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It was time for the Newbury Waterways Festival again, and Ian and I we were going to spend the weekend and the following week on Winedown. The preceding weekend, we had a taste for the promised relaxation when we spent the time on Sally and Mark Emery’s narrowboat, Liberty. They brought Liberty down the Grand Union canal to Brentford where the canal joins the River Thames, then along the Thames towards Reading. From there they joined the Kennet and Avon canal and journeyed onwards to Newbury.


Ian and I met Sally and Mark at Brentford on the Friday. We had a wonderful weekend before leaving them on the Sunday at the Cunning Man pub in Burghfield Bridge, near Reading. The lovely old thatched pub reportedly got its name from a ‘cunning man’ or good wizard, who would protect people from witches and evil spirits.


The weekend of the Newbury Festival, we moored Winedown in the allotted berth which was next to NB Liberty and the Emery family. Once again, the boat clubs of Devizes and Pewsey Wharf had come together for this annual rally. It was the third year in a row that Winedown and Liberty had moored alongside each other, and the third year in a row that Alex and Gene had joined us for the festivities. Soon after we were settled and safely moored, Sally declared that it was ‘Pimm’s o’clock’ . We were left in no doubt that the weekend would be a boozy one.


Both Winedown and Liberty have ‘swan hatches’ in the galley kitchen. A ‘swan hatch’ is a pair of doors that run from the top of the boat down to the gunwale. Quite by chance, Winedown’s swan hatch is on the port side (left-hand side) and Liberty’s swan hatch is on the starboard side (right-hand side) and both narrowboats are approximately 60ft long. When both boats were moored alongside each other, with Winedown on Liberty’s starboard side, the swan hatches open at the same point. This convivial arrangement proved to be very convenient on this trip since we had shared the catering preparation, and we often found that the things we needed were in the fridge of the ‘other’ boat.


Saturday morning was ushered in ahead of brilliant sunshine, and it wasn’t long before there was a carnival feel to the air as boat owners decorated their boats, polished the brass work, and called out to one another in jovial banter: all in readiness for the opening of the festival. Sally hung out her ‘trade mark’ knickers (bunting) as she had done for the past three years, while Ian strung up a more conventional length of brightly coloured flags.


The weekend passed quickly as it does when you’re having fun, and before we knew it, it was time for Alex and Gene to return to Littlehampton. By four in the afternoon, the traders and stalls-owners in the park were packing up and some boats had peeled away to return to their respective marinas. By evening, the usual quiet had descended on the park at Newbury Wharf, only to be broken, at frequent intervals, by our laughter and merriment.


It was school holidays and both families had taken time off work so that we could enjoy a week on the canal together. Ian and I, as well as all aboard NB Liberty had unanimously agreed to remain in Newbury until lunchtime on the Monday. This would give us time to replenish our supplies from the supermarket, and let other boats get a head start. We were in no hurry to leave, we had all week. So it was well into the afternoon by the time we finally said farewell to Newbury wharf and headed west towards Kintbury. Both boats needed to take on fresh water, dispose of rubbish and refresh the loo, all of which would be done at Kintbury where we moored for the night.


As dusk gathered, bats appeared and could be seen silently swooping up and down above the still waters of the canal, probably looking for the insects that were being drawn to the light of the slowly dying BBQ fire. The evening was so pleasant that the setting of the sun and the cooling of the night air was not enough to send us inside and we were still toasting marshmallows well into the night.


Tuesday was the day that disaster struck! We were heading towards Froxfield where we planned to have dinner together at the Pelican Inn. We expected that it would be a good day’s run, easily achievable, arriving in the early afternoon; plenty of time to freshen up and wander off to the pub. Or so we thought!


On Winedown, the alternator sheered a bolt on its mounting and as a result, stripped the fan belt. We would have to stop in Hungerford to get a replacement. A little more than 200 yards from the canal is Peter Stirland, an automotive dealership. Ian dashed into their parts department with the broken fan-belt dangling from his grubby hands and asked if they had a replacement. The helpful Parts Manager ordered one from Thatcham and told us that he would call us when it arrived. With that, we all trooped off to the Tuti-pole Tea Shop for an ice-cream while we waited.


Disaster struck a second time that day! I had nearly finished eating my ice-cream when I bit into the cone and felt something like a lump of glass in my mouth. Gingerly, I took the lump out of my mouth and looked at it. The crown on my front tooth had fractured and the remaining tooth had snapped off. The chemotherapy treatment that I had been having must have weakened the tooth.


Modern technology is wonderful. Mark Googled an emergency dentist on his phone and fortunately, they were able to fit me in almost immediately. I had just sat down in the dentist’s chair when the assistant noticed my ‘minxed’ toes. My toenails had to be examined in minute detail before the dentist started work on my tooth. (Minx is a flexible sparkly metallic film that is wrapped over the nail in place of nail polish).


By the time the dentist had patched up my tooth, Ian had his fan belt but it was nearly seven o’clock before he was satisfied with the repair. We still had to get to Froxfield for nine o’clock. Working together like a well-oiled machine, the two families managed the locks, swing bridges and the few miles in less than two hours. It must have been a record. We just managed to order our food at the Pelican Inn before the kitchen closed for the night.


Much later well fed and replete, we leisurely strolled back to the moored boats. What we were confronted with, didn’t exactly fill us with confidence. The water level in the shallow pound was lower and both boats were aground. We decided to move the boats to the next pound. This would mean navigating a lock after dark which was not something that I would relish. Nevertheless, we accomplished this without too much ado.


Sally and I stood alongside the lock gates shining torches to illuminate the sides of the lock while the men were at the respective helms. Guided by the boat navigation and tunnel lights, the boats inched forward carefully. Bats danced silently in and out of the lights and the almost-full moon shone brightly as a backdrop. We were captivated. It was an enchantingly, spectacular panorama and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It was well past midnight before both boats were securely moored in sufficient water to keep afloat. Exhausted, we turned in; tomorrow was another day!

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