Friday, 17 June 2011

Want upper arm strength? Try the Caen Hill workout!

What is 2 1/2 miles long, 70 metres tall, and takes 3 hours to climb or descend? Caen Hill!

Caen Hill is a series of 29 locks near Devizes, Wiltshire, on the Kennet and Avon Canal. Drew and I have been moving to boat towards Bath as we have some work in the West Country and Wales over the next few weeks.

We hit Caen Hill a few days ago, and began the slow descent towards Bath around 11.30 in the morning.

Thankfully, we met a boat that wanted to "share" the locks with us, which sped up the entire process a bit - and took some of the weight off my shoulders!

For those of you who don't know about locks on canals, very quickly, locks on broad canals (like the one we are on) consist of 4 gates - two at either end of the lock - and 4 paddles (which are plates of metal or other doors inside the lock gates that can be opened to let water in or closed to prevent water escaping.

To operate the lock (going down) goes something like this:

1) Skipper moors up and drops off the "locker" (for want of a better term! - the person operating the lock)

2) The locker checks to see if the lock is full. If it's full, he opens one of the gates so the boat can get in. If it's not, he opens the two paddles on the top gate to let water in so that the water level in the lock comes to the same level as the level on the canal where the boat is.

3) Once the boat is in the lock, the locker closes the gate, goes to the end of the lock, opens the two bottom paddles and lets the water escape from the lock (thereby making the boat drop down)

4) Once the water level in the lock is even with the water level below the lock, the locker closes the two paddles and opens a gate letting the boat out. Once the boat is out, he closes the gate and tries to hop back onto the boat.

Doing this 29 times is hard work! The paddles are heavy to raise, the gates often sticky and also very heavy - and running up and down the lockside to open and close gates and doors is good excercise.

When doing a "flight" (series) of locks, if you manage to do it with another boat, the whole process is sped up as while the crew of one boat operates the lock both boats are in, the crew from the other boat can run on to the next look and get it "set".

It was a long afternoon -but afforded us with some beautiful views of the Wiltshire countryside!

The next week or so will be spent mostly behind the wheel of our car as we speed up and down the M4 going to our many gigs over the next few weeks. We may end up looking back on the Caen Hill day with envy - but at the moment - well, my arm is still sore!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Gin Palaces, a sick cat, and a lot of locks!

Well, we survived London!

The canal in London - or at least the one we did - may not be beautiful, but it certainly is convenient! For the first time in my life, I was able to get out of bed, walk a few hundred metres, and find a tube station! When I lived in London we lived "south of the river" - so tube (subway) stations were few and far between.

But, we needed to move on and so hit "old Father Thames" with gusto! We'd never taken the boat on a tidal river before, and the currents took some getting used to - but Drew managed well! I made tea and worried!

Moorings on a river are harder to come by then on the canal - but we managed to find them when we needed to. The biggest differences - aside from the currents - were the size of the locks (Huge! 5 boats sometimes!) and the size of the boats! Those who live and play on the Thames are rich. Really rich. Their boats are huge - their houses are huge - and we saw millions of pounds (£!) worth of boats and houses in a few days. One night, moored across from a beautiful mansion, I barely suppressed my urge to start shouting "hey - do you give to charity? Well, if you can afford a house that big, you don't give enough!".

We are now back on the canals, having left the Thames at Reading and joined the Kennet and Avon Canal. While the Thames was nice, in my heart of hearts, I prefer the canal - not as rough in terms of navigating, but a bit rougher - and more "real". Real people - real boats - and though the houses and boats are smaller, every bit as beautiful.

Oh - and Monty the cat had a viral infection - thankfully easily sorted (though expensive) and, seeing as he caught 3 mice last night - he's clearly better!