Clifton cut

In order to get as far up the Thames as we could before the bad weather set in we made another early start. Doing the forst two locks before the lack keepers came on duty. In fact the weather wasnt too bad and we made good progress to stop fro the night just above Clifton Lock.

Reading Jail

Autumn is coming. The mornings are cold and misty. The evenings are chilly and it’s dark by eight. Some of the trees are turning colour and the vegetation is looking tired. The waterside hedgerows are laden down with fruit, blackberries, elderberries, hip, haws and crab apples.

Thirteen miles and fourteen locks today.

We are moored in a backwater of the river Kennet known as the Reading Jail loop as it passes the jail. The one where Oscar Wilde was incarerated in when he wrote the famous ballad.
Whilst I re-packed the stern gland with grease Heddi went to investigate Reading’s ‘Oracle Centre’. I joined her later and found her in the shopping complex which is just like every other Ive ever seen. When you are inside these places they are all the same, the same shops, the same decor, etc. But they appear to be very popular. I was struck by the contrast with where we had been for the last week or so. The K&A canal is predominantly rural, we didn’t meet many people, but those we did were out for a gentle stroll and were happy to exchange pleasantries. Here in the urban world there were lots of people scurrying hither and thither but not talking to each other.
We went back into the Oracle for the evening and had meal at Cafe Rouge on Tesco vouchers!

Above Midgham lock

When I. K. Brunel built the Great Western Railaway line from London to Bristol, for much of the way from Reading onwards, he followed the line of the Kennet & Avon canal. This gave him two advantages. Firstly Rennie had already surveyed a fairly level route and overcome some of the geographic obstacles, and secondly the canal was used to transport materials during the building phase. Unfortunately this meant that the canal had a competitor only about 40 years after it was opened, so had a fairly short life. For modern day boaters this has meant the disadvantage that finding a quiet overnight mooring is difficult. But the upside is that 3G reception along most of the canal is good!.

During World War II the K&A was seen as a natural line of defence should Britain ever get invaded. If the Germans ever got a foothold on the south coast there was a well established plan to effectively abandon England south of a line from London to Bristol. It was thought that the canal (& river Thames) could be defended against a tank crossing. At regular intervals along the canal “pill boxes” were constructed as part of this defence. Also many of the bridges were blocked with “tank traps”, large blocks of concrete obstructing the way. Many of these are still there. Some of them are now protected structures as they are of “historical interest”. It seems to me that half a dozen squadies with machine guns wouldn’t be much defence again a marauding Nazi army!

The canal through Newbury is very attractive:

Our overnight mooring on a very attractive and peaceful stretch of the River Kennet

Hungerford

13 miles, 22 locks
Another early start. The sky looked promising as we got up, but it gradually deteriorated throughout the day, getting more grey and overcast which turned to rain at about 2:30.
The locks on the Kennet side of the summit are hard work. We found this a fortnight or so ago as we came up, but thought that they would be easier going down. However that’s not always the case. Quite a few of the locks have to be left empty, so that means on the way down they have to be filled even if the last boat came up. The bottom gates are big and heavy. Often the bottom gates leak so badly that it’s difficult to open the top gates when the lock is full as the water leaks out as fast as it comes in.
Despite this we are about half a day ahead of our schedule. This is good as the weather forecast for the next few days is of rain, so we should be able to do some shorter days.
We didn’t think that we would make it to Hungerford tonight. If we didn’t then supper would have been from our ’emergency rations’! But we did, so a quick dash to Tesco in the rain to top up supplies was called for.

Pewsey Wharf

Sunrise at the bottom of the locks

We left early to work through the first four locks up to No. 29. There were already three boats waiting. The flight was unlocked early and two made a start up before eight. We followed at 8:10 with NB ‘Rosewood’. We made a good team and, even though we had to turn every lock, we kept up with the two boats in front. I had previously had an email from Terry Waldron who had offered to help crew for us. He arrived about 10ish, so with three on the ground and two steerers it made working one ahead a bit easier. We reached the top around  10:50.

Terry stayed for a natter and a cup of coffee whilst we topped up with water at the wharf. We were going to go shopping, but decided to carry on instead. A lock free ten miles took us to Pewsey for the night.
This is supposed to be a ‘wide’ canal, but in places it’s decidedly narrow!

Very few boats about today, very different from went we came this way a fortnight ago.

Lock 24

After a good night’s sleep we breakfasted and were on our way by 8:30. We had arranged to meet my sister San and brother-in-law John at Avoncliff aqueduct at around 10 o’clock. They were waiting for us as we arrived. They hopped on board and we took them for a little trip to Bradford on Avon wharf above the lock. After a cup of tea and a natter they left for home and we popped to Sainsbury’s before continuing on.

We thought that we would try to get to the bottom of the Caen Hill flight for the night. The flight is locked overnight with all the locks empty. So if you can be first up in the morning then all the locks are in your favour. We got to above lock 24 by 6:30, a C&RT guy told us that there were already at least 2 boats below lock 29 (the one that is locked overnight) waiting for the morning. So, as we were already tired, we stayed put and decided to do the next 4 before 8 o’clock in the morning to be ready to follow the others up.

Bathampton

We drove back from Bicester to meet Liz, Simon and family at Bathampton for a picnic. Nikki & Paul were so exhausted after the weekend that they crashed out on our bed for a while.

We moved the boat a few hundred yards along away from the busy pub, then The Davies family left and we had an early night.

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.