Thursday, 29 August 2013

Westward ho!

The tree-lined charms of the K&A

 We had been viewing a trip down the Kennet & Avon with some suspicion after hearing tales of shallow sections, difficult locks, lines of permanent moorers and so on. But so far it's been an absolute delight: sleepy, rural, tree lined and surprisingly free of boats, moored or moving. And especially free of those big plastics from the Thames.
First sight of the K&A however did ring a few alarm bells. Its junction with the Thames in Reading is marked by the all too familiar and sorry canal hallmarks of graffiti daubed signs, litter and hippy boaters – one of whom 'entertained' those of us moored by the riverside Tesco with 3 a.m. drunken boating about, shouting, shrieking and falling in. Other parts of riverside Reading have their appeal but this is an especially charmless spot and worth avoiding except for shop-stops.
Boating through the Oracle
Once on the K&A, though, things soon improve. It starts with a run right through the centre of the town's Oracle shopping mall on a twiddly, one-way traffic light controlled section where, a bit like zoo visitors, the shoppers can envy, admire or perhaps laugh at these waterborne creatures from an alien world. It's quite the best amalgam of old canal and modern city centre that I've seen.
Sorry, Mrs B I'm afraid mooring is not allowed - even there
After that the canal soon throws off urban Reading and passes into its own leafy world, close to but invisible from the shops, offices and houses. The K&A is a mix of river and canal and this stretch is largely winding, tree lined river. It's delightful.
The locks though are, in a word, bizarre. Designed by the Edgar Allen Poe of the lock business: all strange lengths, odd widths and depths, with a motley assortment of paddle gear scrounged from the leftovers sheds of other canal companies.
The Garston turf lock empty
And full. Well, it's certainly different!
None is stranger than the 'turf lock' at Garston which looks like it's been hit by a bomb despite, or maybe because of, the wartime pill boxes either side. The lock walls are not there, just a curious framework of steel girders, and the sides slope away at an angle in a mix of mud and the sort of sturdy weeds that can withstand regular flooding as the lock fills. Apparently it and many others since replaced were originally timber sided with sloped turf banks either side. They leaked like sieves but that didn't matter as this waterway is the River Kennet kept the system well topped up.
And Sheffield Lock with its wibbly wobbly walls
After  Garston is another oddity: Sheffield Lock with its 'crinkly-crankly' walls and a couple of extra feet in width thrown in so even two boats bang about as it fills.
What surprises will today's locks bring?


  1. Ha ha i have only just found your new blog! I noticed that NB Star's blog seemed to have stopped now i know why! I look forward to reading about Harry!
    Nick (temporarily of NB Bridie Bear on the L and L last year!)

  2. K&A looks great...even Reading (did a couple of Boat reviews with Adam there...great back drops) so I look forward to hearing and seeing your exploration of the rest of the trip westward.