Thursday, 14 August 2008


NUDGING THE NENEReal, proper boaters had told us of grim stories of guillotines, boats sunk by mishaps and a fabled land of solitude and quiet boating, a land of silver water, free pumpout, rare wildlife and even real geese, not those Canadian faeces machines. This was a land for men, boaters who knew what they were doing, men who could flip a wrist and raise a paddle. You had not been boating, they said, until you had nudged down the Nene. We believed it all (except the geese) and despite having a gin palace (less Jacuzzi) and being plumply middle aged, we decided to try our hand. How did we get on? Sit back, you relax, we will do the hard work.

Having completed 79 locks from Birmingham we turned from the Grand Union onto the Northampton Arm. We had hoped to moor just before the turn, but both banks are lined with permanent moorings. One man was cutting steel plate with a power tool, which would have given us a nice quiet mooring. The turn is wide and easy giving a good view along the junction. A facilities point offers: water, rubbish and porta disposal. Just separated by a slipway is The Canal Union Junction Company, where you can buy a key for Nene locks.

We had been told that sixteen boats had already gone down to Northampton, panic in the boat, what had happened to the quiet Nene where many fear to lock. Actually the message had got garbled in the pipeline. Vandals had emptied Pound 16 on the night before and it had taken BW several hours to water down through all the locks.

We found an undisturbed piling mooring for the night opposite Gayton Marina. I played topless tennis with Anna Kornikova, the balls hitting the racket, crack, clump. I woke up, the crack, clump being the rain drumming on the boat roof. No early start then. Rolled over and tried to get back to sleep with Miss Kornikova. The rain eased. We set off in a gap in the weather at 7am, passed Gayton Marina on the left, a large marina with its own swing bridge controlling the entrance. Further along is the office/shop with pumpout and diesel. We had already obtained our Nene key at £4 for a small brass key, so we had no need to wait for the shop to open.

The canal is narrow from Gayton to the locks, with vegetation hedging both sides, so you need to take care. A private boat was moored on the bollards for lock No 1 of the Rothersthorpe Flight and we had to wedge our boat in the lock swim with the centre rope securing the boat. The lock was empty, and so was the pound, two hundred yards of mud. We spent 15 minutes letting water flow down into the pound after checking the paddles at the next lock, we then moved the boat into the lock. Two polite British Waterways men came and asked us to reverse the boat out of the lock. Vandals had emptied the big pound again and they needed to sort it out. Reversing the boat out of the lock, I thought that now was the time for one of those gongoozlers at locks who ask if you are going down. The answer would have been confusing. In the end it took us three hours before we could complete the lock.

The Rothersthorpe flight contains super locks, single, and fairly shallow. A couple have new gear and are a little stiff but in general they are a dream. Just beware of the tip of the two lower double gates, the beam work is a bit angular and you could catch your bow when going down. The bywashes from the locks come consistently from the left and you need to be careful at lock 6 that the bywash does not push you against the BW butties moored on the wharf.

We watched a hotel boat coming up the locks towards us. The crew went to open the ground paddles and the pressure of water forced a fountain of water up through the ventilation hole and drowned the lockwheeler and also shot water up the other ventilation hole drenching the second crew member. Brenda asked them to do it again for a photograph, but both declined. They lost the chance for stardom and you lost a chance to laugh at the photograph.

After Lock 11 life begins to deteriorate. Three concrete road bridges run overhead. The huge bridge tunnel carrying the M1 smells as if several East-End gangsters are loosely entombed in its supports. The vegetation encroaches on both sides of the cut and there is only a channel for one boat, two boats crossing can be difficult. Signs of the famous Northampton vandals had begun at lock 8 with graffiti beginning to appear, most done by a D A Lewis. Perhaps the Northampton police could prosecute as the name is repeatedly clear and appears, surprisingly, to be correctly spelt. Can there be many young D A Lewis’ in Northampton with silver paint sprayed fingers? If it helps further he has probably got spots.

After Lock 15 vandalism becomes endemic with a flood plain dotted with rusty abandoned burnt-out cars. Here too the borough council joins in the vandalism with eyesore buildings on both banks of the canal. No attempt appears to have been made to improve the area and it is one of the most depressing canal entries to a town we have had in two years of cruising. The guidebook says that the Carlsberg Brewery has won design awards. It would not win my conservation award as it is now stained and dirty, not the best advertisement in the world for the product. Perhaps Carlsberg would like to sponsor a clean up and renovation of the area – now that is a big idea.

We sailed through a gang of 15 swimming at Lock 17. No trouble apart from them asking lots of questions and the crew ‘choosing’ to hand out small gifts of chocolate. Perhaps Northampton has a history of young bandits having to be paid off before entry into the city.

We spent our first night on the River Nene by modern Council flats on first hitting central Northampton. The mooring is a bit ‘iffy’ in regards of security, at one time we had six boats moored but three decided not to chance the night. Further along the modern embankment were youths swimming, smoking, courting and one was busy hooking rubbish out of the river and then throwing it back in. Who said modern youth was useless? A hundred yards from the mooring there is a large Morrisons hyper store. An excellent facility for a heavy lift of supplies.

Northampton itself is a ten minute stroll uphill from the river. It is a lovely small town with masses of interesting buildings and a stonking Guildhall, together with good shops. Do try and pay the city a visit. We would have spent longer but we were concerned over the safety of our boat.

Now turn away your eyes whilst I address the Northampton Borough Council. ‘August Brethren, you have a super town, but you do not care about your river. The riverside passing through your town is derelict, run down and ignored. Dilapidated buildings need tearing down; good buildings from the entrance area of the Grand Union Canal to the old power station require restoration. The riverbank landscaped, buildings like the old power station converted, your town could become a jewel. Beckets Park by the river is a disgrace, overgrown and ignored. It could, at little cost and effort, be turned into a beautiful town walk with secure moorings for visitors. Funds are available, a SAE is attached for you to apply to the European Union. Act now. Other cities and towns have; look at Birmingham. It had less scope, more problems and a greater area to regenerate and they have produced wonders.’ Right, reader you can look back now.

The first river locks are standard locks but with metal gear totally alien to the normal canal users. Above the paddle gear appear metal rods similar to Grand Union indicator rods, but these are cylinders in which the rods raise and fall. There is therefore no immediate indication from a distance of the state of the paddles. The gear is easy to work, but requires 70-90 windlass turns to raise a paddle. Landing stages are small and angled, so mooring a long narrowboat can be tricky. Environmental Agency concrete awaits the casual helmsman at every turn. The top paddles are a mixture of ground and gate paddles, but with the windlass mechanism situated on the gate, you do not always know which you have until you open the paddle. The gate paddles produce a rush of water through unbaffled paddles, the ground paddles shoot water up towards the centre of the lock. Care needs to be taken.

The anti-vandal security lock is an Abloy silver padlock, either welded to the metal gates or kept on a chain, to prevent the vandals from stealing the anti-vandal lock. At some locks it is a silver Abloy cylinder lock entombed in steel. The key is a small brass alloy key, which can be fiddly to use. You did buy a key didn’t you?

The first guillotine lock is Weston Favell. The vertical gate replaces the bottom gates and is here controlled electronically. The lock is covered in padlocks and keyholes. I will not spoil your fun by telling you which lock gives access to the control board – have fun! Once found, the control panel is easy to operate, not frightening or dangerous. First you have to lower the guillotine lock, then open the paddles of the top gates. Once the water is level, open the gate(s) and bring the boat into the lock. Shut the gates and then press the relevant button on the guillotine gate, this will raise it a fraction and the water will begin to flow out of the lock. After two minutes you can fully open the guillotine. The guillotine should be left in the up position and locked. When leaving the lock watch out for the water dripping down your neck as you sail under the gate.

We sailed on to Cogenhoe for the night. Bankside moorings required spikes and a plank was needed to get ashore. The river is worth the effort. Clear and still, we watched dragonflies at a lock cavorting on green duckweed. We have now been moored for four hours and have seen only one other boat, no traffic noise, only birdsong and wood pigeons coughing.

The next day was a bad day for us. Just to show that canal life is not a perfect escape from all problems, today we broke the boat. The day started well but with rain threatening. Cogenhoe lock is manually operated, but did not cause problems and had been electrified by our return. The river here is as clear as my conscience and you can almost see the bottom before things get murky. The river meanders slowly without the rush of the River Thames. It is sensible on the river to tie the boat to the lock mooring, rather than to stay mid-stream but the lock swim is rather angular and sharp, and in order to get a long narrowboat around without hitting the concrete I have found it best to rest the boat nose on the bank and push out from the back, reversing into midstream prior to going forward into the lock.

At Whiston Lock, The Environment Agency were just fitting the motorised equipment to the guillotine which we did not get to test, but they did hand operate the guillotine for us. White Mills lock was manually operated with water rushing over the top gate. It is very attractive to watch the water passing over the lock gates. When the lock is nearly full it forms an arrowhead formation of white horses and makes a whooping noise as air escapes from the gate. Despite water flowing over the top gates we still needed to open both paddles and with two of us pushing we had trouble to get the gates open.

At Earls Barton Lock the heavens opened. We waited an age for the lock to fill and eventually had to open both paddles in order to get the top gate open. In our wet state, and unfamiliarity, we, I generously say we, left one of the top paddles open. When I lifted the guillotine a couple of turns the rushing of the water threw the boat across the lock with such force that the centre rope holding the boat pulled off the brass cleat protecting the paintwork. Two brass screws holding this cleat had been completely sheered off. It took a fellow boater to notice that a top paddle was up (as I have mentioned earlier, you cannot see the indicator from a distance). We survived at the cost of two brass screws and some embarrassment. It was a lesson to confirm that the paddles are down and to only open the guillotine a quarter to a half turn in the beginning.

Doddington Lock is another manual guillotine with permanent fitted windlass. We operated this fine, if a bit sheepishly. The locks were still taking time to fill. At Wollaston Lock the Environment Agency contractors were laying cement. One contractor asked to help. I explained that the water had to empty slowly, and this he did, but thinking that the lock was empty he suddenly turned the windlass several notches, the boat jammed on the chain in the wall and tilted alarmingly. Cupboards could be heard disgorging their contents. The boat righted and all was well. It was one of those days when you long for a semi-detached, neighbours and a lawn to mow. On our return this lock had also been electrified.

Speaking to the owner of the lock cottage (mooring at £2.50 a night) I discovered that I had been doing wrong by the guillotine. If having lowered the gate you do not lock it in place it rises a fraction and the lock takes a long time to fill. Turning the security key in the cylinder lock frees a spring bolt that allows the winch to be turned; the bolt has to be pushed back home to lock the guillotine. He also warned us against gypsies stealing from boats at the next two locks and a warning not to moor in Wellingborough because of vandals. We passed the 48 hrs mooring at Wellingborough, next to a well-maintained park on the outskirts of the town. Though the moorings looked fine we felt this was not the day to take risks and so we sailed on.

We passed on our left HM Young Offenders Institution looking very secure, surrounded by high walls and razor wire. On gaining Lower Wellingborough Lock though, we saw on the left a small lake surrounded by at least seven abandoned motor vehicles. We suspect that they are letting them out for driving lessons, or not locking enough up.

Ditchford Lock is the well-photographed radial gate, electrically controlled, thank goodness. An interesting design. It empties rather quickly and you need to be aware of the sudden drop of the boat. The top paddles are gate paddles and fierce, we will need to fill the lock slowly on our return. We navigated safely through Higham Lock, feeling confidence regained and almost speaking to each other. Then we reached the safe, comforting mooring of Irthlingborough, next to Rushton and Diamonds Football Club. I feel so relieved I am thinking of supporting them.

We rested for a day on the boat, catching up on writing and maintenance. A walk into Irthlingborough is recommended. The enormous tower of St Peter’s Church can be seen for miles along the journey downstream and its allure proved more demanding than sore feet. The church is a fascinating collection of buildings altered over a thousand years. The majority of the present church dates from around 1375. The massive tower had to be rebuilt in 1893 when it began to lean after alterations. The church is open to all, and well worth a visit.

Irthlingborough has many fascinating buildings, but has suffered from the granting of appalling planning applications with identikit houses (sorry, detached, 3 bedroom, executive) being dumped cheek by jowl in the most surprising locations. Irthlingborough Lock is a deep, manual guillotine lock and the guillotine has a warning to wind gently. This warning needs firmly to be adhered to, the handle needs only to be turned a quarter of a turn for the water to rush out.

The river continues in its pleasant, clear, wandering way. It becomes increasingly rural through Ringsland and Woodford, it’s so quiet here that even the cows are asleep. Yesterday we witnessed only
one boat on the move, and that was a hire boat which had come to moor late in the day before and blocked the water point/pumpout space, despite there being two hundred yards of empty bollarded moorings. Today we have not seen a boat on the move.

Prior to Woodford is a boatyard that advertises all services and is the first boatyard we have seen since Gayton. The entrance going downstream is difficult and the yard appears crowded with boats. There is mooring with spike and plank for a couple of boats near the Cock public house, advertised here to draw in thirsty and tired boaters.

To the excellent secure mooring at Islip. The problem is it is right next to the Nine Arch Bridge (I only hit seven!) spanning the river, and requiring a fifty-yard motor parallel with the bridge through about ten yards of gap to the moorings. The river stream pulls you onto the bridge and the prevailing winds push you onto it. Any touching of the bridge with your boat (trust me on this one) will take the paint off. The guidebook advises reversing the boat into the mooring; this is not easy. You need to turn in the river and come back through the ten-yard gap between bridge and bank extension. For anything larger than a 50ft boat, turning in the river is tight and the reverse difficult with everything forcing you to the bridge. If the water is high and the winds severe you are better advised to moor elsewhere. Your rewards, if you do moor, are safe mooring, water point and good pubs. With a long boat it may be better to go straight into the mooring and reverse out in the morning when you will be rested and hopefully the weather in the morning will be calm. That night we walked up to Islip village, this was quite disappointing, all the shops and the fun are across the bridge in Thrapston.

We left the mooring at seven o’clock, and with little wind we swept right, upstream, as with a left turn we would not have cleared the Nine Arch Bridge. Turned Mr David in the river. A permanent fisherman sits on the ideal turning spot, and so I went a little further on using a telegraph post as a marker. Even I managed to turn a 57ft boat in the river, but 60ft might be the maximum turn. Safely under the bridge, where the river spreads to a wide pool you could easily turn any length of boat in, but would have to reverse it under the narrow arch if you needed the mooring.

With bends immediately after Islip lock you meet a low, steel girder bridge. With an average flow the bridge should be no trouble now you are aware of it. Further down the river are 48 hour moorings provided by the Middle Nene Sailing Club – well done them. I see no point in trying to moor at Islip when excellent moorings are provided here, unless you are desperate for water or need the shops and excitement of Thrapston.

Prior to Titchmarsh lock there is a flat concrete topped bridge with a 2m clearance, the lowest so far met on the Nene. By Titchmarsh Lock there is the attractive home in the old mill of the Middle Nene Cruising Club. Private property signs prevented us from exploring and a surprising “No Hire Boats” sign affixed by the small marina. Are the members sure it is necessary, surely a hire boater who can manage the Nene is welcome, and any who cannot probably need help, rest and advice? But on our return we saw a sign saying ‘Visitors welcome – overnight mooring, water, telephone’. Thank you Middle Nene Cruising Club.

Titchmarsh Lock has been chosen by EA to trial solar power to provide electricity to the guillotine motor. Providing power to isolated locks on the Nene is a problem which could be solved by solar panels.

The river is quiet and quite beautiful, it continues to run lime jelly clear and the area is teeming with wildlife, flocks of real geese hide in the long grass, head and necks above, watching like sentries.

At Wadenhoe Lock the water rushing over the back gates was 11 inches deep. This is a deep, large lock and sitting on the rear of the boat, with the waterfall turbulently thrashing about below can be quite frightening. The safety chain in the lock is rather prominent and the boat needs to be kept from the side to prevent the boat catching and tipping. We found that putting down fenders was best.
We do think that for the Nene to be safe and enjoyed the Environment Agency should complete two major works:

1. The complete electrification of the guillotine locks. This is being urgently done against the wishes of some traditionalists and with the problem of providing electricity to isolated locks. We appreciate the sentiments of traditionalists, but the guillotines can be dangerous and it would be a disaster if the Bedford Link was completed and boaters shunned it because the Nene was considered too difficult and dangerous for the learner or too hard for the elderly. With electrification the guillotines will not work unless the top gates are firmly closed, this closes an electronic contact. It would be useful if this contact could be extended to include the top paddles thus preventing an accident if a paddle is left open and the guillotine opened.

2. Less water should be allowed to flow over the top gates, either by lowering weirs or increasing the lock gate height. The top gate paddles should have safety baffles fitted as BW now have as standard.

Through Lilford lock, past glorious scenery, churches, country houses and cottages all in light honey coloured stone. After Lilford Lock is a small island, not on any of the guides. From a hundred yards it is not obvious which channel to take, as there are no signs. Once close it is obvious that the left hand channel is the correct one, the right one being shallower and leading to Lilford Hall. To the gratifyingly electric Upper Barnwell Lock, with bars and restaurants in the old mill. Just below the lock free mooring is provided by the management. You have safe mooring in the grounds and a postcard setting to moor in.

Oundle is a 20 minute walk along the main road. An historic town, full of interesting shops, eye-catching buildings and for some reason lots of stunning girls. The road bridge by Upper Barnwell Lock is low and long, but should not cause you a problem. Past Oundle Marina where the entrance from the river is very narrow, with concrete walls shielded by motor tyres. Oundle Cruising Club welcomes boats and boaters and there is a water point just by the bridge. But more importantly, a bar with all boaters welcome Friday and Saturday nights and the weekend lunchtimes.

Lower Barnwell Lock is electric for which this early morning starter is most grateful. We now use the side of the lock where the guillotine mechanism is housed. Using this side allows the poor sod of a guillotine operator to control the bowline keeping the bow from wandering.

Aston Lock is manual and caused no problem. At Oundle there are two road bridges. The first is high, wide and concrete, the second an old angled stone bridge. To make the navigation arch of the road bridge easily you have to brush against the left hand bank. This prevents an awkward turn in the river in front of the bridge, remembering the paint you scraped off at Nine Arch Bridge. The river has now gone murky (just after we passed the sewage works). Instead of being as clear as my conscience it is now as murky as Brenda’s past. Cotters Lock and Perio Lock are manual, fixed windlass operated locks, both were no problem, now being wide awake with arms flexible and willing.
To Fotheringhay. A low stone bridge crossing in front, on the left with meadows rolling down highlighting the church of St Mary and All Saints which dominates the river. Fotheringhay is the birthplace of Richard III and the execution spot of Mary Queen of Scots. With ancient Scottish and Yorkist links you will not be surprised to hear that mooring is £1, or £2 overnight. The village is small, the old castle mound smaller and can be seen from downstream. The church is a delight, the village barns and houses historic and beautiful. No shops or tearooms, but a very posh pub which is well worth a visit. Say you came by river, rolling your hand theatrically, like the visitors of old. The moorings are quiet and undisturbed with the exception of the odd motorist blaring their horn when crossing the arched bridge. Have they no sense of adventure?

We left Fotheringhay in glorious sunshine at 7am. Under Fotheringhay Bridge and immediately past a boat meet of thirteen boats complete with party area and barbecue. No invite to Mr David, what an opportunity they missed. The £2 moorings stretch downstream for quite a distance. Complete solitude is therefore available downstream if you prefer to get away from the bridge.

Warmington Lock, not “on-Sea”, but enough water over the lock to excuse you for thinking so. A manual, pig of a lock to complete so early in the morning. You need your eyes peeled when approaching Elton Lock, the landing stage is on your left well before the lock. There is a walk across the fields to achieve lockside. I believe that a bus runs on high days and holidays. The ramble is caused by the construction of a new weir, which takes the water away from the lock gates. The new weir is much appreciated. I am told that the lock was very difficult prior to construction of this weir.

Elton Mill was boarded up and needs a good owner to sell ice cream, refreshments and sustenance to tired boaters. The lock is deep and manual, but devoid of water rushing over the gates, making it a peaceful lock to operate. Elton is a very pretty village and with what looks like a good pub, serving top-notch food. After Elton we begin to see signs of civilisation with the familiar canal sight of linear moorings, with owners jumping up and down when boats go past.

Yarwell Lock is adjacent to an enormous caravan site. Large ugly signs display, “Passing Boaters No Water, No Rubbish”. We completed the lock on tiptoe holding our breath in order not to break any rules. The lock goes well with the signs, having water over the top, and causes disgust and bad temper. The amount of water pouring over the gate is appalling and very worrying for the helmsman on the boat, with the severe turbulence rocking the boat and threatening to swamp the bilges. The adjacent weir has only a small sliver of water sliding over it. With the lock gates swamped it would have been safer to take the boat over the weir! (Joke, don’t try this at home!)

Further down stream is a small island, which caused a family argument. The river naturally runs both sides of the island. The channel arrow sign has been placed on the right bank pointing left, which, I think, means use the right channel, the crew disagree and say take the left channel. Unfortunately the crew are correct, argument lost. Why is the sign not on the left bank pointing directly at the correct channel? Another example of bad signing. I think the EA are trying to kill me!

Wansford Lock is electrified and a joy, the town “Wansford-in-England” sounded interesting and we intended to spend the night there but the overgrown, sloping bank was so disappointing we gave it a miss. We therefore went on past Stibbington Boatyard, busy and littered with boat construction, on to moorings requiring plank and spikes on the left bank by Wansford Station. Moorings here were gratefully received. Wansford Station is part of the Nene Valley Railway, which currently runs from Wansford to Peterborough, via Yarwell (backwards), operating steam engines pulling historic carriages. An overnight moor and a train ride to Peterborough is highly recommended but the ease of the journey might convert you from boating to railway restoration.

The Nene Valley Railway, in conjunction with the Environment Agency are hoping to construct visitor moorings by the station and at Yarwell, and hope to have a trip boat for a river journey between the two stations. This would make a combined river/rail experience for the tourists. Plans are also under way to build a railway station at Yarwell. You could then put the crew on the train to have them lock on to Peterborough!

Glorious mooring, not a sound during the night and just the chuff and hoot of the steam engines during Sunday. The river has been attempting to clear itself for some time. Now wide open river and flat landscape as we sail downstream with picture postcard scenes of mills and riverside properties. The A1 can be glimpsed in the distance, lorries hurtling along, another world, another time.

The first lock of the day, Water Newton, electric guillotine, six inches of water flowing over the top gates but no problem with operation. It is a good idea to moor up somewhere to make sure that the first lock of the day is electric; it prevents early morning strain on the joints and brain.
Now is the time to put all you have learnt about the Nene locks into use. Alwarton Lock is a manual lock, with an elderly windlass. Water thunders over the top gates cascading into the lock, boiling, frothing and creating great turbulence. Once you have cranked down the creaky gate, the water runs two inches over the closed guillotine. Merely getting the boat in the lock is challenging, let alone emptying the lock whilst keeping the boat stable. With a large amount of water rushing over the guillotine it is a labour of Hercules for one tubby middle-aged man to wind up the gate, no danger of turning this windlass too fast, danger everywhere else though. By gradually controlling the rate of windlass turn and thus the water loss, we lower the boat and when the lock is empty quickly open the guillotine fully to prevent the boat being in the lock turbulence for too long. I considered that there was 18 inches of water flowing over the top gates, Brenda claims to have measured it and it was only 11 inches, but then we never did agree on size.

Passing under the Nene Valley railway one cannot but help thinking that it’s a bit easier on the train. At Milton Ferry Bridge you need a moment here to make sure you correctly line up for the channel arch as the bridge sits at an angle in the river. On your left at Milton Park is an attractive memorial. Our spirits are also lifted with a sign saying “Welcome to Ferry Meadows”; moorings, picnic tables, that’s twice today Mr David has been welcomed. And past Thorpe Wood golf course where your boat can be an aim marker for drivers off one of the tees. Past the linear moorings of Peterborough Yacht Club, whilst there are few genuine yachts there is a warm welcome for visiting boaters, with space for them to moor. A nice touch. Well done PYC.

Orton lock, deep but electronically powered. It appears someone has hit the gate bowing it somewhat, it now struggles to rise, wheezing and muttering just like Mr David after Alwarton Lock. A superb tree-lined entrance to Peterborough was spoilt by four shopping trolleys and a floating, half deflated li-lo, less occupant. Excellent mooring on the Embankment with free pumpout. BW eat your heart out. 57 miles, 37 hard locks and we are here. Rest, relaxation and shopping for the crew. Hurrah.

I am sorry if any of the criticism in this chapter offends the boat lovers of the Nene. I can see why you love her, calm, serene and peaceful; wonderful landscapes and picture postcard views. Green jelly water running beneath your boat. But I believe like a lot of beautiful creatures she has her dangerous side, and in retaining manual fixed windlasses, controlling the water flow through locks instead of by weirs, the river is made be dangerous for inexperienced boaters. I think simple measures outlined in the article would not cost millions and would make the river safer and easy for all.
There are those who do not like tampering with items handed down from the past, but the river has always been adapted for use in the present. The guillotines were in themselves a modernisation in their time, why can they not be modernised for ours?

I spoke with keen, interested Environment Agency personnel on the telephone, their offices not being near the Nene, and learnt that they will complete the electrification in 2-3 years time. Eventually all guillotines will be electrified, or replaced with double pointed gates. They are currently conducting a Lock Standards Study, after which they will be in a position to decide on water levels passing over lock gates. It is easy to criticize Government agencies, but the people I spoke to were helpful, fun and obliging.

There are those who would not want the Nene disturbed by hoards of hire boaters, continual cruisers, or visiting boaters. I believe that the area is missing a great opportunity to become a superb tourist facility. Modernised, with locks made easy, the Nene could be another “Broads”, a glorious waterway bringing jobs, wealth and opportunity. Why not make this waterway more accessible to all; the old, the disabled and the inexperienced? Please.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008



We had a super stay at Bradford Upon Avon where we joined the Kennet and Avon Trust (Lots of great folk, a glossy magazine and all for only £17 per year). We stayed on for the Wharf Festival on Sunday 3rd September. There was plenty of room on the 24 hour moorings as only one person was building a boat and only one boat permanently moored there.
We took part in the boat parade, but lack of bunting and noone on the boat who could sing meant my superb steering was ignored by the three blind judges. The prizes and the crowd were scooped by Lucy Locket who had fold away bunting and a statuesque lady on the front singing the boat song. Tried to get Brenda to sing ‘For Mr David’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ but it seems that she was out of tune. I was presented with a bottle of Bucks Fizz for taking part, which allowed me to say I had won something. My apologies to the spectators whose legs I severed along the wharf wall. The National Health Service is a wonderful organization and it will soon have you up on your stumps.
We stayed overnight on the new moorings at Sells Green, great job done by British Waterways, ringed, wooden moorings with a new water point which has the fastest water flow we have seen. We had traveled down with Ed and Julia who boat on Wildflower, the flowers painted by Julia and paid for by Ed. If you get a chance do a few locks with Wildflower, Ed is very energetic and rushes everywhere swinging gates, rising paddles; he tires me out just watching him from my steering position. That evening we ate and drank at the Three Magpies, just eighty metres from the mooring. A little far for me but there is a local taxi firm. Good food, good ale and an audience for my old war stories.
The next day we were ready for the Caen Flight. You know that a day is going to be good when you first bend down to undo the mooring rope and on straightening you bang your head on the steering arm. We delayed the start of the flight so that Tom, Brenda’s, father could join us up the flight, something he has always wanted to do, but sensibly has delayed the trip until he is too old to wind a paddle. Having past bridge 149 we were in a twisty narrow part, when a Working Boat came through Bridge 148 and kept to the center of the cut. I steer into a tree watching the light glinting from shards of blue boat paint, I didn’t move over enough though, still got hit by the Butty. “Sorry” the gaffer said, “Its a bit shallow today”. Indeed it was. In fact every time I pass a working boat the cut is a bit shallow and I end up in the bank; it must be coincidence.
The paddles on the first six locks after Foxhangers are dreadfully stiff, some of the hardest around, therefore I felt obliged to put down the newspaper, get off the boat and help the ladies with the paddles. I hate helping it makes them feel useless and it's hard work. Ed would have normally done it but by this time he had locked ahead to Lock 30. We steadily locked our way up the flight, the crew dancing a ballet around the gates, not opening them quickly, just dancing a ballet. I came up with the cunning wheeze of breaching the boats together and driving them both up the locks. This had the advantage that it appeared I was working hard driving two boats, looking clever and able to charge Ed later for the diesel. The scheme was later sabotaged by a Lock Keeper who said we would get stuck in Lock 38, The Tom Ducy Lock, as it would only take one boat at a time through the gate opening. I took this opportunity to initiate him into my new scheme to bring the gas lights back to the Caen flight. Just picture the summer evenings with the gas lights flickering alongside the locks, or the winter evenings warmed by the golden glow.
“No chance!” he said “I have enough to do already without worrying about gas lamps”. Time will tell; vote now for the Mr David Gas Lights at the Caen Flight, listen to stories of how they will explode and require a safety scheme all their own.
Half way up the flight a lady came bustling up to the lock and asked if we were going up or down, as she wanted her boat to join the single boat a lock behind us. This is the second time in a lock that I have been asked if I am going up or down. Now as I know that most of you cannot steer a boat I will give you a hint here so that you don’t have to ask. The boat will normally being going the way it is pointing, that is, the sharp end at the front. Thus if it is pointing down hill it is going down, unless of course it is a member of the London to Bristol Backwards Boating Club.
I entertained a few gongoozers on the way up displaying my boat handling skills. An aged couple came over and asked if they could hire my boat for the day, it struck me that it is only geriatrics who talk to me on the boat. No young, handsome teenagers - just old folk. I saw a lovely girl the other day, all long poles and jutting fenders but she didn’t want to talk; it’s enough to turn you homosexual. But then I suppose I would be turned down by young men as well as young women!


I shall now relate to you a story of muddle, uncertainty and false imprisonment As we sailed into the museum, the reception could be seen, a very smart smoked glass building on your right. Mooring may be possible outside, but there were no signs and the area in front of reception does not look inviting. Ahead there were two sets of locks, one wide and one narrow. Again, there was no indication for boaters as to which the museum prefers you to use. A boat was coming out of the wide locks and so we used those. The lock chamber had a large solid lump of weed floating on the water surface and 56lbs of weed and rubbish on the side of the lock. So, out with the boat hook and I lifted the rubbish to the side, then I helped the Mem with the gates as they were very stiff, heavy and difficult to move.
Down through the locks into the basin, a Holiday Inn was ahead, there was no mooring room on the right and one berth on the left amongst half a dozen moored boats. No signs anywhere to say where one may moor so we decided to grab the one remaining slot.

I washed my hands (Good Boy!) And put my feet up to read the paper. The Brenda wanted to go to the shops. Paper down and off we go, a turnstile allows you out of the mooring area to a row of shops fity yards away. There is a notice on the turnstile which says you can leave between 10am and 4pm but cannot get back in unless you obtain a token from one of the shops. So I have to buy something I suppose. Wonder if I can get away with a copy of Playboy. Hopes dashed. The turnstile is padlocked, the great edifice of opening times and turnstile tokens is all negated. Have people ever used the turnstile? Do the shops have tokens?
A lady at reception explains you have to pay £11 which allows you to moor and to visit the Museum. But I only want to moor. No its £11 and you can stay a week. Not bad , £1.57 a night, but I don’t like paying for moorings being a poor Army pensioner but I suppose £1.57 is okay. “How do we get to the shops?”
“Out the door turn right follow the path twenty minutes walk.”
“But I can see the shops from my boat. Can we get out of the turnstile?”
“No, the Council put in the turnstile and we know nothing of it.” This is good.
“Where is the pub please? I need a drink.”
“Out the door twenty minutes walk. We lock up at 5pm but there is a BW lock that will let you back in.” Hmm was it put there by the Council? If it does not work will I be able to get back in I wonder?
Better stay on the boat. “Not much to eat,” says the Mem. So I sit here a prisoner of the Ellesmere Boat museum; I can see the hotel bar but I cannot get there outside of a twenty minute walk. Whilst I was banging my head on an historic kerbing stone a nice man came over and took pity on me.
“You can moor over there by the shops and then you don’t have to pay, but its not very safe. I wouldn’t leave my boat there. Well not on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.”
“Brenda, what day is it?”
“Oh! come in and eat your gruel.”
The nice man did tell me that there was a door in the wall away to the left with a push button code, but the code was SECRET. After leaving the MOD, I had said no more secrets so I did not inquire.
How was the museum? It looked fun, lots of schoolchildren were running round and shouting, but I was reminded of the Men Behaving Badly biscuit joke; when the tin’s always full of biscuits what’s the fun in biscuits? I live on a boat and I’m old enough to be a museum piece do I really want to visit a boat museum?


Thursday, 31 July 2008


Going ‘Up North’ this season? Will you have to pass through The Rochdale 9 and The Ashton Canal? Worried, concerned, is it hard, is there violence threatened? Relax, Mr David has just completed the journey early in the season in order to pin-point the pitfalls.
We arrive from Birmingham via the Bridgewater Canal which has some stunning views and superb mooring spots, but the junction at Waters Meeting is one of the most unpleasant, graffiti sprayed and litter-strewn areas on the canal system. Having avoided floating tyres, plastic bags and gas cylinders the trip into Manchester is easy, industrial and with little housing by the canal so your run should be uneventful.
One matter we need to address is Old Trafford Football Ground, which you pass shortly after Waters Meeting. Not only have I supported the team for fifty years, but I am a shareholder. I am therefore worthy to pass the home of Manchester United Football Club. But many of you will not be so heroic. There are two courses of action for you. One is to stop (moorings provided), buy a football shirt and be amazed at the amount of silver in the Trophy Room, or if you cannot manage this, the second course is to assemble all the crew on deck and have them bow from the waist as you pass by.
After Old Trafford there is little excitement, a view of The Manchester Ship Canal, cormorants sitting in a line on the lampposts looking like characters from a Dickens’ novel. You enter Castlefield Quays under railway arches, past Edgerton Narrowboats providing diesel, pumpout and repairs. Initially the area is confusing and unpromising but then the vista opens and you are surrounded by an old warehouse and wharves area, which has been renovated by The Bridgewater Canal Company. You sail under the new white footbridge, past the attractive wooden lift bridge and the British Waterways South Pennine Office sign. The offices are half-hidden to the rear of the warehouse behind a locked door and up a flight of stairs (you are not allowed to use the lift, yes I know your you are disabled, stop whinging and use the stairs!) It’s worth visiting the offices as they are extremely comfortable and warm, and the staff very helpful and friendly.
Beyond Castle Quays the waterway becomes a cul-de-sac, but there is plenty of room to turn at the far junction in front of The Quay restaurant and bar. The wharves on either side provide good mooring for many boats. The area on the right is a private car park and the nights we spent moored were very quiet (except music on Saturday until 2am), no drunks, vagrants or vandals , only some family visitors.
We spent several days at The Quays awaiting British Waterways permission to proceed. The stoppage listing stated you needed to give 48 hours notice to traverse Duke’s Lock but on ringing the BW office we were told that the lock was closed until 15 March. Further pushing changed the story to a wall falling into the canal at Portland Basin resulting in the entire canal having to be closed. No, we could not travel through the locks to be nearer Portland Basin ‘for health and safety reasons’. So we were patient and had a great time visiting the attractions of Manchester. With a tram stop just two minutes walk away, one can be in Manchester city shopping centre in 10 minutes.
It was difficult to understand why a wall-fall in Portland Basin would prevent us moving from Castlefields, but walking up the Rochdale canal we met a BW project engineer who explained that they had taken this opportunity to de-water some of the pounds and complete renovation work. Indeed a great deal has been done to improve the situation around the Rochdale and Ashton canals. In conjunction with the local council and building developers the whole canal length through Manchester is being developed. On our walk we met only one homeless dosser sleeping under a bridge arch and one abandoned, window smashed, presumably stolen, car in a garden at the side of the canal.
So we were patient and BW were very friendly. Initially it was Friday when we could move, then it was Saturday, and then Friday again, then on Friday we could get part way to Piccadilly Village as the Ashton was still blocked with scaffolding, then it was Saturday again. We decided that Sunday was probably the time to move off; the eager beavers could sail up on Saturday and make our journey easier on Sunday. Well, this was the cunning plan.
So at half past six on a Sunday morning we quietly slipped our mooring and moved parallel with the castellated railway line to the bottom lock of the ‘Rochdale Nine’. By common consent the Rochdale Nine are some of the most difficult locks on the system but each lock is a star in own right. Working up the nine locks took us three hours! There were just the two of us, but we do complete over 400 locks a year and tend to know what we are doing, and still it took us three hours. One problem is the amount of rubbish, which is strewn along the entire canal. This was brought home graphically to us when we had walked the canal earlier and viewed the bottom of the de-watered sections. The amount of rubbish was partly due to BW’s lavender boat being stranded during the winter whilst the pounds were de-watered but no attempt had been made to clear any long-term rubbish resting on the bottom of the pounds, this is disappointing. Amongst the rubbish we saw floating were hypodermic needles, so you may need to be careful when you clear the weed hatch.
I will try to give some idea of the problems and character of each of the nine locks as we ascend the flight. You will need an anti-vandal key as most of the windless drives are covered by a metal box whose handles are secured with a handcuff. If you are single-handing or the crew has left you to close the lock gates behind the boat each lock has a white-painted ‘Rhino Horn’ metal spike, which is very useful for securing the boat.
Lock 92, Dukes Lock. This appears to have a very old chamber built with large stone blocks and interspaced with brickwork, all covered in a black slime. The bottom gates have short beams and therefore capstans have been fitted with chains to open the gates. Lock 92 has gate paddles and no ground paddles, you therefore need to take care when filling the lock.
A straight run to the next lock, the tow path has mooring rings beside the backs of building on your right, car parks and some small community gardens are on the left. A small derelict factory with attractive chimney is looking for an owner to love it.
Lock 91, Deansgate Tunnel Lock. Under Deansgate tunnel, which is flat roofed, the walkway on the right is well lit, highlighting the fitting of very attractive bricks with reef-knot design Steps up to the lock or a gentle walkway on right. Short stubby gates. Under railway arches on your left is a refurbished development of bars and shops; flower boxes, tucked away from yobs in an attempt to make a café culture. The anti-vandal handcuff was broken on the lock, resulting in only one paddle gear working.
Lock 90, Albion Mills Lock. This lock had some attractive features but was completely covered with floating rubbish, the pound itself was quite low resulting in my gently easing the boat though the lock and pound trying not to reverse and force rubbish on the prop.
Lock 89, Tib Lock. With the previous pound low this lock appeared very deep. The gates were exceptionally heavy, so I took the opportunity of staying on the boat and advising Brenda to take care with the heavy gates.
Lock 88, Oxford Road Lock. A gentle turn and about the longest pound on this flight. This lock has a dossers sleeping station under a bridge arch on the right. A new footbridge constructed by building developers crosses the canal and from the left a junction to Fountains Marina joins. Access to the marina is blocked by a bolted swing bridge.
Lock 87, Princess Street Lock. A low narrow bridge on entrance. The main point of Lock 87 is that you have to take the crew onboard as there is no foot access to Lock 86. The famous Canal Street runs along the left, and with no access at the next lock it means you do not have to walk down the street and see anything that would frighten the horses. More sobering is the HIV/AIDS monument in a small park on your right. Above Lock 87 is a floating bar which produces a lot of the rubbish you are passing through.
Lock 86, Chorlton Street Lock. This lock is a pig. There is a long landing stage under the bridge which is only 3 planks wide and there are no obvious boat securing points. The fitting of a holding ring at the centre of the landing stage would be much appreciated. The left-hand gate (landing side) has a small gate beam, which the two of us could not budge. By crossing over the thin, slippery walkway across the gates we managed to open the right-hand gate. The right-hand area of the lock is moss-covered stone and very, very slippery. The bottom gates are new and the top paddle gear has a metal rectangle stop to jam into the paddle ratchet. You do, of course, have to take the crew back on board as there is no foot access from the lock.
Lock 85, Piccadilly Lock. 111 Piccadilly Office block rises above but you are now entering the Land of Mordor as you sail under huge offices and retails blocks. The tunnel is lit by spasmodic lighting on the left but no light on the right. The crew need to alight from the boat before entering the tunnel as there is a metal fence all the way to the lock. The towpath passes the lock and is raised by a wooden walkway towards the right. Round concrete building foundations greet you as you pass out of the lock. The lock area is similar to Farmers Locks in Birmingham where an office block has been built over the lock. This lock is even more depressing, being an area for rent boys. I was told to stay on the boat. Whether this was to protect the boat or my morals I was not sure. The towpath paddle gear could not be used due to a faulty hand-cuff and Brenda again had to traverse a narrow, slippery top gate. These bottom gates were very stiff.
Lock 84, Dale Street Lock. The top lock; nice to be out in the sunshine and away from the dark practices. A large car park is located on the left and much attractive construction has been completed on the bank areas past the lock. An alley way leads from the right out into the street. Directly in front you have the continuation of the Rochdale Canal with a right turn The Aston canal through which we travel.
On sweeping round into the Ashton under two bridges you enter Piccadilly Villages, a modern development of houses. Mooring rings are provided here and I judged it a safe area to overnight should you wish to. For some reason the towpath was screened by temporary security grills. These will soon find their way into the canal via some drunk’s sense of humour. We swept into the welcoming arms of an Ashton narrow lock; a great sight after nine hard double locks. The pound by the old BW offices was completely flooded, new towpath construction work had been drowned by the water. We attempted to report the flood but the BW office did not even have an answer phone. So it was a Wellington boots job to complete the second lock.
Now comes a serious safety warning – the high water levels had made the bridges too low for the boat. The first of the problems was Bridge No 6. We took down the flower boxes, cleared the boat roof and we were still too high. I dismantled the Maxview TV aerial and we just managed to clear the bridge by a quarter of an inch. A railway bridge by the Commonwealth Games stadium and a lock walkway bridge also were only just cleared. So before you attempt the Ashton clear the roof and take care at the bridges. After rising through locks 11, 12, 13 we had no clearance problems. Even Bridge 21 which was reported as being ‘very low’ did not give us any problems compared with Bridge 6.
The two bugbears of the Ashton on this journey were the rubbish and lock gates off their hinges. The rubbish, much of it plastic bags, floating under the surface was of such quantities that after each lock I had to clear the propeller. By bridge 6, where we had to do several reverses to avoid hitting the bridge, it took me 20 minutes to clear the propeller. The lock gates on several occasions would not close no matter the number of people pushing. On one occasion we had four people pushing and the gates were still wedged three inches open. I am sure the gate was off its hinges but no matter how many times we opened and closed it the gate would not close completely. This happened to us on four separate occasions. There was nothing to do but hold the gate as tight as we could and put the maximum amount of water into the lock.
The area is urban: factories, many derelict, old mill terraced housing and a couple of community pubs (the type that I spent my childhood outside, clutching a bag of crisps and a bottle of pop). Serious attempts are being made to improve the area, on our right for a considerable stretch was an enormous building site constructing the various stadiums for the Commonwealth Games. Mooring rings have been placed by the main stadium and these will provide an excellent safe and secure off-side mooring should you have the time to split your journey.
Our trip from Castlefields to Portland Basin took us nine and a half hours, At about nine and a half miles, this was travelling at one mile an hour which is slower than I prefer.
We encountered several small groups of youths, but on a Sunday afternoon in March all were friendly. Attempts were made to scrounge a lift ‘Can we have a go, mate?’ but no attempt to climb aboard or to engage in the local hobby of stone throwing. We did carry a stock of chocolate bars to placate the natives and bribe our way through; yes I know it is cowardice, but its better to give a chocolate bar than to receive a stone.
So our general impressions are that we would not complete this journey for fun, merely to get to somewhere better. That said, Castlefield Quays are superb, quiet, well worth a visit, Manchester is ‘happening’ just off your bow deck and has something for all including stunning Victorian buildings of individual design. Lots of work has been completed, but in order to make the area safer and more agreeable to the boater rubbish needs to be cleared on a daily basis from the two canals and more lighting should be fitted along the ‘Rochdale Nine’. Every BW person we met was helpful and charming but their boat-customer relations were abysmal. Six boats were waiting to travel up the ‘Rochdale Nine’ and we did not see one BW employee come out and speak or brief on what was happening. The story of why the canal was closed appeared to change with each employee and when we gained Portland Basin we saw that the emergency stoppage did not affect the entrance to the Peak Forest Canal as we had been told at the BW Castlefield Office.
At no time whilst using the canals did we feel threatened or intimidated. The sight of rent boys was unpleasant but sadly unpleasant and not a threatening unpleasant and the youths along the Ashton were no worse than on any other urban canal. But can we have a clear-up? My tiny hand is still frozen from clearing the propeller!


The Rochdale canal is not to be attempted lightly. Sections of the canal have to be pre-booked 24 hours in advance with British Waterways Warrington Office on 01925 847700 - yes I know Warrington is not on the canal system but BW like to get away from it. The sections to be booked have varied since the Rochdale was restored. In July 2004, at the time of writing the first booking is for Tuel Lane Lock (well I write ‘booking’ but I have been given different instructions, the best I have is that the lockeeper likes 24 hours notice as he has lots of work to do, to me that’s a booking). Tuel Lane is a large lock which combines two of the old locks to form a 19ft deep lock. The lock takes a huge amount of water which has to be lifted from the river with permission of the Environment Agency, this can cause delays during a dry weather spell, we were delayed on one trip for two days because of water shortage. It was surreal we sat on the boat stranded for lack of water whilst rain drummed on the boat roof. The next booking is for the summit pound. Lock 36 is padlocked and boats strictly allowed through only by booking, not only is the summit pound liable to be low but the pounds around Locks 40 and 41 can be very difficult. The last booking is to be escorted down through the vandalism area of the Rochdale 19 (Locks 65 -83) to Manchester, the padlocked Lock 65 is assembly area. The Warrington BW office say 24 hours notice but we discovered on our second trip that booking way in advance is best. We were delayed 48 hours when giving 24 hour notice for the Rochdale 19 as others had booked prior to ourselves.

In addition to booking arrangements you need to consider if you have enough crew, the locks are hard water flowing over the back gates mean the bottom gates are difficult to budge it is an exhausting process. You will meet with problems - logs stuck in gate paddles, grounding, youths; consider therefore taking the trip with another boat to make life easier. It is a hard canal with 91 locks and is not homogenised for safety or modern softies. You will need a long-handled windlass, rain gear, a ‘T’ anti-vandal screw key and time. You will also need to keep the front door and all windows closed as some of the locks leak astonishingly. Forget 10-15 minutes a lock, these can take you 30 minutes and don’t count the miles - you can complete seven locks and only cover a mile in distance. In return for your efforts you get stunning views and peaceful isolation, many friendly walkers and wonderful Pennine pubs. The canal scenery is so beautiful that this canal is destined to become a jewel in the waterways crown. The Llangollen pales beside the craggy grandeur of the Rochdale. “Get on with it!” you say.

The eastern portal of the Rochdale Canal is at Sowerby Bridge. Just to the right of the entrance is the Sowerby Bridge Basin, gradually being re-developed. It is currently the home of Shire Cruisers whose hireboats will accompany you on the Rochdale. We found here old friends, cheap diesel, and pumpouts. As the last two are in short supply on the Rochdale, it is worth topping up the diesel and emptying the holding tank (have I got that right?)

If you moor overnight below lock 1, having given 24 hour notice to the lock keeper he will probably visit, brief you and give you a start time,. Once you begin the ascend locks 1 and 2 are standard stone locks and no trouble to anyone, locks 3 and 4 are now Tuel Lane Lock. On rising to the top of lock 2 you see a curving bridge tunnel ahead, do not proceed. The pound will probably look a little low. You can ring the lock keeper to tell him you are waiting and he will blow his whistle three times for you to proceed when the lock is ready; or you can send a member of the crew ahead to talk to him. The wait here can be up to 30-45 minutes if there is a boat coming down the locks. You can tell when the lock is being discharged as the water creates a bore and raises the pound level over the top of the lock gates.

When given permission to proceed you will find the tunnel is wide and well lit. You come directly into the damp gloom of the lock, past two sets of gates then a frightening cill looms before you. Plastic covered steel hawsers run down the sides of the lock and you need to rope front and back with, if you can a crew member on each rope. The lock keeper eases the boat up whilst you try to forget you have 19 feet of water beneath you. Reaching the top is like entering a different world, bright and shining. Here you are given a navigation guide and a useful navigation update sheet. If only I had read it!

That’s the last help before the summit. Although the bridges are not numbered you cannot get lost as most of the locks are named and numbered. The crew gets an undeserved rest as the pound here is nearly three miles long but can be at times very shallow. You can moor in the pound but you will need spikes and sometimes a plank. The area is very attractive with romantic hillsides and stone mills. The locks are built in the main with huge stone blocks and many lock walls have revetments in the lock sides which were intended to be fitted with a second gate set to save water. The attractive architectural features of the canal are immediately apparent in the small detailing such as the rustic walkways and enticing stone lock steps.

Beware at Fallingroyd Tunnel after Lock 7 given as a bridge in Nicholson’s guide this is a sharp right-hand tunnel which you enter in pitch darkness. Once inside, a little dim light can be seen from the other end. Should you enter too fast, like this fool, and attempt to slow, you will make love to the left hand wall and scratch your boat. The correct procedure is given in the navigation update, but of course, I had not yet read this. So dead slow, sound your horn, keep to the centre of the tunnel and you should be fine and in a better mood than I, who seeing the scratches kicked everything I could find.

Into Hebden Bridge - sanitary station, water point, open dry dock and two tame geese. Hebden Bridge is one of the Pennine tourist spots, being a super little town with wonderful stone buildings, craft shops, a working pottery and a clog museum. We stayed overnight on a wooden mooring platform on the right, but most of the space is taken by permanent mooring and there was only room for us. On the left there are mooring rings along the towpath, but expect to be disturbed by the horse trip boat which takes visitors down to the clog museum.

Above Hebden Bridge is Black Pit Lock (not as bad as it sounds) with a small alternative power community and store, so if you have an interest in solar power these are the people for you. You are passing through a valley of stone chimneys and a sequence of locks each with its own quirks and eccentricities for you to discover and note. Above lock 11 there are 24 hour moorings at Stubbing Wharf. You now leave the towns behind and enter a narrow valley with wooded sides plus a small river running alongside you. This is a stunning canal. Then the woods begin to break up and the first bare headland appears. At Lock 16 the paddles were especially difficult and heavy. The lock wash on several of the locks is now very fierce and the landing bollards are not well positioned so you are advised to moor the boat with the front rope and one other rope to prevent the bow being blasted from the bank by the rush of water. We did this stretch on a Sunday with the inevitable fishing match, two hundred of the most miserable maggot chewers I have ever encountered, no smile, no talk, no acknowledgement. The match had been pegged right up to the lock gates thus causing problems with landing and pickup. I don’t know who won the match but the club gained the epithet as the Grumpy Fishing Society. There is a water point and services at the Baltimore Marina. The people there seemed extremely friendly, or was it just the contrast after the fish torturers?
Safe(ish) spiked mooring below lock 18, the aptly named Shop Lock, with more room above the lock. These moorings are very handy for shopping in Todmorden where we found an excellent small Sunday market. Despite several good looking pubs in the town we were driven out to the Staff of Life at Knotts on the Burnley Road; good real ale, excellent food and a voluptuous waitress - the visit marred only by the fact that I paid the bill.

Lock 19 is a Guillotine lock, unusually with hand operated paddles. It is easy to work and quite quick for a guillotine. Foot access to the lock area is by a hidden horse tunnel. We bring you everything! Beyond the guillotine you glimpse ‘The Great Wall of Tod’ which holds back the hillside. This wall is not to be confused with ‘The Great Wall of China’, which is smaller and is in errr... China.
After the excitement of Todmorden you are now out in the hills. Small groups of cottages, with local women pegging out the washing looking like women villagers the world over. The more wistful of you might imagine an Afghanistan valley and expect Soviet gunships to sweep over the hill any moment; the realistic would expect hordes of yob vandals from Manchester, of whom more later.

After working hard through the locks above Lock 27 in Walsden you will meet the glad sight of ‘Gramma Pollard’s Chippy’ with superb pies. The village of Walsden should in fact be called ‘Dog Droppings’ as the entire towpath is covered in old and fresh. Above Lock 27 is the first real chance to moor since Todmorden and above lock 28 there is a water point with several moorings outside the Cross Keys Inn. You now leave dogshit land and enter into more hilly wilds. After Lock 29 you enter two stretches of wide water, a beautiful area where we spent the night only slightly disturbed by the occasional train.

The next morning we had problems with Lock 31. The balance beams are short and have balance weights beneath. The gates have been fitted with a ratchet arm and capstan, but one gate’s fitting had not been completed and on the other the capstan could not be budged. The one gate, which could be opened would not open fully and therefore traversing the lock despite modern technology took some time. Unlike the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, houses and civilisation follow you all the way up the valley. Bare hillsides complete with sheep appear but you are never out of sight of stunning stone cottages. As you rise through Lock 34 the sight of an unusual battlemented wall appears outside the village. I attempted to gain more information from a fisherman but he said: “I don’t know nowt about it, I’ve only been fishing here ten year!”

The pound between lock 34 and 35 offers a very quiet secluded spike mooring. The tree cover has now virtually disappeared. Only specimen singletons and the odd copse can be seen. A few yards past Lock 35 is a swing bridge, the first on the canal and the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire. At Lock 36 the notes originally asked you to ring the lock keeper 30 minutes before arrival to arrange to have the gates unlocked, but the telephone number was not working on our first trip. On our latest trip you had to give 24 hour notice and moor overnight below lock 36. The usual magnificent help was provided from the BW workers who completed the lock for us and gave good updates on where to moor and where to take care on the next part of the canal.

The summit, by name and by location. On our first trip we spent the night moored to an old pair of metal rings above the top lock, having bought a newspaper and milk from the village shop. You can also buy a summit plaque should that be your bag. Now for the arduous bit. If you think going up is tough, going down is even more testing. Little renovation work has been done on the next group of locks and they are hard, hard work. Lock 40 is the first of the restricted width locks; only one boat can lock at a time. The lock has short beam arms and two of us could not budge the gate. We borrowed labour at the hire company next to the lock and three of us could just budge the gate. Lock 41 - the paddle gear was so stiff that it bent my new lightweight long-handled windlass, can I have my money back Billy? Both bottom paddles would only lift a quarter no matter how much weight was put onto them. Lock 42 - the paddles continually slipped making attempts to raise them very difficult. Lock 43 was less of a problem but the paddle gear was hard and could only be worked with a long-handled windlass and brute application. By lock 45 your troubles are lessening, the land flattens and water ceases to flow over the top of the lock gates. We found it best to have me walk ahead to the next lock and prepare it before we drove the boat out of the previous lock. After lock 46 there is a water point on the off-side with a rubbish skip; a good area to rest, revive and fill with water - both you and the boat. Lock 47 can only be completed singly being just over 13 feet wide.

There are old wharf mooring rings just outside Littleborough but be careful the length is very shallow, we found deep water just past and tied to old railings. The mooring is convenient for shopping. A huge flock of Canada Geese and ducks live around the mooring and masses of people come and feed wildlife, consequentially the moorings are covered in the result. The first sign of new major canal construction is the new road bridge outside the Waterside Inn just past the Littleborough mooring. On this stretch of canal all along the left side a dam of wooden poles and plastic has been constructed to prevent erosion and is being used for dredging fill. On the right, the bank is walled but too shallow to moor. You are now back amongst the trees, grass thicker and lush, probably because we are in Lancashire.

The first swing bridge down from the summit is at the edge of a large housing estate. No landing stages have yet been provided and it is difficult to drop off the crew. The locking mechanism for the bridge was broken, probably by an Impi of Greater Manchester yobs, but the bridge was free to swing open. You can now see Rochdale, the first awakening of council house land with the unemployable sitting fishing and the first shopping trolley awash with rust. The canal here is very shallow and the water black, oily and smelly. There is a modern garden centre past the second swing bridge, the centre protected as if it were a young offenders institution, but here the security is attempting to stop them getting in.

Down into Rochdale past Lock 49 with only one paddle gear on the off side fitted with a modern handcuff, beneath the lock were two car parked in the navigation channel. Local youths have taken to stealing car and abandoning them in the canal. We just managed to cruise past the left hand side of a Volkswagen Golf. Water lilies mixing with old warehouses, boats still a curiosity and there are plenty of watchers as you complete the lock. Lock 50 is a very leaky lock and you need to ensure your windows are closed. As a compensation you do get the boat washed. Out of lock and under a bridge, to the right is a short wharf arm, which if renovated and fenced would provide a perfect safe mooring site for boaters wanting to visit Rochdale. There is an attractive park area when leaving Rochdale, but an awful amount of rubbish in and around the canal.

Just before the M62, a huge shopping village including a B&Q Warehouse has been constructed but if you want to visit you will have to make a spiked mooring before entering the new M62 canal construction. A drain type culvert takes you under the traffic island by B&Q. The whole length is a twisty concrete culvert with blind bends and passing areas. You pass the old defunct lock and then meet the new modern brutish lock. The lock works well enough but is no oil painting, nor photographic beauty.

After the lock you have an easy run to a good spike mooring at Slattocks. We were tempted to try a couple of mooring spots by the stone bank prior to this mooring, but the water was too shallow. By the moorings you have a garage for newspapers and milk, a couple of pubs and regular buses to Rochdale and Manchester, should you wish to visit civilisation.

Locks 54 to 58 were standard double locks, which gave no problem with the exception of Lock 54 which was very wet. Make sure you have not left any windows open. At the top of the locks you have heavy Manchester traffic; when you get to the bottom only the railway disturbs the quiet. This area is one of those north west passages of countryside, scrub farmland between towns. B&Qs, store depots and new houses now despoil the land because it is cheaper than to re-use the brown field sites. Lock 59; bottom gates paddles are put high on the gate, which makes it difficult for the smaller person, doesn’t it Brenda? Lock 60 has a very poor landing - just a few stones attached to the bank and it was easy to run aground. Lock 61 has no landing stage unless you counted the two wooden poles by a rubbish area on the offside. At Lock 62 there is nowhere at all to land as trees and bushes fill the bank. Lock 62 paddles are very stiff, I had to get off the boat and help out; again. At Lock 63 the bywash runs fast from your right. You need to leave the lock at speed to avoid being thrown against the bridge wall.
There is very little choice in overnight moorings. The best is at ‘The Rose of Lancaster’. It’s a quiet area apart from the railway and the extractor fan from the pub but quite acceptable for a single night. We left the mooring early at 6.45am wanting to be on time at Lock 65 to meet the BW escort crew and not knowing what to expect. As you leave The Rose you pass beneath two bridges and are in a wooded cutting with reed beds on both sides making a single channel down the centre.

Lock 64 is on its own by a bus depot only 10 minutes sailing time from The Rose. We had trouble closing the gates and noted that the pound below was very shallow. A small arm below the lock was blocked by dredging spoil; this arm would make a useful dry-dock or mooring. Just further on is the dramatic new hydraulic horizontal lift bridge over what will be a busy road. Looking left you see a lovely panorama of industrial mills, chimneys, church steeples all shining in the sun. Autumn - the geese are in the air. I don’t mind the Canada Geese when they are flying.
Past several old wharfs and a wide complicated decking walkway beneath a road bridge marked ‘Oldham Broadway 1993’. You pass the ‘Coach and Horses’ pub on the left, poles set in the water well off the bank to give a very simple mooring. We were advised not to moor here as the area has become troublesome, but we saw no sign of any trouble as we passed through early in the morning.

The canal is now a concrete channel running alongside the M60 motorway with passing places, and sharp bends. Beside the M60 you slip under in a drainage ditch, the canal lined with escape steps every 100 yards. This entire area, although not old, is already extensively covered in graffiti, some confirming my worry of Manchester Impis with the name ‘Zulu’ continually repeated. Once under a wide brick bridge you are out of the clutches of the motorway.

At eight o’clock we arrived at the isolated Lock 65; chains, handcuffs and padlock or is that my sex life, and with nowhere to tie the boat up whilst you wait. British Waterways arrived with six men, the other two boats have not yet arrived and we are sent off without an escort locking with Keith on Nb ‘Going Places’ which he is building himself, through the lock in a twisty concrete block culvert to Lock 66. The canal by the lock appears inviting for mooring but turns out to be completely silted up; we could not get near the bank and nearly ran aground.

Lock 67 was easier to get to; of note in the right is a sign of our times, a very large mill has be destroyed and a very large Morrisons supermarket built. The bywash on most of these locks at Failsworth comes in from the right, heavily. At Lock 68 we can get in to the bank with difficulty, but in this length hessian bales have been put down for wash protection. Now I am not the brightest spark in the firework but on my first visit I noted that the bales did not look very strong or robust and that there could be a disaster if they start to come apart. On my second visit I noted that many of them have burst and clunk my engine stopped as hessian became trapped on my prop. Wooden poles set in the cut have signs denoting ‘Underwater obstruction’. The navigation channel is therefore very narrow and shallow we were very lucky to get the boat through.

Lock 69; by a busy shopping road at Newton Heath with a wide variety of shops and a market on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday good for bacon butties for the crew. Most of the locks around here do not have landing stages or bollards yet. The bottom gates at this lock are opened by capstans which were stiff and hard work.

First signs of young yobs throwing wood into the canal from the bank; on taking their photograph they become very polite! Locks 70 – 76 are standard with no trouble, at lock 74 the by-wash for a change is piped in from the left. After lock 76 the canal in front is straight with a sloping concrete lining; it would be difficult to get the boat to the edge in an emergency. Wooden planking replaces the concrete by the lock but no bollards have been positioned to hold the boat.

Lock 77 is interesting, a new concrete top has been fitted on the old stone lock beneath. It is now a deep lock. At lock 78 I used the bollard to stop the boat as I came into the lock. I was not going fast, honest, but the bollard came clear away. Note to BW: Very, very sorry but you may consider seating the bollards more firmly. More dangerous obstructions are marked after lock 78.
Lock 79 - the advance guard of a Manchester Impi was exercising. After refusing to give them a ride on the boat, we bribed them with chocolate and took a photograph of these dangerous characters. Between Lock 79 and 81 the area easily becomes flooded. Reports are that the canal is to be dredged here during the winter. At lock 80, a dead pub ‘The Navigation’, sob!

After lock 81 you are in a narrow channel running straight past housing. You feel very exposed here to stone throwing, but it is not a long stretch and the buildings of Piccadilly can now be seen ahead. At lock 82 there are capstans to open the gates. The paddle gear is fitted beneath a low bridge and can just be worked without banging your head. Lock 83 was an old stone chamber with water flowing over the gates and out of stonewalls.

We enter Manchester in the rain, leaving mills and warehouses and entering exclusive apartment world. On the outskirts of Manchester we note groups of children with one adult male who obviously is not a parent; who are they, what are they doing with the children? It is rather unsettling. Below lock 83 are mooring rings these were only for the brave, but urban regeneration has reached this area and it is now safe to moor. Whilst safe, it is noisy with shouts of Manchester night clubbers and your boat will be repeatedly passed by prowling single gentlemen. Here we left the Rochdale and turned onto the Ashton narrow locks and the safest mooring in Manchester at the Piccadilly Village basin. The only downside is that you cannot get out of the security compound. If you are continuing down the ‘Rochdale Nine’ into Castlefields you need to be aware it will take you about three hours. You may wish to read my detailed description of the nine entitled ‘Ropey Rough Rochdale & Awful Assaulting Ashton?’ available at very little cost.

Kennet and Avon Canal

Tremendous work has been completed in the refurbishment of the Kennet and Avon Canal. The Kennet and Avon Trust alongside British Waterways deserve plaudits for turning a remainder canal into a superb first-rate waterway. Come visit the K&A with us as we travel from Reading to Devizes. I have attempted to write the main aspects of the canal, there are too many locks and swing bridges to describe them all, any such attempt would leave you eyes aching as your arms will be once you attempt the K&A. Throughout the journey the main southern railway line, the old God’s Wonderful Railway, accompanies you. If a fast train whooshes by and catches you unawares you will not think it is God’s railway. You are also watched along the length of the canal by Second World War pillboxes as the K&A was to be a main anti-tank obstacle to any invader pushing north. The pillboxes can be classified by type and some people can tell a Type 23 from a Type 23A, but you would probably not want to invite them to dinner.
K&A locks can be large, fierce and intimidating. When opening gate paddles they must only be opened a few inches to prevent the boat being thrown about like a teenager at a rave. The locks tend to be hardest at the Reading end although County Lock is an easy beginner, followed by the fearful Fobney Lock, with the locks progressively getting gentler as you head west to Devizes. Whilst the locks are nothing that a competent crew cannot manage they can be as fierce as a mother-in-law’s criticism.
The Kennet and Avon joins with the River Thames at Reading, the point can be seen from a distance as two large gasometers stand by the junction. The Thames at this point is wide and unless you have chosen your journey at flood time you will have an easy turn into the Kennet mouth. If you have sailed down the River Thames you will notice a distinct change in the handling of the boat as you push against the current of the River Kennett. The first lock is Blakes Lock, which confusingly is a Thames lock, controlled and manned by the Environment Agency. The lock is fitted with metal ‘Barnacle Bill’ steering wheels directly onto the gates to operate the paddles. The lock is so easy that should you arrive when the lock is unmanned it is a simple operation to do it yourself. If you are mooring in Reading take the right tributary a hundred yards or so past Blakes Lock, there you have small moorings at the Riverside Museum. Cruising past takes you in a sweep through Abbey Backwater and Forbury Loop to moorings by Reading Goal where Oscar Wilde suffered for his sexuality – “Don’t we all”, says Brenda. The present day prisoners – lovable rogues to a man I’m sure, can be heard shouting like howler monkeys, but the moorings are as safe as any in a city and the shops are within easy strolling distance. Mooring charges of £4 per night are advertised, but during several visits we have not been touched for money. If you do not want to visit Reading keep straight on and you will meet the restricted Brewery Gut controlled by traffic lights.
Reading – Henry I buried, John o’Gaunt married, Jane Austin went to school and Oscar Wilde went to jail, but not all at the same time. There is a huge ruined abbey where the last abbot was hung from his own abbey gates, with entertainment like that, no wonder the house prices are so high. We stayed the night at Reading and in the morning I nudged the sleeping Brenda and gave her the choice of sexual congress or a start for Devizes. Unhitched the ropes, tightened the grease valve, checked the bilges and started the engine. As usual I remembered that I am supposed to start the engine before unhitching the ropes.
Opposite the set of traffic lights controlling the entrance to the Brewery Gut there is one mooring, but it is not recommended as the town drunks gather on the adjacent benches and all know Mr David personally. The old Brewery Gut was narrow and fierce; it has now been tamed by being widened and made to pass between the modern shopping complexes of The Oracle. You have some steering to do. Coming from Devizes the old Town Bridge traverse is great fun, but it is no longer dangerous, just exhilarating and it is ego enhancing, being a look-see tourist attraction. The Oracle designers gave little thought to the waterway and whilst their customers delight in the water and the boats, neither moorings nor places to stop have been constructed. When Mr David enquired at the Oracle Information Desk why there were no moorings he was told that they would get back to him. He is still waiting!
The first K&A lock is County Lock with the boat control lights on your left and the weir on the right. This is one of those awkward locks with only a couple of feet drop. There was a floating exit/landing stage that had been built with a roller coaster theme and rocked with every step for added amusement, but unfortunately it has been removed and the crew now have a trudge across a solid pedestrian walkway to meet the boat.
Your first real test though is Fobney Lock, which is a thumping big lock with room for half a dozen boats. Going downstream you have a good sheltered landing stage and a chance to view the problems but arriving upstream allows neither time nor space to view the lock. The metal landing stage has been built just above the bywash from the lock and the residue from the water works. At times the landing stage can be 4-6 inches in water, green and slippery and with the outfall gushing over it. The river also joins immediately before the lock from the left. So with water leaking over and through the bottom lock gates, you have water to the left, water to the right and water to the front. The muddy river stretch from Reading to Fobney makes it impractical to drop the crew off prior to the slippery landing stage, so you just have to hope that the gates have been left open and then have those that can, climb the ladder. If the gates are closed drop two crew members if you have them (the gates are very heavy) at the landing stage and reverse the boat until the gates are open. When going down through the lock take all crew on board and leave the gates open. To add to the fun at Fobney, on warm summer days there are youths swimming using the lock as a diversion from urban life. Say politely, “Do you mind if we use the lock?” And the merry children will gladly climb out without a thought of jumping on your boat or practicing their foul language. On our journey back we had Good Samaritans who were having breakfast by the lock, they did all the locking for us. The K&A is full of surprises, mostly good ones.
You now have a number of heavy locks.
Southgate Lock is smaller than Fobney Lock with a good solid concrete landing stage but don’t be deceived. Stopping the boat for the landing stage is difficult as there is a bridge immediately before it. If you tie up to the landing stage then getting away is not easy. A brick wall is in front at 90 degrees to the landing stage; a fender sized hole in the wall gives testament to the fact it is difficult to get away from the landing stage. Once in the lock the top paddles are extremely fierce and need only a gentle touch to begin with. One of our reference books gives a boatyard above the lock but this is now Burghfield Boat Club, which does not appear to welcome passing boaters. Just past the boat club is the Cunning Man public house, which offers free overnight mooring.
Burghfield Lock appears to be in need of love. Corrugated iron piling sheets hold back the bank but slope outwards trying to scrape your boat. The lock chamber is constructed of cast iron piling resulting in a rough old looking lock. At the end of the lock cut there is a fierce weir attempting to grab the boat, therefore keep right when coming out of the lock.
You now have some tight bends before Garston Lock, a turf sided lock, one of two such locks on this stretch, Monkey Marsh Lock being the other. Operation is easy, however it takes some time for the water to rise and soak into the planted banks.
Sheffield Bottom Lock is a shallow scalloped lock divided up with 5ft sections of brick and wooden posts. This is a pretty area with a tourist car park and picnic area on your left. I don’t know the advantage of scalloping the edge of the lock, I discovered the disadvantage – when closing the lock gate it’s easy to fall and slip into the lock. Your feet are expecting a solid edge and it has been cut away. You have good 48 hour mooring at Theale, just after an electric swing bridge cutting a very busy road. Sulhamstead Lock is no trouble, although the stream/river comes in from the right, just beyond is a farmer’s access swing bridge secured with a bolt and unusually with a metal flap.

Tyle Mill lock and swing bridge are now much easier as the swing bridge has been automated, you must have the lock gates open before opening the swing bridge, as there is little room between. There is an old wharf with sanitary station here with water. If coming from Devizes it is worth stopping and filling with water as there is no free water on the rest of the K&A.
In the past there was need for some serious exercise at Ufton Swing Bridge. If the bridge was not feeling well it could take 90 turns of a windlass to lift it and three people to swing it open. Since Mr David had a letter published complaining of it, the old bridge is being replaced with an automated bridge. So when you read this you will only have to press a button and say, “God Bless Mr David”.
Towney Lock was an old brute: a huge lock, with poor landing and pick up stages, it was hard work. Now it is a joy of a big brute. A new lock and landing stages and the whole area landscaped and a marvellous modern bypass overflow well worth admiring; the architect is to be congratulated.
Aldermaston provides all facilities, including ice cream at the K&A Tourist Information Centre. Here also is Reading Marine Company, builders of superb modern canal boats, worth a stop and a request to see their recent build. I have always found the words, “Not quite as good as Nb Mr David” goes down well. You also get to play with the traffic major league here raising the fully automatic bridge. There are facilities between the bridge and the lock; in the past this sanitary station and mooring was often clogged with long stay boats. We watched one man build a boat on these moorings; the problem has been solved by making the moorings four hour stay only. Aldermaston Lock is the last very big lock until the Caen Flight, from now to Devizes all the locks are normal double canal locks.
At Woolhampton you have a major swing bridge shortly followed by a lock. Between the two, John Rennie’s joke was to put the bywash joining you on the right and the full bore river joining on the left. The river swings you in a curve directly against the bank and the swing bridge. Going downstream you must have the bridge open before leaving the lock as you probably could not hold the boat on the landing stage between. You need to have lots of power on leaving the lock or the stream will force you against the bank and then buffet you against the steel bridge. So with plenty of power, wits about you, swift on the steering arm and you will be able to miss the bridge. If you are unlucky a large securing bolt awaits your arrival against the bridge. Blame John Rennie and the wind. Still passing downstream, hopefully through the bridge, you have to stop at the landing stage to pick up the crew. Well you don’t have to, but relationships tend to be better if you do. Stopping here is not easy, the flow of water is high and the landing stage juts out into the stream. Do not attempt to stop and hold on the jutting edge, the stream will catch the boat with too much force to hold her on a rope. It is easy to stop both before and after this edge but not on it.
Going up stream you need to set and open the lock gates before operating the bridge. Your only problem is then crossing the stream of the Kennet; I have never yet completed it without hitting the bank. The only way is to stay right gently easing your way round and against the stream then when pointing directly into the stream a burst of power and using fullish power turn sharp right, and then stop as soon as you enter the lock. Nothing to it. The good news is you have now completed the most difficult part of the K&A.
The landing approach area at Colthrop Lock going upstream was always very shallow but it has now been dredged and the concrete bank repaired. You will therefore not have the embarrassment of running aground as did Nb Mr David who stuck, firmly resisting all attempts to lift her free. The process was not helped by an elderly occupant of the cottages shouting helpful instructions. In Mr David’s opinion when you are in it, the last thing you need is someone telling you how to get out of it – loudly.
Until the outskirts of Newbury the woods and fields give a wilder impression than before, the views can match any on the canal system, and the wildlife is varied and ever present. Amongst the usual water fowl we saw water voles, definitely voles, not rats as seen in London, and deer both in the woods and thrashing alongside the stream trying to escape from the intrusion of the boat. The river water, however, is very disappointing – black and dirty with scummy lumps floating on the surface. You don’t think this could have anything to do with the sewage farms on the river banks do you?
Passing the boatyard, which has a good landing stage for pump out and diesel, further on the canal used to swing you round under a very low Bailey bridge with only about 6 inches of clearance. This bridge has now been removed and a new bridge constructed. It still retains the central pier in the middle of the river, so care is needed. The river approaching Newbury Lock is encased in a concrete jacket and curves through the town. There is a shelf below the waterline and it is difficult should you need to get the boat in the bank. It is however useful if the river is in full flow to drop off the crew along this stretch so that they can have the lock gates open for your arrival. Should you stop short of the bridge to await the gates opening you may not have the impetus to glide under the bridge and it will become a slow tedious process. There is a landing stage by the lock but it is short and the river joins the canal by the landing stage so take a fully forward rush from the bridge and straight into the lock. When travelling from Devizes and leaving Newbury Town Lock the river again rushes in from the left and pushes the boat into the Old Town Bridge with some force. The short landing stage is to your left, but in my opinion you are better taking your crew on board and leaving the gates open. If you time it correctly Newbury Lock will be swamped with canal watchers and if your conscience is pricking, get some of them to close the gates.
Newbury has ample well-established moorings both between the swing bridge and the lock and down adjacent to Victoria Park. Newbury also has first class shopping within strolling distance of both moorings and a small market three days a week. On the main town bridge is the finest butcher’s pie shop on the canal. There is also Newbury Racecourse for those interested in racing. In the Army, David had to choose a sport. He chose ‘The Sport of Kings’ but had to give it up when kicked by a horse. The horse ran off, thought about it, came back and kicked him again.
Whilst passing through the locks beyond Newbury it was noted that most off-side spindles have been removed. BW are adding three in one gears to the ground paddles, the completion has been delayed by emergency work. The gearing will make lifting the top paddle easier, but I would have thought that there were greater demands for maintenance on the K&A than making paddles easier to left.
At Kintbury extra new visitor moorings have been made on the towpath side. There is ample room here for visiting boats, although long stayers in the past appeared to be much in occupancy. A water point is in position by the moorings and an alternative one is hidden in the lock at the side of the bridge. Kintbury is also well served by the Dundas Arms either for the helmsman to catch a quick drink whilst the crew complete the lock or for a long more sustaining stay. Kintbury has the remains of a chalk mill whose product appears to have been used to make the towpath at Newbury – after a 24 hour stop in Newbury your boat will be covered in fine white dust.
Beware at Bridge 80, Brunsden Railway Bridge, the old wood shoring has given way and steel girders and bolts press out into the navigation awaiting a careless helmsman turning the corner. The river sections are becoming less now and the by-washes less daunting.
Hungerford offers good shopping, four excellent charity shops to fill out the boat’s library, and new trousers for Mr David. It is a toss up which he uses more, books or trousers. A good water and sanitary station has been modernised downstream of Bridge 48. This area was a meeting area for town youths who now appear to have gone elsewhere; boat squatters remain eking out their unlicensed existence. Hungerford is a stunning small market town where John o’Gaunt gave fishing rights in the 14th Century. On the second Tuesday after Easter at Hocktime Festival, two Tuttimen carrying decorated poles go around the houses trading kisses for oranges. Tried it, but no girls were interested in my oranges and certainly not in my decorated pole. BW have completed extensive dredging, improving the towpath bank, which was always treacherous to boats leaving Hungerford Lock. There are superb new moorings above the lock providing plenty of space for visiting boats.
Unlucky 13 locks to Crofton and its pumping station. Sterling work ahead for the crew, whilst you admire the stunning countryside. It is well worth struggling to moor near Froxfield Bridge in order to visit The Pelican at Froxfield, reportedly one of the best pubs on the canal. As usual it is only reportedly, as Brenda failed to let me off my chain in order to go and check on the pub for you.
Past Great Bedwyn where lies the tomb of Sir John Seymour, father of Jane Seymour, wife of Henry VIII. “Another awful husband" says Brenda, not sure what she means. Great Bedwyn also has the remains of a wharf with mooring for the Bruce Trust whose wide beam boats are seen on the K&A with smiling disabled adults and children enjoying the canal.
The locks from Crofton Pumping Station are all easy but beware at lock 60, the liftable walkway has been constructed on the inside of the lock (for the ease of tourists) and it is easy to trap the steering arm when the water rises. Good mooring here at Crofton between locks 61 and 60, with a fairly long walk to The Swan Inn at Wilton for refreshment, or closer ice cream and teas in the pumping station. But beware when mooring in the short pounds at Crofton as water levels can drop overnight, leaving you aground. The pumping station was smoking well on our journey up, a glorious sight with tourists scattered around the lock and the hill.
Now for the two and a half mile top pound with Bruce Tunnel. My kind of tunnel high, wide, dry and you can see the end in sight, a good chance for the crew to put their feet up.
An overnight stop was made at Pewsey Wharf. A good place to stay the night but the wharf has always seemed a lost opportunity. The old café was closed, and the mooring clogged with historic, trip and DIY boat building. There are signs of improvement, a new café and extensive dredging making it possible to moor nearer the loose bank, but on coming ashore the bank gave way and I ended up with one leg in the cut. The bad news is that permanent moorings seem to have grabbed the best part of the visitor moorings. Surely there are sufficient permanent moorings at Pewsey Wharf Boat Club, which prides itself on the biggest PRIVATE sign on the K&A, a joy to the eyes of a cruising boater.
To Gibson’s Boat Services for diesel and a pump out, available from an attractive and easy to moor old wharf. Honeystreet is the site of Robbins, Lane and Pinnegar boatyard, where many of the original K&A boats were built. I am reliably informed that the village name was changed from ‘Muddy Lane’ by upwardly-mobile home-owners. Near also is the very popular Barge Inn, never without boats moored outside. We had always found it hard to moor there, but exactly the type of moorings required at Pewsey have now been built outside The Barge Inn.
Under Lady Bridge, yet another ornate bridge over a canal, built at extra cost, time and trouble to appease a local landowner. In this particular example the bridge included a widening of the canal to form Wilcot Wide Lake. This is now an ugly silted expanse of water, complete with askance DANGER signs reporting shallow water. This is a popular mooring site and much could be done to improve the look of Wilcot Wide Water by those far more energetic than Mr David.
By Bridge 123, Alton Valley Bridge is a monument to 3 aircrew that who lost their lives on 25th October 1944. Their Albemarle bomber from RAF Keevil crashed near to the canal – lest we forget. We are now in the long pond: 15 miles of lockless cruising and yawning idle crew. Replacement moorings have been made here at the Bridge Inn, Horton. Despite the BW moorings here you need to speed up, cars have been known to crash off Horton Bridge and you don’t want to catch a flying car. Well that’s what I told the gesticulating moorers. A contradictory notice at the moorings states that the moorings are BW 24hr moorings but goes on to say that the moorings are for the patrons of the Barge Inn. Are the moorings for all or only for those poor devils, like myself who are forced to take to drink for the sake of a mooring?
Past Devizes Marina with all services, diesel at a very reasonable price (whilst stocks last) and one of the best chandleries in the country. Past the suburbs, slow for the stationary boats parked at the garden edges, as usual signs with requests for slow speed; one does not say ‘Please’ which always encourages Brenda to speed up. Through the sunshine embossed arch of Devizes Town Bridge.
The Devizes Wharf Company constructed Devizes Wharf from 1807, with the K&A completed in 1810. It is reported that in 1842 the wharf had eight sub-tenants mainly coal merchants. The wharf’s building now houses the K&A Trust (excellent society with a fine magazine ‘The Butty’ @ £17 per year). The Wharf Theatre opened in May 1960 in an old waterside warehouse, a gem of a small theatre with seats at all prices. Whilst it is difficult to obtain a mooring against the wharf there is ample room available on the opposite bank where much dredging and construction of ringed moorings, has produced room here for a dozen boats. A water point and sanitary station is provided at the eastern end of the wharf by Devizes Town Bridge. Should NB 512** be moored overnight and well into the morning you may have trouble obtaining water. It is just possible to secure your boat adjacent to them but this will mean you block the canal. Disturbing the occupants of NB 512** is not advisable as the plethora of beer bottles and glasses amongst the assorted junk indicates headaches would prevent intelligent discussion. In the event our engine revving, boat manoeuvring and shouted crew orders did not awaken these sleeping water point moorers.
The Devizes BW office has decamped to – go on guess. To a strategic canal centre? To a famous canal town? To a site were boaters can easily reach them? No, to Gloucester, I expect it’s handy and central for Hungerford and Newbury!
A superb journey with still ahead the locks of the Caen Hill Flight, the beauties of Bradford on Avon, the Avoncliff and Dundas aqueducts, and superb moorings at Bath, then onto the Avon for Bristol. We leave that trip for another time.
This journey was hard work, scary even through Woolhampton and Fobney locks, but an invigorating, stunning canal. BW appear to be working to solve the hogging of visitor moorings by semi-permanents and swamps, the price is that most visitor moorings are now 24 and 48 hour mooring. This is a pity. After struggling with the locks from Reading you may need a longer time to rest and explore the superb adjacent areas of the canal. 72 hour moorings might still keep away the rule benders and offer rest to the weary genuine cruiser. Lovable and homely the K&A is one of our favourite canals and we shall return often thanks to the K&A Trust, Inland Waterways Association, BW and all those volunteers who helped make the canal so accessible, and continue to improve it for Mr David to sail along grumbling about what happened to the gas lights on the Caen Flight? What did happen to those gas lights on the Caen Flight?

The Flight of Caen

Devizes moorings provide a perfect rest stop on the K&A to contemplate the Caen Hill Flight. There are 29 double locks to be completed before Foxhangers at the bottom of the flight, and the chance of a decent overnight stop, 16 of these locks are in the main Caen Hill flight. The 72 hour moorings at Devizes are spacious but very busy, and you get the usual Victorian person who insists on running their generator late into the night plus swampy boats blocking water point and winding hole. The town offers all the amenities you could wish for, including, just by the Market Square a cheap launderette plus on Thursdays an outdoor market. If you are lucky you will awake to the smell of the sweet malty taste of Wadworth’s Brewery mashing the brew, should you be unlucky you will wake to your partner smelling of the after effects of the product, but enough of Mr David.

At the copious moorings, the majority of the space lies opposite Devizes Wharf and down to Lock 50. The Wadworth Brewery Container Park noisily commands the moorings down by Lock 50 the top Devizes lock; the quieter moorings are directly opposite the wharf. A sanitary station with water tap and BW pumpout machine lies beside bridge 40, a further water tap and pumpout machine is located below lock 45. The Kennet and Avon Trust run an excellent shop and museum in one of the historic black and white frame buildings on the wharf. At the winding hole is a large BW sign giving the passage timings for the flight. Yes I know the flight in the old days was 24 hours a day with gas lights to allow operation in the dark, but that was before British Waterways took a liking to boaters. Passages through Caen Hill Lock Flight begin at Lock 44 timings are:-

8.00am – 5.00pm April to October and you have to be clear by 5.00pm.
8.00am – 1.00pm November to March and you have to be clear by 3.30pm.

No overnight mooring is allowed between locks 44 and 29.

The K&A canal is, of course, a wide canal and all the locks on the Caen Hill Flight are double locks; they tend to have gates of metal construction with the paddle gear recently enhanced by BW using three in one gearing. The metal gates are difficult to cross being very slippy in icy conditions or in the wet. Crossing is made doubly difficult as the metal gate top edge rises steeply by the hinge requiring one to leap the last two feet of the gate to the safety of the bank. Gate crossing is not, however, essential as almost all the locks have a small wooden pedestrian bridge beneath the lower gate.

The top lock, No 50 Kennet lock, at the end of the moorings has a convenient garage across the road should you wish to purchase an early morning newspaper. Locks 50 down to 38 have been given names, locks 37 – 22 remain mainly unnamed should you wish to put in a bid. Sponsorship of locks, like horse races, is now common but blatant advertising remains unknown, perhaps in future lock sponsorship will be sold to advertisers. The Dulux Dog Lock could be in the shape of an Old English sheepdog, I only write this in the vain hope of getting my licence fee reduced. Prior to attempting the locks make sure that all your boat windows are closed most lock walls spurt strong piddles of water.

Locks 50 to 45 are all separated by short, easily walkable pounds, there are normally young fishers here avoiding community service. One temporary BW sign on Lock 48 asks that you do not allow swans to enter the lock, not sure how you prevent a swan entering a lock if it’s a mind to. We had a swan in a lock and BW said to tempt him out with bread, but if all boaters do that all locks will be full of swans. Prior to Lock 47 is a pub mooring with room for 3 boats beside the Black Horse Inn, this is a useful mooring should you wish to make an early start down the flight. Lock 47 itself is an awkward lock the bottom gates have a twisted top and are very difficult to open, at least two crew are needed, in order to walk around the lock you have to traverse a walkway fixed next to the road bridge. Several locks have badly leaking top paddles evidenced by gushers of water rising in the lock as the water descends, this makes opening the bottom gates very difficult. Beneath Lock 45 are BW permanent moorings for 12 boats on pontoons, the first pontoon down holds the pumpout machine and a water tap. There are rubbish bins by the old BW Office car park, but it is a bit of a stroll from the locks. Prior to Lock 44 you have one overnight mooring and beside Lock 44 is the recently refurbished BW Café; this is mainly for visitors to the flight, the mooring of boats on the single café mooring is prevented by means of ‘No Mooring’ signs. The disregard for boaters is evident again as the café fence has been constructed only a few inches from the edge of the lock beam, lockers have to be very thin or scramble in the mud to get behind the beam. The cafe does offer passing boaters the opportunity of a welcome ice cream on hot days and hot soup on cold. To the right between locks 43 and 44 is the main visitors’ car park; on good days hundreds of visitors will want to ask if it is cold in winter.

Beneath Lock 44 is the first of the side pounds designed to hold sufficient water to allow the flight of locks to be positioned close together. From 43 downwards the locks begin their spectacular dive down the hill to the clearly visible plain below. There are white houses by Lock 29 the bottom of the main flight, they are your initial objective, but you never seem to get closer, despite constantly winding paddle gear and pushing gates.

BW staff zap along the towpath on quad bikes; they will help by setting locks ahead if they have the time. The gaps between the flight locks are only about 25 yards increasing once you get past lock 29. Fishermen sit beside the pounds, after Lock 29 chewing maggots on the lock bollards is their speciality and grumping about the boats. This is known locally as a fisherman’s grump. Eventually you pass Lock 29 and have the opportunity for a break or lunch. There are six locks left to complete to Foxhangers, the last is hidden away around a bend – just when you think you have finished. Foxhangers has a good boatyard and hire boat company with casual moorings. Two long lines of moored boats await you whilst you cruise along celebrating having done the Caen Flight. You can moor here or go on for two more bridges to moorings at Sells Green, if there is room amongst the long stayers. Rubbish disposal, water, a large campsite and the Three Magpies pub for a more formal celebration await here.

The flight is a rite of passage; it is one of the wonders of the canal scene, something to boast about whilst leaning on pub bars. It has been in the past a pleasure to do, the locks were all manageable, BW staff were helpful and the tourists polite. Our last trip was made a little tedious by the three in one gearing that BW have now installed. The installation is not a bad idea on the ground paddles they can be hard to lift but gearing has also been fitted to the bottom gate paddles. This gate paddle installation is a disaster, the paddle gear already had gearing and the paddles were not difficult to lift, now with the three in one gearing it takes up to 60 complete windless turns to raise or lower the paddles. The spindle on the gearing is short and stubby, the tapered diameter somewhere between the large windless hole and the small, your windless will probably therefore only fit loosely. The spindle being short and the windless loose there is a tendency for the windless to slip off the spindle. It is not possible for the windless to whip round as it is held but it is likely that your hands, fingers, and particularly knuckles will catch a painful rap on the gates. There are going to be accidents with these new three in one gearing on the gate paddles.

Because gearing has been added to gearing on the bottom paddle gear, the turn of the windless needs to be reversed, you turn to you not from you, unless you walk around the beam arm, this is an upside down situation. Not the first canal upside down situation created by BW. Yes, I know they mean well but did they check with a boater before fitting the gearing? Why did they not save the money and fix the leaking top paddles. Why did they not save the money and use it to re-install the Caen Hill Flight Gas Lights? This installation would produce a night sight not seen for years and which cannot be replicated on any other British canal. It would produce a tourist attraction that would boost evening visits and increase custom at the BW café. What an experience working the locks by gas light; lets ‘Light the Flight’. Come on, BW, shock the boating world, and stun the people by producing something wonderful and unique. On installation we might even get some bright spark to light the gas lamps!

Swamping to Bristol

You have completed the Caen Hill Flight, found the moorings at Sells Green, discovered The Three Magpies and celebrated too well your achievement. No rest for you this morning, seven locks and five swing bridges to do before Semington and the opportunity of a quiet overnight mooring.

A dozen long stayers have to be navigated past before the first swing bridge; you will need a BW key for these swing bridges as they are padlocked. I don’t know who BW thinks will want to steal a swing bridge but there you go. After the second swing bridge you can see the start of the five Seend locks, the gates are heavy on these locks and you need to ensure that all the water is out of the locks prior to attempting to open the bottom gates.

This is beautiful countryside small hump-backed hills with open farmland. Melksham can be seen in the distance to the right, the first glimpses of the golden Bath Stone. Between Locks 18 and 19 is the popular Barge Inn with its extensive gardens and benches overlooking the canal. Room for two or three boats at the pub mooring on the left, room for three or four of the BW moorings to the right, should you wish to stop for the hair of the dog. Here BW are trying environmentally friendly willow branches to hold back the bank, one individual with a black soul and the brains of a slug has dropped a plastic drinks bottle amongst the branches.

We took the opportunity to pumpout at the Seend Open-air Sanitary Station at the end of the moorings. The machine was difficult to get going but then decided to suckup like a royal lackey.

Just two locks before Semington, neither are any trouble. Before the top lock, during road construction there were large earthworks, it meant some prompt steering turns, but now the aqueduct is complete and you only have a central pier to avoid. I expect someone will hit it eventually. Between the locks is Tranquil Boats offering a dry dock and the hire of electric day hire boats. Beneath the locks is an interesting spot, here is the old junction of the Wilts & Berks Canal which wound its way through Melksham to Abingdon. Restoration plans are in hand and we hope to cruise it, in our lifetime. It will be a great addition to the canal scene.

Once under the A350 road bridge you have good moorings with rubbish disposal to your right. Should you be interested in gargoyles you can get a bus into Trowbridge approximately on the half hour at Semington village. Don’t bother with the church for the ugly faces just stand in front of the Town Hall. Some of my old girlfriends had connections with Trowbridge, I think.

An easy run now to Bradford-on-Avon, just one high-reach swing bridge shortly after leaving the mooring. The canal twists and curves through super, isolated countryside. Hosts of long stayers, swampy boats, and those for whom the mooring restrictions do not apply; one boat with a toilet on the front deck (different), and one rust bucket with more spots than Jennifer Eccles. Approximately halfway to Bradford-on-Avon is Hilperton Marina and the modern Alvechurch Boat Centre dominating the canal on the left.

No hard work now to reach Bradford-on-Avon, but a slow progression with moored boats everywhere and being Sunday a couple of fishing matches, so no chance of a water ski. Prior to the main Bradford-on-Avon to Trowbridge road bridge is Bradford-on-Avon Marina home of Sally Boats. They are a very nice family firm; passing boaters are very welcome - more than some hire companies; sorry still got a headache from those magpies. Round the corner under the Underwoods Bridge and there are extensive moorings on the right. BW have completed very good landscaping and building works at Bradford-on-Avon. The moorings are well constructed with banking boards, new sanitary station with pumpout, and a large car park for visitors who want to see boats and speak to boaters. The K&A trust have a new café and shop by the lock and run the widebeam Barbara McLellan for day trips.

The lock and moorings here are very busy and on a warm Sunday you will get hundreds of visitors. Over Underwoods Bridge there is a Budgens supermarket and a couple of Chinese takeaways. Down past the lock Bradford-on-Avon town centre is fifteen minutes walk away. As you walk into the picturesque Bath Stone town, note how the town planners, bollards to man, have allowed a steel ‘Contemporary Town House’ block to be built with a blue end. The block stands against the Georgian houses like a camel against swans.

Below the lock, Lower Wharf has the Canal Café ‘The home of the Boatman’s Breakfast’ and the Canal Tavern pub. The lock crew have an extended walk around the buildings to the pick-up bollards. Should it be a hot day and the tavern open you may not see the crew for some time.

Just beyond is the Bradford-on-Avon Tithe Barn, which is so superb it is designated as an ancient monument. You have visitor moorings between the lock and the barn, but this area is popular with long stayers.

The run down to the Avoncliff and Dundas aqueducts is one of the prettiest on the canal system. Wooded hills just coming into leaf above primroses on the left and the river valley lying to the right with fruit blossom much in evidence. The canal is encased in a concrete jacket with an underwater ledge making mooring uncomfortable. The ledge however does not stop swampys populating the banks whilst some of their exotic boats actually float.

As you approach Avoncliff there are 24hr moorings right up to the sharp bend onto the aqueduct. An adjacent cottage has a notice requesting no engine running. This sort of sign always gets up my weed hatch, why buy the cottage next to a mooring? A BW sign asks you to sound your horn prior to the aqueduct turn. I would blow it long and hard if I were you. Personally I never run my engine by a residential house, but I have been known to sit on the back of the boat calling ‘Brum-Brum’ loudly.

Just wide enough for one boat across the aqueduct and a small kink before the canal turns sharply left off the aqueduct, with more 48hr moorings on the left after the bend. It is worth stopping, and taking a walk down the hill to the Cross Guns pub, which has wonderful garden terraces down to the River Avon, with views onto the aqueduct side.

Another pretty run to Dundas Aqueduct and Wharf, you get a glimpse of the aqueduct through the trees prior to the turn onto it, with the Somerset Coal Canal visible beyond the railway. There are moorings both sides of the aqueduct, those to the east are quieter, those to the west busy with boats using the adjacent water point and pump out.

Just through a metal lift bridge is the Somerset Coal Canal begging for restoration. You can walk the first 450 yards down to Brass Knocker Basin, along a nettle lined path with two lines of moored boats and a small 60 foot winding hole at the basin. Anglo-Welsh boat hire, bicycle rent and the Angelfish Café; judge the café by use of its fish tank, six wagtails festering in an unloved tank!

Five miles from Bath the aqueduct is a good overnight stop for an early arrival in town the next day, you can sleep well despite the rumble of trains beneath your hull plate.

Exiting Dundas basin under the lovely white painted metal bridge note the spiked mooring on the right with room for 15- 20 boats to moor, with the equal number of long stayers after the mooring.

Bridge 170, Milbrook Swing Bridge, the first of the morning, there is quite a community here, boats double banked on the left. A large car park near the bridge allows the boaters to live on the canal and find employment away. At Bridge 180 you have, hidden away the Calverton Pumping Station; a water wheel based pumping station which uses the river to provide power which is then used to pump water up to the canal. A very ingenious system and the only one in the country. Pumping days are rare, basically the fourth Sunday in the month Easter to October.

The canal snakes through the gap between Bathford Hill and Bathampton, still a very pretty valley enhanced with stone houses marching over the hill. You pass by hundreds of moored boats during this journey along the K&A. Most have licenses, some are legally moored, and BW seems to be corralling boats into recognised mooring areas; the visitor moorings are therefore kept free. Here is a great problem for this canal, young people with boats requiring moorings. They have no hope of purchasing a property in the area due to the high prices, they buy a boat and manage to live, some move religiously, and some stay put. BW reports there are about 70 problem boats in this category, and wish the boats to be moved to BW licensed sites. The big problem is that BW wants to charge about £1,000 a year for a bank side mooring with no facilities, this fee cannot be found by the majority of the young boaters. We need young people on the canals, but rules have to be obeyed in a civilised society and boats should be on a mooring or continuously cruising. Perhaps if BW charges only £200 a year for mooring on an isolated canal bank with no facilities the problem could be solved. Mind you, in Gas Street Basin, with very little facilities, I pay per foot of length yet have only 6ft 10ins of towpath being fan moored. The cost to me therefore is about £143 per foot of bank per year. I would be interested in people’s views; these long staying and swampy boats are not causing any great inconvenience for anyone when they are not moored on a visitors’ mooring, the only inconvenience is to passing cruising boaters who are restricted to 2mph for long stretches of canal. There is, of course the environmental damage so many long stayers cause.

The boats range from modern, well kept vessels to near sinking, slop buckets covered in plastic sheeting. Every conceivable type of, construction and manufacture of boat is here, my favourite is one with a lawn and flowers growing directly on the roof, perhaps it is the roof! On one illegal mooring an unshaven man is constructing a wooden framed greenhouse presumably as a tribute to the self-sufficient Good Life. You see bicycles leaning against the boats, you see dogs wandering about unfettered, you see bags of rubbish, what you rarely see are the occupants of the boats. David thinks they are in bed, practising making babies, Brenda says he is just jealous. The only way of viewing the occupants is to go really fast past the boats and check out what comes out to complain.

The last swing bridge before Bath is No 182, Bathampton Swing Bridge; this has a long line of boats before it and a pump out/sanitary station beyond at Hampton Wharf. You have moorings at bridge 183, a small attractive park and The George old world pub. You now have Bath suburbs visible on the hillside. The canal line from Bridge 184 and 185 is a solid line of moored boats.

There is an attractive architectural welcome to Bath passing through Sydney Gardens the canal is surround by stonework with beautiful pedestrian footbridges crafted in iron and marked 1800. Cleveland House commanding the canal sits on top of the main stone lined tunnel. Then a gentle curve and you are onto Bath Narrowboats offering a wide range of services. Just beyond the bridge there are 48hr moorings before Bath Top Lock, room for half a dozen boats overlooking the town. There is a path beyond the water point which takes you directly on to North Parade and the town centre, enjoy.

There are six locks to be completed to reach the River Avon. Before Lock 13, Bath Top Lock you have a small 50 foot winding hole should you wish to avoid the river and skulk back along the K&A; with any longer boat you will need to reverse back to Bath Narrowboats. If you think 13 is an unlucky number for a lock wait until you see Lock 8/9. These six locks with the exception of 8/9, which combines two old locks, are all easy and unremarkable. There are some tight turns once in the short connecting pounds and some unexpected currents moving your boat about. The movement is such at times that I think you are better having the next lock gate open before leaving your present lock. You can tell that lining up the boat is difficult at the locks as chunks of the concrete forming the lock swim have been gouged out by careless skippers. Be wary also of the lock cills they are 2ft wide and 3ft deep, your boat tipping 3ft in seconds might cause you to lose your breakfast.

Lock 8/9 is the talking point on this flight of locks. The two locks were combined during Bath road scheme – cars before boats, cyclists before boats, fishermen before boats – no space to complete the list. This is the deepest unmanned lock on the system, my records give Tuel Deep lock at 19ft 4½ins and this lock at 19ft 5ins, however the lock at Sowerby Bridge has a resident lockkeeper who controls everything, this lock you do yourself. There is no reason to be concerned provided you keep the boat in the middle of the lock; you will come to no harm as long as the bank crew open paddles slowly. I’m a firm believer in having one person in command on the boat, with no ropes used. I think ropes just get in the way, all the skipper has to do is keep the boat away from the rear cill and the front gates, and even I can do that.

BW have signs at the front of the lock stating ‘Warning keep craft forward stageboards overhead’. Not sure what this is about, there are gate crossing boards running along the front of the lock gates. I would presume it is warning boaters coming up the lock about the walk boards, whatever; you should keep the boat away from them, whilst not getting to near the cill. The lock beams on the huge gates are short and difficult to budge, but here are plenty of passers-by to press-gang into a shove.

Once down Lock 7 you have the river joining you, running from the right, convenient steps are located to the left to pick up the crew – if you must. There are moorings upstream of the river by the Bath Rugby Ground and the Horse Shoe Weir, positioned in the centre of Bath. The bad news is that they expect you to pay £5.20p a night for the privilege of mooring. There are free moorings just downstream on the right against a metal fence, be wary however the river level does rise and fall. Room here for 20 boats, quiet, well placed for the town centre, plus an assortment of female joggers. The river is about 70-80 feet wide enclosed in a vertical metal piling jacket. There are warnings of a low road bridge; on a traditional narrowboat we cleared this bridge by 4ft. You pass under many different types of bridges; a pedestrian mini Clifton Suspension Bridge is good, the cycle track on the old railway line enclosed in black metal coffin bridges are not. Several bridges have central pillars in the middle of the river, these pillars are best avoided.

At Locksbrook there are 24 hour moorings by the Dolphin pub, but the bank is so heavily overgrown I doubt you could get ashore. Weston Lock is the first of the river locks; these Avon river locks are basically the same, set to one side of the river in a small cut and built of rough unshaped stone. None of the river locks were any trouble, Hanham lock the last BW lock was the most difficult. Just a couple of feet drop but very slow and the gates difficult to open. We thought this was probably a fond farewell from BW. Just by Weston Lock is a small gypsy-type caravan park, but the occupants were friendly and I don’t think them any danger to boaters. At Newbridge you have daytime moorings at The Boathouse; near to the pub is a Park and Ride Station running buses to Bath centre, should you wish to park your boat.

You have now left the suburbs of Bath and have entered into very attractive countryside, rising hills, many topped with houses for the financially un-distressed. I thought that rivers began narrow and ended up wide, this river appears to get narrower the nearer we get to Bristol, or is it my new glasses.

The lock cuts at Kelston, Saltford and Swineford are clearly marked; it would be difficult to go wrong, still perhaps new glasses would be a good idea. Saltford Lock is a lovely spot much visited for the views, with The Jolly Sailor pub directly adjacent to the lock. The only jolly sailor I knew had a very funny way with vicars’ daughters, but that’s another story. Just beyond Bridge 211 there are 24hr pontoon moorings, isolated and peaceful for an overnight moor. Just beyond the moorings you get to see some of the animals at the Avon Valley Country Park. Only some because the owners do not want the custom of boaters, no moorings are provided and rude signs face the river stating ‘Private Property, Keep Off’.

Keynsham Lock has a longer than usual lock cut and with good overnight moorings plus the chance to visit The Lock Keeper pub. When was the last time you had a beer from a lock keeper? A mile and a half cruise to Hanham Lock, the end of the K&A canal. There are extensive moorings on your right with the choice of two riverside pubs. The lock itself is not easily accessible from the moorings there being no bridge across the river. Once at the lock we found a water point but no sign of the reported resident lock keeper.

From now on you are in the hands of the Bristol Harbour Master there is a notice saying please call him on 01179 273633. I did not know if calling was compulsory. Rang, engaged, rang again, got through but they seemed surprised that I had called. A better contact is Netham Lock on 01179 776590. He controls the lock which gives entrance to the feeder canal. Should you have any doubts or concerns about the state of the river or tide, he is the best person to call.

The three and a half mile stretch to Netham Lock was easy, the river was as a millpond, but a line of plastic bags in the trees 2-3 feet above the water line gave testament to the water rise. One entering Netham Lock there are notices asking anyone without a Harbour Permit to report to the lock keeper. Being middle-aged and boring we moored and dodged around the road traffic to the Lock Office, no idea what happens if you just sail through and stay in the harbour.

On reporting you get a detailed briefing on the Floating Harbour, so called I think because of the amount of rubbish floating in the water. You have the choice of 24hr, 48hr, 7 or 15 day licences, Nb Mr David 57½ft long cost £69.70 for 7 days. The harbour is huge, only one bridge, Prince Street Bridge we found was low; our chimney cleared the bridge by about six inches. The reported clearance at this bridge is 2.2m, should you need it swinging you must ring the swinger on 0117 929 9338. Just beyond the low bridge are the visitor moorings on pontoons and beside the harbour wall up to Peros Bridge (with the horns). The pontoons are easiest to moor against, but full of winter moorers when we visited in April. The pontoons lack an entrance gate and therefore suffer from drunks loosening ropes at night having smelt some vodka. The harbour wall is a more difficult mooring, impossible for disabled boaters due to the four foot harbour wall. These moorings only suffer drunks jumping onto the boat roof. The lock keeper gives a very full briefing on the harbour so you don’t need me to waffle on – the harbour is huge, interesting and beautiful.

We discussed the possibly of more secure and accessible Visitor Moorings with The Harbour Master. He was approachable but reluctant to upgrade the moorings due to limited funds. He said the permanent moorers were content with security and never before had any visitor complained about access or security.

If the Editor has managed to print all the parts of my K&A report you have the complete journey from Reading to Bristol and what a journey. Great towns, wonderful isolated countryside, abundant wildlife, locks and bridges of every description. Hard work, challenging, but no longer dangerous or difficult. I could easily spend my time cruising back and forward along the wonderful K&A. Swampy boats are a problem on this canal but, if I were 40 years younger, I would have a heap of a boat, a heck of a girl and have the time of my life happily avoiding British Waterways.