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.
This morning’s sunrise was as beautiful as last night’s sunset but with rain forecast for the afternoon, we were up and about for seven o’clock. We waited at Radford bottom lock and again at Fosse wharf while we emptied the cassettes but no boats appeared so we resigned ourselves to working up through them on our own. In fact we only saw a couple of boats travelling in the opposite direction but this meant that out of the ten locks that we did today, only one was set against us.
Although double width, all of these locks are easy to do for a single boat. One gate in, one gate out and as long as you remember to open just the paddle on the same side as the boat, the flow will hold the boat on the lock wall. We soon got into a routine as I locked and Sue steered in the warm sunshine. When we reached Bascote staircase lock, a single boat was waiting at the top. The procedure here is simply to make sure that the bottom chamber is empty and the top full, regardless of the direction of travel. With one boat at the top and one at the bottom, it made sense for us both to go in and cross over in the middle when the levels were equal. It all worked out nice and efficiently with Sue picking me up on the lock tail after all the gates were closed and the paddles were down.
We arrived at Long Itchington just before eleven and tied up below the first of tomorrow’s locks. Sue finished off attending to a ham that she had been roasting in the oven as we travelled along while I took a shower and then we walked into the village. As usual, our destination for lunch was The Buck & Bell and as usual the food was amazingly good.
The skies were darkening as we returned to the canalside but the rain didn’t start until just after three o’clock, by which time we were safely under cover in the cratch.
It was quite cool inside the boat when we awoke this morning and a quick peep through the curtains showed us why. Thick dark grey clouds filled the sky and a strong wind whipped up the surface of the G.U. Canal.
It was eight o’clock so we got up and got dressed and prepared to cast off. I untied the back of the boat and immediately the wind pushed the stern out from the bank, not a good start but with a bit of muscle work Sue and I managed to get everything under control. We chugged along to the junction where we took on water before reversing into the wind and taking the left turn towards Napton.
The strong wind persisted with its cold blasts all the way to Wigrams turn and then as if we had entered a different land, we turned right and the sun came out. By the time we had reached the top lock at Calcutt, we were enjoying a beautiful spring day. We worked down the three locks on our own, crossing two boats on the way and by the time we left the bottom lock we were actually quite warm. We were soon on the way to Stockton where we have stayed many times before, this time would be slightly different for us because instead of turning at Birdingbury Wharf the following morning, we were able to turn at the arm currently being restored and developed by Willow Wren. After our turn we reversed four hundred yards or so back to a convenient towpath mooring.
After showering in the lovely, newly heated fresh water, we walked the two miles down to Long Itchington and had a late lunch at The Buck & Bell. We sat outside in the sunshine and marvelled at the contrast between the weather in the afternoon compared to the morning, that’s the sort of climate change that anyone would welcome!
After lunch we made a quick trip to the Co-op and started the long uphill trudge back to our mooring. Although the sun was still shining when we got back, it wasn’t quite warm enough to sit outside so we retreated inside and flopped in the reclining chairs.
Tomorrow is forecast to be sunny, we are pointing in the right direction and are only four hours away from Braunston so it feels like there is a very relaxing day in store for us.
All that remains now is to light the fire and then mellow for the rest of the evening.
After a week in Saltisford it was time to leave. The weather had changed for the better yesterday and we had enjoyed a sunny afternoon in Warwick as a result. Saturday dawned with a bright blue sky and after a quick trip to Sainsbury’s we paid our dues to Ian and set off on our return journey. It wasn’t quite as simple as all that, Ian had disappeared with the hirers of ‘Saltie II’ which belongs to the Saltisford Canal Trust so we waited outside the office until he returned. While we waited we spoke to Ken and Fiona who were just off on their boat ‘Aileen Rose’. A few minutes later Ian returned and we settled up with him, a lovely bloke dedicated to the arm and a credit to the charity. We returned to Phoenix III and had a brief conversation with the couple on nb Oakdale, the boat that we had been tied to since Sunday. They told us that they lived in Bristol and were taking Oakdale to Braunston to be blacked the following week. Sadly they are giving up boating and plan to sell the boat in September so we wish them well in whatever they do.
We set off and with some sadness left the Saltisford arm before turning right on to the Grand Union canal. When we reached the Cape locks we caught up with Ken and Fiona and quickly dropped through into the pound that would take us through Warwick and Leamington before we started the climb out of the Leam and Avon valley.
We enjoyed our trip on the sunny Saturday morning and when we eventually caught up with Saltie II, the crew pulled over and let us pass. Soon enough we were behind another narrowboat and we expected that they would be our companions as we started our climb from Radford to Long Itchington. In the end it didn’t work out like that because they caught up with another boat at Radford bottom lock and by the time they had gone through and another one had come down, Aileen Rose with Ken and Fiona on board had arrived behind us.
We spent the rest of the afternoon climbing our way out of the valley in the company of two lovely, friendly and very experienced boaters and that made the day very easy and enjoyable. We passed our lock mates between Bascote and Long Itchington where they tied up before we ourselves moored just beyond the Two Boats pub. After a sandwich and a drink we walked to the Co-op in the village before returning to the boat. We soaked up the last few of the sun’s rays and then retreated to the inside of Phoenix III where we devoured another of Susan’s delicious meals, this time an amazingly tasty piece of roast pork with accompanying veg.