Monday, 22 May 2017

Summer’s here …

and the time is right for another load of locks!

Monday 22nd May; Longhole Bridge to the Hatton flight

The day dawned bright and warm not cold and the sun was coming out as we got going before 8 – rather early for us.  The morning was lovely and it soon warmed up.  At Wood lock we met Trafalgar, one of the Royal Navy's holiday boats which are based at Calcutt.  They said they were stopping for breakfast on the lock mooring when I asked innocently if they were going down; but one of the crew knew they shouldn’t moor there and so they had their bacon sarnies on the move and we shared all the way to Radford Bottom lock. We paused there to dump rubbish and get the dog back on board – she hates these broad locks with metal walkways and won’t cross them if she can avoid it, and as we were on the offside it was easier to move across for her.

At one of the bridges in Leamington Spa are a couple of holiday flats – this one is right by a main road and opposite a take-away.  It might be by the canal but I’m not sure I’d fancy it.

1 holiday flat in L spa opp takeaway

Soon after that we saw a good boat name (though I’m sure it would upset traditionalists).

2 good name

Then, just past the aqueduct over the river Leam we saw our first cygnets.  Mum and Dad were looking on fondly at the time …..

4 first cygnets

but then they felt threatened by a couple of cyclists coming from one direction and two walkers from the other. 

5 protective parents

The cob gave the bike wheels a severe pecking but the walker seemed to escape.  The one following had her shopping bag attacked, but the cyclists were protected by their bikes.  As we pulled away another cyclist arrived – who would be the first to back down?

6 who will blink first

Swan 1, cyclist 0.

There was a space at the Tesco mooring so we pulled in for some shopping, and I was glad to see that you can still dispose of most of your recycling here – unlike the one at Leighton Buzzard which now only takes glass.

We had lunch before moving on and changed into shorts for the first time this year.  As we went through the bridge, a couple laden with shopping hailed us – Trish and Dave of NB Traveller’s Joy who used to live in our village.  They were pointing in the opposite direction so just time for a quick hello.

7 travellers joy been to Tesco

At Cape locks we had to wait for two boats ahead of us.  Above the lock the fender-makers were working in the sunshine.

9 getting knotted

It was very hot but we wanted to move on a bit before stopping.  We started up the Hatton flight on our own, but with only four locks to do that wasn’t an issue. 

12 lower hatton

It was hot work but we were soon moored up above the fourth lock, with just one other boat at the far end of the pound.  By 5.30 it had cooled a little, enough for Meg to sit outside.

13 chillin

I went for a run to the top of the flight.  I passed two boats which had gone by while we were having lunch – what a hot afternoon to do the whole of Hatton! On the way back I stopped to talk to a couple on an Anglo-Welsh who were just starting down, under the impression they only had to do 5 locks before they could moor.  Along with another boater we explained there were another 8 before there was a chance of mooring and 21 in the flight.  They wanted to visit Warwick and we left them discussing whether to turn in the little arm by the bridge.

We were still in T-shirts at 7.30.  Apart from the road and railway, neither very close, and an occasional plane, it was a peaceful spot.  There was ‘red sky at night’ as the sun set though the photo doesn’t really show it.

13 lovely mooring at 2120

11 locks 8 miles

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Another change of plan

Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st May

We had a showery drive up to Calcutt, but got the car unloaded in the dry.  We were on our way out of the marina soon after 4 o’clock.  Easier said than done though, as a stiff breeze made it difficult to get out onto the canal in one go.  We turned left towards Warwick instead of right to the Oxford; for various reasons to do with appointments at home and the availability of marina berths when we need one, we are on our way to Droitwich Spa marina instead of the Thames.  We pootled along towards Stockton locks, though we made sure to stop for the night before we got there – just past the Willow Wren training place.  It was a short but chilly cruise in a stiff breeze.

chilly stop near willow wren

Several Napton hire boats and some from Braunston went by into the evening.  The chicken stew we’d brought from home was still frozen, so  we went to the Boat at Gibraltar bridge and had a very nice meal there instead.

On Sunday a few boats went by before we were ready to go, which was about 9.30, so we were anticipating a queue at Stockton top lock.  But when we got there the boat ahead of us was already at the second lock, and as I turned the top lock NB Orchid II arrived. We shared the whole flight with them.

The cottage at the top lock has a rather amusing name – Club Toplockicana.

1 stockton top lock cottage 2 stockton top lock cottage

Apart from 2 locks where we waited for boats coming up, we had to turn the other 8.  Stockton locks have heavy gates and stiff paddles, and we were very glad of the company.

3 with orchid II stockton flight

Dave picked up a rib injury playing football last week, so couldn’t do the heavy paddles on his own – but we were able to do a double-hander on the toughest one which was taking me far too long on my own!  Dave was making jolly sure the paddle didn’t slip while I took the photo – you do have to be careful to co-ordinate the changeover of handles when you do this!

4 2-hander to raise paddle

Our companions were quite a bit older than us, so we paced ourselves, but even so, because we were locking ahead, we soon caught up with the boat in front.  We were down in under 2 hours. 

We left our companions, who stopped at the Two Boats, and moored just beyond Long Itchington for a bit of a rest and had lunch before moving on again.  Soon after setting off, we were surprised to see a pedalo weaving its way towards us.  Weaving, because only one person was pedalling.  Two chaps are travelling the whole of the Grand Union between Birmingham and London and one was having a bit of a walk.  There was no time to find out why they were doing it.

5 pedalo-ing all the way to London

We shared the Bascote locks with a hire-boat of Australians.  Once again all the locks were against us but with their 3 crew we were quickly down.  Here we are coming down the staircase.

6 bascote staircase with hire boat

We stopped between Welsh Road and Wood locks before 3 and had a cup of tea.  Then we Dave got on with some jobs and I sat in the sun and read the paper.  Well I had done 15 locks.  Chocolate may have featured as well as cake and copious amounts of tea!

Apart from some motor-cyclists enjoying their Sunday-afternoon zoom along the Welsh Road straights, it was very peaceful in the sunshine and birdsong was the main sound.  Only a few boats passed by, and some runners, walkers and a few reasonable cyclists on the towpath.  Lovely.

7 lovely mooring between welsh rd and wood locks

The plastic carrier pegged to the side of the cratch cover in the picture above is the one that holds the brass-polishing kit.  In one of the few puffs of wind this afternoon it sailed gently off the roof and into the cut, just too far away to reach with the hook.  I released the front rope to let the front drift out so I could retrieve it.  After tea, Dave and Meg went for a lovely stroll in the evening sunshine while I chilled with a glass of something red.

8 Dave and meg off for a walk

15 locks, 4 miles

Monday, 8 May 2017

Sea Searcher fails

Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th May; Calcutt and home

Boats were moving early and by the time we were ready to leave there was only one other on the moorings, with two about to go down.  Another approached so we thought we’d join them …. and disaster struck!  Well no, not a disaster of course but an annoyance just the same.  Somehow the tiller pin dived into the canal.  So a spot of magnetic fishing was called for.

1 oh no tiller pin is not magnetic

Except that there seems to be no steel in tiller pins – we checked with our spare, and the Sea Searcher couldn’t detect the one we lost.  We even tried fishing with Dave’s landing net but only caught mud.  We did establish what we already knew, from our mishap on the Erewash last year, that a floating key fob is no match for a padlock when you drop your keys.  I do hope the owner of this set that we fished out had a spare.  The padlock and keys were eaten away by rust and even the key fob was beginning to disintegrate so into the rubbish they went.

2 cork floats will not float a padlock

After a while we admitted defeat.  I seem to remember the first owners of Chuffed telling us they had the original tiller pin made for them when they were in the Far East.  It is a scarecrow-like figure which I have always found a bit creepy as it has no face but Dave was rather fond of it.  In this last picture with him it in it – taken  last night – has it looking into the darkness of Braunston tunnel.  Did he it have a premonition of doom?

The spare certainly lacks character in comparison.

16 the lost scarecrow   15 boring tiller pin

We started locking down with one of the many boats named Festina Lente

4 locking down wiht festina lente

I was accosted by a blog reader as we came down – it was Julia (NB Rune) who we had met on the K&A a few years ago.  Hi! I do hope I’ve remembered your name correctly.

6 rune we met on K and A                                     NB Rune

Some boats do have the oddest names.  I’m not sure I’d want to be on a boat called Creeping Death!

5 creeping death

At the moorings below the Admiral Nelson we had a chance for a short chat with Tom and Jan on Waiouru.  Sadly this looks as though it will be the last time we see them so we wish them all the best for their next adventure.

7 Tom and Jan

As we were approaching Braunston Junction NB No Problem passed us.  The new owners (not so new now) Clive and Liz are still loving it and it looked great.

9 no problem owner still happy

I haven’t snapped the pretty junction bridges for a while, so I rectified that.

10 pretty braunston bridge

We had lunch on the move and there was just space to moor above the locks so Dave could check in at the Calcutt office and confirm our pontoon number.  We locked down with a couple of chaps on their way to the Worcester and Birmingham.  The steerer had just bought the boat and they had left Whilton marina that morning, expecting to finish by tomorrow evening to go home to Bromsgrove.  I don’t know about the steerer but the crew was on his first trip.  He thought they might have been going to Stoke Prior, which, according to Canalplan should take 5 days at 8 hours a day – it’s over 50 miles and has 113 locks.  He had no idea what lay ahead.  I hope they had a Plan B.

Once more the wind was strong enough across the marina to persuade us to go in bow first. 

We drove home on Sunday, having booked in for the bottom to be blacked in the next couple of weeks.  We put books and ornaments away in cupboards as they take boats out of the water up the slipway, and the boat will be at a tilt as they do.  We secured the cupboard doors too and stowed things like cooking oil securely.

17 cupboards tied up for blacking

Protruding knobs tend to be a nuisance as they can catch in your clothing, but they do make it easier to  stop the doors swinging open.

7 miles, 9 locks.

I started this trip’s blog with the intention of keeping a running total of miles, locks and so on, but when I checked with there was a difference in our figures of 10 miles and 9 locks.   The difficulty of precise measuring using Nicholson’s, plus the errors in distance introduced by not being able to choose exact stopping places on Canalplan, accounts for the mileage difference, but the locks – well I counted wrong and also made an error in my sums.  So I have corrected the running total on this trip’s posts, but from now on it’s back to posting daily stats, then getting the trip totals from Canalplan.

Total this trip; 121 miles, 88 broad locks, 4 tunnels, 2 large aqueducts, 4 swing bridges.

Friday, 5 May 2017

More heavy locks

Friday 28th April; Nether Heyford to Braunston Top lock

After rain overnight the morning was dry and with less wind than before, though still cloudy.  We pulled pins before 9 and stopped at Weedon Bec for a quick visit to Tesco.  We have not explored the village but presume it must be quite pretty or what is the reason for all the antiques shops on the way down to the shop?  Anyway, one had a ‘Clearance’ sign so I went in on the lookout for a flat-bladed knife so Dave can have one of his own in the tool-box and not keep pinching mine from the galley! 

13 new flat bladed knife

Ideal.  All the man wanted was a donation in the charity box.  There is a huge site being cleared at Weedon but by the time I got the camera out of my pocket the hedges were in the way.  No idea what it’s for – housing or industry probably.

1 massive building site weedon

This chap hadn’t moved much.  At least it wasn’t raining for him!

3 hes not moved much

The apple blossom is still magnificent though it does make the hawthorn, which is just starting, look a bit dingy.  But that will be fantastic in a few weeks.

4 lovely blossom below buckby locks  5 may just coming out

We were at the bottom of Buckby locks by 12 and as there was a boat to share with we opted for a later lunch.  The boater was on his own and was on his way to Runcorn, having bought the boat in Peterborough.  He had come up the locks from Northampton in the dark the night before.  There were no boats coming down Buckby for the most part, and one ahead of us, but the boater was young and very agile so once the locks were filling I left them to it and went ahead.  At one lock I was able to take my ease on a bench while I waited for them.

8 i was siiting on a bench waiting for them

His boat was very definitely ‘a project’ – he had a camping stove and when he needed to go through a tunnel he had to wire the headlamp directly to the battery.

9 coming up with single hander  11 and our camping-out companion

The water point at the top lock was free so we used all the services.  The first Aintree Beetle 30, Ain’t She Sweet, was nearby.  A very smart and pretty little boat.  And moored so conveniently for the pub for a drink (Dave saw them) and then to sit in while you eat your sandwiches.  Too bad if there is a queue for the locks.

12 aint she sweet aintree beetle no 1 but still on lock landing

I made our sandwiches while the water filled and then off we went to Braunston, munching as we cruised.  After a swift passage through the tunnel we stopped on the empty visitor moorings, just past the work boats repairing the towpath.  They seem to be raising it by a few inches and putting in drainpipes to run underneath and stop the path flooding.

Dave took Meg for a walk over the tunnel and I went off for a run, discovering Waiouru moored up lower down the flight.  Tom wasn’t around but I had a nice chat to Jan.  Later on we enjoyed a meal in the Admiral Nelson.  When we came back the visitor moorings were nearly full, with a small tatty cruiser on the lock mooring.

Well after dark we heard a boat passing.  The little cruiser only had an interior light working – without a headlamp they must have been waiting for dark so they could be sure they wouldn’t meet an oncoming boat in the tunnel.  I hope they had good night vision, or at least a torch!

9 miles, 7 locks, Braunston tunnel

Total this trip; 111½ miles, 79 broad locks, 4 tunnels, 2 large aqueducts, 4 swing bridges

Thursday, 4 May 2017

We didn’t mean to have such a long day

Thursday 27th April; Yardley Gobion to Nether Heyford

It was frosty first thing but it was soon gone. We left at 9 as the forecast for the afternoon was wet and we wanted to get up Stoke Bruerne locks before it started!  These two swans were displaying to each other as we approached, but have no nest – I wonder if this is their first breeding season or whether they are just practising establishing a pair bond for next year.

1 swans

We had a closer look where the river Tove crosses the canal as we approached the locks.  On the offside is a small weir though levels were too low for any water to be flowing over it.  The photo shows the river below it.

3 tove below the weir

By the rubbish skips at the bottom lock a group of local volunteers was filling potholes in the towpath.  They were working hard but barely acknowledged us, even though I said ‘Good Morning’ when I walked right by them with my bag of rubbish.  The stuff they are filling the potholes with is very loose – I hope they will compress it in some way or it will soon be gone with rain and the passage of vehicles.

4 volunteers filing holes

Even when I walked back again with some bottles for the recycling, and spoke to the girls about the work, they barely answered.  They are obviously concerned with the towpath as a local resource but don’t seem to have any interest in boaters, which is rather a shame as without the canal they wouldn’t have the numbers of visitors that they do.

We ascended the first lock on our own, then spotted a widebeam a lock ahead and waited for it to come down.  Meanwhile NB A Frayed Knot had arrived at the bottom so we waited for them.  A couple of locks further and there were a couple of volunteers coming down – or so we thought.  They studiously avoided eye contact until we said ‘Good morning’, when one responded, but then both totally ignored us.  It looked like one of those CRT employees who check that everything is as it should be, and maybe he was introducing the other to the job, but they certainly were not there to help. That is no problem if they haven’t had the training to operate locks but why on earth couldn’t they have cracked a smile and told us so?  We have come across this attitude once before, on the K and A I think, when I actually had to walk around the resolutely silent man with my windlass.  At least he told us what he was doing, and was actively putting data into a hand-held device.

Anyway, A Frayed Knot worked the locks in exactly the same way as we do so the rest of the morning passed swiftly and extremely pleasantly.  For a short while at the top lock there were no gongoozlers at all.  Quite unusual I would think.

5 where are the gongoozlers SB top lock

A Frayed Knot moored before the tunnel as they were catching a bus to go into Northampton, but we opted to go through the tunnel before stopping for lunch. Extensive repairs were carried out in the 1980s and where more work was needed than just brickwork repair, pre-formed concrete hoops were installed.  Outside the south portal one of these is displayed.  The inclusion of a fender both sides gives the tunnel a spacious feel as you cruise through.  The link has fascinating pictures and information about the restoration – not just on how the work was done but also the extensive preparations needed to drain the section of canal and construct roadways for the vehicles to use.

9 middle segment of tunnel

The tunnel is very wet in places.  I managed to get some photos; here is one of the many square holes in the walls. They are for drainage and are linked by a channel above the roof to drain the rocks above.  Some have iron staining where the tunnel passes through iron-bearing rock strata.

12 one of the holes

There are some considerable leaks, even after a long spell of dry weather.  I am posting this a week later, after a spell of heavy rain – I wonder what it would be like now!  11 a large waterfall there somewhere

The light at the end of the tunnel is the end of the tunnel – we didn’t meet anyone till we were nearly out.  And no sign of the ghost on either passage this trip. We were through very quickly and after lunch decided to move on to find a mooring near Heyford Fields marina.  The weather became intermittently wet and miserably cold but somehow none of the spaces looked quite right.  But we were amused by this smiley-faced boat winking at us.

a cheeky grin

Even without the sun the colour of the oilseed rape is intense enough to give a bright reflection.

vivid reflection

We ended up mooring at Nether Heyford where we were last week.  It had been a long day.

13½ miles, 7 locks, Blisworth tunnel

Total this trip; 102½ miles, 72 broad locks, 3 tunnels, 2 large aqueducts, 4 swing bridges

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Spring sunshine and icy winds

Wednesday 26th April; Campbell Park to Yardley Gobion

We left Campbell Park and followed the twists and turns of the canal round the edge of Milton Keynes, freezing cold in the windy bits and warm where it was more sheltered.  We saw a man with surveying equipment at one point; he said he was carrying out a survey of all the parks in Milton Keynes.

1 surveying all MKs parks apparently

The service point at Giffard Park was free so we topped up the water and emptied a cassette.  But the rubbish skip has gone.  There are litter bins outside the One Stop shop but you’re not supposed to put boat rubbish there, so I didn’t, but I did dispose of a couple of plastic milk bottles and some newspaper in one of the two empty recycling bins next to them.

We saw the electro-fishers again this morning.  This time they were in action and though I didn’t manage to get a photo of one netting a zander they were catching plenty.

4 electro fishing

An interesting catch was made by this heron.  He took off with a very large fish and landed heavily on the bank where he tried to deal with it.

  12 big fish

He didn’t like us coming along to disturb him and took off to land in a tree.  The last we saw he was still struggling to swallow his lunch.

13 trying to swallow

We moored in a brief hailstorm at the aqueduct end of the Cosgrove visitor moorings for lunch, which was a warming chicken soup made from the carcase of a roast we had at the weekend.  After the showers had passed over, Meg and I went down the steps of the aqueduct for a bit of a walk.  She had found the wind too cold while we cruised and had been tucked up inside all morning. 

The aqueduct we cross today is the fourth that was attempted and opened in 1811.  Known as the Grand Trunk aqueduct, it is the oldest iron trough aqueduct on a broad canal.  The embankments either side of the river crossing were built of compacted earth and stone, with all the material being barrowed by navvies – it has been calculated that the equivalent of 2,200,000 barrows of earth was moved, though I hope it was partly transported by horse and cart.  But the final placement of it would all have been done by those men and their shovels.  The Great Ouse is merely a large stream at the moment as there has not been much rain – though the debris caught in the branches six feet higher showed it must be quite a sight when in spate.  It’s impossible to see in the photo, but I’m fairly sure the fish I saw holding its position in the shallow water was a trout.

18 great ouse maybe a trout

In one direction the path takes you towards the caravan park, but if you go the other way you will find a tunnel under the canal.  Like the one at Cosgrove village, it was built for humans and cattle, not horses.  The tiny figure at the far end is Meg.

21 from south with dog

There is a better view of the aqueduct from the south side.

20 from south

The electro-fishers passed us while we were still moored.  I asked them how a current big enough to stun a zander doesn’t kill the small fry or upset the ducks. 

23 electro

The answer is that the current only reaches a little way from the traily bits and stops the fish swimming for just long enough to be netted.  The little ones soon recover and swim away – there would be no point in removing the zander if the native fish were harmed in the process.

There was a boat on the Cosgrove lock mooring with a very apologetic owner waiting for RCR.  His  gear cable broke (he thought) while he was in the lock, but the moorings were full so he had to stay on the lock landing.  We were soon out heading into the wind again and carried on until our faces were just too cold to continue, and moored in the Yardley Gobion area.  Inside we basked in the sun streaming in the windows – a far cry from the chilly weather outside!  But we had to light the fire as soon as the sun went behind the trees.

1 lock, 10 miles, 1 aqueduct

Total this trip; 89 miles, 65 broad locks, 2 tunnels, 2 large aqueducts, 4 swing bridges