We decided to move on Tuesday morning and get our 2018 trip underway properly. Our original plan had been to start by heading into Birmingham by way of the Coventry canal and then the Birmingham & Fazeley with just a short diversion to The Greyhound for my birthday lunch. Over the weekend we decided to give Birmingham a miss completely and head off in the opposite direction. This isn’t as dramatic as it might as first seem, Plan ‘A’ would have taken us from Birmingham to Stratford and on to the river Avon. Plan ‘B’ will bypass Birmingham and take us to Stratford on the Oxford, Grand Union and Stratford canals – assuming that plan ‘C’ isn’t hatched along the way.
Our day had to begin relatively early because our change of plan meant that Caxton was pointing in the wrong direction and so we had to reverse back to the junction. Needless to say, we weren’t early enough and as I reversed the boat slowly towards the narrow section, the bow of another narrowboat appeared under the cast iron bridge and turned towards us. Luckily the large gap at the water points gave plenty of width to the canal and allowed us to pass without incident. Once past the junction, we pulled in to use the facilities but with the water tap being a good contender for the slowest on the system, we left an hour later with just half a tankful. The tank was filled an hour later when we stopped temporarily at Ansty. We were soon underway again and enjoying the sunshine as we travelled through the Warwickshire countryside. It was a perfect boating day really, sunny with light winds and not too hot. We reached Newbold on Avon in the early afternoon, tied up and had some lunch.
After lunch, we decided to walk along the towpath to Tesco at Rugby. We didn’t need anything but it gave us a good reason to go for a walk. Part way along, we made a detour and followed the Great Central footpath which is of course a redundant railway route.
The path ends at the new Elliot’s field retail park, we stopped for coffee and browsed in a couple of shops before crossing the road and visiting Tesco. The return to our mooring only took us half an hour, straight along the towpath to Newbold where we settled in for the evening.
Blue skies greeted us on Wednesday morning, we wanted to move but delayed our start in the hope that we would improve our chances of finding a mooring at Brownsover’s Boughton Road park. The water point was empty when we arrived and luckily enough, the boat which was tied next to us was about to leave, so we pulled back and made use of our long hose pipe to top up our tank.
Only an hour had elapsed since we had left Newbold so with the afternoon ahead of us, we decided to explore the retail parks nearby. This included what could possibly be my last visit to a Maplin store. The retailer is in administration and everything is being sold off at a discount. There wasn’t a lot left on the shelves, awful really, to see this one-time Aladdin’s cave stripped almost bare. Fair play to the staff, they’re still sticking to their task even though it must be difficult to generate any sort of enthusiasm for the job. I bought a soldering iron and a couple of connectors before leaving, feeling a slight tinge of sadness at the demise of this once great retail emporium. Eventually we returned to our mooring and wondered what the following day would bring us. This side of the canal only allows a 24 hour stay so we knew that we had to move, the question being – how far would we be going? We wanted to spend a few more days in the area so we were keen to find somewhere close by, perhaps around the corner where we moored last September.
As usual, we had a very peaceful night at Ansty. I awoke early but there was only the distant hum of the M6 to distract me or maybe lull me back to sleep. We got up and were ready to set off just after eight but were slightly surprised to discover that there was a thick mist surrounding us. We’ve travelled in these conditions before so the mist didn’t deter us from setting off, moving around the bend and under the road bridge to the water point where we topped our tank up. The mist was lifting by the time we set off and we made good time on our way to Hawkesbury, a trip that we have made so many times before. We were pleased to find a mooring on the Oxford side of the junction on a straight stretch of the towpath. The mist had by that time, burned off and we had the promise of a lovely day ahead.
Making use of the hot water for showers, we were soon ready to leave Caxton and walk the two miles to Coventry arena park where we did some shopping at M&S and then had lunch at Chiquitos restaurant.
Lunch was good, if a little expensive and afterwards we walked back to Caxton via the Greyhound where we stopped for a little refreshment. There were half a dozen horses wandering on the towpath and Sue fed them with a few carrots from her handbag. I’ve always wondered why she keeps carrots in there but I know now!
Alright, I have to confess that Sue doesn’t carry carrots or any other vegetables for that matter in her handbag but she did feed the horses with carrots bought from the local shop.
We popped round to Tesco Rugby before setting off and then just after half ten we were on our way. I had bought the makings of a couple of breakfast banjos the day before and Sue soon obliged by cooking up some bacon, eggs and black pudding for me, which I ate along the way while the good lady steered – what a star, eh? (For those of who are mystified by the term “breakfast banjo” just think of your natural reaction when butter or grease or egg yolk drips on your shirt. Yes, you’re playing a banjo!). I was eating mine from a plate so no banjo playing antics on this occasion.
The weather was just about tolerable as we cruised through Newbold on Avon and through the tunnel. Not too cold and not too damp so what more can be asked for? This section of the Oxford canal is one that is very familiar to us so we were quite happy to whizz along through it in the afternoon sunshine. As we approached Ansty golf course, Sue remarked that we hadn’t had to endure any rain on our five month cruise; big mistake! Within minutes the heavens opened and we (by “we” I mean “me” – again!) were drenched.
Luckily, we were only a few minutes away from our desired mooring at Ansty so the rain wasn’t a real hardship and within a few minutes we were moored securely. I have lost count of the number of times that we have moored at Ansty in one direction or the other but we have always been happy with this location. The rain hammered down all evening so of course we didn’t venture out once moored but that didn’t matter to us.
A few boats arrived after we had done and we had some sympathy for them as they attempted to get themselves tied up for the evening.
With high winds and rain forecast for Sunday, we decided that we would end our trip on a high note and travel home today. We set off at seven, seeing nothing else on the move until we reached Sutton’s Stop. The early grey cloud had given way to blue skies by the time we had negotiated the stop lock and the 180 degree turn on to the Coventry canal. The temperature was rising quickly by the time we reached Marston junction and we completed the last two hours of our journey in perfect summer conditions, a perfect end to our holiday.
We got to the marina, dumped the unmentionables, packed a couple of bags and then simply walked home.
We’ve done 168 locks and covered 208 miles in the last three weeks in the space of about 120 hours (about 3 lock miles per hour). The weather has been good with only two days of rain and we sat both of those out in Tewkesbury and Stratford, other than that only two five minute showers while travelling. We found moorings in every place that we had hoped for and explored towns and waterways for the first time. To that end, we can only conclude that we had a successful trip!
Of course we’re now down to the last few days of our holiday and back on very familiar territory so we got up when we awoke at six, got ourselves organised and set off forty minutes later. With two hours between us and the locks at Hillmorton, I steered while Sue got on with some chores. When we reached Hillmorton we saw that there were two lock keepers on duty and that meant that we were out the other end of the flight in about 25 minutes. There were now a lot of boats on the move, mainly narrowboats and then a cruiser came into view, it was Stormin Norman who we hadn’t seen since we parted company on the Staffs & Worcs a couple of weeks ago. We had a laugh and a joke with them as we passed each other again.
We pulled over to take on water at Rugby next to the new retail park, only to discover that the tap is out of order while construction work is being carried out. Shortly afterwards we met another acquaintance, the river Avon, as we passed over it for the last time. Having travelled on it from Tewkesbury to Stratford and then crossed it again near Warwick, it seemed strange to see it below us again near Rugby. So it was on to Newbold on Avon where we filled with enough water to see us through to the end of our holiday.
With boat traffic having eased off, the trip became very easy through these familiar waters and by two o’clock we had reached Ansty where we moored for the night. A phone call to the Rose & Castle secured us a table for our evening meal.
The rings at Ansty aren’t quite spaced right for us so I hammered a couple of pins in at the back and put a spring in the stern line. This next bit is specifically for Steve (nbAmyjo). The picture below shows two hammers. The one on the left is what most boats carry to bang in mooring pins, the one on the right is one that I found in a container sent from Costa Rica. The one on the left makes the sound “dink, dink, dink, dink, dink, dink, dink, dink, dink” as it hammers a pin into the ground. The one on the right goes, “dink, dink, dooff, dooff” and that’s all it takes, it is made from a piece of steel pipe welded to the head from a sledge hammer after all!
We were up reasonably early this morning and set off at eight o’clock. It had been raining but it was dry again when we left our mooring at Ansty. We pootled on along the North Oxford and with the exception of a solitary boat on the move near the M69, we were alone. Alone that was until we reached the last bend before the straight run to the stop lock at Hawkesbury junction. Who should we meet but Richard and Sharon on board Barnowl No. 12, Oakapple. Well it was a bit awkward being on that bend but with nothing else about we were both able to slow to a crawl and have an early morning conversation before going our separate ways. We read each others blogs so we knew where we both had been the day before, it was lovely to see you both again, no doubt our paths will cross again in the future. The steady beat of Oakapple’s engine faded into the distance as we made our way to the lock which happened to be in our favour. Nb Indulgence rounded the bend as we drained the shallow lock which meant that Sue was able to walk round to the service point and wait for Caxton and me.
Half an hour later with the rubbish dumped, the cassettes emptied and the water tank brim-full, we began our trip into Coventry. It started to rain, not heavy, just a steady drizzle and with it being reasonably warm with no wind it wasn’t unpleasant (note to Fiona – “Dry Rain”). Susan took up residence inside at my insistence, no point in us both getting wet I said but the rain didn’t stop until we reached the basin at Coventry.
The only craft that we saw on the water as we made our way into the city was a canoeist!
So what was the trip like, you may ask. Well I think that it was pretty good, the canal wends its way into the city in a convoluted sort of way but it’s strange because it’s lined by trees and parkland. You don’t see much in the way of industry, even the old Courtaulds site which was cleared a few years ago is gradually being taken over by weeds and wild plants. The towpath is of good quality, populated by the odd jogger, a few cyclists and one or two pedestrians. There is graffiti in places but nothing offensive, there are odd bits of flotsam and jetsam in the cut but nothing that is troublesome. If there is one criticism, it would be that there appears to be a complete lack of litter bins along the way, something that the City Council should be ashamed of. It’s noticable, not because there is lot’s of litter strewn everywhere but rather that some good citizens have hung carrier bags to gates along the towpath providing makeshift bins. Now I know that the answer is for everyone to take their litter home but in the absence of bins, it’s a solution of sorts.
As we approached the basin, we saw three kids on the towpath, only aged around ten or eleven but they were hurriedly collecting stones! We did what we normally do and engaged their interest, they dropped the stones and talked to us all of the way into the basin itself. The two boys and a girl were actually alright and maybe we were wrong to fear the worst, we chatted to them as we tied up and answered all of their questions. The three were desperate to see inside Caxton, Sue warned them that they shouldn’t ever get in a stranger’s car or boat. They reassured her that they knew the dangers of being kidnapped by paedos! Sue showed them through the boat while I chatted to the owner of the boat moored behind us. They were suitably impressed and then ran off to annoy another boater who had just arrived in the basin.
The Valley Cruises hire fleet is based in Coventry basin now and they occupy the left hand arm as you enter, despite appearances there is enough room to turn and reverse into the other arm which is what we did.
We walked into the city centre shortly after we arrived in the basin, we’re quite familiar with the place since we only live about 15 miles away so there were no surprises. We had lunch at a pub called The Establishment which used to be the old County Hall and Courthouse, it is reputedly one of the most haunted buildings in Coventry.
We wandered back through the old and new Cathedrals and took some pictures just in case you are one of the people who think that Coventry is just a bombed out city that was rebuilt using concrete in the fifties and sixties. There is a bit of that of course, but there is still a lot of history here too.
Coventry is also home to an excellent transport museum, it’s not far from the basin and the entry is free. We didn’t visit it today but we have been there many times before.
We didn’t take pictures on the way in because of the rain but hopefully we’ll get some tomorrow on our way back, in the meantime here are some pics from around Coventry City Centre.
We had a peaceful night at Brownsover, unlike the last time we overnighted here (Read about it here). With little urgency required, it was almost ten o’clock when we set off on the next leg of our journey. Shortly after, Sue presented me with a bacon sandwich and took over the steering while I scoffed it down, finishing it just before Newbold tunnel. Sue took us through the tunnel now lit only by one coloured floodlight and then went off to make her own breakfast.
There weren’t that many boats on the move as we made our way along the north Oxford but we did pass a modern boat pulling an old butty near the bridge that carries the West Coast mainline over the canal. There was the usual long line of moored boats just after the bend at All Oaks wood, most of which were GRP cruisers, 9 in all. It got me wondering about the collective noun for a gathering of such craft. I know that it’s probably fleet or flotilla but I’m kind of thinking that it should be a Tupperware party.
After passing through the swingbridge at Rose narrowboats, Sue steered while I went for a shower. Eventually, we were re-united with the WCML as we passed under the M6, all three routes will take you to Manchester or Liverpool, it just depends on how quickly you want to get there!
We passed through the golf course and decided to pull up on the visitor moorings behind the Rose & Castle at Ansty. Once secured, we had some green soup that Sue had made which was very good. We then sat in the cratch enjoying the sunshine on this the last day of August. This is the same spot that we had occupied with Phoenix III when she was iced in during the winter of 2010/11 (Read about it here and here). Working close by, I came and checked the boat over regularly but on the first occasion I thought it would be a good idea to heat up some soup and have lunch on board, I have never been as cold as I was on that day.
It was just gone half past six when we awoke, the sun was shining and the sky was blue so we got up, got the kettle on and set off. Sue sorted out a bacon sandwich for me and thus fortified, we made our way to Ansty. By the time we reached said village it was just after eight o’clock and one or two hire-boaters were starting to stir.
We continued through the golf course and under the M6, eventually getting to Stretton stop. We shook off the two boats that we had in tow, a couple of Rose Narrowboats returning to base. With light winds and temperatures in the low twenties, we enjoyed our morning cruise. There was a bit of congestion after we exited Newbold tunnel but nothing serious and then it was clear to Rugby. Boats were moored both sides at Brownsover but we managed to tickle Caxton past them and a couple of oncoming boats before we saw Bruce & Sheila on Sanity Again tied up on the Tesco side of the canal. We had a brief conversation with them and then carried on to Hillmorton where we tied on the visitor mooring.
Off we went into the village, did some shopping in the Londis and then called in the Stag & Pheasant to carry out some research. I had a couple of pints of Stella, Sue had a glass of wine. The staff were pleasant and friendly and we had a sandwich each, pretty basic but at £4 for both of us, no complaints.
We wandered back to Caxton, opened the Houdini hatches and the cratch covers, poured ourselves a drink and started to relax. Minutes later we were joined by Bruce and Sheila who had moved on from Rugby and were now moored a few hundred yards behind us. We had a drink and shot the breeze for an hour before they returned to Sanity Again. Sheila had brought us some chilli plants so we are now looking forward to a crop of spicy peppers later in the year.
Afterwards I put up a couple of artistic works that personalise Caxton for us.
Tomorrow it will be on to Braunston where we will find our new mooring before returning home. Funny really, normally we take the car to pick up the boat, this time it is the other way around!
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.
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.