Our weekend sort of started on Thursday when we travelled to Braunston after work. After eating our evening meal of chicken breast wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese and pesto, we took a walk around the village only stopping for refreshment at the Old Plough and at the Boathouse before returning to our part time home.
Work sadly continues to intrude and Friday was no exception, the trip to Basingstoke in Hampshire is one that I often make but not normally from Braunston and not normally with Sue either. Thick fog clung to the landscape as we made our way along the Daventry to Banbury road before we joined the M40 at junction 11. We stopped just off the A34 around 8am a short distance from the Peartree interchange where Sue left me and boarded a bus bound for Oxford city centre.
I collected Sue from the same location at half past one, she had endured a hard morning’s shopping followed by lunch at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant in Oxford before returning to the Peartree park and ride.
We were back in Braunston an hour later and we wasted no time in getting ready to leave for the weekend. Unusually, the new engine started with some difficulty but eventually spluttered into life. It proved to be a tight squeeze getting the boat out of her berth but as usual we persevered and left the marina by the private entrance. We had no plans as such but we headed off in the direction of Napton, passing the junction and tying up near the Bridge Inn. We had our evening meal and then took a walk to the pub for a bit of exercise and and a quick drink before returning to the boat for the evening.
It was a misty start to Saturday morning by which time we had decided to turn around and head for Stockton on the Grand Union, a place that we have visited on a number of occasions. We had a delicious cooked breakfast as we waited for the visibility to improve and by nine o’clock we were ready to move on. We saw a few boats climbing the three locks at Calcutt but we travelled down on our own. We saw very few boats on the move as we made our way to Stockton where we eventually moored just before the bridge where the Boat Inn sits.
The mist had well and truly disappeared and we had already enjoyed a couple of hours of blue skies and sunshine before we tied up on the straight above bridge 21. We sorted ourselves out before we started our towpath walk down to the village of Long Itchington. After visiting the local Co-op store we stopped off at the Buck and Bell where I sampled a couple of local beers and we shared a light lunch, a sample platter of bread, hummus, vine leaves and peppers stuffed with cheese. After leaving the Buck and Bell we made our way to the Cuttle Inn just to see what it had to offer and it was alright. We then made our way to the opposite bank and visited the Two Boats where we had another drink before climbing the towpath back to our mooring. We enjoyed the last couple of hours of sunshine on the back deck before we retired for the evening after having a shower. Our pictures of the village are in the gallery: Long Itchington
The last weekend in March as usual means that the clocks move forward an hour as we embrace British Summer Time. Most countries around the world do the same thing but it is known as DST or Daylight Saving Time but I like the fact that we have BST. In my mind it is a statement that time belongs to Britain, re-inforced by the fact that the centre of world time is the Greenwich meridien. Regardless of whether we ‘own’ world time or not, we still have to alter the clocks on board so after we’ve done that and drunk our first tea of the day, we headed off and turned at Kate Boats before starting our journey back. A wide beam would not have been able to continue past this point as the picture clearly shows, presumably hire companies can do what they like when it comes to blocking the canal.
Leaving Stockton behind we made our way back towards Napton but stopped for breakfast just before bridge 19. Another gut-busting cooked breakfast of top quality bacon, sausage, black pudding and egg was enough to set us up for the day and so we set off for our ascent of the Calcutt locks. We waited at the bottom lock while two boats ascending swapped with two on the way down, by the time that those two emerged we had been joined by another which had just pulled out of the marina. We rose through the first two locks together and in an effort to save water, waited for a descending boat and set the locks accordingly. Our plans were scuppered when another boat pulled off the diesel point to ‘steal’ the top lock, well half of it at least! We left our companions behind and joined the lock thief for the last of the Calcutt flight. First out of the lock, we made our way to the junction at Napton, turning left and starting the journey back to Braunston.
We were of course enjoying yet another beautiful day and we decided to stop near the village of Lower Shuckburgh where we could visit the Victorian church that we had admired many times as we passed by on the canal. We weren’t disappointed although it is disheartening to find that like so many other churches, the one at Shuckburgh is locked for security reasons. Lower Shuckburgh
We returned to the boat by way of the footpath that crosses the canal at bridge 105 and then after we untied, we started the final leg of our journey back to Braunston. The fantastic weather had ensured that the canal was full of boat traffic but it was good to feel part of it all as we made our way through the sunlit countryside. It was tickover all the way from Wolfhampcote back to the marina, passing the Boathouse pub we noted that the moorings were full as was the car park and every table outside.
Half past two and we were back in our our berth in the marina, relaxed and satisfied after the weekend which had been blessed by lovely weather. We cleared up the things that we needed to carry to the car and then it was time for us to leave, back to our other life on dry land.
We’ve had a busy winter with one thing and another, so much so that we’ve not actually been out on Phoenix III since mid November. The last month has seen us working on the interior of the boat which now sports a new oak floor as well as a rebuilt front step with matching door inserts and TV cupboard. We got everything installed and finished off this morning so after running up the engine this afternoon we were able to undo the strings and set off for a short hop along the cut. The wind was gusting as we exited the pontoon but we made it around in the desired direction and paused on the loading bay briefly to take on water before emerging on to the Grand union in a northerly direction. As usual it was tickover only until we reached Braunston turn where we took a left and headed in the direction of Napton. It felt very liberating to be out and about again in the fresh air. The sun was heading for the horizon but the wind wasn’t too cold as we made our way in a westwardly direction. Our very pleasant jaunt ended when we reached bridge 102 where we tied up for the evening.
We were awake by 6.30 as the sun started to make an appearance over the horizon, warming the boat, making it creak and groan as the steelwork expanded trying to take the wood panelling with it. A cup of tea each followed by a couple of coffees helped us to drag ourselves out of bed by nine o’clock. After a light breakfast we ventured out into the early spring sunshine and headed off in the direction of Flecknoe, just under a mile away. As we walked away from the canal we could see and hear a boat with a brass instrument playing crew member. The music floated on the wind, following us up the hill towards the village and then there was a sudden fanfare as the boat approached bridge 102, a novel warning to the boat approaching from the other side or perhaps the boat was a part of the Ryanair empire?
We soon reached the village and had a quick wander around, passing by the village hall and then on to the local church where of course we had to resume “Suzy’s boneyard tour”. We checked out the location of the local pub, The Old Olive Bush; too early for a drink but noted for future reference before we turned around and headed back to the boat. Along the way we stopped to speak to a woman on horseback who pointed out some highlights of the surrounding landscape.
Returning to Phoenix III we had another coffee and a slice of cake before we set off to bridge 107 where we could turn around and head back to Braunston. Blue skies and bright sunshine provided the backdrop to our return journey and upon spying a clear mooring outside The Boathouse, we tied up again and bought a pint of bitter and a glass of wine to accompany our homemade lunch. It is only a short hop from there to the marina so after we had eaten we completed our journey, loaded up the car and headed back to our dry land abode.
It was raining when we awoke on Sunday morning, not particularly heavy rain but the sort of constant drizzle that soaks to the skin. We decided to have breakfast and wait for the rain to stop which it did at twenty past ten. We untied and headed for the bottom lock, passing a Rose narrowboat whose crew had decided to tie up and observe the lock before attempting it themselves. We didn’t take too long to ascend the flight despite there being quite a few boats working in both directions and there only being one set of locks open. The sun was poking through the clouds by the time we had cleared the flight and from thereon in we enjoyed a nice relaxing cruise back to Braunston. We stopped at Midland Chandlers to pick up a few bits and pieces before making our way back to the marina where we tied Phoenix III up where she belongs. We spent an hour or so carrying out a few jobs before we locked up and headed back to the car. The weekend had been both pleasant and successful and we started looking forward to our next outing as we drove home.
After a peaceful night, except for the sound of the odd passing train, we sorted ourselves out and were ready to move off by nine o’clock. It was breezy and the sun was obscured by white cloud but it wasn’t particularly cold. We rounded Marston junction a little while later and joined the Coventry canal. The mannequin population at charity dock, Bedworth has expanded and there are now a number of cameo scenes along the bank. We only encountered a couple of boats before we reached Sutton stop and were able to drive straight into the lock without waiting. As we left, we could see a Willow wren hire boat approaching so Sue got back on board in the lock and we left them to it. The crew, a stag party, made an interesting approach to the lock but by the time we reached the Longford bend, they had managed to get the boat into the lock. We encountered another stag party on another Willow Wren boat between the M69 bridge and Ansty but like the first they were well behaved although it was still only eleven o’clock.
The picturesque journey down the north Oxford was peaceful enough until a boat emerged from Brinklow marina causing us to stop rather quickly to avoid a collision. We weren’t so lucky as we emerged from the tunnel at Newbold on Avon. Despite there being enough room for two vessels to pass, the incoming boat still managed to hit us on the bow as he entered.
We stopped shortly afterwards and made a short trip to Tesco on the outskirts of Rugby. Our shopping trip didn’t take long and by three o’clock we were off again, hoping that we would find a mooring near Hillmorton. The hire boats were out in force as we completed this part of our journey but it passed without further incident. We found a mooring at the bottom of Hillmorton locks and tied up there for the night. We decided to go for a walk after dinner and so we headed in the direction of Hillmorton itself. We had only walked a few yards when we encountered ‘Big Phil’ with the braided hair and a couple of other refugees from the Ashby canal. It took us just under an hour to walk up to and through the village before returning to the towpath above the top lock. By the time we reached the Ashby pirates, they had a barbeque on the go so we passed the time of day and then returned to Phoenix III where we settled down for the evening.
We’ve decided to take PhoenixIII back to Braunston this weekend. The forecast for next week is somewhat unsettled and that casts a doubt over whether she will be blacked and back in the water for next weekend. Rather than face uncertainty, we will just have to put the hull blacking off until another time. After dropping the car off at Braunston marina we drove back to Hinckley where we settled our mooring fees and filled the tank with diesel. Shortly after five, we started our journey towards Marston junction and the Coventry canal. With darkness due around eight, we planned to find a mooring before the turn. Stopping briefly before bridge thirteen, we dropped a bag of tomatoes fresh from the greenhouse off with our old mate Jim. We met a couple of Ashby boats heading back to base as well as a pair of working boats heading for the festival at Shackerstone. At half past six we found our mooring just beyond bridge four and the West coast main line. There was just time for dinner on the back deck before the sun went down and we retired to the lounge for the evening.
We awoke to another beautiful sunny day and after some breakfast we untied and left our mooring just after 10 o’clock. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Marston Junction where we met a convoy of boats heading south, the first three were all from the Ashby hire fleet, heaven help the fourth in line. We plodded on up the Ashby but the time just slipped by and soon the warehouses on the A5 came into sight. We pulled up at the Limekilns despite the fact that all the moorings were full and tied on to Jim’s boat Billie. One or two people expressed concern that we had tied up there and another boater offered a mooring alongside his. Jim has a fearsome reputation in these parts but he’s our friend and when he appeared, of course there was no problem. So we sat and had a couple of drinks with him and his friend Rosie. It took a few minutes for the penny to drop when we realised that we were in the presence of the most famous canal pair on television, Rosie and Jim.
We started the last leg of our journey with the final half an hour back to Trinity marina. The trip had been excellent, it all seemed too good to be true and unfortunately that turned out to be the case. Moments after we turned into the marina, an alarm went off indicating that the engine was overheating. We switched off and drifted until we came to rest alongside the posts at the end of the pontoons. We then manouvered using poles and ropes into our new temporary berth on ‘C’ Pontoon.
A subsequent inspection found a split hose which was replaced by the installer, so no harm done!
We had no more trouble overnight and awoke refreshed on Saturday ready for the next leg of our journey. After a delicious plateful of bacon and eggs we set off just before nine o’clock. Needlessly, I kept checking the control panel but the new engine was behaving perfectly as we made our way north on the Oxford canal. It is difficult to put into words the feeling of freedom that boating brings and on this occasion that freedom was enhanced by the feeling that our mechanical problems were well and truly behind us. We each showered along the way making the best use of the hot water being generated. There was a light rain shower just after one o’clock but by that time we had tied up after making the turn at Hawkesbury.
After spending another lovely weekend in Braunston Marina we moved the boat up to the bottom lock on the afternoon of Sunday 7th August. By Saturday 13th Justin (JG Marine) had removed the engine and welded in a pair of new engine rails. The new engine was delivered on Tuesday of the following week and by Thursday afternoon it was installed and ready to go. Later that evening we moved our boat the short distance back into the marina. The new beta38 engine seemed so much quieter than the old CMA and once again we were happy.
Friday afternoon saw us back in Braunston ready for yet another maiden voyage, this time with a new engine. After transferring our stuff from the car we were ready to set off at half past two. A long slow crawl past the many moored boats around Braunston meant that it took us more than half an hour to get under the A45 road bridge. Seven red spires were adorning the off side of the canal, some artists work no doubt. We ploughed on through the afternoon sunshine grinning and laughing as we went along, appreciative of the fact that our mechanical troubles were well and truly behind us.
There was a decent amount of traffic around as we made our way along the north oxford canal. We saw that the new marina at Barby was open although it needs a lot of work still before it becomes fully established.
After passing through the locks at Hillmorton, now singles rather than pairs, we trundled on to Rugby where we moored for the night near bridge 58. We took a walk down to the nearby Tesco before returning to the boat for our evening meal.
Later, as we sat and enjoyed some music we found ourselves under attack from some local youths who had decided to throw missiles at our boat. Armed with a halogen torch, Sue gave chase to those brave souls who could have been no more than eleven or twelve years old. They ran off into the night and that was the last we saw of them.
When we bought our narrowboat we inherited all manner of items left behind by previous owners. One of those items is a board game called “The Narrowboat Game”. We played the game and it is enjoyable without being too demanding. Subsequent internet searches yielded no clues about the background to the game. The only clues are in the box, The rule book has some credits on the back stating that the original concept was by Sue Harvey while Roy Harvey designed and produced it, the copyright is theirs, dated 1994. There is a leaflet in the box too which states:
“The Exciting Boating Game for all the family.
Captain your own narrowboat around the canal system. There are locks to negotiate, a tunnel to go through, an aqueduct to cross, as well as hazard squares and detour squares to avoid. Breakdown vans are called to repair your boat in the event of a mishap. Climb aboard and select your one or two week narrowboating holiday and Good Luck!
This family boating board game is for children of all ages. However the game contains small playing pieces and is unsuitable for small children. We recommend the playing age is from 7 upwards.
Distributed on the Inland Waterways by LOCKMASTER CRAFTS”
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.