The trouble with the Kingswood Junction area is that it all looks very neat and tidy, one might even say picturesque, which psychologically creates the illusion that all is well. Certainly walkers will see it this way and possibly many boaters too if they visit the junction infrequently or spend only a modest amount of time each year on cruising. But let us look at it in a bit more detail from the point of view of someone who cruises all year, year in year out and with over 30 years' experience of boating.
The Grand Union Canal passes close to the Stratford Canal at Kingswood and a short link joins the two together giving a choice of four routes. Back in the 1970s the link canal locked up into the lower of the two reservoirs and to navigate the route south towards Stratford required an almost 180° turn to lock back down again outside the maintenance yard. Latterly the line of the link has been cut straight through into the first pound of the Southern Stratford and this pound has been considerably widened to facilitate the 90° turn either to the right or to the left at what has become a 'T' junction. To allow the towpath from the Grand Union to pass over the new section of canal a footbridge has been constructed close by the barrel top cottage. Why, then, are there steps up to the bridge and down from it? A horse could never have negotiated this obstacle whether or not it was pulling 40 tons of boat and cargo!
Some of the other problems in this 'showpiece' area are brought out in the photographs below, all taken in 2006. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge the images.
(a) I have recently learned that the hateful hydraulic paddles are to
be replaced with conventional gear during the stoppages in the winter of
Note: 2010 - They were not replaced!!!!!
(b) In September 2006 I passed through Kingswood Junction again. The refuse disposal point has now moved back from the maintenance yard to lock 19 (see photo above), where it always used to be! There are not enough Biffa bins at lock 19 as some still remain in the car park set aside for private moorers in the lower reservoir. "Plus ca change, plus la meme chose." ("The more things change, the more they stay the same.")
(c) During the stoppages of the following year the razor-sharp edge of the coping of lock 22 was smoothed-over into a curve to prevent rope damage.
In relatively recent years a facilities block has been erected close to Lock 22. This housed a unisex toilet, shower room, washing and drying machine room and, with separate locked access, a space for storing the section's ride-on grass cutter. The shower originally worked off a card payment machine but, very strangely, neither the washing machine nor the tumble drier were provided with card payment machines.
The washing facilities were extensively used both by passing boaters and by those with permanent moorings on either the lower reservoir or the link canal between the lines of the Grand Union and the Stratford Canal. Sadly vandalism eventually occured with, as I understand it, someone loading the washing machine with loose building bricks or similar material and turning it on. Had card payment been required then perhaps this act of wrecklessness would not have taken place. The machines were removed, as I thought for repair, but they never returned. Subsequently two card payment machines arrived and have been installed to control ....... nothing!
Conversely the shower pay machine was removed so that showers could be obtained free-of-charge. A notice directed users to press a "green" button to start the shower though in the event no green button was evident, simply a plain white button! The shower unit had a curtain and folding/hinged solid lower panels. Over time and with frequent use these have become worn and I understand that they are now broken. This permits the shower water to fall outside the shower tray and find its way under the shower room door into the corridor. I had a similar overflow in the past but on that occasion the cause was a blocked shower drain allowing the water to build up in the tray and eventually overflow it. Whilst the toilet is provided with paper and is cleaned by staff, no one thought to lift the shower drain cover from time to time.
I am advised that the free shower has now been taken out of use allegedly because the overflow water soaks up into the wheel-chair-width shower room door initiating rot. Hardly a substantial reason, I think.
Consequently we have a quite sizeable heated brick building which houses one solitary toilet and a ride-on mower! Hardly value for money. Furthermore this building is set in a grassy area provided with "designer" picnic tables and chairs. Some good old picnic tables with integral bench seating made out of a few straight planks of wood is just as acceptable at 1/10th the cost, or perhaps even less!
Very close to lock 22 is a small building containing the elsan disposal facility and, outside, a pay pump-out machine and drinking water tap. The residual current detector trips out from time to time on the pump-out machine. Wierdly, the RCD breaker is located in the privately-owned barrel-top cottage and when the owners are away it cannot be reset! Rewiring would allegedly cost £500 and will therefore not be performed; boaters will just have to put up with the pump-out going out of use for indeterminate periods of time. £500? Surely just a few feet of 3mm twin & earth and a couple of hours with a screwdriver and power drill.
Whereas the Lapworth flight on the Northern Stratford Canal have single top gates with ground paddles and paired bottom gates with gate paddles, the Southern Stratford generally has single gates top and bottom. Ground paddles at the top and gate paddles at the bottom. The locks fill reasonably well but empty too slowly. There is evidence on some of the gates that they used to have a pair of gate paddles but sadly they now have only one inadequately-sized paddle to let the water down into the lower pound. I wonder where these heritage assets have ended up. Many of the gates are heavy to open as the balance beams do not properly balance the gate. This, in combination with the undersized paddle, could lead to locks going 'out of service' simply because the top gate develops a bit of a leak.