Since leaving Rugby, we’ve just been making steady progress as we make our way towards Leamington and Warwick. We untied on Monday morning and pushed Caxton back across the cut to the water point where we refilled the tank, emptied the cassettes and dumped the rubbish. The whole process didn’t take long but it was a worthwhile exercise because it meant that we didn’t need to stop at Hillmorton with its slow running tap and waste facilities on the offside of the canal.
With our services done, we set off and were soon threading our way through the congestion caused by Clifton Cruisers at their hire base. Our passage through the Hillmorton flight was easy enough thanks to the duty volunteer lock keeper and a couple of boats working down. Once clear of the top lock, we made good progress in the sunshine and eventually picked a mooring near Onley. It was interesting to see the new marina but it is still unfinished. There are plenty of boats in there and the landscaping looks good but there are no buildings except for a handful of Portakabins – have they run out of money?
As before, we enjoyed a quiet night on this mooring and on Tuesday we pressed on into Braunston. This was primarily a shopping trip taking in both Chandlers, the local convenience store and of course ice creams from the shop at the bottom lock. It was still early in the afternoon when we returned to the boat so we untied and moved on to the marina entrance where we turned Caxton around and headed out of Braunston. We didn’t go too far after turning left at Braunston turn and found a nice mooring out in the countryside.
On Wednesday, we awoke to a dull, dank morning. There was a cool wind blowing so it was back to jeans and jumpers for the trip. Again we had a quiet voyage and saw very few boats on the move, mid week in mid May, I suppose.
We made the turn at Wigrams and headed for the three locks at Calcutt. We crossed with another boat in the middle lock but otherwise we were alone. At Birdingbury, we moored in a spot that we have used many times over the years and after showering in the newly made hot water, took a walk down to Long Itchington. Our walk took us along the towpath to the main road , from there we carried on into the village and then to the local Co-op.
On the way back, we decided to walk along the road to rejoin the towpath at the Blue Lias bridge. There are a lot of new houses long this road now and still many more being built. Luckily enough, the builders have installed a footpath along most of the route so it made for an easy walk back.
No surprises with our Birdingbury mooring but the sunshine had returned so we got going and descended the eight locks to the water point opposite the Blue Lias pub. After topping up the tank, we decided to push over and moor at the pub. We had no real plans but gave some consideration to eating in the Blue Lias. Unfortunately, we didn’t come to a decision until 13:57 and since the kitchen closes at 2pm and remains closed until 6pm, we decided to pass and eat on board. This left us with the problem that the moorings are for patrons only so some money had to change hands. In the end, I volunteered and had a few pints of bitter in the garden – well somebody had to do it!
Friday dawned with blue skies overhead so we got organised and set off for the first lock of the day. In the event, we only did one more lock after that, travelled for a bit and then tied up near Bascote road bridge. From here, there is a much more pleasant walk into Long Itchington and it was interesting to approach the village from a different angle to the usual one. A quick scoot around the Co-op and then back to our mooring for the afternoon, maybe tomorrow we’ll do a bit more in the way of travelling but who knows?
We’ve moored both our boats in Braunston marina in the past so we are very familiar with the area. After a peaceful night moored in the pound between locks two and three, we got up and caught the bus to Daventry where, after having breakfast in Wetherspoons, we did some grocery shopping in the local supermarkets while dodging some heavy downpours.
On Sunday morning I got up early, made some coffee and got back in bed, there was nothing remarkable in that but an hour and a half later, Sue got up and couldn’t walk through the boat. I got up when I heard her proclaim that the boat was sitting at an angle unlike any that she had ever known before and I was faced with something resembling the crazy house at a funfair. Caxton has a cross bed so we hadn’t noticed that we were listing heavily to starboard. Had we been in our previous boat with its in-line bed we would have either rolled to the wall or out on to the floor. We got dressed quickly and climbed outside to see that all of the boats moored by us were listing in a similar fashion to ourselves. The water level in the pound was down by more than a foot so we grabbed a couple of windlasses and hurried up to the lock above us. Another boater was already there running water through the lock and into the pound but being cautious about draining the pound above. There were already boats trying to ascend and descend the flight so there was no point in us trying to run more water down, the normal lock operation would eventually take care of the water levels. It was impossible to know the cause of the draining of the pound but we knew that it had been quite sudden. On returning to the boat we decided to untie and move down below the bottom lock even if that meant that we wouldn’t be able to find another mooring in the Braunston area. The water level in our pound had risen but it was still lower than normal; this made for slow progress to the next lock but we managed it and as we worked the lock we could see that the top lock gates were leaking badly, it looked like the paddles weren’t closed properly as well as the usual leaks from the gates.
Thankfully, we found a space just beyond the private entrance to the marina, the ring spacing wasn’t great but it was good enough for us. An hour or so after we had tied up, a small narrowboat pulled into the gap that we had left behind us. Sue was in the kitchen when she heard a cry for help, the boater had fallen in while trying to secure his stern line. I went to try and help pull him out but he was struggling to get his leg up on to the bank. Fortunately, Caxton has a step built into the rudder and another on the stern just below the waterline. I was then able to help him back on to dry land. Sue, meanwhile had managed to stop another narrowboat which was about to pass and thus prevented the unsecured boat from moving around and endangering the man overboard. Another boater had also arrived and grabbed the centre line of the rogue vessel, he suggested to the half drenched skipper that he should get inside and change into dry clothing while we secured the boat. It turned out that the soggy steerer was only moving the boat for someone else, didn’t have any other clothing but was due to be picked up in a few minutes. After he had sorted his ropes out, he realised that despite everything that had happened, he had managed to keep his cigarette firmly clamped between his lips!
Our new mooring has a limit of 48 hours so we had our two days there before moving on a little way on Tuesday, carrying out our services and then finding another 48 hour mooring opposite the Boathouse pub.
Unfortunately Sue had aggravated the painful combination of a hip and back injury, brought on we think, by the heavy gates and paddles on some of the Braunston locks. This meant that from Sunday she was pretty much resting while I used the time to visit the two chandlers shops, the butcher and the local convenience store. There was some improvement by Tuesday when we walked to the Boathouse and had lunch but she was still suffering so it was a matter of continuing to take things as easy as possible while still trying to keep active.
Wednesday was spent in much the same way as our other days in the area with short walks to shops being the order of the day. We had to move again on thursday and because we wanted to reach Hillmorton, we were up and away just before eight o’clock.
I really dislike Braunston tunnel, almost every time that we have passed through it we have managed to meet another boat on the kink nearest to the southern portal. In addition to the obvious kink the rest of the tunnel isn’t that straight but it’s hard to complain about the hard work done by the hands of men long dead, given the circumstances in which they had to work and the low level of technology at their disposal.
We had a very simple plan, get up early and get through the tunnel before anyone else made it up through the Braunston locks on the other side. We were awake just after six underway at half past, just as the sun was rising. The air was cool but still as we travelled the two mile stretch to the tunnel and with only a handful of moored boats to slow down for, we reached the tunnel mouth forty minutes later. The contrast between the light levels inside and outside the tunnel was less than usual because the weak September sun was still low in the sky. Unsurprisingly, we met nothing in the tunnel and before too long we were back into the daylight and heading for the top lock of the Braunston flight.
Two cyclists and a dog walker provided us with the only signs of life as we descended on our own. Normally we try to time our journeys so that we arrive late morning in the hope that we improve our chances of finding a space where we want to be, the idea being that more boats are on the move during that period. Our hope had been to moor below the lock at The Admiral Nelson but accepted that our chances would be slim at half past eight in the morning. Well, the good luck that has followed us when it comes to mooring on this trip didn’t desert us and after leaving the aforementioned lock, we saw a Caxton sized space waiting for us. It started to rain shortly after we tied up but we didn’t care, we had completed our mission and moored exactly where we had hoped to be.
This is just a quick catch up on what we have been doing over the last week since our last post. We remained moored at the top of Hillmorton and caught the bus into Rugby where we did a bit of shopping and had a birthday lunch at Prezzo, courtesy of Rebecca, Don and the children. Thank you very much, it was delicious!
On Wednesday we untied and made our way to Braunston, blue skies had returned and with the very gentle winds to accompany us, our journey was very enjoyable. It was around one o’clock when we arrived at Braunston marina where had arranged to leave Caxton for a few days while we travelled to Hampshire for my retirement party. We found our temporary berth which was on the adjacent pier to the one that we used when we moored here permanently a few years ago. After wiggling our way into position with only inches to spare, we tied up and then went for a walk along the towpath to the tunnel. After a quick refreshment stop at the Admiral Nelson, we returned to the marina and paid our fees.
We had arranged to meet some friends who live in the village so after dinner on board, we trotted up to the Wheatsheaf for a couple of hours and had a great time catching up with them.
We were up and ready early on Thursday, despite it being Sue’s birthday. We needed to catch the bus into Rugby so that we could start our train journey to Winchester and that bus leaves the village from The Green so we had to climb the hill from Butchers bridge once again. When we first moored in Braunston, the village was well served by bus services running between Rugby and Daventry with some of them stopping on the A45 outside the marina. That ended and then the nearest stop was outside the Boathouse pub, also on the main road. Today, the hourly service only just touches the top edge of the village, stopping by the village hall. Judging by the small number of passengers on the bus, I wonder just how long even this service will remain in place.
Anyway, after the bus to Rugby we caught a train to Coventry and then boarded the Cross Country service to Winchester. We continued the birthday eating theme with afternoon tea at the hotel and very nice it was too. Winchester is a lovely place to wander around at any time but on warm spring days, as we had on Thursday and Friday, it was glorious. We rounded off the birthday week meal festival with lunch at Rick Stein’s retaurant which was perfect.
On Friday evening, I had my retirement bash in a Spanish restaurant in nearby Arlesford with colleagues from work, some of whom I have known for thirty years. We all had a good time and they even presented me with a leaving present – a Nikon DSLR camera. Once I get to grips with that, expect to see a more feature filled blog. There were many messages of good luck and some other personal gifts which will be cherished. All in all they gave me a good send off – thank you everyone.
Saturday dawned and we made the return journey to Braunston, re-tracing our route via Coventry and Rugby. It was after four o’clock when we got back and Sue used the evening and the fact that we were plugged into the mains to catch up with the washing and drying.
Our original intention had been to travel south on the Grand Union and return on the Oxford canal later in the summer. However, by the time we were ready to leave on Sunday morning we had decided to go the other way around. It doesn’t make any real difference to us which way we go but we were slightly concerned that there have been some predictions of drought and figured that we might be better crossing the summit of the Oxford sooner rather than later just in case low water levels start to have an effect on lock operations.
We turned left out of the marina and found a place to moor, halfway between the two bridges that carry the A45 over the canal and close to the two bridges that carry the towpath over the junction of the canal. We were surprised at just how empty the moorings are in Braunston but I suppose that it is still early in the season. The reason that we didn’t go so far was because the weather outlook for Monday was for high winds and lots of heavy showers. Sunday was still fine so we walked up and around the village, calling at the Chandlers and the village shop along the way.
The rain started in the early hours of Monday morning and continued on and off throughout the day. We did manage to get a walk around the village again during a dry period after dinner but the rain came again shortly after we returned to the boat.
And so to today, Tuesday. It was still windy but thankfully no rain, although there is a horrible outlook forecast. We took advantage of the relatively good conditions and set off in the direction of Napton, just after eight o’clock. Normally, this stretch of canal irritates me but today it didn’t because there are very few boats on the move and not many moored up either. What normally happens, usually on sunny, summer, Sunday afternoons is that as boats converge at Wigram’s and Braunston turns, convoys get formed. Lines of moored boats then force everyone down to tickover speed and the convoys become condensed. The real fun starts when two convoys meet at a bridge! Anyway, it wasn’t like that today and three hours after setting off, we were moored just above the bottom lock at Napton. After lunch, we took a walk to the village shop where Sue bought some provisions and then we returned to the canal. The rain started mid afternoon and the forecast is that it isn’t going to stop until Thursday morning so it looks like we will have another day here tomorrow. With a bit of luck, who knows, there might be a tiny break in the rain, a small window of opportunity to nip to the Folly for a pint before then!
So now the journey can really begin, we have no timetable to stick to, no set route to follow and very few restrictions to hamper us on our big adventure.
When we looked at the weather on Thursday morning and saw that we were to expect rain and high winds on Friday and Saturday, we decided to make the best of the weather and head for home.
It was nine o’clock when we got underway, later than we would have been had we been planning to travel but still early enough to get some distance behind us. We weren’t alone, it seemed like fifty percent of the boats in Braunston had decided to leave the area at the same time so there was the usual chaos at bridges, water points and of course at the junction. The traffic soon settled down as we got out into the open countryside and although there were plenty of boats on the move, we encountered no problems and reached the locks at Hillmorton just two hours later. A sufficient number of boats and lock keepers meant that we cleared the three locks in forty minutes before pulling on to the water point. The great progress that we had made thus far was wiped out by the slow running water tap, taking almost an hour to fill Caxton’s tank. By the time we set off again, the sun was beating down and the temperature was soaring with just a light breeze blowing to keep things bearable. No mooring space at Rugby and nothing really suitable at Newbold although we did tie up temporarily before the tunnel for a shopping stop at the local Co-op. We were on our way again just after three and had decided to aim for somewhere between Ansty and Hawkesbury. Sue took the helm for a few hours to give me a break and we had a great afternoon. The miles and hours flew by as we listened to music in the afternoon sunshine. We passed through Ansty and sort of forgot that we should have been looking for a mooring spot, suddenly we were at Hawkesbury and had to stop for the shallow lock there. Safely and smoothly around the 180 degree turn in front of the Greyhound pub where the outdoor customers always take an interest in boats in the hope that there will be a mistake made. Their heads automatically turn towards the water but soon turn back again when they realise that there is no entertainment for them. Clouds were starting to build and the sun was getting lower in the sky by the time we turned at Marston junction on to the Ashby canal. Finally, we stopped and tied up just before bridge three, had something to eat and then flopped in our chairs for the evening. Our twenty six mile trip with its six locks had taken us ten hours, an average of three lock miles per hour – not bad going at all.
The rain came overnight, the heaviest being just before five o’clock but it had slowed to no more than a steady drizzle by the time we awoke on Friday morning. I got up and dressed at half past seven, Caxton’s engine burst into life fifteen minutes later and we were off. The cabin door opened a few minutes later and a coffee appeared, a short while later the door opened again and this time a bacon sandwich was thrust into my hand with the promise of another when I was ready. As expected, the trip back to Hinckley was quiet enough with only a handful of boats on the move, partly due to the time of day and partly down to the rain. We were back on our berth in the marina before ten o’clock and back home a short time later. Two hours of rain in two weeks is a pretty good result and we were glad that we made the long trip on Thursday because it has rained all day today.
We had a peaceful night on our mooring last night and awoke to a beautiful clear blue sky. We only wanted to get to Braunston so we didn’t set off until nine o’clock, thinking that it would take about ninety minutes to get to our destination. In the event, it was ten o’clock when we arrived and we couldn’t see any spaces that were big enough for Caxton, so we carried on until we reached the second entrance to the marina and luckily enough, found the perfect mooring right on the end with a perfect view of the canal up to the bottom lock.
Last night, we encountered a couple on a hire boat from Kate boats, today we bumped into them again as we tied up. They’re thinking of buying a boat and have hired this week to see what it’s like to live afloat. Grab your dream folks, jump in, the water’s lovely!
We walked to the bus stop by the Boathouse pub only to discover that the services have changed and there is no longer a bus into Rugby from there. We walked up into the village instead and did some shopping before returning to the boat where we had a sandwich for lunch.
At four o’clock we decided to take a walk up the locks and ended up assisting a couple on a share boat up through the first three. We had an ice cream along the way and once we saw that the share boat had help from oncoming craft we retreated to the Admiral Nelson and had a refreshment or two.
We returned to Caxton and after sitting on the front deck for a while, we went back inside and settled in for the night.
I forgot to record in the last post that we had encountered a wide beam boat on our way into Braunston. Nothing unusual in that if you are on the Grand Union section but this one was heading north on the Oxford canal which is a narrow canal. In theory, they can travel to Hillmorton before meeting an obstruction at the locks but I think that they might have struggled with some of the bridge / bend combinations.
Anyway, after a quiet evening moored opposite the pub, we got up with the intention of emptying cassettes and taking on water at the marina before turning around and heading back to the junction. The only other boat showing signs of life at eight o’clock was moored opposite us on the pub side of the canal. As they pulled away, I reversed Caxton out into the middle of the cut and straightened up ready to fall in behind them. However, by the time we were straight, I realised that if I kept reversing, we would be back at the junction in a few minutes and we could service the boat there. Three boats back, a boat crewed by an oldish couple who looked like they had been dealt a bad hand in life, was being untied as we approached. We watched in disbelief as the rough looking pair pushed their boat out behind us and into our path causing us to have to take avoiding action. We arc’d around their boat using tiller, gearbox and bow thruster into and out of the space that they had vacated before we straightened up again and carried on our way. While I was doing all of that, Sue was engaged in a short, sharp exchange about courtesy and consideration although that was probably wasted on the half wits. Their parting shot made us laugh, “Put it on your blog!”, they shouted. That took us by surprise because they didn’t look to be the sort who could read, let alone use a computer. I expect that because they sell cheap brass tiller pins that they think they are canal workers and therefore have some privileges on the water. I won’t name their boat, that wouldn’t be fair as they have no right to reply but I will check with CaRT that they have a proper trading licence. All of that was over in a minute and as we passed the next moored boat, the steerer shook his head and said, ” I don’t know why he didn’t wait and let you pass”. In the short conversation that we had with him, he told us that he was delivering the boat from the Kennet & Avon canal to the river Weaver.
A few minutes later we reached the junction where we tied up, dumped rubbish and emptied cassettes. No other boats were moving as we edged out again and rounded the junction under one of the bridges in the direction of Napton. Soon we were meeting a steady stream of traffic but we had expected it on this stretch since it is really two canals between Braunston and Napton, the Oxford and the Grand Union. Once we had passed Wigrams turn where the Grand Union turns off to the right and disappears down into the Avon valley, the traffic eased again and we reached our mooring just before eleven o’clock.
We were soon showered and dressed and on our way along the towpath to the Folly Inn where we presented ourselves at two minutes past twelve and demanded lunch. Alright, we didn’t demand anything, we found a table and ordered our meals and very good they were too. We were back on board a couple of hours later and then we just lazed around for the afternoon.
Last night, after dinner, we walked along the towpath to the next bridge and then walked up the main street of Newbold on Avon before settling for the evening. By nine o’clock we were both yawning and by ten we had turned in for the night. We were up and on our way by seven this morning and as we left, it looked like everyone else was having a Sunday lie in. Our early start paid off and we met nothing as we ticked over through the usual pinch points at Brownsover and Clifton Cruisers. In fact we only met two oncoming boats before we reached Hillmorton although that would soon change. The locks were all in our favour and we left the last one at nine o’clock so we were well on our way to Braunston. It took just under two and a half hours to reach our destination and along the way we met around thirty boats, many of them in convoy including three at the bridge by Willoughby Wharf which caused us to have to pull over and wait. Our final encounter was under the first A45 road bridge, well where else would it be? No harm done as both boats were travelling slowly and we backed up to let the American crew ease through. Once around the corner and as expected, we pretty much had our pick of the moorings so we’ve tied up opposite the Boathouse pub although we’re not planning to pay it a visit.
Once again it’s been a beautiful day, albeit a little windier than yesterday so again we sat on the front deck for a while and watched the boats go by. It’s been so busy with boats coming and going, some stopping temporarily, many just passing through but by five o’clock it’s starting to quieten down. Mooring here is the boating equivalent of pitching up a caravan on the hard shoulder of the M1 so after lunch on board we decided to go for a walk in the afternoon sunshine. We walked along the towpath past the marina and up to the third lock where the Admiral Nelson stands before turning back along the roadway up to Braunston village. After a stop at the village shop for a few essentials, we walked downhill to the canal and re-boarded our floating home where we took up residence on the front deck again. It’s been no surprise that the pub has been busy all afternoon on this sunny August Sunday and although there has been a constant background noise drifting over on the wind, it has all added to the ambience.
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!
Rain continued throughout yesterday evening so we didn’t venture out and assumed that Mikron’s performance would have been cancelled.
The early morning sunshine encouraged us to get up and get going, tackling the final thirteen broad locks of our trip. Like the day before, we were unaccompanied for the first couple of locks. While in the third lock, we saw a lady with a windlass and two dogs. When I asked if she was coming up the flight, she said that she was but that they had paired with another boat. By the time we reached the next, she ran up and told us that a third boat had arrived so if we would wait, she and her husband would join us and leave the other two as a pair. We agreed but this turned out to be a mistake on our part. Their method of working was to use one gate only with the first boat into the lock then shuffling over behind the closed gate. In my mind, this doesn’t save any time or effort at all but nevertheless Sue drove into the next lock and started the manoeuvre. It takes a bit of doing in the limited space with Caxton being sixty eight feet long but the impatient steerer of the other boat thought that he could still get into the gap. As a result we gained some of his blacking at the expense of some of our paint from the counter of Caxton. He apologised but the damage was done. At the next lock, his wife who had gone ahead, opened both gates. Sue drove in first and I closed the gate behind her but the fool on the other boat then managed to hit the other (open) gate; thankfully no impact on Caxton this time. Under other circumstances I would have pulled over and let them rush haphazardly through the remaining locks. However the pounds are short here and with boats coming down as well as coming up behind us, this wasn’t a realistic option. Sue and I swapped places for the remaining locks and at the top we let the other boat get on its way while we closed the gates behind us.
As we approached the bridge by The Boat Inn just a few minutes later, a Rose narrowboat pulled away from the bank. In his desparation to get out in front of us, the steerer had forgotten to fit his tiller so there was a mad scramble as the crew struggled to the boat under control before they reached the bridge. A few minutes later we saw and heard the tell-tale signs of a steam engined boat up ahead. The smoke and steam had engulfed the boat that we had shared the locks with but we knew that it was in that cloud somewhere – not that we laughed of course! A mile or so later, we saw that our lock buddies had pulled over and as we passed them, they told me that the smoke had filled their cabin so they were waiting for ten minutes to let the steamer get through the Calcutt locks. The Rose narrowboat which had been so keen to get underway just twenty minutes earlier pulled over and moored up just a few minutes later even though the steamboat was by now, nowhere in sight. It was just exiting the bottom lock as we arrived but wasn’t throwing out much smoke that we could see. With boats coming down, it didn’t take long to get up through the short flight.
We turned left at Wigram’s turn and became part of a convoy heading towards Braunston at the same time as an equally long convoy of boats headed in the opposite direction. At Braunston turn, we went left while most others turned right and once we had passed the usual long line of boats on the visitor moorings, we found a peaceful place to tie up for the day between Braunston and Willoughby.
We settled in the cratch for the afternoon, relaxing in the sunshine and watching the steady stream of boats go by. We now need to plan the final part of the trip and avoid the wet weekend weather that has been forecast.