2017 The Thames Trip
Our first long trip after retirement. Almost six months cruising the Oxford canal, the river Thames and the Grand Union.
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.
A couple of lazy days were spent at Market Bosworth, we only managed one walk up to town but we did manage to catch up with Chris Hubbard, the manager at Bosworth marina. On Wednesday we decided to move on a bit further, this time getting as far as Shackerstone, where we tied on the deserted visitor moorings.
Following the usual pattern, we showered and had lunch before venturing out to the preserved station, home of the Battlefield line heritage railway.
There is a Victorian tea room on the platform so of course we had to pop in and have a cuppa before we returned to the boat and battened down the hatches, ready for the forecast wind and rain to arrive. The rain arrived at around seven o’clock and the wind speed built up steadily after that. By the time we were ready for bed, the noise of the wind blowing through the surrounding trees was terrific, so much so that Sue was unable to get to sleep until after two (I was out like a light within ten minutes though!).
There were more high winds forecast for Thursday but when I went outside just after eight o’clock to check that everything was intact and where it should be, it didn’t seem too bad at all. Just over an hour later, we set off again and made the trip along the last part of the Ashby canal to Snarestone. It was a quiet journey and we met only two boats travelling in the opposite direction along the way. The phantom leaf ball intervened a few times in some of the wooded areas around Gopsall but it didn’t hold us up at all. Snarestone tunnel seems quite tame after Blisworth and Braunston, despite the fact that it has a bend in it and a low roof caused by mining subsidence.
On reaching the end, we again found the visitor moorings deserted so we headed for the service block at the end and did the necessary. By now the wind was really picking up again but for once it was a good thing because after reversing from the services, I brought Caxton to a halt and just let the wind blow the bow into the winding hole. Having let the wind do most of the work, it was simple enough to complete the manoeuvre and tie up at the bridge end of the moorings.
After lunch, Sue walked back to the canal shop and paid for membership of the Ashby Canal Association. We’ll go and inspect the restoration development on Friday when the strong north westerly wind has dropped.
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.
Unbelievably , it has been a week since my last post and I don’t know where the time has gone so it’s time for a quick catch up!
After spending Friday night on the Warwickshire side of the A5, we walked over the county border and then into Hinckley where we did a little bit of shopping and had lunch at Prezzo before walking back to our apartment. Noticing that the mooring outside was free, I walked back to the Limekilns and brought Caxton round to “our garden” where Sue was waiting to take the ropes and pull us in.
We spent the next few days moving bits and pieces that we knew we wouldn’t be needing in our final month on board, back into our apartment. The weather had improved again so it was also an opportunity to make the most of what must surely be the last few days of summer. Hinckley hosts a classic car show every year and that just happened to be on the Sunday that we were in town. We spent a couple of afternoons on fthe decking outside the Marina with a bottle of wine, had lunch in Tarro Lounge another day and on our penultimate day we had lunch at Cafe Espanol which was a superb dining experience.
On Thursday, six days after we returned to the area, we moved the short distance to Trinity marina where we filled the water tank and emptied our cassettes. A bit cheeky, since we are not yet officially moored back there yet but I’m sure that they won’t mind this once. Once we were finshed we just pushed Caxton away from the bank and let the momentum carry us over to the other side of the canal where we pinned the boat to the armco piling.
It rained overnight and well into the morning so we had a very lazy start to the day, only getting up and showered in time for lunch. Afterwards, we walked into town and did some more shopping before returning to our mooring. Seeing that more rain was forecast for Saturday morning, we decided to set off for Stoke Golding even though it was already five o’clock.
It made a nice change travelling in the early evening and we saw nothing else on the move as we made our way through the countryside. We passed the barge moorings north of bridge 21, the approach to which is one of my favourite views on the Ashby canal. There were moorings available near bridge 22 but we passed on by and found a good spot near bridge 23. We have tied up here on many occasions in the past, it is close to Spinneybank farm shop and is an easy walk up into Stoke Golding.
In the end, we decided to leave Hawkesbury on Friday morning rather than Saturday. We had toyed with the idea of travelling to Atherstone for a couple of days but in the end, decided to return to the Ashby canal instead. Looking at the forecast, we could see that Friday offered sunshine and light cloud whereas Saturday looked dull but dry. Either day would have been good for travelling but sunshine on our return to our home water seemed appropriate. I was about to start this post with, “We’ve lost count of the number of times that we’ve travelled along the first six miles of the Ashby canal” but then I remembered that all I had to do was to go through the log book that we have kept since we bought our first boat, Phoenix III. The grand total came to 88 times! (44 in each direction of course).
Most people find that when they are driving home by car that there is a point where, because they have driven it many times before, it feels like they are already home, even if they still have twenty minutes left to go. We’re like that with Hawkesbury Junction; once we’ve made the turn on to the Coventry canal, we feel that we’re nearly home even though we’re still three hours away. It makes the trip easy to do as there is never a time when you’re unsure of your surroundings, how far you’ve travelled or how long you have left to go. The trip on Friday morning was just like that; we worked the lock, passed under the cast iron bridge and reversed on to the service point where we did all of the necessary things before setting off in the bright sunshine. An hour later, we reached Marston Junction which we had to ourselves long enough to make the turn unmolested by other craft. Soon we were passing under the West Coast mainline for the last time on our trip, we have crossed it, run along side it and slept within earshot of it for most of the way on our return from the bottom of the Grand Union. Just for good measure, we even travelled on it when we returned from our short break in July. Now we were leaving this strange travelling companion for the final time, well until we make trip number 89! On we went, meeting the odd narrowboat now and again and being overtaken by a trailboat but that was on one of the few straight and wide sections of the canal so that caused us no problem. An hour on from the junction saw us at Burton Hastings, after passing the long term linear moorings there and rounding the first bend, we caught our first sight of the warehouses next to the A5 and we knew that half an hour would bring us to the Limekilns bridge where the A5 crosses the canal.
Sure enough, the A5 suddenly came into view with its constant stream of Friday afternoon traffic. Seeing that the visitor moorings on our side of the road bridge were completely empty, we pulled in and tied up.
Our mooring for the night is only a ten minute walk away from where we live so we had lunch on board and then went to check that our home was still standing. Everything was in order so we quickly opened the post and returned to the boat for the evening.
Wednesday was as warm as Tuesday so we decided to walk up Black Horse road and catch the bus into Coventry. There’s no bus lane on this route into the city so the journey felt quite tedious. So tedious in fact that after we had finished looking at the cathedrals and had some lunch, we opted for the train journey out to Arena park followed by a walk along the towpath back to our mooring. We had to call in at the Greyhound to book a table for the following day so took the opportunity to sit down outside with a drink and do a bit of gongoozling in the sunshine.
Rain was forecast for most of Thursday afternoon which was why we had chosen to spend a couple of hours in there while having lunch. After a dull start to the day, the rain came just after noon and persisted until about four o’clock. As usual, the Greyhound experience was superb; good quality food, well cooked with great table service too. It was still raining as we made our way back to Caxton but we were suitably attired so it didn’t matter.
With no good reason to venture out again, we just settled in for a lazy afternoon and contemplated which day would be the best to move on – Friday or Saturday.
As usual, we had a very peaceful night at Ansty. I awoke early but there was only the distant hum of the M6 to distract me or maybe lull me back to sleep. We got up and were ready to set off just after eight but were slightly surprised to discover that there was a thick mist surrounding us. We’ve travelled in these conditions before so the mist didn’t deter us from setting off, moving around the bend and under the road bridge to the water point where we topped our tank up. The mist was lifting by the time we set off and we made good time on our way to Hawkesbury, a trip that we have made so many times before. We were pleased to find a mooring on the Oxford side of the junction on a straight stretch of the towpath. The mist had by that time, burned off and we had the promise of a lovely day ahead.
Making use of the hot water for showers, we were soon ready to leave Caxton and walk the two miles to Coventry arena park where we did some shopping at M&S and then had lunch at Chiquitos restaurant.
Lunch was good, if a little expensive and afterwards we walked back to Caxton via the Greyhound where we stopped for a little refreshment. There were half a dozen horses wandering on the towpath and Sue fed them with a few carrots from her handbag. I’ve always wondered why she keeps carrots in there but I know now!
Alright, I have to confess that Sue doesn’t carry carrots or any other vegetables for that matter in her handbag but she did feed the horses with carrots bought from the local shop.
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.