Sunday, 15 April 2012

Thank you for following "Devizes Days."

Butterflies and flowers - Click image to download.While I spend the summer in Braunschweig in Germany, this blog now stops, and will recommence on September 4th.   You can follow my adventures in Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg, Remschied, Heidelberg, Timmerlah and Braunschweig on:

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The "Two Aqueducts" Walk through the Limpley Stoke Valley.

Walking beside the Kennet & Avon Canal at Limpley Stoke.
The group can be seen here walking on the towpath of the K&A canal through the beautiful Limpley Stoke Valley.  The sun shone and the sky was blue, and we had a wonderful day.  There were 15 of us in total, and we enjoyed lunch in the "Cross Guns" at Midford, where the service was very fast!  No sooner had we ordered, than lunch appeared on the table, to be washed down with a pint of strong ale. This section of the canal is beautiful, and a feat of late 18th century canal construction.  John Rennie, the engineer took the canal along the side of the valley, and in two places had to build magnificent Aqueducts, both in Bath stone and of similar design, to carry the canal over the River Avon.   These Grade 1 listed structures remain today as a monument to the skill and ingenuity of the engineers and navvies in the late 18th century.  A  full history of the canal can be read at:
On Dundas Aqueduct.
 The Dundas basin, where boats could unload their wares, can be seen in the background, with an old crane used to haul goods out of the horsedrawn barges.  The entrance to the Somerset Coal Canal is to the left, a narrow canal used to bring coal from the Radstock coalfields to Bath and Bristol in the west, and to towns towards Reading and London.
Dundas Aqueduct taking the K & A Canal over the River Avon.  Avoncliff Aqueduct is of similar design.

Avoncliff Aqueduct, with the canal taking a sharp left turn at the end. 
Both aqueducts fell into dereliction at the beginning of the 20th century, when it became cheaper and faster to carry goods on Isambard Kingdom Brunel's "Great Western Railway" that ran from London to Bristol.   Brunel followed the line of the canal when building his track, and used canal barges to carry the necessary steel and stone need to build the line.   On completion of the line, and almost overnight, the canal became semi redundant.  It continued to carry local goods and was eventually closed in 1955, only to be fully restored and reopened by the Queen in 1990.
Underneath Avoncliff Aqueduct checking  out the stonemason's marks.  The River Avon flows under the centre arch, left of picture.
A full history of this wide canal can be read on:

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

New Boots are Made for Walking! And that's just what they'll do!

New boots on Coltsfoot.
I bought some new walking boots on Tuesday, and took them for their first afternoon outing along Quaker's walk.   I was busy  taking  photos of them, when a curious man asked if I was studying the geology of the landscape.  "No, just taking photos of my new boots," I said.    He turned out to be a living in a boat on the canal, so the conversation got around to the canals, and to my heartache over the loss of my lovely narrowboat, "Blue Haze."  Still she is gone, and I cannot have the lovely times back again.   Along Quaker's Walk I met a friend and we did a circular walk together, ending at her house for a nice up of coffee.  The boots are really comfy, but I now need some new  thick socks, my old ones have holes in the heels.    This year I will walk again with the Braunschweig group, and I need to have proper footwear for our long rambles over the countryside. 

This blog ends on Sunday April 15th, when another will take over.  The new address is:  but I will post the address again several times, so that you can follow my adventures in Braunschweig, Berlin, Hamburg, Remschied, Heidelberg and Dresden.  I fly to Hannover on Sunday April 22nd.   Watch this space. 
New boots on cobbles.

New boots on dandelions.

New boots on winter aconite.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Walking the Devizes Bounds.

Walking towards Potterne
The sun shone  before the Easter weekend, but promptly disappeared  in true  British fashion, of course, when the holiday weekend arrived.  We are now officially in a drought, having had two very dry winters, so we must not complain about the drizzle but.......!  We need some good rainfall as the grass is turning yellow in places, and the farmers fields are dry.  The photo right shows the group walking downhill towards Whistley Lane and Potterne.  Boundary ditch is to the left at the bottom of the hill.  This is the site of a large medieval deer park on the western boundary of Devizes.   The photo below shows us standing on the bank of the ditch, with Joyce giving us some history of the area.  It was built sometime in the 12th/13th century, and orginally had a wooden fence or paling along the top to keep the deer enclosed.  The bluebells were just starting to bloom, the birds were singing, and the place felt rather magical in the dappled sunlight and warmth.
Standing on the "Pale" the edge of Boundary Ditch.  In the foreground, just out of sight is a large, leaf covered hole into which I fell.  Fortunately there were enough hands to drag me out.  I think Mr. Badger lives here!
Where's the path?  Two walkers look lost in the field of rape.  Boundary ditch is to the left of the photo.

In Hartmore Lane Joyce gives us some information about the geological formation of the Greensand.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race.

Two canoes start the race together.
The challenge, at 125 miles, is the longest canoe race in the world, and takes place every Easter. The start line is Cemetry Road Bridge on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Devizes, with the finish line at Westminster Bridge on the River Thames, and passes through 77 locks.  It is a gruelling race, and canoes must be lifted from the water whenever a lock is reached, with each canoe having its own support team. The race was established in 1948 by two Devizes Scouts, and has taken place every year bar two, once in 2000 when the Thames was in flood and again in 2001 because of foot and mouth disease.   On the left,  two canoes leave the start together, obviously pacing one another in an attempt to get a good time.  The record is 15 hours 34 minutes, set in 1979 at a time when the canoes  raced on the Thames in flood.  "Health and Safety" regulations no longer allow this, so the record can never be broken.  An official timer starts the races, and the Mayor of Devizes was present to wave the canoeists a "Goodbye, I hope you make it."   It is one of the toughest endurance races in the world.
Sir Steve Redgrave leaves with his fellow canoeist.
 Sir Steve Redgrave leaves the start line at 10am heading for London.  I am sure this will be his first and last attempt, as he said he was not looking forward to the experience.  He is more used to short bursts of energy, not the continued hard slog of this  race.
Another canoe leaves the start.
 Each canoe is timed from the start, and each crew meticulously times every section of their route, hoping to catch the tidal stretch of the Thames from Teddington Lock, with the tide going out, thus ensuring an easy row with the flow to Westminster Bridge. 
Preparing the canoes before the race.
Each canoe is thoroughly checked over before it leaves, and these are  pictured in front of the  "Wharf Theatre," once a warehouse on the old Devizes wharf.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Caen Hill in Springtime

Nesting swans beside lock 42 at Caen Hill
Springtime has arrived, and the swans are busy nesting on the Caen Hill flight of locks.  The place is a hive of activity at this time of year, with birds nesting, and hire boaters taking family holidays on the waterway.  Caen Hill consists of 29 locks, sixteen of which are consecutive, with large side  pounds to conserve water.  The whole flight is a wonder of canal construction, and John Rennie the engineer must have scratched his head and wondered how to bring the canal up the side of a steep hill.    Hiring a mooring place in one of the many  canal marinas is expensive, but boaters can moor on the towpath side for 14 days before having to move on.  Many boaters are "continous cruisers" meaning they spend their lives cruising around the waterway system, a very nice way to spend your retirement. 
Narrowboats moored at the top of Caen Hill.
The photo above shows chevron mooring at the top of Caen Hill, complete with a water point and pump out facility.  These moorings cost around £3,000 per annum.
Lock signage making boaters aware of the hazards of using a lock.
The sign above warns boaters to keep forward of the cill in the lock, and complete with a diagram of what can happen to a boat if you don't!
The Quaker's Friends Meeting House at Sussex Wharf near lock 50.
This is the site of "Sussex Wharf" one of the old wharves in Devizes.  Barges  arriving from Bristol, Bath, Newbury or Reading could unload their wares here, and a crane would life heavy goods from the holds into warehouses.  Many beautiful buildings in Devizes date from the opening of the canal 1812, when it became possible to bring Bath stone building blocks up to Devizes by barge.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A Walk from Great Hinton to Trowbridge in beautiful Sunshine.

Admiring a "Goat Willow" tree.
This walk last week was a recce, short for reconnaisscience, which means we go out walking without actually knowing where we are going.  The route has previously been plotted on a map, but much to our delight, we do take wrong turnings and have to retrace our footsteps.  Last week we enjoyed summer weather, but at the moment it has taken a turn for the worse, and we are back in midwinter with frost on the roofs.   The walk was flat, always a pleasure, although we had several stiles to climb, the going got tough when walking across fields of damp grass.  We are seen here admiring a "Goat Willow" tree.  Who would have thought that there are so many varieties of willow in England.  We had lunch in "The King's Arm" in Trowbridge, and very nice it was too, downed with a pint of beer.
A distant "Steeple Ashton" Church, without a steeple!
Steeple Ashton church lost its steeple when it was struck by lightning in 1670.  Two workmen were killed in the process and it was never rebuilt.
Fishermen at Stourton Lake, an ornamental lake was formed by damming a stream which meets the River Biss at Trowbridge.

The ladies negotiated yet another stile.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The Kennavon Venture's Maiden Voyage of 2012.

Skipper Alan does his "safety talk" to the passengers.
 Last Sunday saw the maiden voyage of the K&A trip boat "Kennavon Venture."  We had twelve passengers, plus four crew and me, who came along with the camera to record the event for the "Butty,"  the K&A Trust's magazine.  The boat is manned entirely by volunteers, who maintain and crew the boat.  She is used for passenger trips, wedding receptions, parties and special days out.  We have Mother's Day trips, Santa cruises evening fish and chip trips, and the boat can be chartered for any special purpose.   She seats 45 passengers in comfort, and has a small bar, where tea, beer, wine and light  refreshments can be purchased.
Skipper Alan holds the log, that had wedged itself around the propeller.
The trip usually takes two hours, but last Sunday a large log of wood wedged itself around the propeller, stopped the engine and bought the boat to a standstill.  We were about a mile from Devizes Wharf, too long a walk back for some of the passengers, but after lifting the week hatch and removing the log, the engine restarted and we were able to cruise back safely.  The photo shows Alan and a piece of the offending log.
"Kennavon Venture" passing under London Road bridge.

Alan says "Goodbye" to the passengers at the end of an eventful trip.
We arrived back at the Wharf an hour late, but the passengers were happy that they'd had an extra hour's ride for their money.  When the last passenger leaves, the crew must clean and tidy up, lock the boat and put her to bed!   In the background, Peter ties one of the mooring ropes, safely securing her to the bank.  She is also chained and padlocked to the side, as sometime ago she was cast adrift by some thoughtless local "yoofs."  Hi di ho!!