The International Steam Pages

Messing with Boats... 2012

For convenience I have now grouped lifestyle illustrated features by topic:

This page is just one of several describing aspects of our '2012 new life', for earlier and later pages use the West Gloucestershire link above.

My opinion of the average Chinese tourist to the UK is unprintable, they make their 'Ugly American' counterparts look like a model of sophistication and good behaviour. When showing Yuehong's aunt and her husband round 'my Middle England' I knew I couldn't completely avoid them but I tried to minimise our contact with them. So on the day out to the pile of stones that is Stonehenge, there was a parallel series of visits to the lesser known restored Kennet and Avon Canal which forms part of a link between the River Thames and the Severn Estuary. The canal was completed in 1810, but its importance declined as soon as the Great Western Railway was completed between London, Bath and Bristol in 1841. It fell into disuse but was restored in the second half of the 20th century and reopened throughout in 1990. These days it is a rightly popular heritage tourist destination especially for boating.

Our first visit was to the Dundas Aqueduct just south of Bath where the canal passes over the railway (invisible behind) and the River Avon on a bridge the magnificence of which reflects its location.

Heading east, just before Devizes there is a flight of 16 locks at Caen Hill, a quite extraordinary sight and which take several hours to negotiate for a narrow boat. This sequence shows a boat starting the descent from the top. As the locks are so close together a pond is needed to store water for boats coming in both directions. Opening (and closing) of the lock gates is done by hand and since they leak, it's difficult to get enough water out of the lock to open the lower gate...

One down, just another 15 to go...

Canals traditionally have water supply problems in their summit areas and in this case a set of (steam powered) pumping beam engines were installed at Crofton. Although day-to-day pumping has been done by electric pumps since the 1950s, the currently installed engines are serviceable and are run on selected summer weekends each year ( During our visit, the Lancashire boiler was still warm from being fired up three days earlier.

There are two engines, both condensing beam engines. The older one, (30 inches, Boulton and Watt 1812) is a 'lift pump' and the other (42 inches, Harvey of Hale, 1846) is a 'force pump' - the difference is explained on the museum website. The shear size makes photography almost impossible:

Having seen beam engines operating at Papplewick, Kew Bridge and Tottenham, I would love to come back and see these in action too, but without a car that's unlikely to happen.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson