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 ....tickets were £ 150 ea ($300) and we hadn't packed the tiara or tux which appeared to be the dress code for the audiences.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.