The First Boat. 9th June

Domino’s Mooring to Brookwood Park, Basingstoke Canal

Last week Mick rang the Basingstoke Canal to buy a licence and book our passage up through the locks, this needs to be done in advance. Back in 2019 when we came onto the River Wey we tried to do the same, only to be told the canal was closing that Friday, for the rest of the year, they’d run out of water. So ever since we’ve had a plan to return earlier in the year in the hope that they would have sufficient water. However this time Mick was not able to book over the phone for another reason.

The booking system was in the middle of transitioning from phone to on line, maybe later in the day it would be up and running for us to book. We tried it and it wasn’t there. However the following day it was, Mick popped our details in for a licence. The canal is run by the Basingstoke Canal Authority but owned by Surrey County Council and Hampshire County Council. Later in the day we got an email back from Louise.

Thank you for completing the on-line visitor application form.  You are also our first boater to use this brand new system ๐Ÿ˜Š’ Oleanna has made history! There was a link to pay for our licence on line followed by, ‘We realise there is a glitch with the form which should ask you to let us know which dates you are going through all of the flights? So if you could email back the following information I can update our system.‘ By the end of Thursday last week we had paid for our licence and were booked to do the lock flights. This morning we just had to get there on time.

Turning away from the M25

Breakfasted we pushed off to cruise back to the junction alongside the M25. We’d left a few minutes later than planned, but turned Oleanna’s bow onto the Basingstoke at 8:57, at least we’d be in view should the Lock Keeper be waiting for us! Well in fact we were early, the locks would be unlocked at 9:30 not 9:00 as Mick had thought.

Lock 1 was sat empty, a paddle raised on the bottom gate, we opened the gates and pulled Oleanna in to wait. This did mean that when Chris the very enthusiastic, incredibly welcoming Lock Keeper arrived Mick missed out on all the spiel. What a warm sunny morning to start on new waters.

Waiting for Chris the Lock Keeper

Chris gave Kath and myself instructions about the locks and unlocked the top paddles so we could start up the Woodham Locks. Normally on the Basingstoke we would ascend a lock, close the top gates, lower the paddles at that end and then lift one of the bottom paddles, leaving the lock empty, Chris would then follow us up the flight to ash the top gates shut. This is done to help reduce the amount of water leaking through the gates, therefore holding back as much water as possible. However today there was a boat also coming down the flight, so until we passed them we were to leave the top gates open for them with all paddles down. Our normal C&RT windlasses would also work on the canal, no need for anything different. Instructions received and understood, we got going.

First lock done

Having an experienced extra pair of hands was good, not that the locks today were hard. Most paddles lifted easily, most gates opened up easily too, plus being able to leave the top gates open was also a bonus. At 10am Mick joined the Geraghty zoom for us all to wave to everyone else, then we got on with the job for the day, locks.

A passing boat

Such a leafy green corridor, very pretty and with the sun shining it was glorious. Kath and I soon got into a rhythm. Then Chris returned, getting ready to ash up the locks as the boat coming down the locks left each of them. It may have been between locks 4 and 5 that we passed MSC Frodsham a replica Manchester Ship Canal Tug. They had to slow right down and wait whilst Mick brought Oleanna past a line of house boats.

Chris on the right

From now on today we’d be closing up the lock gates and lifting a paddle at the bottom end for them to drain.

Leaving the bottom flight behind us

We were soon up Woodham Locks and pootling our way along the long pound. Our map suggested it would take getting on for two hours before reaching St John’s Locks which we also planned on ascending today. Time for a cuppa and some flapjack.

Yummmmm!

After passing Monument Bridge I popped down below to finish off preparing some sausage rolls, sliding them in the oven hoping to have timed them well to be ready for a lunch break.

Kath knows the area quite well so could point out certain landmarks to us. We had a nosy at gardens, one with a good sized slot perfect for a narrowboat mooring, another with a bar and bunting where two ladies were sat enjoying a Sunday tipple and gossip.

Hit for 6

After Cobham Road Bridges we passed the Lightbox which is an art gallery and museum. Then a footbridge with a bowler and batter at either end. Unfortunately the view of the bowler from the canal was impeded by trees, so we’ll have to have a walk on our way back to see him.

The first stretch of moorings came next. Space for Kitty the trip boat and a cafe boat and then there were three visitor boats, two of which we’d been told to keep an eye out for by Heather Bleasdale. Christine appeared at the hatch of NB Katura, I think to apologise for one of the boats being double breasted. Instead she got a ‘Hello, you know Heather!’ We had chance for a short chat as we passed. NB Katura had managed to get to the very end of the canal under three very low bridges. I did a quick compare of cabin heights and I think we are maybe a little bit lower, so there is hope we’ll reach the end. We waved goodbye and carried on.

What a beauty

Now that booking is done on line there is no need to display a licence apparently. It felt a bit weird passing boats showing theirs. NB Bobcat’s second mate watched us closely as we passed, a ghostly face behind the pram hood.

Shop bought pastry so not up to normal standard

The sausage rolls were out of the oven and cooling by the time we reached the first service mooring. As we were ahead of where we needed to be and with an hour before we should be starting on the next flight of locks we decided to stop for lunch to refuel. There was also the opportunity to dispose of fishy rubbish too, just so long as it was bagged up as the bins here are emptied by hand.

The second flight

Five more locks in the St John’s flight, more leafy green and dapples of sunshine. Closing the top gates at Lock 8 proved difficult, my side didn’t want to go further than half way. But with Kath and myself both giving it a push and pull, then a running push whatever had been the problem was shifted and it closed.

Will the rope be long enough?

Plenty of gongoozlers today. Several little children being shown by Dad how the locks work. One lady suggested that you only get locks when the water is uneven. Kath and I wondered how many children are shown the locks like this and how many then go on to live onboard boats like Mick did after being taken to the Hanwell flight as a young boy.

New gates

One down from the top lock the gates leaked quite a bit, the date carved on them 2024. Presumably the oak hasn’t had enough time to expand with the water or there’s just a lot of crud on the cill. It did feel a little odd to fill the lock and then empty it after we’d finished, the pound above gradually draining into the lock and then downhill. Should we send Chris a message to say we’d finished on the flight? He’d been very good with his instructions at the beginning of the day, so we were sure he’d have told us if we needed to. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too long before he arrived to lock up anyway.

Possible aromas of garlic, but not cat friendly

On now to find a mooring. The first one had space for us, but was alongside an Italian restaurant, quite a busy road with buses that would take Kath back home. Not very good for Tilly. Mick had spotted in the guide we’d been given that there was mooring at Brookwood Country Park where there was a water point. This altogether sounded much more like it and would be closer to Kath’s house.

Not Kath’s house, click photo for details

The canal got shallower. Was our extra ballast not helping matters? Did having three people on the stern not help? Kath and I decamped to the bow, things seemed to improve a little, then not so. Oleanna ground to a halt, Mick turned the engine off, time to discover what goodies had caught themselves on the prop and hope that improved things. Plastic and some weed. The canal was still shallow, but gradually things improved and our speed grew without increasing the revs.

A long blue house boat

The water point at Brookwood came into view, a wooden pontoon, rings! Ah except the pontoon didn’t actually have a top to it. That’s why it wasn’t shown on Waterway Routes! There was unlikely to be anywhere else to moor in the pound so we pulled in as best we could. The far end at least had solid ground under it. The bow came in quite well, but the stern needed help, maybe an Andy was needed.

I passed my rope round the wooden edging near some bolts, Mick put some power on and pushed the tiller towards the bank, she came in, but only by a couple of feet. Maybe we’d be able to pull her closer in. I hopped off and caught a rope, a touch closer but not much, this had the effect of pulling the bow out too. How to tie up was going to be the next problem due to the lack of solidity close to the wooden edging.

It was further out than the photo suggests

Between Kath and myself , with use of the boat hook and some careful dangling we pulled the rope round the wood and passed back to tie onboard. We all agreed it was very unlikely that a boat would come past us tonight as we’d only passed one boat facing the same direction as us, plus the next flight of locks hadn’t been open today so no boats would come from the other direction.

Time for a cuppa and more flapjack before we said goodbye to Kath. It’s a shame she has to go to work tomorrow as she’d have really liked to join us up the next flight.

Tilly spent quite a bit of time outside, once she’d managed to get past all the woofers. What a holey outside they’d tied up! I had to be extra careful as I claimed the edging. Once that was done I got across the woofer highway and into friendly cover it improved greatly. I managed to use up all my hours shore leave before returning bang on time for dingding.

11 locks, 8 miles, 1 left, 25 minutes early, 1 karabiner to keep phone safe, 1 jolly welcome, 1 sunny tree filled lovely day, 12 sausage rolls, 3 left, 2 of Heathers friends, 1 batter, 1 bowler, 1 park mooring, 4ft mooring guidance, 3ft6 maybe 5ft, 6 flapjacks, 1 sister out law, 1 bumbag found behind the sofa! Tilly?!? 1 Mrs Tilly stamp of approval.

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3 thoughts on “The First Boat. 9th June

  1. Christine Geraghty

    What a lovely day for your historic journey. Good to see Kath on board. Love Christine

  2. Debby

    Hi Pip and Mick, the Basingstoke, how exciting! There is a parkrun which uses the towpath, itโ€™s called Frimley Lodge https://www.parkrun.org.uk/frimleylodge/course/, so watch out on Saturday morning if you are around there! My sister sometimes does that one, and sometimes goes walking along the canal at the weekend as well, and I have told her to look out for you though of course I have no idea where you will be. She is a Pip/Philippa/Philly too, and also a cataholic (though sadly without one at the moment). Enjoy your time and how lucky we have had such a rotten wet spring! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Pip Post author

      Thank you for the heads up re the parkrun. We’ve had runners most of the day. We’ve moved on from Frimley Lodge and suspect our return there won’t coincide with a Saturday. Yes we are very fortunate that there is enough water, although at times it’s not obvious!

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