Fobney Lock to Theale Swing Bridge
To celebrate being back on a canal Mick set to work this morning to make the most of the supplies we’d purchased at Meatmaster in Oxford. Breakfast!
Each time the huge Fobney Lock was being filled Oleanna would gradually list, recovering after a short while. A couple of boats came past us before we were ready to push off, we could tell another was on it’s way, maybe we’d have a boat to share locks with. But as we pushed off we could see that we were being followed by a widebeam, no chance of sharing with them.
Approaching Southcote Lock we could hear the chatter of kids behind the sideways trees on the off side, glimpses of high viz too. A school class crossed over the footbridge and all lined up as we were coming in to tie up and set the lock. ‘What colour is the boat?’ ‘Blue’ ‘Red’ ‘Well yes, but what sort of blue?’ We were inspiration for a poem the class was writing. Then another class appeared over the bridge, followed by another. In the end we had 90 gongoozlers watching us go through the lock. A record for us, apart from maybe at Camden Lock where it’s hard to count.
The crew from the wide beam came up to help and we were soon on our way leaving them to close up behind us. Slow progress past moored boats, after a month on the Thames this seemed to be very slow.
At Garston Lock there was a boat about to come down. I headed up to lend a hand. One of the top gates was swinging open, the chap was running to the bottom gate to try to catch it by opening one of the paddles, but it had gone too far, so needed some assistance. The paddle was whipped up, he’d not seen that Mick was below who was now battling with the force of the water pushing Oleanna all over the shop.
Once they were clear we were on our own. Our first turf sided lock. An early form of pound lock, there used to be twenty of them between Newbury and Reading, only two remain. The lower part of the chamber has timber sides, then above the water sloping turf banks. They were cheap to build but fell out of favour as the width of them made it hard to get on and off boats. Today a metal frame helps hold your boat in the centre. A ladder leads to a walkway above the turf sides, both ends of the lock are brick where the gates are hinged.
With no bollards along the sides of the lock to pass the centre line over we looked round. There is a bollard roughly where our bow line was and a very large post at the bottom gates. We decided to adopt the River Wey method and tied the stern rope around this post, which would stop Oleanna from moving forward as the chamber filled. With ground paddles rather than gate paddles the level rose in a gentle fashion. Once up and out we closed the gates and as requested, I lifted the bottom gate paddles to empty the chamber.
Next Sheffield Lock only rising a foot, but an interesting shape with it’s crinkly sides. A chap and dog appeared from nowhere with a windlass in his hand, his dog determined to fall in. ‘I’ll finish up here, go and sort the swing bridge out’ he ordered. I should have thought about it and declined to run ahead, we’re not in a rush. But I walked on ahead key of power in my pocket, would the swing bridge be manual, automated, half and half?
Two boats were just coming through and I could see that it was automated. The lady closed it up and the traffic started to flow. From behind I could hear the chap with the dog barking something. What was the emergency? It turns out he was shouting for his boats to slow down, no cause for shouting, I thought someone had fallen in or a boat was sinking!
I waited for a gap in the traffic, turned my key and pressed the button. The traffic is controlled by traffic lights on both sides, the bridge only being wide enough for one way traffic. I was slightly alarmed when a van and motorbike came round the corner and crossed the bridge as the flashing lights and siren had started. I took my finger off the button, knowing the process I’d started would stop. I hoped time was built in to get the last vehicles across before the barriers dropped, but you never know. I let them clear and then pressed the button again. The barriers came down and the bridge swung.
Twenty seven vehicles, not a bad number on our first of many swing bridges on the K&A. Mick pulled Oleanna in at the end of the vacant moorings, furthest way from the road for Tilly. She was out straight away exploring, but coming back regularly. With no river bank to pounce from it feels a lot safer. Cat curfew has been brought earlier as the evenings are getting darker, nothing to do with her going AWOL the other night at all!
The afternoon I attended to a couple of things for Panto and then did a few hours on my Houdini model. The false proscenium now has a suggestion of decoration and the smaller elements are made too. Only some large chunks of timber to put in and sort the cyc out and it will be ready to photograph and see what the Director and Actor/Writer make of it.
This evening we watched Grand Designs, following Andy and Jeanette who run bearBoating build their house on the cliffs of Galloway. Back in October 2013 we did a helmsman course with Andy on NB Molly Moo, picking up any tips we didn’t know about and sleeping in our first cross bed. If ever we’re having hassle pulling in or away from the bank due to wind we do what we call an Andy. We’ve met up with them a few times at Crick boat show since and have always had a good catch up. When our first boat build went wrong and there was a slim possibility that there was a shell somewhere with my name on it, Andy offered to finish it for us. So tonight we had to watch.
4 locks, 1 turf sided, 3.68 miles, 1 swing bridge, 27 held up, 90 gongoozlers, 1 poem, 2 hatch doors, 1 suitcase, 1 chair, 43% smaller, 6:30pm curfew, 1 cliff top house for 3, 28 likes, 23 from Ade.