Westward Ho

We’ve joined the Kennet and Avon Canal several times to be sure of finding somewhere we could leave the boat for a few days.  Our three night trip to Devon was the latest of these.  We’ve been a little uncertain about heading further west along the canal for fear of becoming stuck.  Earlier in the year there were restrictions and closures on the canal because of a shortage of water.  There have also been a string of minor issues resulting in blockages ranging from days to weeks.

The wetter weather in recent weeks has made us feel less concerned about water shortages, so we have decided to continue westwards.  When I look on the Canal and River Trust (CRT) website for problems and restrictions there are very few now showing on the Kennet and Avon Canal.

We have found evidence of problems resolved by CRT.  One lock arm had obviously broken off quite near the pivot.  These arms do get replaced, but that is a major operation, and sometimes requires the entire gate to be transported back to the workshop.  This temporary repair looks like the sort of thing that can be done on site.  Although it isn’t pretty, it is completely functional.

The arm of a lock gate has broken off quite near the pivot.  Planks have been bolted to the remaining arm and a box structure created to add strength and rigidity.
Splinted Lock Arm

We came across a CRT work party doing preemptive maintenance on a lock gate.  When I arrived along the towpath ahead of the boat, one of the team was lying on the ground working on the underside of a gate arm.  In his overalls, he looked just like somebody lying under a car fixing the engine.  Once the team realised a boat was coming, they got out of the way of the gates and helped us through.

While waiting I enquired about their task.  It seems the section of the gate that the winding mechanism bolts on to was rotting.  They were inserting additional pieces of new wood to make it last a little longer.

An open lock gate with part of the paddle winding mechanism sitting on the grass alongside.There is a mat at the lock edge for the worker to lie on, and various tools within reach.
Lock Winding Mechanism Awaiting New Wood

The forecast for Wednesday suggested we’d get wet if we travelled at all. On Tuesday afternoon we managed to find a suitable mooring in Hungerford to sit it out. In the evening we heard an altercation on the towpath. Then I heard a woman politely asking if she could come on to our boat with her dog. She was trying to get away from the men further along the towpath who seemed to be arguing about dogs. The woman turned out to be from the boat moored opposite – perhaps that explained why it occurred to her to step aboard, but also to seek permission. We never really understood what had been happening, but our neighbour was relieved to be able to carry on with her walk.

Thursday promised to be a much drier day. Clare and I both popped in to shops in town, but came back separately. While I was waiting for Clare to return, a man walking along the towpath said hello, and then asked if his grand-daughter could come and look at the inside of our boat. I was happy to welcome them both aboard – though grandad found the big step from the bank a bit of a challenge. It was obvious that he was more interested in the boat than she was, but it was a pleasant interaction all the same.

Clare opted to work the first lock and then walked on to the swing bridge soon after. She got some help with it from a passing boater. He cheerily told her that the next one was in a field of bullocks. She was a little surprised when the next canal event seemed to be a lock rather than a bridge. However it turned out that this lock had a swing bridge over it – with instructions to open it before filling the lock. It also had an unusual request – leave the lock empty to keep the cattle safe. I can only guess that cattle might try to drink from the lock and slip in.

A swing bridge over a lock.  The bridge has a sign on it saying "Please leave lock empty to keep cattle safe".
Please Leave Lock Empty to Keep Cattle Safe

The weather had been dry if a little dull until we got to Little Bedwyn.  We stopped there on the lock bollards while we let a shower pass.  Afterwards we pressed on to Great Bedwyn.  The visitor moorings there were completely full, but we did manage to get moored just beyond the lock.  A resident on a boat on the other side of the canal advised us against the spot telling us it was very shallow.  We managed to get ropes ashore near enough to use the gang plank though.  I had thought he just didn’t want us moored opposite him, but a very friendly conversation the next morning made it clear that he really was just trying to be helpful.

I had a stroll in to the village later on.  For some reason the village shop and post office had a large number of grave stones and similar carved plaques displayed outside.  Some of them might have been serious, others were obviously not.

Great Bedwyn Post Office.  A small old fashioned shop entrance in a larger brick building.  Along the shop frontage are a number of tombstones and similar stone plaques.
Great Bedwyn Post Office

I noted that there was a bakery at the shop and resolved to return in the morning before we set off again.  It seemed unlikely there would be a butcher there though.

Stone Plaque
"Here lies John Higgs
A famous man for killing Pigs
For killing Pigs was his Delight
Both morning Afternoon and Night
Both heats and Colds he did Endure
Which no Physician could ere Cure
His knife is laid His work isDone
I hope to Heaven his Soul has Gone
Memorial to John Higgs