The Keith Hadden Cruise on the B & T
Every couple of years members of the Club get together for a memorial cruise to remember Keith Hadden, our Chairman, who sadly passed away suddenly in 2010.
Previous cruises have included a cruise down the Southern Oxford from Enslow and along the Thames, and on the K&A from Pewsey to Bradford upon Avon.
This years cruise took place over the early May Bank Hoilday weekend on the Bridgwater and Taunton canal, starting and finishing at the Bathpool moorings on the outskirts of Taunton, Somerset.
What may look like an informal get together however doesn’t just happen. Whilst a small group of members helped with the event, one member was the primary mover and shaker, and it was that person who spent a considerable amount of time contacting all the interested parties and agreeing with them the practicalities of the cruise. We are pleased to say that person was awarded the WBOC “Top Trophy” for all their hard work carried out over many months. That person also managed to organise a very rare event, a warm and sunny Bank Holiday weekend!!
WEDNESDAY 2nd May
The first boats launched on Wednesday and settled in under bright sunshine.One member with Grey Owl arrived from Kent, having arrived nearby on Sunday but stayed in caravan mode until launching, whilst the other three boats Sloe, Y-Knot and Tophyl, whose crews were all involved with the organisation of the cruise, arrived from their nearby local bases. There are a few members who already moor on the canal, some making use of the excellent trailing abilities of Wilderness boats to have the best of both worlds. Cruising beautiful quiet canals like the B&T one day and then visiting the main canal network the next or even visiting the canals of France or other European countries for longer cruises.
THURSDAY 3rd May
This was the day when the majority of boats had booked into arrive. Originally expected to involve 18 boats, due to illness and in one case a trailer breakdown, this was reduced to 14 overall. First to launch was Bobbles, who had actually arrived on site from Suffolk at 22:00hrs on Wednesday evening, after an easy run. Then the others started to arrive in a steady stream. Most did as they were asked and phoned so the narrow lane approach to the site could be managed to ensure cars with boats in tow, didn’t meet cars with empty trailers going out the other way, towards a nearby farm that had agreed to store them in a secure location.
During the afternoon, a few boats left Bathpool to attempt a cruise into Taunton, to ensure that the main potential obstacle, Firepool lock, would allow boats to pass, in advance of the main body of the cruise due to arrive here on the Bank Holiday Monday. Thanks to Canal and River Trust (CRT), who had been doing some weed cutting and a bit of dredging in the approach to the river, and the long term work of IWA volunteers, the canal was remarkably clear. We did pick up the odd denim jacket and plastic bag around a propeller or two, but shopping trolleys and bikes, were few and far between.
As we approached Firepool lock, we passed a brownfield site of new houses, where we created something of a stir with the residents, as they rarely see boats passing below their balconies. The canal here was getting significantly shallower with the propellers chewing up the silt and mud. At the lock we were pleased to see that a non-standard padlock had been removed from the top offside gate gear and a BW lock fitted. This allowed the lock to fill quite quickly despite the bottom gate decaying planking leaking badly. Some work had also been done on removing some of the silt from behind the top gates, so these would open wide enough to allow a boat to pass.
It’s a “feature” of this canal, in that it is continuously fed with water from the River Tone, which then flows nearly all the way to Bridgwater before being pumped out and away to feed a major town reservoir called Durleigh built-in the late 1930s. This was a major factor in the canal surviving until the time it was restored to allow the navigation of boats back in the 1970s and 80s. (A brief unofficial history of the canal can be read here).
We passed out through a narrow channel, recently dredged, on to the River Tone, just above the weir. This keeps enough water back to make the river look grander in the town than it really is. Another “feature” of the River Tone is that at some times of the year when the river is in flood or semi-flood, it carries a significant amount of suspended silt and nitrates from the land further upstream, some of which goes into the canal. This resulting in significant weed growth during the summer months, which without regular weed cutting can significantly curtail cruising. Unfortunately, the canal still has a classification as a “remainder” waterway so fails to attract much funding. Allegedly when the canal was restored in the 1980s, the then BW management didn’t apply for reclassification to “cruiseway” status, as it had done for the Mon & Brec canal, so it remains a poor relation to the K&A where it’s management reside.
Our trip on to the River Tone included a check to see if we could get under the Town bridge. This is always tight, Y-Knot and Tophyl both failed to get under but with a member of Tophyl’s crew transferring to Bobbles and they then having 4 people onboard, they did manage to reduce the air draught enough to get under and reach the head of navigation at French Weir.
Having successfully returned under this bridge, we all proceeded back to Firepool lock where we helped each other back into the canal and then back to Bathpool moorings. As an aside, the red brick building behind the lock is all that remains of the large listed pumping house that took water from the canal and pumped it into the large tank on the roof. This was then fed to all the water cranes around Taunton station to top up the many steam engines based or passing through here. The station was a major railway centre and junction for various branch lines, mostly all closed now. There are outline plans to convert it into a cafe/restaurant/bar at some time in the future.
The evening was quite cool so some ate outside whilst others kept warm onboard.
Friday 4th May
The last of the boats were due to arrive before mid-afternoon so those who had already arrived took the opportunity to drive, cycle or walk into Taunton or to visit local pubs or shops or other visitor attractions. Even though surrounded by houses, we were surprised to see a large deer eating the fresh green leaves from the trees on the opposite bank. Only separated from the busy towpath by a drainage ditch.
As mid-afternoon approached, and the incoming trailed boats were all present and correct, it was time for our first cruise. This soon resulted in us navigating Bathpool swing footbridge and then about an hours cruise out to Cogload junction. A place where the canal gives lovely views across the levels towards North Curry and its parish church on the hills opposite, as well as giving great train spotting opportunities, as the lines from Bristol, Westbury and Exeter all join here. On arrival we met up with Mini Me, who had cruised up from its mooring in the other direction, and even though it was cool and cloudy, it was decided by some to put on another jumper/coat and break out the BBQ’s and G&Ts, wine and beer, not forgetting the nibbles.
Saturday 5th May
At last, the sun that had been a bit elusive until now, suddenly made a brilliant appearance. We woke to bright sunshine, wall to wall blue sky, mist over the levels and the sound of bird song.
When mooring the night before, the majority of Wilderness boats took advantage of their design to moor bows on to the bank and to raft up, but still leaving enough room for any other craft to get past. Not that we saw any! After a bit of sightseeing, we were suddenly aware that we were only about a hundred metres from Saturn, which we could now see in daylight!!!
This is one of the planetary markers of the Somerset Space walk, which starts with the Sun in the middle of the canal by upper Maunsel Lock and then stretches out in perfect scale size in both directions, all the planets can be seen twice, Pluto by the Brewhouse theatre in Taunton, as well as in Bridgwater near Morrison’s supermarket. See this for more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somerset_Space_Walk
Today’s target to reach the Boat and Anchor pub at Huntworth for the WBOC AGM and a meal afterwards. To do that we would have to navigate through 4 locks and 3 road swing bridges. Not a difficult target you might think, but the locks, which look broad, are in fact only 10′ 6″ wide and 50′ long so only 2 boats at a time can pass through together. So with 14 boats that’s 7 lockings to get everyone through or around 1 hour 45 minutes. Thankfully for Outward swing bridge and Upper and Lower Maunsel Locks, we were assisted by the Taunton based IWA volunteers. A BIG BIG thank you to them for their hard work working us through in both directions.
Once we reached North Newton swing bridge we were on our own. We started to see the effects of low maintenance budgets here. The landing stage for the swing bridge was unusable with hazard tape stopping its use. It looked like it would fall into the canal if you stepped on it. And the swing bridge required 3 people to swing it. Then it was down through King’s lock and on to and through Standards lock to lunch at the camping site on the offside just below it.
After lunch it was a quiet 45 minute cruise to Fordgate swing bridge, which with poor landing and stiff operation, required 4 people to get it moving and then return it to its locked state.Impassible by someone single handing or even a boat with a crew of two! However not much further on, we all arrived outside the Boat & Anchor pub, our target for the evening. This is the pub you can easily see by anyone southbound on the M5 motorway, when passing over the river Parrett bridge, as it has its name painted on its tile roof.
At 6pm the WBOC AGM took place in probably the best and most civilised location we have ever had, the pubs conservatory. The AGM concluded with the awarding of four club awards.
Sunday 6th May
The first objective on a another sunny morning was to try to reach Bridgwater docks. Unfortunately the previous evening we started to find that our way might have been blocked by over enthusiastic contractors over strengthening and locking Crossways Swing bridge making it impassable. CRT had issued a navigation restriction notice during the last week, but this was not due to come into force until Tuesday 8th May. Lots of phone calls had been made the previous evening with promises from CRT staff to visit to see if they could sort out the problem. So we set off through Mead’s Building Swing Bridge, the access bridge to the Boat and Anchor, on towards Crossways swing bridge, hoping that we might still be able to get to Bridgwater, where many people were waiting for us.
The evening before another boater in a steel narrowboat had managed to get the bridge partially open but had to close it again with local help. Overnight it appeared the padlock had been changed to a non-BW key lock. Who had done this has been the cause of much discussion since! The failure to reach Bridgwater docks also meant that those who wanted to enter the IWA Silver Propeller Award this year were prevented from reaching one of their goals.
So with no where to go and with apologies to those in Bridgwater and it’s docks, it was decided to wind our way back to our overnight moorings back at Cogload junction.
We had an enforced break here as we had agreed to wait for an angling match to finish at 3pm in the canal above Maunsel top lock. So once we had had some refreshment between the Maunsel locks, we headed on through the top lock and Outwood swing bridge, again assisted by the IWA volunteers. We had but a short cruise back to Cogload junction and this time, we all sat next to the towpath and BBQ’d and with the aid of some liquid refreshment, we talked about our boating adventures into the warm night.
Monday 7th May
We awoke to another beautiful morning. Overnight we trapped some of the floating blanket weed that had started to bubble up and grow in the bright sunshine. Not a problem now but later on when it gets to Maunsel it could stop access to the locks and prevent the anglers from casting through it. Our target today for most of us was Taunton. This canal was a “Stop” line in the 2nd World War. It has many pill boxes along its length. One can be seen in the distance on the photo on the right below. Many of the bridges were removed in case of invasion from the South West peninsular
Now we set off initially for water etc at Bathpool and then along the canal into Taunton, via Firepool Lock. A couple of boats left us for work commitments.What a shame that work sometimes gets in the way of boating.
The arrival of so many boats on the river in Taunton caused quite a stir. The main mooring is opposite Morrison’s supermarket, near the Somerset County Cricket Ground and adjacent to the Brewhouse Theatre.
Now for the final target. Take on some extra ballast as required to get under the town bridge to reach the head of navigation at French weir.
So that was it! Now just time to return along the river and canal to Bathpool to pull out and head for home. A great weekend helped along by great weather and great company. Till the next time.