Noah was a brave man to sail in a wooden boat with two termites. - Unknown

Celebrating Ireland's Floating Heritage

Celebrating Ireland's Floating Heritage

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15 June 2010
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A visit to Britain - May 2010
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Hythe Quay at Maldon is home to many of the surviving Thames sailing-barges [www.thamesbarge.org.uk]. We visited twice, once in the morning, while the tide was in, and again in the evening, when it was out [www.thequeensheadmaldon.co.uk].
There were no trips on offer when we were there, and no barges moving under sail, but one did cast off under power, move down the estuary to turn and come back to a different quay. There were many other vessels of interest, as well as a boatyard with wooden boats being repaired.

The Thames
We hired a small battery-powered 19' day-boat from Kris Cruisers [www.kriscruisers.co.uk] for a trip on the Thames. We went upstream through Romney, Boveney and Bray Locks, noting the lock mechanism, which boaters can use by themselves when keepers are off duty.
At Maidenhead, workboats were busy at the bridge. We went up as far as Boulters Lock [thames.me.uk/s00740.htm], where we chatted with the lockkeeper about the African Queen hotel-boat [www.african-queen.co.uk], formerly the Shannon Princess.
On some stretches of the river, we might have been in the middle of the countryside; on others, magnificent houses and boat-houses lined the banks. Even more interesting was the variety of boats: barges, narrowboats, cruisers small and large, rowing-boats and launches.
The following day, we saw various workboats on the Thames in central London and leisure craft at Richmond.

The Kennet & Avon
Travelling westward to Bristol, we visited Aldermaston Wharf on the Kennet & Avon Canal, the southernmost of the east-west routes across England. It's a broad-gauge waterway (max beam 14'), using the rivers Avon at the western end (Bristol to Bath) and Kennet at the eastern (Newbury to Reading and the Thames), with a canal in the middle. It was completed in 1810, closed in the 1950s but reopened in 1990, thanks largely to the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust [www.katrust.co.uk].
The Trust continues to raise funds for the waterway, running trip boats, a museum, two pumping-stations and four tea-rooms, one of which was at Aldermaston Wharf. Nearby is Lock 95 (of 106), originally turf-sided but now with elegant scalloped sides. A narrowboat was working its way through as a fire-engine crossed the bridge; the narrowboat crew then operated the hydraulic controls to lift the bridge, stopping all the traffic.
Further west, we visited the Caen Hill flight of locks near Devizes. The main part of the flight is from Lock 29 to Lock 44, sixteen locks close together, with side-ponds, but there are 29 locks altogether on the ascent to Devizes. We were told that an ascent can take four hours.
On the following day, we visited the elegant Dundas Aqueduct on the K&A. The narrow Somersetshire Coal Canal [www.coalcanal.org] joined the K&A here; a short section has been restored, with a visitor centre, trip-boats and hire-boats, moorings and a café.

© Brian Goggin 2010

Last Updated ( 05 December 2010 )
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