Caxton's Travels

Just Bobbing Along….

Coventry & Ashby meanderings

Friday 10th July

Another summer weekend with no particular plan in mind so off we went, this time heading north on the Ashby. The beauty of this time of year is the length of the days and after passing through the already full moorings at Market Bosworth we tied up twenty minutes later near the winding hole, half way to Congerstone.

Saturday 11th July

A cloudy start didn’t deter us, even though we had no idea what we were going to do for the day. We decided to turn around and try our luck at Market Bosworth, we were unsuccessful so we carried on. We toyed with the Battlefield but decided it was too early, we could have stopped at the Limekilns but chose to carry on. By the time we had reached Burton Hastings we had decided to make for Hawksbury junction, a destination that is very popular and we knew that we might not make a mooring. We were lucky and as we pulled up, so did three other boats, effectively filling the available space in minutes. A walk to the greyhound and we had a surprise re-union with our old friend, The Cheeseboat. Three cheeses, a couple of drinks and twenty quid later and we were heading back for the Phoenix. The predicted rain didn’t start until after half past seven and then it was on for the night.

Sunday 12th July

Blue skies greeted us on Sunday morning as we sorted ourselves out and got on our way. We made the short trip to the junction, already quite busy despite the early hour, turned around and headed off to Nuneaton. We had enjoyed our previous visit to the town the week before and thought that we’d give it another go. The trip from Hawksbury is only a couple of hours so we were moored just after eleven o’clock. We had stopped on the southern side of town, near the boatyard so our route to the centre was different to the previous week, this time through streets of terraced houses. A wander around, a coffee at Costa before browsing in Waterstones and then a dash through Sainsburys and Riversley park before returning to the boat. The weather was bright and breezy as we weaved our way back to Hinckley and once again we were surprised at how much we had managed to do in what seemed like a short space of time.

Atherstone & Nuneaton

Friday 3rd July

We took the opportunity to make the best of another summer weekend and left the marina in the late afternoon. The predicted showers didn’t materialise until after we had tied up at eight o’clock. Our trip to Springwood Haven left us about an hour and a half away from Atherstone.

Saturday 4th July

The day dawned bright and sunny and we timed our run to Atherstone in such a way that we were able to get a mooring above the top lock. We were wandering around the shops on the main street by eleven o’clock when we decided to have lunch in the central glass covered area in the Red Lion Hotel. A couple of hours later and we made our way back to the boat, ready for the next leg of the journey. We had to turn round of course and we saw just how busy the locks were, with a queue of craft waiting to descend through the flight. We hadn’t made any hard and fast plans but we had an idea that we would head back to Hartshill and then visit Nuneaton on Sunday. In the event we carried on to Nuneaton anyway and moored near the site of the old football ground. Unlike Atherstone, the canal is not that close to the town centre, which is a bit of a shame but we made the fifteen minute walk in the late afternoon sunshine anyway. We did no more than have a look around before returning to the boat and soon we were underway again, pleased that we had stopped and promising to visit again. For the record, we have now driven to Nuneaton (10 minutes), walked to Nuneaton (1 hour) and travelled by boat (3 hours). By the time we reached Marston junction we had decided to head for home and use Sunday to catch up on some work around the house and garden. We made it home for eight o’clock, amazed at how much we had packed in to twenty eight hours.

Test Run

In the week after our trip down the Grand Union, it was time to give the engine a major service. It was then that I discovered that there was a fuel leak at the glow plug. It took over a week to track down a replacement (and a spare for the future!)

After fitting the new part and checking for leaks, the decision was taken to get out on the cut and give the engine a good run.

The trip was a straightforward run up the Ashby, stopping overnight at Market Bosworth before returning on Sunday morning. The engine ran beautifully and quieter than before, we were back in business and looking forward to getting out and about again.

Trip down the Grand Union

Friday 5th June

The start of our holiday! The weather forecast didn’t look so good but we decided to set off anyway. We had been loading the boat up for a couple of days but today we took the last few provisions on board. At three o’clock we left the marina and set off for the bottom of the Ashby where it meets the Coventry canal at Marston junction. Passing the Limekilns we saw old Jim sitting in the garden enjoying a pint with his mate. We reached the junction at five o’clock and turned south towards the Oxford canal and Hawksbury junction. Sue was steering when we reached the 180 degree turn so for the first time in her boating career she made the turn while I prepared the stop lock. We had a brief conversation with a couple of hirers before motoring on towards Ansty. The forecast had been for heavy rain but we had seen nothing but sunshine for the previous three hours. By the time we reached Ansty just after seven it was cloudy and starting to get cooler so we decided to keep going and have our dinner one at a time inside. The rain held off until half past seven and even then we only had to endure very light showers. We moored near bridge 26 at half past eight and settled down for the evening, pleased with the progress that we had made. We worked out that we were a mile away from Stretton stop and about six hours from Braunston.


Saturday 6th June

The rain fell heavily during the night and was still going when we had our first cup of tea at seven o’clock. Since we had no need to try and cover any great distance we took our time, showered and had a light breakfast before finally getting underway just before half past ten. Twenty minutes later and we threaded our way through the moored boats at Stretton stop. Leaving the brightly coloured Rose narrowboats behind, we were soon on our way to Newbold on Avon. The first boat on the visitor moorings was Carpe Diem, a boat that had been our neighbour in the Trinity marina before it unexpectedly disappeared at the end of last year. We saw Trina on board but we couldn’t really stop to catch up and find out what she and Stuart have been up to. The drizzle persisted as we made our way through Rugby, it had only been a few weeks since we had been this way so we weren’t too bothered with the poor weather that accompanied us all the way to Hillmorton. We took on water and got rid of our rubbish there before proceeding up through the three locks before we really noticed that the rain had stopped. Shortly afterwards we encountered a boat that had broken free of its moorings but with a bit of deft bargepole work by Sue, we soon passed it by. As we approached the Barby straight, we caught up with a hire boat that just seemed to be moving aimlessly along but before we caught it up completely, we had an incident in a bridge hole where the oncoming boat really got himself out of shape, basically because he was travelling too fast. We decided not to chance finding a mooring in Braunston and resolved to find a place to tie up somewhere before we reached the junction. Sure enough, we were able to get a lovely spot just before bridge 81 on the Oxford canal. With another five and a half hours cruising under our belts we prepared for another day on the cut.


Sunday 7th June

We awoke again to the sound of the wind and rain. This was no surprise of course, it had been forecast and there was no expectation of dry weather until the afternoon. Another relaxed and civilised start to the day saw us showered, breakfasted and cleared up for eleven o’clock. We got all of our wet gear on and sallied forth, heading south towards Braunston and the lighter skies. We were not disappointed, the rain stopped after twenty minutes and by the time we reached the locks, the sun was out. We met up with a hire boat at the bottom lock and between us we ascended the Braunston flight.


After the top lock, there is a short distance before Braunston tunnel and we entered the darkness just after half past one. Following our lock-mate, we only passed one oncoming boat before emerging into the light thirty-five minutes later. Braunston tunnel is one of the best tunnels that we have travelled through, wide, high and with the exception of a little kink towards the southern portal, virtually straight. We emerged into a different world, the skies were blue and the sun was shining through the trees of Bridge Spinneys. We managed to collect a tree trunk floating in the water but managed to dislodge it from the bow fairly easily. Another half an hour and we had turned at Norton Junction and then approached the top lock of the Buckby flight. We descended through these locks in the company of two narrow beam cruisers, crewed by two couples in their seventies, in fact the eldest lady was eighty but that didn’t stop them running around like teenagers. Through the afternoon, we learned that they were from Peterborough and had travelled to the Thames at Oxford and were now on their way home. We eventually cleared the bottom lock and left our new septuagenarian aquaintances looking for fish and chips at Whilton marina. We carried on for another three quarters of an hour, continuing to be sandwiched between the A5 and the west coast main railway line, all the time flirting with the noisy M1 motorway. It was only on this part of the journey that we grew to appreciate the Grand Union canal for what it is, a broad canal. Other than the broad locks, it is easy to ignore the breadth of the canal through the locks at Braunston and Buckby and of course a tunnel is a tunnel, no matter how wide it is. By comparison to the narrow canals that we are used to, the Grand Union is a great treat, easy to navigate with no risk of grounding.


We decided to moor at Weedon and got a prime position near the village. Weedon is one of those places that you pass through in a car without noticing anything, it lies on the junction of the A5 and the A45 with just a set of traffic lights to halt the motorist’s progress. After we had tied up for the evening, we walked back to the bridge and the main road, ignoring the pub we made straight for the chip shop and by seven o’clock we were back on the towpath; deck chairs, table, plated up fish, chips and mushy peas washed down with a glass of wine. The sun eventually dropped below the trees and we called it a day. On checking the weather forecast, we saw that the rest of the week looked to be very promising.


Monday 8th June

It was nice to wake up and not hear the sound of rain on the roof. We got ourselves organised and got on our way by twenty to ten. We stopped to take on water before setting off again at twenty five past ten, heading towards Gayton Junction. The day was pleasant; warm but not too hot, windy but not problematic, quiet yet interesting as we passed through the Northamptonshire countryside without incident. The bar opened at midday and a short while later we passed Gayton and the entry to the way to Northampton. A few minutes after one o’clock and we we were slipping into Blisworth tunnel, notable for being the third longest in use on the system. Like the Braunston tunnel, Blisworth is wide and high, however, unlike the Braunston tunnel, it is also straight. Our passage through was very smooth and we only met one boat on the way. We moored at Stoke Bruerne just after two o’clock and after we had a drink, we took a walk down to the shop and museum.


Returning to the boat at half past four we decided to move on down through the locks. We reached the top lock alongside NB Meridien and we all went down through the flight in just over an hour. There was a bit of excitement when an ambulance turned up to treat youth who had fallen in the canal. As the air ambulance landed, the story unfolded. The youth had decided, in his drug induced state, to untie a boat waiting for the lock. The boater ran back to his boat and the youth tried to push him in the canal, there is no contest between a determined boater and a stoned youth so the young man ended up in the water. His friend jumped in to rescue him and the result was a call-out to the emergency services. We said our goodbyes to the Meridien crew at the bottom lock and pressed on to Yardley Wharf, just before bridge 60.


Tuesday 9th June

No rain on Tuesday morning, so we were moving by quarter to nine on the short hop to Cosgrove where we took on water and got rid of our waste. We went through the only lock alongside a shared ownership boat and then headed towards Milton Keynes. The Ouse aqueduct was a bit of a let down in terms of scenic value but we took a picture nonetheless.


A shopping stop at Wolverton by bridge 71 broke our journey for half an hour next to the railway line. We ploughed on through the afternoon with a ham sandwich for lunch as we skirted around Milton Keynes. It’s a strange route because you don’t really get any idea that you are on the edge of such a large conurbation. The usual wildlife abounds in this area but we were struck by the number of herons, who appeared to be very tame. We even saw a Tern dive into the water and emerge with a small fish in its beak, we would see many others but none as successful as this. We passed through the locks at Fenny Stratford, Stoke Hammond and Soulbury before mooring for the night near bridge 109. After feeding the ducks as well as ourselves, we turned in for the night, exhausted by our day’s cruising.


Wednesday 10th June

We left our countryside mooring at nine o’clock and made our way to Leighton Buzzard, we were fortunate enough to catch a boat at the only lock and made our way through very quickly. We saw this sorry sight along the way.


We reached the visitor moorings at half past ten before making another shopping trip to Tesco. The rain made an appearance just after we returned to the boat so we had a bit of breakfast before setting off again. We turned and stopped at Grove lock and then the heavens opened so we were glad that our timing was as good as it was. Checking the weather forecast, we decided to stay there for the night and make the best of the of the weather in the days to come.


Thursday 11th June

The sun was up early and so were we. After resting the day before when the rains came, we were ready to do some travelling. We headed north at twenty past eight and an hour later we had stopped at Leighton Buzzard, refilled the water and emptied our rubbish. We expected the odd shower but none came and we passed through the locks at Old Soulbury with an elderly couple just after eleven o’clock. We made a stop at Fenny Stratford and walked to the railway station to check out the trains to Milton Keynes. seeing that they were not too frequent and involved a change at Bletchley we decided to forget that idea and move on. The shallow lock at Fenny Stratford caught us out with its swing bridge but we eventually made it through and skirted around Milton Keynes before mooring above Cosgrove lock just after half past five. The sun was still shining and so we sat out on the back deck with a drink to relax. We were quickly joined by some courageous ducks that had no problem in treating the boat like it was their own. We took a few pictures before sitting down to our own evening meal.




Friday 12th June

Another sunny morning, this time in Cosgrove. We had a long day the day before and we aimed to have another on this day too. We shaped ourselves and left our mooring at nine o’clock, heading for Stoke Bruerne. Less than two hours later and we were taking on water at the bottom of the Stoke flight, ready for our ascent. We made the journey along with Alan and Linda from nb “Our Dream” and we mad it through six of the seven locks in an hour and a half. Linda decided to visit the shop at the top to buy an book, a task that she promised would only take a few minutes. We waited with her husband, dog and boat for half an hour before Sue finally found her meandering around the exhibits being put together for the festival that would be taking place over the weekend. We eventually left the top lock at one o’clock and followed the pair into the Blisworth tunnel. Sue kept us both dry by her careful use of a golf umbrella, we pulled out of the tunnel back into the sunshine, forty minutes later. Unlike on our south-bound journey, we passed a number of boats travelling in the opposite direction through the tunnel.

Leaving the tunnel we kept tramping north, taking in a home made pizza on the way for lunch. We passed a horse drawn boat and a steamer, presumably all heading south for the Stoke Bruerne festival.


We couldn’t find a suitable mooring at Weedon so we ascended five of the locks from Whilton Marina to Norton Junction. A delicious casserole from the slow cooker rounded the day off leaving us with a whole host of choices as to which direction to take in the morning; North towards Leicester? West towards Braunston? If Braunston, where next? Rugby? Banbury or Leamington? So much excitment after a long day at the tiller caused the two writers to crash into bed for the evening, tomorrow would have to take care of itself!

Saturday 13th June

With only two locks to get through at the top of the Buckby flight, we set off at nine o’clock. An hour later and we had reached the top, taken on water and got rid of our waste before making our way towards the Braunston tunnel. We met a number of boats on the way before emerging into the sunlight at eleven o’clock. The Braunston lock flight was particularly busy but we paired up with another boat and reached the bottom without incident by half past twelve. We were fortunate enough to secure a mooring outside the marina by bridge one and took the opportunity to walk up to the village for a few supplies. We returned to the boat and had a sandwich before walking along to Midland Chandlers where we bought some rope to serve as an additional centre line for the boat. We returned to our mooring, untied and called for diesel before starting out on our afternoon cruise. The weather continued to be perfect and two hours later we tied up near Wigrams turn, our plan for the rest of the trip was to make our way to Leamington and Warwick.

Sunday 14th June

Change of plan!

The stomach upset that had plagued Sue on and off during the previous week returned in the early hours of Sunday morning. A quick calculation made us fourteen hours from home, so at 6am, we made a start. An ambitious undertaking but one that would allow us to be on the doctor’s doorstep first thing on Monday morning. For the first time on this holiday, we were working against the clock. In principle, with almost sixteen hours of daylight ahead of us, there should be no problem in making the trip. However, this had been forecast as a sunny Sunday so maybe there would be too many boats to allow us a straight passage and then again maybe fourteen hours in the baking sun without a break would be too much to manage. Travelling along familiar canals would be our only advantage, so we went for it.

After turning at Wigram’s we headed back into the low morning sun, making Braunston turn at eight o’clock. The traffic started building as we made the next leg of the trip to Hillmorton, reaching the locks just after ten fifteen. We had a couple of boats ahead of us but with the oncoming traffic we cleared the bottom lock an hour later, all of this despite the grumpy boater at the top lock who insisted on doing everything himself but with a manner that saw him narrowly avoidng getting thumped. A couple of hire boats whose crews were clueless and some equally clueless parents who seemed to have no concept of the potential dangers posed to their offspring around the lock areas.

Anyway, we motored on towards Sutton stop with only one further incident, an oncoming Rose narrowboats day hire boat at Newbold on Avon. Stretton stop was relatively empty and the small swing bridge was open so we passed through without waiting.

Ten hours after we had started and we were passing the Rose and Castle at Ansty, the beer garden was busy with families and couples enjoying the June sunshine. We picked something up on the prop under the bridge which resulted in a short pit-stop to remove a rope fender. This only cost us about ten minutes and we were soon approaching Sutton stop just about five o’clock. It was fairly busy there but with such a shallow lock to empty and fill, we were soon round the turn and on to the Coventry canal. This territory is very familiar to us so we knew that were definitely on target to reach Hinckley for eight o’clock.

Of course by now, most people were moored or mooring for the evening, so much like the start of our day’s journey, we saw fewer and fewer boats as the evening went on.

We rounded the bend at Marston junction an hour later and soon we passed one of our marina pals, Steve the geordie aboard nb Serendipity, heading in the opposite direction. We saluted each other in customary naval fashion, traded friendly insults and then carried on. Still no sign of Mr England on the Bulkington trailer park, one day we might see him.

One hour to go as we approached Burton Hastings, the heat of the sun dying with the day’s end. Again like the start of the day, the sun was low enough to get in the steerer’s eyes under a couple of bridges but there was no problem because there were no oncoming boats.

We passed Jim moored by bridge thirteen and then we were passing the Limekilns with its busy beer garden. We pulled into the marina at five past eight, had we not picked up the fender on the prop, we would have made our eight o’clock target.

Our trip was over but we were to count ourselves lucky when we sat at home on Monday afternoon watching and listening to the electrical storms overhead.

Spring Bank Holiday

Friday 22nd May

Unusually, the weather forecast for the bank holiday weekend is good. This time last year, we went to the Crick show on the Saturday but the last day of the show was cancelled due to high winds and heavy rain. Anyway, as usual we got our stuff on to the boat and we were underway just after three o’clock. A gusty cross wind hindered our departure but we were soon heading north on the Ashby. Not only is there a bank holiday on the last Monday in May, the week is also the school half term holiday. We saw evidence of this as we passed through Stoke Golding, home to the Ashby boat hire fleet, Other than that, the journey was pleasantly quiet as we made our way through Sutton Cheney towards Market Bosworth. The visitor moorings near Bosworth battlefield and Market Bosworth were fully occupied, so we cruised on to a point between Market Bosworth and Congerstone. The weather was as predicted; cloudy, breezy and a little cool out of the sun. We hoped that the forecaster’s predictions for the following days were just as accurate and we would enjoy a couple of sunny days.

Sat 23rd May

As predicted, the day dawned bright and sunny, The temperature rose quickly inside as the sun got to work on the outside of the boat, We eventually moved off the mooring at ten o’clock with no particular plan for the day except to enjoy the weather, As we approached Shackerstone we realised that there was a steam train running on the preserved railway. We were fortunate to find a space to tie up on the village moorings. The train was just leaving as we reached the station so we bought a couple of platform tickets and looked around the museum before settling down to a pot of tea in the station café. After we drank our tea we positioned ourselves on platform 2 and waited for the return of LNER 1306 “Mayflower”. Very soon we were able to watch her as she steamed gently into the station. After taking plenty of photographs before returning to Phoenix III, we took to the water just after


one o’clock and headed towards the canal terminus. The breeze and high clouds did not spoil the sunshine and we were all to soon at Snarestone tunnel. We were puzzled to see signs which declared that the canal ahead was closed, it is a dead-end after all! Work has begun to extend and restore the end of the Ashby canal through to its original terminus at Moira. As a result, the Canal has been shortened, hence the signs. A new winding hole has been excavated just after the last bridge and It was here that we turned around before we headed south again. We had to wait for two boats to pass through the tunnel before we could enter, with another behind us it seemed to be very busy indeed. Leaving Snarestone behind us we enjoyed a leisurely cruise in the afternoon sunshine. It was half past four when we reached Congerstone village moorings by bridge 47 and it was here that we tied up for the night. We sat on the back deck, in the sun, listening to music before eating dinner “al-fresco”. The sun finally dropped below the hedgerow just before eight and so we cleared the deck before going back inside for the evening.

Sunday 24th May

We awoke to hear a duck on the back deck and then the sounds of the boat expanding as the early morning sun started to exert its thermo-nuclear force on the steel work. We sorted ourselves out and headed off at half past nine for the one hour trip to Market Bosworth. We were fortunate to secure a mooring in one of our usual haunts before walking up to the town. All in all our visit was good one, we saw the Mayflower on its way from Shackerstone to Shenton before exploring the Farmers Market which was standing in the town, We bought the papers, went for a drink in the Red Lion and then made our way back down to the canal. We basked in the afternoon sun before barbequing some ribs on the towpath. The perfect end to a perfect day.

Monday 25th May

Bank holiday Monday dawned with less direct sunshine than the previous two days. We were keen to avoid the chance of showers later in the day so we headed back to Hinckley just after nine o’clock. It was a pleasantly uneventful trip back to the marina and although there was a good cloud cover, it was still quite warm. We reached the marina around half past twelve and before we brought Phoenix III into her berth, we re-fuelled ready for our next big trip in a fortnight’s time.

May Bank Holiday

Friday 1st May

Here we go again into what will hopefully be the start of a decent summer, Last year at this time we got “frazzled” on the may day weekend, this year the forecast is not so good but it should be dry with sunny intervals. Our journey began at three o’clock, the wind was a bit strong and gusty but we made our way out of the marina and on to the Ashby canal without any problem at all. We haven’t really travelled this way much since the end of last summer, preferring instead to cruise the Ashby between Hinckley and various places to the north during the winter months. It’s always nice to cruise new, or even forgotten stretches of the canal and this day was no exception. Half an hour after leaving the marina we passed the Lime Kilns on the A5 before heading into miles of farmland, Having neglected this stretch of the canal for so long and often relegating it to just a passage to somewhere else, it was nice to see it in its spring-like glory, As usual, two hours saw us at Marston Junction, emerging onto the Coventry canal and heading south. We started to pass a few more boats but generally the canal was quiet.

We started our approach to Hawkesbury junction just before six o’clock and although we passed a couple of mooring spaces, we fully expected to go round the turn, through the stop lock and then find a place near the site of the old power station at Longford. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the last mooring before the junction was free so we quickly pulled up and secured the mooring just after 6.15. It’s no big deal for us but this is a prime mooring spot, especially for the holiday making fraternity. After a walk to the Greyhound, a couple of pints and a spritzer, we returned to the boat and played the narrowboat board game that we inherited when we bought Phoenix III.

Saturday 2nd May
We awoke at six having spent a very comfortable first night on our new mattress. The sun had just risen and showed us a clear blue sky. After a cup of tea and a few pictures of the area, we set off just on seven o’clock, Round the turn and through the stop lock, we made our way on to the North Oxford canal. The weather was perfect for boating; cooI air, blue sky and hardly any breeze. We passed through Ansty, Stretton Stop and Newbold on Avon before arriving at Rugby just over four hours later.

A visit to the Tesco superstore at Rugby and then we were off again, We made our way down to Hillmorton where we refilled the water tank and emptied the toilet before turning round below the locks and heading back north. Re-tracing our steps, we enjoyed the lovely weather, eventually finding a mooring place opposite the Rose & Castle at Ansty.

Sunday 3rd May

Once again the weather forecast has changed and now we are facing two days of wind and rain. We left Ansty just after half past nine and headed back towards Marston Junction and the Ashby canal. We reached Sutton stop around eleven o’clock and shuffled through the lock between a couple of oncoming boats: The air was cool and the breeze even colder but the sun shone so we pushed on along the Coventry canal, reaching Marston junction just before midday, A few minutes later the bar opened with a beer, a glass of wine and a couple of rounds of ham and cheese sandwiches, We encountered a few boats on our passage up the Ashby making the journey both interesting and varied.. We passed the marina not long after two o’clock and eventually moored near Bosworth battlefield just before half past four. The sun still shone, we had dinner and then listened to music before turning in for the night

Monday 4th May

Typical bank holiday weather! We knew it was coming so we weren’t too bothered. We had to reverse the hundred yards back to the winding hole but with Sue on the bank with the centre rope, the process was fairly quick, certainly quicker than carrying on to the next turning point at Market Bosworth. The rain eventually stopped and other than a stop at Sutton Cheney for breakfast and emptying the essentials, the trip back was fairly uneventful. The Met Office have predicted that we should be in for a good summer, let’s hope they’re right and this is the first of a number of weekends out on the cut.

Christmas Cruise

After much deliberation and studying of the weather, we decided to start our Cristmas cruise on Christmas eve. It was half past two when we left Hinckley and headed up the Ashby canal. We had no real plans as such, the most important thing was to have an enjoyable few days out on the cut and with no real need to return until January the 4th, our options were definitely open. It gets dark around four o’clock at this time of year, depending on cloud cover so our first leg of the journey ended just outside the Ashby canal centre near Stoke Golding an hour later. Roast rib of beef with yorkshire pudding and mustard enhanced mashed potato warmed us from the inside while the fire and central heating warmed us from the outside.

Christmas morning started with the heating going on at half past six so that by the time we eventually decided to get up and dressed, the boat was warm again and there was a tank full of hot water for showers. We decided to stay where we were and have the day inside. We opened the presents that we had brought with us and then made our ‘phone calls wishing our families a merry Christmas. All too soon and it was time to open the bar and then make a traditional Christmas lunch, both activities were carried off without a hitch and everything was just fine. We had both done what we were good at, Sue cooking and me watching. Of course when it came to eating, we both did our fair share!!!

Boxing day saw us having another lazy start but since it doesn’t get light until eight o’clock, there’s little point in rushing around. We had decided to move on to Market Bosworth and hopefully secure a mooring near the town bridge. We needed to take on water, something that we would normally do at Market Bosworth itself, however we decided to stop at Sutton Cheney on the off chance that we would find other services available. Our normal weekend trips up this way are usually short enough to empty the toilets and dispose of our rubbish when we return to Hinckley, however with the possibility that we might be out for a week or more we would need these services along the way. The guide books only show these services at the end of the navigation but with two trip boats and a number of BW permanent moorings at Sutton Cheney, it seemed logical that there would be service facilities too. An hour later and we discovered that our reasoning was correct so we moored for half an hour while we carried out our essential services. The towpath between Sutton Cheney and Shenton is usually well used by walkers and joggers but today being Boxing Day it was really busy with couples and families partaking in the traditional annual “let’s get some fresh air and walk off the exceses of Christmas Day “ walk. As we approached Market Bosworth, the engine slowed before finally cutting out. We re-started it and moved on tickover to the visitor moorings where we found a space without any trouble. We walked up to the town and discovered that there were no shops open, only the pubs so we had a quick drink in the very busy Red Lion before heading back to the canal. I guessed that the engine problem was fuel starvation so I changed the fuel filter and that cured the problem. We closed the doors, set up the heating and the fire before settling in for the evening, devouring the rest of the roast beef with more yorkshire pudding along the way.

Saturday the 27th came and we decided that we would not travel any further up the Ashby because the weather forecast showed sub zero temperatures from Tuesday onwards. We decided to have another day in Market Bosworth and at nine o’clock we were striding up “heart attack “ hill. A short stop at the Co-op for a basketful of essentials and then we returned to the boat for another lazy day.

Sunday the 28th saw us starting to re-trace our steps with a short stop for services at Sutton Cheney again before carrying on to Stoke Golding again. So far everything had gone well for us, our only concern at this stage was whether we had enough coal and peat for the fire. It would be close but we had burned more than we had anticipated and whilst we had the heating system, it would be nice to keep the chill off the boat overnight by leaving the fire in. No sooner had we gathered all of our solid fuel reserves together and worked out a plan to conserve enough to feed the fire overnight, than the coal boat arrived. Sue quickly flagged him down and we soon had another hundred kilos of coal on board, the canal spirits were certainly looking after us on this trip!

Monday the 29th was to be the last day of our winter cruise, we could have stayed out for almost another week but with the weather set to turn very cold for the rest of the week, we decided to head for home. Winter on the canal is very different to summer cruising, the cold creeps into your bones if you stay out on deck too long. The water freezes easily and then you are faced with the coice of smashing the ice or sitting tight until it melts. We had been able to choose when to move and when to stop and although we didn’t travel very far, it was those elements that made it all enjoyable. It would have been a shame to spoil our Christmas cruise with a few needless days of freezing weather so we got up, got dressed and cruised the last hour back to Hinckley. We had all our stuff off the boat and were back home by eleven o’clock, happy and relaxed.

Another September weekend on the Ashby

Another good forecast for the weekend ahead saw us heading out from Hinckley on Friday afternoon. A couple of hours later and we are moored up between Sutton Cheney and Market Bosworth.

Saturday morning brought an unexpected repair job on the bath pump so it was after eleven before we set off. This was no bad thing since the early morning mist had only just lifted. We moved on to Snarestone which was quite congested and after turning around, we stopped south of the tunnel before walking up to the Globe for a drink. Shortly after, we moved on again, this time to Shackerstone where we stopped again for a visit to the church and the pub for a drink and a couple of games of pool. Returning to the boat, we untied and moved a mile or so down the cut. This long day led to us both falling asleep before nine o’clock, probably aided by the lighting of the fire.

There was no mist on Sunday so we set off just after nine, reaching Market Bosworth an hour and a half later. We walked up to the town and visited the Churchyard before buying some cooking apples, leaving some cash in an honesty box. We bought the papers and wandered around the farmer’s market before returning to the boat. Sue had some specialist mushrooms bought in the market with her bacon sandwich but with or without the fungus, the bacon sarnies were delish!

We set off at one o’clock on the journey back. There were a few showers but by comparison to drenching that we had at the beginning of the month, nothing too dramatic. The canal was fairly busy but apart from laughing at a hire boat missing a bridge completely, the journey was pretty straightforward for us and we were tied up in the marina just after half past four.

Ashby Canal in September sunshine

With the weekend forecast predicting good weather, we set off from Hinckley on Friday afternoon. We reached Market Bosworth by half past five and decided to walk up to the town. The local chip shop claims to be an award winning establishment so we decided to try out their wares. The haddock and chips were good and tasty but as far as being award winning? Sorry, no cigar this time.

Saturday brought more sunny weather so we headed off to the end of the Ashby, just beyond Snarestone. After we turned around, we made our way back to Market Bosworth and managed to secure a mooring fairly close to where we had stopped the night before. We took another walk up to town and shopped in the local co-op before returning to the boat.

Sunday morning was again a lovely day and although we had planned to walk up to the town and buy the Sunday papers, the thought of climbing the hill again was less appealing than cruising along with the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair. On the way back, we stopped a number of times and picked enough blackberries for Sue to make some blackberry fool with blackberry coulis. We eventually reached Hinckley around one o’clock, stopped briefly at the marina to replenish the beerstocks and then pressed on towards Marston Junction. Our old mate Jim had told us that it was possible to turn a 65 foot boat at Burton Hastings, despite there being no reference in any of the guide books. We decided that this was the ideal day to put Jim’s theory to the test and of course he was right! Elated, we headed back to the Limekilns with the intention of buying the old boy a pint for his wisdom. On reaching the pub, we could not find Jim but we had dinner out on the back deck there before heading back to the marina. Having been driving for most of the weekend, Sue took the boat into the marina, weaved her way around the pontoons and berthed us back in D4 without any difficulty at all.

Four Counties Ring

September holiday day 1

Two o’clock saw us leaving the marina on our September holiday. Unusually there was no wind so our departure was flawless and uneventful. Our first journey in a few weeks towards the Coventry canal was equally uneventful except for our encounter with a steam driven narrowboat presumably heading for the Shackerstone festival. Sue took us through Marston junction and then on through Nuneaton towards Atherstone. We eventually moored near the Anchor Inn at Hartshill.

September Holiday day 2

Up at seven and setting off by quarter to eight gave us a good start to the day. We reached Atherstone top lock by nine o’clock and thanks to the oncoming traffic, we cleared the eleventh lock two hours later. Significantly, locks seven and eight were the first locks driven by Sue and worked by me. We passed through Polesworth just after noon and then broke down just after bridge 54. After some basic checks we called RCR who arrived within the hour and sorted our problem out so that we were moving again within an hour and a half. We ploughed on to Hopwas and moored between the Tame Otter and the Red Lion. We ate at the Red Lion and checked out the Tame Otter on the way back. We later heard what we thought were fireworks but were probably explosions from the nearby military firing range. Half past midnight brought noise from some chavs in the pub car park, a couple of hours later and some teenagers woke us up walking by and then a boat passing by at six a.m. put the icing on the cake!

September Holiday day 3

Setting off at 8am again we plodded on towards Fradley and for the second time in three days, we encountered a steam driven narrowboat. We reached the junction at 11 o’clock where we took on water, emptied the toilet and dumped our rubbish before continuing our journey half an hour later. Fradley, like many of the famous canal junctions is often given a description which is over hyped. After making the turn, we waited for about half an hour before we could ascend the locks. The pound between Fradley and Haywood is a long one which allowed us to push along quite well. Turning left on to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal at Great Haywood, we passed through Tixell Wide before eventually mooring for the night near Baswich, a full day ahead of our original plan.

September Holiday day 4

The sun shone on Monday morning and as usual, we set off for eight o’clock. The scenery was pleasant as we passed the village of Acton Trussell on our way to Penkridge. We stopped at Midland Chandlers just after eleven o’clock before making the final part of the morning’s trip to Penkridge. After mooring, an old boy from a nearby boat came and gave us directions to the various pubs and shops in the village. We spent an hour or so exploring the village and then headed off on the next part of our journey. Then the rain came and although it was heavy, we ploughed on regardless, eventually mooring right outside the Fox & Anchor by bridge 71. We didn’t visit the pub, soaked to the skin, we just put the heating on and relaxed before going to bed.

September Holiday day 5

Tuesday morning got off to a nice sunny start again, so we moved off at eight towards the junction with the Shropshire Union canal at Autherley. This part of the journey took an hour and after rounding the junction we took on water and carried on towards Brewood. We explored this village and found a fabulous village shop selling fine foods. We stocked up on paté, blue cheese and locally produced butter before returning to the boat to have lunch consisting of the newly purchased goodies and they were all delicious! A quick drink at the Bridge Inn to wash it all down and we were ready to move on again. It had taken us more than five hours to travel from Penkridge to Brewood, the distance by road is only five miles! We moved on to Wheaton Aston where we took a drink of beer at the Hartley Arms and gave the boat a drink of diesel at the local garage. This garage is mentioned in the guide books for its cheap diesel and sure enough it cost us 20p a litre less than we had paid in Hinckley. After Wheaton Aston we pushed on again, this time to Anchor bridge but again we couldn’t be bothered to visit the pub.

September Holiday day 6

Another sunny morning but quite a chilly one for our trip to Market Drayton. We moored near the town at midday and went for a wander round. It’s fair to say that we were a little disappointed with Market Drayton so with the knowledge that we probably wouldn’t be travelling much on Friday due to bad weather, we moved on again. Then the rain started and got heavier and heavier, the dull day was only brightened by the sight of a kingfisher. This is only the second one that we have seen since we took the canals. We were pretty soggy when we tied up at the bottom of the Adderley flight at six o’clock. On checking the weather forecast for Thursday, we decided to give ourselves a full day cruising and perhaps make it to Middlewich, the most northerly point on our trip. That way, we should be able to complete our journey even if we did lose time on Friday.

September Holiday day 7

Our spirits were low, there is no denying it. The weather had gotten the better of us and the worse was yet to come. The following day was set to bring high winds and a deluge of rain. We hoped to stop at Nantwich but feared that competition for moorings would be such that we would have to pass on by. Our waterproof clothing had taken such a battering over the previous few days that it let in water. We were a day and a half ahead of schedule but now faced the toughest part of the journey. Turning around wasn’t really an option at this stage because we would have hadto descend the Audlem flight before re-ascending, meaning that the return journey is not much better than carrying on. With heavy hearts we got out of bed at half past six, donned our weatherproofs and set off just after seven o’clock. Within half an hour we were at the first lock and so we began our descent into Cheshire. The trip became easier at the third lock when we started to meet oncoming boats. At the twelfth lock, we took on water as well as emptying the rubbish and the toilet in preparation for our stormy dayahead. Our old friend, the rain turned up as we completed the descent and we were plunged back into misery again for another half an hour. Our spirits were lifted with strong tea and a couple of rounds of butter saturated toast. The rain slackened off to monsoon levels as we passed through the locks at Hack Green, near the so-called Secret Nuclear Bunker. The sign is a temporary one, presumably because of the way the current government is playing a game of brinkmanship with Russia. Another hour and we reached Nantwich, we got a mooring, we visited a chip shop and two lovely pubs, found some quality food shops and bought new waterproof jackets. Within the space of a couple of hours everything had turned around and we were happy again! We would spend Friday in Nantwich, weather out the storm and set off again on Saturday.

September Holiday day 8

We had a nice easy start to the day, walking into Nantwich mid-morning. It was still raining but of course we were all kitted out with our new waterproof jackets. We had a coffee before shopping for fresh fruit and veg. We found Clewlow’s butcher and delicatessen where we bought some more patchwork paté. Crossing the road, we had a lunchtime sandwich at The Vine before making our way back to the canal. Once again, we considered turning around for the journey home, not that it would save any time but we would have an easier trip in terms of the number of locks.

September Holiday day 9

We decided to carry on with our clockwise trip around the four counties ring. We set off at 7.30, making use of the Nantwich services a few minutes later. The rain stopped just after eight and we were on to the Middlewich branch just after 9am. The sun came out for the pleasant trip to Middlewich and when we stopped for lunch near Minshull, we were able to sit out on the deck. There was a bit of a traffic jam at the junction with the Trent & Mersey where the canals join with locks in all three directions. We found a good mooring at Wheelock just after five o’clock and the rain re-started at six thirty. We had enjoyed the day’s cruising in the decent weather so felt no need to complain at this stage.

September Holiday day 10

We always knew that this day would be the most difficult with the number of locks. We set off early and made great progress up Heartbreak Hill despite the fact that these locks were the most badly maintained that we have encountered so far. There was a desperate moment or two just outside the second lock when the water rushing out started to suck the bow of the boat downwards. I realised that the front locker would be starting to fill through the drain holes and wasn’t sure if there was a chance that we might sink. I got Sue’s attention and she dropped the only paddle that she had opened, stopping the flow and solving the problem. It was my own fault for getting too near the bottom gates and not realising how fast the water would flow out. Whether these locks are always this fierce or this was just a combination of being at the bottom of a steep hill after heavy rainfall, we don’t know. Whatever the reason, we only opened one paddle when filling the locks just to keep the boat under control as we ascended the flight. We didn’t encounter enough oncoming traffic to make the ascent easy but nevertheless we did well and reached Church Lawton just after one o’clock and stopped for lunch. We had passed through twenty locks and realised that we could be in striking distance of Harecastle Tunnel, if we could get through another six locks before it closed. Sue rang British Waterways to check the opening times and was told that the tunnel closed at six o’clock but that we would have to be there by four to ensure passage. We calculated that we should be there for quarter passed three so we cleared away the food that we were eating and set off again with renewed vigour. The remaining locks were in no better condition than the previous twenty but we made short work of them and reached the tunnel just after five past three. We were immediately greeted by the tunnel keeper who told us that we were too late to pass and that we couldn’t moor for the night because it was a dangerous area inhabited by drug takers! We had already seen three teenagers loitering near the last lock who appeared to be out of their heads on something, then there was someone who appeared to be unconscious on the bank. The whole problem had been caused by BW giving out inaccurate information and the keeper said that he had no authority to let us through. We stood our ground and eventually spoke to someone who, we were informed holds the second highest position in British Waterways. We were assured that we would get through the tunnel, which was infinitely better than trying to reverse the boat for half a mile back to the junction with the Macclesfield canal, turning around and then heading back down the locks to escape run down and dangerous Kidsgrove. The northbound traffic emerged from the tunnel and were asked by one of the boaters if we were going through, when we told her that we were, she grinned and said, “You won then!”, clearly they had all been told of the argument that was going on at the other end of the tunnel. We cleared the tunnel at quarter to six and moored near Westport lake. This side of the tunnel is completely different to Kidsgrove on the other side of the hill but we were still woken at midnight by someone bawling the top of his voice that he was going to kick someone’s teeth in.

September Holiday day 11

Another early start on Monday saw us start the descent through Stoke on Trent. There has been a lot of regeneration work alongside the canal but there is still a lot to do, in fact it is only south of Trentham that the scenery becomes palatable again. There are still some areas where the canal is used as a dumping ground, in fact we joined in by losing our chimney under a low bridge near Etruria. Strangely, there is only a warning sign for those travelling from the south so for people like us travelling from the north, the chimney doesn’t stand a chance. The weather showed some signs of improvement as the morning progressed and we took lunch on the deck when we stopped at Barlaston. We made use of the services at Stone and although we were tempted to stop for the night, we decided to press on and make the most of the dry weather. Sue was still taking the boat through these locks and faced her biggest challenge with the lock situated between two pub beer gardens packed with customers. Needless to say, she entered the lock with great ease and precision, earning the admiration of some observers. She had been joking with some other boaters that she was under strict instruction not to spill the beer that I had got balanced on the handrail. That beer was safe all through the flight, well, until I got back on board and drained the glass. I got into conversation with an Australian couple who told me that they had once been on a canal holiday and really enjoyed it. I offered the old boy the opportunity to drive the boat out of the last lock but he declined. We carried on with our journey until we finally moored just below Hoo Mill Lock.

September Holiday day 12

We made another early start, it was raining again of course but nothing a mug of tea and a bacon sandwich couldn’t cure. We soon passed through Haywood Junction which signalled the end of our trip around the four counties ring, needless to say, we had no desire to turn right and go around again! A short stop by bridge 66 in Rugeley allowed us to take on some supplies at Morrisons. At Fradley Junction we marked our return to the Coventry canal by making use of the services. The weather then closed in with more torrential rain and we moored to the south of Streethay Wharf. Near some pylons, close to the railway and under an oak tree which was dropping acorns on to the roof might not sound like the most idyllic mooring. However, inside with the fire roaring, we didn’t care.

September Holiday day 13

Once again, we were up and about early, we had stopped earlier than we had intended yesterday so we wanted to get a good enough start to ensure that we reached Atherstone in the afternoon. At Fazeley, I offered Sue the opportunity to turn right on to the Birmingham & Fazeley for a trip into Birmingham but for some strange reason, she wasn’t interested! We pushed on through the two locks at Glascote with no trouble and by two o’clock we were half way up the Atherstone flight. We moored between locks five and six before walking up to the town. After a bit of shopping and a late, light lunch in the Red Lion, we returned to the boat for our final night on board.

September Holiday day 14

Another early start and more rain for the last leg of our journey. The ascent through the top five locks was made easier by the fact that the lock keeper had been managing water supplies and all the locks were set in our favour. Unlike our trip back in June, we had no desire to stay on the boat for the remaining days so we made our way through the familiar waters of the Coventry and the Ashby until we reached Hinckley and the Marina by half past one. We ate lunch before clearing the boat and heading for home.

September Holiday (final thoughts)

It is a shame that we had so much rain because the route that we followed should have given us more enjoyment than it did. With the exception of the poor condition of the locks between Middlewich and the Harecastle tunnel and the usual problems associated with passing through cities, the four counties ring offers varied scenery and passes through some towns and villages that we would not normally have visited. Day after day of heavy rain turned the trip into one where we just kept ploughing on through all weathers before spending the evenings drying out and warming up on the boat. On a positive note, Sue gained lots of experience handling the boat in and out of locks. This means that future trips can be planned with less consideration to the number of locks travelled through in a single day now that we know that the work can be shared. The boat performed well, despite the early fuel problem and we made use of the new inverter to power a hairdryer, a blender and slow cooker.

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