On the 28th April 2017, we pulled Caxton out of the marina in Hinckley and began preparations for our first big cruise. Unbelievably, we have now reached that anniversary and we are ready to start again!
It was the middle of March when we returned from our winter break on Fuerteventura and it was a pleasant surprise to return to long-ish days and mild weather. We busied ourselves with visits to family, doctors and dentists although not necessarily in that order. We also managed to fit in a five day break to Scotland, travelling by train to Glasgow for three nights before finishing off in Edinburgh for a couple of nights and then travelling back. The flexibility that retirement brings enabled us to travel 1st class on cheap advance tickets. The journey to Glasgow was delayed by an hour so those fares were fully refunded, in effect a free ride with free food and drink.
In the days prior to our trip north of the border, we had moved a lot of stuff on board Caxton in preparation for our departure so when we got home on Tuesday 24th April, we had only a few more bits to shift from bricks to boat. We were fully prepared by midday on the Wednesday so we decided to eat at the nearby Brewers Fayre and spend our first night on board since last October.
Thursday dawned and without further ado, we untied and quietly slipped out from the safety of the marina and headed north on the Ashby canal. This might seem like a strange start to a six month cruise, heading into a cul-de-sac but we wanted a few days to make sure that everything worked and that we hadn’t forgotten anything. If we had overlooked anything, we would be able to collect what we had forgotten as we passed home on the return trip.
The day was dry, if a little cool and we pushed on to reach Market Bosworth in the early afternoon, tying on our favourite mooring between the road bridge and the marina entrance. We sat out the heavy rain that arrived on the Friday and nursed the colds that we had somehow managed to pick up on our travels north of the border.
The following day was cold but dry so we turned around and made our way back to Stoke Golding. After mooring on Duck Bend, I left Sue in the cozy interior of Caxton while I went on a mission to the George & Dragon pub. At first glance, the G&D is just another village pub selling and real ale and serving home made food. I’m not a real ale fanatic but the Churchend Brewery beers served there are very good. We’ve not eaten a meal in the pub so I can’t really pass comment on the menu but there are always plenty of customers and judging by some of the conversations that I have overheard, they are travelling to Stoke Golding from further afield than the village itself. And the purpose of my mission? Well, the George & Dragon sells something that is almost irresistible to me – sausage rolls, home made I presume. The humble sausage roll comes in all sorts of guises of course, ranging from the tasteless, factory produced rubbish in the chiller cabinet of supermarkets and petrol stations. These pathetic items feature pale, dry pastry surrounding a grey sliver of pork paste with a mysterious air gap between the two components. Cutting one in half and looking at the cross section, you might be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at one of Tutankhamun’s digits (or worse!). The middle ground is firmly held by the High Street baker, Greggs. The pork is pink, fills the golden pastry and is reasonably priced. Local bakers dominate the upper end of the sausage roll league, if one existed and the standard varies from shop to shop. The sausage roll which is to be found in the George and Dragon, Stoke Golding is the king of sausage rolls – quite fitting when you consider that it was here in 1485 that Henry VII was crowned King of England, marking the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and the beginning of the Tudor era. If Waitrose sold a sausage roll like this, they would probably feel compelled to describe it as a “Sausage Wellington”. It’s six months since I last passed this way and had one of these sausage rolls so I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with the delicacy. Of course, there’s always the danger that the experience that exists in the memory is better than the reality, inevitably leading to disappointment. There was no disappointment last Saturday, the beast of a sausage roll was bigger and tastier than I remembered from last year so after washing it down with a couple of pints of Churchend’s “Fallen Angel”, I toddled back down to the canal and settled in for the rest of the day.
It was dry and cold again on Sunday so we made the short trip back to Hinckley and tied on the visitor moorings for a couple of days. This enabled us to do a bit more shopping and pick up a handful of things from home.
We did another short hop on Tuesday to the Limekilns moorings, just a mile away, where we filled the almost empty water tank and spent another couple of days. Finally, after enduring the unseasonably cold and wet weather which seemed to make our colds more miserable than they probably were, we were ready for the off and on Thursday morning, with the sun shining, we untied and made our way toward Marston Junction and the Coventry canal. It was good to be on the deeper water of the lower section of the Ashby and almost luxurious to travel on the Coventry canal being deeper, wider and straighter than the aforementioned waterway. The Ashby from Stoke Golding to Market Bosworth seemed a lot shallower in places than it did last year which was surprising given the amount of rain we have had, I dread to think how it might be in the summer after a dry spell.
Anyway, we turned left at Marston junction and travelled on to Hawkesbury where we made use of the elsan, turned around and tied on the seven day moorings. We are going to have a few days here and have lunch in the Greyhound on Saturday, my birthday, a reprise of last year’s birthday/retirement celebration. The weather is changing for the better, our colds are almost gone and we are moored in one of our favourite places – the summer cruise begins here – at last!
We left Stoke Golding’s Duck bend reasonably early on Thursday for the trip back to our home in Hinckley and luckily we found that the mooring close to the apartment was empty so naturally we tied up there. We checked the post and moved a few more of our belongings from the floating home to the bricks and mortar one. It was strange walking from the apartment back to the canal and seeing Caxton sitting in the sunshine as it had done back at the beginning of May in the last few days before this epic trip began.
However, the epic trip was still ongoing and with the weekend temperatures predicted to be in the low 20’s we decided to head back to Hawkesbury for a few days. It was Friday afternoon before we set off but with no pressure of time on us, we were only aiming for a mooring somewhere on the lower stretches of the Ashby. We tied up just past Burton Hastings, opposite where Bramcote barracks and hospital used to be although new housing now occupies the site. The last time that we moored here was in November 2010 on our fateful trip to Braunston but this time around, we awoke to unseasonably warm temperatures on Saturday morning. As we approached Hawkesbury, we could see that most of the seven day mooring stretch on the Coventry canal side of the junction was free so we just picked the straightest stretch that we could find and moored up. Being the first boat to arrive meant that everyone else filled up the mooring around us and by early evening, the stretch was full.
Although the promised temperatures materialised, the sun only appeared sporadically and the wind sort of dominated on both weekend days – maybe our expectations were too high, given the fact that it was mid October and summer was living on borrowed time. We were treated to a magnificently colourful sunset on Saturday evening and perhaps it was a fitting sign for us, one which said, “that’s it, you’ve had a great time but now it’s over until next year!”.
With nothing much to hang around for, we decided to set off again on Sunday afternoon, turn around and head for home. It was just one of those afternoons when it would have been easy to cruise for hours on end, the conditions were so good. As a result, we reached the moorings before the A5 at the Limekilns and found that there was space for us there.
We walked into Hinckley on Monday morning, a warm day but backlit by that strange orange sunlight created by the outer edge of Hurricane Ophelia picking up dust from the Sahara desert. By Monday afternoon the wind was increasing in strength as Ophelia closed in on the western edges of the British Isles but by then we had returned to the safety and warmth of Caxton.
Tuesday morning brought a completely different sort of day, blue skies and sunshine, although the temperature had cooled by a few degrees. We moved on from the Limekilns and made our way back to “our garden” mooring. It had been our intention to spend the following few days carrying our remaining belongings back to the apartment before moving Caxton back into the marina on Friday. However, with wet weather forecast for the rest of the week we decided to make the most of the beautiful day, move all our stuff off and go back in later in the day. It was a bit of a slog, almost like moving house without the benefit of Pickfords but we managed it and by half past four we were untying Caxton, ready for the final leg of our trip. In a way, it was quite fitting really to set off from the same point as we had at the beginning of May on the first leg, albeit in the opposite direction. It didn’t take us long to make the short hop round to the marina and find our new berth for the winter. After tying up, we decided to call into the Marina pub for a celebratory drink to mark the end of our first epic trip.
This is what the trip entailed:
Number of weeks spent on board – 25
Miles travelled – 358 (573km)
Locks – 187
Tunnels – 6
Counties visited – 10
Blog posts – 75
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll realise that we’re just winding down now and making the most of the mild weather by dawdling up and down the Ashby Canal.
On Friday, we walked to the Globe at Snarestone and had lunch there which was excellent as usual. After lunch we walked back to the boat and then carried on along the restored section of canal to what is now the new terminus. On returning to the service area, we saw that nb Sonia Louise was moored up behind Caxton so we said hello and invited our friends, Martin and Caroline for a drink.
We had a good catch up over a couple of glasses of wine on board Caxton before retiring for the evening. On Saturday morning I helped Martin make some adjustments to the Mastervolt system on Sonia Louise before Sue joined us for coffee. Having stayed for the maximum 48 hours on the visitor moorings, we left and made our way to Snarestone tunnel where I was propositioned by Sue who suggested that if we tied up south of the tunnel, she would buy lunch at the Globe. Never one to pass up the chance of a visit to a pub or indeed a free lunch, I pulled Caxton in at the earliest opportunity and so we found ourselves back in the Globe having lunch. We were soon joined by Martin and Caroline who expressed some surprise at our lack of progress but as soon as we had eaten, we were on our way again.
We moored at Shackerstone for the evening and I paid a short visit to the Rising Sun for a couple of pints.
Sunday morning dawned and we were off again, this time bound for Market Bosworth where we tied on the visitor moorings. Martin and Caroline passed us a while later as they returned to their mooring in Bosworth marina and a short while after we saw Treena and Stuart on nb Carpe Diem. Carpe Diem was moored next to us in Hinckley when we bought Phoenix III and our paths have crossed many times over the years.
Our next port of call was the marina cafe where we had a cream tea before walking up to town. The 1804 cafe is a superb addition to the marina facilities and they are lucky that they have their own pastry chef who lives on a boat there. She happens to be the partner of my old friend, Daz who we know from Trinity and who also moors in Bosworth now.
We caught up with Treena & Stuart before we went to Market Bosworth and had a bloody good laugh with them, they really are a smashing couple.
On Monday we walked into town and re- aquatinted ourselves with the Dixie Arms where we had lunch and then did a bit of shopping in the local fruit shop and Co-op.
We were up relatively early on Tuesday and went into the marina where we filled up with diesel and bought a couple of bags of coal before setting off again.
Our next stop was Sutton Cheney wharf where we serviced the boat and then carried on to duck bend between Dadlington and Stoke Golding. On arrival, we bumped into yet another of our old friends, Jim Redhead on nb Billie. Jim is an artist who specialises in oil paints and we haven’t seen him since we left in early May so it was good to catch up with him after all of these months.
While I was chewing the fat with Jim, Sue was booking a table at the Dog & Hedgehog at Dadlington. It’s a ten minute walk from the canal to the D&H and as we reached the pub we met our friend Liz who is, or rather was, the postmistress at Stoke Golding. Sadly, the post office was robbed last monday and Liz was assaulted in the process. We were pleased to see that she was none the worse for the ordeal, however she has resigned her post and the P.O. remains closed.
Dinner was excellent as usual and our hosts were as charming as usual, so much so that Sue declared that she would buy lunch the following day. Therefore, on Wednesday, we walked back up the hill and had lunch at the Dog & Hedgehog.
Other than that, we have watched boats struggle in the high winds as well as suffering two boats as they collided with us as they either lost control of their steering or failed to judge the mooring space available.
Our mooring at bridge 23 near Stoke Golding was quiet as usual and we remained there on Saturday. A few boats passed by in both directions during the day but it wasn’t busy by any means. At lunch time, I made the ten minute walk up to the village on a very important mission, I wanted to visit The George and Dragon for one of their sausage rolls, washed down with a pint of beer. The locally brewed pint of “Goat’s Milk” was alright but real ale isn’t really my thing. The sausage roll however, lived up to my expectations. Sue’s painful hip has been playing up again and she had remained on the boat so after my short lunch, I walked back down the towpath and joined her on board. The afternoon was spent reading in our peaceful surroundings. Silence, only broken by the braying donkeys, mooing cows, the geese, the ducks and the combine harvester. The farmyard noises being punctuated periodically by the cars sounding their horns as they approached the narrow bridge over the canal.
There wasn’t really a plan for our time on the Ashby, we had just wanted to travel to the end and back, stopping at the various villages along the way. We’ve visited them all before but never all on the same trip. The weather was always going to be a determining factor in our travel plans and more specifically help us to decide when it was time to return home and move back on to the land. For those who don’t know, the distance from Snarestone at the end of the navigation to Hinckley is only sixteen miles or around five and a half hours travelling so if the weather really turned nasty, we could be back home in a day!
A few days ago we were enjoying warm sunshine but today, the first of October, it seems that the season has changed as if by the flick of a switch! The signs were all there of course, shortened days, slightly cooler temperatures and if we had bothered to notice, the yellowing of the leaves on the trees. Overnight rain and winds that are stronger than of late have brought those yellow leaves down to the ground and into the water – and all over the roof of the boat!
The sun came up at seven o’clock, not that it was visible behind the thick blanket of grey cloud that filled the sky. At nine o’clock, we untied and moved off in the direction of Sutton Cheney. A few minutes later and the wharf where the Ashby boat company is based came into view, as did one of their day hire boats which was just setting off. Just as I was wishing that we had left a few minutes earlier, the staff member on the bank saw me and waved me through, instructing the hirers to reverse and give way – what a star you are, sir!
The next hour was spent pleasantly meandering around the contours of the land, despite the dullness, the temperature was mild enough so on balance it was a good cruise. At Sutton Cheney we pulled in and used the services there and after checking the visitor moorings, we moved on as there was no space available. While we were servicing the boat, the Ashby day boat had passed us so it was a bit of a surprise, as we approached Shenton, to see them tying up. As we got nearer I could see that the crew had the weed hatch open and were peering into it with puzzled expressions on their faces. The weed hatch was closed by the time we drew level and they were preparing to set off again, they were clearly mystified but I knew what their problem was.
For the uninitiated (boaters can skip this paragraph), the weed hatch gives access to the propeller and the only time that you need to go in there is when something is fouling the prop. It could be anything from reeds and weeds to plastic bags, clothing, a traffic cone or a discarded tyre. Having lost steering and power, I always dread lifting the weed hatch, always hoping for something simple and easy to remove. At this time of year, there are a lot of leaves in the water and the propeller churns them into a ball which swirls around and creates the same effect that something wrapped around it. By the time the boat is pulled over and the weed hatch opened, the ball of leaves will have dispersed and the boater is left staring, mystified at a clear prop. The phantom problem will return of course but eventually the steerer will realise that by just knocking the engine out of gear for a few seconds will disperse the leaves so no visit down the weed hatch is necessary.
It was still early so we plodded on, with only two or three phantom leave balls to hinder us and eventually reached Market Bosworth where we found that the single space between the road bridge and the marina was free so we pulled in and tied up as we have done many times before. It’s a quiet spot here because the towpath was diverted when the marina was built and therefore nobody ever walks past.
There were so many leaves lying on the roof that I decided to brush them off before they started to rot and stick. This gave me a front row seat for some entertainment a couple of minutes later when the day boat arrived, not that they did anything wrong, they seemed experienced enough. A private boat was passing the marina entrance as the day boat reached the road bridge but the lady driving kept going. As she drew level with Caxton, she called out to her husband who quickly joined her on the back deck. The day boat had stopped by this time and there seemed to be an impasse for a minute or two, neither boat seemed to be willing to reverse and somehow managed to shuffle around each other, helped no doubt by the fact that they were both pretty short in length.
With the excitement over and the roof cleared, we retreated inside and had lunch. Later, I took a wander over to the station to see which steam engine was on duty and here it is.
Of course there is no such thing as “Typical Easter Weather” because Easter Sunday can be as early as March 22nd and as late as April 25th. When you consider that British weather is changeable anyway, with March and April being two of the more volatile months (the others being the other ten!), it’s hardly surprising that the Easter weekend weather is hard to predict.
There appears to be a move to fix the date of Easter because, in essence, it makes commercial sense to have it in late April. For centuries now, Easter has been defined as the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox. This might seem unnecessarily complicated in this day and age but it comes as a result of mankind trying to figure out and mark the passing of time with cultures and religions disputing and compromising their beliefs. However, no matter what our beliefs are, we have always liked to mark mid winter, midsummer and both the equinoxes. We like the phases of the moon and the fact that we get thirteen full ones every year.
I quite like the idea that we have a special weekend whose date changes every year. I like the thought that it has roots in ancient Roman, Hebrew and Egyptian calendars and I am amused by the thought that we would benefit by fixing the date in late April. I am amused because I believe that it would make little difference commercially, adding nothing to GDP or whatever other spurious measures the bean counters dream up next. There are are only four facts to consider:
1. In Britain the weather is likely to be shit at any time.
2. Weekend weather is more likely to be shit than weekday weather.
3. Bank holiday weekends are more succeptible to shit weather than any other weekends.
4. Despite the weather, British people still go out to enjoy themselves on bank holidays!
Anyway, I’m writing this after travelling from Market Bosworth to Stoke Golding this morning where we moored up just as the rain came on. We’ve watched boat after boat crewed by people wrapped up against the elements but determined not to let the weather spoil their “enjoyment”. It’s now raining heavily and the wind is so fierce that there are actually small waves breaking on the surface of the Ashby canal.
Happy Easter everyone!
As expected, it was damp and drizzly when we awoke on the morning of Good Friday but we had no intention of hanging around for the day so we got up and were underway by nine o’clock. We passed a few boats heading towards Snarestone for the Easter weekend event as we made our way to Hinckley. Sue nipped home for some cough medicine for me while I bought some diesel and coal at Trinity marina. We had a brief chat with old friend Jim who has had a winter mooring there before setting off again. We were photographed by the crew of a tug heading north who told us that the pic was one for the first owners, we presume that she meant Lesley and Joe so maybe our mugshots will appear on another blog somewhere. The drizzle persisted for a while but it wasn’t like travelling in the rain and eventually we reached Marston Junction at the end of the Ashby where we turned hard left.
Sue rustled us up some soup to keep us going until we reached our stopping place for the day, the seven day moorings on the approach to Hawkesbury junction. Along the way we had our photo taken again and later appeared on this guy’s Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/CanalSideArt?ref=ts&fref=ts
No sooner had we gone through all of the normal mooring procedures than the heavens opened, we had been lucky again with our timings but would there be a window of opportunity to nip to the Greyhound for a pint?
Of course there was, we toddled off down there during a dry spell and not only did we have a drink but we had haddock & chips too! Suitably appropriate fare for Good Friday.
With the Easter weekend finally upon us, we took up residence on Caxton on Wednesday evening in preparation for our weekend break. While I worked on Thursday, Sue worked her magic cleaning Caxton thoroughly so that when I returned, our her boat gleamed in the early April sunshine. All of my regular chores had been done for me so all that was left was to untie and escape!
We edged out on to the Ashby just after four o’clock and headed in a southerly direction on what was to prove to be a pleasant sunny afternoon. It was lovely to be back out on the water again, in the fresh air and watching the wildlife in action. We saw a couple of water voles, a moorhen on its nest and a swan starting to build a nest before we pulled up at “duck bend” near Stoke Golding. Once tied up, we sat down to dinner, home made lasagne for me and home made spinach and ricotta cannelloni for Sue, she does love her “meat free Maundys”!
I don’t mind mistakes as long as lessons are learned.
The sky was blue and the sun was shining, there were odd patches of snow but in essence the day had the makings of being a good one for cruising. The first thing I did was to wrap up warmly from the outset, adding yet another layer than I had had on the day before, this was lesson one! With the usual checks done, we were off into the sunshine once more. Sue was working away inside Caxton and soon produced a sausage sandwich for me and a mug of tea to wash it down with.
The entire Ashby fleet was present when we passed through Stoke Golding wharf and we only passed two boats travelling in the opposite direction before we reached Trinity Marina at Hinckley. Every so often in a boater’s life, there comes that dreaded day and today was that day, yes the filling of the diesel tank! We took the opportunity to do the other services while we were there in the hope that it would take my mind off the fuel bill but 220 litres of diesel is 220 litres regardless of the price of a barrel of Brent crude!
Everything done, we pootled on to the mooring opposite the Lime Kilns, passing Stu and Treena on Carpe Diem along the way. Jim was tied up outside the Brewers Fayre but was nowhere to be seen.
Once secured, I remembered my second lesson and sorted out the satellite dish before fixing the canvas cover over the rear deck of Caxton.
The fire had stayed in overnight so the inside of Caxton was filled with a gentle heat. The Met office had issued a yellow weather warning but admitted that they weren’t sure where snow might fall or even how much there might be – what use is that? Market Bosworth sat under blue skies so we decided to untie and venture out. Except for the boat that appeared behind us minutes after we had emerged from the marina, we saw nothing else on the move. The boat behind pulled over at Sutton Cheney, probably for the services and we were alone again, except for those trying to walk off the excesses of Christmas Day.
We pulled over at “Duck Corner” near Stoke Golding and I tried to get warm in front of the fire. Stupidly, I had not started the journey with enough layers of clothing on and despite the fact that I eventually added a big coat, a hat and gloves to my heavy golf jumper it was too late, I was chilled to the marrow!
The rain started within the hour, heavy and noisy but I didn’t care because the fire was doing a great job of thawing me out. The covers were all secure front and back and then I remembered that I hadn’t set up the satellite dish – Oh bugger! Eventually, the noise of the rain subsided so I decided to venture out into the cold, except that the rain hadn’t stopped, it had turned to snow – double bugger! Eventually, I did get out and made a hasty, half-hearted attempt at aligning the dish, getting a weak but watchable signal. After an hour, the signal went, probably due to the wind and rain which continued to batter us. Fortunately, I had swapped the television a couple of weeks ago so we had DVD capabilities and a few films that we hadn’t watched and that was it, we just dossed in front of the fire for the evening, listening to the storm and wondering what the landscape would look like in the morning.
We were up at seven this morning and on our way for quarter to eight. As I thought last night, the boat moored 100 yards down the towpath was nb Muleless. There were no signs of life as we crept past on tickover on what was a slightly misty morning. Forty minutes later we pulled up at Sutton Cheney where we did all of the services needed before we set off on what would be the final leg of the trip. Once underway, Sue ‘phoned Chris Hubbard the marina manager and gave him an indication of our arrival time. By the time we reached bridge 42, the last one before the marina entrance, the early morning mist had gone leaving only blue skies, sunshine and a few fluffy white clouds.
Chris stood by the marina entrance to welcome us in and pointed out our pontoon which was easy to see since he had placed a high viz coat on the end. The pontoons line the ‘L’ shaped basin and ours is positioned near the corner so that manouvering is very easy. In fairness, the pontoons are so well spaced that there should be no difficulty for anyone moving their boat around the basin. We backed into the space reserved for us and where Chris was now waiting to grab the centre line and gently pull Caxton on to the full length fixed pontoon. We chatted with him for a few minutes before letting him get back to work. We then secured front and back lines and carried out a few checks. Mobile internet is a good connection, the satellite dish has a clear sky and the view from the cratch is an uninterrupted expanse of water, perfect.
All that was left to do was to go and get the car so after lunch – pale green soup today, we walked up into Market Bosworth and caught the bus to Hinckley. It wasn’t long before we had returned to the marina and parked up. We are staying here for the weekend and intend to visit the Shackerstone festival but not by boat of course!