The Empty Quarter

While moored up in Devizes, we saw our “old friend” John Pinkerton (last seen looking a bit abandoned in Savernake forest) heading down to the winding hole with a few youngsters who were the new owners, and then back up towards the summit; saw it again moored up a day or so later. Wonder what they’re going to use it for: The K&A Trust have pretty well sown up the trip boat market down here. If they’d acquired it for business purposes, it’s a clearly long time coming to fruition, and it’s not an obvious boat to use for pleasure/cruising.

Heading into the Vale of Pewsey, the villages are [a] small; [b] rather remote from the canal; [c] have odd names like Cuckoo’s Knob, Ram Alley and All Cannings (a lie because there’s Bishop’s Cannings next to it; and [d] don’t have shops that sell basic provisions, let alone freshly baked croissants and newspapers – Biggles does like a freshly baked newspaper. Meandering between the chalk hills of the Marlborough downs and Ridgeway to the north and Salisbury plain to the south, one canal guide suggests that this is England’s nearest thing to La France Profonde but I rather suspect the Upper Thames from Eynsham to Lechlade comes closer. Mind you, the long lock-free pound comes as a welcome change.

We’d stopped at The Barge at Honeystreet Wharf on the way to Bath, but it was a hot and beautifully sunny Sunday lunchtime, we had a visitor, and the place was unsurprisingly mobbed and in the general melee nothing seemed obviously out of the ordinary. Just another canal-side pub in the middle of nowhere, with a camp site out the back serving food all day to the masses, On a quiet Monday evening, it became obvious that although pretty quiet, there was a higher than usual proportion of “unusual people”  and boats around.

For example: inside the pub, sitting next to a stack of instruments for anyone to pick up and play, a smartly dressed woman of a certain age (as they say)  was sitting on the sofa with a slightly younger middle-aged gentleman in T-shirt and scruffy shorts. She couldn’t keep her eyes, hands or lips off him, behaving like a teenager in lurve used to when we were young, while a beautiful seal-point Siamese sat on the sofa armrest staring them out, and we could have sworn the large photograph of Jimi Hendrix (sitting at a drum kit!) immediately behind them was growing a  speech bubble that said “get a room”. Even the Siamese got bored with watching after a while, and stalked outside onto a boat that an old lady was painting with primer in the dark.

Then you see that Honeystreet is twinned with Roswell, the lethal scrumpy is called Area 51, the local real ale is called Croppie, and you realise that you have accidentally stumbled into “The Most Famous Pub in the Universe” – Galactic HQ of crop circle enthusiasts.

The Barge Inn, Honeystreet Wharf

The Barge Inn, Honeystreet Wharf

And then a few more locks uphill soon brought us to Crofton Top Lock, the end of the all-too-short summit pound. It’ll be downhill all the way to Reading from now on – and you can take that any way you want…

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