As we approached Woolhampton, we tied up safely against the swift current, to the steel approach balustrade of the Wickes Knight Footbridge and planned to remain there for two nights.
Our mooring at Woolhampton
It turned out to be a beautiful mooring and even though we were surrounded by tall thickly wooded areas on both sides of the river, our solar panels benefited from the Sunshine all through the day as the Sun rose and set in line with the course of the river.
On the first morning we set off towards Woolhampton, past the ‘Rowbarge’ and over the busy swing bridge into the village with its ancient Tudor cottages festooned with climbing rose beckoning us onwards. The railway station had been modernised but otherwise nothing appeared to have changed in sixty years.
For it was here, or at least up on the hill behind the village, that I spent four of my formative years. Between nineteen fifty three and nineteen fifty seven I was at Douai School, part of the Benedictine abbey of the same name. They were good and memorable years and though unfortunately the school closed down at the beginning of this century, the abbey still flourishes and every time I pass on the Kennett and Avon I enjoy the pleasant walk and pilgrimage up the hill to my fond alma mater.
The old school buildings, now modern flats
Sixty years afterwards
The eastern end of the abbey church
The completed western end of the church
The abbey itself is only a hundred years old and whilst I was at the school the abbey church, the building of which had begun in the 1930’s, was incomplete. It had been planned in a gothic cruciform style but only the eastern arm had been completed before work stopped (through lack of finance I believe) and a kind of temporary lean-to garden shed effect was added to the open end to protect it from the weather.
The medieval cathedral style was never completed and towards the end of the last century a modern but very beautiful bell end was built and the abbey church was finally completed with a most complementary mixture of two entirely different styles.
Janis and I enjoyed coffee at the visitor centre, new since I was there and discovered that there was a choral concert scheduled for Saturday evening. So in order to see The Wayneflete Singers perform Rossini’s ‘Petit Messe Solenelle’, we decided quickly to stay a third night at our mooring.
The second day was again full of Sunshine so out came our folding bikes and we cycled the three miles further west along the towpath to the town of Thatcham. It was market day and the little town was bustling about furiously, mostly in their four-by-fours I have to say, but it was very pleasant to sit outside a café drinking our coffee whilst watching the world go by.
The Slender Speedwell
The morning after the excellent concert we moved on westward and at our next mooring in Newbury we managed to secure widely separate moorings above the town lock and it was here that our friend Pip joined us for a few days. Apart from the centre of the town now being mostly pedestrianised Newbury too was relatively little changed since the days when I would hitch hike here along the A4 on single day holidays, holy days that happened frequently throughout the school year.
Newbury is memorable also, especially one particular seat by the town lock where ‘Futurest’ was moored, in that it was here that I proposed marriage to my now deceased wife way back in 1963 (though now it doesn’t seem so long ago)
After two nights in Newbury the two little ships moved on to the pretty village of Kintbury where the three of us walked the one and a half miles to Avington, by precarious footpath, amongst dangerously healthy looking, waist high Stinging Nettles. We survived and were rewarded there by the most delightful little church, which apart from a change of roof from thatch to tiles, was almost entirely unchanged from the time, in the Norman era, that it was built.
Red Admiral in the Lock
Avington Village is set in parkland and consists only of the church, four Twentieth Century brick built cottages and the Manor House, at the moment being refurbished. We managed to secure the large ancient key to the church from a hook at the front door of one of the dwellings and so were able to enjoy the dark, cool solitude inside the church for quite some time while we surmised the archaeology of its different features.
The simple interior of the Norman church of Avington
And now we are at Hungerford, about halfway-ish along the Kennett and Avon Canal to Bristol. Here there is a Tesco, so we can re-provision our little fleet. Pip left us yesterday afternoon; it had been good to see him again and tomorrow we plan to move on.
Our mooring at Hungerford