Thursday, 9 May 2019

Kennet and Avon Canal. Wilcot to Hilperton.

Wilcot was a lovely place to be; on the opposite bank there were new lambs and a clear view so there was non-stop solar...
...while on the towpath side there was a lane running along the other side of the hedge, which meant we could have the car right outside the boat - a rare luxury.
There was also a footpath nearby which went up the nearest hill and joined up with the White Horse Trail; a long distance footpath that takes in all 8 of the Wiltshire white horses, so we made good use of it.

It looks more like a duck from this angle! 
In a manner to which it is becoming more and more accustomed, we also abandoned our poor boat yet again and went gallivanting off round the country. Firstly to spend a few days with Kate and David in Keighley. We hadn’t seen them for ages so it was really good to catch up. Lots of chatting, lots of delicious food, and a not insignificant amount of alcohol which, understandably, inevitably and expensively, resulted in us buying tickets for both Ely Folk Festival, and the Citroen Centenary Rally.
The on-line booking form for the rally wanted to know what registration number our vehicle was, which is how Dad, (the only person we could think of with a spare Citroen) was rather surprised by a slightly drunk Ann-Marie phoning him rather late in the the evening and asking if we could borrow one of his Lomax kit cars, and did he think it would be running and MOT’d in six weeks? We phoned again the following day to apologise and assure him that one of their Xsaras would be perfectly suitable instead.

We also went up to Much Wenlock to spend some time with Laura and Alison to help with the re-roofing of their shed/soon-to-be chicken palace. They’d got Onduline corrugated bitumen to replace the nasty felt covered tongue & groove that had come to the end of its short and inadequate lifespan, and despite having to add some extra purlins it all went a lot quicker than we thought it might. We were really pleased with the result and have no doubt that it will last for a lot longer than its predecessor.
Dave is still trying to think of boaty uses for the offcuts.

Back at Legend, we pulled in the planks and, after a couple of weather related false starts, set off to All Cannings. At Honey Street we stopped for water while it rained, then had to wait for four boats to go past before we could pull out again. The “season” has definitely started. The weather was better the next morning so Dave got on with painting our new side step. In the afternoon we drove over to Devizes for a parking and mooring recce; happily there was more of each than we thought there might be so that put our minds at rest.

On the day before the start of the the annual Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race we had a lovely day boating along the last of the long pound before mooring up behind Wadsworth’s brewery at the top of the Caen Hill lock flight,and just behind the race start line. At 7am the next morning, we joined an enthusiastic crowd on the bridge and cheered the first dozen or so canoeists off on their heroic expedition.

The race, which was first run in 1948, is commonly believed to commemorate the epic journey made by solo canoeist and restoration enthusiast John Gould, who took a 20,000 signature paper petition, demanding that the Kennet and Avon be saved from abandonment, to London and delivered it to the Queen. The truth is a little less romantic, but does nothing to detract from the herculean effort that hundreds of canoeists of all ages put in every year. It was all rather emotional so we left them all to get on with it and went back to the boat for breakfast.

On Easter Saturday we put our Easter decorations up and awaited the arrival of our first Easter guests.
Karen and Andrew arrived just as we got back from a walk to the bottom of the locks and the festivities began.     
Easter Sunday 2019 was one that will go down in history as “That really hot Easter”. We were amazingly lucky to be going down Caen Hill locks with Karen & Andrew, Mum & Dad, and Elaine & Steve, who were visiting the boat for the first time.
The crew getting a team briefing
As we were one of the surprisingly few moving boats, we also went down with about a hundred gongoozlers. (Although handing out mini eggs to all and sundry might have had something to do with that.)

At the bottom we snuck onto a mooring between the Caen Hill and Foxhangers flights where we set up all the camping chairs and a couple of tables on the towpath and sat and watched the world go by.

Ann-Marie performed her usual magic and produced a magnificent roast lamb dinner for 6 out of our little kitchen, an amazing end to an amazing day!
Mum and Dad stayed on till Tuesday and we took them boating down Foxhangers locks and on to Sells Green. Dave was so impressed by how watertight one of the Foxhangers locks was that he took a video of it.
After Mum and Dad went home we started preparations for our next VIP visitors. Chloe and Caleb were coming to stay on the boat for three nights at the start of a whistle-stop tour of the country visiting family and friends. Chloe’s new baby is due at the end of September and any future visit will be a much more involved undertaking.
We’d ordered a toddler sized life jacket and borrowed a squirrel fire guard from Laura and Alison, who’d had it made for their boat so that they could let Jaffa, their little caique parrot, fly around safely. That made us feel a whole lot better about having our grandson on board. We moved off the 48s, turned round and put ourselves on the unrestricted bit with the back end out on a gangplank, but with the front right in to the bank which, with the addition of the new step, made it mega easy for little legs to get in and out. (And grown up legs too!)
We drove out to Bristol airport the next morning and despite our sat-nav thinking it might be amusing to stick us in a stationary queue on the M4 for half an hour, got there just after Chloe and Caleb came out of arrivals.
Once we’d got them settled in and he’d had a nap we drove up to Caen Hill where we found a boat coming down, which gave Caleb a chance to show off how good he was at pushing lock gates. Something we hope to get him doing regularly when he’s grown up a bit.
The next day we’d arranged to go to an animal farm park in Melksham, but when we got there it was closed for the day because their cattle had broken through a fence and were running amok. So, after a go on the swings...
...we went back to the boat and, as the weather turned out to better than forecast, put Caleb in his new life jacket and gave him his first boat trip.

We only went up to Foxhangers, turned in the windy ‘ole and came back to the Sells Green 48s. Tim and Pru might not have described it as one of the greatest canal journeys, but as far as we were concerned it was right up there with the opening of the Panama.
When Dave was pulling Laura and Alison’s shed roof to bits, he got a splinter in his finger. At the time he pulled it out, it bled a bit and he thought nothing of it. It is after all not unusual for him to make holes in himself. However, two weeks later it had gone all red and swollen. Because we live on, and come into regular contact with, canal water, we are well aware of the dangers of contaminated wounds. So on Saturday morning we found ourselves in the very nice Trowbridge Community Hospital for an hour or so while they decided that some weetabix sized antibiotics should do the trick.

After that we decided to give the farm park another go. This time it was open and after a cup of tea and a toasted teacake in the café, we had a lovely, but bitterly cold visit with the goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, horses, rabbits, guinea-pigs, chipmunks and emus. Mum & Dad, and Anne, Jen & Ben joined us until the cold became too much and we all retreated to the Long Arms for lunch...
...then back to Legend for a cuppa. Caleb rather gingerly handed round the oaty biscuits that he’d made with his Nana, (said Nana was bursting with pride and almost in tears at this point,) then we all played a couple of rounds of “Set”, our new Easter card game that looks easy, but make your brain hurt.
The following day we drove Chloe and Caleb up to a pub just off the M5 near Dursley, where we met up with Alex & Neil who, after lunch and lots of hugging, took them off on the next leg of their trip.

We came back and moved to Seend, where we filled up with water. By the time we were full it was half past six so, despite a few dirty looks from the self righteous, we stayed on the water point overnight and went down the next two locks first thing in the morning.
On the last day of April we had a job in Dunstable. Although it was an easy-peasy job, it was a 12 hour shift, which meant we left the boat before dawn and, because we stopped off at Karen’s for post, and then went round to Mum and Dad’s for a cuppa on the way home, we got back to the boat after dark.

Understandably, on May morning we didn’t feel much like getting up at dawn and dancing around, and it was raining later on so we had a bit of a lie-in and left our moving till after lunch. We went down the next two locks and moored up at Semington, just after the bricked-up bridge ‘ole that used to be the junction with the Wilts and Berks Canal. Richard and Alison, some friends from our Citroen 2cv club days, came to visit the next day. They used to live in Trowbridge before moving to Cork in Ireland about 20 years ago. They still have children around Bradford on Avon so they come back at least once a year. Happily this year’s visit coincided with ours and gave Ann-Marie an excuse to make cake and scones. They very kindly took us into Bradford and showed us around. It’s a beautiful town with some magnificent buildings and we cant wait to get the boat there and have a good explore. On the way home they took us up to see the very breezy, but quite stunning Westbury White horse.
It was lovely seeing them again after all this time. We’ve promised ourselves that at some point we’re going to take the car over to Ireland and do a road trip around the north and south which will include them.
The day after that we had another visit from people we haven’t seen for ages. Ann-Marie’s cousin Carolyn and her husband Adrian live in Chard, this bit of the K&A is the closest Legend is ever going to get to them, so although still more than an hour away, we invited them over. There was, of course, another batch of scones on arrival then an afternoon of chatting. After they went home, we had a slightly damp move to Hilperton, then a slightly damper walk to Bradford for a. recce, which confirmed our suspicions that finding unrestricted moorings with access from here on is not going to be as easy as it has been so far.

We’d been trying to buy a new tent for a while and, although we’d chosen one, (this one) by the time we’d finished procrastinating about it, none of the Go Outdoors shops we passed on our travels had any left. Dave got on the phone and contacted shops in an ever increasing circle and found that Poole still had 5 of them in stock. He got them to put one aside for us and on Star Wars day we set off to go and collect it.
On the way, we noticed a sign for Stourhead NT house and gardens. It would have been rude not to go and visit, and it turned out to be fabulous.

By happy coincidence, Poole is also where two more of Ann-Marie’s cousins live, with their respective families so, after collecting our tent, (and conveniently exchanging a gas bottle) we went for a walk along the prom and met up with Jordan, Noah, Jesse and Finn. They obviously thrive on seaside life, Jordan is a keen surfer and so enthusiastic about Poole and the surrounding area, and the boys look like they just got back from the Caribbean.
Later on Lianne and Matthew joined us for drinks and a chat in the Sandbank hotel bar. We got back to the boat quite late, but very happy after a whole week of good times and re-kindled friendships.

Another big adventure starts in a couple of days. We’re very excited and we’ll tell you all about it next time          

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Kennet and Avon Canal. Hungerford to Wilcot.

We saw our first ducklings of the year today!
There are bluebells and forget-me-nots and celandines  in the hedgerows and spring is bursting out of everywhere. We even did a bit of boating with our coats off - until the sun went in again.

After our longest time away from the boat since we moved in, it was a bit strange going back to it - it’s so different from a house where everything is unlimited and you take it all for granted. But it wasn’t long before we were back into the routine of boat life and its idiosyncrasies. As soon as we got back, Dave put all the drawer fronts back on...
...which looked (and still look) fabulous.

Then we had an evening juggling water due to a leaking water pump. Dave actually discovered it when he was turning everything off before we went away, but there wasn’t time to sort it then, so when we got back it was number one priority. (After the snazzy drawer fronts of course!) That evening we put a drip tray under the pump, then turned it on and filled every available container before turning it off again. The next morning we removed all the coats, bags, shoes, umbrellas and all the other paraphernalia that lives in the front corner, before dismantling the box and panelling that hides the water pump. Before long we had it in bits and, working on the theory that if it’s good enough for a water-cooled car engine then it’ll work on a 12volt pump, put some engine gasket sealant between all the joints.
And we just happened to have a tube of it in the tool box.
A month later and the floor has dried out underneath it and it’s all still good.
We’ve left the drip tray under it and it’s now on the monthly list of things to check, along with the battery water levels and the condensation trap at the back of the fridge.*

We moved Legend from Hungerford, through the beautiful Hungerford Meadows to Oak Hill, near Froxfield,...

and tied up on one of the few easy access unrestricted moorings on the K&A. There’s a handy car park, some nice Armco to put a chain round and no overhanging trees to shade the solar panels. In fact, if there was a phone signal to be had it would have been perfect.
While we were moored there we had a trip up to Derby for a site visit at the lock we’ll be helping to restore on one of our WRG camps this year.

There’s a lot to do and we’ll tell you all about it in July. Coincidentally, Anne was working in Derby that day and had arranged to have dinner out with Dave’s other sister Judith. To add to the serendipidisnous, our nephew Ben works at TGI Fridays in Derby, and was on duty that day, so we spent a very pleasant evening in our own family Venn digram.
And, because we shared Anne’s Premier Inn room, we had a lovely breakfast as well.

Back at the boat, Dave jiggled a few things around in the engine room to make room for a chop saw that he’s been after for a while and finally found for £20 Gumtree. It’s one of these, a baby version of proper ones and is rated at 800 watts, so it’ll work with both our inverter and genny.

Ann-Marie had a blitz through the boat and got it ready for Mum and Dad to stay over. We’d been back on board for four days, all our holiday stuff was stowed away and it was starting to feel like home again.

It was lovely to see Mum and Dad, they were on their way to their car club AGM in Wales, so we were able to provide a convenient journey break for them.

Early the next morning Dave drove to Hungerford where he got the train to Paddington to take part in the People’s Vote march. He got to Hyde Park Corner really early and watched as the crowds grew and grew.
And grew!

Adrian and Ellie were there as well and somehow they all managed to meet up at 11 o’clock under Achilies’ Heel, then spent the rest of the day together.
They were in the march for 5 hours and never got to Parliament Square, in fact they never got to Trafalgar Square; at 3 o’clock they had to make their way back to catch trains and buses home.
Ann-Marie stayed at home entertaining Martin and Yvonne who dropped in on their way home from their Cornish holiday, then walked into Hungerford to meet Dave and he was buzzing. Being part of something so historic, whatever the outcome, will stay with him for the rest of his life.

The following day we were surrounded by canoeists! The Devizes to Westminster canoe race is held over the Easter weekend and the time trials were going on all day. We were moored between locks so there were times when there were canoeists furiously paddling in the water on one side and canoeists running down the towpath with their canoes on their shoulders on the other.
It was all a bit too hectic for us so we left Legend chained to the Armco and went for a nice relaxing walk up to the Wilton Windmill.

In the morning, after all the frenzied activity was over, we set off for a short hop up the Crofton flight. We stopped at the services at Great Bedwyn, and had showers while the water tank was filling, then caught up with Paul on fuel boat Ozzie, and shared a couple of locks with him. He’s normally single handed, so it was good to be able to lend a hand. Sadly we had to abandon him half way up the flight as we were mooring up at Sam Farmer lock. We’d picked that spot the day before - good solar, parking etc, however it was in a fairly short pound and when we’d checked the depth it had been full. Once we’d moored up we realised that was going to be a bit of a problem. After a quick succession of boats going through the locks, the lowered water level in our pound left us on the bottom at a very jaunty angle. Dave’s rather novel solution was to pin a gang plank to the towpath at each end of the boat with the other ends secured to the back dolly and the front step. That kept the boat floating at a fixed distance from the shallow bank. He then attached spring lines to the back end which stopped any forward and backward movement, effectively anchoring the boat in one place while still allowing it to rise and fall with the fluctuating water levels. Finally, with a belt & braces approach, he also added a pin for the front rope.

This set-up was very effective. Over the next eleven days, with boats going past and the water going up and down, Legend didn’t budge and didn’t lean. Better still, it means that we now have a system which allows us to moor in far more places on the K&A than were previously available. No doubt it will also come in useful on other waterways, but none that we’ve navigated so far are as notorious for shallow edges as this one.

Legend got abandoned yet again at Sam Farmer lock as we went to spend the weekend with Waterway Recovery Group pulling junk out of the Dudley No.2 canal on their annual Birmingham Canal Network cleanup. We took a WRG minibus from Swindon where it had been serviced...
 and we’d planned to get to Tipton - where we were staying - at about 4.30. Fate had other ideas. However in a way she was quite kind to us; instead of leaving us sitting in the outside lane of a closed M5 for hours, she put us in a gridlocked Strensham services with nothing to do but sit at a picnic table eating snacks until it was all over. We finally arrived at about 7, deployed our bedding, and headed straight to the chippy.
The cleanup was really good, we got loads of stuff out, and unlike previous ones, this was on a bit of the BCN that we use, and use quite regularly, so it was good to know we were making life better not just for everyone else, but for ourselves too.
The sad part was that our brand new, all singing, self inflating, much hyped airbed turned out to be a dud. We woke up in the middle of the night feeling like we were being eaten by the Pilsbury dough boy, and by morning we were on the floor. We had a good laugh about it though and it did nothing to dampen the mood of a fantastic weekend.
On Saturday our grappling hooks found - among all the usual bikes, trolleys and plastic bags - a caravan chassis and an industrial welder. That night there were birthday celebrations and a cheese and wine party outside by the boats.

On Sunday we carried on down towards Gosty Hill tunnel and although there was less than the previous day, we still managed five motorbikes, a sofa and a cigarette machine.
When it was all over we brought a different minibus back to Swindon then came home to our lovely firm non-deflating bed.

We also had two very cold days working at Bristol Temple Meads train station interviewing passengers. Not our favourite job, especially as it was split shifts, but it wasn’t too bad, the interviews were very short (Are you changing trains? No. Thank you, goodbye.) and it meant we got to meet up with Anne and Dave’s other sister Kate for a farewell dinner before they departed for a week driving round France and Spain.

We’d planned to move on the day after we got home from Bristol as Dave was getting a bit twitchy about the firewood situation, but it rained and rained all day forcing us to have a lie-in. A lie-in that lasted till 3pm and included some left over pizza and a lot of telly.

The following morning was much brighter, so we unpacked the car and got the boat ready to go. Just as we were dismantling our gang-planks, a boat came up the lock behind us, so we shared the locks, the summit, the Bruce tunnel and Ann-Marie’s cauliflower cheese soup with the lovely Rowan on Nb Rose. Happily Dave managed to womble some good looking hazel in the tunnel cutting while the soup was heating up, then we set off again, going down a flight of locks for the first time this year. At Wooton Rivers we moored up on the visitor mooring rings and said goodbye to Rowan, then Dave got stuck into cutting and splitting his hoard.

In the morning Dave had another womble and found a nice, big, fallen down hawthorn tree, then after breakfast we went for a walk to the wonderfully named Cuckoo’s Knob and along Cock Lane.
After lunch we moved on again to Pewsey where we stopped at the services, but there were no vacant mooring spaces, and it was all a bit too busy for us anyway, so we carried on for another mile or so to Wilcot. We pulled into the bank opposite a field of sheep and lambs and put the planks and springs in place again; they do take longer to set up than just pins and ropes but the benefits are worth it.   

Kennet and Avon Canal. Wilcot to Hilperton.

Wilcot was a lovely place to be; on the opposite bank there were new lambs and a clear view so there was non-stop solar... ... while on...