I’m not actually going to give a lesson, but I did learn a lot about the Kennet & Avon Canal over the last day or two. So following the last blog’s history lesson, a little more background first…
The K&A canal is the combination of the Kennet Navigation, running from about Crofton eastward to meet the Thames at Reading (where I started out), and the Avon River system that runs westward to join the ocean at Bristol. Back in about 1810 it was decided to link the two systems by digging a canal between them. A problem was soon identified however, that the only source of water was not located at the summit between them. It was a mile to the east, a spring at what became the Wilton Waters (after a lake was created). It was also about 40 feet lower than the summit. So, they built the Crofton Pumping Station, which has what is now the world’s oldest operating beam engines.
The first engine and pump was built in 1812, the second was added in 1846. These engines, powered by huge steam boilers, were capable of pumping about 11 tons of water per minute up 40 feet to a channel that ran westward to the summit. This supplied the water necessary for all the locks in both directions (remember, every time a boat goes through a lock, it releases a huge amount of water downstream).
The photo below is the output from the modern electric pump now in use. It’s pumped into the same channel that the original pumps used (seen in the very foreground, now filled with weeds). What is interesting is that several times a year, they fire up the boilers and start up the old beam engines and pumps. Then they SHUT OFF THE ELECTRIC PUMPS. Yes, the original steam boilers and beam engines continue to do what they were originally designed and built for over 200 years ago! In fact, a couple of times in the last 25 years, the electric pumps have failed and the steam engines were brought online to maintain water in the system.
Now, back to my trip… I have spent the last couple of days in the company of a fantastic group of people. Guy, Rose, Bob, and Cate (and Maisie) are on a narrowboat vacation and we’ve been traversing many of the locks together. They have been the very best company, a source of tons of information and knowledge, and just great fun.
And of course we have visted some pubs and other establishments as well. This is Pie Night at the Royal Oak in Wooten Rivers, which is one of the most ‘traditional’ looking pubs I’ve seen, with it’s low wooden rafters and crooked doorways. Fantastic. And the Steak and Venison Pie was pretty darn good too.
I guess since it’s been around for a few hundred years it will be pretty traditional.
It’s a charmingling cute village (voted Best Kept in 1986!), where most every house and building has a thatched roof. It was great fun exploring, although we were too late to get into the church to look around.
Note the ‘numbers’ on the tower clock. Apparently this is unique.
My next post will (hopefully) tell of our daring adventure down the famed (and dreaded) Caen Hill Flight. Stay tuned!