The last eighteen months have seen us getting around a fair bit of the inland waterways network. Three crossings of the Pennines, all around the Midlands, out to the Nene and Trent in the east, a foray into Wales on the Llangollen, down to London Town… But always at the back of our mind was the fact that we were planning to leave the Kennet and Avon untouched. Then the grand hurrah of our Severn trip brought the great canal of the south west back into play. Hurrah!
Boating opinions are very mixed about the K&A. It’s a real marmite canal. Some love the scenery, the mix of river and canal, the beautiful towns it passes through. Others say it’s back-breaking and full over overstaying canal boats. For me, it’s neither really. Sure it’s gorgeous in parts – but so are many other canals. It’s definitely not that back-breaking – though maybe that’s just because nothing will ever seem that way after the Calder and Hebble and the Rochdale! And in terms of boats not moving around as they should be staying put and hogging all the temporary visitor moorings – well, I don’t know how bad things were a couple of years ago, but it’s nothing like as bad now as I’d heard and nowhere near as difficult to find a place to moor as London was this time last year.
What the Kennet and Avon has provided is a sense of change. Big city Bristol with its bright lights and its enthusiastic embrace of the water. Laid back, handsome Bath, where we were able to pull up pretty much outside Sue and Neill’s house and drop in for tea (cheers!). The lovely, welcoming towns and villages along the way: Bathampton, Kintbury, Newbury, Devizes. An epic flight of locks! The most gorgeous late summer pootle along the River Kennet yesterday. The K&A is not a one trick pony like, arguably, the Bridgewater (wide, no locks, bit dull) or the Huddersfield Narrow (exciting but unrelentless in locks and tunnel action).
(As a rather long and rambling aside… It’s funny how much the canal ‘management’ varies from one waterway to the other. On the Rochdale is the deepest lock in the country, Tuel Lane Lock, clocking in at about 20 foot deep. It’s operated by three lock-keepers and you’re advised to call ahead and share with another boat if possible. You have to rope up front and stern and try your best to follow what’s going on as lock-keepers shout instructions down from on high before letting the water in very, very gradually. In contrast, Bath is home to Bath Deep Lock, a mere 19 foot and change. This, you operate on your own, with not even a sign from Canal and River Trust to tell you about which paddle to open first. I pity the poor hire boaters who come across this beast with no warning and are thrown from side to side in the (second deepest?) lock , at the mercy of the water that gushes in unpredictably from the sides. Tom says this idiosyncrasy is what makes travelling the canals so fascinating and charming. But he wasn’t at the tiller that day in Bath. So I beg to differ and humbly suggest that CR&T put a sign up.)
And visitors. We’ve had lots of visitors recently too. Thanks to Maman, Luke, David, Suzie, Sue, Neill, Agnes, Joe, Nick and Elizabeth for helping make our final weeks on board Felucca full of great fun and games.