Thursday 20 June 2019

Kennet and Avon Canal. Sells Green to Bristol.

As our Scottish adventure had taken all of our allotted 14 days at Sells Green, we had to move Legend as soon as we got back, so we went through the swing bridges and down the locks, including this one...
...which we voted the most watertight lock in the country, to Seend and moored up on the 48s just below the bottom lock. We walked back for the car and came home with a nice selection of bedding plants from a local nursery. Just as we finished potting up our roof boxes, Ken and Annie arrived on Ceilidh; they’d set off at 7am that morning from Bath! That’s where we’re heading, but not all in one day. 

We drove down to Portsmouth the next day to see Elaine and Steve and collect our bikes. They’d taken them to the Norfolk Broads to see how they got on with folding bikes, but the weather had been so rubbish that they’d not used them at all. We felt a bit guilty about all the Scottish sunshine.
In the morning we took the car forward to Semington and cycled back to Seed, where we took advantage of the hard bank and got all the camping stuff out of the roof box and put the bikes away. We weren’t going camping for a few days, but because the K&A has more jungle edges than other canals, we have to plan ahead if we’re going to need anything awkward off the roof.
Annie gave Ann-Marie a quick hair-cut, then Ceilidh and Legend went their separate ways again. We had lunch on the move, then dropped into a still-warm mooring at Semington and packed up for a weekend at Anne’s in Bristol.

Saturday was brilliant. We’d signed up for Live Cluedo in the city; our team of six was us, Anne, her son Ben, his flatmate Stuart, and Sam who we know from WRG.
It’s all smartphone GPS based so, along with a couple of hundred other teams, all in fancy dress, we ran (a bit, but mostly walked) round the city in the sunshine in search of clues, to find out who commited the murder and what they did it with.

Once we’d collected all the witness statements we went to Castle Park and sat in the shade while we worked it out.
After that we split up; we went with Anne to St Nicholas market for a street food lunch, then walked up to Bedminster to a repair café that Anne helps out with. Ann-Marie soon got involved with the material/sewing side of things, while Dave rolled his sleeves up and applied his experience to some broken electrical stuff. Anne is trying to get a repair café launched near where she lives in St Anne’s, and we’ve promised support while we’re still within range.

Back at Anne’s flat we had a smashing Kebab dinner followed by 500 days of Summer, then crashed out on her very comfy spare bed.

On Sunday morning we all got into our car and drove up to Gloucester to see the tall ships, picking Sam up on the way.
The highlights of the day were a Cornish lugger called Greyhound that does commercial alcohol runs to the continent, (with paying crew on board - another great adventure?)
A lovely Irish ship called Brian Boru, and Matthew, the replica of Cabot’s ship of 1497. Matthew normally berths in Bristol and, along with all the other tall ships on display, had come up the Severn estuary and the Gloucester and Sharpness ship canal to take part in the festival.

Also, in complete contrast to all the historic shipping, we were treated to a show called Gravity, which really has to be seen to be believed.
What an amazing weekend!

The next weekend promised to be good too. We were camping at Coombe Abbey, near Coventry along with about a thousand other people to celebrate the Citroén Centenary. We don’t own a Citroén anymore, so the first thing was to go to Fleet and borrow Dad’s. They were also going but taking the little three wheeled Lomax kit car, so the Xsara Picasso was going spare. We nicknamed it “Uber”, but it’s still a Citroén, so it got us in.

The whole event was part of Coventry’s annual Motofest; a celebration of internal combustion when the whole city is taken over by cars and bikes of every age and description. There isn’t anywhere for miles without a glint of chrome or the sound of a snarling engine, and as it was Citroén’s 100th birthday, we were guests of honour. On the Sunday we had a convoy from Coombe Abbey to the city centre, (including a hilarious drive round the chicanes on the closed off section of ring road that was being used for sprint races) and we were parked up all over the place. Our Uber ended up in a melé in front of the Cathedral...
 ...and Dad’s three-wheeler was outside the library. There were also classic Citroéns jammed into the plaza outside the transport museum, and four actually inside the Cathedral at the end of the pews!

The weather wasn’t brilliant, but we got the tent down in the dry on Monday morning, then went back to Mum and Dad’s for lunch and to swap our stuff back into the Kia. When we got back to Semington, Dave did half a dozen trips back and forth with our kit while Ann-Marie unpacked and tucked it all away. It always amazes us that when we go away, we can take a car-full of stuff out of the boat and the boat still looks just as full as it did before.

It seemed sensible to leave the car at Semington while we took the boat through to Bath and Bristol and back, so the following morning, as soon as we’d breakfasted, we pulled the pins and set off in a purposeful manor. We pulled up at Bradford on Avon for lunch, then just before the Avoncliffe aqueduct for water...

...then moored up just before John Rennie’s glorious Dundas Aqueduct.
When we were tying up we noticed a little oil slick on the water at the front of the boat. At first we thought it had come from a listing boat that we’d passed on the way, but closer inspection revealed it to be coming from the drain holes in our gas locker. We opened it up and found that a spare can of diesel that we’d put in there had fallen onto its end and leaked. Dave spent an hour or so inside the gas locker mopping it out with newspaper and old rags, and by the time he’d finished it was cleaner than it has ever been and nicely rustproof!

After dinner we went for a walk along the river to where it looked like the footpath crossed over to the other bank. There wasn’t a footbridge sign on the map, so we weren’t totally surprised when it turned out that the footpath on either side ended at a set of steps where a ferry used to cross over.
We were just about to retrace our steps back to the boat when a very nice elderly gentleman appeared and, after chatting to us for a little while, offered to let us through his garden and back gate so we could paddle across the weir.

It was a little bit slippy in places but we weren't going to let that stop us doing something so cool!

Not having to go back for the car means we can get a move on, so the next day we crossed the aqueduct, passed the junction to what remains of the narrow Somerset Coal Canal...
...and were in Bath by eleven-thirty. We slotted into a perfect Legend sized gap alongside the railway wall; just where we’d hoped to be.
After lunch we walked down into the city and found a pavement plaque tour which took us around all the tourist sites and kept us amused for an hour or two.
We went into Sally Lunn’s bun shop and bought a very expensive unsweetened Brioch loaf, but the museum bit was interesting, the lady was very informative, and it came in a nice box.

In the morning, as the weather forecast for that evening and the following day was stormy, we decided to go down Bath locks onto the river, then crack on to Hanham lock all in one go instead of the two days that we’d allocated for it. The first bit was through the beautiful bridges and tunnels alongside Sydney Gardens.

Ann-Marie trapped a nerve in her leg just as we set off which made locking a bit difficult, but she soldiered on, setting ahead and getting us down with the utmost efficiency. That was until a hire-boat crew coming the other way failed to look ahead, and emptied a lock that Ann-Marie had already set. Neither had they noticed that one of the top paddles was already open, and were heaving away at the bottom gates when Ann-Marie ran down the towpath from the lock that Legend was just coming out of and colourfully pointed out the error of their ways.
As if that wasn't enough, just as we got to Deep Lock the heavens opened...
...but luckily there was another boat coming up, so they got the worst of it while we waited inside in the dry. When the canal was restored, Bath Deep Lock was built to replace locks eight and nine which had been obliterated by road improvements. Until Tuel Lane lock on the Rochdale was built (for much the same reason), this one was the deepest canal lock in the country. And it really is deep

By the time we got down to the river the weather had got better, Ann-Marie had forgotten all her trauma and we had a lovely relaxed trip down to Hanham, where we moored up just before the lock.

 River locks are a lot bigger!

We turned Legend into the current and secured all our roof tat...
 then battened down the hatches and snuggled in for a rough night.
The promised rain turned up the next morning, but by lunch time the forecast had turned completely round and all the bad weather had disappeared.

Anne arrived on her bike later on with Pimms and strawberries.
By dinner time no-one was in a fit state to cook anything so we went to the pub for a pizza. Anne stayed over and, in the morning, with her bike on the roof and after many years of promising that we would, we got to take her into her home city on our boat!

All three of us were ridiculously excited. We phoned ahead to Netham lock to tell the lock keeper we were on our way, then set off, through Hanham lock and down the tidal stretch. (It’s called tidal even though only spring tides come above Netham weir.)

We stopped at Netham to collect our Bristol Harbour licence, information booklet and a list of access codes for various services, and to part with £150 for a week in the floating harbour. There’s a height gauge at Netham for Prince Street bridge, the lowest in Bristol. We had a look at it from various angles and we reckoned we’d be OK. Off we went, down the feeder canal under Temple Meads and into the floating harbour.

The term “Floating Harbour” is not what most people upon hearing it (including us) first think, i.e. floating pontoons which you tie your boat to. No, it means a harbour that you float in all the time, as opposed to one, (like most coastal harbours) that you don’t. Bristol’s floating harbour used to be a tidal river. Ships would come up the Bristol Channel, into the Avon and up to the docks on an incoming tide. There they would tie up and get as much unloading and loading done as they could before the tide went out when they would sit on the river bed and await the next tide. The first attempt at a floating harbour at Bristol was at what is now called Bathurst basin, but this proved to be totally inadequate for the amount of shipping that was coming into what was - at the time -Britain’s second largest port.

A scheme was devised to divert the river along a new channel to the south of the city (the New Cut) and install lock gates at both ends of the existing river, thereby creating a two mile long tide free basin, where ships could tie up without fear of finding themselves stuck in the mud.
There was a strong westerly wind blowing straight towards us as we got closer to Prince Street bridge, so we were pushing hard. As we got close Dave began having doubts about getting under it and finally bottled out at the last minute.
We dived off to the right and made an abrupt landing on the pump-out jetty, where we re-arranged the roof tat until we were all happy that we’d fit. As we were doing that Sam phoned to say she was in the city and where were we? (We had invited her.) The wind was still blowing a hooley so when she turned up we said a quick hello, then she and Anne went inside out of the way, while we decided on our best strategy for getting off the jetty and through the bridge.

Our cunning plan was to leave a front spring on and drive the back away from the jetty, then release the spring and reverse at full speed out into the river before turning and going forwards under the bridge.
The wind had other ideas. Part one went as planned; the back end came away from the jetty, Anne-Marie released the spring and Dave put the Lister in full astern. However, as we went backwards, the wind caught the front and pushed it away from the bridge, completely opposite to the way we wanted to turn. Luckily there was nothing coming from either direction, so Dave switched tactics, did a 360° pirouette the other way, and slotted Legend under the bridge like a letter in a post box.
We had about 3 inches to spare so it was worth clearing the roof. To anyone watching it must have looked quite professional. If only they knew.
We passed the cranes outside M Shed...
 then just round the bend from there SS Great Britain loomed into view on the left.
On the opposite bank we spied our target; Harbour Inlet, with jetties enough for about a ten narrow boats. With the wind still blasting up the harbour we did a speedy (for Legend) turn in the river...
...and another abrupt landing on one of them. Everyone leapt off and helped tie up.
In the afternoon Ben came over and joined in the fun...
 then, after dinner, he came back again with wine, which was good because by then we’d celebrated our arrival into Bristol several times and all the Pimms and wine on the boat had vanished. That night Anne chained her bike to some railings and stayed on the boat again. Sensible girl.

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