I mentioned in my last post that we were reviewing our plans for the rest of our trip. Our initial thoughts had been to continue south from Loughborough, through Leicester and eventually Braunston where we would join the Oxford canal and then head back to the Ashby canal. When we thought about the thirty five broad locks between Loughborough and Foxton, the limited moorings available in Leicester and the prospect of travelling over the long, lonely summit to Crick, we were hardly filled with enthusiasm. The alternative was to simply turn around, re-trace our steps to Fradley and turn left on to the Coventry. This shorter route would get us home in the middle of August but it would leave us free to do other things before the autumn set in. It was an easy decision to make so on Sunday 5th August, we got up early and turned the boat around and started on the descent towards the river Trent. It was hot and sunny again but we reached Sawley marina just after one o’clock and managed to find a space to tie up for the rest of the day.
We had another early start on Monday 6th and enjoyed a fresh breeze as we passed under the M1 again and then found ourselves on the Trent & Mersey canal. Pressing on through Shardlow, we were joined by a three generation family on nb Heron and that made the remaining broad locks very easy. They stopped for lunch while we carried on until we were almost at Willington w,here we managed to find a shady spot and escape from the sun’s heat.
On Tuesday 7th, we moved early again with an overnight mooring at Barton Turns marina in mind. The narrow locks seemed like nothing compared to the broad locks and our progress felt swift as we reached the marina entrance. I had just started to turn in when a boat leaving the marina came into view. I stopped and fortunately they were not turning our way, however as we both manoeuvred our craft, another narrowboat appeared from the opposite direction to us and proceeded to steer around the back of Caxton. The three boats formed a triangular pattern in the marina entrance for a few moments and then we were all on our way again. We had a good afternoon in the marina and then had pizza in the Waterfront restaurant, taking advantage of their two-for-one offer.
Wednesday, surprise surprise, we were up early again and motoring on to Fradley junction. It was a straightforward trip and soon we had done the locks and turned on to the Coventry canal. It was still fairly early when we moored at Whittington so we walked up to the village and caught the bus into Lichfield where we spent the afternoon.
Thursday 9th saw us moving on to Tamworth, a place that we haven’t visited before so we took the opportunity and walked into town. It was alright, too. We saw the castle but didn’t visit it, instead choosing to read of the town’s history on the numerous information boards dotted around. We did a lot of walking and got back to our mooring in the late afternoon.
Rain had been forecast for Friday 10th but we didn’t see any of it until we reached Grendon where we filled with water, we then pushed over to the other side of the canal and moored up for the day.
Our mission on Saturday 11th was to go half way up the Atherstone flight and stay there for the weekend and that was exactly what we did. We met enough boats coming down to make the ascent relatively easy and we had no problem finding a space below lock 5. It’s only a five minute walk to town from there so we enjoyed a few hours in the sunshine on Long Street, the main thoroughfare in the town. For old time’s sake, we also had a couple of hours in the library room of the Red Lion Hotel reading the papers.
Having travelled every day for seven days and with rain forecast to fall throughout Sunday, we were expecting to stay put until Monday the 13th. There was little rain throughout the morning on Sunday and the sky brightened up around one o’clock so we decided to get the remaining five locks done and out of the way, leaving us with a straight run home the following day. The ascent of the locks was easy, lock five was empty as a boat had just passed us. As we rose in the lock another was working down lock four. The same happened at lock three with the added bonus of a volunteer lock keeper on duty. In fact, the top three locks had lock keepers, so much so that our passage through took just under three quarters of an hour. The following ten minutes were not so straightforward for us. As we approached bridge 39, an ABC hire boat appeared. This shouldn’t have been a problem as we were a long way from the bridge ourselves. Unfortunately, the steerer was going a little bit faster than his skill level should have allowed him to, he messed his line of approach up and then panicked, steered the wrong way and ended up across the canal on a collision course with a moored boat. We had stopped and reversed out of the way, not wishing to become part of the entertainment. A woman appeared on the deck of the ABC boat, took the tiller and got everything under control again so we started approaching the bridge again, just in time to see the bow flashes of another narrowboat appear. No drama this time but we did have to stop again. Forty five minutes to get through five locks, ten minutes to get under a bridge! Just to complete the whole Atherstone experience, a teenager threw a stone at us and hit the boat as we passed under bridge 38.
We tied up near Hartshill for the day, leaving ourselves with just twelve lock free miles to cover on Monday morning.
There’s not a lot to say about the final leg of our journey really, an early morning start under a dull sky and the feeling of a bit of rain in the air. Through Nuneaton with only the odd dog walker for company and then back on to the Ashby canal at Marston junction. We weren’t really sure if we would encounter low water levels after the long hot summer – the Ashby can be shallow at the best of times. As it turned out, we had no problems at all. We had heard that water has being getting pumped into the Coventry canal from the quarries at Hartshill (it flows in near the Anchor Inn to be precise) to maintain the level and since the Ashby is on the same pound, it seems to have benefitted too. By the middle of the morning, we reached Hinckley and the Trinity marina where after sorting out a berth and completing the relevant paperwork, we tied Caxton up and walked home.
That might be us for this year now, maybe the odd short cruise here and there but we have no plans for any long trips.
Last year I summarised the statistics for our trip so I thought that I might as well repeat the exercise here.
Number of weeks spent on board – 17
Miles travelled – 314 (504km)
Locks – 221
Tunnels – 4
Counties visited – 8
Blog posts – 45
We didn’t sleep well, bounded on three sides by the West Coast Main Line, the A5 and Holly lane which carries scores of trucks in and out of the ALDI distribution centre, our mooring provided us with enough intermittent noise to disturb us all night. We got up at 6.30, had a cup of tea and got underway by seven o’clock, entering lock six a few minutes later as the chamber was full and in our favour. It has been long written that the Atherstone locks are like piggy banks, slow to fill and fast to empty but the gates and some of the paddles are leaking so badly that we encountered three full locks (German Piggy Banks) and three empty with bone dry walls (Greek Piggy Banks).
We were clear of the bottom lock by 8.20 and took turns at having breakfast on the way towards Tamworth. After
Goldilocks Sue had finished her porridge she went in for her shower and no sooner had she done so than the excitement started. A strange and regular tinkling sound started emanating from under the deck as we approached Polesworth so I slowed and pulled into the side to investigate. No sooner had I pulled over than a lady with purple hair and sleeve tattoos ran up and advised me not to moor in that spot because there was a wasp’s nest somewhere in the bank. I thanked her and explained that it was just just a short stop while I looked at the engine. The noise had stopped by this time and as suspected I found that one of the drive belts had shredded itself, fortunately the one that drives the Travelpower unit so just a minor inconvenience; well for Sue at least! Moving away again, I was unable to avoid nudging the boat tied in front slightly thanks to the oncoming narrowboat deciding at the last minute to move back into the middle of the canal. It wasn’t much but I did apologise to the owner as I passed by. As soon as the action was over, Sue appeared wondering what the various noises had been.
We plodded on in the morning sunshine to Alvecote where we stopped to see if the boatyard had a replacement belt but unfortunately they didn’t have the right size so we untied and motored on again. A bit of traffic at Glascote helped us negotiate the two locks there, the first boat up was a bit of a scruffy affair, crewed single handed by a well spoken young man who told me that he was taking it to London where he was going to refit it and refurbish it; no doubt someone else thinking that this will give him cheap accommodation in the capital.
Peel wharf at Fazeley was occupied so we didn’t bother stopping for the services and instead carried on through Hopwas to Whittington where we have moored for the evening. The weather has been excellent again, if a little windy, although we suffered a short sharp shower for five minutes in the last half hour of our cruise. We later took a walk up into the village and checked out the Bell Inn and the Co-op, the former was a nice clean village pub with decently priced drinks and advertising a Sunday carvery for £6.95. The latter was, well just another Co-op really.
We returned to the boat where Sue prepared dinner and I tried desperately to get an internet connection, finally using my laptop outside connected to a BT wifi somewhere.
16 miles and 8 locks today.
Our plan for this trip had always been to get into Braunston for Tuesday 13th May and then I would go back to work the following day. In getting to the top of Atherstone locks last night, the run back would be simple enough, Hawkesbury today, Newbold on Sunday, Braunston on Monday.
It was bright and dry when we got out of bed although it soon became apparent that there was a strong wind blowing. We untied and set off just after nine o’clock, heading towards Nuneaton. Sue posed the question as to whether we had time to “nip up” the Ashby to Hinckley and collect a couple of chairs from home that would fit in the cratch. There would be time but I had other ideas, I suggested that we could stay on the Ashby for a few days and as long as we were near home on tuesday, I could use Sue’s car to go to work with mine being parked up at Braunston. On Friday we would recommence our journey south to Braunston. Sue agreed with the suggestion and rewarded me with a breakfast sandwich of bacon and black pudding!
It’s two years since we were last on this stretch of water and we were surprised to see just how much housing development has taken place on the outskirts of Nuneaton. The trip through Nuneaton was fairly quiet with not many boats on the move at all. The rain behaved itself with the odd shower now and again but the wind wasn’t so benevolent, particularly in the exposed areas. The turn at Marston junction on to the Ashby was a bit of a challenge but we made it. The second challenge came at bridge 5, an awkward one at the best of times but today we met a convoy of three boats and had to try and hang about in the wind as they each came under the bridge. Half way to Hinckley we found our old friend Jim moored near the corner at Burton Hastings where we faced our third and final challenge of the day. As we went into the corner the wind kept pushing us towards the line of long term moored boats, the end one, Carpe Diem owned by Stuart and Treena coming closest to getting clunked. In the end, I wrestled Caxton around the corner to safety and we continued on to the Lime Kilns where we have moored for the rest of the day.
It didn’t takes us long to walk home and pick up the chairs and a few other bits and pieces before returning to the boat where Sue quickly rustled up a chicken curry.
Blue skies greeted us when we awoke at Alvecote on May 9th. Our research expedition to the Samuel Barlow pub the night before had been a good one. We didn’t eat there but the place was spotlessly clean and the staff were very pleasant and courteous.
The blue skies were accompanied by strong winds but we set off regardless with the intention of mooring at Atherstone for the day. We didn’t see many boats on the move, it was quiet except for the odd train or two on the West Coast main line. We eventually reached the bottom of the Atherstone flight but before we started our ascent, we pulled up and serviced the boat at the CRT facility. The first two locks were easy because we had boats coming down, the next two were alright too because the chambers were empty and although the final two of the day had to be emptied before we could use them, we had the help of a volunteer lock keeper on lock six. After we cleared that lock, we took up the last space on the visitor moorings below lock five. It was just before midday so we locked Caxton up and toddled off into town for some shopping and lunch at the Red Lion. We later ambled back down the towpath to just generally laze about on board Caxton for the rest of the afternoon.
At six o’clock we decided to take advantage of the evening sunshine and work our way up through the remaining five locks of the Atherstone flight. It only took us an hour, there being no other boats on the move and with space to moor above the top lock, we settled in for the rest of the day.
Whilst that concludes today’s post, there is a bit more because today is a little bit special.
My interest in boating came from a couple of family holidays when I was a teenager. My parents and my youngest sister had many more over the years but Alvecote always makes me laugh when we pass through now and I recall the start of one holiday. A boat had been hired from a company who used the small basin at Alvecote, we stowed our belongings and listened to the instructions given by the man from the hire company. After telling us all that he had to, the man then told us that he would take the boat out of the basin because the bridge that formed the entrance was low and there was a danger that we might struggle to get out. With all of the confidence of one who has made the manouver many times, he edged the boat under the bridge and smashed the top off the side hatch! A temporary replacement was cobbled together and we were then able to get underway, the only other damage being the large dent in the bloke’s pride! At the end of the holiday, I seem to remember that my Dad had no trouble slipping the boat through the self same bridge hole and into the basin. It’s fitting that we were at Alvecote on this day because the ninth of May is Dad’s birthday. So Happy Birthday, George Senior and thank you for being the inspiration for this life afloat, without you we probably wouldn’t be doing it.
Here is the challenging bridge, still standing after all of these years despite the best efforts of the hire boat company!
We were keen to get back out on the boat this weekend after the success of our last trip. Our opportunities are going to be limited as we head into winter, work and holidays will take up five weekends, the days are getting shorter and of course there is the weather. The forecast for this weekend indicated that there would be rain on Saturday afternoon but otherwise dry and cloudy. We provisioned the boat on Thursday afternoon ready for a quick getaway on Friday, unfortunately in our haste we left some food in the car! We left the marina by ten to four and cruised to Burton Hastings before mooring up about an hour later. Dusk fell soon after and by the time we had eaten dinner, it was completely dark. A game of dominoes and a dvd before retiring to bed at 10 o’clock finished the day.
We awoke around 7am and got dressed before having breakfast of bacon sandwiches and tea. The trip to Marston Junction took less than an hour but seemed quicker, probably because the route is already becoming familiar to us. Turning right at Marston is a lot easier than turning left, however a feature of today is the wind which meant a bumpy passage through the narrow exit from the Ashby canal. The canal passes through countryside before reaching Nuneaton, Sue has lived in this area all of her life but is surprised to discover a boatyard in the town centre. This surprise was nothing by comparison to the moment that we emerged from under the bridge next to the home of Nuneaton Borough football club ~ it had gone! All that remains is a building site, another bit of Sue’s past has been demolished, all that is left is the memory of the day her Dad took her to see a match there and all that she and her brother were interested in were “pop and crisps”. Before the urban landscape of Nuneaton gives way to countryside again, we see the strange volcano shaped spoil tip next to a granite quarry, a very deep quarry. There is hardly any traffic on the Coventry canal so other than the odd solitary fisherman we don’t see many people at all as we pass through Hartshill yard on the way to Atherstone. Eventually we reach the top lock at Atherstone where we turn around and take on water. We could have gone through the locks but with the short days and impending rain, it would only be doing it for the sake of it. Instead we tie up and head into town, doing a bit of shopping before making our way to “The Library” in the Red Lion on the main street. An enjoyable couple of hours with the papers and a bottle of wine is very much in keeping with the slow pace of life that canal cruising brings.
We return to the boat before the rain comes and while Sue prepared the evening meal, I set up the satellite dish so that we can watch television. The rain fell but we were snug inside with the tv and a well stoked fire, the clocks go back tonight but we’re so chilled out that we can’t be bothered, in our world the clocks will go back when we decide, which will probably be when we get back tomorrow.
The weather forecasters have got it wrong and it looks like the rain will happen today, this isn’t a problem since we both have wet weather gear on board. A breakfast of bacon, egg, beans and toast along with the obligatory mug of tea is first on the agenda. The eggs came from 19gales, a farm shop in the middle of Atherstone, they are free range, the yolks are orange and they taste like eggs used to taste like! Soon after, we slip our mooring and start the return journey home to Hinckley. The sky looks heavy and sure enough it is not long before the rain starts, the wind is even stronger than it was yesterday so the steering is difficult as the boat acts like a large sail in the crosswind. The weather is no deterent because we are prepared with waterproof clothing, as Billy Connolly once said; “I hate all those weathermen who tell you that rain is bad weather. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.”
There are lots of fishermen along the towpath today, I’m sure that they would describe themselves as being serious but they just seem miserable. Perhaps they are resentful of boaters interrupting their fishing but do they ever ask themselves where they would fish if British Waterways didn’t maintain the canal? I can’t imagine that the fishermen pay the same money to BW as the boaters do.
All too soon we reach Marston Junction again and the start of the home run. We stop at the place we moored at on Friday night for a spot of lunch, a couple of pasties from the farm shop and they are delicious as well as filling. After setting off again, our thoughts turn to how we are going to get back into the marina on such a windy day. In the event, we make it relatively easy, mainly due to Sue’s expert efforts with the barge pole. I can see her working a Gondola in Venice in the near future.
Back home for two o’clock and we can then join the rest of the country in turning our clocks back to GMT