Sunday 11 August 2019

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 has a hard time and needs re-doing every three years or so. In an ideal world, we’d take everything off, sand the whole thing down and give it several coats, but unfortunately that’s not where we live, so we have to do it in bits. The result isn’t perfectly seamless, but it fulfils it’s primary objective; it stops the steel going rusty. Anything over and above that is a bonus, however Dave does put a lot of effort into achieving a good finish. The hardest bit is juggling everything around to make a space to work on.
We also took the advice of our cratch cover material manufacturer and bought some Fabsil Gold, which we applied with a paintbrush.
A couple of nights later we had a shower which gave us the opportunity to see how well it had worked.
Quite impressive. and the inside of the cratch was lovely and dry, something it hasn't been for a long time.
Also, before we left, we walked up to the school for what turned out to be a brilliant afternoon at the Semington village féte. A local band called Folk Lift Truck kept us entertained with a seemingly endless mixture of mostly eighties covers, and they even threw in the Saw Doctors’ “N17” which, it turned out, we knew more words to than they did! They, along with all the usual tombola, bric-a-brac, cakes and  plant stalls, and a tug of war as well - all in glorious sunshine- made us very happy to have been there.

Next morning we were up the locks to Sells Green. We shared the locks with a crew on a hire boat. When they first joined us they made a big fuss of telling us that they had their own boat on the Shropshire Union, (as if it was some far-away magical kingdom that our poor K&A Luddite brains would have no hope of comprehending) and that they weren’t your average hire boaters and they knew what they were doing. Then, amidst a fair amount of shouting from the crew on the bank, the steerer came into the next lock far too fast, crashed into the wing wall, bounced off Legend and rattled into the lock like a snooker ball. There was lots of blaming the boat- “It doesn’t steer like ours!” “ The engine goes too fast!” - that sort of thing, to which we just smiled politely, after that they stopped talking down to us and were very pleasant for the rest of the trip.

At Sells Green, we moored just off the end of the 48s (again) and did a bit of grass cutting so we could put the BBQ out and erect a sunshade.
Colin and Tina dropped in for dinner on their way home from a disastrous site visit on the Shrewsbury and Newport canal which had resulted in Colin cancelling the forthcoming camp. They weren’t happy, understandably, but after a good evening chatting and a plateful of our wonderful BBQ offerings, they left feeling much better. We’re really looking forward to our week with them at the WRG Derby canal camp.
A couple of days later, with another coat of gloss on the first 1/6th of the roof...
...and the dry goods under-plinth stash re-stocked from the Aldi in Melksham, we set of for Foxhangers. Up the Foxhangers locks...
...and just above Marsh lane, we dropped perfectly onto the 48s at the base of the main Caen Hill flight.
We love it when a plan comes together!
 Dave moved onto the second 1/6th, which meant moving the log pallet, so that got repaired and painted as well.

The Caen Hill locks were on restricted opening - ten till three, with the last entry at midday - so at quarter to ten the next morning we were ready for the off. We were the first boat up and on our own...
...and with all the locks in our favour and a volunteer setting ahead and helping, we were up the big flight of sixteen to the café in an amazing two hours.

We know it’s not a race but we like to be efficient and we’re rather proud of that. After a quick bite to eat we carried on up the next five and moored exactly where we’d planned, just below the final lock. We wanted to be there because that meant we could go up into Devizes the next morning and not overstay the 72hr mooring restriction while we abandoned Legend yet again.

By four o’clock the next afternoon, we’d worked through the final lock, moored up exactly where we wanted to, shipped our stuff into the car, driven to Ely, booked in, pitched the tent, found David and Kate’s camper van and were partaking of a cheeky gin with them at the fabulous Ely Folk Festival!
As you may well know, Dear Reader, we love Ely, and we love this festival, especially as it falls on or around our wedding anniversary. Friday night was brilliant, Gerry Colvin in the main marquee...

...then a ridiculously enthusiastic ceilidh at midnight. In all we did three ceilidhs, and hardly sat down at any of them, and we did a morris workshop with the Witchmen (lots of hop-stepping and holding a stick in a manner that would get you arrested anywhere else). We bounced around to a bonkers band called Ferocious Dog, (who are a bit like the Levellers, if the Levellers had been on intravenous Red Bull for a week and were trying to finish the gig before the tent burned down) and on the Sunday night we had the Oysterband in the main marquee. Wowee! What a weekend! And if that wasn’t enough, In-between we got to meet up with our American friend Mike, who lives on a narrowboat on the little Ouse, and were introduced to his husband, also Mike, and had lunch and a very nice couple of hours with them in Ely while the morris procession and dancing were going on. Oh, and we got to see the wonderful Les Barker as well. Best Ely Ever!

That evening, after packing up and driving home via Karen’s and Mum & Dad’s we had a very pleasant evening boating up to Horton Bridge and the Bridge Inn. As we moored up the fabulous smells from the pub’s kitchen welcomed us, but unfortunately by the time we got to the bar we were minutes too late and they’d stopped serving food! Never mind, Ann-Marie whistled up some very tasty liver and onions instead.

We seem to have got our boat moving timings sorted out for the K&A - when we got to All Cannings the next morning there was a perfect Legend sized mooring waiting for us right where we wanted it.
We hung the washing out, had lunch outside in the sunshine, then in the evening had a BBQ on the towpath with and eclipsed moon behind us. Bliss.

The next day we got some quite devastating news. Dave’s sister Kate, who lives in Cornwall, has been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, which has metastasised into her liver. Dear Reader, this is a boating blog, so I won’t depress you with the details, suffice to say that there will no doubt be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and it will no doubt dominate our lives for the next few months.

Our next mooring was Wilcot.
We stopped there on the way out and although it’s two-gangplanks shallow, the fact that you can moor ten feet from where your car is parked makes it ideal if you’re just about to go away for a week on a WRG canal camp. Which we were. And Ann-Marie was doing the cooking so, as well as all our usual stuff, (which, after the air-bed collapsing fiasco at the last BCN cleanup now includes a pair of rather splendid camp beds) there were several bags of ingredients and baking paraphernalia.
Of course, the last time we were there it was March, and since that visit it has become decidedly more verdant. So much so that Dave had to attack the hole in the hedge with the garden shears before we could tranship our belongings through it.

Our accommodation for the Derby Canal Camp was at West Hallam Village Hall. Colin, Tina and ourselves got there about four and along with some others spent the evening sorting out blackout blinds, arranging tables, shopping for the first couple of meals and generally making ourselves at home. In the morning Colin, Dave and Andy went to Lichfield to pick up the vans and trailer containing all the site tools and kitchen kit, then on Sunday morning we had our first day on site at Borrowash Lock.
Our remit for the week was to lay all the coping stones on the wing walls at the bottom of the lock... dig out the canal bed at the top and bottom, to rebuild and repoint the retaining walls leading away from the lock in both directions...

 and to finish and pave the coins where the top gates hang.
 We also wanted to do some landscaping around the sides, and back-fill behind the new copers that we were laying; generally leaving it looking decidedly more like a lock than when we arrived.

Our site visit had made it clear that there weren’t enough coping stones lying around with good enough faces to do the job, so we knew we were going to have to find an alternative. Volunteers on the Inglesham lock had had reasonable success casting concrete blocks in situ and using various tools and methods to distress and age the finished product, so we wanted to have a go at that. With the boldness of the naive, we chose to do the big corner block first. The shuttering went up with lots of bracing, (the last thing you want is for it to bulge when you fill it)…
...half a dozen brick ties were plugged into the base followed by a two part fill. Part one is ordinary concrete and forms the core. Part two is the facing material; sharp sand and white cement. Both elements are put in at the same time; two to three inches of facing mix round the edge and the core in the middle, tamp it down and gradually build both up, with a facing mix as a top layer.

The next day the shuttering comes off...
...and with a wire brush and a scutching hammer any hint of smoothness is chipped away. The result is quite pleasing and over the week we cast four of them in crucial places.

Recessed coins, like the one above are a repair by a stonemason and not often seen. Originally the gate collar would have been attached to the face of the stone by anchor bolts that were plugged into chiselled holes with molten lead. If these came loose over time they would be taken out, a recess cut into the stone and new holes made to fix the collar back in.
 We also used a stone saw and chisels to cut up some very large blocks...
...and once the mechanical excavator arrived with a curb lifter, we got on with the job a lot faster.
Of course with eighteen of us at work, lots of other stuff was happening on site as well, the walls below and above the lock were coming on well...
...and the paving was taking shape.
On the Thursday (the hottest day of a hot week) we all formed ourselves into a wheelbarrowing gang to take the spoil that Colin was digging out from the bottom of the lock with the eacavator up to the towpath side and landscaped the whole area.

On the other side of the management team Ann-Marie was performing culinary miracles in the village hall kitchen. The volunteers were provided with a cooked breakfast at seven sharp every morning, a selection of home made cakes at tea-break twice a day, whatever packed lunches their hearts desired and a two course dinner (with seconds for those who had any room) when they got back from site. Ann-Marie was kept very busy, but nobody went anywhere near hungry.
There was also a range of evening entertainment - crazy golf, abseiling, a film night, bell ringing in the local church and a pub quiz.

We know it’s a working holiday and we work them hard, but for £70 a week we think they get excellent value for money.
One evening Colin, Dave and Andy went back to site for a spot of digger practice. Colin drives one for a living so it was very useful to be able to learn from a pro.
And just like that it was all over. Saturday morning, breakfast served and washed up, all the kit cleaned and packed away, both the vans and the trailer whisked off to Lichfield for their next assignment and by eleven o’clock we were sitting in Tesco’s café, slightly shell shocked. Our gang of volunteers had achieved everything we'd set out to do and we'd had a fabulous week.

On the way home we stopped off to see Mum and Dad and went out for a meal with them and Margaret and Bruce.

Two nights later we were off down to Cornwall. We made a trip of it; Montacute house (NT) for a picnic lunch...

...then stopping firstly at Chard for a cuppa with Ann-Marie’s cousin Carolyn followed by a stop-over in Exeter with Dave’s cousins John and Linda.
John and Linda's new garden. Lush!
From there it was a quick run down to Truro where Kate is staying for the time being with John. We had a really good couple of days with them, there were some quite in-depth chats, lots of hugs, and trips out to special places.
Padstow with an icecream.

 Homer Downs, where Dave and Kate's mum used to live
now abandoned and completely overgrown.
 Gorran Haven with the tide in.
 Gorran Haven
Gorran Haven
We were able to help with the practical side of things as well; John bought a new washing machine and had it delivered while we were there so Dave pulled the old one out and plumbed the new one in for them, then fixed the back door so they could use the easy steps up to the parking space.

On our way home we nipped into St Austell for a pasty and had a walk along the beach at Carlyon Bay. Then we were up the A30 and the M5 to Bristol for tea with Anne, Cat and Jen, followed by a late night run back to the boat.

Dave was up with the lark in the morning and out with the bow saw to scavenge some nicely seasoned fallen oak that he’d espied a bit further up the canal. He stashed it all by a bridge ‘ole, then after breakfast we extracted ourselves from the bank, said goodbye to Wilcot and went to pick it all up on our way to Pewsey. As is becoming our style, we slipped onto a perfect 48hr mooring at Pewsey, Dave cut up his new wood then we walked into the village for supplies.
The following day Dave started on another 1/6th of the roof, then did a car move to Wootton Rivers. That is where we’d planned to go next, there are some very nice 48hr moorings above the bottom lock but it turned out that the bottom lock was padlocked as part of the navigation restrictions over the summit. We’d thought that it was just the summit that was closed, so we emailed CRT and told them of our plight and asked for an extension at Pewsey until the next moving day.
Dave found temporary homes for all the tat in the big solar box, then collapsed the box and stacked the big panel on top of the smaller ones, freeing up another bit of roof for painting. He got it cleaned up, scraped, sanded and a coat of red lead on all the patches before lunch...
giving it plenty of time to dry, then the next day rubbed the whole section down with 500 grit wet & dry before washing it. While that bit was drying off he put the second coat on the previous section… at which point the grass-cutting contractors turned up. On seeing the paint tins, they kindly avoided using their strimmers or leaf-blower right outside the boat, so we got away with minor collateral damage. After they'd gone he managed to get a coat of gloss on the solar box section. 
Wooton Rivers locks opened at ten the following morning, so we left Pewsey at about nine, knowing that there would be quite a few of the boats that had gone past over the previous couple of days in front of us. When we got close we tagged onto the back of the queue and gradually made our way forward, trying to hover in the cut while six lockfuls of water came past us.
We were in the seventh locking and there were another three narrowboats behind us.
Because no mooring is allowed on the summit, all those boats went back down the locks the same day; add that to all the boats coming in the other direction and you get over 30 lockfuls of water. That’s a lot of water off the summit.
We, however, weren't going over the summit. We moored up on the visitor moorings above the first lock having assured the lock keeper that we wouldn’t be moving till Thursday and that we were perfectly happy that the water levels might go down. In the afternoon we went for a walk up to Burbage wharf and back along a footpath that, despite having a beautiful bench alongside where the dotty line on the map said it should be...
...didn't exist at all. Thankfully it crossed a field that had just been combine harvested... we could actually follow the dotty line, although in the end it defeated us by fizzling out on the edge of a very dense looking maize field. We gave up and went back to the boat along the towpath; another one lost forever.
The forecast changed every time we looked at it the next morning, but in the end Dave threw caution to the winds and put the second coat on the bit under the solar box while Ann-Marie did the washing.
She hung it out just as he finished, then we both waited anxiously to see if the grey clouds that had been present all morning were going to do us in. Later on it did rain but luckily it wasn’t for long and the paint had already got enough of a skin not to be harmed.

That was the day when we found out that our friend Lindsay had also been unwell and was awaiting test results, and that Karen & Andrew had broken down in Slovenia on their way home from the Citroen 2cv world meeting in Croatia. They were coming home on a plane without Karen’s beloved car, which will be returned to her on the back a recovery truck in a couple of weeks.

The next day we set off up the Wootton Rivers flight with Glynn on Nb Mawdlyn. (That’s what we thought, but don’t worry, he’s going to rename it) He turned at Burbage Wharf while we carried on past the restored wharf crane...
...and through the Bruce Tunnel... go down the Crofton flight and moor up opposite the big steam-powered Beam engines.
Because the summit is about four miles long, even 30 lockfuls of water doesn’t reduce the depth all that much. However, once all that water has gone down the flights at either side, it takes an awfully long time for the chain of back pumps that fill the summit from the River Avon to supply enough for it to overflow into the pounds below - one of which we were moored in. To make matters worse, our pound was quite leaky, so over the course of the evening we gradually got lower and lower, until we, and the other 6 boats on our mooring, were sitting on the bottom. We were OK because we’d pushed out onto the gangplanks when we first felt it leaning and were on the flat bit, but others were not so forward thinking and ended up still at the side and quite tilted over. Happily, by the following morning the water had made its way down the by-washes and we were floating enough to pull back to the bank, and by lunch time the pound was back to full.

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