Last days are usually calm, quiet days. We always plan to give ourselves no more than 2 hours cruising time. After all, the boat has to be back before 09:30. Given our circumstances, stuck in Reading several hours further west than we had ever intended to be, today is not like a traditional last day, as we need to cram in what would probably be a full day of cruising for anyone else. On top of everything else, we don’t want to be fined for being late.
That meant travelling at the crack of dawn.
Everyone was up at 4AM, dressed and alert. We just had to wait 20 minutes or so for civil dawn to kick in. This is when there’s enough light in the sky to call it day time, though the sun has yet to rise. It was also the exact time we’d agreed with the lock keeper that we would depart, and nothing was going to stop us.
Ropes were untied in lightning speed, the engine roared into life (though it wouldn’t be long before it coughed and spluttered all over again), and we were off.
It is entirely possible to get from Blake’s Lock at the far end of Reading to the Aldermaston within 5 hours. It does, however, require a very well organised team of people to do this. And a dash of luck.
The first challenge was getting through the traffic light system. The lock keeper had been very clear to tell us that there are times when the lights will stay on red for up to 15 minutes before letting you go through. That’s 15 precious minutes we didn’t have to waste! Luckily for us, as soon as the Ship’s Boy pushed the button, the lights went green, and we carried on our journey.
To be honest, the following 5 hours are largely a blur of lock, followed by swing bridge, followed by lock. All punctuated by the boat stuttering and stalling. Yet, we were constantly moving forward.
The Ship’s Boy made use of his DST (distance, speed, time) skills to calculate our expected arrival. It ranged from we’ll be there well ahead of time, through to we’re going to be a bit late, as we made good progress in some parts of the canal, yet slower progress in others. We passed through one particularly busy patch, with moored boats all over the place, which meant we travelled at tick over for a good 20 minutes.
One moored boat we passed, was Ross’s – the man we travelled with for a while a couple of days ago. It was still very early in the morning, so we just waved at his boat and moved on.
Maintaining a pace of 2.1 miles per hour, we managed to get to the hire base by 09:35. That’s 5 minutes after the cut off time (but 2.5 hours ahead of when they thought we’d be there). Having done them a favour by getting the boat back just about as close to on time as possible, the call out mechanic from last night set to work topping up the fuel and trying to diagnose the problem. I hope he manages to fix it. The Ross’s Gull is due to go out on hire again at 2PM.
However, having unloaded the boat, paid for the fuel, and purchased a couple of obligatory tea towels, our time on the water was over.
We made plans to visit Crofton Beam Engines (we’d spotted the huge tower from the canal earlier in the week), and have a spot of lunch before going our separate ways and heading home. Holiday complete.
It’s fair to say it’s been quite a busy little trip. We’ve travelled 126 miles (running a total of 84 engine hours), worked our way through 182 locks, 36 swing bridges, and 2 tunnels. We’ve also rescued wild and domesticated animals, saved distressed boaters, hacked a fallen tree to pieces, and stuttered along with a sick boat.
Not bad for a week of “leisurely” cruising on the Kennet & Avon Canal.
Until next time,
The Crew of the Ross’s Gull