New Year Camp on the Wilts & Berks Canal
Christmas - New Year Camp Wilts & Berks Canal
We didn't have a very auspicious start to the camp this year. The caretaker of Foxham Reading Rooms lives next door, and Mrs. caretaker was expecting a baby on 23.12.02, so she was glad to let us have the key on that day so she wouldn't have to worry about it. We duly moved all the food that Di had brought up from Devon for the camp, including six cakes, into the freezer, and went home again until everyone started arriving on Boxing Day. It was then that we discovered that the freezer wasn't working properly, and every-thing was starting to defrost! Fortunately (from our point of view), the expected new arrival had not foaled (to quote the Chairman) so Mrs. caretaker shifted things around in her freezer to make room for ours. But that was not all....
With the oven cooking the evening meal nicely, Di switched on the hot plate on the top for the vegetables, and the whole place was plunged into darkness! We reversed the trip switch, and tried all four hot plates in turn, and found that only one of the small ones didn't send us all back into the middle of the night. The next day the caretaker tried his best, but you try getting hold of an electrician to come round on 27th December! We eventually had to borrow a camping gaz two ring burner from one of the locals to see us through the camp.
However, with that all sorted out, an initial eight navvies set to with a will. Now that the new bascule bridge at Foxham is in use by the farmer, one of the main tasks was to dig out the cause-way which he had been using to cross the canal. We did actually have two dry days (Friday and Saturday), although it did rain during the night, and by the end of the second day it became obvious that tracking the digger up and down was making a real mess of the towpath, so that project had to be abandoned halt finished, although we did get a lot of the hedge trimmed back and burnt so the area shows considerable improvement.
Sunday saw us setting off in the work-boat to cut back the undergrowth and scrub on the offside bank at Dauntsey, and the boat was rapidly filled, motored back and emptied and then refilled three times a day. Despite the rain, which by then was siling it down (Di's expression from Lincolnshire) a huge bonfire saw everything burnt up each night.
The boat moved steadily up the canal, and over the week half a mile of offside bank was trimmed back and quite a bit of the towpath hedge. In places the boat almost goes from bank to bank at right angles to the towpath, but poor canine Katy managed to fall in twice misjudging the gap from boat to bank, so after that she preferred to trot up the towpath and swim across and back to preserve her dignity.
We had a fluctuating population on the camp, with some coming at the beginning and some at the latter half of the week, and five of us for the whole week. The weather was awful, but everyone still worked extremely hard, coming back to the cottage for tea breaks and lunch to dry things off on the AGA. After days like that, a big glass of mulled wine went down very well. My thanks to Phill for a bottle of the spicy mix stuff and to Alan for adding to our stock of red wine.
It was reported that the Caen Hill flight on the Kennet and Avon was all lit up at night until 6th January, so we all trooped off one evening to Devizes (the top of the flight), and walked down an extremely muddy towpath past the first few locks, which were worth seeing, but when we then went to the bottom, hoping to be able to look up the flight all lit up which would have been really spectacular, it turned out that the lit-up locks were only at the top. Low cloud and fog also obscured our view.
We had a cinema outing to Swindon, where four screens showing 'Lord of the Rings' were all fully booked, and the decision was taken that half of us would see the Harry Potter film and the others the James Bond. The only problem was that Harry Potter ran from 7.20 to 10.20, and the James Bond from 8.20 to 11.05 p.m., and as we'd all come in one vehicle there was a bit of waiting around!
Phill Cardy had borrowed a nice new 15-seater BT minibus, which was very useful for getting to site, not to mention going out in the evenings. In an effort to keep it comparatively dean, Katy - who gets herself very wet and muddy every day - had to come with me in a separate vehicle. (Rob Brotherston's small dogs set an example to Katy which I can't see her ever following, and kept themselves fairly clean.) Our thanks to BT for their generosity.
Our thanks to Di for keeping us well fed, particularly with her usual sticky gooey cakes, and she excelled herself on New Year's Eve with a 3-course meal. We had our usual games of Uno to see the New Year in. Our thanks to David, Phill, Rob, Bernd (from Germany), Alan (from Wales - to give it a truly international flavour!), Jeremy, Nigel, and Luke, supplemented with help from locals Lany and Michael, for all their hard work and assistance.
By the end of the camp, the primroses were in flower on the towpath - will Spring come before Christmas next year?
Reprinted from Navvies No 197