Woke up facing the wrong way for what we had planned. Pushed off and travelled up the canal, filled with water, then turned in a winding hole despite some idiot mooring in it, that boat rocked:) Headed back to where we’d started then down on past it, through the chicane bridges and finally landed a prized top lock mooring. Met up with the lovely guys on Chance, they’ve practically lapped us and thrown in a Thames trip for good measure since we saw them last, all this, and managed to keep the boat immaculate, depressing. Quick trip into the centre for a hair cut and food…finally arrived back at 4pm – tea time.
In what would have been pitch black a couple of months ago, we set off on our mission to finish the Kennet and Avon Canal proper. A fairly pointless plan that hasn’t even returned us to where we began the day, but drifting about in front of the weir by Pulteney Bridge felt like something really ought not to be doing, so we liked that a lot. Content to have passed the ‘Welcome to the Kennet and Avon Canal’ sign we soon re-entered Bath Deep Lock. Originally two locks that were combined in 1976 when the canal was in a state of disrepair, with a depth of 19ft 5inches it’s Britain’s deepest unmanned lock, and pretty tricky to rise in as there is absolutely no way of roping the boat. Having blown the fun bit down by Pulteney Bridge, returning up the six very stiff paddled locks seemed to last an eternity, especially as the nice man who’d magically appeared wielding a windlass to help us down had sadly disappeared. Moored back above the top lock at just gone eight, we staggered down the hill in search of the Colonel’s secret recipe. The city glows pink and amber by night. Oxford beat Bath in name bagsy, spires rise, poking into clouds from every inch of this place.
Walked Murk along the Bath Skyline this morning, passed several marshal looking types, curiously doing very little other than tipping water into bowls. More dog walkers than made logical sense, kitted out with every imaginable canine accessory hanging from belts and clips and leads. Finally found a sign that told us we’d arrived slap bang in the middle of the Bath ‘WAG Walk’.
Spent this afternoon down in the city, skirted the outside, then wound our way back to the centre. Had a very enjoyable moan up about the admission price for the Roman Baths, no way hosay, especially when you can do the 360 tour for free: http://www.romanbaths.co.uk/Tours/Panomorphic_Room_Hire_Tour/Great%20Bath.html
Tea pot tea on Pulteney Bridge, one of only four bridges in the world with shops across it’s full span on both sides. With ever flowing water and boats below providing a constant source of entertainment, people linger, never an empty table.
Picked up supper on the way home, city life makes for very lazy food planning, the rucksack hasn’t seen the light of day.
Out with The Murkster this morning, plenty of boat action. Walked down the Bath locks to the very end of the Kennet and Avon canal, where the river Avon picks up the rest of the trip to Bristol. Murk managed a final hurrah by throwing up in one of the immaculatly manicured parks before we deposited him back on the boat.
Walked down the hill and through streets brimming with life. Wandered along to find the Royal Crescent, 30 sweeping terraced houses, designed by John Wood and built between 1767 and 1774. Nick leant against the railings and sighed, ‘I suppose we should walk all the way round.’ So we did, and at the end of it we bumped into a very familiar face:) Building on the cultural side of the day we made a trip down to Homebase. Back out on the streets, the sun had burnt through the cloud, we de-layered. So much to see and do, this has to be a different planet to the one we were frozen in on.
Legs dropping we climbed the hill back to the canal, lit the fire and kicked back the lazyboys. Hen party and stag do paradise up here earlier this evening, if you weren’t dressed as a captain or a pirate you were in the monrity.
Not often we spin and whizz back round, so last night was especially mind blowing as everything was out the wrong window. Untied and moved along to the pool by the aqueduct, pumped out and filled with water. April showers were on top form today. Had lunch then pushed off for Bath. Beautiful countryside, the canal seems to reach for the sky one minute before channelling through foothills the next. A second water stop, top up for what the washing machine had glugged, Murk treated himself to a trip inside the Barge Cafe. Rounding the bends, glimpses of Bath splayed across the hillside flashed into sight. Found a spot to stop, then walked down to the top lock where word is moorings are good. A narrowboat Monaco, the zigzag journey under ornate bridges, past houses with water terraces and elaborate parks was eye-popping. No free moorings so we shut Murk away and walked down to the city. Constantly amazed at how different places seem when you arrive by canal. A couple of hours later, back at the boat, still with heat in the sky we fired up, obeyed cocktail hour and chugged on down to the empty moorings that we’d notice appear by the top lock. Approaching, the gap looked nowhere near the size it had just a short while before – mainly due to a 62ft boat that’d magically landed complete with crew settled on the bow, drinking beer in the evening sun. So we reversed, turned and headed back to our original mooring – that second time round, we were very grateful to get. Loving Bath already and it’s only just begun.
Getting right into bobbing about on the Kennet and Avon. With no rush and views you’d pay millions for, we took a trip to charge the batteries, turned round, walked to a pump house and the top of a hill, did a bit of garlic foraging then back to the boat. A boho tapestry, tied in clusters along the water; even at tickover there’s too much to take in before the next one happens. Bread making and pole rubbing later, we set off back to where we woke up this morning. Living three doors down tonight, having upgraded to river view.
Wandered over the aqueduct and along to the bins, curious to see if our bucket chairs had been claimed – yep they are now re-homed. Stumbled upon the paper ‘bin’, chock full of magazines bought by enthusiastic hire boaters at the beginning of their adventure – dumped a few days later when the reality of a damp, cold, smelly boat set in. Raided the library while Nick looked on in horror. An endless supply, more than the boat could handle – hardly read, this month’s and not stinky at all.
3G disappeared last night, despite being moored in the same place as the one before. Had a paint pot/wax explosion bonanza; a whole autumn and winter of learning to steer, smashing through ice and grinding our way through single gates on double locks had taken it’s toll. By the end of the day we had a boat of two halves; so this morning’s mission was to move on until the tow path crossed over, giving access to the ugly side.
A couple of miles travelling was all it took. Woodland packed with wild garlic and views bursting across the hills soon led to the Dundas aqueduct, a magnificent structure towering high above the trees. Over the aqueduct, to the left is a narrow cutting, once the busy Somersetshire Coal Canal, built around 1800. A shuddering, air gasping, feature of this now disused waterway was the original contraption used to raise and lower boats. Barges entered a sealed wooden box before moving up or down a 60ft pool. No thank you.
Pulled in for water and got talking to a hireboater who was pumping out after only two days, the second one we’ve spoken to this week who seemed to have picked up half a tank of sewage along with the boat. Ew, yuck. A show stopping arrival from a second hireboat had everyone transfixed, crossing the aqueduct at great speed the tillerman attempted the narrow boat equivalent of a handbreak turn. Pleased to see the maniac clear of our boat, he almost pulled off the whole manoeuver before crunching the front of a widebeam…a lot of shouting followed. A classic oldie performance.
Found a great mooring, walked down the Somerset arm, then got the paint and wax going on the other half of the boat. Undisturbed by joggers, dogwalkers, cyclists, hikers – Murk got to grips with more sleeping.
Now this canal is really making up for its dismal beginnings at Reading and up through Newbury. Walked Murk from Bradford-on-Avon through woodland (complete with willow Labyrinth) and along the tow path to Avoncliff…it has it all: aqueduct, pub, railway, river, canal, bridges, tea rooms, old mill buildings – what’s not to like. The views across the valley are pretty spectacular. Murk back in the boat we walked into the centre Bradford-on-Avon. A winding maze of muddled buildings on steep roads with a trillion
wedding type shops, you could sort the whole shebang right there. There is no Boots. The Town Bridge crosses the Avon, acting as a life line, connecting the centre to the canal quarters, which it seems perilously dependant on. The lockup on one side of the bridge, where troublemakers used to be stored for the night, now chained and empty, seems a heritage property people would jump at the chance of staying in. Brilliant mooring for Sainsburys, walked 50 yds, up over the bridge and we were in with the fruit and veg. Stocked up, we dumped the shopping and decided on an evening shuffle to the waterpoint, then, washing machine going we set off through one lock and down over the aqueduct. Snifter time arrived so we enjoyed them on the stern. Avon running club, clad in a rainbow of neon descended on us just as we were crossing the chasm, making the experience all the more surreal. Planned to moor on what looked like good moorings the other side, only to be left hanging, thanks to a huge concrete step. Lit the fire, reloaded glasses and moved on, finally moored next to a ‘NO MOORING DANGER OF FALLING TREES’ sign – we’ll chance the branches, at least we can get off the boat.
The swing bridge was in full action by the time we were awake, early boats buzzing about all over the place. Only two locks today, the canal was packed with activity, moany man just managed one rant about the tow path being ‘more like a bloody velodrome’. Passing Hilperton boatyard, we had a shout out from a woman working on a boat, very excited to see Marpessa2, as she knew the original owners. Got talking, it turns out the boat once stared at the Saul Canal Festival, apparently the people who commissioned it were fastidious about every little detail. Leaving with a tin of undercoat for the bashed up paint work, we hung our heads in shame.
Suddenly the canal is bursting into life, celandines blanket banks, rushes are beginning to reach for the sky and fish are popping all over the place. Arrived in Bradford-on-Avon, moored in one of the last spaces. A beautiful bustling place, with limestone buildings piled high above one another on the Cotswold hills rising steeply from the water. Spring enough for an evening walk, people are actually using pub gardens with bright bulbs strung through trees and over walls, and despite the smell of log burners in the air, candles flicker beside doors flung open wide. A stark contrast to winter, when days can go by without seeing a soul.
The mist soon cleared, leaving a Kennet and Avon brochure day. Worked our way through the type of locks you see Bradbury hiking past, plenty of Saturday helping hands – child labour at it’s best. Teeming with fishermen, the boat is excellent at setting off their Carp alarms. So much wacky backy wafting through the air, no wonder everyone was smiling.
Pulled in for water, a concerned hire boater on a diddly little boat asked whether he needed a token for the water. ‘It’s just my pumps been going since six this morning, so I’m thinking maybe the tank is empty.’ Any shimmer of a smile fell from our faces, we stood gawping, considering the horrendous thought of allowing the water tank to empty…the guy shuffled nervously, digging his hand in his pockets, shrugging his shoulders ‘So yeh, maybe that’s it?’ – our eyes narrowed, stared at his boat, envisaging rust clogging every outlet and inlet possible. He filled his tank, keeping one eye on the strange couple fixed on his hose in fascination. Tank full, the pump stopped and he chugged away, all was well – of course, it wasn’t our boat.
Moved under a bridge and into rolling hills, ate lunch on the roof. A few more locks this afternoon, a couple more miles. Found myself bobbing about in front of a pub garden crammed full of punters…people stare, a strange one-way interaction, leaving you feeling like a gold-fish in a bowl – tricky one, knowing whether to throw your hands in the air and wave like some wannabe superstar or blank everyone completely.
As the afternoon wore on the sun grew hotter, stopped for top deck sunbathing. No fire, no central heating and hatches open until after 7pm. Easy life.
It really happened. Dreaming at seven something, the door flew open ‘It’s time.’ Ten minutes later, blearily stood on the stern, we untied and pushed away, then trundled along to the first lock of the day. The only good part of being up and out so quickly was the first five locks passed in a haze. By the time dreamland had truly vanished we were surrounded by Italian tourists who were videoing, photographing, questioning our every move. ‘Is it private or tourist?’ one guy shouted, waving his arms in a very Italian way. We explained it was private, and, as the words tumbled from our mouths, our own stupidity dawned on us…we could have sat them in the bow, given them tea and toast, got the Caen Flight crewed for us, and charged them £5 each for the privilege. One day will be our lucky day.
Looking over the first lock of the proper flight, is like standing on the edge of the world. Other than two boats chasing our tail all the way down the whole experience was pretty enjoyable and not too back breaking. We tied up at the bottom to let the looming boats past, then figured it would be a good place to spend a night. So we stayed. Walked on to the boatyard in search of a spare fuel filter and undercoat for the ongoing Thames repairs – no luck there. The sun shone, footpaths smelled baked and the air was finally still enough for bumblebees to magically hover; we walked for miles.