We departed Newbury a few minutes earlier than expected as we noticed a boat coming up in our first lock at 7:50 and felt we should not miss the opportunity of a full lock with open gates.
Walking around yesterday we had spotted a convenient place to top up the diesel and water at Newbury Marina just before bridge 56 and we pulled in there at 8:25. We heard in great detail from the operator how the expanding community of permanent canal residents has been ruining the canal. It all seemed rather harsh given the number of really nice people we have met. We have, mind you, seem some boats we would have classed as uninhabitable! One lady described them as unsanitary.
The waterway became very narrow through the Thatcham Reedbeds widening into the long cut.
We had been warned that the next swing bridge was very heavy but as we approached it was opened by a volunteer.
We then reached the unusual turf lock, Monkey Marsh Lock at Thatcham and there was the same volunteer offering more help.
There are only two of these turf locks in the country and we will see the other one shortly at Garston
We considered stopping at Thatcham but two passing boats said that Woolhampton moorings had emptied out earlier on so we decided to carry on. The Thatcham moorings are right beside the railway and so rather noisy too. We found plenty of space at the visitor moorings and walked up to the village shop. We were provided with a rather fine, heavy duty cotton bag for our provisions. There was a condition attached – we must always carry the bag with the picture of the shop and its name visible to passers by!
In the evening we had the pleasure of seeing a moorhen feeding her young.
Off again at 8am. It’s become a habit. Same old story of locks against us and just when we thought we had cracked it as a boat came towards us we found the next lock had instructions “please leave this lock empty” so we were out of luck again. Several of the locks looked in rather poor repair, had large gaps between the gates and significant leakage.
It was a rather dull day but very enjoyable. There was a fresh smell in the air, the birds were sounding cheerful, there was hardly anybody else around and we could potter along in the middle of the canal.
Much of the towpath was damp, muddy and gritty. This made our ropes a bit messy and necessitated a complete wash down of Oliver’s roof after we arrived in Newbury.
We reached Newbury just after 12:00 considered mooring above the electric powered swing bridge but found some better moorings just below it so settled on the latter.
We attended to our on board duties, had a snack lunch and then a wander around the town which we found quite attractive and full of useful shops. The canal really does run right through the centre and has parts of the river joining it here and there.
We enjoyed minted lamb steaks on board for dinner tonight.
Leaving early has definitely paid off when it comes to finding mooring so we left Hungerford at 8 am. We seemed to have rather bad luck with the locks being against us most of the time. Romy did get some help from one of the grass cutters at the second lock which was nice but the grass cuttings over Oliver were appreciated a little less! It was a short but enjoyable journey to Kintbury. This rather grand looking house is the first thing we saw as we entered Kintbury. We discovered that it is owned by the author Robert Harris.
We found another good spot on the visitor moorings but Peter decided to cycle down to “The Wilderness” to check if there was anything better near there. There wasn’t so we stayed put. He did however manage to find a good selection of wild flowers and presented Romy with a bouquet.
By evening all the moorings were full.
We had thought we would eat in tonight but remembering the stories about the pizzas at the Blue Ball we weakened. What a good choice that turned out to be. We armed ourselves with umbrellas as we braved our first rain and walked to the pub. We had great pizzas and some interesting conversations with two live-aboards, who were moored near us, and the landlord.
We also spotted the similarity in the painted design on Oliver’s bow and the boat facing us at Kintbury.
We spent a lazy day relaxing in Hungerford. We did some laundry – well actually someone else did it for us while we did our shopping, had our lunch and enjoyed ourselves.
Another coincidence today. While we were sitting watching the world go by The Stoker came and moored in front of us so we had a nice chat with Tim and Chris. They told us that Sarah was an enthusiastic early riser while Toby remained in bed. We were amazed.
We also had a relaxing evening eating out at the John O’Gaunt Inn, a 16C pub and microbrewery. We economised on desert by having raspberries and cream with madeleines back on Oliver. Must be time for a rest now.
There was a little light drizzle when we tackled our first lock this morning as we left Crofton just after 8 am. We went through 6 locks before finding one set in our favour and only saw 3 boats travelling in the opposite direction all day.
As we looked back we could see the pumping station billowing large volumes of smoke as it prepared for another day of steaming.
We noticed quite a few of the locks leaking through the top or bottom gates and sometimes both. Perhaps that was contributing to yesterday’s low water at Crofton? Some of the gates were also pretty heavy on this section. Between locks 70 and 71 we crossed from Wiltshire to Berkshire.
Hungerford Marsh Lock was particularly interesting as there is a swing bridge across the middle of the lock. The bridge had to be moved before we could enter the lock but could be closed as the water went down before we had actually left the lock. A rather unusual arrangement that made for a fun picture.
There were a few short showers as we made our way towards Hungerford but the weather was generally very good with a fairly strong breeze particularly in the afternoon.
We saw several Red Kites circling overhead but none that came close enough for a decent picture.
Just after arriving in Hungerford we met Jan and Steve who had been advised by their friends Jane and Richard from Casual Water to look out for Oliver on their way to Bristol. Purely by chance we moored just in front of them before lock 74.
In the evening we had a short walk around the town to see if we could find laundry facilities and a suitable establishment for two deserving pensioners for a Monday evening dinner. We found one of the most interesting antique emporiums we have ever seen. The copper jelly moulds were amazing but at £250 a trifle expensive.
We stayed on our mooring at Crofton all day today and spent three hours or so at the pumping station. We had super large pasties in their café but they were close to vegetarian versions. It was a really interesting visit especially for an engineer (retired) and Romy found lots of things to learn. We were lucky to be here on a weekend when the boilers were fired up and the engines running. Lots of photo opportunities, only a small selection below! I also took some video on the GoPro.
It was a good day to sit in one place as there were a few showers in the morning and again in the evening.
The above picture was taken from between the beams of the engine looking down onto the piston.
In the evening our main entertainment was the Canada Geese who came to sample the drops wrung out of our washing.
We did not tell them we are having duck for dinner.
We were still on the long pound (nothing to do with Brexit) in the early morning and enjoying the countryside. We didn’t experience any problems with the water level but we hadn’t seen any other boats and were able to stay in the middle all the time. It also meant we were on our own in all the locks which were sometimes quite hard work. Lock 54 has a somewhat scary reputation and we approached it with care but it treated us very kindly. Soon after we saw the last remaining timber wharf-side crane at Burbage Wharf.
Through the Bruce tunnel and we were on the summit where we spotted a Red Kite. Unfortunately the picture won’t win any prizes.
The procedure at the locks was just about to change as lock 102 became our first descent.
We were also on our own though the next four locks only being joined by another boat at lock 60. We were pleased to get a mooring opposite the Crofton Pumping Station but slightly perturbed when the water level dropped and we stopped floating! The level rose again after a couple of hours and all was well.
We had another good country walk to Wilton Windmill and admired the pretty village, very picture postcard looking.
Needing some shopping we decided to moor up at Pewsey this evening. We set off at 8:50 and had a delightfully leisurely day with no locks and some lovely scenery. At the start of the long pound it almost seemed like being in the fens but later in the day we were in much more open countryside.
We stopped at Honeystreet and had a short walk to St Mary’s Saxon Church at Alton Barnes. It was a lovely church but the Whistler windows were a bit disappointing, very small and quite hard to see.
Honey street Wharf was also a bit of a let down. The advertised chandlery was “work in progress” ie not built yet and the pump out not available as “he was taking the dog for a walk”.
We eventually used the self operated pump out in Pewsey, immediately after bridge 114, not before it as shown in Pearson. The visitor moorings were full so we kept going and found a pleasant spot after bridge 113.
In the evening we walked into Pewsey along some pretty country tracks to shop at the co-op. We followed this with a very good meal at the Tale of Spice Indian restaurant.
Yesterday evening after completing the blog entry I took some more pictures with the Drone.
As we were going up the locks with another boat “Mottled Weaver” Romy thought it would be a good day for her to take over lock duties.
At first she seemed a bit puzzled but then decided on a suitable pose before realising that opening gates was actually pretty hard work. In truth she did a fantastic job along with Barbara and Anna while the two Peters steered, entered and left the locks in a very professional style side by side. The first 16 locks we managed in 2 hours 15 minutes and the 22 locks from 29 to 50 in 3 hours 30 minutes.
We decided that it would be good day to stop early in an out of town location and were lucky enough to spot a lovely shady spot under an ash tree just past the winding hole after bridge 136.
Not taken into account at the time but quickly appreciated was the close proximity to the Hour Glass.
Another early start 6:25 and we were off and up the first of many locks.
At Semington we met up with Colin and his boat Hobo Diddly who provided company through the next seven locks.
We moored just after the Sells Green moorings and out came the folding bike. Peter rode down to lock 29 to check out the possibilities for mooring and they looked promising so we decided to tackle the next set of locks.
En route we spied Toby and Sarah’s Caen friends in The Stoker. We also noticed an unusual request.
There was some interesting flora such as mallow and meadow sweet along the banks and when we arrived at our destination some lovely white water lilies.
We finally arrived at around 15:30 at the extremely pleasant moorings between locks 28 and 29 at where there is room for three boats. There was only one other boat there and we were able to choose a blissfully shady spot. At nine hours, including the bike recce, it was a longer day than most for us but it did involve 15 locks and several swing bridges. Swing bridge number 156 was, in my view, of very doubtful parentage and I struggled mightily to get it moving.