Thursday 12 December 2019

Kennet and Avon Canal. River Thames. Theale to Wallingford.

There really isn’t a lot of River Thames between the K&A and the Oxford canals; Oxford to Reading is easily achieved in about half an hour in a car. However, boating is a whole other world. Legend left Theale six weeks ago and so far we’ve only got as far as Wallingford. The first three days weren’t too bad; a little damp but otherwise fair progress was made through the various locks and bendy river bits from Theale to Reading...

...where we moored outside Tesco and went to the cinema in the evening. Then Reading to Pangbourne through a bit of a shower, but not too bad and we tied up on the lovely Pangbourne meadows.
From there we moved on to Goring...
...and moored on the big bollards just below the lock. After all the recent rain the river was becoming quite lively which made mooring tricky; at Goring there’s a big weir stream that comes across from the far bank, and rather than pinning you to the bank it goes round the boat and pulls the back end out into the river. It’s the complete opposite of what you’re expecting when you pull in and there was a certain amount of running about and heated opinion before we managed to get Legend tied up securely.
Anne and the Lawes came for the evening and we had a lovely curry in our cosy little home and tried to ignore the maelstrom that was chucking the boat around and battering the trees.
In the morning the clocks went back so we had our extra hour in bed, then worked our way up Goring lock, helping three hire cruisers and a narrowboat down as we went.

It was a beautiful day; blue skies and sunshine all the way to Wallingford, but the stream was getting faster by the hour and by the time we got to Wallingford bridge it was a very slow crawl with the Lister turned up to 11 to get through. Just as we popped out the other side, Nb Albion pulled out so we hovered in the stream until he was out of the way, then drifted sideways to a very nice town-side mooring.
There are really good cleats and sliders that you can tie up to here, there are nice south facing benches along the towpath and the town is just a short walk away via two excellent pubs on the corner of the bridge. All in all we can thoroughly recommend Walingford as a good place to stop on your journey along the Thames. When we stopped, we didn’t realise just how lucky we were to be there. For the next six days the warning boards went back up to red and we stayed tied up while the river went whizzing by. Dave got the remaining firewood cut up and stashed under the tarp and we had a walk up to Day’s lock and Dorchester via Shillingford bridge.

As our car was going to be a lot more use in Wallingford than it was in Fleet, Dad kindly gave us a lift over there to retrieve it and we took them out for dinner in return.
We had booked to go the the WRG bonfire bash on the Uttoxeter canal, but the warning boards were changing every day; dropping from red to yellow above and below us, and we didn’t want to miss an opportunity. On Friday we had a few hours of “shall we, shan’t we”, we packed and unpacked and in the end decided to stay and hope for a window. There were bonfire fireworks in Walingford, which was some consolation, but we missed our WRG mates.
Saturday was really stormy with waves outside the window, but Sunday was better and our hoped for window looked like it might have opened. It was grey and cold, but the wind had dropped and the river looked to be going slower. There were two yellow boards above us so we set off and powered our way up stream, hoping to make it to Abingdon.

There was still a red board between Clifton and Culham locks but we were gambling on it dropping to yellow by the time we got there.
That did not happen.
In fact after four and a half hours boating all we’d managed to do was get through Benson lock, empty the loo at the services just below Day’s lock and get ourselves into the lock chamber.
We were met by Mark the lock keeper, who told us that the river situation, rather than decreasing as we’d hoped, was in fact getting worse and he was in the process of opening more sluices. The red board was still in place between Culham and Clifton and the Day’s to Benson section was just about to go into the red as well. Although the lock keepers don’t have the authority to prevent anyone from navigating if they insist on going, we’re not actually that daft and, as you know, we haven’t got a very powerful engine. So we turned round and retraced our steps back to Wallingford. Four and a half hours there, forty minutes back. Fifteen of which were spent clawing our way back through Wallingford bridge because there was no way on earth we were going to attempt to turn upstream of it.
On the way back we stopped at Benson Lock for water. There is a tap there, but it is for containers only and you can’t put a hose on it. Not perfect but better than nothing. We were about to start the long process of filling our camping water bottle a few thousand times, when the very nice locky turned up and, upon hearing of our plight, let us use the hosepipe from her house. She was really lovely and even offered us a shower!
So, it wasn't an entirely fruitless journey, we'd emptied the loo and filled the water tank, but about six hours after setting off we were moored up twenty yards ahead of where we’d started that morning. We lit the fire and had an early night.
And Legend has been here ever since.
On the up side, moored in front of that wide beam and sheltered from the worst of the flow by that big willow tree in the river turned out to be a very good place to be when the flow got going, and Nb Merchant, the only coal boat with a big enough engine to tackle the Thames, ploughed its way through the bridge a couple of days later and sold us four bags of coal. 
Since then there have been red boards from one end of the navigable Thames to the other, and with good reason. The river has been rushing by our boat at an unbelievable rate and over the first two weeks the water rose from 2.8 to 4.5 meters, which put it 35cm above the bank and flooded all the surrounding fields. For the highest three days it was over the tops of our wellies so we resorted to rolling our trousers up, putting sandals on and wading along the towpath.
We deployed the gang planks and the sliding poles which stop the boat drifting onto the bank if the water gets that high...
...and we kept a careful eye on our ropes, making sure they didn’t get too tight as we went up. We also found a handy source of water in the shape of a tap in the camp site on the far bank.
Dave trundled the sack truck back and forth across the bridge with eight two litre bottles until the water got too deep, by which time he’d filled the tank again, giving us two weeks worth. Three if were frugal, which we have been.
Ironically, amid all this watery fun and games, and just when we’d managed to fill our tank, our water pump packed up meaning we couldn’t actually get to any of it. Thankfully it turned out to just be a corroded connection which was easily fixed.

Luckily, through all the trauma, we haven’t been confined to the boat; if we hadn’t been somewhere so safe then it would have been a different story, but we managed to get away several times. We had a weekend with Martin and Yvonne in their amazing new house in Colchester. They are such dear friends and it’s always lovely spending time with them; we visited Colchester Castle in the glorious sunshine...

...and had an afternoon walk around Ardleigh Reservoir. Sadly we had to come back a day earlier than planned because we were getting concerned about how fast the numbers were going up on the EA web site.
With perfect timing, Sam came for the night just before the river burst its bank on our side, so she didn’t need to paddle. (it had been over the moorings on the far side for a week by then)
She was doing a tour of friends to say goodbye before going back to Oz, and we had a smashing evening with brownies, wine and cards. After we waved Sam off in the morning we walked up to Benson to look at the weir...
...and for a wander round the village, then by the time we got back the water was over the bank.

We’d hung our go-cart tyre fenders from the mooring cleats; they don’t float so they stay between the boat and the bank as the water rises.
We’ve been carting all this “just in case” stuff around for years, so in a way it was good to be able to finally justify the space it takes up. (Actually, the slidey poles are also the pole-bunk poles and the go-cart fenders are the next step if the fat fenders aren’t fat enough, so it all has a use and a home anyway.)
While wading through the puddles, Ann-Marie discovered that her wellies had a leak,
so the next day Dave gave her a piggy-back through the flood to the bridge and we went on a welly hunt. Miraculously, we found the perfect pair in the first charity shop we went in. After that we drove up to Abingdon to look at the river levels and moorings there, which turned out to be slightly better than at Wallingford, but still flooded.
Back home, Ken and Annie gaily waded to our boat bearing fish and chips and we had one of our good old games nights. Brilliant fun!
In the morning, the river was well and truly all around us and flowing quite fast.
Dave got the inflatable dinghy out, thinking we could use it to get to the bridge and back, but it turned out to have a puncture and, with hindsight, the risk of being swept out into the river was quite real, so he put it away again, which is why we had three days of wading in sandals while the water levels peaked.
It only took two days for the river to be back in its banks, but it left a lot of water in the surrounding fields and the carpark on the far bank.
As soon as he was able, Dave took our water bottles over to the campsite, but found that the tap had been turned off. We don’t know if it was a flood precaution or just because the campsite is officially closed for the winter, but either way it meant we had to find another water supply. Keeping our tank full suddenly became our number one priority. We put our two litre water bottles in our rucksacks and every day we either walked up to Benson lock and filled them or we put them in the car and filled them while we were out.
We were becoming used to the way the river behaved, so we had no worries about going away for four days to Skegness for the Great British Folk Festival. On the way up we stopped in Milton Keynes to have a look at the village hall that we’ve booked for Ann-Marie’s 50th birthday party. It’s very good and has a lovely atmosphere, but only a normal domestic cooker and there’s nearly sixty people coming, so we might have to restrict the menu a bit.
It’s the second time we’ve been to Skeg and we were once again sharing an apartment with Bob and Mandy. As before, and as we knew it would, it turned out to be a fabulous weekend.

It was made all the better for having Bob’s birthday on the Sunday, and Dave’s on the Monday. Unfortunately Dave had a tooth abscess which forced an impromptu visit to see an emergency dentist on the Saturday morning and a course of antibiotics so he couldn’t drink, but he put a brave face on it and hopefully didn’t spoil anyone’s weekend.
On the Monday morning we got packed up, said our goodbyes then, rather than sitting in the queue to get out, had a walk round the chalets, then threw all our spare change at the tuppenny falls. By then the queue had gone down considerably, but we were still ages getting through Skegness itself, and it seemed like hours before we got to the A1 and could finally get moving.
On the way home we stopped off in Henley-on-Thames to open one of their Advent doors. That evening it was in the Angel on the Bridge, where we joined Lesley and Pete and were treated to a turkey and stuffing roll and a glass of mulled wine, while listening to - and joining in with - a beautiful barber-shop quartet, singing a mixture of traditional and Christmas songs.
A wonderfully magical way to get into the Christmas spirit.
We got back in the dark to a very cold, but perfectly safe Legend. We’d been watching the EA website like hawks all weekend so we knew it should have been OK, but it was a tremendous relief to find that it actually was.
The next day we were out again, this time over to Fleet. We took Mum to the Farnborough Christmas Market which, apart from being inside the beautiful frame of the old balloon hanger, was a bit of a disappointment.
However, we had a very nice coffee and a bun in the Aviators Café, then went out for lunch with Mum and Dad at the New Inn. So it all ended very well.
That evening, on our way home, we opened another of the Henley advent doors. This time we were in the Rowing Museum being treated to the Henley Children’s Theatre, performing a medley of carols and Christmas songs.
Unbelievably cute!
The following day - on our way home from the dentist - our week of late nights continued with a brilliantly serendipitous evening at the Banbury Folk Club in the Church House pub. Gerry Colvin and Marion Fleetwood - two of our most favoritest people - are patrons of the club and, along with cake and a raffle, were performing that evening to a very small audience which we felt very privileged to be part of.  
Christmas kicked in properly the next day. We cleared the boat of all our normal ornaments and paraphernalia and swapped it for the Christmas decoration overkill that lives under the bed for the other eleven months of the year.Then, once it was all sparkly and yuleish, we went to open yet another door in Henley with Lesley and Pete. Our surprise treat that evening was mince pies, mulled wine and the Henley Rock Choir at the Leander Club.
Anne came along on her way home from working in Milton Keynes, and we all went round to L&P’s for pizza afterwards. A brilliant end to a ridiculously social week for a couple who are supposedly traumatised because their boat is stuck on a fast flowing river.
You can tell by now, Dear Reader, that we were getting a bit blaz√© about all this “Strong Stream” and flooding malarkey. The red boards started to turn yellow during this week, but we’ve been there before, so didn’t get our hopes up or even consider changing our plans “just in case” and carried on with life as usual.
Next weekend is Ann-Marie’s birthday party, so all our time is getting sucked into planning for that and we have lists and bags and boxes and ingredients in piles all round the boat. The kids are coming over from France and Ireland and it will be the first time that all three grandchildren have been together, so we’re extremely excited about that.
This will probably be the last blog this year Dear Reader, so we’ll take the opportunity to wish you a very merry Christmas and the happiest New Year.  

Friday 25 October 2019

Kennet & Avon Canal. Crofton to Reading.

Thank you for your patience Dear Reader, life is slowly putting itself back together and we’re looking to the future and making plans, rather than just reacting to the situation.

As you can imagine, there hasn’t been much boat related stuff going on since August, however one or two things are worth a mention.

Firstly a huge ‘Thank You’ goes to the South West CRT for their compassion and understanding. When we phoned them to explain what was happening, they told us to take as long as we needed and not worry about a thing. We kept them in the loop and at every point they were sympathetic and supportive. We got ourselves a perfect mooring at Froxfield on one of the rare bits of unrestricted Armco on the K&A and left Legend there for six weeks with their blessing. Lots of boaters have nothing good to say about CRT, but in our experience when we’ve had any problems, they have always been brilliant.

Secondly, we had a rather alarming diesel leak from the supply line into the bilge, and thirdly our log burner flue rusted through. There is more about these slight inconveniences later.

We hardly saw the boat while it was at Froxfield; between the long drives to Penzance, we went to France for Frankie’s 30th birthday.
 Start them young, that's our motto!
 Three generations picking blackberries.
 Birthday celebrations at the night market.
Very happy Nana with Thibault
One of Frankie's pesents was a taster flight in a light aircraft. How fabulous! At the airfield there was another plane on the grass ready to go so Dave and Anne had a go as well!

Another tick off the bucket list

We also had a week on a WRG canal camp on the Mon and Brec in our now familiar roles as assistant leader and cook.

 Ann-Marie's WRG cakes are fast becoming legendary.
Dave demonstrating brick saw use. 
We were straight back down to Cornwall after the camp. Penzance was just as delightful as it's always been. 

With impeccable timing, our first granddaughter, Matilda Fae, made her entrance (rather rapidly) into this world on the day after Kate’s funeral while most of the family were still in Cornwall. A blazing ray of joyful light to cut through the gloom of the last few months.
This is why Dave hasn't been able to get Ann-Marie to play cards recently

Six weeks away from the boat is the longest we’ve ever had; when we got back we almost had to learn how to be boaters all over again.
Our first move wasn’t far, just to Hungerford swing bridge. We went for a coffee with Nick and Jackie and tried to arrange to go round for a meal one evening but our diaries wouldn’t match up. We’ll have to come back in the car and put that right at some point.

One thing that did work out was a meet-up with Dave’s Australian cousin Bernadette and her husband Pete. They’d been on a cycling holiday in France, following the Canal du Midi and the Gironde and were having a few days in the UK with Pete’s mum Helen before heading home. They just happened to be crossing our path on one of the few days we were there, so we had a lovely Sunday lunch in a very nice pub, after which we all went back to Legend to give them a glimpse of our liveaboard life.
It was lovely to see them again and have a really good chat, and it made us want to go back to Australia all the more.

We also went to join Anne and Sam at the Bristol Hippodrome for a performance of The Lion King.
Words are just not enough to describe the costumes and puppets. We were in the front row of the upper circle and we spent the entire evening with our mouths open. It was quite literally spectacular.
Afterwards we walked through the city eating chips and saying “WOW!!!” lots.

From Hungerford we moved to Kintbury on one of those days when you just know that someone is looking down and taking care of you. The forecast was for rain all day, but we had to go to Mytchett for a Dave’s prescription and eye test, then come back and move both the car and the boat, so we’d resigned ourselves to getting wet. Hey, we’ve spent a lot of money on weatherproof gear, what’s the point if it never gets rained on?
True to form the wipers were on all the way to and from Karen’s, and we did get showered on betwixt car and shops in Farnborough where the drains had all backed up and the roads were like rivers, but for the rest of the day we stayed dry. For an hour and a half walking back to the boat - Dry. For half an hour eating a pizza in the boat - Raining. For three hours boating - Bone dry, even sunny. While drinking tea five minutes after finding a mooring exactly where we wanted one and banging the pins in - chucking it down.
Poor Legend was abandoned once more at Kintbury. We had one night back aboard between five days in Cornwall and a trip to Antrim to meet Matilda and for some quality time with the Shands, then our two weeks were up and we were off again.

Matilda was just two weeks old when we arrived and we watched in awe as a third of her life evolved. She is just so scrummy!

 Caleb at gymnastics.
Parenting is really tiring! 

 Little sister, big brother

Shandy took Dave to a Climbing wall in Belfast. Another tick off the bucket list.

In the evening before we left Kintbury we started to try and find homes for the stuff we’d come home from Cornwall with. This included four boxes of tools and assorted hardware that Dave somehow intended to absorb into the engine room. It was while he was looking for spare hidey holes that he discovered a couple of inches of diesel in the bilge and the aforementioned leak. It turned out to be a fairly simple fix; vibration had caused a compression union to chafe through a pipe, so all that was needed was to cut the end off the pipe and fit a new olive. A 5/16th olive. Available by mail order, but not locally tomorrow morning. Dave phoned Dad and asked if he happened to have one. Dad didn’t but helpfully told him that 8mm would do the trick, which Screwfix have in bags of 10 for £3.50. Result. So by 10 am we had a working engine. We took the car to Hampstead lock and walked back in the sunshine to Kintbury; it was so nice we decided to have an evening boating and set off to Dreweat’s lock for the night. When we got there Dave, using a margarine pot as a scoop and a couple of old socks to mop up, got all the leaked diesel out of the bilge and into some old oil containers. We’ll let it settle for a while then strain it and see if it’s clean enough to go back into the tank.

The next morning we had a beautiful autumnal trip into Newbury.
 As we passed John and Jac’s boat at West Mills we noticed that he was on board, so we moored up and went back for a chat. John and Jac are the first boating friends we met on the canals and at the moment are in a flat in Newbury while refitting their boat. Claire Lucy Rose is further on in her refit than the last time we saw her, but looks more of a mess inside. John knows what he’s doing and is very meticulous, so everything goes back to bare metal. The finished bits are amazing, and you know it’s going to be stunning when it’s all done but at this stage it all looks rather daunting.

Something that we found rather daunting when we got home was a hole in our stove flue. It’s rusted through from the inside at the top where it meets the roof collar. Dave has done a temporary fix with a dollop of Sikaflex (it’s what we had) but we’re going to need a whole new flue pipe. Hopefully we can nurse this one through this winter, but it’s not so much the when, but the how that is the tricky bit. This one has two bespoke welded angles and is a perfect fit. It is also the most space saving design that can be achieved between the fire and the roof. Making a new one won’t be easy. Dave has a plan though. He’s going to make a box that fits the pipe exactly, which will hold the three parts of the new pipe in just the right position while someone welds them together. We don’t yet know who ‘someone’ is, but we’ve got a couple of ideas.

Coops and Kitcat came to see us while we were in Newbury and we took them boating to Monkey Marsh, which is just before Thatcham. We’re on a mission now, boating every day to get down the Thames and onto the GU as soon as possible. We had a really good day with them and moored up just as the sun went down. The next day we picked up a very useful load of oak that Network Rail had felled and chopped up just before we left here in January, and it had been seasoning all year just in time for us to come back for it.
We shared all the locks and swing bridges to Woolhampton with a hire boat with an enthusiastic crew of six, which meant we had a very easy time of it.
Going up Monkey Marsh turf sided lock
That afternoon, Coops came back with Autumn for a chill and a chat, then Mum and Dad turned up on their way home from a committee meeting. Later on Coops went home and we were joined by John and Jac. We’d booked a table in the Rowbarge and had a lovely evening with lots of boaty tales.
In the morning we were about to set off when an opportunity for a lift arose, so we had a quick change of plan and took our car to Fleet and left it at Mum and Dad’s, then Ken very kindly picked us up and brought us back to Woolhampton. Our little Kia will be nice and safe there till we get off the Thames and back onto a canal.
From Woolhampton we made our way through the succession of locks and swing bridges to Theale.
At Aldermaston swing bridge we held up an ambulance with its blue lights going. We felt a bit bad about it but once you’ve started, stopping takes longer than carrying on, and there’s nothing you can do to speed it up.
We found a perfect mooring for our last night on the K&A, we were on the river just before Theale bridge and floating with both ends into the bank and no gangplanks. (A very rare treat on this waterway). It was a lovely sunny afternoon; Ann-Marie planted up the tubs with spring bulbs, and we sat outside on the towpath for probably the last time this year.
This morning we were planning to go out onto the Thames. The red ‘strong stream’ notices had all gone to either yellow ‘decreasing’ or white, we’d looked at the tide times and figured out that we could get to Teddington in five days in time to catch a tidal passage to Brentford just before dusk.
We rang the lock keeper at Teddington to confirm what we thought. He agreed that the timings worked, but he warned us that the tide we were aiming for was going to be the highest spring tide this year so even though we’d be going out at slack water, by the time we got to Brentford it would be going like the clappers. The thought of trying to turn across the flow to get into Brentford in the fading light with our poor little Lister going at full chat was almost enough to put us off, so when the lock keeper told us that because of the time of day we’d need navigation lights, (which we haven’t got) it was a relief.
We spent a frantic couple of hours looking at other tide times and lock closures and things we were committed to and came to the conclusion that going down the Thames this year is just not going to happen.

So, our alternatives are; either stay on the K&A over winter or go up the Thames to Oxford and get back onto the canals there. Much as we’ve loved our adventure this year, and all the wonderful things the K&A has to offer, we were really looking forward to getting back to easy moorings and not having to use gangplanks everywhere.
Tomorrow morning we’ll set off from Theale, go through Reading, turn left onto the Thames and point our little boat towards Oxford.

Weybridge to Brentford and the bottom end of the GU will remain unexplored for the time being, but we’re coming back to do the River Wey at some point, it will all still be there and it will all still be beautiful. For now though, it will have to wait.

New Haw Lock to Boveney. River Wey. River Thames.

After pulling the pins at New Haw we dropped down the last four locks on the Wey... Cox's Mill Lock Town Lock The final stretch of the W...