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.
We’re never that bothered about “seeing the New Year in” and this year was no exception. We turned in at about 11pm last night and didn’t stir until 7am this morning. After a late breakfast, we got the walking boots on and took a walk along the towpath to inspect the state of the ice. I also sent a round robin email to other moorers at Bosworth marina to check on the ice there too. We had a good walk and used the time to make some “Happy New Year” calls since there was no mobile service on board Caxton. On returning to the boat, I read replies from Ned, Jane and Trevor who all reported that the marina was free from ice.
Well it was two o’clock and we had stayed 22 hours on a one hour mooring so with no excuse to overstay any longer, we untied and set off for Market Bosworth. We had seen a few boats on the move so despite the fact that there were still sheets of ice floating around, we were confident that our trip home would take less than ninety minutes. The journey was easy despite it being a blustery one. Our entry into the marina was difficult with the wind blowing left to right. We traversed the open space at full speed with Caxton leaning at about twenty degrees from normal but soon our home berth was visible. With a bit of judicious work of the throttle and bow thruster, we were soon at ninety degrees to the wind which nullified its effect, allowing us to glide alongside our pontoon and tie up.
So that was that, our Christmas cruise was over, although we intend to remain on board until Sunday before returning home prior to me going back to work on Monday.
We were resigned to yet another day iced in at the Lime Kilns when we went to bed last night. During the day I had carried a cassette to the elsan at Trinity marina and the prospect of making the two mile round trip again today didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm. At eight o’clock, everything changed when a convoy of five boats crunched through the ice heading north. It seems that they had smashed their way off the Coventry canal yesterday before mooring on the other side of the A5 for the night. It seemed a bit pointless to resume our journey towards Marston junction since we would only have the benefit of the broken ice for less than half a mile. The two remaining options were to stay put or to reverse Caxton all the way back to Nutts lane and attempt to wind in the entrance to the brick wharf. I decided to try the latter with Sue walking ahead to warn of any oncoming boats. In the event, there weren’t any and the trip was fairly easy. Turning around wasn’t so easy because the entrance to the wharf was frozen still but with a bit of manouvering, the ice broke and Caxton was pointing in the right direction again. We stopped at Trinity marina where we emptied the rubbish and the cassettes but failed to fill the water up because the supply was either turned off or frozen. The shop was shut so I wasn’t able to buy gas. As we were about to get underway again, I was approached by another boater who had seen me lift the empty gas cylinder out of the locker and then put it back. He told me that if we were desperate for gas, he had a full spare that we could have and he would buy another when the shop opened on Friday – how kind! The great boating camaraderie is alive and well and living on the Ashby canal. We have enough gas but I thanked him for the offer anyway and we restarted our journey. We met a couple of boats along the way but it was otherwise a lonely cruise in the sunshine. At duck corner, I could see the five members of the ice breaking convoy tied up but facing south. When I questioned the captain of the lead boat, Sextans, he told me that they had turned at Sutton Cheney because the ice was too thick to carry on. We reached the wharf about an hour later and could see that they had given up just after the water point. We struggled a bit to get alongside but eventually made it and filled the water tank before reversing on to the visitor moorings and tying up for the night.
The temperature is predicted to keep rising through the night until reaching 12 degrees tomorrow afternoon, what we don’t know is whether it will be sufficient to melt the ice. With the temperature set to drop again on Friday, we will have to pick our time well for the short hop back to Bosworth marina.
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.
After a very quiet night on the Shenton mooring we dragged ourselves out of bed and had breakfast which in my case was this bacon and egg sandwich created by chef Susan.
Goody two shoes Sue had a vegetarian breakfast which I’m sure was very nice but didn’t warrant a photo. By ten o’clock we were ready to face the world and the first person that we saw was Rick on nb Auriga so we flagged him down and bought four bags of coal from him.
With the coal safely stowed away, we untied and headed off in the direction of Sutton Cheney. This section of the Ashby is shallow and at the moment, like all canals is full of leaves which do their best to wrap themselves around the prop so with the strong wind thrown in for good measure, progress was slow. The water point was clear when we reached Sutton Cheney wharf so we pulled up and did the usual emptying and filling that we needed to do. Once serviced, we turned at the wharf and started our journey back to Market Bosworth. A boat moored on the towpath side of the battlefield mooring had come undone as an oncoming boat passed it and by the time we got there it had completely blocked the canal. Sue got off and helped the steerer from the oncoming boat to secure the wayward vessel. They soon discovered that the boat had been inadequately moored in the first place so it was hardly surprising that it had broken free. They soon had the situation under control and we were able to get underway again. Our escape from the scene was difficult, the wind pushed us into the shallows and the prop became clogged with leaves, the breakaway boat was still impeding our progress even though it was now securely tied. Eventually, after reversing until we were back alongside that bloody troublesome boat, we were able to get into the deepest part of the channel and then slowly make our escape. The rest of our journey was straightforward but by the time we reached the marina, the south westerly wind was blowing hard across the entrance with the result that no amount of bow thrusting, tiller or throttle could prevent us brushing the rubber buffer on the way into the basin. We were able to get on to our pontoon without any further trouble and were soon securely anchored in our berth.
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!