We popped round to Tesco Rugby before setting off and then just after half ten we were on our way. I had bought the makings of a couple of breakfast banjos the day before and Sue soon obliged by cooking up some bacon, eggs and black pudding for me, which I ate along the way while the good lady steered – what a star, eh? (For those of who are mystified by the term “breakfast banjo” just think of your natural reaction when butter or grease or egg yolk drips on your shirt. Yes, you’re playing a banjo!). I was eating mine from a plate so no banjo playing antics on this occasion.
The weather was just about tolerable as we cruised through Newbold on Avon and through the tunnel. Not too cold and not too damp so what more can be asked for? This section of the Oxford canal is one that is very familiar to us so we were quite happy to whizz along through it in the afternoon sunshine. As we approached Ansty golf course, Sue remarked that we hadn’t had to endure any rain on our five month cruise; big mistake! Within minutes the heavens opened and we (by “we” I mean “me” – again!) were drenched.
Luckily, we were only a few minutes away from our desired mooring at Ansty so the rain wasn’t a real hardship and within a few minutes we were moored securely. I have lost count of the number of times that we have moored at Ansty in one direction or the other but we have always been happy with this location. The rain hammered down all evening so of course we didn’t venture out once moored but that didn’t matter to us.
A few boats arrived after we had done and we had some sympathy for them as they attempted to get themselves tied up for the evening.
Another early(ish) start for us as we wanted to get down through the three Hillmorton locks before they got too busy. Only half of the locks are in operation because one of the middle pair has a broken balance beam. We did actually meet a couple of boats coming up whose crews had obviously had similar ideas but this made our descent easier rather than harder. Once clear of the third lock we stopped on the water point and carried out the services.
Eventually the slow running tap filled our tank and we were off again. We saw only a few boats on the move as we skirted around the edge of Rugby but a special mention goes to the steerer of a Calcutt hire boat that we met on a bend. I could see from his line that there was no way that he was going to make the bend, whether we were there or not. I reversed hard and brought Caxton to a standstill and if he had done the same, a collision would have been avoided. He didn’t do that though and as a result the bows met with a heavy clunk. He apologised sheepishly as he passed and said that he was still getting used to it but he was a long way from Calcutt so we wondered how eventful his journey had been!
It didn’t take us long to reach the visitor moorings at Rugby / Brownsover. A lot of work has been carried out here and it really has improved the area for mooring. Previously, there was a stretch opposite the Bell & Barge Harvester restaurant where the bank was rough and mooring was difficult. That stretch has been upgraded and the towpath resurfaced but it is now a “no mooring” area. The water tap that was along there has been relocated to the offside at the park on the south side of the road bridge and that has thus reduced the mooring space there. That’s where all of the bad news ends. On the towpath side, rings have been installed all the way along and round the bend almost as far back as bridge 59. The towpath vegetation which was around the corner has all been removed and all of the overhanging branches on the opposite side have been removed so that boats can pass easily. All in all a great job and when we arrived we easily found a nice straight stretch to tie up on.
After showering, we walked up to the road bridge and while Sue investigated some of the stores on the new retail park, I investigated the aforementioned “Bell & Barge”. I was surprised to find that there were very few customers there but apparently they have lost trade to a new “Hungry Horse” pub which has been built nearby. After a quick pint, I walked to the other retail park and visited Homebase for a few bits of hardware before returning to the boat where Sue was waiting having returned ten minutes or so earlier.
I have a friend and ex-colleague who lives nearby so I gave him a call to see if he was around and fancied going for a drink. I’ve known Mike for the best part of thirty years and hadn’t seen him since I retired in May. He had other arrangements made but he quickly un-made them and we met up back at the Bell & Barge for a few beers. He came back to boat with me to have a look at Caxton and to say hello to Sue – oh and we had another beer into the bargain.
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.
All Oaks wood provided us with a lovely overnight mooring but it was a bit dull and chilly when we got out of bed this morning. We want to be in Braunston sometime on Wednesday so although we have about six hours travelling to do, we have three days to do it in. With no real plans we decided that we may as well move on a bit today and see where ended up. It was almost half past nine by the time we were underway but in contrast to yesterday’s cruising dress code of T-shirt with occasional use of a fleece, today required golf jumper, fleece, hat and gloves. There was plenty of space at Newbold on Avon but the rings were just spaced slightly wrong for us and the ground was a bit soft for pins so we moved on. The Brownsover park moorings were full so we decided to carry on through to Hillmorton. There were hardly any boats on the move, it’s still early in the season I suppose, and this helped us negotiate our passage through Clifton wharf. Quite frankly, they are taking the p*ss by double mooring their boats from the arm right down to the bridge which is already on a blind bend. We didn’t meet anything this time but it would have been a different story over the weekend.
There was plenty of room to moor when we reached the bottom of the Hillmorton flight but we decided to get the locks done and find a space at the top, which we did quite easily. Tomorrow’s forecast is for thick cloud so we think that we’ll stay here and catch a bus into Rugby for the day. With that in mind, I walked into the village to check out the bus stops and times although I did find myself checking out a pint in the Stag & Pheasant too.
We had a peaceful night at Brownsover, unlike the last time we overnighted here (Read about it here). With little urgency required, it was almost ten o’clock when we set off on the next leg of our journey. Shortly after, Sue presented me with a bacon sandwich and took over the steering while I scoffed it down, finishing it just before Newbold tunnel. Sue took us through the tunnel now lit only by one coloured floodlight and then went off to make her own breakfast.
There weren’t that many boats on the move as we made our way along the north Oxford but we did pass a modern boat pulling an old butty near the bridge that carries the West Coast mainline over the canal. There was the usual long line of moored boats just after the bend at All Oaks wood, most of which were GRP cruisers, 9 in all. It got me wondering about the collective noun for a gathering of such craft. I know that it’s probably fleet or flotilla but I’m kind of thinking that it should be a Tupperware party.
After passing through the swingbridge at Rose narrowboats, Sue steered while I went for a shower. Eventually, we were re-united with the WCML as we passed under the M6, all three routes will take you to Manchester or Liverpool, it just depends on how quickly you want to get there!
We passed through the golf course and decided to pull up on the visitor moorings behind the Rose & Castle at Ansty. Once secured, we had some green soup that Sue had made which was very good. We then sat in the cratch enjoying the sunshine on this the last day of August. This is the same spot that we had occupied with Phoenix III when she was iced in during the winter of 2010/11 (Read about it here and here). Working close by, I came and checked the boat over regularly but on the first occasion I thought it would be a good idea to heat up some soup and have lunch on board, I have never been as cold as I was on that day.
We were awake at half past six which was too early but what can you do? We had a coffee before getting up and getting ready for the first day of our trip. After filling the water tank, emptying the cassettes and throwing our rubbish in the bin, I disconnected the shore lead and took the electricity meter to the shop to be read. We had a cheese omelette for breakfast then the engine checks were done, the ropes untied and we were off!
Nb Alfresco was winding hastily in the marina entrance as we approached the iron bridge but that didn’t impede us or hold us up in any way as we made our way out on to the G.U.
It was a windy morning but the few boats that we met were not encountered at bridges or narrow parts of the canal. We’ve travelled this route many times in the past and it’s not always been without incident. I was thinking about one of those trips as we neared the junction and I noticed that Tony and Paul Redshaw have left their premises. I checked later and discovered that they have moved to Daventry. Previous adventures here and here.
We caught up with nb Alfresco again outside Braunston where he had managed to get grounded, he was so far over that we couldn’t get near enough to help him unfortunately. He waved us on but even as we passed, our wash made no impression on the stranded boat. As we made our way between Willoughby and Barby, we passed by a number of boats preparing to leave their mooring and by the time we were approaching the Barby straight we had a Napton narrowboat, a Rose narrowboat and a privateer in tow. The Napton boat had been travelling very close behind us for half an hour so with the Barby straight in view, we slowed and signalled to him to pass. He was wearing a captain’s hat after all and therefore outranked me. Actually, he was wearing a white jacket too, Sue guessed that perhaps he thought that he looked like Richard Gere – sorry mate, the similarity ended at the clothing!
He didn’t pass but drew closer so that his wife could inform us from the bow that they were about to stop for lunch. We increased our speed again and they then turned into the unfinished Barby Moorings marina. By the time we had reached the end of the straight, crawling past the moored boats, the Rose narrowboat, Fanfare, was right behind us asking to pass. We let them go at the next opportunity, they explained as they passed us that they had to get their boat back to the hire base and they were short of time. Would you not get up early rather than wait until 10.30 or so to leave your mooring. Anyway we caught them up at the top of the Hillmorton flight and travelled down in parallel with them before theyo zoomed off into the distance.
Our descent of the flight had been relatively easy with enough boats coming up to halve the amount of work involved. As we worked the final lock, Richard Gere arrived in style by crashing into the gate of the other lock, there seemed to be a bit of confusion as they tried to work out that they had to run water into the chamber before using it. Presumably they had met ascending boats at the previous two locks and hadn’t had to think about the process. We finished our day’s travelling with a further forty minutes before we tied up next to the park at Brownsover. A short trip to Tesco followed and then back to Caxton for dinner – sweet and sour pork with rice and excellent it was too!
Regular readers will have realised that we are dividing our time almost equally between living in our house and on board Caxton. We stopped off at the marina on Thursday morning before continuing our journey by road to Pinewood studios to watch the recording of an episode of “Through the Keyhole” which will be broadcast next month. We arrived back at Braunston around 9.30pm, settled in and went to bed.
Friday dawned and I got up and went to work, well one of us has to! Sue, meanwhile pottered around and did some shopping in the village. On her way back she spotted nb Yarwood being tied up just outside the marina by Joe and Lesley who of course were the original designers and owners of Caxton. We had briefly made their acquaintance on the weekend of the Braunston Historic Boat Rally so Sue said hello and was invited in and enjoyed a glass of wine with her hosts. I of course was oblivious to all of this as I toiled away at work trying to keep the country going. Eventually I finished what I had to do and returned to Braunston where Sue was waiting, sunning herself in the cratch with a glass of wine. Our plan had been to take Caxton out but we popped back to Yarwood and spent a few hours with Joe and Lesley instead. The conversation flowed well and we covered many subjects from Scottish independence to life afloat. We got a great insight into the economics of being a liveaboard from our new friends, reinforcing our belief that our plans for the future are the right ones. Joe gave me the stem to stern tour of Yarwood and I have to say that it really is a superb vessel, completely different to Caxton in most ways but with some of the same characteristics evident. Eventually we had to say goodbye but not before we made some tentative arrangements to meet up next week and go out for a meal with the pair. The time had flown by so when we returned to Caxton it was after seven o’clock and a bit too late to venture out. We had dinner in the cratch, lit by the late evening sunshine.
When we awoke on Saturday it was already very warm inside Caxton, a bit too warm and a quick glance outside revealed why. The sun was beating down from a clear blue sky so we got up and got dressed and by nine o’clock we were pulling out of the marina and on to the Grand Union. We had a brief conversation as we left with Paul, the marina manager, mainly about the lemon drizzle cake that Sue had made for the office staff last week.
This was the sort of day that we all love boating and as a result there were a lot of us about. We made our way on to the Oxford and headed towards Rugby and eventually reached the locks at Hillmorton. The descent was easy with enough boats moving in each direction between the locks to reduce the work for everyone. Once clear of the bottom lock, we passed the long term moorings and the water points before finding our mooring at the end of the armco piling. We toyed with the idea of walking into Hillmorton but it was so hot that we decided to sit in the cratch where there was a bit of shade instead. The afternoon slipped by and slowly gave way to an early evening which in turn made the transition to a sunset which at last brought a coolness to the air. So that was it, we had managed to while away yet another day doing bugger all!
Before bedtime, I switched on my iPad and tapped on the Newsify app. This is a news aggregator which picks up a series of RSS feeds of the users choice. I have a number of boating blogs that I follow and I find that this is the easiest way to keep up with my “correspondents” as I like to think of them. I read that Steve and Chris on board nb AmyJo had begun their big cruise which would move their boat from Crick to Tattenhall. They had reached Braunston where, like us 24 hours earlier, they had found Yarwood and spent some time with Joe and Lesley.
After a good night’s sleep we awoke to see that the weather had changed again and we faced a dull and damp morning. It was dry so we got ready and set off again hoping to turn just beyond Clifton wharf which is marked in the Nicholsons guide as a full length turning point. It isn’t as we found out when we tried to wind Caxton there half an hour after we had untied, perhaps there were no boats moored in the old arm when the guide was written. We motored on until we reached Rugby wharf, yet another disused loop from the original canal but one in which we were able to turn Caxton around. I thought that it might be worth trying to buy some diesel so once turned, we headed into the arm itself. This was our first time down there and we were surprised at how far it was before we reached the end. Sue got off and went to find some signs of life, she returned with the news that there is no-one around to sell diesel on Sundays. Unfortunately the heavens had opened and with me in the process of turning Caxton in the winding hole, we both ended up getting wet. As soon as Sue was back on board, the rain stopped of course but with it being warm, we both dried out soon enough. We re-emerged onto the cut and turned again in the winding hole, our third turnaround in fifteen minutes! We began our journey back to Braunston by picking our way through the bridges and moorings between Brownsover and Clifton. The sky remained cloudy until we reached the bottom lock at Hillmorton and as soon as we pulled up on the lock landing, there was a sharp shower so we donned our raincoats and started our ascent. Since Sue had her operation, she isn’t allowed to work the locks so I took my windlass and got to work. Sue recognised the lock keeper who we had met at Foxton last year and who was moored in Market Harborough basin, he has now been promoted and is based at Braunston where he is in charge of 126 volunteer lock keepers as well as the locks between Hillmorton and Buckby.
Fortunately there were more boats coming down the flight than going up so our progress was fairly good. When I walked up to the top lock there was a restored working boat already in the chamber with the crew just about to open the bottom paddles. It took some time to drain the lock, the boat left and Sue began her approach. In the meantime a boat had arrived on the top lock landing and I recognised its distinctive colours, it was nb AmyJo and striding towards me was Chris with windlass in hand. Of course we’ve never met before and I had the advantage of seeing their boat before she saw ours but I went to her and said hello. Steve brought AmyJo into one lock as Sue brought Caxton into the other and we all had a bit of a disjointed conversation as we worked the two locks together. The photos of AmyJo look great but in real life, even under a dull sky, it looks amazing – a fantastic paint job. Sadly we didn’t get to spend any more time with Steve and Chris but we will continue to follow their exploits through their blog posts.
After Hillmorton we plodded along without incident, the sky gradually clearing as we made our way back to Braunston. Six hours after we had untied, we were tying up on our pontoon in the marina, a weekend that had seen us make new friends who share the same interests as us and who write about their adventures on blogs like this. We bumped into our favourite lock keeper and we explored an extra bit of the Oxford canal in the form of the Rugby Wharf arm.
It was just gone half past six when we awoke, the sun was shining and the sky was blue so we got up, got the kettle on and set off. Sue sorted out a bacon sandwich for me and thus fortified, we made our way to Ansty. By the time we reached said village it was just after eight o’clock and one or two hire-boaters were starting to stir.
We continued through the golf course and under the M6, eventually getting to Stretton stop. We shook off the two boats that we had in tow, a couple of Rose Narrowboats returning to base. With light winds and temperatures in the low twenties, we enjoyed our morning cruise. There was a bit of congestion after we exited Newbold tunnel but nothing serious and then it was clear to Rugby. Boats were moored both sides at Brownsover but we managed to tickle Caxton past them and a couple of oncoming boats before we saw Bruce & Sheila on Sanity Again tied up on the Tesco side of the canal. We had a brief conversation with them and then carried on to Hillmorton where we tied on the visitor mooring.
Off we went into the village, did some shopping in the Londis and then called in the Stag & Pheasant to carry out some research. I had a couple of pints of Stella, Sue had a glass of wine. The staff were pleasant and friendly and we had a sandwich each, pretty basic but at £4 for both of us, no complaints.
We wandered back to Caxton, opened the Houdini hatches and the cratch covers, poured ourselves a drink and started to relax. Minutes later we were joined by Bruce and Sheila who had moved on from Rugby and were now moored a few hundred yards behind us. We had a drink and shot the breeze for an hour before they returned to Sanity Again. Sheila had brought us some chilli plants so we are now looking forward to a crop of spicy peppers later in the year.
Afterwards I put up a couple of artistic works that personalise Caxton for us.
Tomorrow it will be on to Braunston where we will find our new mooring before returning home. Funny really, normally we take the car to pick up the boat, this time it is the other way around!