Aldermaston (moved at last)

The end of the road?

It’s been another week of trains to Reading for Karen and a few car journeys for me and we also finally had a cruise on Ceilidh, having been stationary on the boat for three weeks.  But first a heart-warming story from a day out I had prospecting for Victorian post boxes in the villages around Farnham and Alton.  At a place called Upton Grey I pulled in at the village stores to pick up some baking margarine and happened to notice that the private house next door had an out of service VR box by its back door.

Private box in Upton Grey
I couldn’t leave without finding out more about the box so knocked on the door to ask if I could take some pictures.  A lovely, older guy answered, and we spent a happy 20 minutes together whilst he explained about the provenance of the box and also the history of the post offices in the village.  Although his house was once a post office, it never housed this box; it was originally located outside the church and then sold at auction where it was relocated to a large private collection on the Isle of Wight.  It was then purchased by the current owner so it could be returned to its original village if not location.  As well as enthusing about his box he was keen to show me where a post box had been when his house was a post office.  He didn’t have his glasses on so could only point out the wall.  Fortunately, I had my glasses on and could see the wall box shape behind a down pipe.

The bricked up post box hole behind the pipe - the bricked up original doorway can also be seen
The weather was sunny and frosty so I parked up and went for a walk around a place called Malshangar.  This was a small community built to service a large manor house and it certainly felt like I had stepped back in time.

The road to Malshangar probably looked exactly the same two centuries or more ago
Having been on Ceilidh for three weeks we were rapidly reaching the bottom of the water tank.  The closest water tap is about 1/3rd mile away down one lock, but it has been out of action for nearly all that time.  I have been ringing CRT every day for a week to check on the progress of repairs and was told each day that the parts were coming in the next day and the contractors would fix it the following day.  It was the same story on Friday and, as we really needed to fill up, there was nothing for it but to go to the next closest tap.  Fortunately, it wasn’t much further on but did entail going (twice) through a lift bridge which we were hoping to avoid as the road is fairly busy.

Setting off on a mild (for the time of year) Friday morning
Steve & Tina, who have been moored near us for the last three weeks, had come past while we were having breakfast as they needed water too so we left it an hour or so before setting off.

Passing the permanent boats above Aldermaston lock
Karen was under strict instructions not to do any locking because of her back even though she insisted she would be OK.  Happily, she was sensible and just held onto the lines as we went through the lock.

Going into Aldermaston lock with Buddy on guard
After coming out of the lock we turned sharp left up the old arm that used to lead to railway sidings. A sanitary station is sited at the current end of the arm and we thought we may as well do a pump out as we were sort of passing.  This was the first time we had used a manual pump out and, although it worked well, it certainly gave me a workout pumping the handle back and forth (photo at the top).

Moored at the end of the arm
It’s a bit ironic that the arm used to lead to the railway sidings where freight was transferred between boats and trains, as the Great Western Railway purchased the canal in the railway company’s early days.  That sounded the death knell for the canal as traffic volumes decreased in face of the rail competition. 

Aldermaston lock used to be called Brewhouse lock as it was sited next to a brewery as can be seen on this old schematic:

The arm to the sidings can be seen in the middle
Once the tank was empty, we reversed back onto the mainline and waited by the lift bridge.  Steve & Tina were on their way back as they had finished taking on water and waited for us to come through the bridge first. By the time we were through there were long queues of road traffic either side and, as is often the case, we had friendly toots and waves from a couple of lorry drivers as we went through.

Waiting for the lift bridge to open
After we had passed through the bridge, we pulled up shortly afterwards at the water point.

Taking on water at Aldermaston wharf with Buddy on guard
Buddy acts completely differently when we are locking, taking on water or doing something similar with the boat.  If we're out for a walk he won't stay still and, if we're chatting to someone for example, he will be constantly sniffing and nosing around.  When on boat manoeuvres he finds a spot and just sits there until we are finished.

While were taking on water the CRT boat checker came past recording details of all the boats; Friday is the boat check day on this part of the K&A.  I told him that we were going back to where we had been for the last three weeks and he agreed that would be fine as the red boards were still on the river at either end of our section of canal.

The water tank took a while to fill as we had nearly emptied it, but once we were finished, we decided to reverse back through the lift bridge and turn at the entrance to the arm.  We had originally planned on going through the next lock and spinning the boat at a winding hole just the other side but realised it would be much quicker risking a reversing manoeuvre.  Ceilidh, like our boat, doesn’t have bow thrusters which can come in handy keeping the boat on course when reversing and therefore makes reversing a little awkward because the propeller is at the wrong end of the boat.

Reversing back to the lift bridge
Karen went ahead to set the lift bridge operation in motion, and we passed safely through; once more greeted by a couple of friendly lorry drivers.

Reversing under the lift bridge
After turning at the entrance to the arm, it was back up the lock and then back to our mooring spot.  With more rain forecast we decided it would be a good idea to turn around again so we would be facing the right way if we wanted water again before the river levels dropped sufficiently.  This meant passing our mooring spot and spinning the boat where the cut meets the river.  Turning at a river junction is relatively simple as long as you position the boat correctly.  The river current can be used to bring the front of the boat around as the turn is made.

I was part way through the manoeuvre when some kayaks appeared, so I hovered in the river flow by keeping the engine in gear as they went past.  All of a sudden, a narrowboat came out of the marina further down the river and clearly wasn’t giving way to anyone. I’m not sure how he missed two of the kayaks, but I could hear them admonishing the driver as he cut them up. 

One of the kayaks can be seen behind the boat and he had come from the right with the intention of turning left towards Buddy.  The boat cutting him up had caused the kayak to head in the wrong direction down the river.  The boater clearly wasn’t going to hang around waiting for me to finish turning so I thought the safest thing was to head upriver out of the way while he turned onto the cut.

Finishing my turn in peace
By the time we finally moored up we realised it had taken four hours to get water and do a pump out.  We had travelled hardly any distance but felt shattered so spent the rest of the day on board apart from a couple of short strolls.

On Friday we cruised about 1 ½ miles through two locks.

Aldermaston (yes, still still here)

A frosty start - morning view from the galley
With so much rain recently it’ll be quite a while before the red boards are lifted on the Thames and the K&A so consequently, we haven’t moved since the last blog update.  Saying that, we have been out and about most days, still using the train to avoid putting stress on Karen’s back by going in a car.

Not only have we been out and about we have also had visitors.  Polly & Lochlann came over for dinner after work one evening and, as much as Polly loves coming to the boat, she still can’t quite work out how we are happy living on one 😉  Sophie & Yanos also came over one day after we had all been for a walk around the Roman walls at Silchester which is only three miles or so away.  Sophie is the opposite to Polly and would quite happily live on a boat.  

Silchester has always fascinated us as it is only a few miles from Reading but, when walking around the walls in the open countryside, it feels like we are miles from civilisation.  It is purportedly one of the best surviving examples of Roman walls left in the country and the complete circuit is still standing.  The remains of the amphitheatre can also still be seen just outside the city boundary.

The amphitheatre at Silchester
The children have been asking us how we feel living on someone else’s boat and being back in the UK.  To be honest we have really mixed feelings as, on the one hand, we love being here as we are having lots of the family time but, on the other, we both really miss being at home on our boat and can’t wait to get back to France.  Looking at things logically, by the time we come back from France next October, the grandchildren will still be too young to remember us, and Lauren will still have three months of maternity leave to go!

Ellis is now home, and Lauren & Lewis have started parenting at home after five weeks in hospital.  They are taking things slowly and won’t be having visitors for a few days whilst they settle into a routine, but we can’t wait to go and see them.

As well as the rain we have also had a couple of days of very strong wind and we did feel a little nervous being moored under some rather large trees.  After one particularly windy night I drew the bedroom curtains and we were confronted by a couple of trees that had blown down during the night opposite us.  To be fair, neither were as big as the large trees we had been nervous about and also, they had fallen along the bank side rather than across the cut.  If they had blown across the cut, they would have landed on us but at least not have done the damage the larger trees would have caused.

As usual the picture doesn’t really capture the reality
We have fallen into a pattern of a couple of different walks every day; still not walking more than a few miles at a time while Karen’s back strengthens.  One of the walks is along the cut towards Reading past a couple of locks and then branching off along the River Kennet and around a couple of gravel pits before coming back onto the towpath again.  During the last few days, the river has been so high that it has been impossible to walk between the river and the gravel pits as the water has flooded the fields, so we have had to find an alternative walk.

The River Kennet has flooded the fields where we usually walk
As with most navigable waterways, the K&A had milestones along its route but very few are left standing today.  There is a nice example just down from where we are moored showing the distances to Reading and Newbury.

Canal milestone in Aldermaston
Of course, none of our neighbours have been able to move either and we feel particularly sorry for Martin who is moored behind us.  He reserved and paid for winter moorings for January and February a few miles upstream at Woolhampton.  We feel sorry for him as he has been unable to get to his moorings, and it seems like it’s going to be a while yet before he can get going.  Mentioning his name reminds me that we called him Murphy for quite a while as that is the name of his boat.  We do find we refer to people by their boat name and often find it difficult to adjust to using their given names once we meet them.  Sorry Martin, but you’ll always be Murphy to us ðŸ˜Š

Talking about other boaters, we met a guy the other day who introduced himself as an actor.  The way he brought his profession into the conversation so early struck us as rather odd, especially as the talk had been about the broken water point at Aldermaston wharf and how we were all faring without a functioning water tap.  Ignoring the way he introduced himself, he had a fascinating story to tell as he had a plastic hand which he now uses to his advantage.  He has become a stunt actor and is ideal for those gruesome scenes where it seems like a character is having his hand sawn or chopped off!     

During one wet afternoon we spent a happy few hours getting into more detail of our planned cruising for this year.  Without going into too much detail (to avoid reader boredom and also, plans may change) we are heading east from our current mooring at Châlons-en-Champagne over to Strasbourg on the German border.  We will then retrace our steps a little way and then head down the Moselle through Luxembourg and then up the Saar through the edge of Germany back into France thus completing a loop covering Alsace and Lorraine.  We will then head south down the Vosges valley and then back up through Burgundy to Champagne to our starting point at Châlons.

Starting and finishing on the left, the purple line is our planned cruising route this year
I mentioned train journeys earlier and was reminded of two days in particular when we went to London on two consecutive days.  The first day was to the funeral of a dear friend of ours followed the next day by a visit to the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Saatchi gallery.  Catherine joined us for the afternoon to visit the exhibition with us and also brought us up to date with her plans for this year.  She has handed her notice in at work, booked a one-way flight to Barcelona and plans to get a job out there for the foreseeable future.  She wants to make the best use of her Spanish & Portuguese interpreting masters degree she finished a couple of years ago.

In retrospect we were rather daft travelling up and down to London on both days as we should have stayed overnight in town; however, Karen’s back didn’t seem to suffer unduly from the train journeys bearing in mind that we stood an awful lot anyway.  We were a bit naughty on the way back one day as, whilst waiting for the train to leave Paddington, we realised our off-peak ticket wasn’t valid on that particular train.  We ummed and aahed about getting off and the decision was soon taken away from us.  An announcement came that the train was being delayed because of a technical issue so we went in search of an alternative but ‘legal’ train to Reading, of which there were many, albeit slower.  We soon learnt that the original ‘illegal’ train was cancelled so rather felt we had been visited by karma.

The Tutankhamun exhibition lived up to our expectations that had been built up by reading reports in the press and accounts from friends who had already been.  In a rather apposite way, the exhibition was one of the last trips Peter had made before he sadly passed away on New Year’s Eve.

Considering the artefacts were around 3,300 years old we were totally moved by the intricate detail of each piece.  I have included a couple of items here for our memory.

On one of the days we walked between a couple of tube stops and tried our hand at some night boxing.  We hadn’t been VR boxing at night before and wondered how we would get on.  We were happily rewarded with a few especially around the lovely garden squares of Kensington.

An ‘anonymous’ Victorian pillar box on Bolton Gardens
The box is known as anonymous box as it doesn’t have a monarch’s cypher on it.  For some, as yet unknown reason, pillar boxes cast between 1879 and 1887 had the VR cypher omitted.  Of course, there are many suppositions as to why this was the case and no documentation has been found but it does seem improbable that it was an oversight as many seem to claim.

The only other anonymous pillar boxes are most of those from the current monarch’s reign found in Scotland.  Because of the strong resentment by some Scots to Elizabeth being referred to as Elizabeth II, the cypher is replaced by the Scottish crown on these boxes.  

While on post boxes we were pleased to find a particularly large wall box outside the abbey in Reading town centre.  Although it would have been even better if the box had been Victorian rather than an Edward VIIth.

Karen posing by a large Edward VII wall box
The last couple of days have been lovely and dry with a good sharp frost that has lasted throughout the day in areas away from the sun.  Over the weekend we had bought some bags of coal and on the Monday morning I borrowed a trolley from Steve, one of our neighbours, to bring them down from the car.  Buddy was clearly desperate to be on the move as he just sat on the rear deck rather than walking to the car and back with me.

I’m ready to go!
Finally, on Monday afternoon we took the train into Reading to have our first cuddles with Ellis 😊 😊

Happy and proud Grampy and Nanny Karen

Aldermaston (still here)

As Karen’s back is still on the mend, she’s been avoiding car journeys and taken to using the train instead.  At least on a train she can stand, also the seats tend to be higher and therefore better for her than those in a car.  We’re only ½ mile from the station at Aldermaston so it’s easy to get into Reading to visit Ellis in hospital.  He is now completely tube free and gets all his feeds from Lauren.  This includes the night feeds as she has been staying in a hospital flat where she can have Ellis in the room with her.  We all feel that it won’t be long before he’s home now 😊

Like us, the five boats we are moored with haven’t moved because the river levels are still too high.  We are more than happy here as it’s quiet with great views across the fields one way and into the woods the other.  There’s plenty of wildlife to see and hear especially first thing in the mornings although we’ve yet to see a kingfisher since we’ve been back in the UK.

A sunny morning on our mooring
We did have a bit of a cock up one day this week though.  Karen had caught the train to Reading and I had driven in so that we could leave Buddy at lauren & Lewis's house whilst we went into the hospital.  The plan on the way back was that I would pop into a supermarket on the way home and we would meet up at the boat as Karen would be back at Aldermaston some while before me.  We were just about to go our separate ways at the station when we remembered the boat keys were in the car which was a good 20-minute walk away.  Understandably, Karen didn’t fancy waiting in the rain and dark outside the boat while I battled the Reading rush hour traffic.

We changed plans and I skipped the supermarket trip and made for the car as quickly as possible.  By the time I had walked to the car Karen was on the phone wondering how I was getting on.  She was already on the towpath and I was still 30 minutes away!  We decided that she should pop into the pub where she could wait in the warm and dry.  It all turned out rather well as we ended up having a meal there, left the car in the car park and walked back to the boat in the dry as the rain had stopped.  

For the last week we have been moored just up from Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon canal.  I have previously mentioned that much of the canal between Newbury and Reading is actually the River Kennet with occasional cuts that bypass the river by the use of locks.  The Kennet Navigation, as it was originally known, was opened in 1724, nearly 300 years ago; the remaining section from Newbury down to Bath was opened in 1810.  Coupled with the navigable River Avon from Bath to Bristol this created a profitable inland trade route between London and Bristol harbour.   

All the locks on the Kennet Navigation were built as turf sided locks as they were cheaper to construct.  Mind you, as they were sloping sided, it took more water to fill them, but water wastage wasn’t an issue as it was a river navigation.  Only two turf sided locks remain, the others were replaced by brick sided locks mainly during the great restoration of the canal from 1970 to 1990; the canal became disused soon after the opening of the Great Western Railway line from Reading down to Bath.

Looking back at the photos we took when travelling up and down this canal in the past I’m amazed that I can only find one picture of a turf sided lock!

Monkey Marsh lock in 2012 – the only photo we took of a turf sided lock
We are well and truly settled into the boat now having lived on it for over a week and Buddy seems to be back to his normal self.  He gets quite unsettled when we move around the country staying in different houses.  In fact, we’re beginning to wonder if he’s beginning to get lazy as he doesn’t always jump up and get to the door first when he realises we’re off for a walk.  Maybe he’s just getting older.

The week ended on Sunday with Lauren’s ‘baby shower’.  I know it sounds American (which it is) but it was really good catching up with lots of Lauren’s friends whom we haven’t met for a long time.  It didn’t seem to matter that baby showers are meant to happen before the baby is born – it was a good excuse for a party especially as I was the only man allowed in 😉

Tube-free Ellis showing off a hat and cardy knitted by Nanny Karen

Aldermaston (returning to the cut)

After finishing at the Hartley Wintney house that we rented for the family festive period it was off to the Kennet & Avon canal (the K&A) at Aldermaston.  We were heading for Frouds Bridge marina just outside the village where we would be picking up the narrowboat we’re borrowing for a couple of months.

Ken & Annie (also K&A) were kindly lending us their boat while they went ashore to do some grandparenting for a few months.  They are normally continuous cruisers but with the temporary lifestyle change they had put their boat in the marina until we took it over.  They had the best mooring on the marina as it was right at the farthest end of the site and next to the entrance to the river.  This meant they only had a boat on one side with pleasant views across the fields and the river on the other.

As the marina entrance is off the river the current can make it quite problematical getting out especially with the recent rain causing stronger than usual flows.  The river sections of the canal and also the Thames are still on ‘Red boards’ so we’re not going to be able to cruise far once we’re out of the marina.  The river section between the marina entrance and the cut is only a couple of hundred metres long so we all felt it was safe to go out and take a test drive on Ceilidh.

Our first UK cruise for a while
Ceilidh, like our first boat, has a cruiser stern so has a large rear deck and I was soon back into the swing of things; although making that right hand turn out of the entrance and into the current was a bit hairy.  With Karen’s back still not good we were all on alert to make sure she didn’t do any locking or try and drive the boat

The marina entrance with the river ahead, running right to left
Looking at the picture above, the river looks still, but that’s just an illusion and the current would easily be seen in a video.  Once we were out on the cut itself, Karen & I felt instantly at home as our first year owning a boat was spent up and down the length of this canal from Reading to Bristol.  The immediate difference compared with France was the number of moored boats.  In just under the mile down to the first lock we probably passed nearly as many liveaboards that we have seen in all our French cruising, other than along the Seine around Paris of course.

The only lock of the day was the unusual scalloped sided Aldermaston lock.

Setting Aldermaston lock
The K&A has double width locks that take two narrowboats side by side but as we were the only boat using the lock, we only needed to open one gate at each end.  Once through the lock we were going to turn left up an old wharfing arm that now just houses a sanitary station and water point near the beginning of the arm, the rest being filled in.  Ken & Annie have a manual pump out and they needed to show us how to use the kit as it is something we haven’t come across before.  Annie went ahead to check the station was clear but quickly came back to tell me to moor on the lock landing as there was already a boat up there.  It turned out to be Tina & Steve, friends of theirs who continuous cruise in the area on a widebeam.

We didn’t have to wait long for them to finish and I soon had Ceilidh moored up albeit with a bit of overhanging shrub brushing on the way in.  The self pump out was a simple job, and it must have saved them a fortune on pump out fees over the years as it costs nothing, other than a potentially sore back swinging the lever to operate the pump.

As there were no other boats around and not likely to be any others coming due to the red boards, we locked the boat up and went to the Butt for a couple of drinks and a pub lunch.  While we were there Tina & Steve joined us, and we had a pleasant hour or so of boaters’ chat before we realised the time.  It was beginning to get gloomy and we needed to be back to the marina as Karen & I were going to spend a couple of nights there getting the boat ready before venturing off.

Going back up Aldermaston lock with K&A’s dog for company
Annie & Karen walked back to the marina and Ken stayed with me whilst I drove back; happily, with no mishaps on the way.

Driving back onto the mooring
On Friday we cruised one and a half miles and went down and up the lock at Aldermaston.

We spent Saturday and Sunday settling into Ceilidh.  She is laid out in the reverse way to ours and therefore has the bedroom at the back and lounge or saloon at the front.  She is also three foot shorter which, surprisingly, makes quite a difference to the feel of the rooms.  They all felt smaller and we couldn’t work out why it was so obvious until it dawned on us that the lounge was in fact longer than ours. This would be because it was originally a hire boat where cooking, sleeping and washing areas would be kept small and living areas as large as possible because most hirers would only be aboard for a week or so at a time.  When holidaying, the majority of people make the most of socialising and tend to eat out or have a barbecue.

Ceilidh on her mooring in Frouds Bridge marina
We still can’t believe how fortunate we are that Karen found K&A and that they were prepared to lend us Ceilidh.  Other than the room size differences, which we immediately became accustomed to, the main difference was having two armchairs rather than a sofa.  Again, we have got used to that too and, as I said earlier, we really feel at home already.  Annie had even emptied out all her storage jars so we could use them.  Karen soon filled them while we settled in and we both had a good laugh when it occurred to her that it's going to be interesting dealing with anything we don’t finish off when we leave.  As the jars are Annie's we will have to bag up any leftovers.

One of the storage jar units Karen has filled up
During these last few days we have, of course, been popping into the hospital at Reading to catch up with our new grandson, Ellis.  He is doing really well (as is mum Lauren) and has put on a pound in weight already and, at 4 ¼ pounds, we don’t think it’ll be long before he will be allowed home.  The main thing they are waiting for is for him to be taking all his feeds from Lauren rather than being tube fed.  They are slowly transitioning so it should only be a few weeks before they are home.

On Monday morning we decided it was time to leave the marina and set off after getting a couple of bags of coal and filling up with water.  We weren’t going far but it was still exciting being afloat and on our own again. 

Buddy immediately decided where his spot was going to be once we were on the move
We decided to moor up at the end of a line of ccers and were caught by the wind as we were pulling in. In no time at all the front was blown across the cut and the back was soon following.  Karen was holding onto the centre line but couldn’t do anything because of her back.  Steve, who was moored at the other end of the line of boats had seen us when we passed and came along the towpath to give us a hand. 

We were soon moored up but with slack lines as there is a notorious ledge just under the water line. The water level fluctuates quite a bit on this stretch and hopefully leaving slack lines will avoid the boat listing too much if the level drops.

Moored just outside Padworth on Monday night

We popped around to Tina & Steve’s boat for a cup of tea and then went for a walk along the Kennet reliving our memories of the time we spent on the K&A all those years ago.

On Monday we cruised ½ mile through no locks.