Monday to Thursday: Newbury to Burghfield
‘What larks you two have’ wrote a correspondent in an email recently. (Recognise the remark, C?) Well, between Newbury and Reading there were more ‘larks’ remembered from previous cruising times as well as one or two incidents which may get stored mentally as ‘Larks from 2015’…
The canal slices through the town. Just near Victoria Park is the “Temporary Bridge.” It’s been temporary for a very long time, since 1944 so that American forces could transit to the South Coast to participate in D-Day. Clearance under it isn’t very great. In fact once it was a chimney crusher – the trip upstream was fine, unremarkable. But returning hours later the chimney crunched and crushed, the result of a rise in river level.
Boaters have to restock their supplies from time to time and at Victoria Park on Tuesday other boat bloggers Tom and Jan of Waiouru, (already met at Kintbury) and Ian and Irene of Free Spirit were moored up in order to shop.
Within easy walking distance of the town is Greenham Lock. Moored nearby (though not in view) is nb Ruddy Duck, owned by the Physicist. While musing about her – she fell in love with the idea of living on a boat after just half a day on Cleddau some ten or so years ago – a memory stirred. Why, here, years ago, there was a crowd of young people in great consternation. Damp clothing and possessions were spread about on the towpath and beside the hedge. Below lay their hire boat, cilled, and lying at an awkward angle. Marina staff came to their rescue, refloated the boat, moved it out of the way and Cleddau was then able to continue on her way.
A mile further on is a footbridge (one of many passed recently). Beyond it is a short stretch of water leading to Bull’s Lock. Here on Tuesday was a widebeam boat with its mooring ropes looped high up around a tree trunk. Now why would that be? Then another memory swam back – once, at this spot, Cleddau’s overnight mooring pins were pulled out by fishermen who felt the boat was in their way… so were the high ropes up round the tree branch a deterrent against second generation boat saboteurs…?
Here, at the lower end of Bull’s Lock is the bridge from which reckless local youths one hot day were jumping into the water. Thrilled they were if a lock full of water was about to be emptied down through the gates…
Two locks further on is Monkey Marsh Lock, of particular fascination. It is one of only two turf-sided locks on the canal, the original timber chamber having been rebuilt with a metal framing. When empty the lock looks like this.
Tuesday night’s plans to moor at Thatcham were foiled by lack of space. It was back to the old, old problem on the K&A – banks so overgrown with foliage that there is nowhere to moor. A few miles further on, past a sand quarry, there was help above Midgham Lock. Ian and Irene of Free Spirit hauled on ropes to secure Tentatrice to the bank, Cleddau breasting up beside her… Then again another memory replayed itself in the brain. Teenage daughters of a mathematician had stayed on board one night. Wouldn’t R and M need lots of sleep – better not disturb them in the morning. Their thought processes, it transpired, were similar. While at the back of the boat the Cleddau crew tried to stay asleep, at the front the girls read, then devised fishing lines and hooks from unpromising materials. Right here for near on four hours they had kept their silent vigil…!
Locks and swing bridges still lay ahead in plentiful numbers. Wednesday – Woolhampton Day. If the words “liberty bodice” provokes ladies of a certain age to giggle, the name Woolhampton provokes gasps and anecdotes to fall from boaters’ lips. The combination of a river stream entering the cut below the lock, a silt bar, a moored up boat, a twisty channel and an electrified swing bridge that must be opened before departing the lock can make for a challenge. A typical reaction to the mention of the “W” word is a sharp intake of breath and a comment along the lines of “Tricky – especially if there’s a bit of fresh on…” (meaning a higher than usual river flow). For an account of how Cleddau and Tentatrice managed the challenge on Wednesday see here.
The nostalgia continued – how lovely is the river between Woolhampton and Aldermaston. A tiny sign indicates the access to Frouds Bridge Marina. Tall trees screen any sight of boats – but a hammock strung between trees seemed a novelty addition since Cleddau’s time here.
Then to Aldermaston Lock, with its huge size and scalloped edges. There was another new feature here. The bottom towpath side gate had always been hugely difficult to shift, its weight, height and position over the lock side making it an arm-stretching, back-aching trial. But now there’s a new metal pulling loop there (“only since last winter,” said the C&RT worker who, to Boatif’s relief, kindly demonstrated its usefulness. Then comes Aldermaston Lift Bridge, closed to boaters during morning and afternoon rush hours. Remember the “game” – who could most accurately guess the number of vehicles held up by the raised-up bridge…?
Towney Lock – how can such an innocuous-looking lock be so deceptive? Years ago a boat’s bow rope had got trapped and the boat with its primary class passengers had rolled to an alarming degree before being righted… On Wednesday the trouble was only in gates, top and bottom, that wouldn’t open fully, squally winds, a rain shower and the difficulty it presents in getting back on board… apart from all those things it was a cinch!
Nostalgia had kicked in big-time. “Remember the meadow, remember the picnics and BBQs and ball games we used to have there with colleagues from work?“ It’s just above Tyle Mill Lock, a huge stretch of open grassland. Once there were deer in the distance. On Wednesday however there were cattle in the foreground. Young bullocks can be curious creatures, drawn to investigate ropes and boats on their patch… It was a gangplank mooring but how delightful to wake at dawn, peer out of a window and see a low mist delicately suspended above the grass.
The cruise continued further east on Thursday, mainly without event or incident. Then Garston Lock, the other turf-sided lock, proved rather difficult. The upcoming boat was slow, while for the descending boats the winding mechanism on the bottom paddles was the stiffest ever and required two crew and two windlasses to shift it. On the lock landing below sat another boat. One crew member stood drinking tea, the other was holding a fishing rod off the stern of his boat. Three days previously a charming Glaswegian first-time boater had said “I’m sorry I don’t know the protocol…” Here at Garston protocol should have dictated that a waiting crew would offer help to boaters who are working the lock. Recovering to the boats required a muddy clamber down steep ladders. Did you hear the loud sighs of relief that the K&A turf-sided locks are now behind us?!
It’s all river now down to Reading – under the M4 – round tight bends, (argh, it was on this section that the scratchy briars made the first gouge on the cabin side after the 2002 Devizes repaint), passing a crystal clear lock direction sign (would that they all were that prominent) arriving at Burghfield.
Stats since last post: 15 miles, 18 locks
Monkton Moments* to date: 10
(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)
On Saturday: the last four miles to Reading and then on to the Thames.