Monthly Archives: May 2015

Wey Bound in Woking

Meeting up again with Snail O’Wey at St. Johns on Saturday morning, there was some delay as David (who had their boat key) had gone walkabout to help a single boat who was coming up the Goldsworth Locks single handed, having engine problems to boot, and getting a bit stressed out by it all.

Once under way, with the weather improving, the six locks were soon knocked off. The boat coming up was a very odd looking affair altogether, with the engine in the middle of the deck, and a steering system we’d never seen before: a big wooden lever just sticking out the floor which was waggled left and right.

Goldsworth LocksGoldsworth Locks - unusual boat

We waved our farewells to Snail O’Wey at The Bridge Barn: they were carrying on down the Woodham Locks to their home base on the Wey (or so they thought) while we were meeting up with one of Fran’s ex-colleagues/friends Liz, husband Andy and family to take them for a little potter around the sights of Woking.

Liz, Andy and crew

The Down Side

In order to preserve the precious water levels, passage up and down the Basingstoke Locks is strictly controlled. We’d booked to go down the 17 Deepcut and Brookwood locks on the Friday morning, when the weather forecast was, err, disappointing.

Mytchett Canal Centre

Stopping at the Mytchett Canal Centre to check our booking, whether we were going to expect anyone else travelling down – there was – and to say goodbye to the nice people who had made  the canal such a pleasant experience, we moored up at Frimley Lodge Park and had an excellent meal in The Old Wheatsheaf, about 10 minutes walk away.

Snail O'Wey

It’s much easier going down wide locks with a second boat/crew, and as expected, David and Kay in Snail O’Wey  hove into view at 9:00. Even though each boat had two crew, it’s still a slow process, particularly as the weather was rapidly living up to the rubbish forecast.

With a brief break on about the third lock for Snail O’Wey’s captain to disappear down the weed hatch and haul out what looked like a jute sack from around his prop (the reason he was going nowhere fast!), the weather was getting wetter and windier, but the Deepcut locks are relatively sheltered. Halfway down we luckily declared a coffee break just as the skies opened with a vengeance, and by the time we reached the bottom of Brookwood Locks the sun was peering out as we moored up at Brookwood Lye for a late lunch, wet, tired and relieved that the worst was over.

Our companions went on to moor at St. Johns with a “see you tomorrow morning”, as we were both due to go down the Goldsworth Locks on the Saturday morning, then Fran coaxed a local friend to pick her up and whip home to collect the mail and some food for Sir.

Mind Your Head: Low Bridges and Nostalgia

Setting off from what proved to be the longest day’s cruising this year (some 11.5 miles), we were reminded that a couple of road bridges at Fleet were low with a capital L. Coming uphill, with a full water tank, we had squeezed under the Reading Road South and Pondtail Bridges without much ado. But the latter is lower on one side than the other, and coming downhill you approach it on a bend under another higher bridge, without any decent visibility, and you start on the higher side, so it gets lower as you proceed. Ho hum.

Clearly the only thing to do was to fortify ourselves with some Guinness at The Fox & Hounds, Church Crookham, then some shopping in Fleet’s Waitrose.

Fox & Hounds, Church Crookham, Fleet

Many, many Tuesday evenings were spent in the back room of the Fox and Hounds in the late 70s and early 80s: it was the home of Fleet Folk Club of many fond memories, and a musically formative time for the first mate. Going inside was weird: the car park was unchanged, but the inside bore no resemblance to the place we used to know. There was also a 45 minute wait for food, so just a Guinness each way it was. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be!

At Reading Road South out came the tape measure: our air draft seemed to be about 5ft 9in without dismantling the cratch (not to be tackled lightly), the bridge air draft 5ft 10in. Piling the heavy shopping at the front, we set off very gingerly, and just squeezed under. Pondtail was even more nerve wracking, at the far (lower) side there was less than an inch clearance from the cratch, and the underside of the bridge scarred with many scrape marks from boats that hadn’t quite made it. Memo to self: when the Navigation Notes warn of a low bridge, take it seriously!

Mrs ASBO and broodPlane-spotter FranBiggles follows the trail

Returning to Eelmoor again for the night, it was comforting to see that Mrs Asbo still had eight cygnets, although they were now too big to all climb into the saddle at once, while Mr Asbo seemed quite happy to watch the rest of his family gobbling up duck food from a respectable distance, with only the softest of warning hisses. Perhaps fatherhood has mellowed him.

The chief cook decided to take her post-cruise coffee up the bank and go plane spotting; the Captain followed close behind but soon decided there were more interesting flying objects in the bushes. It’s a peaceful spot, until 06:00Z, when the early take-offs start…

End of the Road

Having retrieved the Captain from his nocturnal exploration of the John Pinkerton II, done a load of washing and drying (yes, the chores still need doing), filled Song & Dance with water and emptied all the various waste receptacles, it was late afternoon. The previous day’s cruise up to the castle (in convoy with the trip boats, in company with all the towpath visitors, mediaeval re-enactors and with our guests on board) had been busy, so we set off to repeat the experience when no-one was around, and spend the night on the castle moorings out in the peace and quiet of the countryside.

It was beautifully peaceful until about 20:00, when the John Pinkerton II arrived with a private charter full of loud silver surfers who had clearly been enjoying a free bar during the cruise up canal, so a walk in the dusk up to the end of the canal seemed in order.

More cygnetsThe remains of Lock 30

Some more freshly baked cygnets were spotted, as were the remains of Lock 30, before reaching the portal of Greywell Tunnel, the end of the canal as far as water is concerned (the end of the navigable section being at the Castle). With a constant temperature and humidity, it’s now an SSSI and one of the most important bat caves in Europe.

Greywell Tunnel entranceGreywell tunnel entrance

On our return to the castle, the rowdy old’uns had departed back to town on their steel gin palace, and we had the castle to ourselves in the setting sun.

Sunset over Odiham Castle

The remains of the octagonal keep are all that’s left, but it’s still pretty impressive.

And a delightfully quiet night ensued, while Biggles caught up on his history homework exploring the castle grounds at night.

Birthday Treats…

It was nice of TPTB to designate the first mate’s birthday as a Bank Holiday, to  celebrate his achievement of official OAP status. Now a genuine old fogey, the sunny morning was spent wandering around some of the Odiham festivities we’d missed.

Odiham Tapestry

The local ladies and girls had banded together to sew a splendid tapestry covering the history of the town from early days to today (spot the Chinook helicopter).

Flower festival

And the local church had a flower festival, with arrangements from dozens of local organisations: an impressive display.

Biggles’ BFF Emma brought her boys over for a birthday burger lunch at The Waterwitch pub, followed by a cruise up to the end of the canal at Odiham castle (where there were still loads of people in the mediaeval village re-enactment) and back. With food, wine, birthday cards, birthday cake, presents and hungry teenagers on board there was fortunately no time or opportunity to take scandalous photographs.

The nice people of the Basingstoke Canal Society had said that for a small donation we could moor up abreast the John Pinkerton II on their private wharf and plug into their ground power. So a quiet evening was spent with more eating and drinking, no access to the outside world, and teaching Biggles how to get ashore across the JP II without falling in or getting lost, in order to conduct his personal business.

Birds of a Feather

There were two different falconry outfits at the Odiham celebrations, with rather different approaches, and a variety of birds to wonder at. Albion Historical Falconry had clearly done a great deal of research into the old ways (and incidentally shown that many of them were better than the new-fangled methods of training), while Fistful of Feathers’ approach seemed to be a bit closer to a petting zoo (though that may perhaps be unfair away from events like the Odiham bun fight).

Peregrine FalconPeregrine  Falcon

The Captain’s favourite was – as always – a magnificent Peregrine Falcon,

European Eagle OwlEuropean Eagle Owl

The Eurasian (or European) Eagle Owl has such hypnotic eyes. Apparently there are a few breeding in the UK, but they’re probably escapees/released birds or their progeny.

Barn OwlBarn Owl

Barn Owls are always delightful, and this chap was no exception. Having discovered his jesses were no longer actually tied to the log (oops!), he made a bid for freedom and took off for somewhere more amenable to perch: the First Mate’s shoulder. Sharp clawed little chap!

American KestrelThat apprehensive feeling...

SWMBO was rather taken with the very small and noisily talkative American Kestrel, weighing in at a massive 3oz. The local boatyard chap looked a bit more apprehensive though (as I suppose one would)!

Odiham Boat Rally

Sunday was the day of the boat rally, whereupon loads of people came down to the Wharf to look at the assembled boats, drink real ale, watch Morris dancers and other such pointless pursuits. More importantly, the sun shone, so Biggles could spend lots of time in the cratch area or the rear deck being admired by an adoring public.

John Pinkerton IITaurus

Song & Dance was moored up between the ice cream “ferry” and the trip boats layby (where the new John Pinkerton II looked a lot smarter than its predecessor seen last year on the Kennet and Avon). The rather odd looking Taurus was pottering around all day: a small outboard motor (sort of installed inboard IYSWIM) and apparently some loudspeakers occasionally broadcasting big engine “putt putt putt” sounds. But there was nothing really to compare with the unmistakeable sound of Finch’s Bolinder engine thumping away as she arrived in style.

Walk this way...the Ice Cream ferry.

Colt Hill Bridge, Odiham

The “chain” ferry (more an “old rope” ferry) carrying foot passengers across to the boatyard cafe was a work of art, saving a 400 yard walk across the bridge to get an ice cream. We would have been interested to see the risk analysis documentation…

Steam powered launchSteam powered launch

The steam launches looked most impressive, even if there was a fair amount of soot in the exhaust, and there were even boats displayed on the ground, so to speak.

There's a boat under here somewhere...

The boat rally was honoured by a visit from King John, who was judging the “best dressed boat” competition, although we understand from another King John up at the Castle that this one was an imposter.

King John the imposterMrs. King John and friend

Assume the Judging position

As some of the rally boats were breasted up, and hence not very visible from the towpath, an inspection from the water was necessary. We’d seen the pea green Owl & Pussy Cat moored up somewhere in the Fleet area on our way up; rather weirdly about a quarter of a mile up the canal was a Tupperware cruiser called Owl & The Pussy Cat. They seem a bit unimaginative with their boat names in Fleet…

Canoe PoloMad dog and English woman?

The local canoe club played Canoe Polo, while Biggles decided that even allowing for his antipathy to dogs, this chocolate Lab was frankly nuts.

Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves in the sunshine, and Biggles received several visitors, including Joe (our Crofton guide from last autumn) & Sally, and several members from Jackstraws Morris who were out for the day rather than dancing.

A splendid, if rather hectic day, with the Captain winning many new admirers… thanks to the organisers for squeezing us in: more pictures can be found here and here.