There was a definite chill in the air on Thursday morning when we slipped out of Braunston, heading north to Hillmorton. Our eight o’clock start was designed to give us a mid morning arrival above the locks, improving our prospects of finding a good mooring. It seemed that no-one else was keen to make a start on the cool September and we didn’t see another boat on the move for almost two hours. By “we”, I mean me because Sue had been excused deck duties on account of her having a problem with her back. So with her tucked up safely in bed and only a few boaters beginning to make half hearted attempts to venture out, I was alone with the world of nature and it was good, very therapeutic!
It was just after half ten when we reached the top of Hillmorton and we were able to pull in at the end of the mooring, just after the bridge.
It’s a five minute walk to the shops at Hillmorton and from there you can catch the number 3 (or 3A) bus into Rugby and that is exactly what we did on both Thursday and Friday. We’ve visited Rugby many times before so this wasn’t a sightseeing tour, just some essential shopping being done.
Our original plan had been to move on Saturday morning but that changed when we had a text from David and Lisa on nb What a Lark! They were at Newbold on Avon on the other side of Rugby and wondered if we would be around for coffee and a catch-up in the morning. We really enjoy their company and as it had been three years since we last saw them at Dadlington on the Ashby canal, it was a very easy decision for us to sit tight for another day and move on Sunday.
I took a windlass to the bottom lock at about quarter to nine and waited for WAL and crew to arrive, which they did a few minutes later. The bottom lock was empty, there was a lock keeper on duty and there were a couple of boats making their way down the flight so it didn’t take long before What a Lark was tied securely above the top lock and we all went to join Sue on board Caxton for coffee. After what seemed like twenty minutes but was actually two hours, they had to go and resume their journey. When will we see them next, who knows but we look forward to it whenever it happens to be.
The sun came out after lunch so we took a walk down the bottom lock and visited the café there and it was very pleasant just watching the odd boat go by in the September sunshine; not many days like this left this year I suspect.
This is just a quick catch up on what we have been doing over the last week since our last post. We remained moored at the top of Hillmorton and caught the bus into Rugby where we did a bit of shopping and had a birthday lunch at Prezzo, courtesy of Rebecca, Don and the children. Thank you very much, it was delicious!
On Wednesday we untied and made our way to Braunston, blue skies had returned and with the very gentle winds to accompany us, our journey was very enjoyable. It was around one o’clock when we arrived at Braunston marina where had arranged to leave Caxton for a few days while we travelled to Hampshire for my retirement party. We found our temporary berth which was on the adjacent pier to the one that we used when we moored here permanently a few years ago. After wiggling our way into position with only inches to spare, we tied up and then went for a walk along the towpath to the tunnel. After a quick refreshment stop at the Admiral Nelson, we returned to the marina and paid our fees.
We had arranged to meet some friends who live in the village so after dinner on board, we trotted up to the Wheatsheaf for a couple of hours and had a great time catching up with them.
We were up and ready early on Thursday, despite it being Sue’s birthday. We needed to catch the bus into Rugby so that we could start our train journey to Winchester and that bus leaves the village from The Green so we had to climb the hill from Butchers bridge once again. When we first moored in Braunston, the village was well served by bus services running between Rugby and Daventry with some of them stopping on the A45 outside the marina. That ended and then the nearest stop was outside the Boathouse pub, also on the main road. Today, the hourly service only just touches the top edge of the village, stopping by the village hall. Judging by the small number of passengers on the bus, I wonder just how long even this service will remain in place.
Anyway, after the bus to Rugby we caught a train to Coventry and then boarded the Cross Country service to Winchester. We continued the birthday eating theme with afternoon tea at the hotel and very nice it was too. Winchester is a lovely place to wander around at any time but on warm spring days, as we had on Thursday and Friday, it was glorious. We rounded off the birthday week meal festival with lunch at Rick Stein’s retaurant which was perfect.
On Friday evening, I had my retirement bash in a Spanish restaurant in nearby Arlesford with colleagues from work, some of whom I have known for thirty years. We all had a good time and they even presented me with a leaving present – a Nikon DSLR camera. Once I get to grips with that, expect to see a more feature filled blog. There were many messages of good luck and some other personal gifts which will be cherished. All in all they gave me a good send off – thank you everyone.
Saturday dawned and we made the return journey to Braunston, re-tracing our route via Coventry and Rugby. It was after four o’clock when we got back and Sue used the evening and the fact that we were plugged into the mains to catch up with the washing and drying.
Our original intention had been to travel south on the Grand Union and return on the Oxford canal later in the summer. However, by the time we were ready to leave on Sunday morning we had decided to go the other way around. It doesn’t make any real difference to us which way we go but we were slightly concerned that there have been some predictions of drought and figured that we might be better crossing the summit of the Oxford sooner rather than later just in case low water levels start to have an effect on lock operations.
We turned left out of the marina and found a place to moor, halfway between the two bridges that carry the A45 over the canal and close to the two bridges that carry the towpath over the junction of the canal. We were surprised at just how empty the moorings are in Braunston but I suppose that it is still early in the season. The reason that we didn’t go so far was because the weather outlook for Monday was for high winds and lots of heavy showers. Sunday was still fine so we walked up and around the village, calling at the Chandlers and the village shop along the way.
The rain started in the early hours of Monday morning and continued on and off throughout the day. We did manage to get a walk around the village again during a dry period after dinner but the rain came again shortly after we returned to the boat.
And so to today, Tuesday. It was still windy but thankfully no rain, although there is a horrible outlook forecast. We took advantage of the relatively good conditions and set off in the direction of Napton, just after eight o’clock. Normally, this stretch of canal irritates me but today it didn’t because there are very few boats on the move and not many moored up either. What normally happens, usually on sunny, summer, Sunday afternoons is that as boats converge at Wigram’s and Braunston turns, convoys get formed. Lines of moored boats then force everyone down to tickover speed and the convoys become condensed. The real fun starts when two convoys meet at a bridge! Anyway, it wasn’t like that today and three hours after setting off, we were moored just above the bottom lock at Napton. After lunch, we took a walk to the village shop where Sue bought some provisions and then we returned to the canal. The rain started mid afternoon and the forecast is that it isn’t going to stop until Thursday morning so it looks like we will have another day here tomorrow. With a bit of luck, who knows, there might be a tiny break in the rain, a small window of opportunity to nip to the Folly for a pint before then!
So now the journey can really begin, we have no timetable to stick to, no set route to follow and very few restrictions to hamper us on our big adventure.
All Oaks wood provided us with a lovely overnight mooring but it was a bit dull and chilly when we got out of bed this morning. We want to be in Braunston sometime on Wednesday so although we have about six hours travelling to do, we have three days to do it in. With no real plans we decided that we may as well move on a bit today and see where ended up. It was almost half past nine by the time we were underway but in contrast to yesterday’s cruising dress code of T-shirt with occasional use of a fleece, today required golf jumper, fleece, hat and gloves. There was plenty of space at Newbold on Avon but the rings were just spaced slightly wrong for us and the ground was a bit soft for pins so we moved on. The Brownsover park moorings were full so we decided to carry on through to Hillmorton. There were hardly any boats on the move, it’s still early in the season I suppose, and this helped us negotiate our passage through Clifton wharf. Quite frankly, they are taking the p*ss by double mooring their boats from the arm right down to the bridge which is already on a blind bend. We didn’t meet anything this time but it would have been a different story over the weekend.
There was plenty of room to moor when we reached the bottom of the Hillmorton flight but we decided to get the locks done and find a space at the top, which we did quite easily. Tomorrow’s forecast is for thick cloud so we think that we’ll stay here and catch a bus into Rugby for the day. With that in mind, I walked into the village to check out the bus stops and times although I did find myself checking out a pint in the Stag & Pheasant too.
Last night, after dinner, we walked along the towpath to the next bridge and then walked up the main street of Newbold on Avon before settling for the evening. By nine o’clock we were both yawning and by ten we had turned in for the night. We were up and on our way by seven this morning and as we left, it looked like everyone else was having a Sunday lie in. Our early start paid off and we met nothing as we ticked over through the usual pinch points at Brownsover and Clifton Cruisers. In fact we only met two oncoming boats before we reached Hillmorton although that would soon change. The locks were all in our favour and we left the last one at nine o’clock so we were well on our way to Braunston. It took just under two and a half hours to reach our destination and along the way we met around thirty boats, many of them in convoy including three at the bridge by Willoughby Wharf which caused us to have to pull over and wait. Our final encounter was under the first A45 road bridge, well where else would it be? No harm done as both boats were travelling slowly and we backed up to let the American crew ease through. Once around the corner and as expected, we pretty much had our pick of the moorings so we’ve tied up opposite the Boathouse pub although we’re not planning to pay it a visit.
Once again it’s been a beautiful day, albeit a little windier than yesterday so again we sat on the front deck for a while and watched the boats go by. It’s been so busy with boats coming and going, some stopping temporarily, many just passing through but by five o’clock it’s starting to quieten down. Mooring here is the boating equivalent of pitching up a caravan on the hard shoulder of the M1 so after lunch on board we decided to go for a walk in the afternoon sunshine. We walked along the towpath past the marina and up to the third lock where the Admiral Nelson stands before turning back along the roadway up to Braunston village. After a stop at the village shop for a few essentials, we walked downhill to the canal and re-boarded our floating home where we took up residence on the front deck again. It’s been no surprise that the pub has been busy all afternoon on this sunny August Sunday and although there has been a constant background noise drifting over on the wind, it has all added to the ambience.
We were awake at half past six which was too early but what can you do? We had a coffee before getting up and getting ready for the first day of our trip. After filling the water tank, emptying the cassettes and throwing our rubbish in the bin, I disconnected the shore lead and took the electricity meter to the shop to be read. We had a cheese omelette for breakfast then the engine checks were done, the ropes untied and we were off!
Nb Alfresco was winding hastily in the marina entrance as we approached the iron bridge but that didn’t impede us or hold us up in any way as we made our way out on to the G.U.
It was a windy morning but the few boats that we met were not encountered at bridges or narrow parts of the canal. We’ve travelled this route many times in the past and it’s not always been without incident. I was thinking about one of those trips as we neared the junction and I noticed that Tony and Paul Redshaw have left their premises. I checked later and discovered that they have moved to Daventry. Previous adventures here and here.
We caught up with nb Alfresco again outside Braunston where he had managed to get grounded, he was so far over that we couldn’t get near enough to help him unfortunately. He waved us on but even as we passed, our wash made no impression on the stranded boat. As we made our way between Willoughby and Barby, we passed by a number of boats preparing to leave their mooring and by the time we were approaching the Barby straight we had a Napton narrowboat, a Rose narrowboat and a privateer in tow. The Napton boat had been travelling very close behind us for half an hour so with the Barby straight in view, we slowed and signalled to him to pass. He was wearing a captain’s hat after all and therefore outranked me. Actually, he was wearing a white jacket too, Sue guessed that perhaps he thought that he looked like Richard Gere – sorry mate, the similarity ended at the clothing!
He didn’t pass but drew closer so that his wife could inform us from the bow that they were about to stop for lunch. We increased our speed again and they then turned into the unfinished Barby Moorings marina. By the time we had reached the end of the straight, crawling past the moored boats, the Rose narrowboat, Fanfare, was right behind us asking to pass. We let them go at the next opportunity, they explained as they passed us that they had to get their boat back to the hire base and they were short of time. Would you not get up early rather than wait until 10.30 or so to leave your mooring. Anyway we caught them up at the top of the Hillmorton flight and travelled down in parallel with them before theyo zoomed off into the distance.
Our descent of the flight had been relatively easy with enough boats coming up to halve the amount of work involved. As we worked the final lock, Richard Gere arrived in style by crashing into the gate of the other lock, there seemed to be a bit of confusion as they tried to work out that they had to run water into the chamber before using it. Presumably they had met ascending boats at the previous two locks and hadn’t had to think about the process. We finished our day’s travelling with a further forty minutes before we tied up next to the park at Brownsover. A short trip to Tesco followed and then back to Caxton for dinner – sweet and sour pork with rice and excellent it was too!
Regular readers will have realised that we are dividing our time almost equally between living in our house and on board Caxton. We stopped off at the marina on Thursday morning before continuing our journey by road to Pinewood studios to watch the recording of an episode of “Through the Keyhole” which will be broadcast next month. We arrived back at Braunston around 9.30pm, settled in and went to bed.
Friday dawned and I got up and went to work, well one of us has to! Sue, meanwhile pottered around and did some shopping in the village. On her way back she spotted nb Yarwood being tied up just outside the marina by Joe and Lesley who of course were the original designers and owners of Caxton. We had briefly made their acquaintance on the weekend of the Braunston Historic Boat Rally so Sue said hello and was invited in and enjoyed a glass of wine with her hosts. I of course was oblivious to all of this as I toiled away at work trying to keep the country going. Eventually I finished what I had to do and returned to Braunston where Sue was waiting, sunning herself in the cratch with a glass of wine. Our plan had been to take Caxton out but we popped back to Yarwood and spent a few hours with Joe and Lesley instead. The conversation flowed well and we covered many subjects from Scottish independence to life afloat. We got a great insight into the economics of being a liveaboard from our new friends, reinforcing our belief that our plans for the future are the right ones. Joe gave me the stem to stern tour of Yarwood and I have to say that it really is a superb vessel, completely different to Caxton in most ways but with some of the same characteristics evident. Eventually we had to say goodbye but not before we made some tentative arrangements to meet up next week and go out for a meal with the pair. The time had flown by so when we returned to Caxton it was after seven o’clock and a bit too late to venture out. We had dinner in the cratch, lit by the late evening sunshine.
When we awoke on Saturday it was already very warm inside Caxton, a bit too warm and a quick glance outside revealed why. The sun was beating down from a clear blue sky so we got up and got dressed and by nine o’clock we were pulling out of the marina and on to the Grand Union. We had a brief conversation as we left with Paul, the marina manager, mainly about the lemon drizzle cake that Sue had made for the office staff last week.
This was the sort of day that we all love boating and as a result there were a lot of us about. We made our way on to the Oxford and headed towards Rugby and eventually reached the locks at Hillmorton. The descent was easy with enough boats moving in each direction between the locks to reduce the work for everyone. Once clear of the bottom lock, we passed the long term moorings and the water points before finding our mooring at the end of the armco piling. We toyed with the idea of walking into Hillmorton but it was so hot that we decided to sit in the cratch where there was a bit of shade instead. The afternoon slipped by and slowly gave way to an early evening which in turn made the transition to a sunset which at last brought a coolness to the air. So that was it, we had managed to while away yet another day doing bugger all!
Before bedtime, I switched on my iPad and tapped on the Newsify app. This is a news aggregator which picks up a series of RSS feeds of the users choice. I have a number of boating blogs that I follow and I find that this is the easiest way to keep up with my “correspondents” as I like to think of them. I read that Steve and Chris on board nb AmyJo had begun their big cruise which would move their boat from Crick to Tattenhall. They had reached Braunston where, like us 24 hours earlier, they had found Yarwood and spent some time with Joe and Lesley.
After a good night’s sleep we awoke to see that the weather had changed again and we faced a dull and damp morning. It was dry so we got ready and set off again hoping to turn just beyond Clifton wharf which is marked in the Nicholsons guide as a full length turning point. It isn’t as we found out when we tried to wind Caxton there half an hour after we had untied, perhaps there were no boats moored in the old arm when the guide was written. We motored on until we reached Rugby wharf, yet another disused loop from the original canal but one in which we were able to turn Caxton around. I thought that it might be worth trying to buy some diesel so once turned, we headed into the arm itself. This was our first time down there and we were surprised at how far it was before we reached the end. Sue got off and went to find some signs of life, she returned with the news that there is no-one around to sell diesel on Sundays. Unfortunately the heavens had opened and with me in the process of turning Caxton in the winding hole, we both ended up getting wet. As soon as Sue was back on board, the rain stopped of course but with it being warm, we both dried out soon enough. We re-emerged onto the cut and turned again in the winding hole, our third turnaround in fifteen minutes! We began our journey back to Braunston by picking our way through the bridges and moorings between Brownsover and Clifton. The sky remained cloudy until we reached the bottom lock at Hillmorton and as soon as we pulled up on the lock landing, there was a sharp shower so we donned our raincoats and started our ascent. Since Sue had her operation, she isn’t allowed to work the locks so I took my windlass and got to work. Sue recognised the lock keeper who we had met at Foxton last year and who was moored in Market Harborough basin, he has now been promoted and is based at Braunston where he is in charge of 126 volunteer lock keepers as well as the locks between Hillmorton and Buckby.
Fortunately there were more boats coming down the flight than going up so our progress was fairly good. When I walked up to the top lock there was a restored working boat already in the chamber with the crew just about to open the bottom paddles. It took some time to drain the lock, the boat left and Sue began her approach. In the meantime a boat had arrived on the top lock landing and I recognised its distinctive colours, it was nb AmyJo and striding towards me was Chris with windlass in hand. Of course we’ve never met before and I had the advantage of seeing their boat before she saw ours but I went to her and said hello. Steve brought AmyJo into one lock as Sue brought Caxton into the other and we all had a bit of a disjointed conversation as we worked the two locks together. The photos of AmyJo look great but in real life, even under a dull sky, it looks amazing – a fantastic paint job. Sadly we didn’t get to spend any more time with Steve and Chris but we will continue to follow their exploits through their blog posts.
After Hillmorton we plodded along without incident, the sky gradually clearing as we made our way back to Braunston. Six hours after we had untied, we were tying up on our pontoon in the marina, a weekend that had seen us make new friends who share the same interests as us and who write about their adventures on blogs like this. We bumped into our favourite lock keeper and we explored an extra bit of the Oxford canal in the form of the Rugby Wharf arm.
I woke at half past six to discover that Sue had been awake for ages and was now getting dressed. I got up too and we were ready to tackle the locks by ten to seven. Not only were we first up the flight, all the locks were our way with the result that we were leaving the top lock twenty minutes later. We met a few oncoming boats near the Hungry Horse pub but other than that we enjoyed a nice cruise in the early sunshine. Sue had a shower and then while pottering around in the kitchen, produced a couple of breakfast rolls stuffed with bacon and sausage – just the job for a hungry steerer!
A little bit of congestion at Willoughby called for a bit of deft manouvering but we all got where we wanted to go. There was a similar encounter by the services near Braunston turn but again it all worked out in the end. We tied up opposite the Boathouse and walked to the marina where we checked out our new berth. After returning to Caxton we drove back along the cut and under the cast iron bridge that spans the marina entrance. There are currently a lot of boats moored here making it almost impossible to turn into the main area and as a result I managed to clip the end of the dockside with Caxton’s bow. Ah, well if it hadn’t been that it would have been one of the other boats! Anyway, we made our way into the second basin and reversed on to the berth. We drove to Midland Chandlers where we bought a few bits and pieces and after we returned to the marina we carried the two bags of stuff that had lain in the car since we left it there almost two weeks ago. After that it was a bit of the usual stuff, fill the water and empty the cassette as well as some new stuff, putting the canvas covers on the cratch, the houdini hatches and over the back deck.
As we drove out of the car park we realised that this was the end of our adventure, we had completed the mission that we started on May 6th and Caxton was safely ensconsed in Braunston.
It was just gone half past six when we awoke, the sun was shining and the sky was blue so we got up, got the kettle on and set off. Sue sorted out a bacon sandwich for me and thus fortified, we made our way to Ansty. By the time we reached said village it was just after eight o’clock and one or two hire-boaters were starting to stir.
We continued through the golf course and under the M6, eventually getting to Stretton stop. We shook off the two boats that we had in tow, a couple of Rose Narrowboats returning to base. With light winds and temperatures in the low twenties, we enjoyed our morning cruise. There was a bit of congestion after we exited Newbold tunnel but nothing serious and then it was clear to Rugby. Boats were moored both sides at Brownsover but we managed to tickle Caxton past them and a couple of oncoming boats before we saw Bruce & Sheila on Sanity Again tied up on the Tesco side of the canal. We had a brief conversation with them and then carried on to Hillmorton where we tied on the visitor mooring.
Off we went into the village, did some shopping in the Londis and then called in the Stag & Pheasant to carry out some research. I had a couple of pints of Stella, Sue had a glass of wine. The staff were pleasant and friendly and we had a sandwich each, pretty basic but at £4 for both of us, no complaints.
We wandered back to Caxton, opened the Houdini hatches and the cratch covers, poured ourselves a drink and started to relax. Minutes later we were joined by Bruce and Sheila who had moved on from Rugby and were now moored a few hundred yards behind us. We had a drink and shot the breeze for an hour before they returned to Sanity Again. Sheila had brought us some chilli plants so we are now looking forward to a crop of spicy peppers later in the year.
Afterwards I put up a couple of artistic works that personalise Caxton for us.
Tomorrow it will be on to Braunston where we will find our new mooring before returning home. Funny really, normally we take the car to pick up the boat, this time it is the other way around!
We decided to bring the boat back to where we live at Hinckley last weekend and then we took her back this weekend in the company of our friends, Cliff and Liz. The adventure began on Saturday morning when we travelled by car to Braunston and headed off on to the North Oxford canal. The weather was glorious and we loved our cruise to Rugby where we stopped briefly to top up the water and make a short shopping trip to Tesco. We carried on and eventually moored between Ansty and Hawkesbury, benefitting from a clear satellite tv picture and a strong broadband signal.
Sunday brought another glorious day so we made our way to Hinckley and moored opposite the Limekilns on the A5. After tying the boat up we walked home and watched Andy Murray win Wimbledon – Hurray! We later returned to the boat and moved it on to the visitor moorings at Nutts Lane where we stayed for the evening. The following morning we walked back to the house and after a shower I went to work, later in the day Sue visited the Trinity marina and arranged a mooring for us for the rest of the week.
On Monday evening we made a trip up to bridge 22 before turning around and returning to the marina. Along the way we saw Treena from Carpe Diem waiting for her husband Stu to return to their online mooring outside the marina. Getting into our temporary berth was easy enough and after we had sorted ourselves out we just walked home.
The following Friday afternoon saw us leave the marina and start our journey to the boat’s home Braunston. We passed our old mate Jim near bridge 13 and then we saw Mamta Boy Lee near Bulkington a short while later. We were surprised to find that there were many spaces on the approach to Hawkesbury Junction and we availed ourselves of one of them before walking to the Greyhound where we had dinner. We decided to move on after dinner and following a short stop for water when we rounded the bend we made our way back to the place that we had moored the previous Saturday.
Saturday morning was yet another sunny one and we were on our way just after eight o’clock. We had a very enjoyable cruise in the summer sunshine and stopped again at Tesco Rugby where we stocked up for our meeting with Cliff, Liz and Lucy later in the day. After a short break we were on our way again and reached Hillmorton just before two o’clock. Cliff arrived on ‘Stonewall Jackson’ at half past five and we then all ate yet another of Sue’s delicious meals
Sunday morning was a bit of a lazy start for all of us and it was 9am before we ventured up the locks. With Liz crocked due to arthritis and Lucy generally disinterested, Sue worked both boats up through the Hillmorton flight in just under an hour. The run back to Braunston was a bit of a slog because we had a number of boats ahead but eventually we reached the marina just after midday. We walked back to the Boathouse pub where we met up with Cliff, Liz and Lucy who had walked from their mooring at bridge 89 and enjoyed a drink together. We left an hour later and returned to the boat before clearing our gear and driving home. Cliff and Liz are planning to go to Peterborough so we look forward to catching up with them at a later date.
So that was it, our trip from the boat home to our real home and back was over and we had enjoyed our time out on the cut along the way.