We left Stoke Golding’s Duck bend reasonably early on Thursday for the trip back to our home in Hinckley and luckily we found that the mooring close to the apartment was empty so naturally we tied up there. We checked the post and moved a few more of our belongings from the floating home to the bricks and mortar one. It was strange walking from the apartment back to the canal and seeing Caxton sitting in the sunshine as it had done back at the beginning of May in the last few days before this epic trip began.
However, the epic trip was still ongoing and with the weekend temperatures predicted to be in the low 20’s we decided to head back to Hawkesbury for a few days. It was Friday afternoon before we set off but with no pressure of time on us, we were only aiming for a mooring somewhere on the lower stretches of the Ashby. We tied up just past Burton Hastings, opposite where Bramcote barracks and hospital used to be although new housing now occupies the site. The last time that we moored here was in November 2010 on our fateful trip to Braunston but this time around, we awoke to unseasonably warm temperatures on Saturday morning. As we approached Hawkesbury, we could see that most of the seven day mooring stretch on the Coventry canal side of the junction was free so we just picked the straightest stretch that we could find and moored up. Being the first boat to arrive meant that everyone else filled up the mooring around us and by early evening, the stretch was full.
Although the promised temperatures materialised, the sun only appeared sporadically and the wind sort of dominated on both weekend days – maybe our expectations were too high, given the fact that it was mid October and summer was living on borrowed time. We were treated to a magnificently colourful sunset on Saturday evening and perhaps it was a fitting sign for us, one which said, “that’s it, you’ve had a great time but now it’s over until next year!”.
With nothing much to hang around for, we decided to set off again on Sunday afternoon, turn around and head for home. It was just one of those afternoons when it would have been easy to cruise for hours on end, the conditions were so good. As a result, we reached the moorings before the A5 at the Limekilns and found that there was space for us there.
We walked into Hinckley on Monday morning, a warm day but backlit by that strange orange sunlight created by the outer edge of Hurricane Ophelia picking up dust from the Sahara desert. By Monday afternoon the wind was increasing in strength as Ophelia closed in on the western edges of the British Isles but by then we had returned to the safety and warmth of Caxton.
Tuesday morning brought a completely different sort of day, blue skies and sunshine, although the temperature had cooled by a few degrees. We moved on from the Limekilns and made our way back to “our garden” mooring. It had been our intention to spend the following few days carrying our remaining belongings back to the apartment before moving Caxton back into the marina on Friday. However, with wet weather forecast for the rest of the week we decided to make the most of the beautiful day, move all our stuff off and go back in later in the day. It was a bit of a slog, almost like moving house without the benefit of Pickfords but we managed it and by half past four we were untying Caxton, ready for the final leg of our trip. In a way, it was quite fitting really to set off from the same point as we had at the beginning of May on the first leg, albeit in the opposite direction. It didn’t take us long to make the short hop round to the marina and find our new berth for the winter. After tying up, we decided to call into the Marina pub for a celebratory drink to mark the end of our first epic trip.
This is what the trip entailed:
Number of weeks spent on board – 25
Miles travelled – 358 (573km)
Locks – 187
Tunnels – 6
Counties visited – 10
Blog posts – 45
In the end, we decided to leave Hawkesbury on Friday morning rather than Saturday. We had toyed with the idea of travelling to Atherstone for a couple of days but in the end, decided to return to the Ashby canal instead. Looking at the forecast, we could see that Friday offered sunshine and light cloud whereas Saturday looked dull but dry. Either day would have been good for travelling but sunshine on our return to our home water seemed appropriate. I was about to start this post with, “We’ve lost count of the number of times that we’ve travelled along the first six miles of the Ashby canal” but then I remembered that all I had to do was to go through the log book that we have kept since we bought our first boat, Phoenix III. The grand total came to 88 times! (44 in each direction of course).
Most people find that when they are driving home by car that there is a point where, because they have driven it many times before, it feels like they are already home, even if they still have twenty minutes left to go. We’re like that with Hawkesbury Junction; once we’ve made the turn on to the Coventry canal, we feel that we’re nearly home even though we’re still three hours away. It makes the trip easy to do as there is never a time when you’re unsure of your surroundings, how far you’ve travelled or how long you have left to go. The trip on Friday morning was just like that; we worked the lock, passed under the cast iron bridge and reversed on to the service point where we did all of the necessary things before setting off in the bright sunshine. An hour later, we reached Marston Junction which we had to ourselves long enough to make the turn unmolested by other craft. Soon we were passing under the West Coast mainline for the last time on our trip, we have crossed it, run along side it and slept within earshot of it for most of the way on our return from the bottom of the Grand Union. Just for good measure, we even travelled on it when we returned from our short break in July. Now we were leaving this strange travelling companion for the final time, well until we make trip number 89! On we went, meeting the odd narrowboat now and again and being overtaken by a trailboat but that was on one of the few straight and wide sections of the canal so that caused us no problem. An hour on from the junction saw us at Burton Hastings, after passing the long term linear moorings there and rounding the first bend, we caught our first sight of the warehouses next to the A5 and we knew that half an hour would bring us to the Limekilns bridge where the A5 crosses the canal.
Sure enough, the A5 suddenly came into view with its constant stream of Friday afternoon traffic. Seeing that the visitor moorings on our side of the road bridge were completely empty, we pulled in and tied up.
Our mooring for the night is only a ten minute walk away from where we live so we had lunch on board and then went to check that our home was still standing. Everything was in order so we quickly opened the post and returned to the boat for the evening.
Wednesday was as warm as Tuesday so we decided to walk up Black Horse road and catch the bus into Coventry. There’s no bus lane on this route into the city so the journey felt quite tedious. So tedious in fact that after we had finished looking at the cathedrals and had some lunch, we opted for the train journey out to Arena park followed by a walk along the towpath back to our mooring. We had to call in at the Greyhound to book a table for the following day so took the opportunity to sit down outside with a drink and do a bit of gongoozling in the sunshine.
Rain was forecast for most of Thursday afternoon which was why we had chosen to spend a couple of hours in there while having lunch. After a dull start to the day, the rain came just after noon and persisted until about four o’clock. As usual, the Greyhound experience was superb; good quality food, well cooked with great table service too. It was still raining as we made our way back to Caxton but we were suitably attired so it didn’t matter.
With no good reason to venture out again, we just settled in for a lazy afternoon and contemplated which day would be the best to move on – Friday or Saturday.
As usual, we had a very peaceful night at Ansty. I awoke early but there was only the distant hum of the M6 to distract me or maybe lull me back to sleep. We got up and were ready to set off just after eight but were slightly surprised to discover that there was a thick mist surrounding us. We’ve travelled in these conditions before so the mist didn’t deter us from setting off, moving around the bend and under the road bridge to the water point where we topped our tank up. The mist was lifting by the time we set off and we made good time on our way to Hawkesbury, a trip that we have made so many times before. We were pleased to find a mooring on the Oxford side of the junction on a straight stretch of the towpath. The mist had by that time, burned off and we had the promise of a lovely day ahead.
Making use of the hot water for showers, we were soon ready to leave Caxton and walk the two miles to Coventry arena park where we did some shopping at M&S and then had lunch at Chiquitos restaurant.
Lunch was good, if a little expensive and afterwards we walked back to Caxton via the Greyhound where we stopped for a little refreshment. There were half a dozen horses wandering on the towpath and Sue fed them with a few carrots from her handbag. I’ve always wondered why she keeps carrots in there but I know now!
Alright, I have to confess that Sue doesn’t carry carrots or any other vegetables for that matter in her handbag but she did feed the horses with carrots bought from the local shop.
After yet another peaceful night’s sleep we awoke to blue skies again this morning. We were in no hurry to get going so we took our time and after breakfast we moved Caxton on to the water point just beyond the junction. While the fresh water tank filled, we emptied the cassettes and prepared for the next leg of our journey. It took a while to fill the tank due to the low pressure from the tap but eventually we squeezed the last few drops in and started to reverse back to the iron bridge and the junction with the Oxford canal.
Gongoozlers were already gathering around the bridge and around the Greyhound but we made the turn easily and so were of no interest to any of them. Sue had stayed on the bank and had already prepared the shallow lock by the time I had stuck Caxton’s bow under the cast iron bridge which spans the junction.
nb Dodona was waiting to enter the stop lock as we were leaving so it made for an easy transit for us as we had no gate to close behind us. From there on in we had a very pleasant cruise, the sun shone and the wind only just cooled us slightly as we made our way in a southerly direction. We have passed this way many times before and very little has changed over the years but sometimes familiarity doesn’t breed contempt and this was one of those occasions. It was around three o’clock when we reached the approach to All Oaks Wood and we found a very suitable mooring there.
After sorting ourselves out we locked up and made the three-quarter mile walk into the nearby village of Brinklow. Those who know Caxton will recognise that in a way, Caxton is at home here.
We found the local church close to the remains of Brinklow castle and climbed to the top of all that remains of the main mound of the Motte and Bailey castle. A full explanation of the construction can be found here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motte-and-bailey_castle
The view from the top was far reaching although too vast to be worth photographing, certainly with a phone at least. Descending the hill was probably trickier than the ascent had been but we managed both without incident and then we made our way back to the towpath where we found our boat awaiting.
After yesterday’s exuberance we decided that we would have a quieter day today. Following a leisurely breakfast we walked along the towpath in the direction of Coventry until we reached the Ricoh arena. We killed a bit of time over a coffee in Starbucks before catching a train from the nearby station and made the six minute trip into Coventry. Sue wanted to visit the nearby Hobbycraft store and while she looked at knitting related items, I checked out the art supplies. In contrast to the day before, this Saturday has been a cloudy and drizzly affair but it wasn’t so bad that we couldn’t walk around the city centre. Lunch was taken at one of our regular haunts, The Establishment and we weren’t disappointed although it was rather busy and noisy today because there were a number of Saracens rugby fans there on their way to the match against Wasps at the Ricoh arena. A little more shopping after lunch followed and then we made our way back to the station and re-traced our steps back to our mooring at Hawkesbury.
Unlike yesterday when the blue skies ensured that the solar panels charged the batteries to 100%, today’s thick cloud prevented a repeat so we ran the engine for an hour to keep them topped up.
Friday 5th May had eventually arrived, it brought with it my 55th birthday and my retirement date. Sue had cleared the apartment of the last few items that we would be taking on our journey and stowed them on board Caxton on Thursday afternoon. After eating in the nearby Marina restaurant, we returned to the boat and settled in for what would be our last night in Hinckley for some time.
When we awoke on Friday morning, the sun was already shining in a clear blue sky, it looked like we were going to have a perfect start to our trip. We made a final trip to the apartment to check that we hadn’t forgotten anything and that everything was switched off. We were back on board by 8.30 and after carrying out the usual startup checks, we untied, engaged forward gear and set off, leaving behind the mooring that had been our home for the last week. The next thing that had to be done was to turn around at Hinckley wharf and return to the marina to fill up with diesel. It was 10 o’clock when we were passing our mooring again but this time we really were on our way at last.
It remained bright and sunny all day but the cool north-easterly wind that accompanied us on our voyage meant that thick fleeces were the order of the day. We didn’t encounter many boats on the move as we made our way along the Ashby canal and it wasn’t any busier after we had turned left on to the Coventry canal at Marston junction. It took the usual three hours for us to reach our destination and we found a good spot to moor near Hawkesbury junction. It was time to start the celebrations and on this occasion we did so by popping the cork on a bottle of vintage champagne which had been provided by Sue’s son Brett and his wife, Kerry.
Sue had booked a table for dinner at the Greyhound so at half past five we took the short walk along the towpath to the iconic pub. As usual, the food and service were excellent and we washed it all down with another bottle of champers. A bit decadent of course but it had been a special day.
We awoke this morning and changed our travel plans, electing to revert to plan A and go aimlessly south. Caxton’s engine burst into life just before eight o’clock and we made our way to the winding hole beyond Springwood Haven where we turned tail and headed back toward Nuneaton. The entire day has been a typically beautiful summer’s day with light winds, blue skies and white fluffy clouds overhead. Just under two hours later and we were passing the entrance to the Ashby canal at Marston junction. A few minutes later and we had the Charity dock in our sights. We had just cleared the corner when we spotted a Valley Cruises boat coming towards us, no problem since both boats were going straight and there was plenty of room to pass. With approximately three boat lengths between us, Sue said, “Here’s a panicker”. I thought the remark to be a bit harsh since the hire boat was behaving perfectly. Thirty seconds later and the steerer was turning towards us and the angle was getting sharper as she pushed the tiller in the wrong direction – panic really had set in. Fortunately, we were only in tickover but despite full revs in reverse and managing to get Caxton moving backwards, the oncoming boat still hit us. With the two boats moving in the same direction, the impact was minimal but still noisy and the only damage done was to the pride of the young lady steering.
After all that excitement, we carried on to Hawkesbury junction where we turned on to the North Oxford, no stop off at The Greyhound today. It’s probably a year since we last travelled this way so it was an enjoyable trip as we covered familiar waters, noting changes to the landscape as we went. There was a light but steady stream of boats coming in the opposite direction but although we knew that were boats in front and behind, they were out of sight for most of the time so didn’t trouble us. The perfect boating conditions continued through Ansty and on to Stretton stop, along the way we got a blast on the horn from a freight train and a friendly wave from the driver as he headed north on his journey. Eventually we reached Newbold tunnel, sadly it is no longer illuminated as it once was – maybe it is too costly to maintain. Once through the tunnel and under the bridge by the Barley Mow, we were pleased to discover that there was plenty of space on the Visitor moorings. We’ve tied on rings, the spacing isn’t ideal but it’s good enough. So from three o’clock we have been sitting in the shade of the front deck just watching the boats go past.
We didn’t travel very far today, retracing part of our trip yesterday as far as Marston junction and then on to Nuneaton where we have moored until Thursday so that we can sit out tomorrow’s storm. Today’s weather gave no hint of what is on its way and we enjoyed an excellent cruise under blue skies and sunshine. We only encountered one boat but that provided plenty of entertainment when it was driven at full speed into the bank on a right angled bend. The crew seemed unhurt with perhaps the only damage being done to the steerer’s pride. Once we had passed him it was easy to see what had happened, he had been blinded by the low sun and its reflection on the water’s surface and hadn’t seen that there was a bend!
We tied on the visitor moorings and after a shower, walked into town where we had lunch here at Saints Bar. Afterwards, we ambled back to the towpath where we have settled in for the evening on board Caxton.
After spending our fourth night in Trinity marina on board Caxton, it was time to get out on the cut. First of all though we had to say goodbye to our visitors, Sue’s son Brett, his wife Kerry and their two children. They had arrived on Sunday and stayed in our apartment overnight. They were just finishing breakfast when we got to the apartment so we chatted with them for an hour before they set off and we walked back to the marina.
We were ready to start our trip just after midday and despite the strong wind, we managed to exit the marina and point Caxton in the direction of Marston Junction. The mild weather is continuing but the wind makes it chilly after a while. Luckily for me, Sue has bought me some new thermals and knitted a sort of polo neck capelet that can be worn under a coat which keeps my neck warm and draught free. Fully insulated, I was able to steer Caxton along the six miles of the Ashby canal that leads to the junction with the Coventry canal. We passed a handful of boats along the way including Mister Pip, skippered by one of our acquaintances, Phil. Two hours later and we reached the junction so Sue went to the front to look put for any traffic on the Coventry canal. We were in the narrow section approaching the bridge when the bow of a narrowboat came into view from the direction of Nuneaton, it was the unmistakable “Miner Bill ” with Ralph at the tiller. Ralph indicated to Sue that he was turning on to the Ashby and she signalled back that we intended to turn left. This turn can be interesting at the best of times with Caxton being 68 feet long but with a bit of wind and a misbehaving bow thruster it looked like a perfect nightmare was about to unfold. In the end it wasn’t too bad and we all ended up where we wanted to be. Nicki appeared, camera in hand and took these photos.
We pressed on and made our way to Hawkesbury. Along the way, Sue stoked the fire up with some peat but unfortunately this coincided with us entering the cutting that is the Bedworth straight. We were suddenly protected from the gusting wind that had been clearing the smoke from the chimney and now it was just drifting in the almost still air. After a few minutes of being smoked like a kipper, Sue returned to the fire and removed as much of the smouldering peat from the fire as she could. The smoke subsided pretty quickly after that and then a few minutes later we were out in the open again. The smoke still hung in the cutting behind us but we were breathing fresh air again!
We reached Hawkesbury just before half past three, winded under the bridge then found a mooring for the evening. Neither of us fancied the walk back to the Greyhound so we settled down and had a bowl of home made soup that Sue had made as we had travelled along.