Saturday, 20 July 2019

Kennet & Avon Canal. Bristol to Semington

We had a ball in Bristol. We had thought that we’d move Legend around the floating harbour and try out other mooring spots, but a walk round on Sunday evening revealed Harbour Inlet to be the best place.
It’s very convenient for shops and the city centre without being smack in the middle of Stag/Hen party central. There is electricity and water on the pontoons and a boater’s service block behind a coded door in which one will find a toilet, free shower, washing machine and tumble dryer. Our nearest hook-up bollard had £1.70 on the meter, left by a previous visitor, which surprisingly  lasted us the rest of the week, and we were using it for all our hot water while we were there! The other popular mooring is at Arnolfini, which is more secure because it has a locked gate on the pontoons, but the big pubs that surround it can get rather raucous of an evening. If you’re going to be on your boat most of the time you’re in the city then we think Harbour Inlet wins hands down.





So, what did we get up to for a week in the big city? Well, being us, we walked a lot and spent as little as possible.
On Monday we went to Brandon Park and up Cabot Tower for some wonderful views over the city...




...then walked over to the Clifton Suspension Bridge for some more views of the river and a visit to the highly recommended visitor centre.


That was followed by a hike over the downs and a chippy lunch on the way home.


It was still a bit cold and damp, so we lit a fire - smokeless, of course - and huddled in.

Tuesday was still a bit drizzly so we stayed in till the evening then went out to Millenium Square for a live screening from the Royal Opera House of Romeo and Juliet. It was raining and cold, but we went anyway. Anne came too, and Cat joined us for a bit as well.
At the end of Act 1 we all went back to the boat for a bit of a warm up, during which three of us voted to stay there and carry on warming up. Ann-Marie was made of sterner stuff and returned for the rest of the performance. She, along with about twelve other people stayed to the bitter end, then came home exhilarated but sopping wet and freezing. The organisers must have been gutted to have had weather like that in the middle of June.

On Wednesday we did the Bristol Bridges walk. Some boffin has come up with a route that takes you over all of Bristol’s 40 bridges, without retracing your steps or crossing any bridge more than once. It was an amazing way to see loads of bits of the city that the normal tourist routes never take you to, and a fabulous way to spend the day, and of course if you like bridges, which we do, you get to see All that Bristol has to offer. The bold and beautiful, the plain and simple, the hidden and unloved.















It was over 15 miles all the way round, and that was without the Clifton suspension bridge, which we missed out having already done it, so we rewarded ourselves with a cream tea on board when we got back.
On Thursday and Friday it carried on raining. We went to the pictures, had lunch in St Nicholas Market and failed to dodge the downpours, then on Friday evening Sam came round for dinner. We had a lovely evening chatting, playing games and drinking far too much wine. (again)

On Saturday morning we went to a food festival in Colston Hall which was a lot smaller than we’d hoped, (the festival, not the hall) but we got to taste some yummy stuff and came home with some eye-wateringly expensive, but very delicious smoked cheese.

In the afternoon, the much hoped for break in the weather arrived so we said a fond goodbye to a fantastic city, cast off and made our way back up the feeder canal and back to Hanham Lock.

By 7pm we were tied up on the jetty above the lock listening to the music from the pub. Next morning we had a walk along the river. We thought it would be a quick stroll there and back but it took a bit longer than we expected due to us finding rather a lot of Himalayan Balsam, which we can’t resist pulling up and stamping on.
By the time we’d got back, had lunch and worked our way up the river to Bath it was 7pm again when we got tied up.
We stopped for one night on the river before going onto the canal and up Bath locks the next morning.
We moored just after top lock and went off to do the Bath Skyline walk.






Next morning we moved up to Sydney Gardens where the grass verge is much wider as Dave needed some space to give the cratch and top-box covers a much needed scrub.
They’re both about eight years old now so they've lost most of their waterproofing and go mouldy far too easily. The plan is to get them cleaned up then re-proof them. Dave has emailed the manufacturer for advice on what product to go for. It was just as well that we’d planned to stay for 48hours, because the first scrubbing didn’t work very well, so Dave had another go the next day with upholstery cleaner. Much better result. The manufacturer recommended Fabsil Gold, so we’ll get some of that ordered and pick it up next time we’re at Karen’s.

Our next move took us to Bradford on Avon. We were a bit dubious about getting a mooring, but managed to conjure one out of nothing - as we do - just before the lock.
Dave discovered an on-line “Blue Plaque” trail round Bradford, so we followed that for the afternoon, once again finding  ourselves off the beaten track. We especially liked the gardens up the Ranks and the views out over Bath.





We set off for Semington first thing the next morning, sharing the lock with a lovely Australian couple called Brad & Karen. They were on the last morning of their hire, so Karen was staying with their luggage at Bradford, where the train station is, while Brad took the boat back to Hilperton - about a mile further on - and walked back. We were filling up with water so we invited Karen in for a cup of tea while she waited and had a really good chat.

We got Diesel at Hilperton, then found a space on the 48’s at Semington.
We’d hoped to find a gap in the unrestricted bit, but there weren’t any so we had to move on Sunday night when Dave got back from his WRG training weekend.
Once a year WRG hire some of the plant that is most often used on canal camps, (excavators and dumper trucks) and go along to a bit of unrestored canal (this year it was the Lichfield and Hatherton) and give any volunteers who express an interest some basic training. The idea isn’t to train them to a professional standard, but to instil in them the basic safety principals for each machine to make sure that any practice they have on a camp is carried out in a safe manner.

This year’s weekend also included bricklaying, first aid, mini buses & trailers and site levels using survey equipment.
Dave came home with a digger and dumper ticket, and a much better understanding of brick laying and pointing than he ever had before.
While he was away, Ann-Marie gave Legend a good clean through, then spent most of the Saturday at Court Gardens (NT) where she took her embroidery and pretended to be Jayne Ayre for the day.



We were reunited on Sunday evening and the first job was to move the boat. A quick reccé established that we were short on choices; the only available space was in the pound between the two Semington locks. Not ideal on a canal that is already notoriously shallow at the edges, but at 7pm on a Sunday night you grab what you can.

The next morning we were off to Fleet and Mytchett to pick up Dave’s prescription and visit the folks. While we were at Karen’s we got the mower but half way through her front lawn it made a horrible noise and abruptly stopped. Without much in the way of tools, Dave was unable to even diagnose the problem, let alone attempt a fix, but we were coming back on Thursday so he could have a look at it then.
When we got back, the pound was a good 6” down and Legend was sitting at a very jaunty angle. Inside we found the floor littered with stuff off the shelves and the fridge door wide open. It looked worse than it was though, nothing was broken, the fridge hadn’t been open for long, and we were soon levelled up and floating again. Planked out, sprung, and double pinned is definitely the way to go on the K&A!

In the morning, after sharing the locks and swing bridges with an Icelandic family on a hire boat, we moored up at Bowerhill. In the afternoon went to the beautiful village and abbey at Lacock

...then had a walk along a restored bit of the Wilts and Berks canal.

Our wanderings took us to Pewsham locks; the last time we stood by a narrow lock was at Duke’s Cut at the bottom of the Oxford canal well over a year ago, everything we’ve done since then has been either wide or, on the Thames and the Avon, very wide. Because they are quite deep, Pewsham locks looked very narrow indeed.


The next day we decided to have a go at finding a footpath that had eluded Ann-Marie at the weekend. We’ve said it before and we’ll no doubt say it again, but sadly the existence of a right of way does not guarantee a path. However, just beside Semington bridge there was a footpath sign and a stile. Good start - which quickly vanished. The first bit through a wheat field wasn’t too bad, and we managed a straight line which, according to our GPS was bang on the line of the path. 
In the next field the path went straight grown up oil-seed rape; an almost impenetrable neck high tangle of seed pods and very tough stalks.
This was the path that Ann-Marie could find no sign of or for on Sunday. We battled slowly on with Dave parting the branches one step at a time. When we finally got through it got a lot easier with a lovely meadow to walk across to the packhorse bridge over the baby River Avon...
and a well defined path to Great Chalfield Manor where we gratefully sat down for our picnic.

We joined the 3pm tour of the house, round the medieval halls and staircases, then went home via Holt and the K&A towpath.

Back at Karen’s the next morning, Dave delved a bit deeper into her mower and pronounced it dead. One of the electric motor bearings had overheated and melted through its plastic casing. However, when we went over to Mum and Dad’s later on, Dad produced a lovely little Mountfield petrol mower from his garage that we’ve agreed to keep in Karen’s shed. That way we can use it when we go for tablets and Dad can have it back if he ever needs it. Excellent result!

The weather had been getting hotter over the week and Friday was no exception. We were off in the car again, this time to Poole for a day on the beach and an evening at Folk on the Quay. We were fabulously luck to get a free parking space at the top of the Chines, then were straight down to thepacked beach and into the sea for a much needed cooling swim.
As usual, Dave was turning blue and heading back to the beach ten minutes later, but Ann-Marie stayed in for a bit longer. After lunch we walked along the seafront to the harbour where the music and dancing were going on. We joined in for a few ceilidh dances, then went into ‘Spoons for a air-con cool down and a coffee. Back on the quay we joined the rest of the throng to watch and jump around to 3 Daft Monkeys who we love and who were brilliant.
They’d come straight from doing a set at Glastonbury, and were returning there when they’d finished at Poole to do another one at 2am! Crazy people!
When it was over we walked back to our car, checking out all the reduced stuff in all three Tesco Extras on the way and a splash through the surf as darkness fell on the beach.



Late night, long drive home and very happy.

Despite the late night Dave was up with the lark in the morning for a walk up to Foxhanger’s. When he got back we had breakfast and moved up to Seend where we moored just before the 48s. Dave got the shears out and cut the grass along the bank so that he could paint the tumblehomes, (or top bends, or ‘the bit below the gunnels’. Whatever they’re called they are the bits of the boat that take the most battering from locks, bridges, mooring jetties etc.) There is much debate as to whether they should be blacked with bitumen or glossed - if they are blacked then any minor scuffs won’t show and any major ones are easily touched up. Glossing obviously takes more time and effort, but we prefer to have them shiny, even though it means redoing them every year. We’d missed them last year and got badly scraped on a lock at Newbury which had the guardrail on the wrong side of the gate, so they were looking a bit the worse for wear.
In two days Dave managed to get the left side sanded, primed, rubbed down with wet & dry and two coats of gloss on.



Turning round to do the other side meant a trip up the next three locks, so we set off really early and were back down before ten. No-one had pinched our space, so we moored up back on our nice bit of mown edge. However, the Semington locks below us, which had been closed the previous day for an inspection, opened up again that morning and all the boats that had been waiting went down and took all the water with them, leaving us leaning over again. We pushed Legend out and re-floated it easily enough, but that obviously meant we couldn't reach it with a paint brush, so we pulled it back to the 48s where the water was a bit deeper. The moorings were a bit higher than the grass bank but Dave could still manage. Another two days saw the same treatment to the right side.
In the evening Anne came over for dinner and a night of R&R. We took her and a barbecue to the pretty little picnic area at Bowerhill that was built and is beautifully maintained by the Bowerhill Resident’s Action Group. It’s a fabulous place to be and ever since we first saw it on our way down we’ve been looking for an excuse to go and use it.
In the morning we waved Anne off, then pulled the pins and set off back down to Semington where we turned just below the bottom lock in the best winding hole on the system...
...before backing onto the moorings for the last time ready to resume our journey eastwards.

Kennet and Avon Canal. Semington to The Summit.

Before we left Semington for the last time, Dave made a start on repainting the roof. Because of all the tat that lives up there, the paint...