Indigo Dreaming

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Archive for September 25th, 2008

The Odyssey Summer 2008 – Day 42

Posted by indigodream on 25 September, 2008

Bridge 73 (below Kintbury) to Woolhampton (just below the swingbridge)

Copse Lock - "The woods are lovely, dark and deep..." Robert Frost

Copse Lock - "The woods are lovely, dark and deep.." (Robert Frost)

As expected, we had a quiet night at our countryside mooring and woke to a beautiful autumn morning – crisp and sunny with a faint mist over the water. I took the dogs out to the field and once again they enjoyed an ecstatic run. I do love it here and wish we could have stayed longer. I’d have been quite happy to have a few days here just enjoying the peace and watching the dogs having fun. But Richard was quietly grumbling about ‘no pubs’ and we were still out to beat the stoppages so we reluctantly (for my part) moved on.

We saw a fair few boats today – it was a lovely day and we found out later that virtually all the boaters from Newbury were taking advantage of the weather and heading up the canal for the day. Richard was struck by nb Lazy Daisy enjoying the view

Lazy Daisy enjoying the morning

Lazy Daisy enjoying the morning

below Copse Lock and I liked nb “Yes Dear” – the man at the helm didn’t look the least bit henpecked – honest!

Because we came this way last year we had the benefit or remembering previous doggie misdemeanours. At Dreweat’s lock we were careful not to let them into the adjacent field – the farmer warned us last year that he’d set snares there. Maybe that was just a story to keep the dogs out of his pasture (there weren’t any animals and it’s open to the canal) – I thought that snares were illegal. At the appropriately named Copse Lock, which is deeply shaded to the point of spookiness, they were confined because last year they managed a devious escape through the canalside fence onto a bit of marshland. Having got through the fence they couldn’t find their way back – it took some time to recover them. Blue and Lou are definitely waiting for us to develop dementia so that we can forget these inconvenient details 🙂

What a view....

What a view....

I saw a heavy bodied bird of prey gliding low over a field near Benham lock (No. 82) – it took me a moment to realise that it was a Tawny owl. They’re so BIG – I hadn’t realised.

The next bit of interest was Newbury. Again, we’ve stopped here before and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a buzzing market town with a useful park below Newbury Lock (by Victoria Bridge). There are 24 hour moorings between the West Mills swingbridge and Newbury Lock. They’ve always been jam-packed when we’ve been through before but today they were empty. We took advantage and moored up – there’s bit of greenery by the moorings – quite secure as its bordered by the river so dogs could have a mini-rummage here. The reason for our uncharacteristic stop in Newbury was a dreadful event – we’d RUN OUT OF DOG FOOD!

We were going to grab a sarnie from Tesco but we were seduced by the smells coming from the canalside pub “Lock, stock and barrel”. It’s a dog-friendly pub – the garden was full so we went inside where Blue and Lou stretched out for a kip on a rug and we had a splendid lunch. Coincidentally we sat at a table next to a young couple who owned a share in a racing greyhound – Dalcash Taxie – currently racing well in Oxford (apart from a bout of tendonitis at the moment). We asked straight away what was going to happen to the dog when he retired and the young man reassured us that one of the owners was going to keep him at home. Once we’d cleared that up we spent the rest of the time happily talking greyhounds.

There was a live jazz band at the pub but we didn’t stay to listen for long. Lou took great exception to the trombone – she was very disturbed by the slide (bit that extends) so we headed into the high street. What struck me was the sheer number of dogs being walked along the shopping street (pedestrianised). Newbury has to be the most dog-friendly town we’ve ever visited (not inside the shops mind – they’re not that continental yet). As always, the greyhounds were very good in a crowd and drew lots of attention from passers-by.

A woman and her two young children grinned widely at the boat between the rails of Newbury Bridge – Richard got some good photos and promised to put them on the BLOG for her but something’s gone wrong with the memory card. We’re missing a few classic photos so there’s won’t be quite so many today and tomorrow.

When we got back to the boat (much) later we immediatly looked up Dalcash Taxie on www.greyhound-data.com. We’re such anoraks – Blue’s gradfather was Dalcash Taxie’s great great grandfather and in common with many dogs, they share an ancestor in a dog called “I’m slippy”!

We headed out of Newbury, mindful of the tricky flows below the lock. They’re ok if you know they’re there – do a recce before you pas through if you can. Catching the landing stage to pick up your crew can be tricky when there’s a lot of water coming off the river.

Monkey Marsh Lock

Monkey Marsh Lock

Monkey Marsh lock (No. 90) is worth a mention as it is one of only two turf-sided locks left in existence and is apparently listed as an ancient monument. I’m a bit of a heathen when it comes to this sort of thing – just as well I’m not in charge of English Heritage because i don’t see the appeal of this lock. The bottom two-thirds is lined with planks and the top third widens to a muddy bank with a bit of soggy greenery on the top. Because of this widening the lock takes ages to fill though the boat is reassuringly held in the main chamber by steel piles.

We came across some locks in sorry need of maintenance on the next stretch. Lock 91 was down to one paddle – Richard’s pretty sure that this paddle was broken this time last year! Lock 92 has to be on a winter maintenance schedule soon – there are gaping holes in the bottom gate. Lock 93 also had a broken paddle – we would have let BW know but the whole gate’s scheduled for replacement this winter so they must be aware of the problem. There were signs of crude and hasty patching on many of the lock gates and most of the paddle gear looked rusty and unlubricated. My guess is that cruising the K & A might be severely limited by this year’s stoppages – that’s the main problem with a heavily locked section.

Our musings on this sad state of repair was interrupted by thoughts on where we were going to moor for the night. It was late Sunday afternoon and there were benefits to trying to get through Woolhampton and Aldermaston so we wouldn’t have to swing/lift the bridges in the Monday rush hour. In the end we compromised – we’d go through Woolhampton then review the situation.

Now I HATE Woolhampton – it’s such a badly designed bit of water that throws every sort of trickiness for the unwary boater. It’s no better if you’re the ground crew as you have to set the bridge (coming downstream) before the boat leaves the lock and I get bothered by the irate drivers sitting impatiently waiting for this mythical boat to appear. Richard, meanwhile, thinks that Woolhampton is a splendid adventure!

Here’s the trickiness going down – there a lively flow of water (even when the river’s low) from the right which pushes your boat to the wrong side of the canal towards a very inconveniently moored narrowboat bristling with big rubber tyre fenders. But you can’t compensate by steering to the right because there’s a big sandbank there and it’s easy to get stuck. The flow sweeps you towards the swingbridge at speed – unfortunate as the bridge crosses the water on the skew, just as you think you are lined up right you find yourself drifting towards the right bridge abutment. It is at a very awkward angle for boats coming downstream but nothing that can’t be solved with a bit more gas. Finally, the flow is so strong below the bridge and you have hit the gas so you have a fair turn of speed but you have to get to the landing stage to pick your crew up. So steer hard right, then hard left to start the boat swinging, hit reverse and quickly snag your STERN rope on a bollard. If you get the timing right the boat swings in nicely for a parallel mooring and stops just by the bollard. I let Richard drive this bit!

My worst bit as ground crew has been changed though. The controls of the swingbridge used to be really awkward. You had to run across the bridge to manually extend the barrier then run back to do the barrier on this side. The trouble was that if the barrier wasn’t absolutely in the right place then the rest of the electrics wouldn’t work – I’ve had such trouble with those barriers. But HALLELUJA, the controls have been replaced with a simple, one-button to open and one-button to close panel whioch does the barriers for you. This saved me a lot of stress and I started to feel a little better inclined towards Woolhampton! I was so elated I actually managed to leave my fine Dunton aluminium windlass here (didn’t realise ’til Aldermaston the folliowing day) – what a pain!

Our passage through Woolhampton was witnessed by three delighted South Africans who were awed and amazed by the whole process – from simply lifting a padde right through to swinging the bridge. It was nice to have such an appreciative audience.

By this time it was getting dark and we decided to moor up just past Woolhampton Bridge. A boater passing upstream had told us that there was a good dog walking field adjacent to this stretch. Incidentally this boater was also a veteran of the tidal Severn!

It’s tricky mooring in the flow – we needed to keep the engine in tickover reverse just to keep her still enough to get Richard to the bank. But the river’s shallow so once the back grounded we were stable! Still, we used double springs at bow and stern to keep us steady (and to allow for changes in river levels). Sadly there was no access to the fields so we took an evening walk along the slightly creepy towpath instead. Dogs didn’t seem to mind, they’d had such a stimulating day that they hadn’t got much energy left.

I was a bit worried about being so close to the road in Woolhampton – not from a dog point of view but from a ‘youth’ point of view. The river sections of the K & A are not good places to be set adrift. I needn’t have worried – we had a quiet night and the boat was absolutely fine.

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