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 – 45
Unbelievably , it has been a week since my last post and I don’t know where the time has gone so it’s time for a quick catch up!
After spending Friday night on the Warwickshire side of the A5, we walked over the county border and then into Hinckley where we did a little bit of shopping and had lunch at Prezzo before walking back to our apartment. Noticing that the mooring outside was free, I walked back to the Limekilns and brought Caxton round to “our garden” where Sue was waiting to take the ropes and pull us in.
We spent the next few days moving bits and pieces that we knew we wouldn’t be needing in our final month on board, back into our apartment. The weather had improved again so it was also an opportunity to make the most of what must surely be the last few days of summer. Hinckley hosts a classic car show every year and that just happened to be on the Sunday that we were in town. We spent a couple of afternoons on fthe decking outside the Marina with a bottle of wine, had lunch in Tarro Lounge another day and on our penultimate day we had lunch at Cafe Espanol which was a superb dining experience.
On Thursday, six days after we returned to the area, we moved the short distance to Trinity marina where we filled the water tank and emptied our cassettes. A bit cheeky, since we are not yet officially moored back there yet but I’m sure that they won’t mind this once. Once we were finshed we just pushed Caxton away from the bank and let the momentum carry us over to the other side of the canal where we pinned the boat to the armco piling.
It rained overnight and well into the morning so we had a very lazy start to the day, only getting up and showered in time for lunch. Afterwards, we walked into town and did some more shopping before returning to our mooring. Seeing that more rain was forecast for Saturday morning, we decided to set off for Stoke Golding even though it was already five o’clock.
It made a nice change travelling in the early evening and we saw nothing else on the move as we made our way through the countryside. We passed the barge moorings north of bridge 21, the approach to which is one of my favourite views on the Ashby canal. There were moorings available near bridge 22 but we passed on by and found a good spot near bridge 23. We have tied up here on many occasions in the past, it is close to Spinneybank farm shop and is an easy walk up into Stoke Golding.
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.
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.
No, nothing to do with George, Harris and J as chronicled by Jerome K Jerome but all about three gentlemen from the USA on vacation here on a narrowboat.
Sue knits – a lot. Socks, shawls, scarves, dishcloths, if it can be knitted, she will knit it. She frequents the Knitting Paradise website and over the years has made many friends, learned new techniques and made a lot of her own contributions which have helped other fellow knitters and crochet enthusiasts. A few months ago she was contacted by a fellow crafter, Fran, from America whose husband was planning to have a narrowboat holiday with two of his friends. Fran wondered if Sue could provide some information for her husband, Stan and his two compadres which would help them with their trip. As it turned out, they were hiring a boat from Valley Cruises in Coventry so we were able to email them with a fair amount of information relating to the Coventry, Ashby and North Oxford canals.
Stan called on Thursday and we arranged to meet up on Sunday (today) at the Lime Kilns on the Ashby canal. These things can be difficult at the best of times but with none of the three amigos having a mobile phone (cell phone for our American friends), we hoped that it would all work out.
I was in Winchester on Friday night attending a retirement dinner and didn’t get back to Hinckley until Saturday morning. I pulled Caxton out of the marina and moored in the usual place on the corner by the apartment before returning home. We delayed our departure until after the televised football match between Manchester United and Leicester City. A defeat for the blues brought into question our decision to watch the game!
We were on our way by three o’clock and heading for Marston junction, the problem with heading in this direction in a 68′ boat is that it can’t be turned before the junction. No matter, we wanted to have a run out and fancied a night in the wilderness. We had to contend with a fierce wind as we made our way in a south westerly direction but with very few boats on the move, we were presented with no problems at all. We moored just after bridge three, had dinner and settled in for the evening.
It rained overnight, heavily and therefore noisily but by the time we were ready to set off at eight o’clock, the weather was cheering up a little. We made the short hop to the junction, emerged on to the Coventry canal and quickly turned around before slipping back under the bridge and back on to the Ashby. Sue, the galley slave, soon produced a couple of bacon sandwiches which were much appreciated by the crew in the engine room. Fully fortified, I steered Caxton to a good mooring on the visitor moorings opposite the Lime Kilns.
I walked home, picked up the car and a few bits and pieces before going shopping. On returning to our mooring I could see that the intrepid travellers had arrived and found a mooring space behind us and they were on the towpath talking to Sue. I joined them and we all had a a good chinwag inside after the gents had had a tour of our vessel.
Stan, Dan and Derek have been friends since their schooldays and despite them now being scattered from the east coast the west, with Dan somewhere in the middle, they have maintained their camaraderie over the years. Stan captains a tour boat on the Hudson river, Dan lives in Michigan and restores automobiles, Derek lives in California where he designs and builds sail boats. Stan brought me a book that he co-authored with Derek’s brother about the Hudson river as well as some yarn (hand dyed in New York state) from Fran – for Sue of course! There was also some of Fran’s home made “Apple butter”, a delicious spicy apple purée concoction that is proving irresistible!
We chatted for a while and then headed to the Lime Kilns where we had lunch in the garden. The time flew by as we talked about canals and listened to the boys’ stories, one of those afternoons that you wish would never end. But end they must and so we returned to the other side of the cut where we said our goodbyes to our new found friends. We have stayed tied up here but Derek, Dan and Stan have moved on now, we wish them all the best on the rest of their trip, it really was a pleasure meeting these three interesting characters – the three men in a boat.
We’ve started our main summer cruise and I’ve just realised that the last blog post was at Easter, whoops! Well we haven’t given up on boating, it’s just me being lazy. Since Easter we have been out and about on the Ashby more weekends than not, stopping in all the usual haunts. We’ve had a few trips to the Greyhound at Hawkesbury and in June we took a week to go to Alvecote and back, all exciting stuff! The calorifier sprung a leak and had to be replaced ~ more expense. The cratch board got a make over with a cream paint job to replace the varnished wood which was showing its age. The dark staining could have been bleached before being re-varnished but we decided to brighten it up instead. Other than that, Caxton now has a new, improved mobile broadband system on board.
So that’s the summary, now for the summer cruise. We’ve taken to mooring Caxton close to where we live so that loading is a bit easier than carting stuff to the marina. In fact, we’ve also taken to spending more and more nights on board when moored here, just thirty yards from the front door of our home. Anyway, yesterday morning before work, I walked to the marina, untied and moved Caxton the quarter mile or so to “our” mooring space. (As far as I’m concerned, it became ours when I cut the grass there!). Through Thursday and then Friday morning, we made our final preparations before setting off just after one o’clock. Until Thursday evening we had no plans at all, preferring to just wander aimlessly but after some discussion we have decided to head for Birmingham and then down to Warwick by way of the Stratford canal. There are a lot of locks on the western side of the Warwickshire ring but we have seventeen days to complete the journey so it should be alright.
We had a pleasant cruise through the afternoon to our mooring for the night near Springwood Haven, just north of Nuneaton. Along the way we passed Martin and Caroline on their new narrowboat, Sonia Louise, as they headed north on the Ashby. We visited them a couple of weeks ago and were given the full tour of their magnificent boat which has been built to a very high standard.
Tomorrow, we’ll move on to Atherstone and down the Atherstone flight on the next leg of our journey, where we stop is anyone’s guess. You’ll have to read the next episode to find out.
It’s two years since we bought Caxton and it’s two Easters since we took possession of her/him/it albeit that Easter was in April in 2014.
We moved on board on Thursday afternoon and after dining at the Marina we retired to the warmth and comfort afforded by our beloved narrowboat. Friday morning brought blue skies and a fresh north westerly breeze so we were up and out for just after eight o’clock. Turning right from the marina we looked back and saw that a boat had broken free of its mooring acouple of hundred yards away outside the pub and was blocking the canal, luckily we were heading in the opposite direction and were therefore untroubled by the blockage.
Our journey was very quiet in terms of moving boats which was a good thing because the Ashby is very shallow and on the couple of occasions when we met oncoming craft, Caxton struggled with the lack of water underneath once we had moved away from the centre of the channel.
We had a lovely cruise and pulled up at Market Bosworth three and a half hours after our departure. With Caxton secured, we had a light lunch before walking up to town to do a bit of shopping. We returned to our floating home and waited for our visitors Brett, Kerry, Liam and Chloe to arrive. They managed to find us by three o’clock and we then spent a couple of hours catching up and generally having a good laugh with them.
All too soon it was time for them to leave, by which time the sun was starting to head for the horizon and the temperature was beginning to drop so we said our goodbyes and closed Caxton up for the evening.
The weather has turned so we’ve escaped the clutches of the marina and headed north on the Ashby canal. We walked to the boat (how convenient is that?) this morning with enough bits and pieces to see us through the weekend and after tending to the fire which has been lit since Wednesday, I started the engine and then we went to visit Joe and Lesley on nb Yarwood. We said our goodbyes before reversing out on to the Ashby canal. We stopped for a few minutes and had a chat with Jim on nb Billie before getting underway under an emerging spring sun.
We had no real plans but by the time we had reached Stoke Golding, I had a trip to Market Bosworth in mind. It was a bright but cool day punctuated by warm spells when the sun poked its head through the clouds.
We passed one or two boats before we reached Market Bosworth where we turned and moored below bridge 42. After a leisurely walk up the hill to town, we treated ourselves to lunch in the Red Lion.
When we returned to Caxton, we stoked the fire up and then settled down for the evening listening to music and waiting for the sun to disappear over the horizon.
We’re back on board at the beginning of a new cruising season and it feels like we’re home again.
We don’t normally stay up to welcome in the new year and last night was no exception. We were however, woken at midnight when the revellers at the Limekilns pub counted down to the start of 2016 which was accompanied by the customary fireworks. Eventually the fireworks stopped but the pub party was still in full swing as we dropped off to sleep once more.
There was a period of calm weather forecast for this morning, low wind speeds between two weather systems. We were up early to take advantage of the short window of opportunity that would allow us to get Caxton easily back into the marina and safely tied up. The eastern sky started to get light around 7.45 so we untied the frost hardened ropes and started on the final leg of our trip. The forecast had been spot-on and our mission was completed just under thirty minutes later. By 10.15, we had done the chores and cleared all of our bits and pieces into the car. Our week’s break on board was over and of course so was our final trip of 2015. A little bit different to last year’s Christmas cruise.
We don’t really know what 2016 will bring us but we hope that we’ll get a lot of time out and about on the cut.