Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Thames River & Kennet & Avon Canal

Our story continues:   
Having moored up on the Thames River near Windsor Castle we were first in the next morning to see the Castle ahead  of all the masses of tourists arriving on buses.  We last saw the Castle in 1996 just before a disastrous fire that gutted 150 rooms.   Amazingly, all the rooms have been restored using traditional methods and look as good  or even better than when we saw them last.  . Saw the 'changing of the guards' - quite a pantomime except the guards don't crack a smile - they're so serious.   
Moored up near Windsor Castle

Next we moored up at Henley where the famous rowing races are held.   We arrived on the last day of the Henley Festival -  lots of marquees with different music shows every night for a week.  No - we didn't see the show  were £ 150 ea ($300) and we hadn't packed the tiara or tux which appeared to be the dress code for the audiences.

Course of the famous Henley rowing races

Left the Thames River at Reading and headed west for Bristol on the Kennet & Avon Canal.   Lovely thatched villages and rich farming countryside along the way.  


There are 108 locks on this canal and worst part is that we have to do them all twice - on the way to Bristol and then on the  way back to Reading.  They're double locks which work well when we have a 'companion' boat to go through with - only half the work so it's worth waiting til someone comes along to pair up.  We have met some great boaters along the way and this canal has lots of onlookers and 'trip' boats.   There is even a horse-drawn trip boat in one section - just like the way it was on the canals before engines were invented.

One of the many weirs next to one of the locks

Water entering one of the 108 locks.

Went down to London by train for a couple of nights 'babysitting'  the girls.  Sooz had 4 vets away from her clinic and Ten was away in Durban. While we were there it was the last day of 'reception' (prep) school year for Olive - how the year has flown!

Back on the canal we stopped at Crofton to see the pumping station built in 1812 which still operates.  When the canal was being built it was found that the Kennet and Avon Rivers were at different levels so the pumping station raised the water 40 feet.  Can't imagine how they managed to get the huge machinery in place.

Crofton Pumping Station 

One of the Crofton Boilers.   Massive machinery

We then came down the notorious Devises flight of locks - 29 locks over 2 miles which raises/lowers 237 feet!    We did it in just over 5 hours - which was a really good time - our guide book says it usually takes 7 hours.  Needless to say we  put our feet up when we got to the bottom and stayed put all afternoon after that.   A few nights later we were at Bath where we came through one of the deepest locks - more than 19 feet deep!  160,000 gallons of water are emptied out every time a boat goes through and the gates each weigh  5 tons.
Passing traffic on the Caen Hill - Devises staircase of locks

At the bottom of the flight

We moored up in Bristol Harbour with some really big ships - right opposite the steamship SS Great Britain - built by the amazing Brunel.  It carried more than 600 passengers each trip from London to Melbourne during the 1850s gold rush.  lt's now a fabulous museum site with the ship looking like it's in the water but it's actually sitting in a dry dock so visitors can walk around underneath and see the propeller etc.   On board it's set up exactly as it would have been back in the 1800s.  We would have definitely have had to travel first class though - steerage class was so tight - beds all in together piled up to the ceiling.    Talk about no privacy!   

Our neighbour at Bristol Harbour

Bristol is a great city with lots to see - very upmarket.  We went to the musical 'Singing in the Rain'  - which is as they say 'an oldie but a goodie'.   Amazing show - each performance uses 15,000 litres of water - it actually rains on the stage.

Also saw the awesome Clifton Suspension Bridge.  That man Brunel won a competition to design a bridge across a huge gorge over the Avon River just west of Bristol - he must have had a fabulous brain - designing ships, trains, bridge and canal works.

Brunel's bridge crosses over this gorge near Bristol

On the return journey up the K&A Canal we spent a few nights at Bath again - a very 'touristy' place with so much history.  Now we've come back up the Devizes locks and all the other locks and are almost back to Reading.  We will then be heading north on the Thames River towards Oxford on the way back to our home base by mid September.

Royal Crescent - the 'best' address in Bath.

Deep lock at Bath. 19 ft deep!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

June/July travels

We continued towards London, staying a couple of nights at Brentford on the Thames River - just west of London to see how big the river is.  Went over the river by bus to Kew Gardens.   They are absolutely huge.  We walked for hours but probably saw less than half.   Amazing glass houses  - especially the Princess of Wales glasshouse which had several different climate zones and incredible plant displays.  Kew Palace which was built for mad King George III was also in the gardens - it's not as elaborate as some other ones we have seen but it's in a lovely setting.
We travelled along Paddington Canal past Little Venice where there are lots of boats permanently moored and through to Paddington Basin.   It's surrounded by lots of new office blocks and apartments and a Hilton Hotel offering special £200 ($400) per night bed & breakfast packages BUT we had FREE  moorings for 7 days right in the heart of London.  Paddington and Edgeware Road Stations are just a  2 minute walk and double decker buses to all of London are right at the door.
 Moored up at Paddington Basin
We walked  to Hyde Park and to busy Portobello Road - famous for antiques.   Also went to the National Gallery, Lords Cricket Ground, the British Museum and the Port  of London Museum at Canary Wharf - an area in the East End of London also filled with newish office blocks and apartments.   Saw 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels'  a terrific comedy/musical t(starring Robert Lindsay - the father in the TV show My Family) at the Savoy Theatre in the West End.  Then on Saturday went to see Olive's school parade (which went past their house) and her school carnival at Goose Green Park where Sooz's vet clinic had a stand offering microchipping of pets which will be compulsory in a couple of years.  So  many people everywhere -  just amazing.
Going through Little Venice near Paddington Basin.
Spent a night moored at Camden Lock right at the famous Camden Market. Very crowded with tourists and most stallholders selling London souvenirs (all the same and most made in Asia!!).
Moved on to spend a few nights at Battlebridge Basin (right at the massive Kings Cross/St Pancras Stations.   
Battlebridge Basin near Kings Cross Station.
Continued with the London sightseeing and even caught a train to Brighton Beach on the south coast.  The travel posters list it as the favourite place for 'a dirty weekend'!  No sand anywhere on the beach - it's made up of large uncomfortable pebbles but it doesn't stop everyone swimming and sun baking in hired deck chairs.
Decided to go to the Royal Pavilion which was closed for renovations on our last visit to Brighton nearly twenty years ago.  Outside it looks like an Indian Temple but inside it's highly decorated in a Chinese style - it's the most elaborate palace we have ever seen.  It was built for King George IV and also used by Queen Victoria (who really didn't like being too close to the public and sold it!).  King George was a bit extravagant - the menu for one of the dinners he served his guests had 100 courses - including 56 entrees and 32 desserts.  A bit over the top!!
Dining Room at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton
One of the 8 light fittings in one of the State Rooms.
Spent a night at Limehouse Basin where we booked to go out on the strong morning tide up the Thames River.   Lined up at nearby Canary Wharf in an ideal spot with 1000s of people to see the Tour de France ride past.  Had the IPad, phone camera and another camera ready to capture the moment but after managing to film the many advance vehicles when the bikes sped past we only managed to get the last 3 riders!
Part of Limehouse Basin
Next morning we only had one other narrow boat to travel out with on theThames and the lock keeper was a bit concerned that neither of us had a UHF radio but he took our phone no and let us through the locks.  Lovely sunny morning and the water was quite smooth until the big ferry/taxis passed by which made waves and then it was a bit bumpy.  The river is soooo wide with 28 bridges to navigate through according to which archways were signposted.    Went under the massive Tower Bridge - Terry was hoping they would raise  the centre for us to pass under but of course it was miles above us and this wasn't necessary.  It was a great experience passing the London Eye (the giant ferris wheel), the Shard, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and impressive Parliament House with Big Ben.
Coming up to Tower Bridge

Going past Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

The big London Eye - before 9.00 a.m. so not working yet.
Our companion boat turned off into the Brentford Lock and we continued alone to the Teddington Locks where the tidal part of the river ended.  Spent a night moored up at Kingston Bridge right outside John Lewis (a huge UK department store).

Luxury houses line the banks
We wanted to go to the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show and were lucky to get a mooring the next morning right at the Palace gates.  Great not to have queue up with the 1000s attending like last year .  This Show, which is much bigger than the Chelsea Flower Show, goes over 32 acres of the Palace gardens so we were able to return to the boat for lunch and a rest before heading back to see more of the beautiful displays.
Moored up at Hampton Court Palace for the Garden Show
Went back to London by train for Olive's 5th birthday party. Unfortunately the weather turned and it was quite wet so everyone was.inside.  A little chaotic but it was great fun.
  Olive's big day in her 'Frozen' costume (hand sewn on the boat)
Continued along the Thames towards Windsor - went through some locks on the river but the boat just has to enter and we tie up then all the work is done by lock keepers.  Much easier!
Leaving Molseley Lock near Hampton Palace
Moored up near Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle from the Thames

More news to later.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

2014 UK adventure May and June

 Arrived back in the Uk on Tuesday 20 May and stayed with the family in London until Friday when we caught the train to Rugby and picked up a hire car for a few days whole we stocked up the boat ready for this year's big trip.
Crick Boat Show the following weekend was a washout - massive 10 minute hailstorm/tornado type storm went through on Sat afternoon when we were in a marquee.  We thought the whole tent was coming down.  Hailstones piled up everywhere when we came out.  The car park was a boggy mess - lucky theyhad a tractor handy.  Sunday at the Show wasn't too bad - we did see the sun a bit but Monday had heavy drizzle all day.  Hope the farmer who owned the car parking paddocks was well compensated!!
The boat looks great - the boys have done a terrific job on the alterations.

New TV unit, crystal cabinet and RED bedroom carpet.

Small bunkbeds changed into a sofa bed which pulls out to a double bed with new overhead cupboards.
Sooz, Ten & the girls (with Rita - Ten's mum) came up on Friday and stayed at a nearby B&B at a manor house where we went for dinner on Saturday night. (Wow - so nice - a massive old place in a beautiful little village).
We took them on a trip on the boat on Saturday - up 7 locks and then down 7 on the way back.  Also went through Crick Tunnel which is nearly a mile long so that was pretty exciting for the little ones.   Best part was that the sun came out all day on Sunday.  First we had seen since arriving.  

Sooz, Olive, Iris and Rita about to enter Watford Locks.
Looking down Watford Locks.
Olive & Iris with my birthday present - a new windlass (to make winding up the locks easier)
Spent a few days at the marina cleaning and painting some bare spots on the hull (when it wasn't raining).    We also had new red carpet fitted in the bedrooms to match the lounge area and it looks great.
Finally set off south towards London on the Grand Union Canal on Friday 5th June.  Went through the Blisworth Tunnel (3076 yards long) which had water pouring through the roof and walls in some parts from the recent rain.  We'd been caught before in leaky tunnels so had our raincoats ready this time.

 Entrance to Blisworth Tunnel.
There is light at the end of the tunnel!!
Spent a couple of nights at Weedon Bec, a little village near Northampton which we visited by bus rather than going through 17 locks up and back if we had gone by canal - must be getting weaker or wiser!  Quite a large city with a market in the town square.
Going on the aqueduct over the Ouse River 35 feet below.

Leaving the aqueduct.
The Grand Union Canal is quite a wide waterway with double locks all the way (they can take two boats side by side) so we've tried to team up with another boat each day to go through which makes the locks only half the work.   Trouble has been that it is so quiet with hardly any boats moving along that we have been on our lonesome most days.
A traditional working narrowboat with a butty (a boat that is pulled along behind like a trailer).  These were both carrying 18 tons of coal.  Went through Milton Keynes - a huge sprawling urban area where we were hopelessly lost when we drove through it a few years ago.   (Heard a funny story then that some lost tourists drive around until their cars run out of petrol and their skeletons are found  years later!!). The canal route is much more scenic.  Poplar trees line the way and there is so much open parkland and gardens - hardly saw any houses - they are so well hidden behind greenery.
Stayed a night at Leighton Buzzard (yes - that really is the name of the little town!)  which had some lovely old buildings then the next night at Marsworth.  Here we again avoided a pile of locks by catching a bus into the nearby market town of Aylesbury.

Moored up in the village of Marsworth.

Swan with a real attitude problem!   It spent hours attacking our fender when we were moored up at Berkhamstead.  It was making such a noise that Terry threatened to ring the Queen - she apparently owns all the swans in England -  asking her to come and collect this one!!
Weather has been a mixture of some very hot days, some overcast drizzly days and a couple of thunderstorms thrown in just to add to the mixture - but we've not been delayed too much.
We're now moored up near Hemel Hempstead which is only about 30 milesnorth of London so there are lots of old pubs along the canals - especially when there are locks to provide entertainment for their customers!