Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Life as continuous cruisers

Logistics

We gave up our moorings at Newbury on October 1st 2011 and started continuously cruising.  As we were both working this generally meant every other weekend was spent like this:
  • Friday evening - drive to boat and visit pub
  • Saturday - cruise to next place where boat could be left for two weeks
  • Sunday - walk back to get car and drive home
Deciding where to leave the boat entailed using a map to find a likely spot near a road bridge and a pub (for that Friday drink).  Then a look at the satellite view on a PC to make sure there would be places to park the car and moor the boat.
The only drawback to this approach was that we had to cruise on a Saturday whatever the weather.  But providing we were dressed for the occasion it didn’t matter, especially if we had the slow cooker going for an evening meal.  Sometimes it meant cycling or walking back to the car in the rain.  I remember one day when we cycled and the bikes were absolutely filthy so I dunked them in the canal before putting them in the car.  A lady walking her dog said she wasn’t surprised that I found bikes in the canal but wondered how I knew they were there!

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Off to Reading

We fancied going to visit Oxford so we headed east to the end of the Kennet & Avon canal (the K&A) at Reading where we could then pick up the Thames to Oxford. 

On the way down to Reading we went through Monkey Marsh lock which is one of only two turf sided locks in the country.  A guy in an old suit walks from Thatcham to this lock nearly every day and sits inside a pill box next to the lock until a boat comes along (The K&A has pill boxes along its length - no idea why we thought the invading Germans would use a canal).  When a boat comes the guy gets out of the box to operate the lock.  I never managed to get him to talk but he obviously feels the lock is his - we refer to him as Monkey Marsh Man.

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The K&A cuts through the centre of the Oracle shopping centre in Reading but they have not made much of it.  Unlike Birmingham and other towns you are not allowed to moor up and the canal is very much kept at arms length.  It even has traffic lights to enforce one way traffic through the centre.

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The Thames & Oxford

Our canal licence doesn’t cover us for using the Thames so there is a daily charge to use the river. The charge varies according to the length of the boat and as it was going to cost us £40 a day we didn’t really want to hang around for long.

It was quite an experience going on the Thames.  The locks were operated by lock keepers and they directed the boats into the locks which are large and can accommodate far more boats than canal locks.  It was fun sharing locks with the plastic gin palaces - just looking at their faces, frightened our big steel boat would crush them, was entertaining.  The locks all had well tended gardens and the lock keepers were very friendly.  Unfortunately, in 2013, the Environment Agency announced that they were to make the majority of the lock keepers redundant and replace them with voluntary staff.  

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We turned right off the Thames at Oxford to go down a narrow cut to the Oxford canal.  On the cut we passed an old railway swing bridge - health and safety wouldn’t allow such a thing these days.  Around a tight left hand bend we saw the entrance to the Oxford, the first lock and how narrow it seemed compared with the Thames’ locks.  We left the boat in Jericho for a couple of weeks and spent time visiting Oxford.  Lauren was studying at Oxford Brookes at the time and working in Boswell’s.  Like a lot of towns many people are not aware there is a canal passing through; the Oxford canal starts at the back of the rail station and runs north through Jericho.  It is our favourite canal to date, the single width locks mean there are no wide craft and it passes some really rural areas on its way to Coventry.

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We then decided we would like to get down to Bristol and up the river Severn to Gloucester before the end of the summer so we headed back south to Reading to travel the length of the Kennet & Avon to Bristol.

Back to Reading and west to Devizes (Queen’s Diamond Jubilee)

On our way back to Reading we saw that preparations had already started for Reading festival even though it was only April.

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On our way through Hungerford we spent some time with our friends Sharon and Simon who were helping out on the annual Devizes to Westminster canoe race.  Here they are with their son, Robin, who is in the back. 

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At the summit of the K&A is Bruce’s tunnel, our first canal tunnel.  The shot taken inside was with a flash so it’s not really that bright - the light from the headlight can be seen at the front. 

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As it was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee we cut out cloth triangles and Karen painstakingly sewed them to form a 150’ long bunting to adorn the boat. 

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This was about the time we got to Devizes and its famous Caen Hill locks; 29 in two miles with 16 in close succession.  It takes a good few hours to do these and fortunately Karen had Jo to help her as we locked down.  Jo looked like she needed that mug of tea I had made her as we neared the bottom.

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Next we headed for Bath on our way to Bristol…

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