We made it to the end of the Basingstoke!

Having got up all the locks, the only thing stopping us from reaching the head of navigation of the Basingstoke Canal was three low bridges. Gordon measured the height above water and figured out that we had to drop about four inches if we were going to make it. The cratch cover came off, the water tank was filled along with the spare water bladder, heavy stuff was put on top of the gas locker and, with me sitting in the front, we slowly crept up to the first bridge. According to those in the know if you can get under that one you can manage them all.

There wasn’t a great deal of clearance but we made it! The only other problem occurred when Festina Lente managed to pick up a stray cray fish pot in her prop. Luckily we were travelling behind and managed to tow them along to a spot where Andy could get in and sort it all out.

Another lovely day’s travel along this incredibly beautiful canal….

…and we reached the head of navigation at Odiham.

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There’s a lovely mooring there…

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…which is right outside Odiham Castle – built by King John as a stopping point when travelling between Windsor and Winchester.

To celebrate our safe arrival we went for a great lunch in The Mill House – only a short walk from the canal. Sue and Andy had eaten here in the ’80s when it was owned by a friend of theirs and called Blubeckers.

The canal is in water for another quarter of a mile or so after the official head of navigation. It goes as far as the Greywell Tunnel which is now un-navigable having largely collapsed. It’s now designated as an SSSI as it has more roosting bats than any other site in Britain. We wandered along in the evening to see if we could spot any leaving the roost. No luck there I’m afraid, but it was a pleasant stroll with the Fox and Goose pub at the end of it.

As we returned to the boat we did manage to see a few bats. I spent a happy hour or so on the back of the boat bat spotting. The light from my torch attracted the insects which, in turn, attracted the bats. A lovely end to the day.

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Onto the Basingstoke – at last!

We’ve finally made it onto the Basingstoke Canal on our third attempt! We set off with Sue and Andy on nb Festina Lente a couple of days ago with hope in our hearts that this time we’d be successful.

You need  to book onto the canal and are given times when you can work through the locks. There are several SSSIs so there is a limit to the number of boats allowed through each year and as there is a always a water shortage the locks have to be very carefully managed.

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We moored up at the bottom of the first set of locks…

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…met Carl the Ranger, were told the rules and regulations, received our licence, signed our lives away…

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…and set off up the locks.

The bottom lock of each flight is unlocked when the first boat goes up at it’s alloted time and locked again when the last boat has gone through. It’s inevitably hard work to start with, as all bar one of the twenty nine locks need to be negotiated in the first two days. The eleven locks of the Woodhams and St John’s flights on the first day and the seventeen of the Brookwood and Deepcut flights on day two. No stopping half way up a flight and deciding to moor up for the night when you get knackered!

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We got this far on our first attempt so were not feeling smug yet.

Lock Five, where we came to grief the first time, had come and gone with no problems so we were starting to believe we could actually do it! We were particularly aware of the problems that logs could cause, so were on the case when we spotted any, making sure they were removed and put to one side on the canal bank for retrieval when we come back down. No point in wasting good fuel.

The only ‘official’ way across the locks is via a bridge at the bottom but that didn’t stop Andy using his boat hook as a balance as he daintily tripped across the top gates, much to Sue’s consternation. I don’t think she fancied getting all the weed and crap off his clothes if he fell in.

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It really is a very beautiful canal….

… and, as it was Sunday, there were plenty of gongoozlers around to watch and chat. Many of them walk the canal regularly and were surprised by the sight of boats.

The second day, going up the three locks of Brookwood and the fourteen of Deepcut proved tough going. The canal is just as beautiful but the locks are quite hard work. It wasn’t helped by the fact that a boat going up ahead of us had left a paddle open at each end of a lock, draining the pound above. That caused us to have a compulsory hour long lunch break while the ranger sorted it out.

You’re normally supposed to finish this flight by 3.30pm but it was after 4.30 before we went through the top lock and moored up at Frimley Green, before heading off to the Harvester for dinner – too knackered to cook.

Our mooring was right beside the Frimley Lodge Miniature Railway. What a great toy that would be to play with! I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see it running but they were working on the model train so we did get to have a peek at it.

It was a hard couple of days’ boating but it was great to have finally got here. Only one more lock and a few low bridges to tackle after this, as well as the journey back down of course.

 

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A break from the boat

In July, for the best part of three weeks, we left the boat and headed off on a trip to Suffolk and Cornwall. Before we put the boat into Barby Marina and headed off, we managed a couple of days moored up in a quiet spot just outside Braunston, with Sue and Andy from Festina Lente. The weather was incredible, the craic was great and, even though the barn owl that hunts in the area didn’t put in an appearance for us, the sunsets and the company made up for it.

Our first port of call on the trip was Aldeburgh in Suffolk where we spent a wonderful three days with my daughter Jenny. We had a great time playing with the boys in the garden improving our non existent football skills!

We may have made an escape from the boat but we certainly hadn’t escaped from boaters. Paul, Roly and Bev were also staying in Cornwall and we managed a get together on our first night in the Ship in Mousehole.

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We also managed to bump into some old friends, Hen, Tim and Ollie the pug along with the ‘Harbour Barber’ Robbie Capes. It was great to catch up.

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Our first stay was with my friend Annie in her beautiful house overlooking Mousehole and she looked after us royally including cooking us a couple of wonderful meals.

Gordon managed to get his compulsory walk around Newlyn Harbour…

…and his compulsory drink with old friends in one of the local hostelries…

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…before we moved on to stay with Gord’s sister Heth in her new house in the countryside  near Lelant. It’s right opposite Trencrom Hill and we headed up there on our first evening. It’s one of the places I used to take the dog for walks when we lived in Hayle and the views are stunning.

On another day we headed out on another of my favourite walks past Lanyon Quoit, the Men an Tol, the Nine Maidens stone circle and up Carn Galver with its views over the North Coast.

One of the reasons for our Cornish visit was that I’d finally reached pension age and could pick up my bus pass. Being old has some advantages! To celebrate my birthday we went for lunch in the Coastguard hotel with Gord’s sister Heth, Annie, Hilary, Roly, Bev, Paul and my daughter Ellie. Ellie’s an expert at avoiding the camera and managed to stay out of the shot in any of the photos I have of the event. It was a wonderful meal and a great way to celebrate turning 64 with friends and family.

We had originally intended to head back to the boat after this but were invited to a wedding that we just couldn’t miss. Cod and Jane, who have been together for longer than either of them would care to admit, were finally getting hitched and we were asked to the evening do. This meant staying in Cornwall for a few days longer which gave us time to attend Newlyn Raft Race and help out a bit with the setting up and organisation. It had been pouring down the day before so everyone was relieved to see clear skies on the day. I don’t know how much was raised for the Newlyn Harbour Lights fund but it was amazingly well attended and enjoyed by all.

The whole of our visit to Cornwall was a bit of a social whirl, visiting as many of our  friends as possible. We managed to get to see Clare who runs the pirate boat Bag O’ Rags in Penzance Harbour.

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She’s completely up to her eyes in preparations for Penzance’s most recent attempt to break the Guinness World record for the biggest gathering of pirates. Unfortunately we can’t make it back down for that but I’m sure they’ll smash it! We bought ourselves a Cornish Flag and now have it flying proudly from the back of the boat.

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Dinner at Barry and Hilary’s house in Mousehole was another highlight. It was a ‘school night’ so not a late one but nonetheless enjoyable. As usual, Hilary cooked a lovely meal backed up by Barry who sorted out the booze.

To end the visit, we did manage to get to Cod and Jane’s wedding reception – unfortunately my phone battery died so there isn’t any photographic evidence but it was a marvellous ‘do’ in Penzance Rugby Club. Great food, loads of chance to catch up with old friends and a certain amount of alcohol.

We’re back on the boat now have met up again up with Sue and Andy in order to make yet another attempt to tackle the Basingstoke Canal. This will be our third try and hopefully this time we’ll be successful!

 

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Into Birmingham again – up the Stratford

Life has been a touch hectic recently so blogging has taken a bit of a back seat. This one’s about what we were up to in June so just a touch out of date!

After our wonderful encounter with the Evesham Morris Dancers we headed for Stratford. We’d visited a couple of times before and done most of the touristy stuff but hadn’t managed to see anything in any of the theatres. This time we visited the smaller Swan Theatre which was showing a rather bawdy farce called Vice Versa. It’s a reworking of a Roman play by Plautus. I’m not a big fan of farce but this was a brilliant production – very energetic and extremely funny. Much to the delight of the American lady in the seat next to us, the main character was mysoginistic and self aggrandising, with more than a few references to Donald Trump.

We tackled the 16 locks out of Stratford on a boiling hot day and it was tough work!

By the time we’d crossed the Edstone Aqueduct (the longest in England) we were more than ready to moor up in Wootton Wawen for the night.

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The following day, another hot one, and another 17 locks to do to get to Kingswood Junction but this time we had help. We were joined by Kirsty and Boris and their assistance was very welcome.

We met Kirsty and Tug when we did the BCN 24 hour marathon Challenge and it was great to get together with them again and share a meal cooked by Tug on board their boat. Boris was obviously feeling the worse for wear from our day’s exercise and spent most of the time snoozing while cuddling his favourite toy.

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Another hot day, another 20 locks and another great helper. There was a volunteer at the bottom of the locks and he helped us up the whole of the Lapworth flight, cycling ahead and setting each lock so that we weren’t hanging about at all. Perfect!

The disused guillotine lock marks the junction between the Stratford and the Worcester and Birmingham canals. We turned left here and headed back into Birmingham for possibly the last time this summer.

For some reason, on our numerous previous visits, we hadn’t got round to visiting the Cathedral. When I discovered that it boasts an amazing series of Edward Burnes Jones windows it was an omission that had to be corrected.

The four windows are remarkable. The east window depicts The Ascension…..

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…and the west end is dominated by these three windows depicting the Nativity, the Last Judgement and The Crucifixion.

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My photographs do not do these incredible windows justice. If you find yourself in Birmingham, make your way to St Phillips Cathedral and see them for yourself – they are truly stunning.

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A feast of Morris dancing in Evesham

If Pershore suffered more than Tewkesbury during the dissolution of the monasteries, Evesham Abbey had it even worse. Only the bell tower remains. There are two churches beside it, St Laurences and All Saints and these satisfied my love of looking at beautiful stained glass.

As we left St Laurence’s Church we spotted a group of Morris dancers and followed them to see where they were going to perform.

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It turns out that we had arrived in time for National Morris Weekend. There were Morris Sides there from all over the country.

There were dancers with sticks…

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… a side with its own horse…

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…clog dancers…

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…ladies showing their drawers…

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…dancers with hankies…

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…dancers with swords…

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…pirate dancers…

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…and finally a Welsh side dressed as priests, with their own dragon and a saxophonist in their group of musicians.

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The temperature there was well into the 30s. I can only admire the energy and enthusiasm of all the performers on such a hot day. I found it hard enough just to sit and watch!

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Up the Avon to Pershore

It was a bit cloudy, but clearing nicely, as we set out from Tewkesbury up The Avon towards Stratford.

By the time we got to Pershore Lock the weather was lovely. The weir there has a couple of Archimedes Screws for electricity generation. We spotted some beside a lock on the River Ouse a few years ago and I’m surprised there aren’t more around as it does seem like an obvious way of generating power.

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The moorings in Pershore are beside a park and playing field and also (conveniently for boaters) beside an large Asda and a good indoor market.

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We took a wander around Pershore, which is a pretty town. Some buildings have balconies that are more reminiscent of New Orleans than Worcestershire.

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We also had a look around the Abbey which is comtemporary with Tewkesbury Abbey but didn’t fare quite so well during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monastries. A large chunk of it was demolished but the part that remains was saved by the locals to be their parish church.

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What is now the nave was originally the monks’ choir.

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There’s also some lovely glass from the 1800s.

Outside, in Abbey Park, there’s a sculpture created from a tree stump called ‘Leafing Through History’…

…and adjacent to the Park is the old abbey Almonry, which dates back to the 1500s, was restored in 1973 and is now a rather lovely private residence.

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That evening we found our way to The Millers Arms on Bridge Street, a lovely pub with great beer. We managed to meet up and have a few drinks with the Lockie from Tewkesbury who was there with her hubby on her day off. Great to hear all their tales of what the lock keepers house is like during a flood! In mild floods, wellies are the order of the day but in the worst conditions they have a wire set up connected to a neighbour’s house up the hill. They can then get to dry land in a boat using the wire to pull themselves across. That’s what I call being prepared!

 

 

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Down the Severn to Tewkesbury

Last week we set out from Stourport onto our first river of the year, The Severn.

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As we were descending the Stourport staircase locks I noticed the working boat Bramble and thought the number seemed a bit familiar. It turns out that Bramble has the same Fleet Id number as Mallus – just different fleets.

Heading out on the Severn can be a bit risky if the river is running high after heavy rain so we always check the flood warning boards before we set out. As we left Stourport the river was down in the green area indicating that it’s safe to head out…

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…by the time we got to the next lock and had a look, the river here was in orange which means you can continue to travel but should be cautious.

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There wasn’t anything much to worry about so we carried on down to Worcester where we stopped for the night. We’ve been there before quite a few times so didn’t do any sight seeing before setting out the next day to head for Tewkesbury.

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The Severn is wide and, like the Trent, is used as a kind of boat motorway to quickly get from North to South and vice versa. It is also very beautiful, specially as you approach the section with views across to the Malverns.

It had been several years since we stopped in Tewkesbury and we spent a day being tourists, wandering around the town…

…visiting the Abbey…

…having lunch in the Berkeley Arms, an old and very friendly Wadworth’s pub where Gordon got an excellent pint of 6X (it was an extremely warm day so the Santa hanging in the alleyway looked particularly out of place!)…

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…and walking around the Severn Ham, a large meadow between the Severn and the Avon, that acts as a flood plain for the town. Tewkesbury does still flood in particularly bad weather, but, without this area of ground, conditions would be immeasurably worse.

We’ve been along the Avon twice now. Once in our own boat, once on a hire boat. We always took the minimum amount of time to do it and didn’t stop off at any of the local towns. This time we got a 7 day licence and decided to make the most of it as we headed off under King John’s Bridge heading for Pershore.

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