Although I would ideally stay in the railway hotel when a Big Day Out extends into a weekend, in the case of Bath it was fully booked by the time I got round to looking - the tourist season was just beginning and hotels were horrendously expensive. Instead, I stumbles across an 'apartment' which was in fact student accommodation for Bath Spa Univesrity. There is a trend now towards student accommodation becoming far more well-appointed, with en suite bathroom as standard, and in this case, a little kitchenette in each room as well. In the course of going to academic conferences and interviews for jobs I've stayed in a lot of student accommodation, including the most uncomfortable bed I have tried and failed to sleep in - and that was for a job interview.
So I thought it might not be great, but I knew I could hack it as long as it had the en suite (tick) and was clean (the reviews all said it was).
In fact, it was brilliant. Once I managed to get into the building (the only slight hitch) a friendly porter showed me to the room (and when's the last time that happened in a hotel? Certainly not in my price bracket).
The booking details warned that there might not be crockery but there was, and there was also a hotel room style selection of tea and coffee, with hot chocolate and biscuits (I always keep the hot chocolate sachets for boating - but I did bring my own teabags. Of course.). The room was clean and bright, and the absence of a restaurant on site, given the cooking facilities and fridge in the room and the proximity of plenty of shops, was a positive for me. And the bed was comfortable.
Not sure I'd want to live in it for a whole semester, but for an overnight stay I'd definitely do it again.
As we crossed a turnover bridge, I thought I espied an old boat on the towpath where we were heading. This was very exciting, as I was with someone with very little knowledge of old boats, and not much more interest, so I was able to entrance and inform her as I went through the process of identifying it as a Woolwich butty - though I must confess I initially thought it was a small - so imagine my delight when the owner emerged to tell us that it was in fact Aston.
So, a large Woolwich to make my big weekend away complete.
Let's return to Bath for a few more posts. I spent much of Saturday afternoon wondering around the city centre, then on Sunday was taken on a brief tour of some of its grander (and they of course are very grand) streets, en route to a towpath walk. We finished with great Pulteney Street, and the Holbourne Museum, which we did not visit, but slipped past. And behind it was a sight to soothe sore eyes.
The 2011 extension on the back of the museum was like cool water after the arid stony beauty of the rest of the city. Bath is beautiful, of course, but so is this, and I by this point I was ready for something that wasn't golden. It's - from what I can see - basically a standard glass box, but taken into another realm by its sublime blue/green/brown mottled ceramic cladding.
My photos do not do it justice, but there are better ones, and the story of the struggle to get it built, in this Guardian article.
Now, I would not want to see any of Bath's - or anywhere's - old beauty destroyed, but I have no objection whatsoever to adding new beauty to it. Far better than the ubiquitous bland pastiche which is offensive by virtue of its very mediocrity, painfully apparent when put next to the real thing.
So I oohed and aahed and lapped it up for a little while, and then found myself at one of those magical gateways to another world as the gardens led down onto the Kennet and Avon Canal.
We made an early start this morning to get over to Alvecote for the bi-annual ritual of Sorting Out The Cloths. This is nearly always done in more of a hurry, and to less of a standard, than planned. Last autumn's efforts were good ones, and the cloths stayed in place all winter, and as it was clothed right up to the engine room bulkhead, hardly any water got in. There were a couple of spots where it worked its way through quarter inch gaps in the gunnels, but overall I was very pleased.
So this morning we arrived armed with the new set of topstrings, the trusty roll of translucent scaffolding sheeting (I can now report that you get more than three boat's worth out of a £70 roll, and each lasts a couple of years), and a secret weapon.
So first, Jim climbed onto the top plank and untied the old topstrings. The plan was to use these as the new sidecloth strings, although it would have been nice if I could have given them a wash first as they were a bit green. Better than blue though.
Then all the sidecloth strings were removed and ceremonially thrown in the bin. I may go back next weekend to sweep up all the mess they have left.
Having tied up on the outside of the marina there was plenty of space to lay out and fold the topcloths. I folded them in thirds lengthways first, then rolled them (only flat, if you see what I mean). This should - as long as we remember - mean that they can easily be centred on the top plank and unrolled so that they are in the right place when we come to put them back. I would have liked to have given them a scrub, but was afraid that they might not dry in time. The temperature was just right. Too hot, and they're uncomfortable to handle; too cold, and they're awkwardly stiff.
Then we re-tied the sidecloths using the old topstrings. I went through the boat feeding them through the eyelets, over the top plank, through the eyelet the other side and back over the plank, while Jim followed tightening and tying them. This is basically what holds the whole structure of planks, stands and 'uprights' (those bits at 45 degrees) together and makes it rigid and stabe enough to walk on.
Then Jim climbed up again with the translucent sheeting which I had cut to length, folded in thirds, and rolled up ready. I reckoned that with a trip up the Rochdale looming, any potential source of stress that can be removed is a good idea, and one thing I like is plenty of light. We haven't had the boat clothed solely in translucents since 2015.
Then out came the secret weapon. Jim recently bought a new roll of translucent sheeting, and with it came 100 of these things, which I shall call scaffolders' bungees. The pointy end stabs through the reinforced edhe of the sheet and opens up to form a t-bar behind it. The hook on the other end just fits over a gunnel ring.
They were the perfect length (had they been too long, we could have used the second, higher, row of holes). What's more, standing on a chair inside the hull, Jim could reach over the sidecloths to attach these on the offside. It was then a simple matter to give it a bit of a tug and a straighten and do the bankside ones off the bank.
Where a shorter length was needed, I tied a knot (or two) in the elastic. Or as you can see in the foreground above, looped it through more than once. This is holding down the strip of cloth attached to the deckboard that keeps the rain out of the cratch (and thus Jim's bed). I ran round delightedly deploying these in all sorts of places, including tying down the rolled up sidecloths at the back end. It's brilliant that the elastic is something like the blue of Chertsey's pauntwork (rather than orange, say) so it really looks quite smart. It all seems very secure so guess what - we decided not to put the topcloths back on yet after all. We may do it when we get to Hebden Bridge, or we may do it for Braunston, or we might end up not doing it at all... Whatever, for the time being, the lovingly (and hurriedly) made new topstrings are still sitting in their bag.
Another little - but vital (not least for my peace of mind) - pre-boating job ticked off today.
Ricky and Geoffrey have smart new harnesses. I always feel more comfortable walking them in harnesses anyway, as I'm sure they could slip out of their collars, with their delicate little heads (indeed, Ricky has done - but he's managed to slip out of a harness too, so I checked the design very carefully). But when we're boating there's the added worry of them falling in - again, Ricky has put this to the test - and there's no way we can haul them out by their necks. Ricky has always worn a harness when boating, but Jim has worried that it rubbed under his armpits, and didn't want the same fate to befall Geoffrey's delicate skin...
So, I have splashed out on these rather flashy American jobs which not only are padded round the armpits, but look to be doing the best job of distributing the weight across their chests should they find themselves suspended by it. They're lightweight and don't have too much across the back, which I thought might get hot. They don't have a grab handle, but they will have their leads on, and there's enough to get hold of once they're close. We know Geoffrey can swim, so aren't so concerned about him needing a lifejacket (at least, not on the canal), and assume that Ricky, being a similar shape (big chest, tiny head), although he doesn't like swimming and doesn't have such big paws, will at least float the right way up ...
Hopefully now I've forked out £87, they won't fall in.
True in many ways, but significantly in that - for us at least - it is not one of those things you learn once and never forget. I can remember how to do that actual splicing, once I've got started and when all the strands are where they're meant to be, but getting to that stage, whether it be for an eye splice or a back splice, has to be relearnt every time. Thank goodness for Grog's Animated Knots.
We made an early start, straight after breakfast. Jim measured and cut the lengths of rope, and I separated and taped the ends. My first stroke of genius was to put the roll of masking tape in the Sellotape dispenser, which made that bit of the job a lot easier.
Then we spent a frustrating half hour or so poring over animated diagrams and doing it wrong. I picked up the crown knot again quite easily, but striggled for a while with getting the eye splice started neatly. I cracked it in the end though, and ended up doing most of the splicing - once I got more confident, doing it in front of the snooker.
It's been very hard to find galvanised s-hooks this time around (not having Kelsalls on the doorstep) but by chance whilst buying the dining room light fittings from Lamp Spares, I noticed that they sell brass ones, so I got some. I hope they work - I suppose the worry is that they might be too soft. we shall see. Once the splices were all done, I trimmed off the ends...
108 string maggots and a Blu-Tack slug
And Jim has just finished sealing them over the gas hob.
We plan to go over to Alvecote on Wednesday to redo the cloths - the weather forecast suggests that we will need to make an early start as it's currently due to rain at lunchtime, by when we should, hopefully, be enjoying lunch in the Barlow with Renfrew Pete.
Not only is Chertsey still there, this time we clothed her up properly, with deckboard and back end top plank, and elastic through the eyelets, so very little rain - and no ducks - got in. So basically clean and dry inside, just a bit spidery/dusty. The outside needs a good clean, as always, and the plan is to take all the cloths off and redo them with new translucent sheet and new strings - especially as much of the dust inside is from the eight-year-old blue polyprop 'temporary' sidecloth strings which are spontaneously self-destructing. I bought the 100mm synthetic cotton to make the strings back in the autumn, and of course haven't touched it since, so we are going to refresh our memories over at the wonderful Grog's animated knots, particularly of the crown knot which I can never remember, and make a day of it today. I'm thinking we'll just make new topstrings, then use the old topstrings for the sidecloths. It was a stunning day yesterday, and of course very hot inside the hold. I hope the weather holds for when we get all the cloths off later in the week.
I suspect it will be a very long time (probably not until I've retired) before I'll get to go through Bath Deep Lock.
It's just too far away. I've stared down it on a couple of occasions now though. Bath Deep Lock is the second deepest in the country, at 19'5"
It's beaten into second place by just three and a half inches. I've not been through the deepest lock in England (and Wales) yet but I might soon. I say 'might' mindful of how on arriving on the Wey the year before last, we spent nearly a week sitting at Weybridge, and then once on the Basingstoke Canal for the first and possibly only time, we went as far as the gathering at Woking and no further.
Getting here will entail overshooting Hebden Bridge - assuming we get that far. But if we do, we'll have done 147 locks (84 83 of them on the Rochdale), so another eight should be marginal. Shouldn't it? And it would be good to finally arrive in Sowerby Bridge by boat, fourteen years after failing to make it there - from the opposite direction - in Andante.
Looking at Pennine Waterways' list of the deepest canal locks in England and Wales I was slightly surprised to see that the deepest one I have been through so far is actually tenth on the list (ninth of the extant ones) - Etruria Top. I don't even have any particular memory of this. I'd thought it might have been Stenson, but that comes in at number 14 - beaten by another two I have been through - the ones down onto the river at Stourport, and a fair few of the Marple ones (some of which, individually, beat Etruria, but the main list only gives their average). Many of the ones in between are on the Ashton Canal, which I don't think I shall be visiting any time soon (if I had a bit more holiday and a bit less sense, maybe...), although number 4 on the list is on the Rochdale, so I should be ticking that off. And if we don't make it to Sowerby Bridge, lock 77 on the Rochdale will be my new deepest.
So let's start as I did, with the river: the Bristol Avon. (What's the other one called... Warwickshire?)
Even within Bath, there were two distinct aspects to the river. Above the head of navigation, in the city centre, it was gracious; the perfect foil to the city's celebrated architecture.
Flowing under, as well as past it...
Pulteney Bridge is one of only four in the world to be lined with shops on both sides (two of the others are in Italy, as you might expect, and one in Germany, which you might not, but they're all in Europe, which is somehow more surprising still). And just to the right of the building there is Pulteney Radial Gate,
which along with the weir is part of a 1970s flood prevention scheme, built after serious flooding in the 1960s but due to be removed as part of a big upgrade to the flood defences, the reasons for which we'll come to in a moment.
So that's the pretty bit of the river. To be fair there isn't really an ugly bit, but there is a plainer, more mundane, one - although maybe not for much longer.
No prizes for guessing which bit I liked best.
I got here on Saturday afternoon by the simple expedient of wandering aimlessly downhill from where I was staying
There's a fair bit of regeneration going on, with new paths, and what might already be the beginnings of the new flood defence scheme, necessitated both in anticipation of rising sea levels and the redevelopment of this riverside area... or 'quarter', if you insist.
Looks like I got here just in time...
But I wonder what it was like before all this started
Here the river is channeled between concrete banks
Where there used to be busy quays, and soon will be coffee shops.