There is something special about the privilege of cruising a canal for the second time. One is the luxury of having the time to do it. Another is the joy of seeing it in the beauty of a different season. Also, appreciating the differences when you can contrast the trepidation of being a newbie with the relaxation of nearly four years experience on the canal system. And it is also great when it can be done slowly.
This is the joy of cruising the Kennet and Avon (affectionately known as the K&A) now. Yes, the weather has turned quite cold – daytime maxima of 4-6 degrees Celcius and overnights of zero – despite some very sunny days. There has been some rain and high winds. But the turning seasons through Autumn and now into Winter create a stunning landscape to cruise through. And there is very little traffic on the canal as the hire boats have almost all stopped for the season and it is only continuous cruisers such as ourselves that battle the weather and conditions to keep on moving. Unless we find a nice stop for a few days.
Part of the battle of Autumn/Winter cruising is ensuring that you are the right side of any maintenance closures. This time of year the Canal and River Trust (C&RT), schedule in lock and bridge closures to facilitate maintenance work that keeps the system functioning. We have already managed to get through before four such closures on the K&A, with one more before Christmas and four more after on our way back to Reading. And then we have to make sure we have regular access to water, refuse disposal, diesel and shopping. So the logistics side of cruising keeps on being front and centre.
On leaving Kintbury we made the short hop to Hungerford to avail ourselves of services and shopping. We still had a few locks to get through before the winter closures and we persisted despite very low water levels, to make it through the last lock, before finding a mooring in Pewsey so that Bob could attend another appointment for his eye. It is all going very well but they need to keep a check on it. This gave us a chance to check out the town and relax a little. Chris and Jim chose to move off earlier than us to head toward Devizes and we got on board with them for what we thought would be a nice four-mile cruise to Honeystreet, a swift pint in the pub there and then a healthy four mile walk back to Celtic Maid in Pewsey. Alas, they had engine trouble after about three miles, so once we were sure that assistance from River Canal Rescue was coming, we left them to return to ours before dark.
We met them in Devizes a couple of days later and availed ourselves of the great marine engineer they had found to get a flexible exhaust fitted to our engine and plan for some work to be done on the engine cooling system when we return to Devizes in the New Year.
Devizes was the town we first heard of when we arrived in England to start our search for a narrowboat four years ago. And it was here that we first set eyes on our beautiful Celtic Maid and fell hopelessly in love. So returning here, where we started this adventure was very special indeed.
There are a number of great reasons to spend a little time here. We were delayed awaiting the opening of the Caen Hill lock flight (the first locks we had ever done) and made the most of the time catching up with washing, and importantly at this time of year the drying, some minor errands, a huge food and beverage shop, and purchasing a Christmas tree.
Our friends Jane and Michael from NB Moody Blues had kindly offered (been roped in) to help us with our passage down the Caen Hill lock flight. They arrived on Saturday night, and after sharing a lovely dinner and a few catch-up dinks aboard NB Sylph, we retired for rest in anticipation of our labours on Sunday.
After an 8.30am start, we made good progress with Jim and Bron piloting the vessels and Chris, Bob, Jane and Michael operating the 29 locks for us. We made it to our planned 1.00pm lunch at The Three Magpies at Sells Green. A just reward for a successful morning’s work.
Jane and Michael left the following day to return to NB Moody Blues, moored back in the Midlands. We very much appreciated their very kind assistance – they might just be back to help us again in January!!! But no getting sick next time, Michael!!
We made some slow progress over the next week, stopping to enjoy The Barge Inn at Seend Cleve along the way, before finding moorings near Bradford on Avon. We still have some time to relax and explore before moving on to Bath by the 8th December to navigate those locks and head along the River Avon to Bristol and back before Christmas.
So we might just enjoy what Bradford on Avon has in store for us including a floating market over the weekend, before our “Bath to Bristol and back or bust” experience!!!