As expected it rained all day on Wednesday, well until 6:30pm anyway. In contrast, we awoke to a bright sunlit morning this morning – oh how quickly the sunshine lifts the spirits. At 7am I walked to the village shop to buy some potatoes and butter and when I returned, there was already some activity around the bottom lock. NB Oakapple had just entered the chamber from above. We haven’t seen Richard & Sharon since we passed them near Hawkesbury in September 2014 . I had a brief chat with them both before once again, we went in opposite directions.
After returning to Caxton, we made our final preparations and set off. It was a glorious morning and ideal for locking, we just took our time and two hours later we had ascended the eight locks and tied up at Marson Doles for water. We had to tie on the lock landing because there was a CaRT boat tied on the water point but with so little traffic it wasn’t a problem.
As we were filling with water, nb Aileen Rose approached so I grabbed a windlass and helped them into the lock at Marston Doles. We were lock buddies in 2013 so it was good to see them again too.
Once we had filled with water, we were on our way across the lonely summit once again. We passed a few boats along the way but generally it was a quiet passage.
The sun continued to shine as we made our way towards Fenny Compton and we had hoped to find a mooring space there, however it was not to be and we had to pass through. An hour later and we found a place to tie up just above Claydon top lock. Sue had been preparing dinner along the way as well as baking oatcakes and making mackerel pate (how does she do that and still manage eight locks?) . So when we tied up, we ate and afterwards went for a walk into Claydon village. There’s nothing there except the church, the bygones museum closed a few years ago so it appears to be yet another “dormitory ” village in rural England.
We returned to Caxton after our circular walk of around three miles. Rain started falling about 7pm and it has continued ever since. Tomorrow’s forecast is for yet more rain so we’ll decide on our course of action ( or in-action) in the morning.
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.
One of the hidden joys of boating is the odd unexpected expense or two. Things go wrong, equipment fails, bits break off and they all have to be fixed. This happens in houses and with cars as well of course but with a boat it is different, with a boat, the cost is always eyewatering! We’ve already forked out nearly £700 for a new calorifier (hot water tank) this year and today another £300 went on a replacement water pump for the Hurricane heater. There’s a problem with the large domestic alternator which we’re hoping will be a cheap fix, if not, another four hundred quid will bite the dust.
After we moored up yesterday at Napton, I called Calcutt boats who are the UK and European agents for the Hurricane heater to see if they could take a look at the problematic unit. The result was that we would take Caxton there this afternoon. This morning, we took a walk up to the village shop at Napton, we first visited it about five years ago when it had just changed hands and what a transformation there has been since then. This once run down store is now a little treasure selling the full range of groceries and speciality foods. It’s a post office and a cafe too so well worth the ten minute walk from the canal. Once again we lunched at the Folly Inn before setting off for Calcutt, a destination that we reached just after two o’clock. After descending the top lock, we pulled on to the wharf and then sat in the sunshine as two engineers fiddled with and diagnosed the problem with the hurricane. Two hours, a new pump and three hundred pounds later, we were ready to leave. Before then, we met Barry and Sandra from the home brew boat who had pulled in for diesel and while we were waiting, passed the time of day with them.
We went back up through the top lock at Calcutt just before five o’clock and made our way back to Wigrams turn where we turned left and looked for a mooring. We found a spot, actually one of our old haunts near bridge 103 where have settled for the evening. There are tractors harvesting corn in the fields around us, the moon is almost full and we have seen a beautiful sunset.
If the price of this lifestyle is the odd bill for a few hundred quid, it must be worth it.
We had another day off yesterday, for no other reason than we could, so we did! We had booked a table at the Wharf Inn for Sunday lunch so after a lazy start, we got up and dressed and eventually made our way along the towpath to the pub and had a fabulous roast dinner each. The rest of the afternoon was spent just lazing around until it was time for bed.
This morning was a different story, we were awake early and moved on to the water point for seven o’clock where we brimmed the tank before setting off half an hour later. The weather was already amazing, blue skies and blazing sun with only a slight breeze to keep matters cool. The crossing of the summit on the Oxford is a bit of a chore as far as I am concerned and today was no exception. One overgrown blind corner follows another and there’s bugger all to see in between, making for a tedious passage to Marston Doles and the top of the Napton flight.
We made steady progress down, meeting boats at most of the nine locks so it all seemed very pleasant in the August sunshine.
With a bit of collaboration with the volunteer lock keepers, Sue managed to ensure that the elsan mooring was free for us as we left the bottom lock. It took us four minutes to pull over and empty two cassettes and be on our way again – the boating equivalent of a formula 1 pit stop. We rounded the corner and found a mooring straight away so we had no choice but to tie up and head to the Folly Inn again for lunch.
After lunch we went our separate ways, I wandered up to the village shop in Napton while Sue bought an ice cream from the Folly Inn shop for the kind lock keeper who had looked after us on the way down.
We’ve been leapfrogging nb Indigo Dream for the last couple of days and today was no exception.
All that remained was for us to be entertained by the numerous boats which failed to take the bend behind us.
We did very little yesterday evening, boats kept coming and going but eventually everything quietened down and we went to bed. We were awake by six thirty so we decided to get up and get going. We were underway before seven and crept past the line of boats moored to the corner below the bottom lock of the Napton flight. We pulled up and filled the water tank, ready for the ascent that lay before us. It took half an hour to fill the tank and then we were off again and into the chamber of the bottom lock which was already empty. We made great progress as we worked the locks between us, Sue preparing each lock and me finishing off. We had help at the sixth lock from someone who was camping there, as a reward we filled his water bottle and gave him some milk. We only had to turn the last two locks and we were able to leave the top lock open as we left for a boat about to start the descent. The nine locks had taken exactly two hours, not bad going at all.
It’s three years since our last trip along here and it’s our first time with Caxton, a boat sixteen feet longer than our last boat, Phoenix III. This shallow canal twists and turns its way across the summit through overgrown areas and around tight blind corners, not easy in a boat of this length. However, we spend a lot of time on the Ashby canal so none of this is new to us and as a result we reached Fenny Compton unscathed. Surprisingly enough, we were able to find a prime mooring at the start of the fourteen day stretch so we tied up, closed up and went to the Wharf Inn for lunch. If yesterday’s meals at the Folly were very good, then today’s by definition must have been excellent. Home made steak pie, mash and veg, all cooked to perfection. Nothing like a flight of locks to build up an appetite but we went for a long walk straight after to burn up some of the calories!
Back to the boat to relax again in the evening. Like yesterday, the boats keep coming and going late into the day. Each to their own but we much prefer to do our travelling in the morning so that we can secure a good mooring early enough and then give ourselves options for the rest of the day.
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.
It had seemed like a very long week, having made business trips to Yorkshire, London and Birmingham so it was off to Braunston on Thursday after work. We had dinner at the Boathouse pub before getting to the boat around six. We had brought the ‘new’ chairs with us so spent an hour swapping them over with the old ones. That might seem like a long time but it did involve a bit of carrying between car and boat as well as dismantling the old and assembling the new.
Next morning, I was up and about and off to work, leaving Sue to give the boat a thorough clean through. I returned to the marina at four and by five o’clock we were out on the cut. Sue had some news about our mooring, following a visit to the marina shop earlier in the day. When we return on Sunday we will be berthed on the same pontoon that Phoenix III occupied but on the other side where Caliburnum used to be before it was sold last year. It won’t change our decision to leave the marina in the autumn but it will make the remaining months at Braunston easier for access to the facilities. The main thing is that we will have ringside seats for the historic boatshow in three weeks time.
We motored on around Braunston turn in the direction of Napton and found a great mooring close to bridge 103. We spent the rest of the evening just lounging in the cratch or as Sue has taken to calling it, the conservatory!
Saturday morning brought heavy rain, so heavy in fact that by eleven o’clock we were pretty much resigned to staying put for the day. An hour later and the weather had changed so we decided to untie and press on. Of course there was no pressing reason to do so, it was just about playing with the boat and all too soon we reached Napton. We turned Caxton and tied up for an hour, the sun was out and it was hard to believe that only a few hours earlier we had been sitting inside being battered by the rain. Our rest over, we untied again and started our journey back to Braunston, the weather was absolutely glorious and after we passed under bridge 103 we saw that the spot that we had occupied the night before was still vacant so we pulled over, tied up again and enjoyed another sunny evening out in the
Sunday brought more blue skies but since we knew that we were only 90 minutes away from base, we were in no hurry to set off. Eventually we did set off though but only as far as bridge 99 where we stopped and had one of Sue’s succulent cooked breakfasts – Mmmmm
We did more lazing in the Conservatory and then set off again around half past one, this time we only got as far as the Boathouse pub mooring where we pulled up again and spent a couple of hours more in the cratch / conservatory (delete as applicable). We’re going to eat in the pub in a while and then return to the marina where we will stay overnight before going home and then to work in the morning.
Of course this means that we have slept more than half of the week on the boat rather than in the house and whilst that was inevitable at some point, we hadn’t really expected that it would happen as soon as it has.
Another peaceful night’s sleep before early morning coffee and then up and ready for our voyage back to the marina at Braunston. That was as exciting as it got, the weather had turned drizzly again but not so heavy as to make the trip an unpleasant one. The steerer was kept fortified with bacon sandwiches and tea being passed out from the galley by the Chief Steward, she certainly knows how to keep the crew motivated! There were a lot of boats on the move including a widebeam dutch barge that we met near bridge 107, it was absolutely massive thankfully we didn’t meet it at the bridge! The only other bit of excitement came when a dog being walked along the towpath decided to rejoin its owner on his narrowboat by jumping in and swimming over to it. A heartstopping moment for everyone (except Sue of course, who is now bionic in that respect!) as the steerer was trying to position himself near a bridge to let an oncoming boat through. It all worked out in the end with the mutt being dragged out of the cut by the scruff of his neck.
It has been the weekend of the Crick boat show and once again it seems to have had terrible weather. I have looked back through the blog to check out the weather on the spring bank holiday weekends.
2008 High winds and heavy rain, Crick show cancelled for 2 out of 3 days.
2009 Sunny and Warm
2010 No record
2011 No record, boat in paintshop
2012 Queens Diamond Jubilee, heavy rain
2014 Two days rain, one day of sun
Maybe the Crick show organisers should consider moving the show to a later date or perhaps as a nation we should move the Bank Holiday?
We awoke to more heavy rain but by eight o’clock it had all stopped and the day was shaping up to be a nice one. After the obligatory cup of coffee, we got up and attempted to leave our mooring at nine o’clock. I say “attempted” because as I untied Caxton, four boats passed us in convoy also heading towards Wigrams turn. We took our place in the convoy and were soon joined behind and in front by boats leaving their moorings and travelling in the same direction as us. Despite the number of boats on the move, our trip to Napton was actually an uneventful one and we reached the winding hole below the locks an hour and a half after we had untied. The boat behind us waited patiently while we turned Caxton and then we found our mooring just one boat length back from the post marking the no mooring area opposite the hole.
The entertainment began immediately with a Canaltime boat reversing back from the bottom lock and then thrashing its way backwards and forwards at full pelt, crashing into every available bank until it finally managed to escape the winding hole with its red faced, embarrassed crew.
We locked Caxton up and walked to the Folly Inn, dropping a bag of rubbish at the bottom lock facilities along the way.
After a quick wander around the little shop we went into the pub, ordered some drinks and enquired about lunch. The girl behind the bar seemed almost apologetic as she told us that they were “only” serving roast dinners. Reluctantly we ordered two roast beef dinners and then sat down outside. Within ten minutes we were presented with two large plates filled with roast beef, yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, new (jersey royal) potatoes, red cabbage, cauliflower cheese, carrots, peas and gravy with a small dish of home made horseradish sauce. It was a bit of a hardship but we managed to scoff the lot! It was actually one of the best, if not the best, pub lunches we have ever had!
We walked back to Caxton hoping to settle down for the afternoon in the sunshine but unfortunately we had to endure even more entertainment around the winding hole. The problem is actually a restriction of passage up and down the flight due to a collapsing lock wall meaning that some boaters are changing plans and turning around, mainly hire boaters with limited time. First on stage was a Viking narrowboat who made the earlier attempt by the Canaltime boat look quite professional. They completed their crash-bang-wallop manouvre by mooring opposite the winding hole. We sat hoping that the next boat to turn would be as inept as they had been and therefore include a bit of boat crashing too. We were disappointed, the next boat to turn was another Viking boat and they knew what to do, after they had turned, Viking number one also left, leaving the winding hole clear again. Save for a conversation with a couple from Bedworth who were on an Ashby boat, our afternoon basically consisted of us just dossing out on the front deck of our beatiful boat in the late May sunshine.
Our night at Fenny Compton had been a peaceful one and we awoke refreshed and ready to face another day. It was warm even at seven o’clock so we hoped that we might be enjoying some summery weather. We weren’t disappointed either, when we untied at eight the high hazy cloud was only just obscuring the sun as we picked our way slowly passed the long line of moored boats that are a feature of this area. We then started our long and lonely journey across the summit, the convoluted route totally disorientating us along the way. We didn’t see anything on the move for over an hour and after passing speeding Ashby boat, we caught up with a Rose narrowboat following a Viking afloat boat. The entertainment began at a bridge, where else? The Viking passed through and panicked when he met an oncoming privateer and grounded himself at the same time burying himself in the reeds and bushes on the offside. After allowing the private boat to pass under the bridge, the Rose narrowboat shot through, passing Viking just as he had almost righted himself. The Viking ended up back in the reeds again as a result! By this time we had stopped well behind to give them all time to sort themselves out and of course to get a good view of the action.
We now resigned ourselves for a journey on tickover behind the two holiday boats and then we would have the pleasure of following them down through the locks that lay ahead between Marston Doles and Napton. There were no more incidents on our slow chug to Marston Doles but we were delighted when both boats pulled in to take on water, propelling us to the front of the queue. With boats coming up the flight, the first two locks were easy but then we found ourselves following nb Wey with nothing coming up to aid the progress. Part way down we saw that ‘Wey’ were sitting in the lock ahead looking over the fields, it turned out that they we were watching a calf being born in the field. By the time we had moved down, the calf’s mother was licking and prodding her new offspring into life, everything seemed to be going alright as we passed on our way. We were being followed by nb African Queen, crewed by a couple who had recently sold their business and moved on to their boat, now embarking on a new way of life. With three of us following each other, we all helped with each others paddles and gates which seemed to pass the time if nothing else. Three locks to go saw a boat coming up which then opened up a gap between us and ‘Wey’ and with volunteer lockies manning the last two locks, our passage to the bottom was speeded up. We found a mooring around the corner so we tied up and went to the Folly Inn. The weather was still glorious so we treated ourselves to lunch in the garden.
On returning to Phoenix III we were in two minds as to what to do, stay put for the day or carry on in the sunshine? In the end we decided on the latter course of action and we cruised back to Braunston. All too soon we found ourselves back behind our Viking friend who was weaving his way along on tickover. We thought that we had seen the last of him when he weaved his way around a widebeam which happened to be winding at Wolfhampcote at the time. After allowing the widebeam to complete its manoeuvre, we passed by and then saw travelling in the opposite direction nb Aileen Rose, the boat that we had shared locks with between Warwick and Stockton a few weeks ago. Cheery waves and shouted hellos were exchanged as we passed each other. Then we caught up with our old friend the Viking afloat boat in the final straight before Braunston turn where the crew had decided to pull up, walk to the junction and ‘suss things out’ as they said when we eventually passed them by. It’s bad enough pulling up there at the best of times with boats travelling from three directions but with a CaRT barge tied up almost opposite, the obstruction was complete.
Once around the turn we made the familiar trip back to the marina, our progress only impeded by a boat trying to turn in the marina entrance rather than in the winding hole directly opposite, never mind, it’s all good fun when the sun is shining!
Once we were back on our pontoon we took advantage of the good weather and washed as much of the boat as we could before nipping up to the village shop and then settling down for the evening. We would spend our last night on Phoenix III in the marina before heading off home in the morning. This would give us a week before returning for the Braunston Historic boat rally.