Thursday 14 March 2019

Basingstoke Canal. River Wey. River Thames. Kennet and Avon Canal. Mytchett to Hungerford

It's funny how things turn out isn't it?
We'd just got used to the idea of being stuck on the Basingstoke until Easter when, in the middle of November, we got a phone call from the canal centre with the news that there was now enough water for them to open the locks and they had a gap in the maintainance program so we could (read: “should) leave the following week. 

That was a something of a shock. Looking back, we’d become institutionalised - Dave had joined the BCS Tuesday Volunteer group and was getting used to having somewhere to work on the car, and Ann-Marie had made enquiries about gym membership and had seriously considered getting a job - we were beginning to put roots down. 

A meeting with the canal manager resulted in us having a stay of execution for a fortnight, (we were house-sitting for Laura and Alison on Wenlock Edge for a week, followed by Dave’s birthday weekend at Butlins in Skegness...
for the Great British Folk Festival) but after that we had to go or pay an eye-watering mooring fee.

With hindsight, the BCA were between a rock and a hard place. They must have been getting phone calls from local boat owners asking why we were being allowed to live aboard when they weren't, and why we could moor anywhere for weeks on end when they were subject to the 72hr restrictions. While there was insufficient water in the canal they could justify it, but once it started raining it was a different kettle of clichés.
And of course as soon as we’d got over the surprise, we came to realise how fortunate we’d been. This sort of thing happens to continuous cruisers all the time; anything from illness to engine breakdowns to breaches can all put a halt to your progress, so for it to happen to us when we were next door to Karen and just round the corner from Mum & Dad turned it from the nightmare it could have been, into one of the most memorable summers we’ve had on the boat. Best of all it made it possible for Ann-Marie to help organise a surprise party for Dad’s 80th birthday...

...something she’d never have been able to do from our usual position of miles away in the middle of nowhere on the other side of the country.

And so, more than six months after turning off the River Wey with our freshly printed one-month Basingstoke Canal licence in the window, we found ourselves heading back towards it.

Dad met us and helped with the Deepcut locks...
...and  over the two days it took to get down the flights, we had Andy and Steve, two of the BCA rangers, unlocking and sealing the gates for us.
Sealing the top lock gates with woodchip and silt is surprisingly effective; as soon as the lock has drained down to the sill, the rangers use a long handled squeegee sort of thing to stir up the silt and leaves and wash them into the gaps around the lock gates.
That, along with the addition of a bucket of damp woodchip, quickly turns the usual torrent of water into a mere drip and must save hundreds of gallons of their precious water.
 As if to prove how tight our timing was, at lock 7 on the St John’s flight, a work party was patiently waiting with a new pair of bottom gates, and were attaching the crane to the old pair as we left the lock!
Two days later...

we were off the canal, off the Wey and moored up at Weybridge on the Thames where Ken and Annie were waiting for us, having set off a few days previously. We only just made it - the lock keeper at Thames Lock on the Wey closed the lock as soon as we’d gone through due to increasing flow.

While we were at Weybridge, we had a very Grand Day Out at Elestree studios to see the semi-final of the 2018 Strictly come Dancing!
 The validation queue at 5am
 Back at 3pm in our posh togs
Ann-Marie has applied for tickets for every show for the last five years and this year her number came up.

We had a fabulous 4 days up the Thames to the K&A. Despite our trepidation about navigating the river in December, when it came to it we really had nothing to worry about. Apart from one rather misty morning when we set off a bit early and lost sight of both banks, the weather was glorious, and the trip was made all the better for having Ken and Annie on Nb Ceilidh sharing it with us.
Navigating a big river outside “the season” is something we would never have planned to do, so once again, serendipity gave us a wonderful experience that we’d otherwise have missed.

From Weybridge to Old Windsor we had Mum & Dad on board as well.

We stopped outside the Bells of Ouzeley where we’d booked a big table for a joint birthday dinner.

Carrying on up the river we stopped at Cliveden on the NT moorings...

...then Henley...

then turned onto the K&A…

 and had the odd experience of boating through the middle of Reading shopping centre...
 before mooring up on a high bank just outside the city.

After another fabulous day's boating up the Kennet through all the odd locks...

...we got a teriffic mooring at Tyle Mill where we were perfectly happy to leave Legend while we went to France for Thibault’s first Christmas. That was a magical time.

Thibault had just learnt to stand up unaided so we were running around with cushions all the time, and we had a couple of really fun nights in  Dirty Harry’s Bar, which is the bar at Jussas with a sign outside that says “Dirty Harry’s” and all the usual suspects inside.
We came back to Legend on Boxing day, then carried on to Aldermaston Wharf where Colin and Tina, who we know from WRG, had arranged for us to have one of the permanent moorings for a week.
It was a whole new experience for us to be behind a locked gate with no towpath going past the boat.

Halfway between Christmas and New Year we had a Burdett Gathering. It was really well attended and it was lovely to be able to catch up with our fabulous family.
Mum and Dad came over to celebrate new year’s eve with us, which gave Ann-Marie the excuse to do some baking and we finally got to eat some sausage rolls! In order to stay up till midnight, we inter-spaced a five course dinner with games of Five Crowns and Mexican Train. That worked so well that if it hadn’t have been for the local fireworks we’d have missed the crucial moment altogether.
The following morning wasn’t as much fun; overnight Mum & Dad’s car had had a window smashed and a brick thrown at the bonnet, leaving a huge dent, and ours had a wing mirror snapped off.

Theirs was parked in the station overflow car park, and ours was on the road, so they might not have been related, and ours might have been an accident, but theirs certainly wasn’t so it put the mockers on our good mood for a while. However, a day spent with some lovely old mates from 2CV land at the Hollycombe New Year Barbecue soon gave us our happy back.
  We boated with Ken & Annie to Woolhampton for the night...
...then in the morning managed to get into the notorious Woolhampton lock without touching the sides (hooray for us). We were at Monkey Marsh lock the next night...
...then carried on with Ceilidh to Newbury marina for Diesel. After that we moored up at West Mills while they went up the cut to Hampstead to see some friends.

Karen and Andrew came aboard for a day in Newbury with us...

...and the next morning, after an egg banjo breakfast, helped with the boating up to Hampstead lock.

There was due to be a navigation closure at Hampstead the following week, so once we’d got tied up above the lock we could relax. As it turned out that closure got cancelled, however the one at Great Bedwyn was still going ahead, which meant that our progress was restricted to the next few miles of canal until the middle of March.
We had a couple of weeks on a nice sunny gang plank mooring just above Copse Lock...

...from where we had a day trip out in the car to Bath with an evening in the Theatre Royal with - and courtesy of - Anne, watching the Peter Pan pantomime.

From there we moved Legend to Kintbury for a couple of days and drove over to Bristol to build Anne a spice rack for her snazzy kitchen re-fit as a way to say thank you.
While we were moored at Kintbury, Martin and Yvonne came to stay for a couple of days. They’d almost finished their house build and needed a bit of time out from all the stress, so our boat seemed the perfect retreat. As it turned out, it wasn’t so perfect. We drove out to Watership Down and parked in a hilltop car park for a lovely ridge-walk along the Wayfarers Walk and the Test Way. It was fabulous to be outside and we all felt terrific.

Sadly, with an eerie feeling of Deja Vu, when we got back we found Martin and Yvonne’s car had two smashed windows.

On the bright side, there had been nothing in the car to steal and they managed to get Autoglass to come round to Kintbury the following morning, but two cars attacked in one month made us feel rather worried and like a bit of a jinx.

When the Autoglass fitter turned up, we left him to it, and with Yvonne on the tiller set off for Hungerford, where we finally moored up outside Nick & Jackie’s house; a converted grain store by the wharf.  We'd met Nick and Jackie on the Oxford and the Thames the year before and they'd made us promise to stop and see them when we came this way.

Although Legend was there for a fortnight, we were only on board for the first week, however we did manage to squeeze in several coffee mornings with Nick & Jackie, and a day over at Hungry Hill with Dad and about 120 vintage bikes for the Talmag Trial, where we met up with some of Ann-Marie’s cousins.

Ann-Marie's cousin John riding his dad's BSA.

Despite having hurt his back ramming plastic into an ecobrick, Dave also managed to start turning the under sink cupboards into drawers, which, when they’re all finished and painted, will give Ann-Marie 15 kitchen drawers to play with. There’s nothing stereotypical about us.

The following week we switched the fridge off, drained the water pipes and left Legend under the watchful eyes of Nick & Jackie while we flew off to Antrim.
Caleb was adorable; he’d just started putting words together, so one of the first things he said was “Good Boy Nana” when Ann-Marie finished her carrots. So cute!

We had a lovely week looking after him, walking the dog and generally relaxing while Dave’s back got better. We got regular reports from Nick, and a couple of photos of Legend iced in and under a good dollop of snow.
We were rather jealous, we had none in Ireland.

When we got back our fortnight was up and so were the temperatures. The ice had disappeared from around the boat, so we reversed through the bridge and turned back towards Kintbury.
Why go back? Well it was still only the beginning of February, there was only one viable mooring - Froxfield - before the stoppage at Bedwyn, so we didn’t really want to go any further that way until March.

We didn’t get all the way to Kintbury though. Just above Brunsden Lock a shaded bit of the canal hadn’t thawed and the ice was really thick. So thick that it brought the boat to a standstill. Rather than waste a load of diesel and blacking bashing our way through, we turned it all off and settled down for the night. Stuck in the ice in the middle of the canal.

 Overnight it was +10°, so by the morning, although it was still icy, we could get through without too much trouble.

We were at Kintbury for just over a week this time. We got a bit of work in, went for a blustery walk up a hill behind the intriguingly named village of Inkpen,

Dave carried on with the drawers, and Ann-Marie knitted a hat for Thibault just like Harry’s, which he loves.

The evening before we’d planned to move on, we ran out of water, so we reversed back to the tap and an hour later moored up again in the dark. In the morning Dave went for a wood womble, made a big stash up near Wire Mill lock, then came back and moved the boat up to collect it.
Compared to the rest of this bit of the K&A, the moorings at Wire Mill are very tranquil and secluded.
The moon, just before dawn at Wire Mill Lock.
The railway is still very close, but even the freight trains in the night aren’t intrusive.
We were there for three days before moving into Hungerford again. This time we were leaving the boat for the full fortnight, and more.

When we were on the Basingstoke and thought that we’d be there till Easter, we’d agreed to go to Herefordshire to house and cat sit for Adrian and Ellie. They were going on a bus tour of Cuba for three and a bit weeks in the spring and we were at a loose end. Obviously our situation changed and we couldn’t leave the boat for nearly a month in one place on the K&A, but it wouldn’t be a hardship to nip back at some point and move it. Other people move their boats all round the country that way, so we were still more than happy to take time out and go and live in a house for a while. Especially one with cats in it.
So we filled the car with all the things that we thought we might need for nearly a month away. Adrian and Ellie have a big garage and a studio, so it was the perfect opportunity to take all our new kitchen drawer fronts and be able to spread them out and paint them all at once. Dave had been thinking it was going to take the rest of the year to do them one at a time in the engine room.
We’d not really been to Herefordshire before, so we were looking forward to getting out and walking. For the first week it all went to plan. There was a mini heat wave at the end of February, so every morning we got up and Dave got another coat of paint on the drawer fronts (two undercoats, two colour coats and three varnish each side...
The backs.
 ...14 in total!) before going out for a walk, or a visit to a NT property or local tourist spot.
One day we met John and Cam in Hay-on-Wye and had a lovely walk along bits of the Herefordshire Way and the Offa’s Dyke path.
One day we drove up to Berrington Hall for a day with Laura and Alison and had a very pleasant walk around the parkland, the walled garden and the house.

And one glorious sunny day we went to Gloucester for the Folk Trail...
which, after we’d spent the afternoon walking round the city without our coats on, ended - to our amazement - in an evening with Three Daft Monkeys playing in a pub.
If you ever find yourselves in Gloucester of an evening, Café Rene is the place to be.

However, the good weather didn’t last. In the second half of our house tenure it was much more like February in the West Country is supposed to be - cold, wet and windy.
After a flying visit back to Hungerford to move the boat up through the lock and moor it outside the church, and to pop in for coffee with Nick & Jackie, we came back to a windswept Wye Valley where we hunkered down and waited for the storms to pass.
Dave resorted to tidying Adrian’s garage and doing an oil change on the car and we watched lots of films and catch-up telly.
We did get out in the car; over to Bristol for dinner with Anne and a walk around the Window Wanderland, and a day out in Ross with John, but there wasn’t a lot of walking until the last week when Bob & Mandy came to stay for a couple of days. We love Bob and Mandy and we always have a good time in their company. This time was no different. The first evening we drank a ridiculous amount of wine and were very silly. The next day, despite storm Fredrick running riot in the morning, turned out to have a rain-free afternoon and we used it to attack a hill on the other side of the valley. We studied the OS map and worked out a circular path up, over and round the hill, taking in views of the meandering Wye and the extensive flood planes. We drove round to the bottom of the hill and set off up the bridle path. It was decidedly muddy, and the rights of way on the map bore no resemblance to anything that looked remotely like a path on the ground, but we persevered. 

We climbed over fallen trees, we squelched through boggy swamps, and we stared hopelessly at signposts bearing unreadable faded signs. We boldly went where no-one in their right mind would bother. Eventually, and predictably, we arrived at The End. An impenetrable fence one way, a tumbling rocky crevasse the other, and not even a sheep track to offer encouragement. We did what any intrepid explorer would have done - we went back to the car, came home and had coffee and hot cross buns. It wasn’t the circular tour of the hill we’d hoped for but we did get some fantastic views and despite everything we all agreed that it was great fun.
Adrian and Ellie get back on Friday and we’re back to Legend on Saturday. We’ve had a fabulous time in this beautiful house with Jess and Tally and we’d do something like this again in a heartbeat, but we can’t wait to see our cosy little boat again.

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