Crowded on the K&A – and use a bread knife

“We’ve a long way to go,” pronounced the Captain, “and we need to be at Caen Hill Marina by 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon.”

So with 21 miles, 14 locks, 8 movable swing bridges and 2 major aqueducts to negotiate in two days it would be a 9am start then…

It was just a few hundred yards to the bottom of the Widcombe lock flight in Bath on a fine Saturday morning.  There, tied up against a high wall, were the first two of many weekend party boats. The crews here were dressed in regular boating clothes  CS17-01   – not so the many bare-chested fellas or fancily–clad pirates, one even a vision in pink tights, that were encountered throughout the day.

The Bath locks are known to be heavy. Once in the first lock several young men waiting above to come down offered assistance – and warned of how heavy the next lock gates would be. Time to swap roles then, Boatwif to the helm, the Captain on lock duty. For an age Cleddau and Tentatrice sat in the bottom of the canal system’s second deepest lock .  CS17-02   At 19’5” (5.92 metres deep) it is just 3½ inches less than the deepest, Tuel Lock on the Rochdale Canal. From high above grunts and groans could be heard as slowly the Captain and the Tentatrice First Mate heaved and closed the enormous gates, then raised the paddles. As the boats climbed the rest of the flight there were just glimpses of Bath’s honey-coloured buildings.

More party boats at the top – a gaggle of men were gazing in consternation into the engine hole of their hire boat.  CS17-03    “Hey,” one called, desperate for help, “How d’ya get a rope off the prop?”

“Use a breadknife,” the Captain called back, “and saw it off.” (Now he should know!)

Where else are there pretty canal bridges like this?  CS17-04  Then came a tunnel.   CS17-05  A procession of boats was coming through, three, four, five… There was just the gentlest of touches of bow on hull from the lady-crewed boat. “Oh, we kissed,” smiled the helmswoman.    CS17-06   CS17-07  More pirates  CS17-08   – and then there was space to manoeuvre and get through…

There was just another glimpse of the city sprawling across the hillsides before the truth began to dawn. This canal is seriously over-crowded.  Yes, it was a summer Saturday and day boats, weekend boats, week-long hire boats and private boats were out in force. So too were canoeists,  CS17-32   small cruisers and even rubber dinghies.  CS17-12    Boats need space to navigate – and here’s the second point (well known to those who follow canal issues). For mile after mile after mile boats are moored alongside the bank apparently on a long-term basis. Canal and River Trust, though aware of the situation, find it hard to deal with. Is the Kennet and Avon Canal a navigation?  Or is it a linear street of houseboats? Many boats have families living on them, but there are also tired hulks and abandoned projects.

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As Bath receded the situation seemed to worsen, boats on both sides of the canal here;

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 full width wide beam boats and boats which have seen better days… “Can’t look at the scenery,” the Captain muttered. “Gotta keep concentrating.”

The towpath is popular with walkers and dog walkers, as well as with  cyclists, sometimes riding in large groups. On through Claverton, the canal on a contour above the valley bottom. High up on the hillside, though not seen, is Claverton Manor, the American Museum in Britain , visited in April  (See latter section of post). Not far from Dundas Aqueduct is one of the swing bridges: There were polite words to these canoeists  CS17-19   – where they’d stopped to picnic was the  landing area for boaters to disembark to move the swing bridge…

Dundas Aqueduct. Coming from Bath there is a sharp left turn and then a sharp right turn. Onward, through a heavily wooded section, following a slow broad beam,   CS17-21  passing “pirates”,  CS17-22   and meeting more “pirates”…

Not noticed a structure like this before  CS17-23   – duck steps?

A mile or so after Dundas Aqueduct comes Avoncliff Aqueduct. (Now who named this boat?)  CS17-24    Then comes Bradford on Avon,  CS17-25   with a distinct holiday feel. Up at the lock volunteer lockkeepers and boat crew were assisting the widebeam Barbara McLellen through the lock.   CS17-26

On this busy canal the scenery changes constantly, but it is the scenery of different boats of all ages, styles and widths…

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The image of hire boats is often one of boats covered with battle scars and scrapes. Maybe some of the gung-ho pirates are inclined to adopt a bumper-boat technique. An incident at Balls Bridge, however, led to the defining of a different boating style, protectionism. An approaching boater, reluctant to give way at the bridge hole seemed to freeze, and kept his position well out in mid-stream.

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 The approaching boats with right of way, Cleddau and Tentatrice, were left only the shallowest amount of water and some scratchy foliage to squeeze through. Neither the girls in the bow nor the chap at the helm seemed to register that space needs to be shared fairly! Other examples of protectionism have been noticed elsewhere this summer, though none so grossly inconvenient as the one described above…!

By mid-afternoon the boats had crawled past hundreds more boats to Hilperton.  CS17-31   Here had been another potential place to moor the boats while the crews returned home. “Nope,” the marina manager had said. “All our spaces are full, with plenty of people living on boats in the marina.” Is this the housing crisis as manifested in Wiltshire?

On alert now for anywhere to moor overnight a single space was spotted: Tentatrice pushed her bow on into the reeds to leave towpath access off the stern; Cleddau behind had towpath access from the bow (and stern cushioned in the reeds). The towpath, not wide, has to be a shared space: securing a boat with mooring pins is less easy while cyclists swoosh past…

Sunday morning: only seven further locks, the five swing bridges  CS17-34   and a couple of miles to do before reaching the Caen Hill Marina. It was wet, CS17-33    there were boats to pass, boats to follow up locks  CS17-35   and effort to be expended. But then at about midday appeared recently familiar territory, the Barge Inn  CS17-36   and then the Lockside Cottage,

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visited in April   (See initial section of post.)  No eager holidaymaker rushed out from the cottage on this wet Sunday morning with the helpfully provided windlass to aid lock operation…

The final mile and there were  alpacas on the hillside,  CS17-39   doubled up boats narrowing the canal,   CS17-44   a huge gunnera  CS17-41   and one last swing bridge…CS17-40    CS17-43

Here at last Cleddau, Tentatrice and their respective crews could rest up – before tackling the 29 locks up to Devizes in a few days’ time…

Stats since last post:   21 miles, 14 locks

Monkton Moments* to date: 6

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

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