Open your eyes
WARNING: this post is free of references to alternator troubles and to the blight of K&A “continuous moorers”
Taking a few steps away from the towpath can provide some surprises and some sights to stimulate the senses.
Cleddau spent Tuesday evening moored just a few metres below Crofton Pumping Station (near Marlborough in Wiltshire) Though the engine house wasn’t in steam it was possible to creep through the tunnel under the railway and visit the recently reopened café. Twenty years or more ago during a day trip here the Captain had “purchased” six bricks in the tall pump house chimney. The charge was £1 a brick, 6 bricks if you paid £5. The BOGOF term hadn’t been a twinkle in a marketing executive’s eye back then, but whenever possible since there’s been an affectionate glance up at the bricks in the chimney, still hopefully all in good order. Inside the Pumping Station the piles of coal used for stoking the boiler and the size of the boiler are reminders of a completely different era of technology.
Crofton’s purpose is to pump water from the nearby reservoir (Wilton Water) 40 feet to the canal’s summit level. A walk across the fields alongside Wilton Water to Wilton village brought Boatwif face to face with a lovely seat, the name Quackers lovingly carved on the backrest. Was this a reference to the duck population on Wilton Water behind…? But then, in the village there were some fine gates, QUACKERS inscribed within the ironwork. And after an amble through the village (one with a duckpond, many thatched cottages and thick lavender plantings alongside the road) the Quackers seat was occupied. Its owner sat there, nestling his beautiful brindle whippet, the seat given to him as a mark of gratitude from the villagers for the contributions he’d made to village life. Until a shower of rain interrupted the conversation he regaled some interesting tales…
It was while at a lock on Wednesday en route to Great Bedwyn (unusual handles on the paddle gear ) that a butterfly caused distraction. How lovely to see such a dainty creature, a mark of hot summer days.
The canal and railway line run parallel for much of the route between Crofton and Reading. At Great Bedwyn trains disgorge commuters from London and shoppers from Reading. A small bus delivered secondary age pupils, all carrying sports kit or musical instruments to the village square but yet the place has a fundamentally sleepy feel. There were elaborate carvings on the end wall of the building that is now the Post Office and shop. Once, it seems, there was a Stone Museum in this village. Across the road, and visible from the canal, is Great Bedwyn Church. In a corner of the graveyard is a startlingly white grave, the grave of the master mason. In relief are the tools of his trade.
Next day, Thursday, the boats cruised 4¾ miles and 10 locks from Great Bedwyn to Hungerford. Along the way a Canal and River Trust employee was inputting data on boat licences on a hand-held computer. What percentage, one wonders, do not have current licences…?
Hot and weary crews arrived at their eighth lock of the day. This was Cobbler’s Lock, its once pretty lock side cottager now a sorry sight. There’s been a change of county now, from Wiltshire into Berkshire, and the canal continues on through open territory across the delightful Freeman’s Marsh towards Hungerford. . The footbridge across Marsh Lock has to be swung to allow boats through (totally confusing for the Tentatrice Boat Dog; how could he get on a bridge at one end, it swing and he still be on the opposite side of the lock from the First Mate…?)
A footpath across the Hungerford Church Swing Bridge goes through the Nature Reserve to the Marsh where the clear babbling waters of the River Dun are of an entirely different quality from that in the canal cut.
St Lawrence Church sits right beside the canal. Trees partly obscure the view from a boat, but move into the churchyard and you see that the tower is decorated with crenellated parapet and pinnacles. The church was open on Friday afternoon. At the East End, built in an apse, back lighting was set to play on the altar and East Window while natural daylight coming through the high upper windows revealed the wooden lattice effect of the ceiling.
Managing to secure moorings for two nights on Hungerford’s Town Wharf was an unexpected prize. How easy it was to walk into town and to view Hungerford’s distinctive broad street, sliced overhead half way up the hill by the railway bridge. The town, typified by its red-tiled roofs, is famed for its antique shops. Looking for something for your garden, your interior or jewellery for your person there is plenty of choice here…
Back at the Town Wharf Gloriana’s Captain had been having words with the Tentatrice First Mate. There was a shock reminder at 0930 on Friday morning that school pupils were due to visit at 10am … When not floating his boat Gloriana’s owner is Chair of Governors (a familiar tale!) of Hungerford Primary School. Year 1 had been studying canals and were to do a field trip to the canal, to the lock and to his boat. So, six groups of small pupils, each group with two adults (one with a 9 week old baby) prepared to come aboard. First they traced the CLEDDAU letters which are painted onto the gunwhale, sounding them out phonics-style!
It’s like a home they agreed – there was recognition of sofa, TV, wood-burning stove, (“and bookshelves,” acknowledged one adult). The kitchen (“the galley” word was plugged of course) was much approved. Four little girls thought the bathroom was really big (“Really? Do you go to the bathroom four at a time?”) The washing machine was of little interest – there was far more pleasure to be gained by looking out at the canal from the side hatch and seeing how close the water was.
“Where do you keep your food?” asked one stomach-concerned boy.
“There’s a radio by the bed!” piped one small girl.
Yes, these six and seven year-olds had their eyes wide open while they were aboard… Won’t it be good if some become long-term canal fans and in future years do their bit to preserving the inland waterways?
Stats since last post: 6½ miles, 14 locks
Monkton Moments* to date: 8
(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)