT have closed the flight until further notice. We should be there tomorrow, hopefully the repair will be underway by then.

Hungerford

It had rained on and off during the night, and the weather forecasts for today weren’t too good. Metcheck said rain most of the day, but BBC Weather just said grey skies, so we chose that one (and they were right!). Another early start, we had breakfast and were away just after 7:00. The locks today were much easier than yesterdays. Most of them had ground paddles at the top end rather than gate paddles. These create much less turbulence when filling the lock, so holding the boat on a rope is far easier.
We came though the centre of Newbury just before nine o’clock. It looked very quiet considering that it was a Saturday morning. There were some nice looking moorings there that we made note of for our return journey.

We were making good progress and passed tonight’s stop, according to our planning schedule, during the morning. Lunch was taken at Kintbury, then a pleasant afternoon’s chug onto Hungerford which we reached at about 3:30. The main Bristol to Paddington railway line follows the canal very closely along this section, so we chose the overnight mooring site with care in order to get a good night’s sleep.

12 miles & 16 locks today.

Long Cut Swing Bridge

The Kennet Navigation is delightful. It’s made up of sections of the natural course of the river Kennet and sections of artificial cut. But even the man-made canal sections are very natural looking, so sometimes it’s difficult to know which you are on. There is plenty of wildlife, we have seen herons, kingfishers and an egret among others. Though the countryside is lovely, the locks are very hard work, so after doing 14 of them today we are exhausted.
We started off through the ‘Oracle Centre’ of Reading, which is the main shopping centre. The river goes right through the middle. Unusually, this section is controlled by traffic lights, because if the Kennet is flowing stongly it’s difficult to manouver, so boats are only allowed through in one direction at a time. This morning the river was placid and there was no problem at all.

The lock gates are large and heavy, though the paddles are relatively easy. But what has worn us out is that the flows from the top paddles, when filling the locks, are extremely strong, so holding the boat on ropes has been really hard work.

Strong flows from the top paddles

Also we have been following a pair of boats most of the day, so we have had to ‘turn’ every lock.
Some of the locks on this part of the the canal are “turf sided”. All the original locks were like this, but only a few survive, The locks were basically just a hole in the ground with a wooden framework to keep the boats in the middle. The current ones have been updated a bit, but not much.
This is Monkey Marsh lock:

We were really tired by early afternoon, but it took until nearly five o’clock before we found anywhere to moor because the sides are just reeds and vegetation.
Follow our journey here:

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