Mooring on the Thames is known to be tricky. We’ve managed to find somewhere to moor each night. Some of the moorings have been a bit questionable, others we’ve had to pay for. One thing they had in common was that we couldn’t leave the boat in the same place for more than a night or two. With my final treatment in Edinburgh, that is something we are going to need to do.
So we turned on to the Kennet and Avon Canal, initially in the form of the canalised River Kennet. This navigation is managed by the Canal and River Trust so for the most part the default rules apply: on the towpath side mooring is permitted for up to 14 days. We’ve not been on this waterway before though, so we still weren’t quite sure what to expect.
I had seen that the boards at Blake’s Lock (effectively the confluence) were still yellow (stream decreasing) a week after the rest of the Thames had turned to green. I was glad we had managed some reconnaissance on foot before we set off. I was still surprised by how strong the flow was – at least as strong as the strongest flows we met on the Thames last month.
The first lock had a rise of only a foot or so, with a fierce weir alongside. I presumed this might be the norm for this canal – how wrong could I be. Most of the locks have a rise of over six feet, some more than eight feet. Many of the locks have only gate paddles too. Ground paddles let water in to the lock through underwater tunnels, so it swirls up underneath. Gate paddles let a stream of water through the gate, sometimes the top of the stream starts above the bow deck.
We have generally been in the locks on our own. With all the turbulent water it has seemed prudent to use a rope to hold the boat. For most of the locks this has meant climbing on to the roof and throwing the centre rope over a bollard. I’ve usually managed to hold the boat during the early stages of filling. More than once, the flow has forced the bow away from the side of the lock. In those conditions I have been grateful to at least control the migration to the other side of the lock enough so that we arrive without a bump.
We delivered Anne and Richard to Theale after an enjoyably eventful trip. It was great to show them the real spirit of our adventure – not knowing what will be round the next corner.
Yesterday we set off again for more of the same. On the Kennet, the same means almost all of the locks are a little different from the others. There is a lock about every mile, and about the same number of swing bridges. Sometimes the swing bridges are so close to the lock that both have to be opened at the same time. We were approaching such a pair when I spotted that there was a water point before it, so switched to doing that first.
We had joined a lone-boater in the previous lock and had leap-frogged him at a swing bridge. Clare decided it was only polite to help him through. It would be especially annoying for the motorists on the road if he had done it alone – the bridge would be “open” for quite a long time. While waiting for the water to fill I noticed that the other boat on the jetty was Ozzie FuelBoat (other fuel boats are available). In the window was a sign saying “Open” – so I asked if he had any diesel for sale.
Until now we haven’t been in the right place at the right time to buy from a fuel boat. We were unable to get diesel in Oxford, but hadn’t used any at all on our cruise down the Thames. Pushing in to the current up the Kennet is a different story. Now we had a full water tank at the front and a full diesel tank at back.
We found an interesting mooring spot on the inside of a curve in a river section. Clare was just able to get on to the bank. A couple of passers-by helped by holding the rope. One of them also offered to help with hammering the spike in. Once he’d stopped, Clare bashed it the rest of the way in – there’s a reason the spikes are that length!
Today we set off a little earlier. I wanted to get moored up at Thatcham before too many other people moored up for the day. We made good progress, though the strong current and heavy locks and bridges meant that our lock-miles per hour was a lot lower than one might expect. The final lock of the day was similar to one we’d met with Anne and Richard. Monkey Marsh Lock is one of two remaining turf-sided locks.
Apparently all the locks on the Kennet were originally made like this. They are easy to build and maintain, but use a lot of water. The much larger surface area of the full lock also means they take a very long time to fill. Getting on and off isn’t simple either.
By (late) lunchtime, we had found ourselves a mooring spot in full sunshine. The batteries will definitely stay topped up while we are away.