It’s been a bit crazy to say the least. Once again I have struggled to find a moment to sit down and write. I am sat out on the deck of my new home the sunshine is blazing and all I want to do is tell you how amazing my new way of life is but before I do I have the last leg of the journey to tell you about… and man what an eventful last leg it was! I left off in my last entry the day before Devizes and this is the day is all started!
We got up a 6am and set off at 7am in a bid to get to Devizes by night fall to moor up and hit it hard the next day. We were setting off from Hungerford, moored up just after Lock 74 and heading to Devizes, which starts at Lock 50 so there were 23 locks to go… Mum and I had our windlasses at the ready!
We got off for the first lock, dogs in tow and smashed through it in no time, we have a little routine going now which has been unconsciously perfected throughout the trip. When we finished lock 73 we could see Lock 72 up ahead so we thought we would stay off the boat and walk ahead give the dogs a little run… Well this was basically the theme of our day; we didn’t get back on our boat until after Lock 55! Although we popped the dogs back on a little before that which Barley made clear he was not happy about when he turned up soaking wet mid way through our lock prep. Our sight of the boat was blocked by a bridge so as mum grabbed Barley I ran down to Bob to check he was ok: Barley had managed to nose his way through to the front bedroom and then launched himself of the front of the boat! Luckilly when Bob was mooring up to wait for the lock to empty he looked down the side of the boat to check his distance and saw Barley’s bright yellow life jacket! There he was just swimming about in the water… Bob ran down and hauled him out the water with the help of another moored boater and once Barley was on dry land he bolted after us! Crazy dog!
19 locks down and god knows how many miles walked/run we were knackered!
Next up Bruce Tunnel all 502 yards of it, time to test the headlights!
We hopped back off the boat at Lock 54; 4 more locks to go and all in quick succession before we could get back on The Kevin James and cruise the next few lockless hours to Devizes. Excited, exhausted and pushing through we were both pretty happy when we got to lock 53 and the paddles we seemingly easy to wind up, not too much resistance at all…. “Ah these are nice and easy.” I said and mum agreed, what a relief, if the next 2 are like this we will smash through them… Sat waiting for the lock to empty it was a good few minutes before it dawned upon us: The lock was not draining, the paddles were easy with little resistance because there was no resistance! They had not lifted at all, the lock was not emptying and suddenly our 6am start and hammering through 21 locks in no time came to a crashing halt.
Bob made a call to Canal and River Trust and they assured us they would call us back. 40 minutes went by the lock had managed to drain halfway and plateaued and with 1 other boat waiting to come down the lock another boat came into view up ahead heading up the lock, just what we needed. It was a 70ft narrow boat with a group of 6 old boys on their lad’s holiday! A quick chat with them and they agreed to try their best to nudge the lock gates with their boat in the hope of allowing enough water to escape so that we could push the gates open. With our boat tied up in the lock and four of us on each: On 3 we pushed with all our might as one of the lads drove the narrow boat into the gates. There was some deceptive movement in the gates, which turned out to just be the bending of the beams. The lads were not giving up and continued full throttle into the gates, one old boy even climbed onto the gates thinking he could make a difference with his sheer brut strength but I think that was more to do with the amount he had had to drink than his actual ability.
With the cue building up the heavens opened! Two hours went by and the Canal and River Trust finally turned up only to take one look at the boat and say; “yep, you’re not getting out of there tonight…” Undeterred I was not about to let their pessimistic, defeatist attitude stand in the way of our journey and undo all our hard work that morning. Mum and I seemingly took on an unrehearsed good cop/back cop routine. I expressed my extreme disappointment in their diagnosis and demanded they give me an exact time in which they planned to get the divers here to sort the lock. Then along comes mum apologising for the hassle this has caused them and with and understanding tone, sympathising with the ‘bad week’ they had had, which they were all too keen to tell us about: ”I know its not your fault” she said. Bob had not given up either and had managed to get some coal ash from the lads boat which he climbed up onto the top gate with and poured down the middle successfully attempting to block up the cracks somewhat in a bid to reduce the water coming into the lock so that the flow going out was greater and thus the 2ft of water left in the lock would slowly reduce. With the coal in but unsure how long it would hold Bob came and said to the two CRT lads: “can we put some pressure on this gates to see if we can let some water out enough to open the gates?” “oooo, we can’t do that, we’ll snap the beam”. Bob, too polite to argue their crazy logic just accepted their response and walked off. In comes bad cop again: “Lads come on. I don’t mean to be rude, you look like strong lads but between the four of us I don’t think we are going to snap that beam! Lets just try. ”Well, I don’t know if it was their bruised ego’s desperate to prove me wrong or just the sheer shock of being challenged by a woman but they complied. Mum ran off to get the lads who were now way more than two sheets to the wind and were just untying their ropes to head back up to the pub for the night. 6 of us on the one gate, the rain pouring down we heaved with all our might. By this point our friends Viv and Ian had turned up on their bikes hoping to meet us along the way to Devizes not expecting to find us in this state; They too jumped on along with a few others from the ever growing queue of boats and we did it!!!!! We were free!!!!
In a flash we hauled the bikes onto Kevin James, elated to be set free from captive we carried on down the river without a second thought for the boats that we had left behind stuck there for the night till the divers came and fixed the paddles…
We did, of cause spare a thought for them eventually; we’re not that self-absorbed!
Slowly drying out and thankfully only 2 more locks to do we powered on but only made it to Honey Street by nightfall. Nothing another 6am start wouldn’t fix: We got to Devizes at 11am. Ready and raring to nail these 28 locks!
Although we had called out to various people to come along and help, we had but one taker in the form of Nigel Dean. What a clueless trouper he was!
With him being ordered around the locks by mum and I, the three of us managed to get a little routine going and smashed it in 3.5hrs.
Proud as punch we had a celebratory cheese on toast and cuppa tea then carried onto Semington where we moored up for the night. Just as we locked up the boat and headed down the towpath to The Semington Arms for our first and only dinner out (treating ourselves for all our hard work). We were met by the ever ‘on his way’ Tom Sheppard. Just in time for our celebratory pub dinner and drinks the windlass we had brought him for his arrival and help at Devizes lay untouched in the back box on the Kevin James.
We had a lovely dinner; Tom and I managed to win pool as Bob ‘the hustler’ lost his hustle by accidently potting the black! Kate Dean joined us at 9 for a late ordering of mushroom risotto and then we all headed back to Kevin James for a little nightcap before bed, lush!
The next couple of days went by in a flash; with another early start and back down to the three of us we managed to make it to Hanham Lock by nightfall.
Coming through Bath, the Widcombe Flight of 6 locks didn’t faze us at all however the last Lock was a seriously deep one, so much so that both mum and I struggled to close the gates afterwards. After several attempts we decided to join forces and with my hands on the gate and mums hands around my waist so that she could get her feet onto the poorly placed ridges for some grip we pulled with all our might and not without lots of funny looks and laughs from the passing traffic we got it moving!
Getting back onto the river was a change of pace; with all the rain the river was flowing pretty fast and we were flying along. There was very little traffic on the water, as I believe most sensible people without a schedule to stick to, decided to stay at home. But halfway to Hanham we met a boat coming the other way, which had seemingly forgotten that you always pass port to port and was now heading straight for us. In a panic I handed the tiller to Bob who was equally panicked but with mum franticly signalling for them to get over we managed to squeeze passed each other. However this left us right in the bushes, poor Bob was desperately trying to recover us but with the flow of the river it was not an easy task. Before we knew it we were right over the other side in the trees, mum and I had to duck right down while Bob stopped, calmed the situation and with a clear head and a quick lift off of the brand new chimney we had just bought he waded us through the trees and got us back on track with only a broken navigational light to show for it. Thank god for Bob! Although once we got to Bristol we did find half a tree under our bow!
Waking up at Hanham lock we were only an hour from Bristol so we were able to have a slightly lazier start to the day and head off around 9am. We got to the lock and the moorings were flooded! Undeterred Bob nosed the boat up to the gates and we hoped off the bow straight onto the gate. As we started to wind the gates up the lock master came out in his dressing gown explaining to us that the river was closed due to the flooding and they were not letting anyone in or out of Bristol. Bob tied the boat up around the top of the mooring post that was just sticking out of the water and climbed off the bow while I held the front end in with the rope. A quick chat with his old drinking friend Trevor the Lock Master, a call to the Lock Master at Netham Lock and we were on our way! It’s not what tiy know ‘ey?
It was not going to be an easy ride but Trevor knew Bob was more than capable and sure enough we made it to Netham lock in record time! So much so that the Lock Master was not ready for us. As we waited patiently for him to sift the rubbish through (which was why he allowed us through knowing he had to open the lock for his daily rubbish duties anyway. Also FYI we think this may be where we picked up the tree on our bow but it was more dramatic to say it happened during the near miss!) I started to reflect on our journey and how far we have come. It has been such a journey for all three of us in more ways than one.
Watching as he turned away other boats we couldn’t help but feel a bit smug. Mum and I went and bought a 15 day visitors pass for Bristol (I am currently on the waiting list for Bristol Marina) as I had decided to spend a few days there before heading over to Portished where I am going to moor while I wait with finger crossed and baited breath for a mooring in Bristol.
We got back on the boat and Bob handed me the reins saying: “right skipper, he’s all yours, my work is done, away you go.” A proud moment as I cruised down the Feeder canal, taking the tight right turn with ease, bob said: “well, I’d have been proud of that, you wouldn’t have done that last Monday” and proud I was. We approached Bristol Harbourside and much to everyone’s distaste I decided to moor him up right outside the bustling Arnolfini. It may be noisy at night but if I’ve only got 15 days here I wanna get right in the thick of it!
As we turn the engine off, a glass of Presecco on a completely empty stomach marks the end of our journey together as a threesome and the beginning of mine as a boat dweller…
I couldn’t be prouder of the three of us…. London to Bristol in just over 9 days!