Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Cruising down the Kennet and Avon Canal in a Narrowboat.

Hello again!It is blogging time now that I am back where signals are strong. Over the last two weeks I, with O.H. and two younger members of the family, took possession of a narrowboat. Why? Why, you ask, would a middle-aged couple want to spend two weeks in cramped and confined conditions? Yes the boat had all mod cons,(we knew that from our last canal holiday many years ago when the children were small) and this is the nub of the matter.
After such a good relaxing time, we have said for years that we should do it again. In 2007 when we were on the Gold Wing, we visited Trebes near Carcasonne in the south of France. 
      'We must do that again', we told each other. 
Visiting Grindley Brook staircase locks near where we live, once again we dreamt of a canal holiday. But, not being 21 anymore and having certain restrictions we called on the help of the younger generation.
Choosing a layout for comfort and relaxation - we have done the 'pack as many berths in as you can' bit -  we collected our boat from its mooring in the ancient and historic city of Bath; stored our luggage, bicycle, dog and ourselves; listened to the handover instructions and set off.
The Kennet and Avon canal joins the River Avon at Bath and runs in a line across southern England to meet the River Thames at Reading.      
We knew that the countryside would be interesting and knew about the flight of locks at Devizes. However nothing prepared us for the absolute seclusion, peace, beauty, nature and subsequent adventures!
Meandering across to Bradford on Avon we faced our first lock. Not bad. We were going up. At Foxhangers we encountered a few more. A bit more work and I insisted on trying my hand with the paddles and gates. Quite a lot more work!          

Then, after seven locks we came to the Caen Hill bottom lock on the Devizes flight. O.H., who was guiding the boat with the tiller and clutch, felt his heart drop when he saw the sixteen locks ahead. We moored for the night, ready for an early start in the morning. Actually it was quite fun rising up in the water and reaching the top, we only had another six  to go before mooring in Devizes at the back of the town. Over the next few days we meandered along, stopping at will, taking into account pumping out (sewage) and water pick-up points. We managed some wonderful meals at excellent waterfront pubs. Halfway across, after the famous White Horse carved into the hillside, Horton, Honeystreet, the Saxon town of Pewsey, and beyond, we turned round to head back to base. 
I am not a dog lover (being bitten as a child) but found myself not only talking to Holly but actually stroking her. 
The locks on the way down were another matter altogether. They are scary!   Yes, we had to tackle the Devizes flight again. It was pouring with rain and we were the only boat not moored up. They all had more sense! However, this gave us a clear run as there was no-one coming up and, reaching the first one out of Devizes, we followed all instructions i.e. make sure the boat is far enough forward  to keep clear of the cill at the bottom of the doors, otherwise the boat would get caught and tip up forward - contents with it! The advice was to use a rope to stop the boat being thrown about as the water went down.
Disaster struck! Somehow the boat wedged on a bit of wall sticking out at the side at the top of the lock. It tipped. O.H. thought his day had come. I was at the front and      
    'Ahhhgh!' I went.
    'Back, back,' O.H. yelled. 'Close the paddles! Wind back!' 
Frantically, our two lock workers re-wound the paddles , bringing the ratchets down. The boat righted, the dog shot out of the door at the back in terror, my heart was banging and thankfully O.H's didn't fail altogether. It would have been a long way down if we had tipped right over.
Our nominated skipper decided that from now on we would not use the ropes but that I, from my position at the front with the mooring rope, would use the barge pole to keep the boat off the walls.
This worked a treat and from now on that is what we did, working in two teams, I with O.H. and the younger members on the lock gates with us all taking instruction from 'Skipper'.
Checking the cabin when we got through the lock and moored up, we found chaos! there was all sorts on the floor. Things had been flung about and the poor dog was terrified. She hadn't been herself in the morning and I think she must have know that there was an impending disaster.
How many lives did we use up? Quite a few I imagine!
As I stood at the prow of the boat with my barge pole upright in my hands as I waited for the next lock, I felt as the Vikings must have done when they approached in their longboats to the land they were going to conquer. (They didn't have signals either for TV,radio,Wi-fi or mobile phones.)

There were more adventures but these only added to the mix of sunshine, stiff breezes, lily pads coming into bloom, kestrels and herons along the waterfront along with kingfishers and dragonflies. Not forgetting the hungry ducks and cheeky swans. I grew up by the canal and most days had to brave walking past swans on the banking, giving a wide berth as they stretched their magnificent and powerful wings. It is amazing how many people actually live on the canals. We saw someone doing their washing. His washing equipment on the tow-path was a dolly tub, scrubbing or washboard and posser. He was only missing the mangles so had to wring out by hand. My mum used a dolly tub until I was grown up and wash day was quite an operation I can tell you.

 Rosalie xx