Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A steady trip to Reading, and a bit of lock rage…

Our first lock today was at Goring, and it was on DIY when we arrived. In the chamber was a small timber launch, the owner having just emptied the lock and opened the gates. For some reason known only to himself he’d chosen to tie up on the opposite side to the control consoles making a lot of walking around necessary.
Two narrowboats were ready to come in, and the first made the mistake of nosing gently into the lock before the launch was out. In fact, before the guy had even got back on. A shouting match ensued, each arguing correct locking procedure. I didn’t get involved, just let them get on with it. Finally the launch-driver reboarded and chugged off, still muttering, the second boat came in and I worked them up. The whole procedure took twice as long as it should have done, and raised one guy’s blood pressure to a dangerous level…
I didn’t take any photos, that would have rubbed salt into an already raw wound.

Egyptian Goose…
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…and goslings
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Goring Lock and weir.IMG_0721

Ignoring the shouting match across the lock, I took a picture of the weirIMG_0722

Our turn, dropping down Goring Lock.
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We were joined by a plastic cruiser and the unusual wide-beam Valhalla. A very odd design.

We had 4 miles of beautiful river to enjoy before Whitchurch Lock, passing between the Chilterns on one side and the Berkshire Downs on the other. The river found this natural gap through the high ground millennia ago, more recently man has poked a railway and main road through there too. You don’t see much of the later transport arteries though, just the odd buzz of a train passing.

Below Goring.IMG_0727

Gatehampton Railway Bridge is a substantial structure, build by Brunel for the Great Western Railway in 1838, the same time and the same builder as the Moulsford bridge we passed under yesterday.
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Passing Beale ParkIMG_0733

We shared Whitchurch Lock with two launches, one that we’d followed from Goring and another that we’d caught up with. This lock is smaller than Goring, the wide-beam Valhalla was forced to wait.

Whitchurch LockIMG_0737

Whitchurch Bridge is undergoing extensive repairs.IMG_0739
The bridge is still in private hands, tolls collected go towards maintenance and replacement. It’s been replaced twice, but this current work should see it last a few more years. The Whitchurch Bridge Company has a statutory duty under an Act of Parliament to maintain the structure “such that at all times passage was provided for travellers, cattle and carriages”.
During the current repairs, lasting a year and due to finish in the autumn, a temporary footbridge has been erected alongside.

The bridge connects Pangbourne in Berkshire with Whitchurch in Oxfordshire, and there are good moorings on the meadow on the Pangbourne side.

Just below the bridge, in a field on the Oxfordshire side, I spotted what I thought at first was herd of deer. Closer inspection revealed…

…Llamas (or alpacas, how do you tell them apart?)!IMG_0743
There must have been a hundred of them in the field, their interest was captured by a quad bike arriving, probably the chuck wagon.

Mapledurham Lock was our last for today, very pretty with the long weir and sluice gates alongside.IMG_0749

Another three miles saw us heading out of the rural and into the suburban as the outskirts of Reading are reached. Though suburban implies housing estates and suchlike, and this approach is lined by very nice houses on the north bank…IMG_0755
We moored along here, pretty much where we had a blogger’s gathering two years ago, almost to the day.There are a few boats here, but sadly no-one we know. Missing you George and Carol, Anne and Chas, Del and Al.

Looking from where I’m sitting typing…IMG_0757

Tomorrow we go down through the town to stop and shop at Tesco, near the junction with the Kennet and Avon Canal. Then on a bit further before looking for somewhere to moor.

Hi Alf. Spotted that little bit of bank you're talking about, and was tempted but the £4 a night sign put me off. On the way back, though...

Locks 3, miles 9½

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Another good day.

I can’t believe we're doing so well with the weather. It was a clear, cool night but we had bright sunshine right from the start this morning. And the cooler night made for easier sleeping, for the first time in days I‘ve not left the rear slide open when we went to bed.

It was close to 10:00 by the time we got going this morning, returning from our morning perambulation Meg and I were confronted by a boat surrounded by cows – some with calves. The ones that were unencumbered by offspring moved out of the way as we approached, but there was one cantankerous old biddy who stood her ground. Meg doesn’t do cows, anything larger than a sheep is a no-no, so she took to the water, unfortunately through a very muddy wallow where the cows went in to drink, and promptly got stuck up to her belly in a mixture of mud, manure and bovine pee.
This did give me a chance to persuade the old lady to clear the immediate vicinity, Meg squidged and squelched herself back terra firma and we made a break for safety before they all came back.

Unfortunately for Meg, this meant a bucket-bath before she could be allowed back on board, the mop bucket was deployed and each end was done in turn. She’s not fond of the operation, but generally accepts it as inevitable.

All this excitement put us back a bit, but not too much. We hadn’t really got a destination in mind, we thought we’d see how we went.

Out of Day’s Lock just after 10:00.IMG_0689

After the early excitement the day was a bit of an anti-climax, no dramas just steady cruising downstream.

The confluence of the River Thame, coming in past DorchesterIMG_0691
Nicholson’s Guide reckons that this is navigable by small craft up to Dorchester Bridge, but you’d probably need a machete this time of year…

The river does a couple of sharp bends approaching Shillingford, shallows on the inside of the curves marked by bouys.

ShillingfordIMG_0692
We moored here with George and Carol when they still had NB Rock'n'Roll a couple of years ago, enjoying a barbie while watching the red kites overhead. No chance now, new drainage pipes have changed the bank completely, leaving just a short, maybe 30’, length suitable for boats.

No mooring no more…
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Beyond Shillingford Bridge the crew of EA inspection launch Colne were tackling an errant straw bale.IMG_0695

Benson Lock was done on our own, it’s very quiet.IMG_0701

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Wallingford moorings were pretty full, I guess everyone’s decided to stay put today!IMG_0704

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A ferry used to cross the river between Moulsford and South Stoke, but is no more. The popular pub and eatery on the Moulsford side has the imaginative name The Beetle and Wedge and I dismissed it as one of those silly names given to designer pubs, like the Slug and Lettuce, or Pig and Porcupine. But I was mistaken.

Beetle and Wedge, MoulsfordIMG_0711
Once the area was a valuable source of timber for the towns downstream. A beetle was a heavy maul or mallet, used to drive a wedge into the end of logs to split them before floating them off down the river.

Having said it’s quiet a convoy of boats come towards us, having recently come up Cleeves.
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Arriving at Cleeves Lock at 12:30, there were two boats filling with water and the lock on DIY. I took Meg for a comfort break and to check out the mooring situation below the lock, by the time I’d returned the crew of the hire boat were setting the lock up, and we managed to fit all three boats in.

Self-service at Cleeves.IMG_0712
The solo boater at the front drew the short straw, he was nearest the controls!

We were going to close up, but by a lucky happenstance two boats arrived heading upstream. Result!

We moored on the right below the lock, the sound of the weir is a gentle susurration in the background, noisier but not intrusive are the trains heading to and from the Goring Gap.

Now that’s a big boat. He neatly filled the lock.IMG_0713

View from the side hatch
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Locks 3, miles 10.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Lazy day at Day’s Lock

We decided not to move on today, it’s a pleasant spot here so we’ve had a day watching the boats go by.

We had a beautiful sunset last night.

Going down…
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…GoneIMG_0662

This morning Meg and I set off up Wittenham Clumps, the end hill of the short ridge known as the Sinodun Hills. You can see it from the moorings.

It’s a local landmark, crowned by a copse of trees, and giving open views out to the north, west and south. 

On the way up
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From the top, looking northIMG_0664
We’re moored just right of centre…

...Just there.IMG_0665

Looking north-westPanorama_0
Didcot Power Station, 3½ miles away, is barely discernable just below the horizon and a third way in from the left.
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It’s now lost three of it’s six cooling towers. Apparently the Clumps were a popular viewing site for the demolition, the local farmer enterprisingly selling bacon butties!

Little Wittenham church and the Manor HouseIMG_0674

Later in the morning I made a solo journey into Dorchester village. It’s very picturesque; were it not for the cars, TV aerials and tarmac you could be in the 18th century.IMG_0680

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On the edge of the village the farmers were taking advantage of the dry weather.IMG_0678

And a group of four Red Kites were wheeling above the stubble on the lookout for displaced rodents.
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Periods of cloud and sun today, and even a few (very few) drops of rain this afternoon. Moving on downstream tomorrow.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

It’s all about the timing…

Knowing that it was bound to get busy at Abingdon Lock sooner rather than later, we were on the water point at 08:45, and among the first group of boats down when the lockie came on duty at 9.

Leaving Abingdon LockIMG_0629
It was starting to get busy below the lock…

Through Abingdon
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The two boats with whom we’d shared the lock pulled in for shopping, so we were on our own as we left the town behind and headed out onto Culham Reach.

The Wilts and Berks Canal joined the river at the south end of the town, and was a 52 mile canal that linked the Thames with the Kennet and Avon at Semington, near Melksham. Built in 1810 and abandoned in 1914, much of the line has been lost, filled in and built upon, though a lot of the rural stretches still survive.

River Ock under the iron bridge.
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Wharves ran along the river from here to the canal junction.

Site of the canal junctionIMG_0636

There will be a second, replacing the earlier, now unusable, junction, if the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust achieves it’s aim of restoring the link. The Jubilee Junction is near the end of Culham Reach, and at the moment just goes a couple of hundred yards to a winding hole. Named White Horse Cut, it is planned to intersect the original line of the canal to the west of Abingdon.

Culham ReachIMG_0638

Culham Cut avoids a river loop to Sutton Courtenay, and has Culham Lock at it’s eastern end.

Culham Lock
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Then there’s a long easterly reach before a northern loop takes the river past Clifton Hampden and Burcot. There’s a weir that takes the river around past Long Wittenham, Clifton Cut takes the navigable channel through Clifton Lock and to Clifton Hampden Bridge.

Start of Clifton CutIMG_0643

Clifton Lock was on DIY, boater operation, but was easy because a party of Scandinavians were waiting below with their hire boat so they did all the button pushing for me.

Leaving Clifton Lock
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Clifton HampdenIMG_0647

We’re definitely in the “stockbroker belt” now. Big houses, boathouses, summerhouses and long, well manicured lawns line the river banks.IMG_0650

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Geese operate apartheid, you know. Large flocks of Greylag Geese keep clear of their transatlantic cousins…
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The early start paid off when we reached Days Lock. The always-popular moorings on the Dorchester side of the river above the lock were only sparsely occupied, and we managed to pull onto a bit of bank very familiar to Sue and Vic…IMG_0658 
Noon and we’ve already had a good day. There’ve been a lot of boats up and down this afternoon, looking for moorings, and here we are feeling smug!

Sue, Thanks for the comment, I didn’t pick it up till we got here, so missed the spot you described. Good job this bit was empty!
Hi Tom. We run off two alternators, both linked through a Sterling A-B controller. This means that both banks can be maintained through one alternator, but it puts quite a bit of strain on it, and the one that was working was the oldest, having clocked up nearly 8000 hours. It’ll go back into storage as a standby when (if) I get the others back repaired.

Locks 3, miles 8