We left Phoenix III last Sunday with most of our stuff on board including quite a bit of food in the fridge which we left on since we were plugged into the mains electricity. After work on Thursday we returned to the marina with most of the bits and pieces that we thought we would need for our two week cruise. We unloaded the car and then nipped into Daventry where we did some last minute food shopping in Waitrose. On our return to Braunston marina we noticed four vintage cars in the car park, a couple of Austins and two Rileys and wondered if perhaps there was some event at the weekend. We were wrong as it turns out, later on when we carried some bags back to our car and took a few minutes to admire the old vehicles, their owners came back accompanied by one man dressed in traditional boatman’s clothing. We discovered that he had been showing members of a car club around steam narrowboat ‘President’ and butty boat ‘Kildare’. Cheekily but unsurprisingly, Sue asked when we would get our tour of the boats. We were delighted when the boatman, Steve Kirk said that he would show us straight away if we wanted. We didn’t hesitate at all and a few minutes later we were in the cabins of the historic pair. Steve gave us a great talk on the history of the boats and gave us an insight into the living arrangements of boat families of old. It was after nine o’clock when we left Steve ‘Captain’ Kirk and returned to our modern narrowboat for the evening.
Friday dawned and I got up for work, after I left Sue did a load of washing, bedding mainly and then caught the bus to Daventry. She was surprised to find that one of her fellow passengers was the lady that we had met a week earlier in the Saltisford arm on board nb Oakdale. On her return from town, Sue walked up to the village and visited the butcher’s shop, bought some meat and then walked back to the boat where I was able to join her at on o’clock.
After a quick change of clothes and the obligatory engine check we cast off and made our way slowly out of the marina on to the canal and headed in the direction of Braunston turn. We enjoyed the same blue skies that had woken us at six o’clock in the morning as we chugged our way in the direction of Napton. It was all very peaceful, ideal boating weather really as we shared the driving on this the first part of our journey in the direction of Oxford.
We reached Napton bottom lock at four o’clock behind another boat which crossed over with one coming down. After that we had to empty every lock as we made our way up the flight. We did pass one boat coming down but whilst they had the benefit of our lock being ready and would probably benefit from the rest that we had used, we only had their first one in our favour. The crew owned a couple of black Labradors who competed for my attention as the lock drained but once their boat was moving they plodded off down the towpath. We shared the locks as we had done with the driving with Sue locking up the lower half of the flight and me working the rest to the top. Once clear of the top lock at Marston Doles we rounded the corner and moored at the end of the piling there.
Sue immediately started on an evening meal of minted lamb chops bought earlier in the day accompanied by Jersey new potatoes and a mixture of peas beans and carrots. As if that wasn’t enough, a bowl of fresh strawberries and vanilla yoghurt followed.
So that was it, we were on the summit and it was still only Friday evening. One or two boats passed in each direction and a few dog walkers made their presence known as they tried to keep their animals under some sort of control but other than that we settled down in our peaceful rural mooring for the night.
Another blue sky greeted us when we got out of bed on the last day of our journey. We wanted to get up and through the Stockton locks before the traffic built up on what we thought would be a busy, sunny Sunday. By quarter past seven we were on our way to the bottom lock with me steering and Sue on foot. Another early starter in a Calcutt hire boat was in the process of coming down the lock so we waited until he had vacated the chamber before taking our place and beginning our ascent. The steerer told us that they were attempting the Warwickshire ring in a week, an ambitious target but as we are approaching the longest day of the year and with the weather settled for the week, they should manage it but it will be hard work. It soon became clear that they had been tied up at the Blue Lias because after we reached the locks above the pub, the chamber walls were dry and most were either empty or very close to being empty. We met a couple of boats near the top of the flight and that speeded our progress even more, so much so that we managed to leave the tenth lock just ninety minutes after we had started.
Despite the fact that it was still not quite nine o’clock, the temperature was rising nicely as we passed our regular mooring above the bridge next to the Boat Inn. We had a steady run up to the three Calcutt locks where we caught up with a lone locker just below the bottom lock. Between the three of us we soon transcended the flight and with the exception of a slight delay leaving the top lock where we waited while a boat attempted awkwardly to wind above the lock, we were soon out and heading for Wigram’s turn. Our lock buddy was taking his boat to Brinklow for blacking the following day so we settled in behind him at a decent distance and chugged our way back to Braunston turn where, with a cheery wave, we parted company. The journey back was peaceful enough in the sunshine and despite the large number of boats travelling in the opposite direction, it all passed without incident. We did see a pen full of sheep being sheared at the farm by bridge 104, the novelty of which entertained us for a few minutes as we passed by.
Typically, a boat pulled away from the water point near the A45 road bridge, no problem there as they would not have known that we were coming through behind them. We followed them to the marina entrance and then had to wait while they winded their boat. We were hoping that there might be enough empty berths to allow us easy passage on to our pontoon but we were out of luck. We made it in past Havoc II with a little help from another boater who fended us off the bow of the aforementioned narrowboat. Just before we started our manoeuvre, Sue had discovered nb Phyllis May II, pride and joy of Terry Darlington and his wife Monica tied up on the pontoon directly opposite from our own. The adventuring authors are taking a stall at the Braunston historic boat show, no doubt hoping to sell a few signed copies of their books over that weekend.
We spent a little while doing the usual stuff and taking showers before clearing some bits and pieces into the car ready to drive home. Of course we will be back on Thursday evening to make ready for a Friday afternoon departure to start our two week cruise to ….., well we’re still undecided on that one so watch this space.
We arrived at Braunston on Friday afternoon knowing that the weather would prevent us leaving the marina until Saturday morning. We weren’t wrong and so we spent a relaxing evening on board while the wind and rain lashed the outside of the boat.
Saturday morning brought the promise of a beautiful day and so we got out of bed just after eight and did our chores before we set off an hour later. We chugged out of the marina and made our way slowly towards Braunston turn in the morning sunshine. Once we had rounded the bend at the junction, Sue toasted some crumpets and we had breakfast on the go. We pootled along until we reached Wigram’s turn where veered to the right and headed for the three locks at Calcutt. We thought that we would be travelling with a hire boat moored at the top lock but they were taking on water and so we entered the first lock alone. Our lone locking carried on but with a number of boats climbing up the flight our passage down was swift and easy. We enjoyed a glass of wine at midday as we made our way from Calcutt locks to those at Stockton. We did the first lock on our own but then caught up with another narrowboat whose crew had waited for us in the second lock. We benefitted from the kindness of their friends who were in front and had set some of the locks in our favour with the result that we were very quickly down and through the eight locks above the Blue Lias pub. We decided to make a stop there for lunch and while we were chatting about our stop I hit the bridge! There is no excuse, I just wasn’t paying attention and although this is a particularly low bridge, it was my fault completely. Fortunately the fairlead on the port side bore the brunt of the collision so at least the paintwork escaped damage. Of course these sort of things only happen when there is an audience and today was no exception, the garden of the Blue Lias was full of customers and as a result I got a round of applause and one or two comments from the pub patrons. It didn’t put us off and within a few minutes we were tied up and sitting in the garden with a drink and a sandwich as we enjoyed a break in the afternoon sun.
Refreshed and re-energised we set off and dropped through the two locks to Long Itchington. As we passed a line of moored boats, we were advised by someone who had been tied up at the pub to “watch out for bridges”, there’s always a smartarse somewhere!
We partnered up with a lone locker through the remaining locks down to the Fosse lock but we were entertained along the way by a Canal club hire boat whose crew wanted to turn before the Bascote staircase lock. Unfortunately the canal is not wide enough at that point to turn a 55’ boat so they had to drop through the staircase before turning around with some difficulty and a great deal of help from our lock partner. Leaving the hire boat behind, we made our way gently to our mooring just above Fosse lock, our lock partner moors below the lock so as I tied Phoenix III to the bank, Sue assisted him through his final lock.
So after 19 locks and umpteen miles in just over eight hours we were moored up for the evening. We had an hour out on the back deck with a drink before retreating to the cabin where we had our evening meal. All that was left to do was to flop into our chairs and contemplate the rest of our journey down to Warwick and hopefully a mooring in the Saltisford arm.
We travelled to Braunston yesterday and spent the night in the marina, ready for the start of our holiday. We awoke just after six and had an early morning cup of coffee before I nipped off to the shop to pick up some last minute necessary items. Returning at half past seven, we made our final preparations including having a light breakfast before untying Phoenix III from her mooring.
The wind was still blowing across the marina as it had been last night but we used it to good effect as we nosed gently out from between the pontoons and then let mother nature steer us in the direction of the locks. We chugged slowly through the marina before emerging on to the canal and again the wind helped us as we began our journey proper. There wasn’t much happening as we passed the hire fleet at the bottom lock and so we ascended the first lock on our own. It was the same at the second lock but as the water raised Phoenix III in the chamber, another boat approached from above. Leaving that lock, we caught up with a hire boat as we neared lock number three at the Admiral Nelson pub. The crew of Canal Club “The Mad Hatter” were friendly enough if a little inexperienced and we soon found ourselves in the top lock and it wasn’t even ten o’clock. As we reached the northern portal of Braunston tunnel we met two boats emerging from the darkness that we were about to plunge into. We met another two shortly before we left the other end of the tunnel where we found ourselves under blue skies and high white clouds.
We reached Norton junction and turned left on to the Leicester section of the Grand Union about half an hour after leaving Braunston tunnel. Another half an hour or so brought us to the bottom of the flight of locks at Watford and after consulting with the lock keeper there, we knew that we were in for a bit of a wait. The first part of that wait was soon over and we entered the bottom lock after the first of the oncoming boats finished their descent. We had to wait between locks for another four narrowboats to pass through before we were able to start our climb up the hill properly. Once in the staircase, the ascent was fairly quick but as we left the last lock it started to rain. The rain turned to hail and it was all driven by a very fierce wind but we ploughed on and soon reached Crick tunnel. It had actually stopped by the time we reached the mouth of the tunnel but nevertheless it was comforting to be in there and sheltered from the elements for a while. By the time we left the tunnel behind it was back to blue skies again and within a few minutes were moored near Crick marina.
After all of the usual things that need to be done after tying the boat up, we left Phoenix III and walked into Crick itself. It was 2.30 and The Red Lion was just closing as we passed by on our way to the Wheatsheaf where we had fish and chips for lunch – very nice. There is a beer and music festival on there over the bank holiday weekend and so after we had eaten we spent a short while listening to the music of the band, “Indian Joe”.
We left the Wheatsheaf and returned to the canal and then decided to move on a bit further. The Leicester summit is a pretty desolate place but our journey was not without incident, we managed to re-float Braidbar No. 62 with our bow wave as we passed after she had become grounded in the shallows and we encountered a “learner” who ended up at 45 degrees across the canal because he thought there wasn’t enough room between us and some moored boats.
An hour after leaving Crick we moored beyond bridge 20 near Yelvertoft. It was still very windy but it was a nice place to stay for the evening.
More blue skies when we got up and got going at eight o’clock. We turned as usual at Birdingbury wharf and then headed back in the direction of the junction with the Oxford canal. It didn’t take long to get to the three locks at Calcutt and we made short work of them, leaving the top one just half an hour after entering the bottom chamber. We turned right at the junction and made our way to Napton where we found a mooring just before the winding hole. There seemed to be a bit of a domestic dispute going on in the boat in front of us when we tied up. As we left the boat to walk to rubbish bins by the bottom lock, the skipper of the boat mumbled something about moving forward to give space for another boat. We left him, not sure what he was thinking about since he was already very close to the winding hole. After we had gotten rid of our bin bag, we wandered over to the little shop next to the Folly pub and bought an ice cream each. The pub wasn’t open so we made use of a bench in their garden and sat and ate the ice creams in the sunshine. We walked back to our mooring where we met the guy from the boat in front again and he asked us if we were staying. We told him that we were moving on but he then felt the need to explain that he had been going to ask us to move our boat either backwards or forwards to create space for another boat. We untied and turned around at the winding hole, giving a cheery wave to the self appointed harbour master as we passed.
We stopped for lunch just beyond the junction, almost opposite Wigrams turn marina. Sue picked this deliberately so that we would be on hand to view any ‘entertainment’ as boats tried to negotiate the turn. We weren’t disappointed as we ate our lunch out on the back deck. One boat turning too late and hitting the bank, another speeding through causing another to take avoiding action all added to the fun.
Once we were fed and watered we set off again, this time all the way to Braunston. The trip takes a couple of hours and on this occasion was relatively straightforward. We passed a boat being pumped out, it has been partially submerged for a few weeks now but the petrol powered pump was doing a grand job and she was almost afloat again. As we approached the last bridge before the turn with its iconic twin bridges, we were faced with two oncoming boats, nothing unusual in that except that a third boat which had been tied up at the bank decided to set off. It was all very confusing for a minute or two but it was soon sorted out and we went through first. As we got closer to the marina, Sue switched her iPad on and viewed the marina webcam page so that we could watch ourselves driving in. http://braunstonmarina.co.uk/BraunstonMarinaWebCams.aspx
We were pleased to see that Havoc II hadn’t returned which made our job of getting back into our berth very much easier than it sometimes is.
So that was it, another lovely weekend out on the boat dramatically enhanced by the superb late summer weather.
Sunday wasn’t as bright and sunny as either Friday or Saturday but it was still dry although with the strong wind it was decidedly chilly as we started our journey back from Napton. We untied just after nine o’clock and then chugged past the long line of boats which were moored either side of the winding hole. There didn’t seem to be as much traffic on the move by comparison to Saturday but there was still enough to keep things interesting. As we approached Braunston turn we saw nb ‘Muddy Waters’ and took some pictures.
Once through one of the iron bridges we soon reached the bend from where we could see that the mooring outside the Boathouse pub was almost entirely empty so we pulled up and had lunch there. It was all over by half past twelve so we made our way back to the marina and were just tying off the stern when the rain started, our timing had been almost perfect!
Very often we spend weekends on the boat when we don’t travel and on those occasions I don’t write anything. This weekend is a little different because it is the weekend of the Braunston Historic Boat Rally. We wanted to be here last year but Phoenix III was being repainted and although we popped down for a day, this is our first chance to experience the whole weekend.
We arrived on thursday evening and after unpacking and having something to eat we made our way to the beer tent where we watched a play called ‘A matter of time’. The production was excellent with two people playing all six parts. It poured rain for most of the time and very often threatened to drown out the actors voices. The rain continued on and off during the night, not a very good way to mark midsummer at all.
Friday dawned and while I was at work, Sue cleaned the boat from stem to stern. In the evening we returned to the beer tent where we had a drink while we listened to the band performing on stage. It was almost midnight when we returned to the boat and turned in for the night.
The wind was still blowing when we awoke on Saturday morning but at least it was dry. We took a walk around the marina and waited for the official opening before we returned to the back deck of Phoenix III where we positioned ourselves on a pair of high chairs from where we could watch the parade as it made its way through the marina. After a while we took a walk up to the village to do some shopping before returning to the show. We then took a walk around the various stalls at the show, renewing aquaintances with the Redshaws who worked on Phoenix’s original engine and with Eddie who supplied our Boatman stove and from whom we bought a new set of fire irons. We drifted into the beer tent, a bit of a habit forming here, and listened to some more live music, first of all from singer songwriter Junal and then from ‘Four men in a boat’ who sang a variety of traditional folk songs. We returned to Phoenix III where we relaxed and carried out a few essential jobs which included varnishing some woodwork.
We had a lazy start to Sunday and after fortifying ourselves with a bacon roll, we took a walk up to the village shop. We had another wander around before sitting on the back deck of Phoenix III to watch the parade of boats again. We had a talk with some people looking at boats for sale and invited them inside to show them what ours looks like. Cliff and Liz joined us at two o’clock and after a bit of lunch we all went and listened to some more live music. All too soon it was five o’clock and the show was over and by the time we had packed up the things that we wanted to take home it was seven o’clock. We had enjoyed the show as well as we had expected and the weather had been much better than the BBC had forecast so we pronounced the weekend a success and we’re looking forward to doing it all again next year.