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.
There was a definite chill in the air on Thursday morning when we slipped out of Braunston, heading north to Hillmorton. Our eight o’clock start was designed to give us a mid morning arrival above the locks, improving our prospects of finding a good mooring. It seemed that no-one else was keen to make a start on the cool September and we didn’t see another boat on the move for almost two hours. By “we”, I mean me because Sue had been excused deck duties on account of her having a problem with her back. So with her tucked up safely in bed and only a few boaters beginning to make half hearted attempts to venture out, I was alone with the world of nature and it was good, very therapeutic!
It was just after half ten when we reached the top of Hillmorton and we were able to pull in at the end of the mooring, just after the bridge.
It’s a five minute walk to the shops at Hillmorton and from there you can catch the number 3 (or 3A) bus into Rugby and that is exactly what we did on both Thursday and Friday. We’ve visited Rugby many times before so this wasn’t a sightseeing tour, just some essential shopping being done.
Our original plan had been to move on Saturday morning but that changed when we had a text from David and Lisa on nb What a Lark! They were at Newbold on Avon on the other side of Rugby and wondered if we would be around for coffee and a catch-up in the morning. We really enjoy their company and as it had been three years since we last saw them at Dadlington on the Ashby canal, it was a very easy decision for us to sit tight for another day and move on Sunday.
I took a windlass to the bottom lock at about quarter to nine and waited for WAL and crew to arrive, which they did a few minutes later. The bottom lock was empty, there was a lock keeper on duty and there were a couple of boats making their way down the flight so it didn’t take long before What a Lark was tied securely above the top lock and we all went to join Sue on board Caxton for coffee. After what seemed like twenty minutes but was actually two hours, they had to go and resume their journey. When will we see them next, who knows but we look forward to it whenever it happens to be.
The sun came out after lunch so we took a walk down the bottom lock and visited the café there and it was very pleasant just watching the odd boat go by in the September sunshine; not many days like this left this year I suspect.
We’ve moored both our boats in Braunston marina in the past so we are very familiar with the area. After a peaceful night moored in the pound between locks two and three, we got up and caught the bus to Daventry where, after having breakfast in Wetherspoons, we did some grocery shopping in the local supermarkets while dodging some heavy downpours.
On Sunday morning I got up early, made some coffee and got back in bed, there was nothing remarkable in that but an hour and a half later, Sue got up and couldn’t walk through the boat. I got up when I heard her proclaim that the boat was sitting at an angle unlike any that she had ever known before and I was faced with something resembling the crazy house at a funfair. Caxton has a cross bed so we hadn’t noticed that we were listing heavily to starboard. Had we been in our previous boat with its in-line bed we would have either rolled to the wall or out on to the floor. We got dressed quickly and climbed outside to see that all of the boats moored by us were listing in a similar fashion to ourselves. The water level in the pound was down by more than a foot so we grabbed a couple of windlasses and hurried up to the lock above us. Another boater was already there running water through the lock and into the pound but being cautious about draining the pound above. There were already boats trying to ascend and descend the flight so there was no point in us trying to run more water down, the normal lock operation would eventually take care of the water levels. It was impossible to know the cause of the draining of the pound but we knew that it had been quite sudden. On returning to the boat we decided to untie and move down below the bottom lock even if that meant that we wouldn’t be able to find another mooring in the Braunston area. The water level in our pound had risen but it was still lower than normal; this made for slow progress to the next lock but we managed it and as we worked the lock we could see that the top lock gates were leaking badly, it looked like the paddles weren’t closed properly as well as the usual leaks from the gates.
Thankfully, we found a space just beyond the private entrance to the marina, the ring spacing wasn’t great but it was good enough for us. An hour or so after we had tied up, a small narrowboat pulled into the gap that we had left behind us. Sue was in the kitchen when she heard a cry for help, the boater had fallen in while trying to secure his stern line. I went to try and help pull him out but he was struggling to get his leg up on to the bank. Fortunately, Caxton has a step built into the rudder and another on the stern just below the waterline. I was then able to help him back on to dry land. Sue, meanwhile had managed to stop another narrowboat which was about to pass and thus prevented the unsecured boat from moving around and endangering the man overboard. Another boater had also arrived and grabbed the centre line of the rogue vessel, he suggested to the half drenched skipper that he should get inside and change into dry clothing while we secured the boat. It turned out that the soggy steerer was only moving the boat for someone else, didn’t have any other clothing but was due to be picked up in a few minutes. After he had sorted his ropes out, he realised that despite everything that had happened, he had managed to keep his cigarette firmly clamped between his lips!
Our new mooring has a limit of 48 hours so we had our two days there before moving on a little way on Tuesday, carrying out our services and then finding another 48 hour mooring opposite the Boathouse pub.
Unfortunately Sue had aggravated the painful combination of a hip and back injury, brought on we think, by the heavy gates and paddles on some of the Braunston locks. This meant that from Sunday she was pretty much resting while I used the time to visit the two chandlers shops, the butcher and the local convenience store. There was some improvement by Tuesday when we walked to the Boathouse and had lunch but she was still suffering so it was a matter of continuing to take things as easy as possible while still trying to keep active.
Wednesday was spent in much the same way as our other days in the area with short walks to shops being the order of the day. We had to move again on thursday and because we wanted to reach Hillmorton, we were up and away just before eight o’clock.
September 11th is a date that will live long in the memories of most of the population of the western world but for all the wrong reasons.
For us it is a date with an additional significance because in 2007 we went to view nb Phoenix III, a boat that we then went on to buy. We kept Phoenix III until the spring of 2014 when we sold her and bought Caxton.
This first blog post diarises how we bought our boat.
I really dislike Braunston tunnel, almost every time that we have passed through it we have managed to meet another boat on the kink nearest to the southern portal. In addition to the obvious kink the rest of the tunnel isn’t that straight but it’s hard to complain about the hard work done by the hands of men long dead, given the circumstances in which they had to work and the low level of technology at their disposal.
We had a very simple plan, get up early and get through the tunnel before anyone else made it up through the Braunston locks on the other side. We were awake just after six underway at half past, just as the sun was rising. The air was cool but still as we travelled the two mile stretch to the tunnel and with only a handful of moored boats to slow down for, we reached the tunnel mouth forty minutes later. The contrast between the light levels inside and outside the tunnel was less than usual because the weak September sun was still low in the sky. Unsurprisingly, we met nothing in the tunnel and before too long we were back into the daylight and heading for the top lock of the Braunston flight.
Two cyclists and a dog walker provided us with the only signs of life as we descended on our own. Normally we try to time our journeys so that we arrive late morning in the hope that we improve our chances of finding a space where we want to be, the idea being that more boats are on the move during that period. Our hope had been to moor below the lock at The Admiral Nelson but accepted that our chances would be slim at half past eight in the morning. Well, the good luck that has followed us when it comes to mooring on this trip didn’t desert us and after leaving the aforementioned lock, we saw a Caxton sized space waiting for us. It started to rain shortly after we tied up but we didn’t care, we had completed our mission and moored exactly where we had hoped to be.
Despite our proximity to the West Coast Main Line, we had a good night at Bugbrooke although it was raining steadily when we awoke. We took our time getting out of bed and were unsure of our plans for the day. Eventually, the rain stopped and we decided to set off. As nice as Bugbrooke is, it is just another dormitory village where the residents believe that they live there even though they work, shop and socialise elsewhere.
We moved on to Weedon Bec and stopped at the moorings on the offside near the church. We’ve been here before so there wasn’t anything to explore that was new. Walking down from the canal bank brings you down into the churchyard, crossing a footpath which I think is the Nene Way. We had a look in the church as we passed through and then visited the One Stop convenience store which is part of the Tesco group. Next, we visited the nearby Plume of Feathers pub which was completely devoid of both staff and customers so after five minutes waiting, we left and walked along the street to the other pub at this end of the village, The Maltster’s Arms. We got served there but the place wasn’t very nice so we quickly drank up and left. Out of curiosity, we called back into the Plume of Feathers and were greeted by a very friendly landlady who explained that she had been cleaning upstairs. We had a drink and then returned to the boat.
The following day started off with bright sunshine so I did some cleaning of the roof. It’s a difficult job because it has a sanded, non-slip surface. We never walk on the roof so the surface is of no use to us but the sanded finish traps so much dirt and is a b*st*rd to keep clean.
In the middle of the day we had lunch and then walked to the upper part of Weedon by going down the steps from the canal, turning right on to the footpath, walking to Bridge Road and then going under the canal before turning left on the A5. On reaching the junction between the A5 and the A45, we popped in Tesco and bought a few bits before walking up to the Heart of England pub where we stopped off for a drink. Weedon Bec has a number of Antique shops but we have visited them all before so we did no more than look in the windows as we passed by.
We walked back along the towpath and passed by our old lock buddies on nb Que Sera Sera. Back at Caxton, I spent a couple of hours waxing and polishing the port side.
We were up and about the following morning nice and early and left our mooring in the early morning sunshine, just after eight o’clock. Our journey brought us into the Watford gap where the canal gradually gets squeezed in between the A5, the M1 and the WCML. Two boats were leaving the bottom lock as we arrived and we were soon joined by nb Grampa’s Lady, with a single hander on board. There were a few boats coming down the Buckby flight as we ascended and with Sue doing most of the physical stuff, we reached the top quite quickly.
Luckily enough we found a mooring above lock and just before the CaRT yard. We had lunch, went for a walk and then spent the rest of the afternoon outside the New Inn.
Time for a rant now!
As we sat outside the New Inn, nb Corona arrived at the lock. The steerer made no attempt to slow down and smashed into the bottom gate with such force that people came out of the pub to see what had happened. We have history with this boat and its owner who we presume to be Trevor Maggs as that is the name painted on the side of it. On a previous occasion, this boat shot straight out of the arm between Rugby and Newbold causing us to make an emergency stop to avoid T-boning it. We love the idea that there are many old working boats preserved and still in use on the system and although in the main, most owners are caring and considerate, I think that there are a disproportionate number who think that they have a priority over everyone else. They don’t, they have a leisure boat and pay a licence at the same rate as everyone else. No doubt Trevor Maggs, if that is his name, will also be one of those who complains about the poor state of the locks and that CaRT don’t maintain them properly. Here’s a clue Trevor, stop smashing the f*ck*ng gates up!!!!!!
Rant over – for now!
For the last week or so, there has been a distinct feeling that we are on our way back home. Of course, we’ve been on our way back ever since we set off but when you are exploring new waters, it doesn’t feel that way. Part of the feeling that we are returning is due to the fact that the seasons are changing and that the summer is now behind us. The other part is because we have some familiarity with this section of canal, we know that there are not too many places left to visit and most of them are not new to us anyway. Add to all of that the constant reminders from the numbers on bridges, locks and mileposts that we are gradually getting closer to Braunston where all those numbers end up at either one or zero. (Our Sunday night mooring is 22 miles, 20 locks and 54 bridges from Braunston). The locks at Stoke Bruerne total seven and they are quickly followed by Blisworth tunnel and an eleven mile pound to the bottom of the Buckby flight which also boasts seven locks.
We were up and about early again, pulling on to the service point before starting our ascent just after eight. We didn’t have much to do and so we were entering the bottom lock just twenty minutes later. All of the locks, with the exception of just two, were empty and therefore were in our favour. As a result it took us just an hour and a half to reach the top lock and this was where we met the first boat travelling down the flight. After swapping places with them, Sue just had time to make some toast on the short length between the top lock and the tunnel mouth where all naked flames have to be extinguished before entering. No doubt this is in case methane or some other flammable gas is lurking underground but I suspect that the risk of explosion is very low. Nevertheless, we complied with the rules and as a result, Blisworth tunnel survived our transit.
The tunnel is the third longest canal tunnel in the country but it is dead straight so it is possible to see the light at the other end even though it is some 3,076 yards (2,813 m) away. It was easy to see that there were no other craft in the tunnel with us so I opened the throttle and aimed for the tiny light dot ahead. There are markers on the wall inside giving distances to the nearest end and with nothing else to look at I began counting in 100m lengths. The tunnel had to be partially rebuilt in the 1980’s and the centre section, probably a third of its length, is lined with concrete rings: the same tunnel technology employed in the construction of the channel tunnel. With 700 metres left to go, a boat headlight appeared at the northern portal meaning that I had to slow down and move to the right of the tunnel in order to pass the incoming vessel. A few minutes later and we were both in position to pass safely and without incident and a few minutes after that, the end was very much in sight.
We passed another boat just outside the tunnel mouth and another just two minutes later. By the time we had passed Blisworth mill, we passed two more, had we entered the tunnel ten minutes later, we would have had five boats to pass in there rather than just one.
Blisworth village held little interest for us on this occasion so we passed on by and although we considered mooring near Gayton junction there were no free spaces. Carrying on through rural Northamptonshire, we eventually found a mooring near the village of Bugbrooke. Despite the fact that we had made good progress through the locks at Stoke Bruerne, we had still been travelling for four and a half hours and therefore it was lunchtime.
After lunch, we walked into the village and visited the local shop, then we visited the nearby pub which has now been closed down and the Post Office which has also closed and been moved half a mile away to the local pharmacy – the lesson being, don’t believe all of the information on Google Maps! The shopkeeper told us that there was another pub on the other side of the village but we decided to give it a miss and return to the canal where we knew that there was a pub/restaurant next to Bugbrooke Marina. When we reached the edge of the village, we looked at the map again and saw that the Five Bells pub, the other one in the village, was only a five minute walk away so we decided to pay it a visit. On arriving, we discovered that that it doesn’t open until 5pm on Mondays and it was only 3pm.
We walked back to the Wharf and had a drink there before returning to Caxton along the towpath. Who should we see chugging along but our old lock buddy from the Marsworth flight, nb Que Sera Sera. They had been down the Northampton arm but had only stayed one night after mooring next to a park (no idea which one). They said that the pounds were low and there were lots of weeds along the way so it hadn’t been worth it and they wouldn’t try it again. They asked about mooring and we pointed out that the Wharf pub had mooring for patrons so they pulled over and tied up. We have been leapfrogging each other since mooring near them at Berkhamsted and again at Leighton Buzzard, no doubt we haven’t seen the last of each other. They are heading for the Oxford canal so there are still plenty opportunities until we reach Braunston.