Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Boating the K&A part two

"After you!"
I have rejoined the good ship John Damsell for a couple of days. I phoned the crew and asked where they were and was informed that they were "somewhere beyond Trowbridge". I pondered whether to cycle the Bristol-Bath path and the towpath yet again and decided I really couldn't be bothered. I was feeling lazy, despite the fact that it was a completely flat route, Instead I decided to go to Trowbridge by train and then cycle along from there. So I headed down to Keynsham station and asked the guy in the ticket booth for a single ticket to Trowbridge.

"A single ticket to Trowbridge?" he asked. "Are you sure? That's a place you want to return from!"

I laughed. "It's ok," I said, "I'm jumping on a boat to get out."

Whilst I was on the train the crew phoned to say they had just reached Semington, so at Trowbridge I jumped on the main road to Devizes and cycled along there awhile before turning down the lane to Semington village. The tarmac was faster  than the gravelly towpath, although the road was busy and noisy,  it was something of a relief to turn onto the quiet road down to the canal. Once on the towpath I had only travelled a mile or so when I saw them moored up next to a swingbridge. I could see Mick with his back to me, on his phone. Suddenly my phone rang in my pocket. I answered it, it was him of course.

"Are you far away?" he asked.

"Yes, miles, the train was late," I said. "Can you wait around for me?"

"Ok," he said glumly, then grinned as I rolled up alongside the boat. "Huh, very funny."

We slung my bike on the roof and the bags inside then set off along the canal passing through Wiltshire fields along the plain. Before long we reached Foxhangers and the start of the flight of locks which take the canal off the plain and up to the Vale of Pewsey.

There was a winding hole after seven locks so we decided to go up this far and moor up before heading back down in the morning. Winding holes are places where you can turn around. Unlike a car which can turn around pretty much anywhere, it's not so easy when your boat is 60 feet long and the canal is only about ten feet wide. So every now and again there are wide bits where, with a bit of luck, a dollop of bad language and not too much wind, you can turn around and head the other way. Sometimes it all goes wrong and then someone has to deploy a long pole to try and push the boat off the bank allthe while hoping that a boat doesn't come along a) because your boat is now wedged sideways blocking the channel and b) because you look and feel like idiots who don't know what they're doing.

So we headed up the seven locks and then went to look at Caen Hill flight proper. Caen Hill is one of the wonders of the waterways. It takes the canal from the flat plain of the Bristol Avon up to the Vale of Pewsey, the corridor between the chalk downs of Salisbury Plain and Marlborough Downs. It rises over 230 feet in two miles, which means a lot of locks. twenty nine of them in fact.

Caen Hill locks are in three sections: seven locks at Foxhangers, then the main flight of sixteen, then the remainder into Devizes. The middle sixteen rise in a dramatic and beautiful formation, one above the other in perfect formation. It is a staggering feat of engineering. The flight was the last section of the canal to be completed in 1810, and the last part of the canal to be reopened in 1990 when the Queen was the first to boat through the restored locks in the Rose of Hungerford.

The canal, including Caen Hill flight was designed by the Scottish engineer and architect John Rennie, who went on to design many other structures including Waterloo, Southwark and London Bridge. On Caen Hill he placed huge side ponds to ensure sufficient water supply through the flight. Now recently installed backpumps are capable of returning 32 million litres of water a day back up the flight.

After some food we walked up the towpath to Devizes. We had a couple of pints in the Wetherspoons pub where a feature on the wall put paid to Mick's theory that Caen Hill was so named after French prisoners brought here during the Napoleonic war.  In fact the hill is named after Roger de Caen, Bishop of Salisbury who built a castle in Devizes in the tenth century.
 We then trailed round the corner for a couple of pints in the Lamb. Whilst there we admired the huge Elizabethan oil painting although you have to lean sidewise and then look up to see it. Apparently it was a gift to the pub. As The Lamb is an ancient building the walls are only around six feet high and uneven. The only place to put it therefore, was on the ceiling. We all leaned sideways and looked up to admire it, making appropriate appreciative noises before heading out to sit in the little courtyard for an hour before heading back to the boat.

On the way back we admired the beautiful sunset for a while before turning in.

This is the bit I missed: here
Todays route: here
It's been a hard day's boating

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