Wednesday, 30 June 2010


A day for not much more than nursing the boat back to base. Despite ensuring that the dreaded bolts were tightened during the usual morning checks, we had to make several stops to do them again. On one occasion one of the bolts had worked itself completely free and we were surviving on just one!

Soon after setting off we arrived at the top of the Claydon Flight of five locks and immediately there was a queue! this remained the case for the rest of the day - this can become a busy stretch during the summer and we have seen much longer delays than these.

After the Claydon flight, the locks some one at a time, but there is rarely much time between them to go to sleep or read! However, it is interesting to meet with the same people on boats for just fleeting conversations, often interrupted by a filled or emptied lock needing immediate attention. One single handed boat was in front of us for a while - he used to drive artics for up to 70 hours a week but has spent the past three months re-fitting a small boat in Birmingham and was bringing it down to a longer term mooring near Cropredy.

Another boat we have seen off and on since Braunston - The Lethbridge Stewart. Mike eventually found the nerve to ask whether it was indeed a link to Dr Who and yes, that was the case, when - with some friends - they were trying to find a more interesting name than Water Gypsy (which was what it was called when they bought it) One of the men on that boat is a town planning consultant who has managed to leave his clients in the tender caree of his secretary for four weeks whilst he completes the Grand Union - Oxford canal - River Thames ring - what we have done this past three months, if in bits at a time, plus extras!

At Cropredy Christine made the usual visit to the Bridge Stores whilst Mike waited with the boat at the lock. Below the lock, we called at the water point and sani station for the usual servicing. A short distance later we moored up for a lunch hour break.

At Banbury we moored below the lock - there was no space in the main shopping area - as Mike wanted to go to Tooleys Boatyard for some spring washers. Christine also took the opportunity to visit M&S Food - it is a bit far to Morrisons - for a couple of items whilst Mike attended to the bolts- again.

By now it was well after five o'clock but we carried on through a few more locks until mooring just above Kings Sutton lock, shortly after seven. Despite being in a cutting, the nearby motorway is inescapable and the roar continues 24/7. Strange to think that it is caused by so many individual vehicles, their drivers and passengers, yet at this distance it is just a continuous sound.

Time then for Mike to set up the satellite dish, having made sure that we moored where there are not too many trees in the line if sight!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010


The day was largely overcast, still very warm and often rather stuffy. Still, not much to complain about, until the water shortage begin to take hold. Reports from the Leeds and Liverpool are quite alarming.

After completing the short run to Napton Junction and then to Folly Wharf (where Christine went to the store to buy some milk and a paper - alas, no guardian, only The Times!) we joined the queue for the flight of locks. Whilst we waited we used the water point and sani station. We we arrived there were already 3 or 4 boats waiting and soon there were almost as many behind us. Most crews were very pleasant and chatty - there is always the exception. However, it was good to talk with someone whose view on tupperware boats and the Thames is close to ours!

Eventually we set off but after completing the third lock we again lost power. A quick check confirmed the same problem as on the Nene - both bolts had worked loose despite the fact that they seemed OK when we did the routine checks this morning.

Benefiting from having watched the RCR engineer, Mike set about rectifying the problem - at least he was able to find the bolts in the engine tray, feeling around in the mucky sump liquid! In fact we were able to set off again, having only lost one place in the queue. We shall need to check the bolts more frequently, it seems.

The buffalo we have seen alongside the canal on previous trips were not to be seen, but replaced by ponies and foals as well as a selection of presumably rare breed sheep.

After four locks we pulled in to moor up for lunch. after a good hour's break we completed the three remaining locks to the top. Ahead of us lay the 13 mile summit pound.

There is not a lot to report about the first two thirds of the run as the canal meanders around the contours, having been built in the early days of canal mania and before engineers worked out ways of building embankments and making cuttings. Other parts of the Oxford were subsequently straightened.

The latter part, through Fenny Compton, is a little prettier and runs through 'The Tunnel': a section that was previously constructed as a tunnel but was later opened out into a narrow cutting. Eventually we moored just a few minuted away from Clayton Top Lock - fun for the morrow. Mike was rather relieved that he was able to lock on to a satellite signal after failures the two previous evenings and he was beginning to wonder if something was amiss.

Monday, 28 June 2010


A much later start today - just after 9:30! Still hot and sunny, although it became gradually hazier during the day and a cooling breeze developed. Nevertheless, it remains exceptionally pleasant weather for cruising.

We set off, planning to go a little way up the Leicester Branch, through the Watford flight and the turn around in order to return to Lower Heyford mid afternoon on Thursday. However, as we reached the winding hole just before the locks, discretion took a hand and we opted to wind and set off back straight away.

There were lots of boats around, many of them leaving the large rally at Braunston over the weekend.

Not long after Norton Junction we reached Braunston Tunnel. Although it is wide there is a little kink about a third of the way from the Eastern side - a trap for the unwary as it does not prevent seeing the other end at the start of the passage.

There are luminous signs indicating the distance travelled in the tunnel - much more comforting than in past days when it was a matter of looking both ways and judging which was the brighter. Even in a roomy tunnel such as Braunston, it is always comforting to see the half way point and know that you are on the way out!

BW have been experimenting with alternative ways of stabilising banks - two different techniques are visible just after the end of the tunnel where there was a slip three years ago in the floods which held us up for a while. Although they were only put in place quite recently, grass and other wild plants are gradually beginning to poke through which will eventually naturalise the appearance.

Out of the tunnel and it was too soon to stop for lunch - not that there was much opportunity for mooring anyway, so we continued on to tackle the Braunston flight.

We shared the first four locks with another boat but they managed to find the last space above the next lock - their crew was about to mutiny for the lack of food! However, another boat (being delivered to the boatyard at the bottom of the flight for some American owners) joined us at that stage for the final two locks.

At the bottom there was no chance of mooring - there were still lots of boats which were hear for the weekend and not yet set off. It was manic today - just what it was like on Sunday for anyone passing through can only be guessed at! Several boats have been well restored, or at least kept in some semblance of their working days.

At the junction we stopped to use the sani station - briefly saw David Dare from Lower Heyford who was visiting Midland Chandlers. Another boat pulled into the water point space that we had been waiting to use so we gave up on that - we were well-filled yesterday afternoon anyway.

Just after the junction, turning towards Napton, we ourselves stopped and enjoyed a full lunch hour!

Although the cooler breeze had by now arrived, we were feeling pretty lethargic again so, rather than tackle the Napton flight today, we found a mooring spot just before Napton Junction. Failed to locate a satellite signal again today - wondering if there is something amiss with the equipment? At least the DVD worked, except it was a pretty rubbish film!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Farewell to Andrew

Off in good time to allow Andrew to load up his car and return home as planned. we came alongside the wharf at Stowe Hill and topped up the fuel tank while we were about it - time for a chat as well!

Back on our own again so we may not make the same progress as over the past couple of weeks - in any case today with temperatures over 30C we are all a bit lethargic!

The section ahead is always rather close to the M1 but we pulled in for lunch near Bridge 16 as Mike recalled being intrigued by the signs on it for the heart of the Shires Shopping Village.

So, after lunch he left Christine to have a nap whilst he walked up the lane - the sign promised 3 mins which was not far off the 4 mins it took to reach the main road where the drive to the shops turns off - almost as far again to the actual centre!

The shops were probably what might be expected - clothes, gifts etc but Mike did succumb to temptation at the rather splendid cookshop where he picked up a small food processor for use on the boat. He also returned to the boat with other goodies such as some specialist fudge for Christine and scrumptious cakes for tea time.

it was only a short distance to the Buckby flight which we worked through, sharing the lock with another boat. At the top we stopped to use the sani station and then to fill up with water. This was the first chance to see how well it fills now that we have dismantled the vent pipe. In fact the tank filled without any of the air locking of the past, although at the moment it means keeping an extra close eye on it so as not to have the overflow into the bedroom! Still, it confirms what we had previously concluded about what needs to be done.

After finishing the water fill we moved on a short distance up the Leicester Grand Union. Whilst it was useless for a satellite signal we stopped anyway as before long we would have arrived at the Watford flight of locks.

Time then for Mike to fix an unusual bug in his log software which meant that we did not have a record of the times for this afternoon! Hopefully, now is all fixed but we cannot really test it until we set off again tomorrow. He was also able to use his new toy to make breadcrumbs for stuffing to go with the roast pork.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Breakdown Day

Late yesterday evening, Christine suddenly asked, "Well, who is coming with me to Tesco to do the shopping?" In the end, she and Mike set off across the park to the nearby supermarket and came back laden to re-stock the larders for the week ahead.

This left Andrew and Mike to make an early foray to B&Q for parts to modify the water tank air vent but, despite a careful search through every type of fitting that they had, they returned empty handed!

Off then on another scorching day. We expected to have quite a bit of exercise today as our target was Gayton Junction, which would allow a short two hour run, with no locks, back to Stowe Hill in order to re-unite Andrew with his car - he needs plenty of time to do his own weekend chores once he gets back to Devizes.

We are convinced that the weed in the river had grown measurable since we came down 12 days ago. However, we made good progress through the locks, which gradually become closer and closer together, until we arrived at Cogenhoe lock, just after midday. As we were just moving out of the lock, waiting for it to empty again, there was a loud clunk from the engine space after which no progress.

We quickly established that the loss of power from the engine to the prop was pretty definite and not just down to a broken cable. Unable to diagnose further - let alone effect a repair - we made our first call to RCR (the recovery company we signed up to at the start of the season, fortunately) As we waited, we were entertained by the sounds of a country dance taking place in adjoining camp site!

The (very pleasant) RCR engineer was on-site by 2 o'clock - which we felt was very reasonable as rivers and canals are not always the easiest of places to get to by road.

He established within a couple of minutes that the problem was that the bolts connecting the gearbox to the prop shaft had come adrift - two had sheared and the other two worked themselves loose. The fact that only two had sheared off meant that he was able to get us going again by replacing the other two which he expects will last long enough for us to return to Lower Heyford. He also advised us that the engine mountings need attention!

In any event, by 3:15 we were on the move again and determined to reach our target, come what may! Six o'clock and we were in the centre of Northampton (with a very quick call at the sani station in case we do not quite make it to Gayton) and back onto the canal system with 17 locks to go!

The first four locks are spread out and the longest pound was very slow, shallow and weedy so it was around a quarter to eight that we reached lock 13. From here the flight is all close together and we quickly established a rhythm and worked at around 5.5 minutes per lock. As a result we were able to tie up just above the top lock at 9:05! We felt that we deserved our (late) evening meal which Christine had fortunately prepared very much earlier in the day, in case we ran short of time!

Friday, 25 June 2010


O what a beautiful morning!

Yes, another glorious, sunny day. Although there a few moments when it was almost too hot, there was often a slight cooling breeze. We set off just after 8 o'clock, although Andrew opted to walk back into Oundle and around to the marina where we planned to stop for fuel.

It took us a little longer than expected along that stretch - slower than some - and through Lower Barnwell lock where Andrew met us again - bearing cream cakes for afternoon tea! Shortly afterwards we made the tight turn into Oundle marina. As well as the planned fuel stop, we also used the sani station, water tap, rubbish bin and replaced the gas cylinder which gave out last night just as the roast veg dinner was finishing cooking! All round a good stop - and very pleasant people as well. Because of the acute angle of the entrance, Mike decided to reverse out - just as he was doing so, we were passed by one of the boats which had moored at the same place as us last night - the ones who watched our incompetent lock handling! In any event they decided to share the next few locks with us until the moored up at a pub - presumably for lunch.

The scenery was regularly punctuated by the 'spires and squires' - most of the churches are quite splendid but one did seem to be lacking in architectural integrity

We continued on our own and stopped for our own lunch at the EA moorings at Islip Mill, quite splendid in construction, if perhaps a little over the top!

The water clarity is quite amazing and the wildlife around is abundant - not least the damsel flies, just about caught on this picture of the river water from the front of the boat. We also passed a couple of owl nesting boxes, and Mike spotted one of the kites at the same place as he saw the pair on the way down.

Our target for tonight was Wellingborough which now looked quite a tough target so we pressed on. After lunch Andrew took another look at the air vent pipe to the water tank which is still causing us problems when filling. We subsequently decided that we could do with a visit to B and Q for parts - our friend Google told us that the best option was right next to Tesco in Wellingborough and that they were open to 9 pm.

Some of the locks are still manually operated - at some stage it would appear that a winding handle was replaced by a large wheel that takes around a hundred revolutions. Warning notices dating back to the older mechanism showed concern that they could easily turn unexpectedly and harm bystanders. No doubt, this led to the safer, if harder, option.

Our initial progress stayed well within target but towards the end we fell behind - especially at Ditchford Lock with its radial gate - a boat had just started to come down but the main problem is the length of time the gates take to open - at least 5 minutes each way as, of course, we had to leave it open behind us after taking the boat through to the upper level.

Thursday, 24 June 2010


We moored the night before sufficiently far down the main river to be away from the noise of the bypass traffic. We freed ourselves from the weed and cruised back up to the city centre to use the sani station whilst Andrew went to the nearby shops for paper, croissants and a missing OS map.

Off properly on a day that was still quite warm - enough for shorts - but rather overcast. It remained like this until mid afternoon when hot sunshine returned.

The first stretch has few locks so it was plain cruising for most of the morning, although we now have to wait after leaving the lock in order to open the bottom guillotine - unless another boat arrives just at the right time! Many of the locks have former mills alongside - most have been well-converted into houses. That then brought us to a stretch where there are few opportunities for mooring - as we found on the way down when looking for a night stop. Eventually we had to give in and have lunch 'on the move' as being the simplest option.

Weed cutters are a good idea but they did leave a lot floating down the river before we passed them. Did not help our prop though!

At Warmington Lock, Christine decided to take a walk across to Fotheringhay - the Church clearly visible on the skyline. Mike also joined her, leaving Andrew to navigate the boat up to the next lock.

At the approach to the village are the remains of the former castle - of Mary Queen of Scots fame - now only visible from the rounded shape of the Motte and Bailey. We did not have time to climb up to the top but did take a look in the church. The village is little more than those houses and cottages that line the main street - two former inns are now houses but one pub remains. A couple of thatched cottages are noted for their authenticity.

The church was founded in early medieval times as a collegiate church and was, at that time, twice its current length.Like that it would have been better proportioned but today is an impressive space, albeit rather square in shape.

By the time we had walked to Perio Lock Andrew was through but had discovered that there was no access from the adjacent road. This meant the Mike and Christine had a further walk along the road to Cotterstock where they arrived just as the boat was coming to the top of the lock. The church is a strange arrangement.

We passed through Oundle - actually the town is a little distance from the river, unlike most places we have passed through. we did not want to go beyond Lower Barnwell lock as we need to call at the marina for more diesel in the morning. We found a space for the night on the short arm just above Ashton Lock. (We will be trying to forget about this lock as we - ie Mike - made a complete hash of working through, especially as a couple of other boaters were sitting imperiously alongside the lock having their meal! Mike's excuse is that he was not concentrating properly as he was trying complete the roast veg at the same time! Anyway, he made a better fist of reversing back to the mooring space so that whoever starts off in the morning will have a simple exit!)