Swans, locks and eccentrics

April 24, 2011

A walk today from Aldermaston Wharf to Newbury along the Kennet and Avon Canal started with a wonderful example of Victorian Engineering and in its final stages passed through the bleak industrial landscape of the 70s and 80s. Aldermaston Lock is a delight with scalloped brick side walls. A sense of design and pride in what is a functional work which contrasts badly with the rubbish and neglect pictured below as the canal passes through Thatcham. I was in Copenhagen a few weeks ago at former factory now converted for the Copenhagen Business School. That was built in the same period and showed a similar attention to design that went way beyond pure functionalism.

This is a travel blog by the way, as much a personal record as anything else so don’t expect any major contributions to complexity theory, the resilient organisation or knowledge management. The photographic record is building on Flickr and thanks to GPS on the camera the location of each shot is mapped.

Now this is third installment in my resolve to complete the towpath walk of the Canal from its connection with the Thames in Reading to that with the Avon at Hanham Lock to the west of Bath. Combined with the Thames. Having started it last year on impulse with the Kintbury to Bedwyn section I resolved in January to take the enterprise more seriously. Thanks to Euan for the inspiration and for the View Ranger app which is fast becoming a favorite. I joined him on a section of the Thames Path in January. He has been walking it from estuary to source over several years. So nothing daunted the canal beckons to be followed by the Ridgeway in the hope of completing all three this year. I’ve had enough of sitting in front of the macbook every weekend and its time to get out and about. Full map with dates at the bottom of this post and I will update as I go. I may even back post the Newbury to Kinbury section for the sake of completeness.

DSC_2541.jpg Starting in the middle creates a slight lack of continuity, but I have resolving that in a series of switchbacks. Earlier in the month I parked at Kintbury and got the train up to Newbury and walked westward. Today I wanted an early start to avoid the Bank Holiday weekend crowds so I parked at Aldermaston early and got the train back from Newbury at midday. In a couple of weeks time I will do Reading to Aldermaston (possibly off the red eye from New York as I land midday and its a half day section. after that its westward ho but with increasingly complex transport arrangements. The train parallels the canal from Reading to Pewsey, but after that they divide and country bus services are erratic to say the least. I’ll be able to indulge a marginally anal obsession with timetables. Well that or press one of the children to act as Chauffeur when they are home or find the odd companion for the two car scenario.

The early morning start was intended to allow the sun to rise behind me and create interesting lighting effects. Regrettably, the sun was hazy as I drove west along the A4 and disappeared behind cloud before I started. Luckily I had left a light fleece in the car after Thursday nights trip to Cardiff for the Treviso match (we won but failed to get the bonus point).

I spent a good ten minutes admiring the Aldermaston lock and the turning basin below it. I contained one of the characters who inhabit canal boats pictured to the right in a coal driven barge – mostly these days they are diesel driven. Of course when the canal was built – and the reason for the towpath -they were horse drawn with ingenious bridges for cross overs. There were a range of eccentric characters out today. One elderly gent in cricket flannels, a blazer and cravat, not to mention an exotic waistcoat and the flowing locks of an 18th Century Poet. Three ecological barges with an impressive arrays of solar panels and wind power. A middle aged white hippy with dreadlocks down to his waist and all of that before I get onto the dogs, mostly happily perched on the front of the barge wearing pirate style kerchiefs, one was unusual but three smacks of a conspiracy.

The other reason for starting early was to see the wildlife without the constant disturbance of other walkers, and the terror of the tow path, the mountain biker who thinks ringing a his or her bell should require all walkers to step into the nettles to allow them to progress without interruption. Mind you at least they were past quickly, the early morning joggers brought to mind a famous Queen song. The temptation to use a stick in the spokes to precipitate a quick plunge into the water will I feel become irresistible at some stage. Either way the strategy worked I saw herons, moorhens, yellow wagtails, red kites and wonderfully the flash of blue that was a kingfisher. Most spectacular were whole colonies of swans, one group of eleven another group of nine mixed adults and signets. The banks of the canal were a profusion of wild flowers and I was really lucky to see a grass snake swim the canal and countless water voles. After Monkey Marsh Lock with the sun now emerging the insect life became profuse, fortunately no midges, mosquitos or horseflies.

Approaching Newbury and the end of the section the number of people out for a walk increased dramatically. Mostly elderly couples but one poor fourteen year old desperately searching the tow path for a ten pound note he has lost earlier provided some variety. A complex set of bridges slowed the progress into Newbury and I just made the 1157 train back to Aldermaston. If I had missed that it would have been a two hour wait for the next one and I would have been forced to spend it in a pub; maybe I should have walked more slowly but I have to pack for a two week tour to the US tonight and clear a batch of expenses for invoicing and deal with the extortionate requirements of Brighton landlords for legal guarantees for daughter’s accommodation next year.

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