This week we have been mostly getting stuck. And a right pain it has been too. We reached Newbury okay and moored at West Mills just before the town bridge. On the way up the canal when we moored on the other side of the bridge we weren't terribly enamoured of Newbury which had a scruffy, down at heel feel. Funny how one's views change. West Mills is the classier side of town with some pretty canalside terraced houses and a waterside mini-park. When you step out from the canal onto the main street, turn left and you discover a classy assembly of shops (John Lewis Home, M&S etc etc). Turn right, go over the bridge and you're back in scruff-ville.
Newbury isn't the only town we've been through where the river or canal marks a social divide - in Lincoln for example one bank of the river is smart and posh, the other cheap and scruffy.
Have sweated our way out of the town through three hefty locks in the space of a mile we arrived – via the first of many swingbridges – at Bulls Lock. Now we got slightly stuck here on the sill going up the canal. I should have remembered because we got seriously stuck on the sill coming out.
Having poled, pulled, reversed and sworn vigorously we eventually enlisted the help of a passing walker to help. As we discussed possible exit strategies I happened to say to him:
"What we need is someone with a PhD in Physics"
"Er, funny you should say that," he replied.
"You've got a PhD in Physics! You're the man we need."
"No, what you need is an engineer," he laughed.
Anyway, we found another passer-by and while the Doctor of Physics and I heaved on the bow line, Vicky and our other helper open the top paddles to flush some water through the lock and Harry slowly, slowly came free.
Much thanks all round and we set off - only to nearly go aground 50 yards further on a shoal in midstream where the River Kennet joins the canal. After that it was a mud churning crawl down to the next lock, negotiated with no problem before we went aground again while mooring for the following swingbridge. Poling and cursing eventually got us free.
Finally we moored at the official (mooring rings etc) visitor moorings at Thatcham where I had to leave the stern hanging four feet out in the stream because it wouldn't go closer in. Despite that, the following morning we were seriously, seriously grounded and needed mass pushing by two other boaters with poles as well as me with our pole to get free.
On we went, grinding along the bottom until, inexplicably, the canal suddenly deepened and all was well. The waterway in this stretch is a mixture of canal cut and river so I can only assume that the lack of rain this summer has made the levels drop.
Last night we moored at Aldermaston Wharf and then got stuck again trying to get past a mass of three-deep moored hire boats while another two hire boats were coming the other way. Grrrh!
With 15 locks and 10 swing bridges in the last 12 miles, not for nothing is this stretch of the K&A known as 'divorce alley'! Fortunately for me there's only one more swing bridge to go.