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.

Pangbourne to Sutton Courtenay. River Thames.

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