(All photographs can be viewed at a larger size by
clicking on the image)
Each new waterway that we have navigated in England is quite distinctive. The
Kennet and Avon is no exception. Located in southern England, it is 100 ¾
miles long from the town of Reading to the Bristol Channel in Avonmouth on the
west coast. This month covers our voyage from Reading to Bath, a distance of 75
¼ miles. We have stopped in Bath to enjoy this stunning city and wait for
good weather until the Bristol Channel can be safely navigated.
The Grand Union is the mainline, The Thames is serene and wild, the Oxford
very isolated in rolling green farmland. The Kennet and Avon (K & A) is like
Northern California with sunny steep hills and charming stone villages.
K & A is particularly unique for the section of locks called Caen Hill Flight.
Not for the faint hearted, it is a total of 29 locks in 2 ¼ miles descending
a steep hill from the town of Devizes. In our photo album this month we capture
the view from above where the landscape is visible for miles.
enjoyed the first sunny bursts of real spring with temperatures sometimes well
into the 70s. Ducks are swimming about with passels of adorable fuzzy ducklings
and swans still delicately snooze on their enormous nests waiting for the arrival
of their new ones. The change of seasons is powerfully evident; we are enthralled
with flowering trees of yellow, pink and purple.
As we bid Reading goodbye in the first week of April, we pass through the middle
of town around lunchtime on a Wednesday. This area around the canal has been highly
developed with help from the huge corporation, Oracle; it is aptly named Oracle
Development. Throngs of people are lunching on this sunny warm day on the steps
of the mall, on pedestrian bridges, restaurant balconies and terraces. We are
the focus of attention of hundreds of eyes and lots of waving hands. Waving back,
some folks take our picture, and we feel like celebrities. The navigation through
town involves some sharp blind bends and so a traffic light has been installed.
The boat is pulled over to a small dock and you push a button. If the light turns
green then you continue, if not then wait for an oncoming boat. Quite unusual.
Once we have passed this light then we are out of town and in more bucolic surroundings.
Our first stop out of Reading is a 13th century town called Newbury. The countryside
is dry and golden with rapeseed plants. The locks are full of gongoozlers (yes,
that is how it is spelled) that help out with either pushing open the gates or
winding up the paddles. Gongoozler is a word peculiar to canal life and it means
'onlooker'. On the K & A we have more of them than ever, perhaps due to the
weather. Many time folks will just hang around observing the lock operation, often
they chat or help out. We go through a lock where cars are strategically parked
so gongoozlers can sit and watch through the car window, similarly to how some
people like to watch airplanes take off at airports. Mostly, the friendliness
of the people we meet continues to impress us wherever we go.
The town of Hungersford beckons with a charming mooring near the center and
we hang out for a few days. Great Bedwyn is our next stop, a village with a lively
local pub, "Crossed Keys". The town also has an undertaker with a great
sense of humor; pithy sayings and clever RIPs engraved on various tombstones decorate
the exterior. You'll have to visit to see what I mean.
The southwest of England is famous for mysterious crop designs popping up in
the middle of the night on swathes of farmland. Intricate circular patterns are
popular. We pass a figure of an enormous horse carved into the side of a steep
hill. Now we pass into the stretch of canal we call 'California' as we enjoy the
warm sunshine, golden hills and a chilled glass of chardonnay. A narrowboat called
"Tamalpais - San Francisco Yacht Club" motors by and we are a bit surprised.
We rub our eyes but, yes, it appears aliens have transported us for this stretch.
Devizes is our next touchdown in England; we moor at the Wharf, a very hospitable
and convenient spot. We're able to wash down the boat and stock up in this market
town, which is home to Wadsworth brewery that still delivers its kegs by horse
and carriage. Just outside of Devizes is the Caen Hill flight of locks.
We get through the flight of 29 locks in 4 ½ strenuous hours. The gates
on the locks are very heavy and stiff going so for the most part Rob is working
the locks and Marlane is driving the boat. We moor at The Barge Inn, town of Seend.
next day it is a beautiful cruise, only a lock every mile and so a great relief
from heavy labor. We do have many swing bridges. Suddenly, the sight of a beautiful
hill town of pale stone houses comes into view. We think we must be in Bath but
it is Bradford on Avon, a small town just before Bath, also called 'mini-Bath'.
Utterly charmed, we tie up at the Canal Tavern. Walking into town we are impressed
by its layout around the river and canal and winding narrow streets leading up
to the hills. The view from the hills is impressive as we watch a rosy sunset.
We are even more excited about Bath.
The next day rains heavily so we stay in the village another 24 hours. The
following day is still drizzly but we take off anyway and moor in Bathampton,
the suburb around Bath. There is excellent mooring outside of The George, a 500
year old pub complete with heavy wood beams, low ceilings and slate floors. A
great spot to end a drizzly day, we sit at a window and enjoy the view of lush
terrace gardens across the canal, looking forward to entering Bath in the morning.
The day dawns just as we hoped, a clear, rain washed, sun sparkly morning with
blue sky. The entrance to the Cleveland House Tunnel is the first hint that Bath
will not disappoint. It resembles Venice, Italy with Georgian pale stone houses
that drop directly into the water and mirror it perfectly. Colorful flowers tumble
into the canal from fragrant backyard nests. We pass under several decorative
bridges, either with bas-relief in stone or white iron lace fantasy. It is early
morning and there is little traffic so the water is perfectly flat and reflective.
The photos this month are amongst the loveliest we have taken. Mooring is at the
top of the Bath flight of locks, six in all. From this spot the city spreads out
before us, a panorama of terraced pastel Georgian style homes. It feels great
to be back in a city; it's been about 2 months since we left London.
The towpath mooring here is limited to 48 hours so we descend the Bath flight
of locks after two days and moor at the weir, a stupendous feat of engineering
and architecture in the middle of town. The local sports center runs the mooring
and it is four pounds 70 pence a night. However, a season ticket, good for April
to October is only 28 pounds 50 pence. It is an ideal spot, right in the heart
of the city and the price of a season ticket is absurdly low if you are intending
to stay awhile. (Shh, don't tell anyone.) We get our season ticket that includes
the use of the facilities.
Because the weather is still a bit windy and there are spring storms expected
over the next couple of weeks, we are biding our time in Bath before we go to
Bristol and up the channel. The conditions are expected to be similar to the San
Francisco bay thus it is advisable to use a river pilot and our insurance has
to be adjusted to cover the trip.
Staying in town is very convenient and we are able to enjoy Bath on our doorstep.
The sports center is an opportunity to exercise and we discover a boules club
is looking for new people to play. We meet Ken and Dorothy who very kindly give
us a lift from Bath to the small village of Saltford where we finally get our
first real taste of what it is like to play boules or petanque, a French game
similar to the Italian game of bocce. It is good fun, great people and exercise
so we return to play on Sundays and Wednesdays when the weather is permitting.
Saltford is on the canal towards Bristol, so we boat over on a Wednesday, discovering
as we do so, that this part of the canal is actually a canalized river and towpath
mooring is not available. It is rough riverbank so we moor on the opposite side
of the Saltford lock mooring where we stay for the night.
Since the canal between Bath and Bradford on Avon is exceptionally lovely we
go back to Bradford on Avon for some music with 'The Barrelhouse Blues Band'.
There is also a friendly and picturesque pub on the river outside of town of Avoncliff
called The Crossed Guns Pub where we spend an afternoon getting to know the locals.
Next month: We intend to shoot the Bristol Channel to the town of Sharpness
where we will pick up the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. This route is rarely
used by inland narrowboats and should be quite exciting!
.....on to May