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Archive for September 24th, 2008

The Odyssey Summer 2008 – Day 41

Posted by indigodream on 24 September, 2008

Great Bedwyn to just past Kintbury (Bridge 73)

Prop memorabilia!

Prop memorabilia!

I’m pleased to report that the trains didn’t disturb us at all overnight so we can definitely recommend Great Bedwyn as a mooring site!

Our first job was to reverse back to the wharf to fill up with water and get rid of yesterday’s prop memorabilia – a fisherman’s umbrella! Richard nearly caught up with the dogs in the ‘give Sue a nervous breakdown’ stakes having managed on this trip to sprain his ankle, slip and graze his other leg quite spectacularly at a lock and finally stabbing himself with a knife when he was extricating the umbrella from the prop. Just as well I carry a comprehensive mobile ‘man and dog’ pharmacy on board 🙂

As we steadily locked down I started to notice a change in the nature of the canal. There were still

Blue and Lou on the look-out

Blue and Lou on the look-out

plenty of rural landscapes but more frequently doted with larger villages and towns. It felt as if London was reaching out to gently tickle the countryside and wake it up in time for the commute to the big city. This meant a little more vigilance with the dogs, who, as you know, have an absolute talent for running into trouble! If you come this way then watch out for lock 68 – there’s a lane that runs adjacent to the canal – no fencing and just enough cars to make them fast and inattentive – Blue and Lou were firmly secured on board (much whinging ensued!). However just after the lock, the towpath is securely gated so they could have their usual lock-side rummage. Once again, many of the towpaths on this stretch are gated from the

Looking towards Little Bedwyn

Looking towards Little Bedwyn

road – I’m sure that the cyclists will complain but, as owner of two naughty dogs, I was relieved!

The approach to Hungerford is particularly attractive. We like this town and have stopped here on several occasions. The dogs like Hungerford Marsh but we have to watch out for cows and cow pats. The dogs won’t bother cattle (far too big) but why take the risk? However Blue considers cow pats to be the cologne of the gods – smells wonderful, soft textured and spreadable – it’s got it all. Needless to say we don’t share his enthusiasm!

Blue had a lengthy rummage in the field adjacent to Cobbler’s lock – so lengthy, in fact, that we’d moved on to Hungerford Marsh Lock and I’d sent a search party back to find him just as he reappeared. Blue likes to be independent but his preference is

Reflections.....

Reflections.....

to stay withing sight of us – when he has the odd extended rummage I’m never too sure whether he’s thinking “free at last” or “oh no, where have they gone?”. He certainly seemed relieved to see Richard!

Just above Hungerford Marsh lock the canal is very shallow and is a great area for dogs to have a splosh in the cool water. Bearing in mind Blue’s dung fetish he was allowed a paddle on the lead (which almost resulted in me having a paddle as well). Lou had a good splosh – she’s such a good girl (when there’s no other greyhounds and suchlike to chase).

Hungerford Marsh Lock: Don’t forget to swing the bridge over the lock before you move your boat in! Swing bridges this side of the Kennet & Avon seem mostly to have a huge bolt which you tighten or loosen with a quick slap on your windlass. Providing you remember to carry your windlass then it is a lot less fiddle then the padlock system (which needs a BW key).

We stopped for lunch just above Hungerford Lock – there’s good mooring between here and the church. Amazingly there was only 1 boat on the moorings above the lock – where is everybody?

And more views....

And more views....

It’s a little more secure for the dogs here, though for access to town you can’t beat mooring below the lock. There are lots of friendly passers-by so it’s a convivial place for a break. We’ve moored here previously and it was quiet and secure place to spend the night.

With all the locks on this stretch I easily underestimated how long it would take us to get down the canal. I’d had an idea that Hungerford was only round the corner from Great Bedwyn (and so it is by train or car) but it’s a fair few lock miles. With this in mind, our vague target of getting to Newbury was quickly blown out of the water and we aimed for Kintbury instead. A local boat coming up through the locks told Richard that Kintbury was full and recommended that we should try going a bit further and moor above Dreweat’s lock. It’s apparently very charming there with

The approach to Kintbury

The approach to Kintbury

deer coming down to the canal to drink (which would have made Blue and Lou’s day!).

We’d forgotten how nice it was in Kintbury – the approach to the bridge above the lock is so ‘neat’– the houses opposite are so well-maintained and the towpath is positively groomed. This explains why its such a popular mooring spot – that and the water point, pump-out and waste disposal services just above the lock. We toyed with the idea of mooring well back from the lock but thought we’d try somewhere different (we’ve stayed here before).

In the end we split the difference between Kintbury lock and the recommended Dreweats lock. We moored up just before Shepherds Bridge (Bridge 73). The canal is shallow here so it was a ‘plank and machete’ mooring’ (as I like to call them) but this was a truly

Our mooring made vivid by the sunset

Our mooring made vivid by the sunset

wondrous place. It feels so remote it’s hard to believe that there is a village with a train station just a mile away. Although the train line was close, it seemed to lack all power to penetrate the peaceful idyll in which we found ourselves. A few local dog walkers stopped for a chat and they all, without fail, rhapsodised about this little bit of heaven.

This has to be the most perfect dog mooring anywhere on the network. The bridge itself is a footbridge leading over the canal to a footpath across open fields which must each have been 100 acres or more and now dotted with straw bales after the harvest. The greyhounds went ballistic – Lou raced back and forth so joyfully that I laughed with the pleasure of it. Blue was busy rummaging to his heart’s content and I was happy to see that even he couldn’t get into trouble here (unless weeing on a farmer’s straw bales is a cardinal sin!). They spent

Our idyllic mooring....

Our idyllic mooring....

the evening exploring while we enjoyed the sunset’s vivid light-show. The autumn chill finally forced us inside at around 8pm – the dogs went to bed and slept solidly through to the next morning. Always a sign of satisfied dogs; and satisfied dogs, as you know, means satisfied humans and a quiet night was enjoyed by all!

Photoblog:

I can’t resist just putting in a few more photos of the sunset – it really was special here….

The autumn light show

The autumn light show

Blue enjoying the open country

Blue enjoying the open country

Sunset over the straw

Sunset over the fields

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The Odyssey Summer 2008 – Day 40

Posted by indigodream on 24 September, 2008

Horton Bridge to Great Bedwyn

Reporting from the official blog office!

Reporting from the official blog office!

Typical scene from this stretch of the K & A

Typical scene from this stretch of the K & A

Our reward for having a heavy day of locking yesterday was a long lock-free start to the day today. And what a lock-free stretch. The countryside here must count as the most beautiful anywhere. The canal is isolated and feels like the most modern component of a landscape that’s been farmed since the bronze age and before.

We’d had a good night’s sleep at Horton Bridge – the only disturbance was the loud hooting and kee-eek sounds of owls hunting (tawny and barn respectively I think).

The following morning the canal meandered its way through the lovely countryside. The canal is very overgrown here which makes for pretty cruising

Barely room for the boat!

Barely room for the boat!

but rubbish mooring – you’ll need a plank and a machete just about anywhere between here and Honey Street. A bit further down the canal, BW were out with a digger clearing vegetation form the side of the canal. I cheered when I saw them. Plantlife is all well and good but I don’t think we should forget that canals were built by humans for human use!

I have a soft spot for Honey Street – it’s quite lovely and a couple of years ago we were forced to moor here for 5 weeks while my broken shoulder healed. I remember Richard driving me down here and just spending pleasant days resting in the sun (which did help to soothe the pain).

On a different note, the Barge Inn at Honey Street is, apparently, the headquarters of the crop circle fraternity. More importantly for us (and for you probably), is the fact that the pub does good food and is dog-friendly. The moorings here were nigh on deserted today but we’ve been here near the summer solstice before now and it’s been packed! Honey Street also has a distinctive white horse carved into the hill opposite. I’d always assumed that these carvings were very ancient but apparently landowners in the 18th Century were also keen to carve them into the chalk. The hills in Wiltshire are dotted with them and I think the horse in Honey Street is a later version. It’s still a fine thing though and adds a

The white horse of Honey Street

The white horse of Honey Street

little magic to a place that’s already associated with ‘supernatural’ happenings.

The crew of nb Pipe Dream recommended a good stretch of dog-walking just beyond Honey Street between Woodborough Fields Bridge (Br. 122) and Lady’s Bridge (Br.120) and so it proved. Just under a mile of countryside towpath opening out onto broad ploughed fields for dogs to have a thorough rummage. It was a wonderfully warm day, probably the best of the holiday so far, and we had this tranquil canal all to ourselves.
We carried on past Wilcot. Although it looks like one house and a lane, there is another good pub here -The Golden Swan – dog friendly and good pub grub. It’s somewhere that we stopped last year – you’d never know it was there from the water!

Graceful Lady's Bridge

Graceful Lady's Bridge

Pewsey Wharf provided a bit of relief from the endlessly rolling countryside – there’s a useful water point here. The moorings along this stretch can get crowded and it was no different today. We wouldn’t moor here because the road’s quite busy and the crew of Pipe Dream had warned us that Pewsey bridge was quite dangerous.

After many hours we got to Wootton Rivers and the excitement of the last few locks up to the ultimate summit of the K & A. It is stunning here – the locks are so scenic and I got the impression of a locality lavished by the overwhelming love of generations of people who’ve lived and farmed here.

There’s a road by Wootton Rivers bottom lock but once you get to the top of the lock the towpath is

A loved and lovely rural landscape near Wootton Rivers

A loved and lovely rural landscape near Wootton Rivers

gated off from the road and safe for dogs. This ‘gating’ seems to be a feature along most of this stretch and was very welcome with our two reprobates. There’s an open field near Heathey Close Lock which made for superior dog rummaging. We met a 13-year old whippet lurcher here – prancing like a puppy and a joy to see. Lou chased him as usual but he wasn’t having anything to do with her so she soon subsided and ignored him. There was a very low pound between Heathey Close Bridge and Brimslade Lock – we reported it to BW as it was down by about 1 foot. No idea why – there wasn’t anything obvious wrong.

At the summit we kept our eyes open for red kites. We’d been told that they’ve spread out from their colony in Oxfordshire. We did see some magnificent birds of prey circling overhead but I suspect they were buzzards. We did speculate that they might have

A view from the top of the long climb down to the Thames

A view from the top of the long climb down to the Thames

been black kites but they lacked the characteristic forked tail of the red kites. The other common wildlife in this area is horse flies – apparently Burbage Wharf breeds them for the whole country! However, they don’t seem to have migrated through the Bruce Tunnel!

No sooner than we were out of the tunnel than we started the long process of locking down towards the Thames. From this point onwards there’s hardly a lock-free mile! There is good dog-rummaging along the Crofton flight as they can’t get onto a road until quite far down.

This is where Blue won the sympathy vote and a repreive from the threat of going back to Battersea. We met nb Rattling Garland coming up a lock – they had two dogs loose on the towpath. Blue was also out and about minding his own business – he doesn’t pay any attention to other dogs unless they’re greyhounds. Anyway, he must have crossed some invisible territory line as the woman’s border collie cross suddenly launched a vicious attack – Blue was shocked

What a beautiful country we live in.....

What a beautiful country we live in.....

and at first just walked away then had the sense to run back to the boat when the attack got serious. It was only later I noticed that the dog had stripped a bit of skin off his shoulder and left a shallow wound around the size of a 20p piece. Fortunately Lou was in bed during this incident – she’s a bit more forthright with aggressive dogs. I can’t claim any moral high ground as my dogs are so random but I can honestly say that they’ve never bitten anyone or anything on the towpath. I just wish that she’d warned me that her dog was viciously territorial beforehand (rather than after) – I could then have kept Blue further away.

There’s an interesting pump house at Crofton – we’ve always managed to pass through here either a week before or after the open days when they run the big steam pump. We will get to see it one day – it sounds very impressive and the volunteers that keep the place going seem to be a dedicated crew.

But we’re on a mission – we have to get through County Lock in Reading before it closes for a month on 29th September. It was a shame as the K & A is certainly a canal where you could loiter.

Crofton is also a good place to wave at trains. Drivers are great, often playing a tune with their horns. No idea if any passengers see us or wave back as the windows are often coated. When we’re on the train, we always wave back to boats to the amusement of our fellow passengers while we’re secretly thinking ‘b*£$%*^ds out on their boat whilst we are on this train ….’

As the evening drew in we locked our way steadily down to Great Bedwyn. There are useful services at

Another rural scene along the way....

Another rural scene along the way....

the wharf and good moorings just after the Bedwyn Wharf Bridge (Br 95) opposite the train station. Richard consulted last year’s log and reminded me that we’d had a good time in the Cross Keys pub last year. It seems to be a very popular place – very welcoming staff, very good pub food and a lively atmosphere. Dogs came with us, settled onto their sheepskins and dozed the evening away. We were pleased to see that the pub dog – a young boxer, was well and happy. When we came last year he was just a tiny puppy who wasn’t allowed on the pub floor because he hadn’t finished his vaccinations. This year he was prowling hopefully around the tables – there was no chance that Blue and Lou would share their haul of sausages with him though!

We were a bit worried about noise from the train station which is literally a canal width’s away. But we needn’t have worried – either the trains don’t run late or we were just too fast asleep to notice!

Botanical Blog

A change in the landscape - cascades of red berries

A change in the landscape - cascades of red berries

I was musing today at how different the landscape is now to when we first set out the June – the seasons have turned and the riotous blossom has given way to the mellow reds of berries and hips. But the flower show’s not quite over. The cut was livened by drifts of orange flowers which I believe are ‘touch-me-not balsam – a relative of the Indian Balsam. I was impressed, according to my plant book this is rare in Britain but there was plenty of it on this stretch. There were also spots of vivid blue from wild gerarniums (Crane’s bill) – I think this is Marsh Cranesbill but I’m not sure. Richard got some great photos for me – a nice reminder of the summer that’s passed us by this year.

A bee tasting the last of the summer's nectar

A bee tasting the last of the summer's nectar

Touch-me-not balsam

Touch-me-not balsam

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