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.
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.
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 were up reasonably early this morning and set off at eight o’clock. It had been raining but it was dry again when we left our mooring at Ansty. We pootled on along the North Oxford and with the exception of a solitary boat on the move near the M69, we were alone. Alone that was until we reached the last bend before the straight run to the stop lock at Hawkesbury junction. Who should we meet but Richard and Sharon on board Barnowl No. 12, Oakapple. Well it was a bit awkward being on that bend but with nothing else about we were both able to slow to a crawl and have an early morning conversation before going our separate ways. We read each others blogs so we knew where we both had been the day before, it was lovely to see you both again, no doubt our paths will cross again in the future. The steady beat of Oakapple’s engine faded into the distance as we made our way to the lock which happened to be in our favour. Nb Indulgence rounded the bend as we drained the shallow lock which meant that Sue was able to walk round to the service point and wait for Caxton and me.
Half an hour later with the rubbish dumped, the cassettes emptied and the water tank brim-full, we began our trip into Coventry. It started to rain, not heavy, just a steady drizzle and with it being reasonably warm with no wind it wasn’t unpleasant (note to Fiona – “Dry Rain”). Susan took up residence inside at my insistence, no point in us both getting wet I said but the rain didn’t stop until we reached the basin at Coventry.
The only craft that we saw on the water as we made our way into the city was a canoeist!
So what was the trip like, you may ask. Well I think that it was pretty good, the canal wends its way into the city in a convoluted sort of way but it’s strange because it’s lined by trees and parkland. You don’t see much in the way of industry, even the old Courtaulds site which was cleared a few years ago is gradually being taken over by weeds and wild plants. The towpath is of good quality, populated by the odd jogger, a few cyclists and one or two pedestrians. There is graffiti in places but nothing offensive, there are odd bits of flotsam and jetsam in the cut but nothing that is troublesome. If there is one criticism, it would be that there appears to be a complete lack of litter bins along the way, something that the City Council should be ashamed of. It’s noticable, not because there is lot’s of litter strewn everywhere but rather that some good citizens have hung carrier bags to gates along the towpath providing makeshift bins. Now I know that the answer is for everyone to take their litter home but in the absence of bins, it’s a solution of sorts.
As we approached the basin, we saw three kids on the towpath, only aged around ten or eleven but they were hurriedly collecting stones! We did what we normally do and engaged their interest, they dropped the stones and talked to us all of the way into the basin itself. The two boys and a girl were actually alright and maybe we were wrong to fear the worst, we chatted to them as we tied up and answered all of their questions. The three were desperate to see inside Caxton, Sue warned them that they shouldn’t ever get in a stranger’s car or boat. They reassured her that they knew the dangers of being kidnapped by paedos! Sue showed them through the boat while I chatted to the owner of the boat moored behind us. They were suitably impressed and then ran off to annoy another boater who had just arrived in the basin.
The Valley Cruises hire fleet is based in Coventry basin now and they occupy the left hand arm as you enter, despite appearances there is enough room to turn and reverse into the other arm which is what we did.
We walked into the city centre shortly after we arrived in the basin, we’re quite familiar with the place since we only live about 15 miles away so there were no surprises. We had lunch at a pub called The Establishment which used to be the old County Hall and Courthouse, it is reputedly one of the most haunted buildings in Coventry.
We wandered back through the old and new Cathedrals and took some pictures just in case you are one of the people who think that Coventry is just a bombed out city that was rebuilt using concrete in the fifties and sixties. There is a bit of that of course, but there is still a lot of history here too.
Coventry is also home to an excellent transport museum, it’s not far from the basin and the entry is free. We didn’t visit it today but we have been there many times before.
We didn’t take pictures on the way in because of the rain but hopefully we’ll get some tomorrow on our way back, in the meantime here are some pics from around Coventry City Centre.