Monday, 29 June 2015

It's all down hill from here

Moving up through the picturesque Wooton Rivers locks
The top of the Caen Hill flight might be regarded as the moral summit of the Kennet & Avon Canal but the actual summit is nearly 20 miles on at the Bruce Tunnel, a five hundred yard long tunnel that we came through today and then dropped down six locks to Crofton Pumping Station.
It is all down hill from here to the River Thames at Reading, though a long drawn out, slow down hill of forty something locks strung out across nearly as many miles.
Pewsey's statue of King Alfred stands in the village centre
We've done the trip from All Cannings in two stages. On Sunday, suffering mild cabin fever after a day trapped inside by insidious, non-stop rain, we set off when the sun finally came out at five p.m. and reached our goal of Pewsey in just over two hours.
I suppose it was inevitable but shortly after I'd commented to Harrywoman that the K&A might be shallow at the edges but as a wide canal it was always decently deep in the middle when we ground through some filth in a bridge hole and spent the next five miles churning slowly through shallow, silty waters.
The trouble is that for mile after mile the banks are eroded, eating right into the towpath in places, so the canal has become wider and shallower, and more and more silt has been deposited into it. Presumably piling of the edges isn't allowed by the nature lovers so eco-friendly new banks are being laid with painstaking slowness. It was never a problem when the canal's boats were horse-drawn but the coming of power – and especially the 'too fast' brigade has created it.
Guide book opinions differ on Pewsey. Michael Pearson says it 'admirably repays a visit' while Nicholsons says it has 'the usual mixture of buildings; while many are attractive, few are noteworthy'.
We'd go with the latter: aside from a decent Co-op and a charity shop the shops are esoteric in the extreme – galleries, bespoke furniture makers and a clock restorer. And, all the while, the little town is pulverised by main A-road traffic. Even the pleasant little station, just out of town, seems not quite up to its extravagant praise in both guides.
Brian meets Sally: a friend from a boat we locked with
And so, after a short tour, we moved on from Pewsey for the short run up through the four Wooton Rivers locks that hitch the canal up to its summit. They are a memorable little quartet, each one delightfully set in its own, individualistic backdrop.
Burbage Wharf, once a working site by the summit tunnel
After the tunnel it was a descent through six of the nine Crofton locks – a slow descent since each lock had to be refilled before we could enter as the instructions say each has to be emptied after use (it's to avoid flooding of the summit level since there is no other way of dealing with any surplus water pumped up to the top).
The picture postcard village of Wilton
After a very hot day the ship's cook quite rightly decided on an evening off and we took a ten minute walk across the fields for a very decent meal at The Swan in the pretty little village of Wilton.

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