Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Back to Base

Sunday 16th August

The home stretch was now in sight and so we knew that we did not have to make quite such an early start. Nevertheless, with our estimated time of arrival back at Lower Heyford in the region of 6:30 and past experience of queues building nup at the locks on this part of the Southern Oxford, we set off a little before 9:30. It was again a bright and sunny day - sufficiently hot later on to need sunscreen all round.

Alice was still completing her craft magazine and also making some very detailed drawings of her family as well as strawberries and butterflies. She also showed how well she can cut out shapes. This activity must be the reason that she had suddenly gained a much larger appetite - double portions at breakfast and a good lunch.

We gradually made our way through familiar territory - despite the occasional delay, usually by an inexperienced boat crew. We did stop for lunch today -afterwards, Christine and Alice set off to Kings Sutton Lock on a nature walk (but some of us also knew that there was a little ice cream shop at the lock cottage!) leaving Mike to bring the boat down.

There was a steady flow of boats in the sname direction and Mike timed his cast off to be mid way between. Unfortunately, one of the piling hooks jammed in the piles and by the time he had freed it another boat appeared around the corner. They were obviously put out at a boat casting off in front of them so mIke eventually let them pass just before the lock. If he had known about how long the boats already waiting above and below the lock would take he might not have been so charitable! Still, it gave Alice plenty of time to enjoy her ice cream and to watch what was happening. Mike just read a few chapters of his book!

Somerton Deep lock is said to be the largest fall on the system (but we have seen others make similar claims!) - but it also has a very narrow bridge at the tail of the lock. A boat waiting to come up moored very close to that bridge hole and then allowed it to drift right across the way out of the lock. He seemed very reluctant to pull it in and then proceeded to harangue Mike on the basis that he did not know how to steer and was sterring right when it should be left and vice versa. He was most insistent. Strange how Mike still managed to miss hitting his boat despite this ignorance! At least when we arrived at the last lock, Allen's Lock, where there was only just enough room to pull in between moored boats and the lock itself, one of the people on the boats congratulated Mike on coming in so neatly!

Our instructions were to feed Alice before handing her back - so we prepared the meal during the afternoon and she tucked in - again to double portions all round - whilst we completed the last couple of locks. Finally, we turned into our mooring slot at Lower Heyford where Joanna, with Jessica, had just arrived to collect Alice. After a good chat about what Alice had been doing since arriving on the boat way back at Atherstone (remember it?), and a cup of tea, we waved them farewell and set about our own dinner - and a botttle of good wine!

Sunday, 16 August 2009


Saturday 15th August

Mike made a very early start, moving off from the mooring at 7:30 and ten minutes later he was at the bottom of the Napton flight. Just before he reached the lock, another boat was preparing to set off, starting to lift the engine cover to do the normal daily checks. No sooner had Mike started to go up the lock when he appeared (a single handed operation), obviously not happy that he was not the first up today! In fact he followed on our tail (and we mean on our tail) all day, only passing us when we moored for the night.

By the time we were up a couple of locks, Christine was ready to lend a hand and we reached the top of the flight quite smoothly. By now Alice was ready to get up properly and have her breakfast! Mike filled the water tank at the top of the flight.

The long summit pound was quite quiet for most of the time - we were probably not in the bunch of hire boats, one day away from Napton. Alice enjoyed watching the wild life and scenery - and beating Grandad at Jungle Lotto and Snakes & Ladders.

We spotted a new sign for a shop at the pub in Fenny Compton so we stopped and were able to buy the milk as promised as well as some ice creams for the freezer

After passing though Fenny Compton Tunnel (a stretch that once was a tunnel when the canal was first built) we arrived at Claydon Top Lock - down hill all the way now!

Cropredy was manic! It was the weekend of the annual Fairport Convention music festival and there were boats everywhere, double banked when they could manage, and sometimes when they could not! Still everyone was in good humour and the delay did not matter that much. Except, that is, for a certain boat who was constantly just a few feet away - until a tight corner when he failed to see a boat coming the other way around a bend under a bridge and ended up having to reverse!

Alice walked down most of this set of locks in order to pick blackberries. The only black cloud on the horizon was when someone managed to drop one of the two-way radios into the canal - irretrievable. We now have a one-way radio!

We spotted a couple on the towpath eating what looked like special ice creams - we were told where they came from and that they were made from Buffalo milk from the herd at Napton. Christine and Alice went in search and came back with three very delicious samples! Meanwhile, Mike continued down to the last lock at Cropredy in order to pull in at the sanitary station.

The afternoon was especially warm and sunny - the evening even better. While Mike finished off preparing the roast pork dinner, the other two went for a nature walk along the towpath, again hoping to find some more blackberries.

Friday, 14 August 2009

A Long Stretch To Napton

We had a long stretch ahead of us of 25 miles with only three locks at Hilmorton. Mike made a good start just after 8 o'clock, leaving the girls to make a more leisurely start. The day was quite straighforward - except for other boats! There were a lot more hire boats and those out for a short break - many seemed to be attempting the Warwick Ring - a challenge for a week. Others were intent on showing well they could do despite their alcohol intake (although this was a growing problem later in the afternoon!

The route is largely rural, apart from around Rugby, which itself is not unpleasant, although the canal does not run near the town centre. In Newbold Tunnel we met a group of cygnets trying to paddle through - as soon as they saw us they turned around and only just managed to escape before we reached them.

Stretton Stop was quite a delay: not quite clear what had happened apart from hire boats doing a changeover. There is a small footbridge which sometimes adds a delay but when we arrived there was a build up of waiting traffic in both directions. As a result it took quite some time to clear this point.

Alice enjoyed watching the ducks and other water birds - feeding them some left over bread crusts.

At Clifton Cruisers - who had been very helpful to us last year with our electrical problerm - we called for diesel and also managed to pick up the replacement part for the bow fender.
By early afternoon we arrived at Hilmorton Locks - Alice helped Mike operate them. She managed to open the first bottom gate all on her own!

We were now aiming positively to reach Napton locks before mooring - we would have liked to have been at the top but this became increasingly unlikely, not least because of so many moored boats. Around Napton Junction they seemed to be almost continuous for several miles either side. There are at least three hire bases at or near to the junction and tomorrow must be a main changeover day.

Braunston turnover bridge

We made the meal early in the afternoon so that it was ready for Alice at her we'proper' time which she duly tackled wqith gusto - clearing her plate! Christine also persuaded Mike to make some chocolate dipped cherries which rounded off the meal quite nicely, thank you!

It was just after eight when we reached the bottom of Napton Locks and not realistic to tackle going up so we found a mooring. with quite a number of boats already lined up on the straight section back from the flight we had to pull in quickly. Christine managed quite an acrobatic manoeuvre as she found - or rather did not immediately find - a place to land on the bankside!

Atherstone and Alice

Thursday August 13

We had planned a prompt start so that we could go up half the Atherstone flight to the bridge by the A5 and do some shopping before the scheduled arrival of Alice - staying on board for the rest of the trip. However: a slow boat ahead of plus a couple down that insisted on drawing water from in front of us. That is, filling an empty lock when a boat is ready to come up, but for the want of a couple of minutes waiting. So, despite Mike setting off to set the first lock even before Christine had dried her hair, it was over half an hour before we could actually make a start.

On the way we realised that the boatyard where Joanna had planned to meet us was on the wrong side with no access to the towpath or to a lock. So, Christine went off to reconnoitre and sent a 'complex' text message with alternative instructions. As a result, we arrived at the road access only just as the Oxford party arrived - Jessica making very good progress walking along the towpath to the boat.

Meanwhile, Mike had rescued another moored boat whose mooring pin ahd been pulled out from the soft earth by a boat passing by. The only problem was that he knelt in something in the long grass that he rather wished he had not!

Christine then went off to the nearby Co-Op supermarket whilst the others had a drink. Joanna then left us, along with Jessica, leaving Alice to our tender mercies!

As went climbed slowly up to the top lock, alicer made a good start on her craft magazine: colouring, cutting an pasting. Some of the first creations were aliens and different sorts. Later she decorated the fridge door and also made a cat/dog (ask her how it can be both!)

We were now rather behind schedule so lunch was 'on the run' but with no locks (or rather slow boats) to impede progress we continued through Nuneaton and Bedworth, with just a short rural stretch in between.

A lone, stark disused telegraph pole stands as a reminder of past technologies now superseeded. We did try to locate a replacement part for the front fender, but the marina weher we stopped had sold out. Alice declined the option of an ice cream, much to Mike's dismay, on the grounds that it was not hot enough. Clearly she is in search of the Sahara! Eventually - with the day still a brilliant, warm and sunny day, we reached Marston Junction and then Hawkesbury.

Whilst Mike filled up with water and completed the other usual services, Christine and Alice went to explore the basin and the stop lock. (Filling up with water was not straighforward as the points had all been vandalised and Mike managed only with the help of some pliers!)

With time running out and dinner ready, we moored immediately after the stop lock.
Afterwards, Mike and Alice went along the towpath in search of blackberries. Granny was very pleased with the ones that Alice very carefully carrried back in her hands as as a present. Alice also enjoyed a 'bath' in the base of the shower - an important new discovery.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Curdworth and Tamworth

Wednesday August 12th

We set off just after 10 o'clock - generally feeling much better but still less energetic than usual! Immediately we passed through the last of the Minworth locks and within the hour arrived at the top of the Curdworth flight.

Through the flight we were in the middle of several boats going down, with only the occasional boat coming up to help 'turn' the locks. However, the boat in front and the one behind were quite friendly and everyone helped each other. Neverthless, it did take just three hours to clear the flight.

Immediately below the lock we took a short - and very late - lunch break, also giving Mike time to complete the repair to the bathroom washbasin. Hopefully it will now last out the season although it is not very beautiful! It really needs some professional joinery work to replace the worktop.

Onwards as we really needed to get close to Atherstone, not only for our schedule but also to make a good meeting point with Joanna and Alice - the latter will be staying on board for the rest of the trip, we expect. The unusual castle-like design of a footbridge (replacing an earlier conventional swing bridge) is close to the entrace to Drayton Manor Theme Park.We passed through Fazeley Junction with its impressive canal architecture.

After pasing over the River Tame, a little later we arrived at the two Glascote locks. A group of four teenagers were 'hanging out' at the upper lock. It would have been easy to be suspicious but we felt that it was better to involve them - at least you know where they are! In fact they were really interested and took amazing delight at being able to work the paddles!

Gradually urban surroundings gave way to countryside, although both railway and motorway run nearby. We wanted to reach Bradley Green in order to service the elsan and to fill the water tank - which we duly did. A line of moored boats followed the water point as we sought an overnight mooring. Were were pulling alongside the towpath when we realised that we were alredy at Atherstone Bottom Lock! The good news was that Christine felt able to have a smallish portion of chicken and mushroom sauce on rice with vegetables! But she could only manage a couple of the strawberries!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Leaving Birmingham

We travelled up from Cornwall yesterday, together with Ellie and Alice who had been with us for a week's holiday. We arrived at Sherbourne Wharf at 2 pm and collected the boat which had been kept there for the past couple of weeks. After moving out onto one of the moorings in Brindley Place, Mike set off again with the car and the two girls. They drove down to Lower Heyford where they met up with their Mum and the car was parked, ready for the boat's planned return in a week's time. Mike caught the train just before 6 pm from the station alongside the wharf. He was back at Birmingham New Street in about an hour and twenty minutes, with a change at Banbury.

Neither of us was feeling too well - Mike with acid reflux and Christine with a tummy bug. As a result we did not plan to set off this morning too early! Mike walked to the nearby Tesco to do a little top-up shopping before we left a little after 11 am.

It was a little daunting a prospect (in our conditions!) with at least 24 locks ahead: Farmers Bridge (13) and Aston (11). We stopped for lunch (or at least Mike's lunch - Christine partook of a couple of rice biscuits) in between the flights.

The Aston locks were a bit more effort than they might have been as we encountered the second half of a group of 26 boats doing a cruise all together. The problem was that about half of them could not restain themselves from pressing ahead, with two boats up waiting in one short pound. This makes the maneouvre of a boat coming down and one coming up changing places with another as an obstruction! They did not seem to realise that, far from speeding up their journey, it actually slowed them down. at the bottom of the locks we called at the services for water and elsan.

By the time we reached Salford Junction - underneath the motorway at Spaghetti Junction (is it still called that by anyone?) - Christine was quite grateful for a stretch without locks and a chance to sit and recover. At one point on this section the canal runs underneath a large factory that has been built out over the top. (Not sure what went wrong with the pix!)

In the event, we did have to pass through two of the Minworth locks in order find a half-decent overnight mooring spot, without getting as far as the next flight of locks.