Friday, 17 April 2015

GU Northampton Arm. River Nene. Gayton to Wellingborough

We really love this river!

Halfway down the Rothersthorpe flight we’d spied a fallen ash tree so, being the water rats that we are, we’d made a little wood pile that we’d planned to collect while the boat was in lock 10 on the way down.
We’d just dropped down lock 9 when we noticed a hire boat with a full complement of windlass wielding crew on their way up. They were so excitable we couldn’t really delay their progress and despite Ann-Marie getting very assertive about lock protocol, we were in and out of 10 before you could say Jack Robinson.
No matter, lock11 was only a few steps further and our log pile wasn’t that big. Anyway we didn’t want to clutter the roof up too much if we were going to be using the gang-plank and the boat poles regularly.
Half way down the flight, the arm goes under the M1, which is fun.
At the bottom of the Northampton we had our first glimpse of the River Nene.
And went from this.
To this.
We'll not be back on a canal until we return this way in Autumn.

Our first River mooring was between South Bridge and Northampton lock. There’s a very useful Morrisons just there, in fact it’s a bit too easy; “Oh we’re out of milk, I’ll just pop next door and get some. And I’ll get some reduced hot cross buns while I’m there.”
There’s also Northampton town centre to go at, which produced a tray of pansies, some new mats for the rear counter, some fairy lights and a USB splitter. All very essential boating items.
Anne came for an overnight visit and chill-out, so we took her through the lock and down river to the EA floating pontoon mooring at Midsummer Meadow, about ¼ of a mile altogether.
Well you don’t want to rush these things.

The next day was Easter Sunday. We woke up to find that the Easter bunny had laid a trail of little cut-out eggs around the boat with clues on for Dave to follow, and had put a Lindt Bunny on Ann-Marie’s pillow. Easter chocolate in bed; it’s a religious thing.

After that we spent a lovely spring afternoon walking back along the Nene Way from Earl’s Barton where we’d deposited the car. At dusk, as we were just about to have our tea, we noticed a tiny plastic cruiser coming very slowly down the river towards us. At first we thought it was just drifting, but it turned out to be propelled by a little electric outboard hooked up to a couple of nearly flat batteries and a solar panel which took up most of the back of the boat.
Darren explained that he’d pulled his little boat most of the way from Birmingham and was heading for Wellingborough where his mum lived. He’d got no heating, no lights and not much else, so when he’d moored up we invited him to join us for tea as we’d got plenty to share. We’d also got the fire going so he got warmed up as well.
The following morning we put one of his batteries on charge and towed him through the next two locks to another EA floating pontoon at Northampton Washlands. Not a particularly big move but we really liked the view.
We’d thought that Darren would carry on but he proceeded to spread all his belongings out on the end of the pontoon to dry them all out. We wondered if we’d got a permanent tender, but the next day, with his solar panel in full sun, he set off through the lock and down the river.

We stayed another night and then, after sorting our boat insurance out for another year, backed off the pontoon and headed into our first guillotine lock. Once you get used to them, guillotines are easy peasy, but they look a bit daunting to start with.
By the time we moored up at White Mills we’d done five of them between us and we were old hands.
We Christened our gang plank at White Mills and decided that it’s a wonderful thing but a bit on the heavy side for wrestling back onto the roof before setting off, so we’ve decided to use the aluminium ladder on a day-to-day basis, as it fits across the well deck and is easily deployed, and keep the wooden plank for steep angles, or when a more permanent fixture is required.
The owners of the farm at White Mills have been given planning permission to open a marina and the lady came along to ask us what sort of things we felt were important and what would tempt us into stopping. We're really the wrong people to ask; in four years, apart from two blacking weeks, we've always been moored bankside, but they were very nice and we promised to come and see them when we come back.

Next morning wasn’t really a boat moving day but we did go through one lock to give us a beautiful view over the valley floor,
before moving the car to Irchester and walking back. This took rather longer than expected for two reasons. Firstly, to our dismay, we discovered that The Nene Way, despite being shown on our brand new 2014 OS Explorer map as crossing the river at Chester House, had been closed since 2011 when the footbridge was condemned. After a bit of discussion, we retraced our steps, walked through the very pretty and very popular Irchester Country Park and finally crossed the river in Wellingborough.

The second hold up occurred near Great Doddington as we walked beside the river across a sheep field. 
Although the boingy lambs were a distraction, it wasn't them that held us up.There were several sheep at the water’s edge having a drink, and as we got closed we noticed that one of them was up to its neck in the water. We don’t know how long it had been there, but it was completely water-logged and it had given up struggling. Dave grabbed a couple of handfuls of soggy fleece and pulled. It took all his strength to get it up the bank, but he did it. The sheep staggered around for a bit while the bulk of the water drained away then wobbled unsteadily up the field to join its completely indifferent companions.
It was a sunny afternoon, so we were hopeful that it would have dried out enough by nightfall to survive the experience.

Back at the boat it looked like it was going to be a warm evening with no need for to light a fire, so we thought it would be a good time to drain down the radiator and swap the Squirrels over. It went quicker than we expected and the new one was in place and all the plumbing back together again by bed time.
Our next boat move was to Lower Wellingborough Lock, via Wellingborough town moorings, where there’s a tap and an elsan, and where there’s a Tesco and a Screwfix, both within walking distance. We needed Screwfix for some high temperature mastic to give our new fire a proper finish. We’ve got some stove paint for the chimney too but we’ll wait until the summer to do that; it’s better if it cures for a while before you heat it up.

On the way there, as we boated past the scene of the previous day’s rescue, we were horrified to see two more of the stupid bloody animals in the water. This time we had to stuff the boat into the reeds and leap off before Dave could repeat his heroics while Ann-Marie hung onto the centre rope. One of the ewes was in quite a bad way and could hardly stand up but she managed to wobble off eventually. Once we’d climbed back on board we had to punt ourselves out into the channel again, and of course the wind picked up just at the wrong moment. By then it wouldn’t have surprised us if the entire Middle Nene Cruising Club had come steaming round the corner, but happily they restrained themselves and we resumed our idyllic meander through glorious countryside. Three sheep saved in two days. We think Farmer Palmer owes us big time.

We stopped just downstream of lower Wellingborough Lock on a handy brick wharf that we’d been told about by Martin and Yvonne.
What a fabulous place to be.


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

North Oxford & Grand Union Canals Hawkesbury to Gayton.

Before we left Hawkesbury Junction with our new Squirrel on board, Dave put our new bed base together. Using two slatted single bed packs from Ikea and some lengths of pine from Wickes he constructed this.
The idea, primarily, is to ventilate the mattress, but an unexpected bonus is that we can pull the whole thing a couple of inches out from the wall at night, which means that Ann-Marie isn’t tucked under the gunnel, effectively giving us a wider bed.
Which is nice.

On our way back to Braunston, because we liked it so much the last time we were there, we moored up again at the non-existent bridge at Ansty. From there we had a car trip up to Chesterfield and Buxton to pick up our roof box and go to Annie’s birthday party. When we got back we found John and Camilla - whose wedding we went to last year - sitting in the boat drinking wine!  Years ago, John owned a boat called Andante, and weekends spent aboard her gave us was our first taste of this wonderful life, so it was great to have them on board. They are toying with the idea of another boat and we think they ought to do it as soon as possible.

We boated with them to All Oaks Wood, a lovely, middle of nowhere mooring near Brinklow and when we got there it was a struggle to prise John’s hand off the tiller. Lovely people – hopefully they’ll be on the water before long.  Just in case you were wondering, we knew they were coming to stay and they hadn’t broken in.

In the field opposite the boat, as well as the antics of Redwings and Fieldfares, lambing season had just started.
While Dave was re-assembling the roof box, boingy, fluffy little lambs came down to the water every morning with their mummies for a drink. This activity was accompanied by excited squeaky noises from Ann-Marie. Everything was all fine and happy until one of them fell in. Lots of really squeaky noises followed, and just at the point when Ann-Marie had decided that pushing the back end across to rescue it was the thing to do, it climbed out. So that saved an argument.

On one of our walks back for the car we went through Brinklow and what a lovely little village it is. It’s got Roman roots from being a fort on the Fosse Way, and in the Middle Ages it gained a very impressive Motte and Bailey which we climbed up before finding that it also has a quite splendid chippy.
Brinklow had, at one time, a canal arm, but this is all that's left of it now.
We mourned the loss of our bucket on the way back through Newbold, and carried on through Rugby, with Ann-Marie at the tiller dodging the hire boats, to the top of Hillmorton locks, mooring back at bridge 72. We don’t always return to places we’ve moored before, but it saves having to recce somewhere else and, if we were there for a while the last time, it can be a bit like coming home. Anyway, bridge 72 was just convenient with somewhere to park the car. Anne managed to fit an overnight visit and post delivery into her busy schedule and it was lovely to see her.

When we left, Dave single handed Legend back to Braunston while Ann-Marie took the car and spent a very enjoyable morning swimming with Kim and George.  George did more pool drinking than actual swimming but they all had a lovely time. Dave moored up on the GU, just before the floating cafĂ©, and Ann-Marie had the odd experience of going home without knowing exactly where home was. In the afternoon we drove back into Rugby and picked up two new phones that we’d ordered from Tesco’s. We’ve decided that owning the phones with a sim only contract is the cheapest option for us at the moment.

Braunston was a nice safe place to leave Legend for the weekend while we went off to Essex to see Martin and Yvonne. Their boat – Evolution - is moored in Ramsey on the middle level so as well as being terribly excited about seeing them and their wonderful cottage, we were keen to pick their brains about navigating the Nene and the Middle Level. They had a full weekend planned for us; trips out, walks and a beer tasting all included and, best of all, a canoe trip that took us from the tidal limit of the Blackwater River,
down to the sea,
where we ported the canoes over the sea lock
and came back along the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation.
A truly wonderful weekend with amazing people. Thank you Martin and Yvonne, thank you so much for having us, and for putting so much joy and enthusiasm into our lives.
 Back at Braunston, we stayed another day so we could pick up all the flower boxes and the other tat that lives on our roof, then in the morning, set off past the marina and the boat yards to climb up the six Braunston locks. On the way up we paired up with Nb Bodmur whose owner, Alan,  had bought it 4 days previously and had never owned a boat before. He and his brother Chris were taking it to Watford and sorting out a lot of stuff that needed doing as they went along. They moored up at the top and we imparted a few nuggets of advice that we’d have found useful when we first started, before wishing them luck and diving into the gloom of Braunston Tunnel.
We stopped at Welton Wharf, just out of the other end and within walking distance of Daventry. Chloe came to see us while we were there; she only moved from Daventry recently and she thought it was really cool that we were moored on a bit of towpath that she used to run along when she was training for the London Marathon last year.

We were both really ill for a few days at Welton. We either caught some kind of virus or got food poisoning, either way nothing much happened for a while.

When we were feeling better Dave set-to in the well deck and created a new pin/rope/hammer storage affair,
while Ann-Marie finished a new tea-cozy.
As we won’t be boating in that direction for a long time, we took a walk up to Norton Junction and up the Leicester Section to Watford Locks.
When we lived in South Lincolnshire we used to visit Foxton locks fairly often but we’d never been to the other end of the summit pound. Watford Locks are really pretty and very well looked after with flower tubs everywhere and neatly cut grass.
Ann-Marie had been a bit apprehensive about the next bit.

The gates and paddles on the Buckby locks are notoriously hard work and when we came up the flight four years ago she struggled with them. However we’ve been up the Calder and Hebble since then, and over the Pennines. Twice.
Be under no illusion, Buckby Locks are tough. Whoever built them must have had a wonky bubble in their spirit-level and a very ambitious attitude to paddle gear ratios, but the sun shone, there were no tears and no patronising blokes coming to help the girly boater, and we were down in no time. Ann-Marie’s nemesis is now well and truly buried.

Last time we were at Weedon we stopped on the embankment overlooking the church. This time we went on to Stowehill Bridge, where the Narrowboat pub is on the A5. Dave had a blood test and a retinal scan booked in Chesterfield the following morning, so we went up that night and had a yummy vegan curry with Anne and Jennifer. After all the medical stuff was done we reclaimed our folding bikes and camping gear from Anne’s shed and headed back down the M1.

We had a couple of days work to keep us busy while we were moored at Weedon; there probably won’t be very much of that this year while we’re out on the Nene and Ouse, so it was very welcome especially as we’d bought a new genny.
Yes, Dear Reader, once again we’re in a New Generator saga. To cut a long story short; our big, heavy, never-have-liked-it-very-much Hyundai has popped its clogs. We bought it because we thought that with an electric start, it would be easier to use and do a better job than our lovely Honda that got nicked in Wigan but, to be honest, it wasn’t and it hasn’t. We should have just bought another Honda and looked after it better, but there you go.
So this time, as money is really tight this year, we looked on Ebay for a second hand one and we found a 1Kw Kiam, up for £160. (they normally go for £350 odd.) A week later and we were in Peterborough to pick it up. The chap had it advertised as hardly being used, and he wasn’t joking. He’d only started it 3 times since he’d bought it, and the first time we ran it for more than a few minutes we could smell singed paint from the exhaust. We don’t think it’s ever been under load. It’s about a third of the weight of the Hyundai and although it’s only got half the output, we don’t have anything that needs more than 1Kw anyway, and it runs the hoover without a hitch; something the blue monster never did.
And, while we were in Peterborough, we went for lunch with Mandy and Chas. Double Result!

On the morning of the Eclipse, we were blessed with an almost clear sky. There was just a bit of cloud to start with, which actually made viewing easier.

The second one is reflected in the canal. We're so artistic.
Dave spent the rest of the day using up all the various bits of wood he’s been collecting and made a new gang plank. We’re going to need something better than our little ladder for a summer on the Anglian Rivers. This is more like it.
Chloe was on her last few shifts before leaving these shores for a life over the water, so she and Shandy came for a visit before she went. We took them from Weedon to Gayton Junction, stopping at Stowe Hill for some cheap diesel and expensive gas. Shandy did a stirling job on the tiller for most of the trip, with Dave only taking over when his hand turned from blue to purple. It would appear that there have been some mooring changes at Gayton; what we’d been told were permit holders only on the side opposite the Northampton Arm are now 14 days, so we dived into a sunny spot and chained up to the Armco. There’s a very useful car park at the bridge and full services, so it’s a good place to be for preparing Legend for our next adventure.

Mum and Dad found the car park handy when they came to stay; they had a couple of days with us before their car club AGM. Martin and Yvonne were in Northampton for a rugby match so they popped in for lunch as well and transferred all their notes onto our Imray Guides. After they’d all gone home we went off to see Lindsay, Paul and Jack on Happy Daze at Foxton before they go cruising, had a lovely lunch with them and borrowed their Middle Level windlass. We also cribbed their Imray Guide notes as well, so we now know where all the secret moorings are between here and Bedford.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

North Oxford and Coventry Canals. Newbold on Avon To Coventry and back.

While we were on the visitor moorings at Newbold, some local oiks thought it would be funny to swipe a flower bucket off the front of Legend and chuck it in the canal. It had the Valentine’s Day snowdrops that we’d brought with us from the house, and we were rather hoping for several more years of enjoyment from them. Whoever launched it can’t have extracted more than 2 seconds worth of fun from the act and we feel sorry for them if that’s the limit of their imagination….. That’s not strictly true; we’re furious and we’d dearly love the opportunity to make them go and get it.

In the late 1920s the Oxford canal between Braunston and Hawkesbury junction was significantly straightened and, as a result, shortened by nearly 14 miles. This was done using cuttings, embankments and, at Newbold, a tunnel. It’s a quite small affair compared to the gigantic bore at Netherton, but built to exactly the same design, i.e. two boats wide with a tow path on both sides.  In 2005 floodlights were installed in the tunnel which cast purple and green light across the roof and looked fabulous. Apparently the last bulb failed a couple of years ago so it’s all dark again now.
In order to allow access the wharves and warehouses on the loops that were left behind when all this improvement was carried out, graceful, cast iron towpath bridges from Horseley Ironworks were installed, many of which remain.
We went from Newbold to Ansty with Kim and George on board and moored opposite the Rose and Castle. Marked on our map was a bridge from the towpath to the pub car park, however no such bridge appeared as we rounded the final bend. A pile of bricks suggested that there may have - up until quite recently - been a bridge at that location. Our faithful Canal Plan website shows the story of what occurred and why it's not there any more.  This made things a bit awkward as we’d deposited Kim’s car in the aforementioned car park that morning. Luckily there was a footbridge a quarter of a mile or so behind us so it wasn’t too bad.

From Ansty we went through Hawkesbury Junction - AKA Sutton Stop - onto the Coventry canal where we turned right.
This was so we could fill in a missing bit of our log and navigate up to Marsden Junction which was the limit of our journey from the other end of the Coventry last year.
Our trip took us past the amazingly haphazard and utterly chaotic Charity Dock boat yard at Bedworth,
before we winded in the junction and returned to Hawkesbury.

Kim, Luke and George joined us once again for the final section of the Coventry Canal; the trip into the city. They used to live there and know it quite well, but like John in Leeds, have never seen the other side of it from the water.
Bishop’s Street Basin is at the end of the line, right on the edge of the city centre, and we were pleasantly surprised how easy it was to get there after hearing tales of woe about the state of things. There was lots of evidence of off-side vegetation clearance and litter picking, and towpath improvement work was going on as we passed by, all of which has no doubt improved things of late. We didn’t pick up anything on the prop, despite ignoring advice about gliding through bridge holes and never going over tickover, and we thought the basin itself, with its statue of Mr Brindley waiting to greet you, was smashing.
Later on it got a bit noisy with the nightclub just behind it, but we were in a city on a Saturday night for goodness sake.

At about 1am there was a clonk on the roof. Dave looked out to find three lads standing right outside the window, one of whom had just put his beer bottle down. There were a couple of minutes while they stood chatting without noticing him, then he knocked on the window. They nearly fell over each other then, bottles in hand, they made a hurried, apologetic exit to the other side of the basin while we went back to bed with the giggles.
Next morning, after a trip to Ikea and Wickes for a new bed base, (more about that later) we retraced our steps under the tiny number 1 bridge and back out to Hawkesbury, where we moored up just before the water point and our passengers departed.

Since we’d left our new Squirrel stove at Dave’s sister’s house we’ve been on the lookout for a handy spot to tranship it onto the boat.
This one seemed ideal, so we shot off to Derby to pick it up. Getting it to the boat from the car was easy enough, but actually manoeuvring it through the doors took a little more planning. We did it though, and it now resides in the lounge next to the old one.
Maybe if we leave them alone there’ll be little squirrels running around the boat.