Wednesday, June 27, 2007

You Can't Go In There !

Oh Yes, we CAN! But only just, as there were only one or two inches to spare – this is why we had to strip 'Zindagi' right down as low as possible. This bridge (at Fleet in Hampshire) is allegedly only 5'9" high (minimum), but we got through OK – the lowest bridge we have been under yet, though there were two earlier ones at 5'10". We even took out the tiller pin in case it snagged and snapped.

What about this, then? This is way too low to get under, but it is an electrically-operated lift bridge, so Dave just hopped off with our trusty British Waterways key and operated the controls. Such a quiet country road that we were not expecting to stop any traffic, but there was one car waiting by the time we were through.

But there is a limit! Not far from the lift bridge, we reached the present limit of navigation of the Basingstoke Canal, near the ruins of Odiham (King John's) Castle and marked by a line of floats – and ducks! A few hundred yards along the increasingly overgrown canal is the eastern portal of Greywell Tunnel, which collapsed in the 1930s and now has an important population of bats.

After much searching, Dave found the other end of the tunnel, almost invisible in the undergrowth but protected by a barrier. Although the canal is still visible there, it is many years since any boats went along it and no restoration seems likely.

Somewhere else we may not be able to go is the Thames! We phoned the Lower Thames Office on Wednesday and they told us that the recent heavy rain (which has not affected us too much) means that the yellow boards are out again, with every prospect of moving to 'red boards' very soon. Maybe we shall find ourselves waiting at Shepperton when we leave the Basingstoke and the River Wey next week. A minor setback – nothing compared to the floods elsewhere!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Stripped for Action

Here is 'Zindagi' looking rather different – the wind generator has gone from the roof, the 'cratch' frame and cover have come down from the front and even one of the brass mushroom vents has been removed! Why? Because the Basingstoke Canal has three VERY low bridges and we needed to be sure that we can get under all of them. We shall still be going very slowly when we approach them, just to be sure!

Having arranged to go up the Woodham and St. Johns locks on Wednesday morning, we arrived just below the bottom Woodham lock on Tuesday afternoon and met John, the Ranger who would be accompanying us up the locks the next morning. Just nicely timed, he told us, as they had not long removed a large log which had been blocking the canal. The rest of the day was needed to get all the 'superstructure' reduced.

Just before 7.30 on Wednesday morning, John rang to say that we would not be able to go up the locks, as there had been a massive breach in the canal further up and all the Rangers were needed to try and sort it out. Would that mean we would not be able to go further up ourselves? He was not sure, we would have to wait and see. After the heavy rain of the previous night, we enjoyed a quiet day in the sunny woodland surroundings – amazingly peaceful and secluded, though very near the M25, on the edge of West Byfleet and near a railway line!

Later that afternoon, we got the good news that we would be able to start up the locks the next day. First call: what the guide book describes as "the peaceful, almost secret, houseboat world which still exists between Locks 1 and 3." Then up the locks through what the map shows to be surrounded by houses, but again the canal seems hidden in its own tree-lined world and insulated from the urban bustle except on a few occasions. One of these was very useful as we were able to moor up and pop into Woking's shopping centre more easily than by car!

This is a really lovely canal, but so few boats seem to visit it. We have heard that only about 20 have visited from 'outside' so far this year – that's less than one a week! Water supply seems to be the main problem, but the canal authorities are working on that and so far this year has been OK, despite vandalism a few weeks ago and the breach the other day.

John (ably 'assisted' by his young Bedlington terrier, Rum) saw us up the first two flights (11 locks) on Thursday, and his colleague Paul took over on Friday morning for the longer haul up the 3 Brookwood and 14 Deepcut locks, in woody valley settings.
No sooner had we emerged from the top Deepcut lock than we saw two cyclists coming along the towpath towards us. Not unusual, except that this was Brian and Diane! We had arranged to meet them for lunch on Saturday but they knew roughly where we were and so thought they would come and find us! Bikes soon on the roof and away we went again.
We enjoyed lunch together on Saturday and then went to B&Q to get some flowers for Val's 'roof garden' (just in time to take them down for the low bridges!) Travelling by car is quite odd after three months of boating at walking pace!
Sunday has been very wet, so we have just 'sat' and done a few things in the boat, though it did stop raining long enough for us to go to a nearby Indian restaurant for lunch.
We'll soon be tackling those low bridges . . !


More than a week has passed since we last updated our news – our apologies! Since then, we have had a little flurry of visitors.

Adam had already planned to visit us on Saturday 16th, and we needed to be on our way northwards anyway, so we chugged back to Guildford, passing more lovely River Wey scenery as we went. Here is one of the locks in a typically leafy setting.

Mike and Kerstin brought an old friend from India with them when they made a brief visit on Saturday. It was good to see them after about 5 years, and to see Divakaran after about 35! Despite delays on all sides, we managed to meet up with the three of them and arrived at our rendezvous with Adam only minutes before he did. In the drizzly rain, we went for a little 'chug' past Mike's old family house and he enjoyed seeing some of his old haunts, then stopped for lunch with six of us somehow squeezing into our little dinette!
As the weather brightened, Mike, Kerstin and Divakaran decided to walk back to their car, leaving us to enjoy a little trip towards Godalming with Adam – more glimpses of secluded backwaters!
We have got to know this stretch between Guildford and Godalming quite well, as we then turned round again to meet Terry and Di in Guildford on Sunday! Lunch in a pub and then coffee on board . . . no time for a ride, but we think they may soon be back for more!
Somehow, we managed to have all these visitors without getting any digital photos of them, but there may be some belated ones coming, so they will probably not escape!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Our Most Southerly Point

From the seemingly ever-widening Thames to the peace and seclusion of the River Wey! We started up here on Tuesday, and ALMOST felt as though we were back on the canals again – no towering Thames cruisers, no-one to work the locks for us, and a real rural 'feel' to the waterway as soon as we had left its junction with the Thames.

BUT . . . it is still a river navigation, so there is a noticeable flow (especially after the recent rain) and the locks need careful handling, with fierce jets of water as we open the sluices! We are gradually learning, and developing our own 'Wey navigation' techniques and routines.

Some of the countryside is open and fen-like, reminding us of the upper Thames, like these fields near the ruins of Newark Priory. Other parts are closed-in, almost tunnels of willow and bamboo enclosing the water.

. . . and there are some attractive weirs and lock cottages. We have even seen an old mill converted into a seven-storey block of flats!

Our old friends the Great Crested Grebes are here in good numbers, and the Yellow Flag Irises have been out for a few weeks now.

We have only taken one week's licence on the Wey, as it is only about 20 miles of navigation. Next Wednesday, we plan to branch off onto the Basingstoke Canal, which we are told is in full working order again. Probably about 2 weeks there before we head back to the Thames and down on to London.

Meanwhile, we have been reminded that we have now been to two extremes of the connected inland waterways system:– Llangollen is the westernmost point and Godalming the southermost – not sure when we may reach the most eastern and northern points!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Further down the Thames

As we have come further on down the Thames, we are really glad to have gone right up to Lechlade first – we really appreciate the vast changes that take place gradually as you come downstream! This part is so very different from the upper reaches, which one of the lock-keepers described to us as being like 'another country'!

Here is the well-known suspension bridge at Marlow, as we came downstream on Sunday 3rd June.

Then, just to confuse everyone, we turned round and went upstream again for a couple of days! Reason? A very welcome visit from Jenny, one of Val's friends from Bible College many years ago. She joined us on Monday morning, and we took a much quicker trip with her up to Pangbourne and then back to Maidenhead on Wednesday. On the way, we passed lots of interesting boathouses, like this thatched one.

By contrast, we have now come down past some much bigger buildings – you may recognise this one! An interesting part of the river, but we are glad to have gone on further and escaped the Heathrow flight path!

Our plan is now to join the River Wey down to Guildford and Godalming, where Adam hopes to join us next weekend, and then get onto the Basingstoke Canal and travel through some of Val's 'home country' near where she grew up in Farnborough. Right now we are on the junction of the Wey and the Thames, but will spend a couple of days more on the Thames so that our timing fits with Adam for next weekend. Both on the Wey and the Basingstoke, we hope to have a few visits from friends and family – always welcome!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

On The Move Again

At last, the 'Red Boards' are down and the yellow 'Stream Decreasing' ones are there instead, so 'powered boats may proceed with caution'. Much as we liked Wallingford, it was good to get moving yesterday and we have made good progress down towards Maidenhead, where we hope to meet one of our friends early next week. We are moored up opposite one of the Thames 'Eyots' (islands) between Wargrave and Henley.

While we were waiting at Wallingford, we saw quite a lot of Great Crested Grebe, one of our favourite water birds, and have tried several times to get photos of them with their chicks on their backs. Well, success at last! Here they are. We have seen young water birds at all stages of development, from quite well-grown cygnets down to very young ones. Here is a swan with cygnets on its back – something we have not seen before.

Meanwhile, we continue on our way down the Thames, as it seems to get more and more stylish and the boats seem to get bigger and bigger. No doubt the house prices are increasing even faster as we come downstream!