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.   

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