Friday, January 01, 2010

Eastward Bound!

Heading back from Bath again, we aimed to stop at Dundas aqueduct again but, before we got there, we found ourselves in a traffic jam! It didn't last long, but it's not that common a sight to see two wide-beam boats almost blocking the canal, so here it is. Wide-beam boats (over 6'10" wide) can't go on the narrow canals as the locks are only just wide enough for a single narrowboat, but here on the K & A there are quite a number. Nice big accommodation inside, but they can't travel the whole network like we can!

Then, when we got to Dundas, we found the whole basin and surrounding area absolutely choc-a-bloc with moored boats, so we moved on and moored at Avoncliff instead. We wanted to be there for Sunday lunch at the Cross Guns, anyway. We had eaten there at least twice before, but years ago. We were not disappointed this time, either. Good food and LOTS of it – apparently not many people manage to clear their plates, but we did, just!

As we came through Dundas on the Saturday, we had another interesting development – a phone call from the battery people! As we had provided all the information they needed to replace the batteries (as far as we knew), and had heard nothing back, Dave had been writing e-mails from time to time, describing our dire situation with no power, heating or refrigeration and urging them to get moving.

This phone call was their reaction! A very gruff voice told Dave that they were getting 'very fed up' with all the details of our life story, and they needed warranty paperwork before they could do anything. We had already told them that the details could be provided by Classic Narrowboats, and had suggested that they check with them. Evidently they hadn't read our e-mails properly! At the mention of Classic, the tone changed completely. Friendly and helpful, first name terms! If Classic could fax the details through on Monday, we could have new batteries on Tuesday. WOW! Progress! Dave e-mailed Classic and asked them to do it on Monday.

Meanwhile, the field path between Avoncliff and Bradford revealed yet more spindle berries (sorry, are you getting fed up with these?) and the old Packhorse Bridge at Bradford-on-Avon showed that the Avon was still flowing pretty strongly.

We needed to continue heading eastwards, so we chugged on from Bradford and through Hilperton towards Semington.

On the way, we saw another not-so-timid kingfisher who allowed us to get this photo before he flew away. Is it our imagination, or are the kingfishers on the Kennet and Avon just a bit less wary of human company than their cousins on the other canals?

When we arrived at Semington, we found our progress blocked by a team of British Waterways guys working on the bottom lock. Fortunately, the work would only take the rest of that day, but it was completely unscheduled, not on the BW winter stoppages lists, and not even notified to us on the email stoppages update system. We had no choice; we just had to stay there . . .

The next major feature of our journey east was the 29 locks at Devizes, especially the main 16 locks of the Caen Hill flight. We hoped that there might be another boat going up so that we could share locks again, as we did with Tony from Bath on our way down. We got up the bottom 7 (Foxhangers) locks and moored up at the foot of the Caen Hill 16. There was no other boat there, and we hadn't seen any others moving that way, so maybe we would be on our own after all.

The next day dawned cold, icy and wreathed in fog, with Caen Hill disappearing into the mist above us. These teasels, with frosted cobwebs, give you some idea of what the morning was like.

This turned out to be the last photo that Dave took with this camera, as he slipped on the icy edge of the first lock and took an unplanned dip, taking the camera, his new mobile phone and his pocket notepad with him. Dave was fine – a hot shower and a change of clothes, and we could carry on. The camera and phone never worked again, despite many days of drying out. The notepad disappeared without trace, presumably now at the bottom of the lock, only to be discovered when BW next drain the lock – if then!

Having set out at about 10 am, we arrived at the top of the flight of 16 locks in time for lunch at 1:15. Not bad progress, especially allowing about half an hour for unscheduled swimming!

From Devizes, we needed to move on, not least because (at long last!) we were about to have some new replacement batteries delivered. We have done another post about the whole battery saga, so won't go into more detail here – just follow the link. In the end, we arranged to have them delivered at Pewsey Wharf, where we had also fixed to meet up with Dan again. He arrived just as Dave had connected the new batteries.

Dan had some free days and fancied some winter cruising, and soon got into his new role as helmsman. Here he is, with the 17th-century Brimslade Farm behind. We were making our way up the last few locks before we reached the 'summit pound', passed through the short Bruce Tunnel, and started the long descent towards the Thames at Reading.

Meanwhile, the weather was getting increasingly wintry, and there was snow and a little ice as we came down the Crofton locks. At Lock 60, in front of the Pumping Station, Dan and Dave needed all their combined strength to open the top gates, as there was still only one top paddle working and the bottom gates were leaking water OUT faster than the single paddle could let it IN! BW know about it, and hopefully will sort it all out when the flight is closed for maintenance in January. Meanwhile, any single-handed boater passing through is VERY likely to get stuck.

Here we are, chugging along AFTER lock 60, Dan at the helm, Pumping Station as the backdrop and a train on the line next to the canal. We reached Great Bedwyn that evening and enjoyed another excellent meal at the Cross Keys – thanks, Dan!

As we moved on towards Hungerford the next day, the weather got snowier and the forecast was predicting worse to come, especially for the London area. Dan wisely decided to catch a train from Hungerford and successfully got through London before it ground to a halt!

We chugged on, and our progress became crunchier as we encountered more ice . . .

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