A Travellerspoint blog

Wet in Bath

Wren reached the historic and very beautiful city of Bath on Wednesday 29 June at about 3pm. The relief crew from Bristol had left on Tuesday in order to return to work having done more than their duty on Caen Hill Locks at Devizes - 30 locks and 2 swing bridges. In two of the locks Wren was joined by an adventurous family of swans which was a little worrying but they all survived the experience. As Wren descended the flight the Views were magnificent with Red Kites soaring overhead in the rising thermals.
After Devizes the canal began to get much busier, mainly with hire boats, so there were some short hold ups and a few strange manouvres but it all added to the entertainment. Wren and the boat Slow and Easy - they'd met previously on the Grand Union - were reunited briefly on this stretch as the canal meandered through lush farmland with Salisbury Plain in the distance. But Slow and Easy had almost reached her destination while Wren still had a long way to go.
The weather on Tuesday started out bright and sunny but as the day progressed the grey clouds gathered and as Bradford on Avon was approached it began raining steadily so a suitable but strangely perfumed mooring was secured near the town. (The perfume originated in a cosmetic packaging warehouse next to the canal). The crew then explored the nearby massive Tithe Barn and a little bit of the town before Jess and Al had to pack up and hop on the train back to Bristol. Then Peter discovered a folk session was taking place in a local pub so off he went with his uke and melodeon while Claire decided to have a quiet night in and lit the stove for the first time on the trip - it was very cozy!
The rain continued overnight and most of today - at least it paused about 5pm - but the journey continued without incident into Bath over two splendid aqueducts, the Avoncliffe and the Dundas, and through some lovely wooded countryside. The only drama was the sight of a half submerged narrow boat - it was one that passed Wren on Tuesday - how unfortunate. And, like yesterday, a lot of hire boats.
It's now 6.30 and time to go and look for some food and beer and it's just started raining again!

Posted by peterandclaire 11:50 Comments (0)

Slowing down on the Kennett and Avon

Currents, weirs, locks and swing bridges

The K&A as it's known, is part river and part canal and it stretches from Reading to Avonmouth for about 100 miles long with 104 locks. For the first 25 miles it is more like a river with strong currents, powerful weirs and tree lined banks, and, perhaps because of this, many of the locks are variable in design and in the level of difficulty. Some are shallow and relatively gentle while others are very deep with a ferocious flow of water and with a variety of paddle designs. Two of the locks are known as turf locks - they look like muddy river banks with metal walkways and another two are brick lined with scalloped edges. As well as the locks there are also about 14 swing bridges most of which are manually operated and require a fair amount of muscle to shift them. Luckily these seem to become less frequent as the canal moves westwards.
The K&A climbs slowly up out of Berkshire and into the rolling hills of Wiltshire and, as in other areas, it shares its route with the railway which in this case are the fast expresses of First Great Western rather than Virgin trains that howl past on the Grand Union. It's actually not too intrusive and in fact it can be an advantage when a change of crew is expected as it's usually a short walk from the station to the mooring. This was the case at Hungerford where Ship's Engineer Peter was leaving for another musical engagement in Ellesmere and the Bristol relief crew (Jess and Al) were replacing him for a gew days before Peter returned and together they would descend the renowned Caen Hill flight at Devizes.

Posted by peterandclaire 11:24 Comments (0)

Black Swans at Reading

Wren arrived in Reading on Monday evening and awaiting her arrival were crowds of swans but, in particular, a number of photogenic Black Swans and this morning a couple of them came visiting. I'm not sure if it's our age and perhaps the name of the boat but we do seem to take a lot more notice of the birds that fly, hover, soar and swim around us while we're moving sedately along the waterways.
We've discovered why Common Terns are called common - these small elegant birds really are plentiful in these southern counties. Then, as we progressed into London we heard and saw flocks and flocks of parakeets, which we initially thought were parrots. We also noticed that there were many different varieties of waterfowl, particularly in the parks, for instance, the rather attractive Egyptian Goose. In the last couple of days as we've moved out of London and into the more rural areas of Berkshire and Buckingshire we've seen lots of Red Kites soaring overhead as well as the more familiar Buzzards and I'm pretty sure I saw my first Kingfisher on Saturday - these can be quite a regular sight on the Llangollen Canal but not so far on this trip. And then of course there are the Canada Geese and the Coots that seem to thrive everywhere. As we travelled further West I was very glad to see the back of the giant jets going in and out of Heathrow - why does the Queen allow those beasts over Windsor?
Father's Day on the Thames was a bit manic - lots of big plastic gin palaces, some rather smart launches with professional helmsmen and quite a few day, or should I say, booze boats and all of them, including Wren had to wait in the lock queue - in one there were seven different types of boat. We also had to navigate our way through a sailing club race and witnessed a rather dramatic capsize.
By Sunday evening we reached Marlow, an attractive and affluent town where provisions were purchased and a Father's Day dinner was enjoyed. However, on Monday morning the weather turned very damp but we battled on regardless of the personal discomfort. Henley was the chosen stop for lunch where preparations were under way for the forthcoming regatta - muscular rowers everywhere. Luckily the rain stopped after lunch so we took the opportunity to stretch out legs for an hour or so before continuing on the final part of the Thames to Reading where Wren and her crew will progress up the Kennett and Avon Canal.

Posted by peterandclaire 03:10 Comments (0)

Heading to Limehouse

Travelling along the canal from Paddington to Limehouse is probably only about 10 miles but on a narrow boat like Wren it was pretty much a day's journey and very interesting journey it was too. It started with the Regent's Canal, through the relatively short Maida Vale Tunnel and then right through the middle of London Zoo before reaching the first locks for about 30 miles at Camden. The canal skirts round the back of St Pancras station and like many other parts of London there is a huge amount of redevelopment going on in this area - old gasometers are being converted into desirable apartments and just opposite these towering constructions there is a 200 year old lock and a small boat club where Wren topped up with some fuel. After that there was the Islington tunnel and on the other end of that the canal continued through the east end.
Approaching Hackney Peter decided it was time for a swim so off he went in search out the London Fields Lido, a 50 meter outdoor pool. Meanwhile Wren and Claire chugged slowly on through two more locks, at one of which there were some helpful volunteers. Along the way there were some lovely parks and some not so lovely blocks of flats.
Limehouse Basin, the last mooring before the Thames Lock, was reached about 5pm - another relatively peaceful spot with the towers of Canary Wharf just beyond and the trains on the Docklands Light Railway passing by every couple of minutes. This was the end of the Grand Union Canal and the beginning of the scary bit of the trip, the mighty Thames. The passage onto the river was booked for 8am on Thursday morning so until then there were two priorities; a launderette and some refreshment. However, only the second of these was successful as the launderette was just closing so the smalls had to be washed on board. However, some very pleasant refreshment was taken in The Grapes, a historic pub owned by Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf's staff was in pride of place behind the bar). Then it was a final stroll around the marina before bed.

Posted by peterandclaire 03:03 Comments (0)

Cycling in the rain

Tuesday 14 June was a day of rest in for Wren at her moorings in Paddington but not for the crew who planned to do a bit of exploring on their bikes once the first shower had passed by. The trip began around the quieter streets south of Paddington and into Hyde Park where, unbelievably, there was a traffic jam (of cars). While trying to avoid the blockage the attention of the cycling duo was grabbed by an amazing structure outside the Serpentine Gallery - it must have been about 50 feet high and was made from hollow rectangular boxes made from fibreglass - a really impressive architectural sculpture which luckily also provided some shelter from the increasingly persistent rain.
Moving on from there the intrepid, and slightly damp, cyclists crossed over the Thames following one of the Cyclist's Super Highways into the very genteel environs of Dulwich for a dose of fine art at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, apparently the first purpose built art gallery in the country. Having spent an hour or two browsing the old masters it was then just a short ride up Denmark Hill into Peckham to visit cycling pal Nat for a very welcome cup of tea. A little later Nat's children, Eva (6) and Owen (18 months) insisted that everyone needed a quick beer in the Ivy House, a community owned and run pub with very fine beer and a colourful musical history judging from the photos of past performers (Van Morrison, Dr Feelgood etc). And of course after the beer it was bed for the children and a take away curry for the grown ups. But by now it was 9pm and time for Peter and Claire to try and find their way back past Peckham Library, down back streets, across parks (where there was a woman feeding a fox), over Westminster Bridge with Big Ben striking 10pm and right across the front of Buckingham Palace and back to Wren's moorings. A masterpiece of navigation by Peter.

Posted by peterandclaire 02:58 Comments (0)

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