Yesterday started bright and sunny. We were in no hurry to set off, but by mid-morning we had resolved to get going. It was only a short distance to the Ufton Lane Swingbridge. This bridge was broken for several days last month. As we approached this time we saw a Canal and River Trust (CRT) work boat moored up on the bridge bollards, its crew clearly busy with something. Clare immediately assumed they were working on the bridge. I stayed optimistic, hoping they were moored up to work on something else – I could even see one of them moving towards the bridge controls.
We were both wrong! The CRT boat was supposed to be delivering a load of bricks to a site some significant distance further along the canal. They had also intended to go through the bridge but it wasn’t operating – and had even held on to the key they had inserted to try to operate it. The occupant of a nearby house explained that there was a scheduled power cut until about 4pm – nobody seemed to have bothered telling CRT about it. The CRT crew made some more phone calls and confirmed the story.
We decided to reverse back down the river to our previous spot. We’d only gone a few boat lengths when we saw a mooring spot that was at least as good, so we stopped there. The cattle in the field wandered by during the afternoon. They didn’t bother our mooring spike covers this time – overnight both covers had been licked or kicked and were lying a short distance from their spikes. We don’t worry about these covers being eaten. When we were using cut up milk cartons we worried that cattle might harm themselves by chewing and eating the flimsy plastic.
We saw two wide boats coming downstream a little after 3pm, so we set off for our days cruising starting then.
For the last few days we have been travelling on sections of the river and canal that we have travelled on as recently as last month, and even in the same direction. This reduces the amount of surprise and novelty. Having a fairly clear idea where we can expect to find a mooring is helpful, though we can still only guess if it will be fully occupied when we arrive. We’re still finding new things though. On a walk the previous evening we came across a weir in a pattern I’ve not seen elsewhere. The water swirling up the inside of the fingers was quite mesmeric.
Sometimes seeing the same thing again gives me a little more chance to bring a camera to bear. The first time we came past this repurposed narrowboat I hadn’t worked out what I was looking at until it was receding in to the distance. When we passed it in the downstream direction I was too busy steering away.
Some new things appear on the river even when we have been there before. On our first two trips to Henley, we didn’t come across the Henley Dragons. This must have been their training boat though, as it doesn’t have a head or a tail. They were amazingly fast with their coach steering and shouting encouragement and instruction as they powered along. This beats the coach driving along behind in an outboard propelled catamaran shouting into a megaphone.
Another surprise came as we approached Sonning Bridge. Last time I had come through upstream there was a boat coming the other way so I had accelerated through to get out of their way as fast as possible. By the time the manoeuvre was over the sight on the other side of the bridge had slipped my mind. This time I was able to call Clare up to the deck to look at it, and take a photograph. I’m not sure if a urinal on the side of a bridge is a comment on discharges by Thames Water or not. It seems this is not the only incongruous object to appear at this location.
The locks on the Kennet are as fierce as I remember them. Our experience of using ropes in locks on the Wey has led us to try doing similar things. If we are on our own in a lock now, we usually tie the nose to a bollard before we start filling. In some of the deeper locks, even passing the rope up can be tricky, but with the nose constrained it is a lot easier to stay at the back of the lock and not be flung on to the opposite wall.
Clare has been driving more too, so I am now seeing for the first time features she’s mentioned to me. Usually when opening a lock gate it is fairly safe to push it with your backside. At one of the scalloped locks there was a distinct risk of falling through the gap when the gate was fully open. The metal handle on the lock arm was the only clue to the danger.