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Back to base

Sunday 10th July

 

I thought that it was time to complete the story of how we got back to Braunston despite having a faulty gearbox. After we tied up between locks five and six near Atherstone we decided to have a break, after all this was supposed to be our summer holiday! On Tuesday we strolled into the town of Atherstone and just put the mechanical problems behind us for a few hours. After wandering around the market we found ourselves drifting once again in the direction of the Red Lion and finding sanctuary in the Library there. We spent the evening back on the boat thinking about the rest of our journey, the situation wasn’t ideal but we were on familiar waters with hardly any locks to negotiate, heading in the right direction.

The weather was fair again on Wednesday so we had another wander around Atherstone before having lunch in our favourite venue, The Red Lion. There are many pubs and eateries in Atherstone but to be perfectly honest we haven’t tried any other simply because we have always enjoyed good food, friendly service and a warm welcome in a lovely setting. After lunch we did a bit of shopping before returning to the boat where we prepared for the next part of our journey. We crept up the remaining five locks before stopping at the top to take on water, empty the toilet and chuck the rubbish. There was a queue of boats waiting to descend when a pair of ex working boats chugged past them all and smashed into the top lock gate, claiming first place for the descent. Luckily (for them) this didn’t directly affect us so we edged past them in the opposite direction and left the other boaters to chunter. Unfortunately there are a number of ex working boat owners who seem to think that they have a right to some priority over leisure boaters. That isn’t the case and their boats are just leisure craft too. Oh, and for the record, had we been in that queue, they would have been reversing the “pair” to the back of it even if some force, reasonable or otherwise had been needed. We ended our day back at Springwood Haven where we moored up for the night.

On Thursday morning I took a walk over to the marina and had a talk with the mechanic there about our gearbox problem. He told me that the gearbox we had was still in production but any work we needed would have to be done there. We sorted ourselves out and plodded on down the Coventry canal through Nuneaton, past the entrance to the Ashby canal at Marston Jabbett and on to Sutton stop. We had a slight delay at the shallow lock and then we made our way along the North Oxford before being luckily enough to find a mooring at Ansty, almost in the place that we had abandoned ship in November 2010. We spent some time outside watching the ducks and moorhens messing about on the water.

The weather forecasters had predicted showers for Friday but I was feeling lucky so we untied and headed back to base. We weren’t lucky and after a few sharp showers, the heavens opened in the early afternoon and I got soaked, should have stayed put I suppose!

We passed Treena and Stuart on Carpe Diem heading north after we had passed through Rugby and then we saw another of our old pals, Serendipity Steve (Plays Tuba, Drives Trucks and Drinks Beer) tied up somewhere south of Hillmorton. We eventually reached the marina at half past five, tied up and after eating our evening meal, flopped in front of the telly for a while before turning in for the night.

Saturday morning dawned and after our customary morning cuppa, we got dressed and set off on our trek to get the car back from our house. The trip involved a bus trip from Braunston to Rugby railway station which took forty five minutes and then we drank coffee while we waited another fifty minutes for the train to Nuneaton. The train journey to Nuneaton only lasted twelve minutes and a fair chunk of that runs parallel to the canal that we had travelled along the previous day. Alighting at Nuneaton, we walked across the car park and down the road to the bus station where we caught the 158 service which would get us back to within walking distance of our home and the car. After dealing with the post and checking out the produce in the garden we headed back to Braunston. We’ve decided to live on the boat for the second week of the holiday, get some expert opinion on the gearbox and then decide on whether to repair it or to replace it and the engine. This might seem like a drastic move but we intend to keep Phoenix III for another five or six years and we are fed up of being blighted by the mechanical problems associated with running an obsolete engine and gearbox both of which were built in China. A modern engine and drive-train should bring us some peace of mind and improve the sale-ability of the boat when the time comes.

Change of plan

Monday 4th July

 

Of course I’m writing this with the benefit of knowing how the day turned out but you, dear reader will have to start at the beginning. We left Alvecote at 8am and made our way to Fazeley junction, a journey of two hours, two miles and two locks. After carrying out our chores at BW Tamworth we turned and made our way back to the junction. At this moment I noticed that there was a problem with the transmission, reverse was very poor but forward gear seemed alright. We moored up just around the corner and I surveyed the situation. With oil in the bilge, it was clear that the hydraulic gearbox had developed a problem. We called Streethay Wharf who sent out a marine engineer who checked the box over and decided that we would be safe to carry on if we checked the oil level regularly. Having gained this peace of mind we set off again in the direction of Birmingham. We had no issues at all on our journey towards Curdworth but after waiting for the lock at the bottom of the flight, it was clear that the problem had returned. We emptied the lock and reversed (slowly) out and passing two moored boats, we eventually reached the winding hole where with the assistance of one of the boaters we managed to turn around.

Once we had turned I put some more oil in the gearbox and we were off again, heading back to fazeley. At this stage i had a theory that the oil loss had something to do with engaging reverse gear. We ploughed on unhindered back to the junction and back on to the Coventry canal. When we reached the two locks at Glascote I was careful to keep away from reverse gear, in the event this proved to be a mistake, in actual fact the oil loss was happening when the box was in neutral. Clearing the top lock with an oil top up we ploughed on through the outskirts of Tamworth, heading for the bottom of the Atherstone flight. We reached our intended destination about 7pm and decided to ascend the first six locks to moor near the town.

Stoke Golding to Braunston via Birmingham

Saturday 2nd July

So finally the waiting was over. With a few finishing touches, Cliff was ready to give us custody of Phoenix III. We pulled her out of the polytunnel that had been her home for the month of June, started the engine and turned her around ready for the start of her journey back to Braunston.

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As I left the marina on the water, painter Cliff and carpenter Rick drove out in Cliff’s jeep with Sue taking the car back to Hinckley. I next saw Cliff as I passed through Stoke Golding wharf, home of the Ashby boat company. He sat in his jeep with a beaming smile, as proud as punch of his latest creation.

An hour later and I was pulling in at our old home, the Trinity marina. Sue of course was already there waiting for me with a cold pint of Stella Artois. After dieseling up and buying some gas we were on our way and we cracked open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate. We made a short stop for water just after the Limekilns bridge and then we were really underway with our holiday. We made the most of the summer weather as we laughed and joked our way along the Coventry canal through Nuneaton before tying up opposite Springwood Haven marina.

 

Sunday 3rd July

 

We were both awake by 6.30 so after our customary cup of tea, we got up, untied and headed off in the direction of Atherstone. The journey from Springwood Haven to Atherstone only takes an hour so just after half past eight we found ourselves in the top lock, the first of eleven on the Atherstone flight. We didn’t encounter enough boats coming up to make the descent easy but by midday we had reached the bottom of the hill. From there on in it was a pleasant cruise through Polesworth and on to Alvecote where we tied up opposite the Samuel Barlow pub.

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Re-painted

So finally the waiting was over. With a few finishing touches, Cliff was ready to give us custody of Phoenix III. We pulled her out of the polytunnel that had been her home for the month of June, started the engine and turned her around ready for the start of her journey back to Braunston.

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As I left the marina on the water, painter Cliff and carpenter Rick drove out in Cliff’s jeep with Sue taking the car back to Hinckley. I next saw Cliff as I passed through Stoke Golding wharf, home of the Ashby boat company. He sat in his jeep with a beaming smile, as proud as punch of his latest creation.

An hour later and I was pulling in at our old home, the Trinity marina. Sue of course was already there waiting for me with a cold pint of Stella Artois. After dieseling up and buying some gas we were on our way and we cracked open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate. We made a short stop for water just after the Limekilns bridge and then we were really underway with our holiday. We made the most of the summer weather as we laughed and joked our way along the Coventry canal through Nuneaton before tying up opposite Springwood Haven marina.

Off to the paint shop

We discovered quite by accident that there was to be a stoppage on the Oxford canal at Ansty while Bridge 15 behind the Rose and Castle pub was demolished. This forced us into making the decision to move the boat earlier than we had intended back to the Ashby canal for repainting later in the month. We were undecided as to when we should start our journey but after dinner on Friday evening, we cast off and left Braunston marina hoping that we would be back for the historic boat gathering at the end of June. We could only travel for a couple of hours before darkness prevented further progress but that was enough to get us to Hillmorton top lock where we moored for the night.

There were showers forecast for Saturday, the first real rain for a month but the lengthening days at this time of year meant that we knew we would complete our trip with time to spare. We had a good start, meeting a couple of boats coming up the flight which eased the descent for us. A light drizzle accompanied us as we skirted our way around Rugby and we stopped for breakfast around ten o’clock. The heavens opened shortly after we had eaten our cooked breakfast so we waited until the rain had subsided before untying once again and setting off, the time was half past eleven. We have travelled this section of the North Oxford many times before so we knew that we had three hours cruising to reach the condemned bridge at Ansty. The sky was clearing as we approached Newbold on Avon and by the time we left the northern portal of the Newbold tunnel a few minutes later, we had a summer’s day to enjoy. It was all very enjoyable as we made our way through the Warwickshire countryside in the early May sunshine. We were relieved to see that the bridge was still standing as we reached Ansty and once we had passed under it we knew that our mission was essentially over. We carried on and considered ourselves lucky to find a mooring just before the lock at Sutton stop. Despite the close proximity of the famous Greyhound pub, we were going nowhere after a day’s cruising so we ate dinner and showered before settling down for the evening.

A lot of rain fell during the night but it had passed over by the time we were up and about at eight o’clock. We waited for historic boat and butty pair, Nuneaton and Brighton to clear the lock before we moved through and then around the 180 degree turn on to the Coventry canal. It took the usual hour to reach Marston junction and the beginning of the Ashby canal. We have lost count of the number of Sundays we have travelled this stretch of canal on our way back to Hinckley but unlike our previous journeys, this one would not end in the Trinity marina. We toyed with the idea of mooring at the Limekilns pub but decided to carry on a little further before we moored up near the bridge at Nutts lane, only a couple of hundred yards from our house. We walked home and then went to retrieve the car from Braunston. We would leave the final leg of the journey until the following weekend when Phoenix III will go to Stoke Golding for her nice new shiny paint job.

Braunston to Oxford and back

Tuesday 19th April

Our original intention had been to capitalise on the proximity of Easter to the Mayday bank holiday and take eleven days off work, using only four days of annual leave. The Royal wedding on April 29th threw an extra free day into the mix making it a very attractive prospect indeed. Everything hinges on the weather of course but April had turned out to be unseasonably warm and sunny, so much so that we decided to go two days earlier than planned so that we could really make the best of the favourable conditions.

We had ensured that the boat was completely ready to go when we had left her on Sunday afternoon and so it was that on Tuesday, just before four o’clock, we untied Phoenix III and slipped out of Braunston marina. We had a cold bottle of bubbly on board which was immediately cracked open to celebrate this, our first holiday of 2011 and the first big voyage from Braunston.

The late afternoon sunshine was amazing, delicious almost as we made our way along the Grand Union towards Napton. We encountered little in the way of traffic as we chugged along, congratulating ourselves on choosing a week of settled weather for our spring holiday. We are becoming familiar with some of the landmarks and boats moored along this section and soon enough we passed Wigram’s turn where the Grand Union turns right and heads off on its way to Birmingham. Six o’clock found us at the bottom of the Napton flight and with very few boats on the move we made our way up and through the first four locks where we moored for the night. We were three hours into our holiday but already we felt as if we had been out for ages.

 

Wednesday 20th April

We observed yet another glorious day being created as we sorted ourselves out at seven in the morning. By eight o’clock we had started the engine and were making our way towards the next lock, number 12 on the Oxford canal. The boat behind was also on the move and we were soon joined by a dozen or so young girls who helped us through some of the remaining locks on the Napton flight. It turned out that they were all young carers, children who have to look after their parents for one reason or another. This was their holiday, their break from their normal responsibility, an unnatural situation where the normal role of parental care is reversed. Anyway, they were all bright young girls, very polite and well mannered. We said goodbye to them at Marston Doles but not before we topped up their ice cream fund as a way of saying thanks for their help along the way.

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Much has been written about the trip across the Oxford summit and there isn’t really anything for us to add. Our trip was a lovely one on this perfect summer’s day. Blue skies, the odd white cloud at high altitude and a patchwork of green fields interspersed with the yellow squares of the rapeseed crop. We passed through Fenny Compton just before twelve and decided to celebrate the passing of noon with a glass of cold white wine, well you’ve got to justify it somehow haven’t you?

Claydon top lock marks the southern end of the summit pound and we caught up with two boats waiting to descend there. This sort of traffic jam isn’t a problem really, especially on a lovely day like this and locks by their very nature tend to space everyone out so after the first one we weren’t held up again. North of Cropredy we passed NB Bones, floating home of the Canal Boat magazine columnist, Mortimer Bones. We were fortunate enough to find a mooring in Cropredy, arriving as another boat was leaving.

We had lunch after we had secured the mooring, a cool crisp salad with ham which Sue had cooked the day before, accompanied by some fresh bread which she had baked as we had crossed the summit earlier.

Our journey had taken seven hours but when the weather is as good as it had been, it is no effort at all and the time slips by as easily as the water does as it passes the bow of the boat.

We took a walk around part of the village, dropping off our rubbish at the BW facility before visiting the local church and then back to the boat where we spent the rest of the evening before turning in for the night.

 

Thursday 21st April

We were greeted by another perfectly blue sky when we peered out this morning. We were up and about just after eight o’clock and after we had done our chores, we left Cropredy and headed south. All in all it took us just under three hours to make the journey to Banbury. Despite the fact that it is almost three years since we were last here, we recognised much of the approach to the town.

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We were pleased to discover that there was plenty of space near Tooley’s boatyard next to the Castle Quay centre.

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We took a walk around the town in the April sunshine before returning to the boat. We had a chat with an old man who told us that he was shopping with his wife and that he had been a car worker in Oxford all of his working life. He told us that he had grown up on Osney island so we promised to take a look at it when we got to Oxford. We felt a little sorry for him when he told us that he had always wanted a boat and that if he could he would return to Osney island.

We were looking forward to our evening meal, a casserole made with shin of beef. However, an accident led to Sue dropping the dish on the floor so we found ourselves out shopping again, looking for a replacement. We didn’t starve and after we had eaten we just sat and watch the television before turning in for the night.

 

Friday 22nd April

With the weather still set fair, we got up and left Banbury behind, under a lift bridge and down through the lock with Sue chatting to one of the town’s homeless at the lock. A short service call and then we were off with no particular goal in mind. We steadily made our way through the well spaced locks as we descended towards the Thames valley. The colours of nature were absolutely beautiful as we made our way through rural Oxfordshire.

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We encountered three Australian canoeists along the way but eventually left them behind at Aynho wharf. We stopped for a late lunch at Lower Heyford where we also took on water before continuing on our way south. We soon passed the winding hole which marked the limit of our previous expedition this way in 2008. The afternoon started to lose its heat and our thoughts turned to finding an overnight mooring. We had a couple of incidents at the locks. The first was a day hire boat crew who tried opening top and bottom gate paddles, the second where Sue had to adopt the role of lock keeper and run some water into the pound below the lock to re-float the incoming boat.

Suitable moorings seemed hard to find so we were pleased when we saw that we were able to tie up outside the Rock of Gibraltar pub. The pub is run by a Greek family and after a main course of fish and chips, we indulged ourselves with a home made dessert, Baklava for Sue and a piece cheesecake for me. Both were delicious and can be highly recommended.

It had been a long day but enjoyable nevertheless, especially when we realised that we were only four hours from Oxford.

 

Saturday 23rd April

We awoke early but refreshed after a good solid sleep. Our long trip the day before had ensured that we had plenty of hot water for showers before we set off just before eight o’clock. It didn’t take long before we reached Baker’s lock which guards the passage on to the river Cherwell. From here we could see the giant satellite dishes of the earth station.

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The river passage was a little disappointing really, the water wasn’t as clear as we expected and the additional width of water was masked by the tight bends that we encountered. Shipton weir lock signalled the end of our river passage and we were back on the canal again. We stopped at Thrupp to make use of the services there. We were soon on our way again and making mental notes of mooring places for our return journey.

At Roundham lock, we caught up with a boat that we had admired in Warwick last summer. We had admired the colour scheme so much that we had, for a while decided to have our boat re-painted in a similar way. Since then we had changed our minds a couple of times but seeing Takara the hotel boat on this sunniest of April days had us re-thinking our plans once again.

From Kidlington down to the terminus proved to be a bind, there are a few locks and some difficult to operate lift bridges but it is the miles and miles of linear moorings which are a problem. Apart from the fact that many are either unlicensed or refuse to display their license, there are so many that are moored close to the locks and lift bridges that it makes it difficult to pass through easily.

We reached our destination just after one o’clock and found the visitor moorings opposite College Cruisers hire base empty and appealing. Once secured we opened a bottle of bubbly to celebrate our journey’s end on this, St George’s day!

In the afternoon we took a walk around the city in the sunshine and enjoyed a part of the cosmopolitan life that Oxford has to offer.

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We found these moorings excellent apart from the sound of the railway nearby and the chiming of the bells at St Barnabus’s church nearby.

 

Sunday 24th April

We’re having a day off!

Easter Sunday and we decided to take it easy with a walk into the city and down to Christ Church meadow before returning along the bank of the Thames to our mooring on the Oxford canal.

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We spent the afternoon relaxing in the shade and contemplated our trip up the river the following day, the start of our journey back.

 

Monday 25th April

We wanted to get to Thrupp so we were up early enough to ensure that we would get a mooring mid morning. This meant a six o’clock start but that was no problem to us and after getting dressed in some warmer clothing than on previous mornings , we slipped our mooring and made for the Isis lock at the end of the Oxford canal. Within minutes we were passing under the railway bridge and on to the Thames. At this early hour the sun was only just popping above the horizon, illuminating the light mist hanging above the river. Our trip to the junction with Dukes cut took just two hours and involved passing through two locks. Unfortunately we were too early to have the benefit of lock keeper assistance and had to negotiate the locks ourselves. Godstow Lock with its electric controls proved to be a bit of a challenge but other than that we enjoyed a quiet trip on the wide and deep water of the Thames.

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This is certainly an easier way than the parallel canal. We almost missed the turn on to Dukes cut, unfortunately there are no sign posts to indicate the direction to take. We then almost missed the second junction which would have had us heading towards the now defunct Wolvercote paper mill but saw the error of our ways in time, much to the amusement of a fisherman at the turn. Minutes later and we were back on the Oxford canal, heading northwards once again. We had breakfast on the move and at half past ten, we tied up at Thrupp, just beyond the famous “Jolly Boatman” pub.

We took a walk to the local Co-op for some essential shopping before returning to the boat where we rested for a while and then got showered, the early start had been a little disorientating but in the early afternoon we were ready for a walk to the BW yard where we dumped our rubbish before treating ourselves to an ice-cream. Our work for the day was not done until I had carried out some scientific research by checking out the two pubs at Thrupp. First of all the Boat Inn and then the aforementioned Jolly Boatman. Once we were satisfied that both establishments had passed muster, we returned to the boat once again happy that our “work” was complete.

 

Tuesday 26th April

We noticed that the weather had changed as soon as we got out of bed. The temperature had dropped and we could feel the wind moving the boat so we donned some warm clothing and forgot about shorts and sandals. After our traditional early morning tea, we untied and headed towards the BW yard situated just around the corner from our mooring. It didn’t take long for us to complete our essential services and get underway around twenty past eight. As before, we had no particular destination in mind but we did want to get to Banbury on Wednesday morning so anywhere north of Aynho wharf would be ideal. With the Easter holidays over, the traffic on the cut was light and we encountered few boats on our journey northwards. The strong wind blowing from the north east ensured that we were kept cold while we were busy at the tiller fighting its effects on the steering of the boat. W eventually reached Aynho wharf and moored in the last spot before the bridge. We took a walk over to the wharf shop in search of a bottle of wine but we were out of luck. We decided to nip in to the adjacent pub, the Great Western Arms for a drink and ended up staying for the afternoon. We had a few drinks as well as lunch in this the most perfect of pubs. The ambience, the food, the service, the beer, even the toilets scored full marks. In all of our research trips never have we found anywhere to match this place.

After lunch we managed to drag ourselves back to the boat where we lit the fire and just relaxed our way through the rest of the day until bedtime.

 

Wednesday 27th April

The temperatures were still low although the wind seemed to have abated slightly when we untied and left Aynho. We continued to re-trace our route as we headed north on the Oxford canal towards Banbury where we would hopefully secure a mooring in the town’s Castle Quay area again. We hardly saw anything else on the move, this was confirmed when we passed a stationary vessel whose crew told us that we were the first boat that they had seen, quite remarkable for half past ten in the morning. When we reached Grant’s lock we saw that although the lock was empty, the walls were dry and we realised that we were the first boat to use it since the previous day.

We stopped on the outskirts of Banbury where Sue got off and visited the nearby Morrison’s store before we carried on the short distance to the services just below the town lock. After doing the necessary, we travelled up through the lock and under the lift bridge that marks the entrance to Castle Quay. We found our spot for the night just past Tooley’s, only a few yards away from where we had tied up on our journey towards Oxford. The sun had come out and by the time we had tied up we were able to get the chairs out and enjoy a drink on the back deck in the midday sunshine.

 

Thursday 28th April

We had a slower start to the day with a bit of early morning shopping thrown in before we set off just before ten o’clock. We chugged our way out of Banbury and although the wind was still blowing from the east keeping the temperature down, the sun was virtually alone in the blue sky making it very pleasant indeed. We had no real travelling plans but thought that we would stop somewhere on the summit pound. The locks from Banbury to the summit are nicely spaced out most of the way up the hill and so we plodded onward and upward until we reached the five locks at Claydon which are relatively close together. There were enough boats coming down to ease our passage through these, the final obstacles between us and the highest point on the Oxford canal, almost 200 feet above the city which gives the canal its name. Once through Claydon top lock, we made our way to Fenny Compton where we tied up next to the Wharf Inn. After a short exploratory trip to the pub, we returned to the boat where we ate dinner and then settled down for the evening. We had only been travelling for six hours but since we had done that without stopping we were quite tired and so we had an early night.

 

Friday 29th April

Fully refreshed, we were up and about for nine o’clock not knowing what the day would bring. Weatherwise, it was dull and cool as we made our way through the peaceful countryside towards Marston Doles. At ten o’clock we pulled up, switched on the television and watched the royal wedding. We had chosen our mooring because it was the first stretch with steel piling but when we set off a couple of hours later, we discovered that the un-numbered wooden bridge next to us had the inscription “THE WEDDING BRIDGE MMIX” on its far side – coincidence?

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(Thanks to John and Fi on nbepiphany for the use of this photograph)

We saw a couple of dead lambs floating in the water, too late to save either of them this year (see here for details). This eventually led us to wonder if a farmer can count his sheep without falling asleep?

Reaching Marston Doles, we began our descent towards Napton in the early afternoon. The descent itself was fairly painless but that was a matter of timing. Fridays are a big changeover day for the local hire companies and by the time we were passing the engine house arm, the first vessels of the armada were already on the way up. Much has been written about the boat hirers but we are not the sort of people who want to banish their crews from the cut. What is alarming is just how little tuition the holidaymakers are given before they are allowed to set off. We saw one boat crew enter the lock from below, close the bottom gates and then open the bottom paddles! There were a couple of other examples that we witnessed before we moored just above the bottom lock. We were feeling a little jaded by then so we had decided to rest and finish our trip back to Braunston on Saturday morning. After a walk for a coffee and a pint at the Folly Pie pub and shop we returned to our mooring. By now, the queue of boats waiting to ascend the flight was tailing around the corner. All the local fleets were represented; Napton, Calcutt, Kate and Black Prince. The lower pounds were now quite short of water as a result of more boats ascending than descending, probably five up for each one down. Out of interest, we talked to a number of crews to see if we could work out just how much training they had been given prior to their holiday. As we had suspected, the hire companies seem to be more keen on running through their statutory obligations before despatching the boats like taxis off the rank on a Saturday night.

By half past five we had seen enough and decided to change plans and head back to Braunston. We picked our moment and travelled down through the final lock where we used the services prior to our departure on the final leg of the trip. While I was doing the services, Sue stayed at the lock and assisted the first boat in the queue. She managed to discover that the next boat, a Black Prince hire boat, was crewed by two young ladies who were very worried because they had no idea how to use the locks. Sue suggested that I go back and help them through that first lock, giving them a crash course in operation as well as safety along the way. There is of course a limit to what can be taught in such a short time but hopefully their practical lesson would help them on their way. I’m sure that the company in question would say that the girls had been given enough tuition but here they were, only a few minutes from the hire base trying to use a lock without realising that they needed a windlass! I left them to pick their way through the rest of the flight and returned to Sue and Phoenix III.

It was gone six when we were finally underway but the hire boat entertainment wasn’t over. We were following a Napton narrowboat who were presumably on the last night of their holiday. We watched as they suddenly veered too close to the right hand bank where they got stuck for a few moments. A bit of work with a pole and they were free, they then moved forward without realising that a Braunston Carriers hire boat was already part way around the bend and so the Napton boat collided with its bow at right angles and at some speed. Sitting back at a safe distance, we watched this episode unfold but we were not amused, there is only so much of this entertainment that one can take before the joke wears thin. Luckily for us the Napton boat was now grounded on the other side of the canal so once the Braunston boat had passed through we were able to get on our way again. The sun was sinking fast and we had seen no moving craft when the bridges of Braunston turn came into view. When we reached the marina we made a quick turn and then reversed into our berth before tying up for the night.

We had reached our journey’s end with a long and eventful day but we still had time to reflect on the trip before we turned in for the night. We concluded that we had enjoyed great weather, had moored in some great places and enjoyed our time in Oxford itself. Mechanically and electrically, PhoenixIII had behaved perfectly so we declared this trip a complete success.

Scorching weekend in april

Friday 8th April

The weather forecast for the weekend almost seemed too good to be true, full sunshine, no wind and twenty degrees, perfect boating weather. Apart from having the boat out in the sunshine, we needed to test her out after servicing the engine the weekend before. We also had a new set of domestic batteries to install ready for the new cruising season.

We arrived at Braunston just after half past four in the afternoon and after moving off our berth and nearer to the car we loaded our belongings and swapped the batteries over. We were ready to set off by six o’clock and this we did, on to the Grand Union in the direction of Napton. The sun was still bright even though it was sinking an hour later when we stopped for the evening just before we reached bridge 103. We had eaten pizza along the way so there was nothing else to do except sit on the deck with a glass of wine until the sun finally said goodbye for the night and dropped below the horizon.

 

Saturday 9th April

We awoke to see that the sun was already up and very bright, opening the curtains we saw that once again there were no clouds in the sky. By ten o’clock we were ready to untie and drive off once again. It felt more like late May than early April as we made our way to Wigram’s turn. There were already quite a few boats moving and we paired up with one of them, Ol’ Bess, at Calcutt top lock. The two boats ahead of us were a hire boat and a private one, unsurprisingly, the private one had to call for diesel at the boatyard, leaving the inexperienced hire-boat crew to fend for themselves. The locks were busy but we descended without incident and waved goodbye to Ol’ Bess and her crew when they turned into the marina below the bottom lock. We carried on until we neared the top of Stockton locks and moored about a hundred yards away from the Boat Inn. We ate lunch outside before walking down to Long Itchington. We ventured no further than the Two Boats Inn where we stopped for a drink before returning to the boat via the Blue Lias and the Boat Inn. We soaked up the early spring sunshine for a second evening before retiring.

 

Sunday 10th April

We wanted to get up early and turn around at Kate Boats hire centre before the canal traffic got too busy so we were on the move for eight o’clock. It was another sunny day but there was enough of a chill in the air to remind us that it was still April and the good weather was unseasonal, not the norm. It took us an hour or so to reach Calcutt locks once again and then the fun began. The two boats ahead of us decided to sit in the bottom lock until the middle lock was ready for them. The boat that we were paired with was a hire boat and it was clear that they had no idea what they were doing. A child holding their centre rope stretched over our roof threatening to whip our chimney off, a female crew member who seemed to think that her role was to take photographs and leave the gatework to us. We used the same excuse that the boat on Saturday had used and let this hire boat go ahead without us. We then ascended the first of the remaining two locks with another private boat but had to finish the flight alone because they were going for diesel – or were they??? Perhaps they didn’t want to travel with us? Travelling through broad locks is a bit like life itself, you don’t always know who you’re paired up with until it’s too late. If you’re lucky and you get a good one, the whole experience seems effortless. Get a bad one and all you want to do is to find any excuse to escape!

We emerged from the junction at ten o’clock and turned back towards Braunston. The chilly air gradually gave way to the sort of conditions that we had experienced the day before and just after midday we chugged into the marina where we filled the tank with diesel and bought some gas for cooking. The mechanical and electrical trials had been successful and we were now fully prepared for our Easter holiday in eleven days time. It seemed a shame to go home so we decided to stay another night on board and then drive back to Hinckley in the morning.

First trip from Braunston marina

Since we moved Phoenix III to Braunston we have enjoyed a few weekends on board, living in the marina, walking around the countryside and indulging ourselves in the village pubs. Friday afternoon saw us travel to Braunston once again after a three week break from the boat. We had no real plans at all for the weekend so we settled in for the evening after lighting the fire and having dinner. A bottle of wine and a bit of telly in front of a roaring fire at the end of the week is rather soporific and so we turned in for the night still none the wiser as to what we would do the following day.

Technology is a wonderful thing so before we got out of bed on Saturday morning we checked the news using Sue’s iPad. A huge earthquake followed by a tsunami had struck Japan the day before and we wanted to find out the latest news. The situation had deteriorated overnight with an explosion at a nuclear power station so after a brief discussion about it all, we got up and got dressed. A bit of sunshine poked through the clouds and we made our minds up to have breakfast and then get out on the cut. Just after half past ten we had started the engine and untied the strings before edging out of Braunston marina, under the iron bridge and on to the Grand Union, heading towards the junction. Moored boats dictated that we travelled at tickover speed but that didn’t matter, we were in no hurry to make our journey in the direction of Napton. we expect that we will travel this stretch many times in future in the same way that we used to travel the Ashby canal when we were moored in Hinckley. We met a good number of boats on our journey but we made steady progress in a westerly direction. It was windy and the sun played hide and seek with us for most of the way but we enjoyed the two and half hour trip to the winding hole just below the bottom lock at Napton. After we turned around we made our way back to the Bridge Inn at bridge 111 where we tied up on the visitor moorings.

We sat and studied the map before locking the boat up and beginning what would turn out to be a tour of all of the public houses in and around the village of Napton on the hill. First up was the Bridge Inn just a few minutes away from the boat. It would have been easy to while away the afternoon in front of the open fire in the lounge but at this time of the year The Bridge closes at three o’clock so after one drink we headed up the road and soon found the next watering hole, the King’s Head. Another open fire to seduce us but again after one drink we stomped on and up the steep hill to the village centre. After about ten minutes we had reached the summit and were starting to descend again when we saw that the footpath led straight to the third pub of the day, the Crown Inn. Another pitstop there before we headed ever downwards to the village store and then back to the canal bank and oh my goodness! Yes, another pub in the form of the Folly Pie Pub. It seemed rude to ignore it having visited every other hostelry in the parish so we went in and had another drink. We left soon after and walked the mile along the towpath back to Phoenix III. It was six o’clock when we got back. We had been out for four hours, walked three miles and visited four pubs. One less pub and a blonde wig would have given this story a great title, “Goldilocks and the three pubs” but you can’t have everything!

We awoke at six thanks to the noise of ducks jumping all over the roof and deck of the boat. We dropped back to sleep and woke again a couple of hours later to hear light rain falling on the steel roof. By the time we had got up and had breakfast, the rain had passed and we set off just before midday. We made the trip back to Braunston in just under two hours, stopping for water along the way. We turned the boat around just outside the marina entrance before reversing in to our berth. This is a fairly complex manoeuvre at the best of times but today there were plenty of spectators on the bridge and bank. We made our entrance perfectly and turning to our audience of gongoozlers, saw that they had lost interest, presumably when they realised that there was going to be no cock-up to observe. By the time we had tied the boat to the bank the sun had come out as the clouds quickly disappeared so we had a glass of wine on the back deck to celebrate our maiden voyage from our new home in Braunston marina. We spent an hour or so carrying out a few chores and odd jobs before taking a walk up past the lower locks of the Braunston flight. We noted that the Admiral Nelson has re-opened so we will check it out next time we are in the area. We watched a wide beam boat negotiate the bottom lock before returning to the marina. The sun was still shining as we gathered our belongings and prepared to return home.

Six weeks later

For six weeks we visited the boat on a regular basis, testing the thickness of the ice and hoping for some sort of thaw. After a couple of false dawns, the visit on Friday 7th January revealed that not only was the ice only 30 – 40 mm thick but that some brave soul had already broken through. It was impossible to know in which direction the mystery boat or boats had travelled or indeed how far they had gone but with another day and night of above freezing temperatures forecast, we were confident that we would be able to complete our journey over the coming weekend.

Saturday morning saw us carting some essentials to Ansty ready for our trip. The cold weather had taken its toll on the starter battery so we had to wait for a while, charging the battery from the generator and warming the diesel injectors and inlet manifold with a hairdryer. After coaxing the engine into life and letting it run for half an hour, we untied and set off, giving a cheer as we left our “temporary” mooring.

The journey down the north oxford canal was most pleasing on this sunny Saturday in January, it was cold but we were well protected with thermals and many layers of clothing. Our aim was to reach Hillmorton for our overnight stop but with not so many moored boats along the way and very few on the move, we were at the bottom lock at half past two. So far we had passed through areas with broken ice and some with none at all, we had seen the coal boat selling a huge number of bags to one grateful boater but in general we had enjoyed a quiet cruise in the winter sunshine. We decided to ascend the lock flight and were pleasantly surprised to find each lock empty and therefore in our favour, this resulted in us leaving the top lock after only 22 minutes! We kept on going, our progress only hampered by the low level sun in our eyes. Along the way we enjoyed a game with Jack, a dog being walked on the towpath who ran up and down as we passed by. He accompanied us for about half a mile before we felt that we should stop to allow his owner to get him back on his leash. Pressing on, we eventually found a good mooring to the south of bridge 78 where we tied up for the night. Feeling very pleased with ourselves and safe in the knowledge that we were only four miles from our destination we settled down in front of the fire for the evening.

It was cold on Sunday morning, the fire had only stayed in for a part of the night and there was a hard white frost outside. We switched the heating on and had a cup of tea before it was warm enough to get up and have some breakfast. We were in no rush to move on since we had such a short trip to make. Just after half past nine we were ready to move and although we encountered some patches of thin ice we made good steady progress on our way to Braunston.

As Braunston village came into view we could hear the church bells ringing out, calling the faithful to service or as we believe, welcoming us to the area. We stopped twice before we reached the marina, once to dump our rubbish and once to plan our manouvre into the berth. We reversed the boat into the marina and using tiller, engine, pole and feet, we were soon tying up in the berth that wiould be our new home. The berth is on the sunny side of the marina so despite the cold weather our first experience of life in Braunston marina was as picture perfect as it could be.

After a short stroll around the marina, we walked along the towpath to the canal shop where we looked at local maps. Moving on to the third lock we discovered that once again the Lord Nelson pub has closed down. We then made our way up to the village where we stopped at The Wheatsheaf for a drink before walking along the main street on the way back to the marina. We were back on board before it was dark where we waited for our friend Simon to come and take us back to Ansty.

By 7pm we were back home, pleased that our boat was where it needed to be, safe in its new home. At last we could stop examining every weather forecast, at last we could stop hoping for the ice to melt. We can finally look forward to another year of cruising from our new base in Braunston.

Moving On

Back in July we decided to move on to pastures new. We have berthed Phoenix III in the Trinity Marina at Hinckley since we bought her in October 2007. Having cruised up and down the Ashby for three years we felt it was time to have a new base. Braunston is 25 miles or 35 minutes away from Hinckley by road but between 12 and 13 hours away by boat. Not only would a move to Braunston give us a new starting point with a greater choice of routes, we expect that we will spend a good number of weekends on the boat in the marina itself.

braunston0

 

Two days after we returned from our winter break in Fuerteventura and it’s time to leave the marina for the final time. Despite the cold weather, we have a symbolic glass of wine after we fill the diesel tank and start our chilly journey to Braunston. We hope to complete our journey by Sunday afternoon and have already left a car at the marina in preparation.

We left Hinckley just after half past two and tied up an hour and a half later near Burton Hastings. We expected a cold night but were surprised at how cold it actually was when at 10pm we saw that the generator which had been running for six hours was encrusted in white frost.

We awoke at 6am and were pleasantly surprised to find that the fire had stayed lit and kept the chill off the boat. We switched the heating on and by 7am when we had drunk our morning tea and climbed out of bed, the boat was lovely and warm. It was soon light enough to see that there was a covering of overnight snow on the frozen canal. Half an hour later and we were off, sort of! Our progress was slow as we smashed our way through the ice on our way to Marston Junction but we reached the turn at around 8.45 so we hadn’t lost too much time.

The turning manouvre itself took about ten minutes as we crunched our way through ice up to an inch thick but soon we were heading south on the Coventry canal towards Sutton Stop. We almost jumped for joy when we reached The Navigation pub and saw that a boat was somewhere ahead of us, judging by the seven foot channel cut in the ice.

Our elation was relatively short lived when we caught up our “pilot ship” just before the turn at Hawkesbury Junction. Another difficult manouvre and then we were through the frozen stop lock. We had expected that the sun would be at least softening the ice and that we might encounter an oncoming boat. Neither of our wishes came true and by the time we had smashed our way to the M69 road bridge we realised that we were travelling at about two thirds of our normal speed. Our concern wasn’t really with how far we would get but with where we would end up. With the canal still frozen, another sub-zero night forecast and no-one else on the move, we figured that we probably wouldn’t be able to move at all on Sunday. We decided to tie up at Ansty, still a long way from Braunston but close enough to civilisation to make the situation manageable. Decision made, we retired to the Rose and Castle at Ansty for an excellent lunch before calling our friend Nigel with a plea to pick us up and take us home. Despite the time we had spent battling our way to Ansty, we were only ten minutes from Hinckley and so by half past three we were back in the comfort of our home. Once again, we have abandoned Phoenix III and now we just have to wait for some sort of thaw before we complete our voyage.

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