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Kennet and Avon Canal west of Devizes, summer 2003

Caen Hill flight
The Caen Hill flight

A 1-week trip from Wessex Narrowboats at Hilperton, including river and canal sections of the Kennet and Avon Canal, between Saltford and Devizes. Total 52 miles and 34 locks.

A very pretty bit of canal, with pleasant towns, some excellent pubs, and almost no industry intruding. We cruised only the easy bit, a lazy week even for two, wedged between the wilder parts of the Avon and the Caen Hill 29 locks.

We hired from Wessex Narrowboats, which we later heard had a bit of a reputation for breaking down; ours didn't, though we met one of their boats that did, and our boat was a bit down-market by modern standards. Between the booking and the time of the trip Wessex was taken over by Alvechurch, which might possibly explain how our final payment went adrift. We got no warning, fortunately we noticed that the money hadn't left the bank and there was no problem paying very late. Never mind, the weather, the beer and the food were all good.

Wessex were quite happy for us to take a bike on the boat, and the whole length of the towpath is an excellent and popular cycle route.

Diary extracts:

Fri 2003-08-29 {18036}
To Wessex Narrowboats at Hilperton ST857599. They eventually accepted us as experienced & we didn't have to watch the video. Handover from John. Alvechurch takeover was at Easter. A little sun & wind, not cold. Start at 1445 & end 1730 at Dundas aqueduct. Today 1 lock, 2h45m & (21.5..15.25) 6.25mi. Shared the one lock with another Wessex boat, a 70ft, return tomorrow, who'd been up and down Devizes flight; they did all the work. The one SB was open. Eve walk down the Somerset Coal canal a little way, but the restaurant at the end appeared to be shut, poss open day only, & the Viaduct Inn was scruffy & casual about service, so one pint there & back to eat on the boat. Boat is Wessex Galahad, 40ft, noisy high-revving engine, little storage space, water heating from engine only, single gas fire for space heating, transverse galley, no shaver point but two 12V points. In the Limpley Stoke valley here, very poor radio reception & Orange only just, and only outside the boat. Boat has cruiser stern but a short cratch at the front with tarpaulin cover. Have brought the folding bike but not used yet. Dundas aqueduct is being renovated.
Sat 2003-08-30 {18037}
Today 4h5m, (15.25..10) 5.25mi, 6l, 2sb. Clear morning with mist rising from the canal & filling the river valley. Bike to Claverton pumping station & beyond, & a little way back to Hop Pole in Limpley Stoke. Start 0900, \theta driving all day, On bike for the swingbridge & to the Claverton mooring, where we stayed 0945 to 1010. Water 5m at br 183, then stop for lunch 1130 to 1230 before br 186. Bike down to the locks. Then on, working the locks ourselves & onto the river, mooring at the Bath Leisure Centre at 1430. Pay 4.90 GBP for 24h here. Just got into a space alongside. Hot and sunny day. Into the town & around the Roman baths exhib, which was extensive and well-presented. Eve back into town. Pub (Huntsman), good Indian, then pub again. By that time the boats are two-deep at the moorings, so we can't leave without moving the outboard one.
Sun 2003-08-31 {18038}
Sunshine, hot AM, cooling towards PM. Start 0845. The boats moored alongside us appear to be all male & together, & maybe the source of much of the drunken noise last night. They got off with noisy power turns; we just let the bow rope go & let the current swing us, then pottered off on idle. Out along this big river. Shared first lock with a local who appeared to know everything & nothing. Second and third locks shared with a day-boat. There was a pub at the third lock (Saltford) but, despite the assertion of the guide, nowhere to moor, so we turned below the lock & came back up again, meeting a wide hire boat from Bristol, who were making heavy weather of mooring on the landing stage. Our hopes of resting a while on the landing stage were dashed by the arrival of 2 noddy boats below & a narrowboat above. So a beer while underway. Moor near Bath marina on BW 24h mooring pontoon, & to chain eatery (Appletons) for lunch, quick & OK, tho' if we'd done the carvery there would have been a long queue. Moor here 1330 to 1430. Off again thro' the last river lock & back onto the canal, up the 6 locks and moor just above the top lock at 1730. The deep lock has plastic-sleeved hawsers stretched down the sides, so can tie a loop around these front & rear, which is OK except for the bits below the sleeve which tend to catch the ropes. Also lock feeds at 4 points in the sides & turbulence makes water level over-top the front deck drain holes, so front deck was awash. Eve walk into Bath for oriental buffet & afterwards again to the Huntsman pub for a couple. Today (10-4 & 4-11) 13mi, 12l, 7h45m. List of boat's shortfalls: no central heating, no shaver point, throttle won't stay at speeds more than fast idle and less than too fast, the tiller shakes violently, small cratch bangs your head, few shelves and ledges, little cupboard space, no fluorescent lights, ignition has failed in the cooker, no mooring fenders, no gauges for the engine, have to rev like mad to start charging (but OK after that). We saw our first perched kingfisher. Passed another Wessex boat at the Bath top lock. They'd broken down this morning, failed oil filter, had taken 2 visits to fix and 4h lost. Our boat's engine is 3-cyl Beta Marine. Avon so slow that could make progress in idle in the centre of the stream against the flow.
Mon 2003-09-01 {18039}
Warm & sunny morning, overcast & warm aft. Bike back thro' Bath & 3mi along the Bristol-Bath cycle path, which runs along the river to the first lock, then 500m over road, partly in a counterflow cycle lane & with a bike-priority road crossing, then an old railway to Bristol. The railway part excellent, good surface & wide; the river part OK but narrower with restrictions, & it starts from a busy road in Bath. Start 0910. Water 5m at br 183. Overtake a very slow-moving boat after the Dundas aqueduct; stop at br 175 at 1130. Used spikes for the first time, on day 4. Re-start 1335, & stop 1415 to 1445 at Avoncliffe aqueduct for a look round & an ice-cream. Final stop at br 172 for Bradford-on-Avon, at 1520. Walk via the Tithe Barn into Bradford, another old stone town, a mini Bath. Later out to eat at the Canal Tavern, by the lock. Today (11-19) 8mi, 0l, 2sb, 3h35m. Bradford to Bath section is lined with sad-looking live-aboards, most not showing reg number, & presumably battling the new rules on permanent mooring & continuous cruising, which require ~15 lock-miles per 42 days movement, & not the same lock-miles repeated. BW do seem able to keep the visitor moorings clear.
Tue 2003-09-02 {18040}
Again sunny & hot morn, clouding over late aft but still warm. This bit is not so pretty, & has fewer scruffy live-aboards. Start 0850, back past the boatyard & into new territory to the east. After Semington top lock, what looks like a new aqueduct being constructed over a new road. Lots of swingbridges, then more locks. Stop after two for an excellent lunch at the Barge Inn at Seend, 1230 to 1420. Then biking partly for the remaining 3 locks & 2 swingbridges, to stop at br 149, Sells Green, at 1510. Bike from here up to lock 49, near the top of the Devizes locks. Then relax on boat, eat on boat, & to the Three Magpies for a couple, sitting in the garden, not so much from choice as for the lack of seats inside, but nevertheless pleasant & still warm. Today (19-27.5) 8.5mi, 8l, 6sb, 4h30m. A bit of a potter, as we are between the wilder parts of the Avon and the Caen Hill flight, but no problem, it's pretty, there are pubs, & it's warm.
Wed 2003-09-03 {18041}
Warm and close, little sunshine. Start 0850 after water, turn & moor below lock 22, the start of the Caen Hill flight, at 0910. Walk up the flight & into Devizes, where visit a coffee shop, stock up on milk & fizz, & visit the canal museum. Like Bradford-on-Avon & unlike Bath, Devizes seems to have a number of decent-looking pubs. Then walk back down to the Black Horse between locks 48 & 49, & have lunch watching the few boats using the flight, inc a very well turned-out Dutch barge. There are quite a few wide-beamed craft around here. Complete the walk back down, & then move the boat back, 1400 to 1520, stopping between locks 19 & 18, again at Seend, for the Barge Inn. Biked alongside this PM working bridges & locks. Eve an excellent 3-course dinner at the Barge Inn. Today (27.5-28.5 & 28.5-26.25) 3.35mi, 3l, 2sb, 1h20m. Probably walked 7mi today, about twice what we did in the boat.
Thu 2003-09-04 {18042}
Hot sunny & almost cloudless day, > 30degC. Bike first to br 161 & back, then set off at 0915, biking alongside all day, working locks and swingbridges. Stop before br 170 at 1245. Lunch at the Beehive at br 170. Pub had two beers in barrels on the bar, & did good, basic & low-priced food, eaten in the garden. Start again 1330, just turn at the marina entrance & back to the same mooring at 1400. Then laze in the sunshine, read, listen to the test match, clean boat, &c. Eve eat on boat with fizz bought yesterday, & listen to Prom. Today (26.25-20) 6.25mi, 4l, 4sb, 4h.
Fri 2003-09-05 {18043}
Dull overcast morning, and cold to start. Start 0800 and potter to boatyard at 0845, reverse into bay, unload and away by 0910. Bike is grey with dust from the towpath, which was gravel throughout; good to cycle on but all the bikes get dirty very quickly. Total bike about 35mi. Used spikes for mooring only once in the whole week.
    Day  Date    Hrs    mi     Lks  SB  AM   PM   Water
    Fri  030829  2.75   6.25   1    -   n       
    Sat  030830  4.08   5.25   6    2   c    c    br 183
    Sun  030831  7.75  13     12    -   n    n/c  -
    Mon  030901  3.58   8      -    2   c    c    br 183
    Tue  030902  4.5    8.5    8    6   n    c    -
    Wed  030903  1.67   3.25   3    2   n    c    br 149
    Thu  030904  4      6.25   4    4   c    c    -
    Fri  030905  0.75   1.5    -    -   n 
    Totals      29.08  52     34   16  
    Day  Lunch                           Evening
    Fri  -                           Dundas aq, Viaduct Inn, eat on bt
    Sat  br 186 Bath, on boat        Avon centre of Bath, Indian
    Sun  Bath marina, Appletons      Bath top lock, Oriental buffet
    Mon  br 175 Limpley St, Hop Pole br 172, Bradford, Canal Tavern
    Tue  br 153 Seend, Barge Inn     br 149 Sells Gr, 3 Magpies, on bt
    Wed  lock 48, Black Horse        br 153, Barge Inn
    Thu  br 170, Beehive             br 170, on boat
    Fri  -

©nib 2003-09-05..2005-12-06

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