Thursday, 29 September 2016


1st July 2016

The Rose of Hungerford

Ahoy there me hearties! All aboard for a gentle cruise up the Avon and Kennet Canal westbound from Hungerford. The canal links London to Bristol and was first opened in 1810, but fell into disrepair following the advent of railway transport and the last through passage was made by the Queen in 1951. It was fully restored and reopened in 1990 and an inaugural trip was made by HRH Prince Charles.

Our voyage would last a mere 4 hours and we passengers brought our picnic lunches with us. There was a bar on board but this proved entirely surplus to requirements considering the vast quantity of liquid refreshment brought on board with the picnics.

There were 22 of us 'passengers', a crew of 4 and a dog. A couple of the initially sober compliment were a bit disappointed as they were hoping we would be driving this ship ourselves. In retrospect this would have been an unmitigated disaster.  

Left: The crew. The skipper, Mike, in foreground, a barman, a lady helper and the driver (whatever you call that on a boat....helmsman, perhaps).

It is noticeable that all the 'crew' are wearing lifejackets. We certainly weren't. Not sure if they were expecting rough weather or the boat had lots of holes in it and was prone to sinking. We were told it was due to national 'elf n safety' regulations which, absurdly, are the same for canal boat crews as they are for ocean-going ships. 
We had to be subjected to a 'safety briefing' which was a formality and competed with the ship's compliment getting stuck into glasses of Pimms. Can't remember much of it except it was pointed out that the maximum depth of this part of the canal is about 3 feet. So, in the event of 'man (or woman) overboard', the survival technique is simply to stand up. Having said that, and after copious intake of vino collapso, it might not have been as easy as it sounds.

Off we set, or 'cast off', at 1.00pm and the first thing that we had to do was turn the boat around which involved an intricate 10 point turn. The max speed of this craft is about 3 mph, so waterskiing is definitely out of the question. 
As you are no doubt aware, a journey up a canal involves negotiating a series of locks. We met our first lock after about 300 yards and the crew set about opening it, entering it, letting water in, or out, and exiting. Much interest in this performance was shown by us pax. After another couple of locks interest had somewhat waned, Several got out to walk along the towpath...and made rather better  headway than the boat. The remainder continued to eat, drink and be merry on board. To be honest, I think a few would not have noticed had we never set sail. 

I must say I'm not sure I would like to spend my time cruising up and down canals ad infinitum. The process is remarkably slow and sedate which would be fine if you didn't have to put your glass down every 10 minutes to open and close a blasted lock. In the Devizes area (a good 25 miles west of where we were) there is a collection of 29 locks in the space of a couple of miles, known as the Devizes Flight. One section, at Caen Hill, consists of 16 locks (right) which takes about 6 hours to negotiate. I mean, I can think of better ways of passing the day. Like walking perhaps.

Left: Our skipper, Mike, originally from Rhodesia, gave a few little talks en-route about the canal and the water pumping system which maintained the levels. Quite interesting really and he even got the attention of several who were well into their second bottle of wine and merrily banging-on to old mates. He did have the advantage of using a microphone. 

One significant part of the canal system is the Crofton Pumping Station at the summit of the canal, about 5 miles upstream from us. We didn't get that far but (right) here is a photo of it. This station contains two steam powered Beam Engine pumps which keep the water supplied to the highest point. One of the pumps, a Boulton & Watt-style beam engine was built in 1812  and is the oldest beam engine still capable of performing the job it was built for. They actually only operate part time to entertain visitors. For day-to-day operation automatically controlled electic pumps are used. Nevertheless, these steam engines are much treasured and expensive to keep going. We were politely asked to contribute a little donation for their upkeep.

It would be nice to report a significant incident on this trip, just to add a bit of spice. You know, like someone falling overboard, running aground, storm force winds, boarded by pirates, a mutiny or even a minor sinking. Sadly, perhaps, nothing very exciting occurred. Everybody survived unscathed. The nearest we came to anything out of the ordinary was when a cow, watching us from the bank, fell into the water just ahead of us. Even at full speed ahead (3 mph) the cow managed to get out again without us hitting it.

After about two hours, having travelled about 4 miles upstream, we about-turned and retraced our steps back through the same locks and returned to Hungerford. A very jolly afternoon out and even the weather had been kind.

I list below a series of photos of those on board. This is for my record and their interest, so no names because they know who they are, some reading this will know who they are, and if you don't know who they are....then you probably don't care.

Hello sailor!

Ship's dog.

Stand-by for the next adventure...a trip down the Baltics.