Trip from Ash Vale to Odiham and back

Terry and Pete Inskip recount their recent cruise along the Basingstoke

Soon after we were allowed to stay overnight on a boat, on 20th July, we decided to take Rodessa up to Odiham Castle and back. After nineteen weeks of isolation, it felt like we were going on a big adventure. It was a beautiful sunny day and we both had the biggest grins on our faces. The canal was looking stunning. I love looking up to the trees, seeing the sun dappling through the leaves. The water was so clear. I was mesmerised watching all the fish busily flitting about.

It wasn’t long before we reached Ash Lock where I eagerly jumped ashore with windlass in hand. I love operating the locks. In my twenties and thirties I spent ten years long distance sailing and had always preferred doing the deck work rather than the steering. This meant Pete and I worked well together on a boat as he very much preferred being on the wheel, which is just as well due to his recent heart problem. Judging by the noisy protests from the Canadian geese, I reckon the lock had had very little usage in recent weeks.

We tied up at the new dock at Farnborough Road for our picnic lunch.  By then the sun was quite hot, so pleased there were plenty of trees to give us some shade. Our peace was suddenly shattered by some very unwelcome rap music.  Heading our way were two lads on paddle boards, one with some sort of musical player perched on top. My glare somehow managed to turn the volume down! Later on we passed them again but couldn’t hear the music. Did it fall overboard or did they see us coming? With big grins they waved at us.

We slowly motored on relishing the absolute wonder of the canal. It has never ceased to amaze me how much wildlife is seen along such a narrow stretch of water. I always carry an old cereal Tupperware container full of swan/duck feed and can guarantee it would be empty by the time we returned.

As we meandered along, my eyes switched from looking up at the trees, down into the water and along the passing bank. What I love about the Basingstoke is the contrast. There are spells of woodland, where I strain to hopefully see a deer, going under ‘hold your breath’ low bridges, and houses, some of which have interesting and attractive gardens with a variety of dock arrangements, which always fascinates me. We noticed there were a few additional boats which is good news for badly needed canal revenue. It really saddens me seeing a poorly maintained boat, some that are barely afloat.

We’ve never seen so many canoes and there were lots of paddle boarders including two girls, one with a happy looking dog perched on top.  We got chatting to them when we passed the girls once again the following day. They were paddling a section each day heading towards Woking and then doing the return to where they had left their motorhome. The following day they moved up to the next section and so on until they hoped to meet up with the Wey. I hope they made it. We were continuously waving to all the little children on the tow path. It’s lovely seeing their faces light up when they got a wave back.

Not far past the Fox and Hounds pub, we arrived at the swing bridge at Crookham. I was a little apprehensive due to last year finding it was really hard to close. It took the help of a young man to get it back in line to lock it. I was relieved to discover that it was a lot easier and managed it by myself. BCA had obviously done some work on it. I have to say it was obvious to see that both staff and volunteer working parties and lengths men had not been idle during lockdown. Everywhere was looking neat and tidy.

Our first night was spent at our absolute favourite spot – the moorings close to the Barley Mow pub at Winchfield (left). We sat in the cockpit enjoying the evening sun with drinks in hand soaking in the view.  On the other side of the little slipway, Madam Butterfly the accessible narrow boat, was moored and it was so wonderful watching a man in a wheelchair happily fishing off the bank. While we were admiring the lovely cluster of old buildings opposite with their immaculate gardens, the owner of the nearest one came down onto his empty dock and enquired about our boat. Rodessa is a 22ft Dawncraft that was built in 1978. We spent two years refurbishing it and overhauling its’ inboard diesel engine, transforming a dark and tired boat into a light and well-functioning delight. He was interested in getting something similar. Two G & T’s later, I put together our supper, which we ate still sitting in sunshine. That night I blissfully fell asleep listening to the slight lapping of water and feeling the gentle movement of the boat.

Day two was another glorious sunny day. After a bacon and egg breakfast (well, you just have to on a boat!) we took a little walk over the bridge and up and down the leafy lane before pressing on. Going through Fleet kept us busy waving to many householders along the way and it wasn’t long before we reached Colt Hill where we decided to tie up to enjoy our coffee in peace. We were kept amused watching inexperienced couples and families trying to manoeuvre their hired rowing boats. It was great to see Galleon Marine at long last doing lots of business. We had already passed two of their narrow boats and it looked like the rest were also out on hire. You could see they had kept themselves busy during lockdown with paint brushes. The whole place was looking very smart.

Carefully steering the boat slowly past all the rowing boats, we carried on towards Odiham Castle and the navigable end of the canal. The next bit of excitement for me was the lifting bridge at North Warnborough. I get a great kick operating this. To begin with you have to put down the barriers to stop cars crossing the bridge. Just as I was dropping the first one a van appeared at an increased speed who obviously didn’t want to hang around. I promptly lifted it up again and got a smiley thumbs up in return. You need your canal key to operate the electrics that lift the bridge and it’s just a matter of pressing up and down buttons. Just as I was doing this a car pulls up and Mum rushed over with her two kids to watch it happening. They were thrilled to bits watching our boat going through.

From then onwards, probably due to a lack of boat movement over the last couple of months or so, we struggled through quite a lot of weed. Thank goodness we installed a new water inlet system in the dry dock just before lockdown, without which I don’t think Rodessa would have made it through. Emptying the filter basket and rodding the pipe was done quite a few times before we eventually reached the end of the canal, turned round and stopped at Odiham Castle where we tied up and took a wander round the ruins. There were a few people around but everyone, except one lady, was mindful of social distancing. She came right up by the side of me whilst I was reading one of the very informative boards and was quite dismissive when I stepped back reminding her. After lunch we headed back towards home, after another happy go at the lifting bridge, and stopped once again at Colt Hill, this time for afternoon tea and homemade cake.

We decided to spend the night at the Fox and Hounds with the idea of having our first pub meal since lockdown. This was subject to how they were managing social distancing. Being well  impressed with how well they were doing it, we had pie and chips sitting at a table in the sunshine, close to where our boat was tied up, and of course, we had our own loo! With incredibly full tummies we waddled back to the boat and to bed.

We had a slightly lighter breakfast of scrambled eggs the following morning before setting off for home. How lucky were we having yet another sunny day. Just before we arrived at the swing bridge we passed the Society’s presidents Tim and Liz Dodwell in their beautiful and unique boat. If we had left just a few minutes earlier we would have met at the swing bridge and had a chat.  At the end of the airfield, just as we were deciding whether to have lunch soon or press on till we reached home, disaster struck.

We have always been wary of the fishermen and give them plenty of time to reel in their lines before pressing forward. This time was no exception, and we waited until a group of them waved us on. Unfortunately one of the lines was forgotten and sure enough we caught it and before we realised, the line ended up wrapped around the prop a million and one times. This meant we had to wind the z drive 90 degrees sideways so that Pete could climb over and stand on it in order to reach the prop. Not an easy job and involves moving cushions and back rest to get to the winding hole. Just as we had finally managed to unwind all the line, the part Pete was standing on snapped. He only just managed to avoid falling in! The bad news was that we were now without power and steerage. The embarrassed fisherman, who couldn’t apologise enough, towed us under the Eelmore Bridge to some moorings. Now what do we do!

We decided to call our neighbours with the hope they would be able to come and tow us back. As luck would have it, not only were they in, but they were just about to go out on their own boat with the intention of heading in our direction. We could do no more but to relax, have lunch and wait. One and a half hours later, bless them, they turned up. It was not an easy job being towed without steerage. Pete had to hold onto the tow rope at the bow and steer by that to avoid heading into the bank or swinging wide in the other direction. Needless to say progress was very slow and after walking the boat through Ash Lock we were very relieved to reach home after three hours.  We owe our lovely neighbours, Paul and Sheena, big time.

The good news is that a few days later the replacement parts arrived from Chertsey Meads Marine and Pete was able to do the repair himself. Although we are nearly £200 lighter, we now have a much more robust upgrade part and ready to go on our next trip to Odiham Castle. Can’t wait!

Pete and Terry Inskip