Go to Allan's Page Part 1 - the Thames Canals Home Page Part 3 - Wildlife Go to Deb's Page
View Slideshow Our 2nd 2010 trip: the Nene, Middle Level, Ouse, and Thames

The Thames, and the K&A to Devizes

Part 2 - The Kennet and Avon to Devizes

As a brief diversion from our trips up and down the Thames we decided to visit Devizes on the Kennet and Avon canal. We had no intention of proceeding further west, as the Caen Hill flight is hard work; our prime destination was the Wadworth brewery. In particular we wanted to sample some of the special celebration ale that they had brewed to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the opening of the canal.

The K&A is a pretty canal, but is nevertheless quite hard work unless you can find another boat to share the locks with and to help with the swing bridges. Progress is made slower by the need to leave most of the locks empty after use - especially if you are following another boat who is not obeying that instruction so that you effectively have to work every lock three times - and is not helped by the generally poor standard of maintenance of the lock gear. It is particularly frustrating that most of the paddle gear has been fitted with additional reduction gearing, which for various reasons (including a lack of lubrication) does nothing to reduce the force required to turn the windlass but means that it requires 50 turns of that force instead of the original 10.

One unusual complication that we suffered from, was that our Nicholson's map of the K&A is rather old and it shows most of the canal as being un-navigable. Some of the locks and bridges have also been moved or eliminated since the map was drawn, and on one occasion we travelled for a mile up the River Kennet looking for a lock which was shown on our map, only to suddenly find that we had reached the next one!

 

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Some locks have disappeared - but that didn't stop me from working them
You don't find signs like this on any other canals
The dedication board explains why it was called Bruce Tunnel
Entering Bruce Tunnel
Note the chains that were used for pulling the boats through by hand
There's always light at the end of the tunnel.

We were lucky to find plenty of boats to share the locks with, although the wide range of skill levels of  the other crews meant that sharing was not always the quickest or easiest option. However we made a number of good friends with our fellow lock-sharers, one of whom came to our boat for dinner carrying a delicious hot meal that she had just prepared on her own boat; now that's the sort of visitor we like. We met up with our old boat Thistle again at Newbury, so we spent another evening nattering there before we moved onwards the next day.

 

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A horse-drawn trip boat leaves the lock in front of us
The horse-boat's engine
They've always appreciated horses around here.
The ornamental Lady's Bridge ...
... leads into a beautiful wide lake

The summit of the canal is very short, and includes the Bruce Tunnel; it has always been short of water, and we noticed that the level was very well down. Then after descending just 4 locks there is the 14-mile "long pound". There is some beautiful scenery along this pound, but mooring is very difficult as anywhere that it is possible to get a boat near to the bank already has a permanent resident (even at the visitor moorings). One particularly beautiful spot is the wide ornamental lake near Lady's bridge, which is quite similar to Tixall Wide; we returned there for a picnic with some friends who joined us for a day out from Devizes.

 

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Early morning in Devizes
Our favourite county
Debbie models the appropriate clothing
In  the Master Cooper's workshop
Some of the Master Cooper's toolkit
Our real reason for going to Devizes

We spent a lovely couple of days in Devizes. We visited the brewery, just managing to get two places on the brewery tour, and happily sampled plenty of their produce. We also bought as much beer as we could carry away, including a small cask of their 'Swordfish' beer which they have brewed in celebration of the centenary of the Fleet Air Arm; it is effectively 6X laced with Pussers rum, which makes a fabulous combination! However we were unable to buy any of their 200-year canal celebration ale and thought we may have to return empty-handed; but we were able to buy some bottles at the excellent Bridge Inn at Horton where we also had an excellent meal and one or two pints of beer straight from the wood.

Returning eastwards we noticed that the summit level was even lower; we joked that maybe they were giving the Crofton beam engine somewhere to pump its water into, then as we approached the locks we saw the plume of smoke which indicated that the engine was indeed in steam. This was an unexpected delight as we had been unable to stop there when we had been on the canal in 2004, and I spent a happy couple of hours watching this splendid example of Victorian engineering in operation.

 

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A smoking chimney at Crofton shows that the engine is steaming
Downstairs in the engine house ...
... the boiler is going well, making steam ...
...  to drive the pistons of the engine ...
... to drive the beam that drives the pump.
Thistle's bows tower over Keeping Up's

Another unexpected delight was that for a third time this year we found ourselves moored next to Thistle, and this time we had plenty of time to spare - so we could all have dinner together and spend  the evening enjoying each other's company.

 

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Thistle's owners joined us for dinner
New friends at Newbury brought a delicious dinner for us all.
Shepherding a duck family down Hungerford High Street to the river
Back on familiar territory: coming down the Napton flight.
The Grand Union bridges look quite substantial ...
... until you see one with its parapet removed.

Finally we returned to Reading and rejoined the Thames before making our way home via oxford and Braunston. We had enjoyed our trip tremendously, and made up our minds that we would return by the same route after our next voyage which would take us to the rivers Nene and Great Ouse.

As well as the wonderful scenery on this trip, we had particularly enjoyed watching the birdlife as we travelled; I decided to collect some of the pictures on their own page.

 

 

View Slideshow Our 2nd 2010 trip: the Nene, Middle Level, Ouse, and Thames
Go to Allan's Page Part 1 - the Thames Canals Home Page Part 3 - Wildlife Go to Deb's Page

 

 

All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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