Saturday, 6 October 2018

Oxford and the Oxford Canal

Wednesday 26th September

We spent the today exploring Oxford, most of our time here was taken up exploring the many colleges. We used to enjoy Morse, the TV series, and its was interesting to see so many of the locations used in the program.
The college buildings are fascinating some of which date back to the 12th century, most are built from the soft light brown limestone, typical of the area, lending a mellowness to the city, in the autumn sunshine.


We would have liked to explore further but we had Scruff with us, the academic world doesn't seem particularly dog friendly!
Whilst walking round the University college we met a lady who reeled off a list of famous politicians,  of all persuasions, who had read their subjects here over the years, we couldn't help wondering what on earth was being taught, churning out such a disparaged bunch.
Returning to the boat we prepared for our departure from Oxford and the river.

Thursday 27th September

Following another cool night (had to light the fire again) we rose to more beautiful blue skies, and were soon underway back upstream for the few hundred yards to the Sheepwash Channel, leading up to Isis lock and onto the Oxford canal.
Isis Lock and the start of the Oxford canal

There are extensive moorings above the lock and we were surprised to see that there was a lot of room available, we had read that the moorings here were very limited and full of a lot of boats that don't move very far. It transpires that a lot of the permanently moored boats have been moved a little way out of the town onto what are known as "Agenda 21" moorings, these appear to be governed by rules unique to this area, however it seems to have worked creating space for visitors to the city.
There are a large number of these boats and it requires patience passing by on tick over for what feels like endless miles, the journey offers little to see as the way is enclosed by trees and allotments finally breaking out into the light at the Dukes Cut junction, the second and longer link to the Thames.
Our route took us north, passing through the third lock of the morning at Dukes Cut, here the canal takes on a much more open feel to the west. Trees hide the houses of Kidlington to the east before the canal passes a business park followed by open countryside, leading to the charming village of Thrupp. The village offers generous moorings, well maintained and with full services for the boater.
Thrupp comprises of a terrace of canalside cottages facing over the lane and onto the moorings, the Boat Inn sits amongst the few properties here and is a lovely old pub, well worth a visit, a little way down stream is the Jolly Boatman, this seems more geared to the diner and has plenty of space for the hungry boater.
We took a walk over the fields arriving at Shipton on Cherwell, the next village up the canal from Thrupp. The old part of the village consists of an interesting old church and the old manor house, much of the rest appears to be more modern housing.
The manor house was owned by one Richard Branson back in the seventies, he opened a recording studio here and recorded Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, launching his huge Virgin empire.
The church is reputed to be the inspiration for Sandy Denny's song Bushes and Briars.
St Mary's at Shipton

Crossing over the canal we walked over to the deserted village of Hampton Gay, the village consisted of a farm, mill, large manor house and church. The mill has now gone, manor house was destroyed by a fire in 1887 but the ruins still stand creating and eerie atmosphere. The farm and church still exist, the latter still in occasional use.
Hampton Gay Manor

The area is also known for a terrible railway crash on Christmas Eve 1874, one of the worst recorded in the history of British Rail, with the loss of thirty or so lives, some of whom perished in the icy waters of the canal.
Making our way back down to Thrupp, along the towpath, we crossed over the mechanised lift bridge to arrive back at the boat.
Friday brought another sunny day so I decided to take advantage of the good weather to do a bit more painting on the roof, during the afternoon we decided to take another walk, this time returning back to Kidlington. We followed the towpath back to the sprawling village crossing over the canal on the busy A4260, we turned left just after the bridge heading up to the old village centre hidden from the main road by a large estate of modern houses.
The old village centre was pretty, with thatched cottages built from cotswold stone, the church sat across the village green creating an idyllic image.
We walked back to Thrupp, this time crossing fields and close to some woods, now taking on a very autimnal air. Two Roe deer stood by watching us as we crossed close by over a very stoney ploughed field.

Saturday 29th September
Following another cold night we awoke to a frost, this seems to becoming the pattern these days, the sun was already beginning to warm the air and we decided to get underway, our plan was to make our way up to Lower Heyford some six miles and five locks north. We made our way through the lift bridge, calling in at the services, before slowly passing the extensive moorings of the Thrupp Canal Cruising Club. We slid by the sleepy Shipton village finally arriving at the diamond shaped lock at Shipton Weir, this lock gives access to the river Churwell where river and canal are united for a while. Luckily for us the flow was almost imperceivable due to the lack of rain making for a quick transit through to the next lock and back onto the canal. The stretch above the lock is a long sweeping bend round to the east past a line of moored boats making for, in places, a very narrow channel. We saw a hired boat coming along towards us, I stopped keeping well over to the off side, the boat carried on at speed obviously in a panic and came straight for us, glancing us and pushing us aground, much to their amusement. I poled the boat back into the channel and we continued on our way only to see another one coming for us. This time I stopped well away from him as he struggled along the shallow channel.
It was with relief that we got clear of this stretch passing the Rock of Gibraltar pub before plunging into a heavily wooded section,  here we encountered a boat in front of  us swinging to an fro across the canal. On reaching the boat we discovered they were firmly aground on a rock, we tried pulling them free without success so we pulled over to the side behind them and I took the pole to try and see where they were stuck. Much rocking and pushing failed to free them before another boat arrived from behind. This boat drew along side the boat and tied his forward rope to the bow and the centre rope of the stricken craft  to the stern of his boat. Both boats went into full astern and as the stuck boat tilted it gradually lifted free of the rock. The two boats untied and set off ahead of us and we followed now third in the queue at each lock, luckily the boat in front of us helped us through the locks by preparing them for us.
The village green Lower Heyford 

We finally arrived at Lower Heyford tying up on the visitor moorings just before the bridge and wharf.
The moorings here are very close to the Oxford to Birmingham railway line, there is a station alongside the canal directly opposite the wharf providing a useful link for anyone requiring it.
We set off Sunday morning a bit later than usual as we had inquired about filling up with diesel at the wharf, they advised us to wait until they had shifted all the hire boats before calling in.
We filled up and were on our way heading for Aynho wharf a few hours up the canal, a mile or so up from Lower Heyford we reached Upper Heyford, this was the home of a large american air base until its closure in 1993, this was the one shown on TV with fighter aircraft taking off on bombing raids during the first gulf war. We could just make out the perimeter fence up on the hill to the east.
A little further along we arrived at the wide flat valley at Somerton, one of the nicest parts of the canal so far. Climbing out of this section requires passage through Somerton Deep lock, one of the deepest on the system at 12 foot.
Somerton Deep Lock

A mile or so from here we reached our destination at the busy Aynho Wharf, there is very little else here other than the Great Western pub by the bridge. The wharf has a useful shop for emergency provisions.
Monday 1st October
Another month arrives and the weather continues to be warm and dry during the day. We got under way after helping a boat we had met several times over the last few days, NB Bluebell needed to get into the boatyard for repairs requiring a difficult turn to get to the jetty, the skipper had gone off to work so his wife asked if I could move their boat as she wasn't confident enough to do it especially as she had a little one to care for. I agreed and fortunately managed to get them safely docked with only a slight bump.
The trip up to Banbury passes through some remote and beautiful countryside, the remoteness was interrupted on a couple of occasions with our having to pass under the M40 and its busy Monday traffic hurtling too and fro.
We reached the second diamond shaped lock at Aynho weir lock, just above this lock we made our final rendezvous with the river Churwell, the river crosses the canal just above the lock. The lock lifts the canal 1 foot to the river level and the diamond shape is to provide a larger quantity of water to offset some of the losses from the deep lock. 
Arriving in Banbury we moored below the lock and walked up to investigate the moorings above. There was plenty of room so we negotiated the lock just in time to see about pulling into the spot we had mentally allocated for ourselves, fortunately we managed to get in right behind it.
The stretch of moorings here are 2 days and are on each bank. The large Castle Quays shopping centre  sits right alongside the canal here, dwarfing the remains of the famous Tooley's boatyard. Tom Rolt described this area in his book Narrowboat and it was here that his boat was prepared for his cruise in 1939, recalled in the book.
Banbury Cross
We stayed for a couple of nights here, allowing time to catch up on a few jobs and explore the town.
The town is a typical English market town with its market place and good selection of shops, there is also a choice of Morrisons, Tesco and Waitrose surrounding the town centre.
We walked up to see the cross made famous in the nursery rhyme, apparently the present cross was built by the Victorians, to replace the original one destroyed by the Puritans in the 17th century.
The town is home to a large coffee producing factory and the smell of roasting coffee beans lingers all around.
I had a look around Tooley's, there is a small museum here as well as a forge and dry dock, all can be explored on one of their open days throughout the year.
Wednesday morning arrived and we left the town, this time heading for Cropredy, home to the Fairport Convention festival held in August each year, the village was really quite, we had a quick look round before heading out across the fields to see the area where one of the battles in the Civil War took place in June 1644, on this occasion, a Royalist victory.
Entering Cropredy
Thursday morning started quite cloudy but the sun soon through as we set off to tackle the seven locks taking us up to the summit.
An example of a typical Oxford lift bridge
The warm dry summer has brought about restrictions on the lock flights either side of the eleven mile summit pound, the locks are open for 6 hours a day starting at 10am. We found a number of boats coming down the flight so we waited as each boat came through the locks setting them in our favour.
The summit pound is notorious for being narrow and shallow in places, we found this to be the case through the section that used to be a tunnel.
This section of the canal contours around the hills up here making a journey of four miles, as the crow flies, into eleven as the route twist and turns around the hills. We had planned to moor at Fenny Compton but as we approached it became apparent that the two week moorings were filling up with winter moorings with most spots taken and a towpath littered with stacks of logs, coal and bikes clearly indicating that these boaters were not planning to move anytime soon.
We pressed on by now getting glimpses of the windmill at Napton where the locks down off the summit lead to.
A famous view on this canal.
Strange mooring?
This part of the canal reminded us of our favourite stretch above Gargrave, looking across the fields and seeing a bridge a few hundred feet away only to find ourselves passing beneath it a few minutes later, we eventually arrived at a lovely peaceful spot and decided to tie up and spent the night there.
That evening was windless with a cloudless sky and the setting sun provided a spectacular light show of colours against a backdrop of fields and woods on the hillside opposite.
Napton Top Lock
Friday morning was again cloudy as we set off along the couple of miles to the nine locks of the Napton flight. We arrived fifteen minutes after they had opened and a boat was already on the way down in front of us, requiring us to have to fill each chamber before we could enter.
A few locks down we met the boats coming up thus making life much easier and it wasn't long before we were down.
Buffalo herd near Napton
Halfway down the flight I got off the boat to open the paddles to start emptying the chamber, the paddle gear was awkward as the windlass handle was very close to the rail on the lock gate. The paddle was very heavy but I managed to get to get it open, to hold it open there was a collar to put over the winding spindle, unfortunately as I tried to position the collar the paddle dropped, spinning the windlas at great speed ad hitting my hand and arm, fortunately I managed to avoid trapping it against the rail. Luckily not too much damage, for a while I wondered if I had fractured something as my hand stiffened, as I write this the swelling has gone down so thankfully all seems ok.
Arriving at the bottom of the Napton flight we called at the services before tying up on the 48 hour moorings, close to the Folly pub. This place has been recommended to by Tore and Kirsten so we called in to sample their excellent fayre. We were not disappointed, great food and a good pint too!
Inside the Folly
Leaving the pub we went off to explore the Napton, the village lies to the south of a large hill round which the canal skirts. There is a mixture of buildings here, some very old thatch cottages as well as some more modern properties, we climbed through the streets at footpaths to reach St Lawrence  church sat on  top of the hill. The church is built from local brick and stone, reputably it was supposed to be built lower down, in the village but legend states that, before building began, the stones were moved up the hill, overnight by the devil! so the new location became fixed.
The church of St Lawrence
Part of the seven counties view
Crossing along the top of the hill we reached the site of a WWII lookout post, the views from here are incredible, supposedly you can see seven counties from here.
We crossed the ridge to the fully restored windmill, now a private residence, before dropping down the steep footpath back to the canal.
Napton windmill
We intend to stay put here on Saturday as the forecast is for heavy rain. Sunday we will continue along past the junction and marina at Wigrams turn, it was here we called to fill with fuel back in July before descending down to Leamington Spa, our route will take us back to Braunston where we will turn left heading up the North Oxford canal to Hawkesbury.

The windmill from the canal

Typical Oxford canal bridge

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

The River Thames

Saturday 15th September
We arrived to find a busy river Thames, however, we managed to get onto the Tesco moorings just around the corner from the K&A confluence.
Turning upstream on to the Thames

 Once we had restocked we set off, passing through the very busy boatyards just below Caversham Lock. We had to get a license to cruise the Thames and luckily for us we were able to do this at the lock, the fee for a 7 day license for our boat was just under £65, the fee is calculated on the area of your boat.
The lock keeper gave us some useful tips on moorings up stream and suggested that Mapledurham would be a good place to stop overnight. He said the moorings were just above the lock  some five miles from our current position. We set off making good progress along the deep and wide river. Some of the properties along side the river are just incredible and must be incredibly expensive, several of the boathouses alone were bigger than the average semi!

Thames Properties
The river flows through a wide valley, with the Great Western main line to Bristol closely following the river to the south, overlooked by steeply wooded slopes, there are peaceful river meadows to the north stretching out towards more steep and wooded hills.
Arriving at Mapledurham, with a variety of different boat types, we were all crammed into to the lock chamber, all boats are instructed to cut their engine in the Thames locks and each boat is required to rope up fore and aft before locking up commences.
I asked the lock keeper about the moorings here and he said there was space on the north bank just after the lock, unfortunately the moorings are against an field bank with large trees preventing us from getting close, regrettably we had to abandon our attempt to moor here and move on.
It was a shame because we would have liked to explore the grounds and estate village, as they were the location for the filming of The Eagle Has Landed, Midsomer Murders, and Those Magnificent Men In their Flying Machines among many others.
We carried on upstream heading for Whitchurch lock, there were limited moorings here and they were all full. Being a weekend we began to think we may have been better waiting on the K&A for a few more days. I asked one of the boats coming down the lock if they knew of any moorings further up, by now we were getting tired as we had been of the go for eight hours or so. He told us that there were plenty of moorings at Beale Park a little way up stream.
The moorings at Beale are free for twenty four hours and are up against a earth bank with no mooring rings or decent edge to tie against. We edged along finally finding a spot among the reeds and bushes, we tied up using mooring pins, hammered well in as there are some large boats moving around here creating a large wash so mooring does need to be as secure as possible.
Beale Park moorings

We walked up to see if we could see into the park but it is mainly shielded by trees and bushes. The park is a charitable trust set up by Charles Beale and has a large collection of birdlife including some rare species. By the time we arrived it was closed so this is one to explore another time.
After a peaceful night we made our way up to Goring some three miles upstream, the lock keeper had advised us to arrive late morning as the moorings fill up quickly. We traveled up the steep wooded valley arriving at the moorings to find one spot just long enough for us.
The moorings at Goring
Goring is a typical quintessential, Oxfordshire village, it does however suffer from a lot of traffic, bringing in a lot of visitors. One famous resident of the village was George Michael who lived just off the river.
George Michael's House
The riverside is charming, overlooked by the lock, weir and road bridge.
The bridge leads to Streatley on the south bank, another pretty village. We crossed the river  and had a walk around, exploring the church of St Mary, here we met the church warden who showed around, he was a very interesting person to talk to as he is a historian, specialising in the history of the Post Office.
The day was, lovely, warm and sunny so we went back to the boat and relaxed in the afternoon sunshine.
Goring Lock
Monday 17th September
We left Goring around 9 am heading for Abingdon 17 miles and 7 locks upstream. Shortly after leaving our berth we arrived at Goring lock, occasionally the lock keepers are away from duty and this was the case here. The Environment Agency have a notice at each lock, when a lock keeper is on duty the notice states his presence against a white background, if he is away the notice reads "Self Service" on a light blue background. Seeing the notice we pulled up at the lock mooring and Lucia went off to operate the lock. On this stretch of the Thames the locks are all mechanised so it is a case of pressing buttons to operate the gates and paddles.
Lucia had to empty the lock and whilst we were waiting for the level to drop another boat arrived to join us. Once through the lock we followed the other boat the short distance to the next lock at Cleeve. The pound between these two locks is the shortest on the river, by coincidence the pound above Cleeve is the longest. The leading boat had the lock prepared so we were straight in and quickly on our way again passing through peaceful countryside, the scenery surrounding us hinted at autumn with the trees beginning the change,to their seasonal colours. We passed under Moulsford railway bridge, another of Brunell's masterpieces, carrying the Great Western line to the south west.
Wallingford Bridge
Wallingford was the next point of note, however we sailed on passing under the impressive medieval bridge, connecting the town on the west bank to the village of Crowmarsh Gifford on the east.
We arrived at the moorings in Abingdon.
A busy Abingdon from the bridge
They are located on the north bank just before the town bridge. We took a stroll into the town and were pleasantly surprised at what a nice place it is. Crossing the bridge over the river the old gaol, now a leisure centre, looms over to the left, on the right is the Nags Head, built upon an island on the river. The beer garden of the pub spills down to fill the island and we thought what a popular spot it must be on summer evenings.
The town centre has a small market place dominated by the impressive county hall, now a cafe and museum.
Abingdon County Hall
We walked down to St Helens church with its tall steeple, the church grounds are surrounded on three sides by interesting Alms houses, the most impressive been the Long Alley built in 1446. To the other side is the curiously named Twittys actually named after a benefactor to the poor of the town. The town also had an abbey although very little remains of it now, the abbey was one of the first of the larger abbeys to surrender to Henry VIII in 1538.
Long Alley

We had planned to move on the following morning but summer was rapidly sliding into autumn with the first storm of the season forecast for the following day. We decided to stay put, safely moored on rings, beside the park.
Sure enough the winds arrived on Tuesday evening, a remnant of a hurricane, the  strong winds continued into the morning. The council owned moorings allow visitors a three day stay so we remained a second night. Wednesday brought calmer conditions and we got underway heading towards Oxford. We negotiated Abingdon lock, making use of the facilities here. We made our way up to Sandford Lock, just to the south of Oxford by which time the wind was picking up again so we made use of the moorings above the lock to tie up on secure bollards. We had a walk up into the village, now a suburb of Oxford, on the way up we passed a row of Walnut trees, the wind had brought down all the fruit making for easy pickings from the ground.
We have noticed that all varieties of fruit seem to be in abundance this year, we even saw a quince tree, struggling under the weight of its fruit.
Thursday morning was a lot calmer but now the rain had arrived and we had a wet trip up towards Oxford, as we entered the city we passed by the college boat clubs each with a large boat house, home to many, sleek, racing sculls.

Oxford college boat houses

We resisted the temptation to stop at the moorings above Osney lock, passing under the very low Osney bridge, fortunately we were forewarned by the lock keeper and removed the chimney before passing under. Just after the bridge we noted the Sheepwash Channel, leading up to the start of the Oxford canal, we plan to return here later to start our journey back up to the midlands.

Our journey took us north west of the city passing the huge expanse of the Port Meadows, a popular spot of dog walkers, then through the meanders leading to Kings lock, the last of the mechanised locks on the river.

Ruins of the old nunnery above Kings Lock

Just above the lock is the second link to the canal known as Dukes cut. Our route turned to the west following the river. We had hoped to moor above Eynsham lock but unfortunately there is only room for one boat and the spot was already taken, the lock keeper advised us to carry on up to the moorings above Pinkhill lock as they should be sheltered by the bank of a large reservoir. We arrived relieved to see that space was available, this mooring is a rough river bank and does not have any rings or bollards so we tied up using mooring pins.
The forecast was for another stormy night, this time storm Bronagh. Fortunately for us the wind was pushing the boat against the bank. The forecast had it bang on and we had little sleep that night, the boat was shaking and banging against the bank, terrorising poor little Scruff who awoke shaking with fear. I had to go outside a couple of times to check everything was ok, while doing so I saw the moon light up the shredded clouds against the night skies, very spooky.
We were up early the next morning, thankfully the winds had subsided a little an we were soon on our way, heading for Lechlade and the head of navigation.
Once we cleared the large Farmoor reservoir we realised just how much shelter it had given us, the
winds had returned just as we reached the most exposed and meandering part of the river. We battled on through several squalls, these consisted of lashing rain and very strong winds, at one lock we were pinned to the lock landing during one such episode.As we approached Lechlade the meanders intensified making for some of the most challenging narrow boating we have experienced. Moorings are very limited along this stretch so we had no alternative other than to carry on. On one of the particularly sharp turns we saw a boat that had been blown hard against the bank, they shouted to us not to stop and help them but get through before we too were pinned alongside them.
This part of the river has WWII pillboxes located every mile or so along the north bank, these were
part of a defence arrangement using the Thames as a natural barrier, the forces manning these defended the river and a strip one and a half miles wide. They were trained to blow up the locks and bridges in the event of an invasion.

Earlier in the day my sister Carole phoned and we had arranged to meet them in Lechlade, due to the
weather our arrival time was delayed by an hour so they walked down to St John's lock, the last on the river, and joined us there. From here it was only a short hop up to the moorings before Ha'penny

Ha'penny bridge
The weather had improved significantly by this time and our arrival to the town was greeted by blue skies and sunshine.

Lechlade market square

We decided to remain in Lechlade for the next couple of days as the forecast was for heavy rain, as we were moored on the river I kept a careful eye on the water levels but even after the heavy rain the river level rose no more than a couple of inches although the flow did increase noticeably. We had to extend our license for a further seven days as, due to the weather, our previous one had expired.
On Saturday evening we took the opportunity of a break in the weather to walk up to the junction of the Cotswold or Thames and Severn canal, the other end of this canal is at Saul junction, by the marina we were in during August.

The Round house typical of the Cotswold canals

The junction of the Thames (left) and the canal (right)
We had traveled for 3 weeks and were only 36 miles from Saul.
Lechlade sits on the boundary of three counties, Gloucestershire to the west, Wiltshire to the south and Oxfordshire to the north and east.

Below St John's lock
Monday 24th September
Following a cold night,  the sunshine had returned for our trip back down the river to Oxford. The winds had now abated too so the temperature soon began to climb.
We passed under the bridge to wind in the wide stretch beside the riverside pub, soon arriving back at St John's lock.
We reached  the meanders, only this time I was able to enjoy the scenery, not having to wrestle the tiller against the wind. During our trip down we were treated to a display of all types of military aircraft flying in and out of Brize Norton a few miles to the north, as well as the more peaceful sight of Kingfishers, Heron and Kites.

We decided to break our journey back to Oxford at Newbridge, there are good field moorings here and they only charge £4 per night. Newbridge is a tiny hamlet with two pubs, one either side of the river close to, ironically, one of the oldest bridges on the river.

Newbridge - one of the oldest on the river

The temperature dropped rapidly after sunset but we were treated to a wonderful full moon rising into a velvet blue sky.

Early morning mist at Newbridge

The following morning we were treated to a mesmerizing sight, watching the mist rise off the fields and river with a milky sun rising from behind the bridge. There had been a frost over night so we delayed our departure until the sun did its work quickly thawing and drying the nights moisture.
We made our way down stream arriving in Oxford by early afternoon, luckily finding one of the last moorings available along East Street at Osney. We winded just above the lock and tied up, where we intend to stay for a couple of nights so we can spend time exploring Oxford.
From here we will travel the short distance up to the Sheepwash channel, this is our link to the Oxford canal and the end of our enjoyable time on the Thames.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

The Kennet and Avon Canal

Monday 3rd September
Leaving Hanham lock we made good progress heading upstream against a very limited flow. The Avon along this stretch is deep making easy cruising and we soon arrived at the lock at Keynsham.
The Avon below Bath

The lock is over looked by the imposing former Fry's Chocolate factory now sadly being converted into apartments. The factory became Cadbury's before finally been bought out by Kraft (Mondelez). Kraft closed the factory in 2011 despite assurances to the contrary, moving production to Poland. The famous names made here in the past included Fry's Chocolate Cream, Double Deckers and Crunchies.
The old Frys Factory

 Moving on we passed the Lock Keeper pub and the large Portavon Marina before rejoining the river, to soon arrive at the moorings at Bitton, we moored here two years ago but there was no chance of getting in there  now as the moorings were full of some of  the many boats that hang around these parts. Travelling through some lovely scenery we continued through Swineford,Saltford, Kelston and Weston locks before arriving in the outskirts of Bath.
At Kelston lock we found another boat ahead of us hanging around in the lock chamber with just one paddle half open, we were told that he was waiting for someone and didn't want to proceed, however, he finally agreed to fill the lock and move on.
Bath and Pulteney Weir from the river
On our arrival in Bath we decided to carry on the short distance upstream up to Pulteney Weir before winding and returning to the entrance to the first of the six locks up onto the canal.
Arriving at the second lock, which was empty, we found another couple of boats waiting above, they were just starting to fill the chamber, one of the deepest on the system, we pointed out that we were waiting to come up but they refused to stop and let us in, thus wasting a lock full of water. This is critical here because the short pound above is barely passable after two lock fulls have been removed from it. We had no choice other than to wait, another boat appeared from behind and joined us when we finally got to enter the lock. Having filled the lock we had to be very careful crossing the pound above as there was just enough water to get through.
The remaining four locks were trouble free and we arrived at the moorings just above the last one to spend a couple of nights here.
Bath is a beautiful city with plenty to see, much of which is documented elsewhere.
On Tuesday I decided to change the engine oil as we had reached the 250 hrs change interval following which we went off to explore the city. We had lunch in the Volunteer Rifleman's Arms, a great traditional pub away from the main tourist areas, we can recommend visiting here as the beer and food are both excellent.

Wednesday 5th September
Leaving Bath on a cool but sunny morning, we set off towards Bradford upon Avon passing through Bathampton and its sharp ninety degree turn. We had decided to stop and have a look at Claverton Pumping station en route and soon arrived at the substantial moorings adjacent to the lane leading down to the pumping station. We tied up and walked down to have a look around, crossing the busy Great Western railway line immediately before the pumps.
The current pumps are electric and take water from the Avon upto the canal, replacing the water lost to the locks at Bath. The original pumping station is driven by a pair of waterwheels, unfortunately  the building was closed so we walked along the leat leading to the weir built to feed the pumps.
Whilst here we noticed a few people preparing to swim in the river, it turns out that this is one of the best known wild swimming spots in the country.

Claverton Weir a Wild Swimming Mecca

Claverton Pumping Station

The weather was perfect for  painting so we decided to stay and tidy up the port side that had suffered over the summer.
The next day required an early start as we had arranged to meet old friends Fran and Taff in Bradford Upon. Avon. The morning was gorgeous and typical of this time of year, there was mist rising from the canal and river into a beautiful blue sky. The scene reminded us that summer was now slipping into autumn, the fruits in the hedges and trees dripping with an early dew.
The heat from the sun began to increase as we got underway, soon arriving at the facilities adjacent to the first of two iconic aqueducts at Dundas. The Somerset Coal canal leaves the mainline here but our route took a sharp left turn to cross to the north side of the valley.

Approaching Avoncliff Aqueduct
Steady cruising due to moored boats brought us to Avoncliffe to recross the valley before arriving at Bradford, fortunately finding the last available mooring below the town lock.
This little town is very busy particularly around the canal, with three pubs, a cafe and busy hire boat base, all located around the lock.
The Tithe Barn at Bradford Upon Avon
We walked up and met Fran and Taff, it was 1986 when we last sawt Fran and its was great to see them both again, we had an enjoyable lunch in the Lock Inn, a quirky place that has morphed from cafe to pub over the years and is now very popular even this late on in the season.
Saying our goodbyes, we walked down into the town, there are a few shops here but more substantial supplies can be found at the Sainsbury store about 10 minutes walk from the lock, on the Trowbridge road.
Friday morning we were underway early, passing through the town lock before calling at the facilities above. We set off towards Devizes passing through Hilperton  where we called to take on fuel, prior to the fuel stop there is a household recycling centre and I decided to walk up and see if I could dispose of the old engine oil, unfortunately Friday is the one day of the week they close so I returned  to the boat and will have to find somewhere later.
We continued through the seven locks at Semington and Seend, there are good moorings opposite the Barge Inn at Seend, there are also useful facilities here too as we discovered on our last visit, this time, however, we had decided to press on and find a mooring by the Three Magpies at Sells Green, unfortunately the moorings were full, mainly of boats that certainly don't look as if they move very far, something that was becoming more and more apparent as we progressed. We were starting to become concerned that we may have to moor part way up the Caen Hill flight.
Immediately before the locks is Foxhangers Wharf, a busy hire boat base, luckily we found, to our relief, that there are two day visitor moorings opposite so we tied up and relaxed before the busy morning ahead.

Saturday 8th September
The climb begins.... Caen Hill locks consist of 29 locks, there are 13 spaced out but the middle 16 make up the famous flight with each lock immediately following the next with a very short pound between, there are also side pounds to help maintain the water levels between each lock. Clearly such a flight of locks on a busy section of canal can consume a considerable amount of water. To reduce the losses, a system of pumps has been installed to return water to the top of the flight, it was good to see that the large pumping station at the bottom was largely powered by a field full of solar panels installed close by, there is an interesting information board with live data showing the amount of energy provided by the sun.
We got underway, immediately entering the first lock, we had waited but no other boats had turned up so we decided to go up alone. We soon got up the seven locks arriving at the bottom of the "sixteen" in readiness for the ascent, we noticed a boat behind us but this was a widebeam so unfortunately unable to share the locks with us.
The 16 lock flight at Caen Hill
View from the top
There was a boat descending the flight and they were being helped by a lock keeper, as we passed each other, three locks up, the lock keeper then joined us. We made good progress and were soon joined by another two lock keepers, they were preparing the locks in front of us and with all this help we were up the steep flight in 1.5 hrs. We had another six locks to do before arriving in Devizes and our mooring for the night.
We like Devizes, it is a small typical market town with a large market square and a good shopping centre with many shops, it is also the home of Wadworth's brewery. The town boasts many pubs, one of the oldest is the Lamb Inn, close to the site of the castle. This pub is one of only five that has a shooting range in the tap room, the range is basically a stone tube with a target at the end. Reputably this was installed to provide a practice facility during the civil war, where people were expected to practice their aim even when spending a night in the inn. We had to ask the landlord if he would  open the room for us and he willingly obliged.
The following morning we decided to press on as we had arranged to meet my brother, John and his wife Tracy who were in the area that day. There is a long pound from Devizes, some fourteen miles long, providing welcome relief from the locks. This stretch of canal is one of the busiest we  have been on with moored boats for mile after mile, on our last trip along here we had passed a busy pub, campsite and good moorings, just west of Honeystreet. It was a shame to see that the pub and campsite have now closed and the moorings over run by some of the many permanent moorers.
A typical scene on this canal
The scenery on this stretch is fascinating, with the high Wessex Downs to the north and views across to Salisbury Plain to the south. The hills to the north hint to times past with ancient terracing and white horse carved in to the hills overlooking the canal, on tick over passing the moored boats one certainly gets plenty of time to take in the sites.
The Pewsey White Horse (more grey these days)
Hillside Terracing
We passed the charming Pewsey Wharf,  with full boater facilities including a popular pub, before starting the climb to the summit of the canal.
We had arranged to meet John and Tracy just above the first lock at Wooten Rivers and, amazingly, they arrived just as we were leaving the lock. There are good moorings here, again there were moored boats but with a bit of shuffling we managed to squeeze in.
We walked up into the village just to the north of the canal, it is a charming little place and virtually all the buildings had thatched roofs, all combining to make a "chocolate box" image of old England.
We called at the Royal Oak for dinner, and the pub sat squarely with the image outside being a quintessential English pub offering beer straight from the barrel, a good range of gins as well as an extensive menu. Our choices all proved to be delicious. Saying our goodbyes to John and Tracy we settled down for a very peaceful night in wonderful surroundings.
Regrettably I forgot to take any pictures of this charming spot so I suggest if you are ever in the area make the detour to see it for yourself, I am confident you won't be disappointed.

Monday 10th September
Burbage wharf on the summit pound
 Our target today is Hungerford, some fourteen miles and twenty three locks away, so an early start was required. We had three locks to climb before reaching the short summit pound and its tunnel under the Tottenham Estate, built to appease the fears of the incumbent of the large house who was afraid that the canal would ruin the parkland around his home. The pound is only a couple of miles long and can, therefore, suffer varying water levels, our transit across was, thankfully, uneventful with plenty of water in the canal.
Bruce Tunnel
A shadowy figure in the tunnel
Soon after leaving the tunnel we reached the first of the fifty two locks making up the descent to the Thames. The first flight of the descent is the Crofton flight consisting of seven locks passing the famous Crofton Pumping station, good moorings are provided here for those wanting to visit the station, something not to be missed.
The Pumping station was built to supply water to the summit as there are no reservoirs at the top, water is taken from a lake fed by springs and we noted that this was full during our visit.The station is home to two beam engines powered by steam generated in two large Lancashire boilers. Occasionally they have steaming days showing the pumps operating in all their glory. Further details can be seen at

Crofton Engine House

Crofton Feeder Lake
These days the water is pumped using electric pumps with occasional help from the steam engines.
We visited the station on our last visit here so we continued down the flight, progress is impeded by the requirement for most of these locks to be left empty, ok for us as we were going down, but, as no boats were coming up, we had to fill each one before we could enter.
Just before reaching Great Bedwyn we caught up with another boat on its way down to Hungerford so were able to join them through the remaining locks of the day.
The K&A Trus't horse drawn trip boat
A little further on we arrived at Little Bedwyn locks, we remembered out last time here, we were travelling in the opposite direction then and as we approached the lock we saw someone stood by the lock with a camera, at first we thought it was a woman but as we drew closer we realised it was a man dressed as a woman, but there was no attempt to disguise the fact he was a man. He and his colleague, who was stood on the nearby railway bridge were waiting for a steam train to pass by and because Lucia had engaged him in conversation the train went by and he missed his chance to photograph it! luckily for him the engine had been replaced by a diesel loco so he wasn't too bothered.
We continued our descent finally reaching Hungerford and, luckily, managed to find moorings for both boats.
We had arranged to meet family again here on Tuesday, this time Dad, my sister Carole and husband Jim. They arrived in the morning and we had a walk around the town, it is a small linear town on the side of the hill with its main street being intersected by the London to Taunton railway line. It seems to have more than its fair share of Antique shops as well as a few other useful shops.
We had an agreeable if somewhat expensive lunch at the John O'Gaunt Inn just north of the canal bridge.
On Wednesday we continued our descent down to Newbury, progress was easy as we joined forces with a timeshare boat, there were four crew on board and due to the frequency of the locks they walked ahead so most were set ready for us as we arrived. Finally arriving at Newbury we decided to have the following day off and get the washing done at the local laundrette.
We used the Laundry Basket located close to the canal just east of Newbury Marina.
Newbury is another typical English market town, with all the usual shops and a busy market square, particularly in the evening with its wide selection of pubs and eating places.

Newbury Wharf

Friday 14th September
Another busy day today, complicated by the fact that the lift bridge at Aldermaston was only being operated twice a day due to a fault. We left Newbury and made our way down to Aldermaston on a very quiet canal only passing a couple of boats on our way down, we passed through the lock before the bridge with an hour to wait before the 4pm opening, this finally happened at 4.30 and CRT had a volunteer on hand to marshal the boats through. Below the bridge we were assisted through the next couple of locks by a party of ex navy who were celebrating their 30 year reunion by hiring a boat for the weekend, needless to say this made an entertaining end to the days proceedings. We finally arrived at Theale at 7pm tired and hungry.
Woolhampton Swing Bridge
We are now six and a half miles and seven locks away from the Thames at Reading, and reflecting back on our trip along this canal we agreed it was a lot better than we were anticipating as our memory was of a lot of locks and struggles against high river flows.
One of the unusual "Turf Locks" unique to the K&A
This was also the most heavily defended during the war, overlooked by two Pill Boxes

Whilst there are a lot of locks we were travelling downstream on the Kennet this time making for a much easier passage, with only the high flow through Reading to consider before turning north on the Thames and new waters for us.

Saturday 15th September
The trip down to Reading is mostly done on the deep waters of the Kennet, I was not looking forward to this section as bad memories of our trip in the other direction loomed large. I needn't have worried as we were carried swiftly along the deep river on a beautiful morning with warm sunshine and blue skies.
We soon arrived in Reading passing through the traffic light controlled section through the middle of the busy Oracle Shopping Centre, before arriving at the last lock, dropping us onto the Thames.
Looking back at the Oracle
Reading Bridge
The last lock is operated by the Environment Agency so the lock gear is totally different to that on CRT waters.
We reached Kennet Mouth at what is a rather dreary junction over shadowed by a large gasometer and railway arches, a sharp turn to port put us on the large waters of the Thames for the next chapter of our adventures.
The Thames junction
Looking back at Kennet Mouth

Oxford and the Oxford Canal

Wednesday 26th September We spent the today exploring Oxford, most of our time here was taken up exploring the many colleges. We used to e...