So locked in at Crofton on Saturday 10/8. we wandered up to the pump house. Smoke had been billowing from the chimney, and once we had paid our entrance fee, we could see the stokers hard at work. Well one of them was, the younger one, whilst the older more experienced chap, watched on giving helpful tips.

Trainee stoker at work
You could feel the heat from several feet away

The boiler is a Lancashire boiler, and the steam from it is used to drive two beam engines, which pump the water from a lake 40 feet below the summit.

Looking across the engines.

In the picture above the engine on the far side is on its down stroke. The two red valves are used to provide, or shut off the steam to each engine. Each stroke of the beam, pumps one ton of water to the summit.

Water being pulled up from the well
Pumped water enters channel leading to summit

After a couple of hours wandering around, taking in the blended smells of steam, oil and smoke it was time to visit the cafe for lunch. On the way down you get a birds eye view of the boiler, which contains 4000 gallon of water.

Lancashire boiler form above

Back at the boat we battened down the hatches, as the forecast wind increased in strength as the day progressed.

Sunday 11/8. The wind was still blowing, but nothing like the previous day. There was also a lack of smoke visible from the pump house chimney, initially we thought the stoker had let the fire go out, but it transpired that a fault had developed, and they had to stop the operation. We were lucky we went when we did. The lock keeper was late unlocking the gates, and we found out it was due to a car being in the canal further along. When he eventually arrived boats began to depart, and the water level in the pound dropped with each Lock use. Our boat already on the bottom, began to tilt as the levels dropped, so we also slipped our lines and moved off. It was very blustery so we were looking to stop at the next available spot. Great Bedwyn was busy as expected, so we carried on until we arrived at Froxfield. It was as we descended in the Lock we spotted it.

Something not quite right through the bridge
That shouldn’t be there

Apparently it came off the road in the early hours, and fortunately nobody was hurt. We expect someone has some explaining to do, especially if it was his Mum’s car. We found a mooring and secured the boat. At least we were the right side of the vehicle hazard, so we shouldn’t be held up if they try to recover it.

Froxfield mooring, view from well deck

This morning we were up and away with the lark, well not quite but early enough. We were not planning on going far, our destination of choice was Hungerford, just over two miles away. Rain threatened but never really materialised, and we met a few oncoming boats. This was good news, as they had probably departed Hungerford meaning space would be available. It was, just below the Lock on the visitor mooring in the town centre. We secured the boat, then set about a couple of maintenance tasks.

Moored in Hungerford

Recently we have noticed a small damp patch appear underneath the calorifier, aka hot water tank. On inspection the bad news is, that none of the joints or connections are leaking. This means it is the far more expensive tank that has the problem. Slight at the moment so we can manage, but it will need to be sorted soon. We will book into Calcutt Boats who serviced our diesel heater, to get a new one fitted.

Totals Sunday 11/8. 4 Miles 7 Locks

Monday 12/8. 2 Miles 6 Locks

Running total 439 Miles 482 Locks 15 Tunnels

Milkhouse Water, Vale of Pewsey

Today was the big day, crossing the summit level of the Kennet and Avon Canal, subject to the Canal and River Trust unlocking the gates. We slipped our lines at 8am, and took up a position on the water point. We decided to fill the tank, in case we got stuck somewhere. After a short refill, we navigated towards the queue of boats also waiting below the the locked Lock. There was one wide beam, a yacht minus its mast, and six paired narrow boats. What was coming over from the other side, only time would tell. Most of the Locks were being managed by CRT volunteers, and good progress was being made on the ascent of the Crofton Lock flight. This consists of seven Locks, and next to the third Lock is the pump house for the beam engine.

Crofton beam engine

This beam engine is the oldest working engine, that is still working in its original location, and is capable of pumping two tons of water to the summit, with each stroke of the beam. I think CRT should stop worrying about repairs to their electric pumps from Sweden, and get this splendid example of British engineering fired up, and back in action. Several of the pounds had been low on water, but nothing too onerous. On reaching the summit we were under instructions not to stop for lunch, as someone had last week, they got locked in. I suspect that may have been their plan. Through Bruce tunnel at 502 yards, it was here you could see the drop in water level, about a foot down on its usual height. By now we had encountered most of the opposing traffic, which included a couple of wide beams, and soon we approached the Top Lock of the Wootton flight. Four more Locks and we were done for the day. It was now we found the seriously low water. In two of the pounds, even in the centre of the channel progress was slow, as we ploughed a furrow in the silt. We had been tipped off about a spot of deep water mooring at Milkhouse Water. It was obvious where the mooring was when we arrived, as several other boats were already here. We found a spot and secured the boat on pins. Even here the stern of the boat is three foot from the bank, due to the limited depth of water. We also managed to find the only gap in the trees, so TV via the satellite dish was available.

Moored in the reeds, Milkhouse Water

Tomorrow we have a short day, as we head towards All Cannings. We have a particular reason to visit here, but all will soon become clear.

Totals 7 Miles 14 Locks 1 Tunnel

Running total 327 Miles 359 Locks 10 Tunnels

Great Bedwyn

Well today we have reached the queue for the summit level. First we had to navigate four miles and nine Locks. The first Lock of the day was an interesting one, it has a swing bridge that sits across the middle of the Lock. It is necessary to swing it before filling the Lock, or as the water rises, so the boat will be crushed against the underside of the bridge.

Hungerford Marsh Lock with swing bridge

Initially we could not work out why a bridge was needed, when you can simply walk across the Lock beams. Then the residents turned up to see what we were doing with their bridge, and presumably to make sure we put it back when we finished.

Curious cows

It took four hours, but eventually we arrived at Great Bedwyn. Several of the pounds between Hungerford and Great Bedwyn were very low on water, and even maintaining the centre of the channel was sticky in places. On approach to the designated moorings, we saw they were rammed full, with several boats already breasted up. We had a go at mooring in the rough to the rear of the line of boats, but it was very shallow. Fortunately, one of the boat owners asked if we wanted to tie up to them, so we did.

We are the second boat from the far end

After securing the boat we took four legs for his walk, and also to see what the situation was ahead at the stoppage. There are several boats waiting, staggered along the bank, so there may be upwards of fifteen or more, looking to cross the summit tomorrow. On our way back we popped into the village to visit the local watering hole. The Three Tuns P.H. is at the top of a hill, and it was closed. Thirsty, we returned to the boat. Later in the afternoon we were buzzed several times by apache helicopters.

Apache flyby

The Locks are due to be opened from 10am, with last entry by 12. Hopefully we will be lucky, but if not we can afford to wait a while.

Totals 4 Miles 9 Locks

Running total 320 Miles 345 Locks 9 Tunnels