Friday, 3 July 2015

Stop start boating

A familiar mooring style for us on the shallow sided canal
It's seems to have been a long week. It's certainly been a hot one – and a tiring one too.
This is a very different canal from the one we were travelling west of Caen Hill. Now we have been running through a gentle, tree lined valley cheek by jowl with the railway line and a series of rivers – as well as frequent WWII pillboxes since the canal was a 'last ditch' line of defence against German invasion forces that might be moving northwards from the coast.
WWII pillboxes still stand on the north bank of the canal
So, instead of flights of locks lifting us up or setting us down sharp gradients, we have a seemingly endless number of single locks adjusting the canal level a few feet at a time – and each of them a frustrating distance apart. Sometimes they are just too far apart to walk ahead and set, making for stop-start locking, while at other times they are just too near each other to make re-boarding worthwhile so it's a brisk ten minutes up the towpath for yours truly.
Thus it was that on Wednesday – the hottest day of not just this year but of many years – I found myself walking the best part of five miles to work us through the 12 locks between Crofton and Hungerford.
Not surprisingly we had a later start the next day! Anyway, Hungerford is a pleasant little spot to explore. It's quite obviously affluent in an under-stated 'old money' way, with antique shops, posh estate agents and classy gift shops lining the single shopping street. Yet it's solid, comfortable, easy on the eye and reassuringly one of those evergreen English country towns that defy change.
Yesterday, then, was just a short day on the boat, a couple of miles down to Wire Lock where we saw someone fly fishing on the adjacent River Kennet. We also found ourself moored rather closer than I would have liked to a wild bees nest and watched them make their way in and out during the evening. My lack of enthusiasm for creatures that sting was not helped by Harrywoman's comment that bees like to swarm at this time of year. Fortunately they appeared to be happy with their present home and didn't fancy taking over ours!
Here at Copse Lock the river joins the canal
The river got closer still today as we headed on to Newbury: in fact from now on it will be our constant companion as the canal is in large parts 'canalised' stretches of the river which weaves its way in and out of the navigation.
Pretty much all the way from Pewsey it has been clear that the K&A is suffering serious problems with bank erosion. It is natural sided with soft, soil banks and with hardly any steel piling. As a result mile after mile has been eaten away by prop wash on each side. The erosion has made the canal wider and shallower – depositing increasing amounts of silt into the water. A lot has been repaired with environmentally friendly natural materials and planting but there's much more still to do.
Repairs recently done to the eroded bankside
The tell-tale sign of a bank eaten away by engine running
Today we met a surveyor measuring up for another round of repairs. According to him one of the main causes of erosion is boats that moor out in the wilds for several days and run their engines in gear while moored to charge their batteries - the propwash eating deep into the towpath in tell-tale semicircles.
I can understand the problem but the trouble is that, frankly, the K&A here is absurdly short of decent moorings. Away from the short term, 24 or 48 hour visitor moorings (and there are precious few of these around here) the edges are generally shallow and usually a jungle which few can visit. If C&RT want boaters to avoid the fragile edges then they need to do more dredging and more robust edging to create more mooring opportunities.
Moored here at pretty West Mills on the edge of Newbury
Tonight we are in Newbury – the biggest town on the canal since Bath and a mix of attractive old buildings and ugly modern development. Shopping and sightseeing tomorrow and then we are on our way for we are now only 20 miles and 20 locks from the Thames.

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