Hello everyone, we’ve reached that time of year again… we are heading out onto the inland waterways. We’ve brought the whole crew together again, that’s five adults (or at least five people of adult age!) and Jerry.
First Mate Elaine
Bosun Scott (me)
Chief Engineer Trevor
Ship’s Boy Harry
Site Security Officer Jerry
The day started with sandwich making (cheese & ham, and egg & cress), car packing, and last minute checks to make sure we’d remembered everything.
And then it was time to head to the Kennet & Avon canal.
The journey from home to Aldermaston was pleasant enough, with very few interruptions along the way, and the weather was grey but not terrible.
As we were early, we decided to take a quick detour and explore The Vyne, a National Trust property near Aldermaston. It’s a Tudor house, that has only just reopened after the COVID pandemic. They’ve implemented a one way system to walk around the site, taking in views of the house from several sides—
—but this isn’t what you’ve come here for! No one wants to know just how many ounces of National Trust hand sanitiser I’ve used, or what the room guides at The Vyne had to say (Henry VIII stayed here and worshipped in the chapel). No, you’re here for hijinks on the canal, so let’s get to it.
The crew all gathered at the wharf, arriving in three separate vehicles all at the same time. Even if Trevor did have to do a few loops of the local area to kill some time before the Captain, Bosun, Ship’s Boy, and the SSO turned up.
The obligatory boat handover, which can sometimes be a painfully slow experience, was surprisingly smooth and straightforward. The Captain and the Ship’s Boy took care of it.
The food shopping was delivered promptly, even if The SSO and I did have to wander half way back up the road to wave down the delivery driver, who was somewhat lost.
We emptied just about the entire contents of his van (I’m not even exaggerating), and sent him on his way.
All of this food, plus everything else we’d packed for the week, was then manhandled into the Ross’s Gull – our vessel for this trip.
And before we knew it, we were off!
One of the first obstacles we faced was an exceptionally strong current flowing into the canal. The current was so strong that it easily pushed all 14 tonnes of our boat sideways, directly into the path of a moored boat. It really was a genuinely dangerous situation.
We’d been warned about this particular spot, but with the Captain at the helm, we did our very best to get through it in one piece.
Most of the crew were on land, preparing the nearby lock, so it fell to me to shimmy along the gunnels and shove us off the rapidly approaching moored boat.
We managed to get past the current and into the lock, with the gentlest of nudges against the moored boat. Which was by far the best outcome we could’ve hoped for.
Not looking forward to that section on the return journey, I can tell you.
We travelled on, passing through many locks and swing bridges, under a surprisingly bright and often sunny sky. Which is a minor miracle given the gloomy weather we were expecting.
At lock 93, there was a strange smell of goat’s cheese hanging in the air. I have no idea why? Perhaps we’ll find out on the way back in a few days?
Kayakers don’t use locks, for very obvious and very good reasons – locks are dangerous places! The ferocity of the water as it gets sucked into or pushed out of a lock can easily throw a flimsy, lightweight kayak around, risking injury or worse to the person in the kayak.
So it was quite a surprise when we encountered a group of kayakers who insisted we left the lock open for them to use. We begrudgingly did so, and they paddled their way in.
There is another good reason why kayakers don’t use locks: the humble windlass.
That’s right, without a windlass you can’t operate a lock, and there’s not a lot of room on a kayak for storing one.
It took these clearly inexperienced kayakers a moment, but eventually realised their mistake and had to drag themselves out of the lock.
The Ship’s Boy made a few friends on this first leg of the journey, including a Polish family who insisted on helping him operate the nearby lock.
Our plan for the day was to pass through Newbury, a delightful town with plenty of canal side restaurants (I must admit it was good to see people eating out again, after all this time in lockdown), and moor up on the far side.
The light was starting to fade as we found our mooring spot, so we banged in a few pins, devoured a huge lasagna and delicious cheesecake, then called it a day.