We decided to move on Tuesday morning and get our 2018 trip underway properly. Our original plan had been to start by heading into Birmingham by way of the Coventry canal and then the Birmingham & Fazeley with just a short diversion to The Greyhound for my birthday lunch. Over the weekend we decided to give Birmingham a miss completely and head off in the opposite direction. This isn’t as dramatic as it might as first seem, Plan ‘A’ would have taken us from Birmingham to Stratford and on to the river Avon. Plan ‘B’ will bypass Birmingham and take us to Stratford on the Oxford, Grand Union and Stratford canals – assuming that plan ‘C’ isn’t hatched along the way.
Our day had to begin relatively early because our change of plan meant that Caxton was pointing in the wrong direction and so we had to reverse back to the junction. Needless to say, we weren’t early enough and as I reversed the boat slowly towards the narrow section, the bow of another narrowboat appeared under the cast iron bridge and turned towards us. Luckily the large gap at the water points gave plenty of width to the canal and allowed us to pass without incident. Once past the junction, we pulled in to use the facilities but with the water tap being a good contender for the slowest on the system, we left an hour later with just half a tankful. The tank was filled an hour later when we stopped temporarily at Ansty. We were soon underway again and enjoying the sunshine as we travelled through the Warwickshire countryside. It was a perfect boating day really, sunny with light winds and not too hot. We reached Newbold on Avon in the early afternoon, tied up and had some lunch.
After lunch, we decided to walk along the towpath to Tesco at Rugby. We didn’t need anything but it gave us a good reason to go for a walk. Part way along, we made a detour and followed the Great Central footpath which is of course a redundant railway route.
The path ends at the new Elliot’s field retail park, we stopped for coffee and browsed in a couple of shops before crossing the road and visiting Tesco. The return to our mooring only took us half an hour, straight along the towpath to Newbold where we settled in for the evening.
Blue skies greeted us on Wednesday morning, we wanted to move but delayed our start in the hope that we would improve our chances of finding a mooring at Brownsover’s Boughton Road park. The water point was empty when we arrived and luckily enough, the boat which was tied next to us was about to leave, so we pulled back and made use of our long hose pipe to top up our tank.
Only an hour had elapsed since we had left Newbold so with the afternoon ahead of us, we decided to explore the retail parks nearby. This included what could possibly be my last visit to a Maplin store. The retailer is in administration and everything is being sold off at a discount. There wasn’t a lot left on the shelves, awful really, to see this one-time Aladdin’s cave stripped almost bare. Fair play to the staff, they’re still sticking to their task even though it must be difficult to generate any sort of enthusiasm for the job. I bought a soldering iron and a couple of connectors before leaving, feeling a slight tinge of sadness at the demise of this once great retail emporium. Eventually we returned to our mooring and wondered what the following day would bring us. This side of the canal only allows a 24 hour stay so we knew that we had to move, the question being – how far would we be going? We wanted to spend a few more days in the area so we were keen to find somewhere close by, perhaps around the corner where we moored last September.
We spent five days spanning the early May bank holiday at Hawkesbury junction and enjoyed the glorious weather that went with it. After arriving on the Thursday, we made a couple of trips to the Arena retail park, took a bus into Coventry and of course had lunch in The Greyhound on Saturday afternoon.
Lunch was superb, as usual. The whole experience can’t be faulted but that’s really down to the fact that there are always plenty of attentive staff, no matter how busy the place is. On a sunny Bank Holiday like the one that we experienced, I’m sure that the staff would have really been under a lot of pressure but they know what they are doing at The Greyhound. We enjoyed our stay at the junction although we didn’t do anything there that we hadn’t done before and with the weather as it was, we had a few lazy afternoons sitting on the front deck.
Hawkesbury Junction is a popular stop for boaters but in reality, with the exception of The Greyhound, there isn’t really much there. There’s nothing wrong with going to the pub every day, if that’s your thing but for anyone who wants a bit more, here are a few helpful hints.
Blackhorse Convenience store is just a few minutes walk from the canal and seems to carry a wide range of everyday provisions. A sign outside advertises that there is a free to use ATM inside but we haven’t had a need to use it so I can’t confirm that the facility exists. Cross the Coventry canal using the ladder bridge and make your way into the housing estate. Walk along Heritage Drive and then turn left on to Sephton Drive at the end. Turn first right and then left at the mini roundabout. The shop is a little way along on the left hand side. There is a post box opposite the store. Out of interest, if you had turned right at the mini roundabout and gone the other way on Blackhorse road, there is another pub – The Boat Inn.
Situated near the Ricoh Arena, home to Coventry City FC and Wasps RFC, the retail park has a Tesco Extra and M&S along with other fashion retailers. There are restaurants and coffee shops on the site so it’s worth the walk if you fancy a bit of retail therapy. In between the retail park and the stadium is a railway station on the Coventry to Nuneaton line. The simplest way to get to Arena Park is to walk along the towpath until bridge 8 (New Inn Bridge). It is also possible to leave the towpath earlier at bridge 9 (Judds Lane Bridge), cross the canal and then turn left. It’s not the prettiest towpath route and depending on the weather is susceptible to muddy patches, it’s still worth doing at least once because there are information boards along the way. The best way that we have found is to walk past the Greyhound and on to the main road before turning left, away from the canal, along Grange Road. The road passes under the M6 and eventually becomes Oakmoor road, at this point and just beyond Hawkesbury Lodge, there is an entrance to Longford Park. The path through the park crosses the river Sowe and emerges on to Longford road. Turning left and walking a short distance brings the walker to New Inn Bridge over the canal and then it is simply a matter of taking the next right turn into the retail park. This route isn’t muddy and is almost half a mile shorter than the towpath which is why we prefer walking this way. A three mile round trip walk is well within our capabilities but it is worth knowing that if the weather turns nasty or there’s a lot of shopping to carry, that there is a Taxi rank at the bus interchange next to Tesco. I’ve no idea how much the fare back to The Greyhound is but at a mile and a half, I would expect it to be between £5 and £7.
Coventry City Centre
There are a number of ways to get into the City Centre, the canal towpath being one of them but it’s a long way and in places, not very nice. Trains run from the Arena but the City station is a bit of a walk from the centre so the best public transport option is the number 6 (or 6A) which runs every twenty minutes from Anderton Road. The City bus station is within sight of the Transport Museum and just a five minute walk from the main shopping areas. We paid £4 each for a day ticket so it represents reasonable value for the trip. It’s a ten minute walk from the Greyhound, turn left on to Grange Road, pass under the M6 and take the first left, the bus stop is on the right in the layby.
On the 28th April 2017, we pulled Caxton out of the marina in Hinckley and began preparations for our first big cruise. Unbelievably, we have now reached that anniversary and we are ready to start again!
It was the middle of March when we returned from our winter break on Fuerteventura and it was a pleasant surprise to return to long-ish days and mild weather. We busied ourselves with visits to family, doctors and dentists although not necessarily in that order. We also managed to fit in a five day break to Scotland, travelling by train to Glasgow for three nights before finishing off in Edinburgh for a couple of nights and then travelling back. The flexibility that retirement brings enabled us to travel 1st class on cheap advance tickets. The journey to Glasgow was delayed by an hour so those fares were fully refunded, in effect a free ride with free food and drink.
In the days prior to our trip north of the border, we had moved a lot of stuff on board Caxton in preparation for our departure so when we got home on Tuesday 24th April, we had only a few more bits to shift from bricks to boat. We were fully prepared by midday on the Wednesday so we decided to eat at the nearby Brewers Fayre and spend our first night on board since last October.
Thursday dawned and without further ado, we untied and quietly slipped out from the safety of the marina and headed north on the Ashby canal. This might seem like a strange start to a six month cruise, heading into a cul-de-sac but we wanted a few days to make sure that everything worked and that we hadn’t forgotten anything. If we had overlooked anything, we would be able to collect what we had forgotten as we passed home on the return trip.
The day was dry, if a little cool and we pushed on to reach Market Bosworth in the early afternoon, tying on our favourite mooring between the road bridge and the marina entrance. We sat out the heavy rain that arrived on the Friday and nursed the colds that we had somehow managed to pick up on our travels north of the border.
The following day was cold but dry so we turned around and made our way back to Stoke Golding. After mooring on Duck Bend, I left Sue in the cozy interior of Caxton while I went on a mission to the George & Dragon pub. At first glance, the G&D is just another village pub selling and real ale and serving home made food. I’m not a real ale fanatic but the Churchend Brewery beers served there are very good. We’ve not eaten a meal in the pub so I can’t really pass comment on the menu but there are always plenty of customers and judging by some of the conversations that I have overheard, they are travelling to Stoke Golding from further afield than the village itself. And the purpose of my mission? Well, the George & Dragon sells something that is almost irresistible to me – sausage rolls, home made I presume. The humble sausage roll comes in all sorts of guises of course, ranging from the tasteless, factory produced rubbish in the chiller cabinet of supermarkets and petrol stations. These pathetic items feature pale, dry pastry surrounding a grey sliver of pork paste with a mysterious air gap between the two components. Cutting one in half and looking at the cross section, you might be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at one of Tutankhamun’s digits (or worse!). The middle ground is firmly held by the High Street baker, Greggs. The pork is pink, fills the golden pastry and is reasonably priced. Local bakers dominate the upper end of the sausage roll league, if one existed and the standard varies from shop to shop. The sausage roll which is to be found in the George and Dragon, Stoke Golding is the king of sausage rolls – quite fitting when you consider that it was here in 1485 that Henry VII was crowned King of England, marking the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and the beginning of the Tudor era. If Waitrose sold a sausage roll like this, they would probably feel compelled to describe it as a “Sausage Wellington”. It’s six months since I last passed this way and had one of these sausage rolls so I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with the delicacy. Of course, there’s always the danger that the experience that exists in the memory is better than the reality, inevitably leading to disappointment. There was no disappointment last Saturday, the beast of a sausage roll was bigger and tastier than I remembered from last year so after washing it down with a couple of pints of Churchend’s “Fallen Angel”, I toddled back down to the canal and settled in for the rest of the day.
It was dry and cold again on Sunday so we made the short trip back to Hinckley and tied on the visitor moorings for a couple of days. This enabled us to do a bit more shopping and pick up a handful of things from home.
We did another short hop on Tuesday to the Limekilns moorings, just a mile away, where we filled the almost empty water tank and spent another couple of days. Finally, after enduring the unseasonably cold and wet weather which seemed to make our colds more miserable than they probably were, we were ready for the off and on Thursday morning, with the sun shining, we untied and made our way toward Marston Junction and the Coventry canal. It was good to be on the deeper water of the lower section of the Ashby and almost luxurious to travel on the Coventry canal being deeper, wider and straighter than the aforementioned waterway. The Ashby from Stoke Golding to Market Bosworth seemed a lot shallower in places than it did last year which was surprising given the amount of rain we have had, I dread to think how it might be in the summer after a dry spell.
Anyway, we turned left at Marston junction and travelled on to Hawkesbury where we made use of the elsan, turned around and tied on the seven day moorings. We are going to have a few days here and have lunch in the Greyhound on Saturday, my birthday, a reprise of last year’s birthday/retirement celebration. The weather is changing for the better, our colds are almost gone and we are moored in one of our favourite places – the summer cruise begins here – at last!
We left Stoke Golding’s Duck bend reasonably early on Thursday for the trip back to our home in Hinckley and luckily we found that the mooring close to the apartment was empty so naturally we tied up there. We checked the post and moved a few more of our belongings from the floating home to the bricks and mortar one. It was strange walking from the apartment back to the canal and seeing Caxton sitting in the sunshine as it had done back at the beginning of May in the last few days before this epic trip began.
However, the epic trip was still ongoing and with the weekend temperatures predicted to be in the low 20’s we decided to head back to Hawkesbury for a few days. It was Friday afternoon before we set off but with no pressure of time on us, we were only aiming for a mooring somewhere on the lower stretches of the Ashby. We tied up just past Burton Hastings, opposite where Bramcote barracks and hospital used to be although new housing now occupies the site. The last time that we moored here was in November 2010 on our fateful trip to Braunston but this time around, we awoke to unseasonably warm temperatures on Saturday morning. As we approached Hawkesbury, we could see that most of the seven day mooring stretch on the Coventry canal side of the junction was free so we just picked the straightest stretch that we could find and moored up. Being the first boat to arrive meant that everyone else filled up the mooring around us and by early evening, the stretch was full.
Although the promised temperatures materialised, the sun only appeared sporadically and the wind sort of dominated on both weekend days – maybe our expectations were too high, given the fact that it was mid October and summer was living on borrowed time. We were treated to a magnificently colourful sunset on Saturday evening and perhaps it was a fitting sign for us, one which said, “that’s it, you’ve had a great time but now it’s over until next year!”.
With nothing much to hang around for, we decided to set off again on Sunday afternoon, turn around and head for home. It was just one of those afternoons when it would have been easy to cruise for hours on end, the conditions were so good. As a result, we reached the moorings before the A5 at the Limekilns and found that there was space for us there.
We walked into Hinckley on Monday morning, a warm day but backlit by that strange orange sunlight created by the outer edge of Hurricane Ophelia picking up dust from the Sahara desert. By Monday afternoon the wind was increasing in strength as Ophelia closed in on the western edges of the British Isles but by then we had returned to the safety and warmth of Caxton.
Tuesday morning brought a completely different sort of day, blue skies and sunshine, although the temperature had cooled by a few degrees. We moved on from the Limekilns and made our way back to “our garden” mooring. It had been our intention to spend the following few days carrying our remaining belongings back to the apartment before moving Caxton back into the marina on Friday. However, with wet weather forecast for the rest of the week we decided to make the most of the beautiful day, move all our stuff off and go back in later in the day. It was a bit of a slog, almost like moving house without the benefit of Pickfords but we managed it and by half past four we were untying Caxton, ready for the final leg of our trip. In a way, it was quite fitting really to set off from the same point as we had at the beginning of May on the first leg, albeit in the opposite direction. It didn’t take us long to make the short hop round to the marina and find our new berth for the winter. After tying up, we decided to call into the Marina pub for a celebratory drink to mark the end of our first epic trip.
This is what the trip entailed:
Number of weeks spent on board – 25
Miles travelled – 358 (573km)
Locks – 187
Tunnels – 6
Counties visited – 10
Blog posts – 75
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.