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 showed a pictures of what had happened to it.  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 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 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.      


Sunday, 15 February 2015

Grand Union canal. North Oxford Canal. Welsh road to Newbold on Avon.

Three years ago, when we were at Welsh Road locks for the first time, we only stayed for a couple of nights, which was a shame as it’s such a nice mooring.  This time we were there for a fortnight
with a walk to Long Ichington and the Blue Lias on one day, and a drive out to - and a lovely walk around - Draycote Water, where Kim, Luke and George joined us in the sailing club café.

Kim had slipped on the ice a few weeks before and broken her arm, so she was learning how to look after a baby one-handed – not an easy task - so it was good to see them out and looking happy.

After our allotted time we reluctantly cast off and made our way up Bascote locks (2 singles and a staircase)

where we found some very nice dead hawthorn, followed by the Stockton flight.
That took us up to Birdingbury Wharf; a very pleasant mooring spot near the The Boat Inn where the road runs parallel to the canal with just a hedge between and some very convenient parking places.
Car outside boat window; always a Good Thing.
Another stationary fortnight followed, some of which included ice. We went to see a band called the Jigantics at a gig in Warwick University Arts Centre. The venue was very intimate; the audience outnumbered the band by 5 – 1 but they were very good (the band, that is. The audience weren’t bad either.)

As we were quite near to Kim and Luke we volunteered to help whenever we could while Kim was recovering.  On the Friday she had an appointment at the hospital, so while Dave drove her in, Ann-Marie babysat George. The consultant threw a spanner in the works by deciding that the poor girl needed a metal plate to hold her humorous together and booked her in for surgery the next morning – Friday. Luckily Luke was able to take the day off so we were relieved of duty and drove up to Yorkshire to see David and Kate for the weekend instead.

Our longest standing friends were, as always, the perfect hosts. As always we had a fantastic weekend, we went for a couple of walks with Dylan-the-dog and ate some delicious meals, then on the Monday morning we packed our bags, said our goodbyes and set off. We’d just got to the bottom of their hill when we became aware of a rather horrible grating noise coming from the engine which, to cut a very long story short, meant we were unexpected guests for a further three days, while Keighley Diesels diagnosed and replaced a broken oil pump.
We are once again eternally grateful to our friends, and once again extremely lucky. It could have broken down anywhere, but it happened near some people who could not only put us in touch with a friendly local garage, but who were also more than willing to put us up while it was repaired. Thinking about what would have happened if we’d been hammering down the motorway when the oil pump pulley decided that being attached to the oil pump was not on its to-do list any more makes our blood run cold.
On The Thursday morning, after we’d spent three days watching from their window as the snow got thicker
the man from Keighley Diesels rang with the wonderful news that we were back on the road. We packed our bags - again, said our goodbyes - again and set off once more. This time, despite the snow, we had no problems getting home, although every time we stopped the blizzard that seemed to be following us southwards caught up; had the man phoned an hour later things might have been very different.

Our fortnight was up the day we got back, so we untied our snowy ropes and moved on.
Up the three Calcott Locks, where we had a fortuitous meeting with Mark on the coal boat Callisto, then turned left at Napton Junction onto the section of the GU between the North and South Oxford canals.
This short length was originally part of, and owned by, the Oxford Canal Company. When the Grand Junction Canal Company  were building their new link from Birmingham to London, they made an agreement with the Oxford Canal Company to share this five mile section, but omitted to get a limit on how much their boats would be charged for using it. This resulted in the most expensive five miles of canal in the country and the Oxford being subsidised by the Grand Junction for many years.
These days holidaymakers happily chug past the former toll houses; the old boaters must have dreaded them.

We moored at Nimrod Bridge for one night then moved up to Flecknoe, just along from Bridge 103 where we spent a very memorable fortnight with John and Jac three and a half years ago. Back then it was summer and we were out with the barbeque, this time we were iced in and it was snowing.

We’ve not been happy with the frosted glass in the bathroom ever since we bought the boat. It was a sticky-backed-plastic film that hadn’t been stuck on very well and we finally got round to doing something about it. This is what we did:-
1. Remove old film.
2. Get rid of the adhesive using white spirit and a stainless steel scrubby thing.
3. Apply new stuff and squeegee into place.

4. Trim.
5. Stand back and admire.
We sprayed the glass with soapy water to make it slippy and we got round the swivel window catches by cutting a line and a circle and then sliding the film into position. We're really pleased with the result and as soon as the boat is the other way round we'll post some pictures from the outside.

While we were at Flecknoe, Kim and Luke braved the blizzards to come and see us, and we had a day getting paid for counting parked cars in Birmingham. On the Friday, Dave went with Luke to Kent with a trailer to collect a Citroen Dyane that K&L will be taking to Poland in July for the World Meeting of 2CV Friends.
The girlies went shopping with George and Ann-Marie came home with some red shoes. When the boys got back there was a takeaway and a game of Harry Potter Cluedo. It doesn’t get any better than that!

The overnight temperature was forecast to be above freezing for the next few days so we didn’t mind leaving Legend for a bit. We slept on K&L’s sofa bed then after breakfast pancakes went to drop off the trailer. We said goodbye then carried on to Ross-on-Wye to see John and Camilla, whose wedding we went to last autumn.
In the afternoon we had a walk down by the Wye, a pint or two in the White Lion, then a lovely evening with Rich and Becky and a delicious lamb curry.
Sunday morning dawned chilly and misty which turned out to be the perfect back-drop for what we had planned for the day. We went to Purton on the Gloucester to Sharpness Ship Canal. This canal was built to bypass a notorious stretch of the tidal River Severn, allowing shipping safe passage into Gloucester docks.
At Purton the canal runs parallel to, and not very far from, the river bank. In the late 19th century, concerns were raised about tidal erosion threatening the stability of the bank. To combat this old/irreparable river barges were towed up the bank on spring tides and sunk where they beached. Over the years they have settled into the silt and vegetation has taken hold and today the area is known as the “Purton Ships Graveyard”.
From 1900 to 1965 81 ships and barges were beached on a 2 mile stretch.

The last to join this eerie fleet were six 350 tonne Ferro-Cement (concrete) barges built during the Second World War when steel was in short supply.

One of these has since been removed and re-floated; we think it might be the one we saw at Ellesmere Port, but we’re not sure. They were notoriously unwieldy, horrible to steer, broke everything they came in contact with and there was probably a round of applause from the crew when they were rammed up the bank. Follow this link for more info.
After that we went to see Saul Junction, where the Stroudwater Canal crosses the G&S,

and had coffee and cake in the café. Fab weekend and lovely to see the newly-weds happy.

Back at the boat, after another fortuitous meeting with a coal boat (Jule’s Fuels), we spent a sunny morning boating to just outside Braunston where we moored on the Puddle Banks, which is a feat in itself.  The canal banks slope into the water so you can’t get right in. Some places are better than others, but the best you can do still leaves you on the bottom with a lean-on, and nearly a foot between boat and bank.  We still prefer that to being in the thick of it on the visitor moorings in Braunston itself.
Gordon and Helena live in Braunston; we met them and became friends on the Yorkshire Ouse a couple of years ago, so as we were there we got in contact and they invited us round for dinner. Their lovely house overlooks the marina and their boat, what a fabulous place to live! We were treated to a delicious meal and a brilliant evening in their company. Hopefully we can return the favour when we come back through on our way to Northampton and the Nene.

From the Puddle Banks we turned left at the junction.
After filling up with water carried on up the North Oxford to Hillmorton Locks.
This is uncharted territory for us; the first time we’ve been somewhere new since November. We moored just before the locks, which was lucky, because when we went for a walk down the locks later that day we found that someone had left the paddles half open at both ends of the middle lock and drained all the water out of the top pound.
We can’t think of a way it could have been done accidentally, or of a logical reason to do it on purpose, so we dropped them all and carried on. On our way back we were pleased to see that the level was recovering, and when we brought Legend down the following day it was back up to full.

In 2012, to commemorate the inauguration of CRT, these locks, along with Gargrave locks on the L&L, Farmers Bridge locks on the Birmingham & Fazely and Milnsbridge lock on the Huddersfield Narrow were chosen to have lines of a poem engraved into them.

The full poem reads thus:-


The sculptor was Peter Coates and the three poets who wrote the words were Jo Bell, Roy Fisher and Ian McMillan. Roy Fisher’s words are engraved at Hillmorton, which in the correct order read:-


We stopped at Newbold on Avon, near the pub just before the tunnel. We’ll stay here for a few days and go and visit Rugby before moving on. An unexpected bonus about being where we are is that the canal is quite deep so we don’t get shoved about as much when someone goes past. The frequency of that happening had suddenly increased; we think it must be half term.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Grand Union Canal. Cape of Good Hope to Welsh Road

We’ve always found the time between Christmas and New Year to be a bit limbo-ish, and this one was no different. With nothing to do and no visitors we embarked on a de-cluttering program, starting with the diamond cupboards in the dining room. Amongst other stuff these hold all our hobbies; beads, string, models, paint, jigsaw puzzles etc. which, when we’d finished being ruthless, took up less than half the space they did before. A couple of bags got skipped and although the cupboards still looked full, there was much more order to it.
During the next few weeks we're hoping to continue with all the other storage spaces aboard the boat. It's very therapeutic.

We moved Legend through Cape bottom lock, filled up with water and then moored up again.
It wasn’t what you’d call an epic cruise, in fact we’d only moved about 200 yards, but it took us out from the shadow of the flats and let the sunshine get to the side of the boat and the solar panels. It’s little things like that that make all the difference to our simple world.
The clear sunny days brought clear frosty nights and on more than one morning we woke to find the canal frozen around us.
As long as we’re prepared for it, being iced in doesn’t cause us any problems, in fact it was nice to be able to walk along the towpath without getting muddy.
We’d just filled the water tank, the car was nearby, so we just enjoyed being in our lovely cosy boat surrounded by a sparkly white world.

Martin and Yvonne came to stay on New Year’s Eve. Their boat, Nb Evolution, is moored for the winter on the Middle Level near Ramsey. They do very extensive summer cruises and we met them at Castleford on the Aire & Calder a couple of years ago. That meeting resulted in us joining them on the Ripon Canal and in York on the River Ouse. They are wonderfully happy people and it was a joy to have them with us to celebrate the start of 2015. On New Year’s Day, after one of Dave’s full English breakfasts, we cast off and headed for Leamington Spa. Occasionally we came across bits of ice floating in the more shady bits of the cut, but nothing that was going to do our lovely new blacking any harm. Martin and Yvonne don’t often get to go boating in the winter, so it was a bit of a treat for them. It was a treat for us as well especially as we found some decent firewood as we were going along.

The next day we sadly had to say goodbye to them but we’re definitely going to see them again soon; they know the Nene extremely well and have promised to pass on all their hints, tips and mooring spots to us before we venture forth from Northampton. We just need to go and visit them for a weekend. Oh the hardships we suffer for our way of life!

On night in Leamington was enough, the canal runs through it on the south side of the railway line and is not particularly inspiring, which is a shame; on the other side of the tracks the town is beautiful and well worth visiting for all sorts of reasons. There’s the Pump Room, with its amazing internal architecture, which used to be the main spa, then swimming baths and hydro pools and is now a museum and library, and the lovely Jephson Gardens.

We moored up in an open bit of countryside between Leamington and Radford lock, which is where we still were when some of our other best boating buddies came to see us.
Lindsay and Paul became firm friends as soon as we met them near Chester last year. They live on Nb Happy Daze, which at the moment is moored on a Towpath Permit at the top of Foxton locks. We hadn’t seen them for ages, so when they said they were coming for a visit we were very excited. We’d told them we’d found a local water-side hostelry that was dog friendly, had a small selection of bottled beers, did excellent home cooked food and had free tea and coffee all day long. They were expecting a little back-water pub, what they got was this.
We’d transformed Legend into the Navigation Inn, and Ann-Marie had made the most delicious steak and ale pie. After lunch we all went for a walk with the lovely Jack before coming back for treacle sponge and custard. We don’t think there’s a pub in the world we would rather have been in.

Dave turned the wood we’d collected from this.
Into this.
Then this.
Then they got stashed on the roof.

There was some maintenance due to start on Radford Lock, so we picked the best day weather-wise and made our way up to Welsh Road. We’d stopped there the last time we came this way, so we knew it was a good spot with lots of footpaths and decent parking. The day we moved started off cold but not too windy, however it wasn’t all plain sailing; we both got a bit shaken up when at wood lock Ann-Marie lost her footing on some slippery tread-plate and her feet went under the balance beam. She was left bruised but thankfully still on the bank. A reminder that although this life is relaxed and idyllic most of the time it can, and does, occasionally bite back.   

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Hatton Station to Warwick. Grand Union Canal.

While Legend was moored at Hatton station, there was enough spare room on the towpath for Dave to get the workmate out and become creative.

We had them on the towpath like that for about a week. They made everyone smile and we were pleasantly surprised that, apart from four of them getting blown into the canal one night, they all survived unharmed. We named them Ashleigh, Willow, Hazel, Holly and Rose. As Christmas approached we gave them away to our friends and family, until there was just Ashleigh left, then he got taken to Anne’s on Boxing Day.

Over the weekend before Christmas Eve, we embarked on one of our mad dashes around the country in the car, spreading as much Christmas Joy and wooden reindeers to as many relatives as possible.
Since we last went to visit her in Cornwall, Dave’s sister Kate has moved to the other side of Penzance, and is now within spitting distance of Land’s End. At this rate she’ll be on the Scilly Isles by Easter. We broke our journey down there by visiting John who, while still living in Cornwall, at least lives in the bit before the grass starts appearing in the middle of the A30. About 8 years previously we had joined John and Kate for a week on a Chas Harden hire boat on the Llangollen

We were shocked and ashamed to find out we’d not seen John since. He’s a smashing bloke and often replies to Ann-Marie’s round robin e-mails and it was lovely to spend some time with him.

An hour’s drive further on found us at Kate’s new flat, high up on the last sticky-out bit of Cornwall with amazing views from every window. We had a terrific time with her and Rod; lunch overlooking St Michael’s Mount, an early evening stroll around the Angarrack Christmas Lights, which have to be seen to be believed.
These are the Seven Swans a-Swimming in the river, to see all the other days of Christmas - and all the reindeer - click on the link above. That was followed by soup and garlic bread back at the flat. It doesn’t get much better.
We were back on the A30 straight after breakfast the next morning, and waving at Stone Henge around lunch time. It hadn’t occurred to us that we’d be going past it on the day of the winter solstice; luckily the four mile queue was on the southbound side of the road.

We arrived at Mychett just after 2pm and spent a very enjoyable afternoon and evening with Karen, Andrew, Lauren and Ben. One of the reindeer was rehomed at Karen’s; we’re sure it will be very happy there.

Next day we were in Fleet to see Mum and Dad and rehome another reindeer, then back up the A34 to Warwick as it got dark. We got a big bundle from the chippy and pulled into the station car park about a minute ahead of Frankie, Harry and Iggy (their dog), who were staying on the boat with us for a couple of days.
We’d come from Cornwall via Hampshire; they’d come from Bordeaux via Stowmarket and Boston, and we’d  all arrived at the same place at the same time. A triumph of logistics which once again had us wondering how anyone on a boat managed to do anything before mobile phones.

Dave had everyone up bright and early the following morning, the day before Christmas Eve, with cups of tea all round, and we were on the water point at the top of Hatton Locks by 9am. While both the water tank and the top lock were filling up Ann-Marie dished out the bacon butties then, with Harry at the tiller, Legend glided gracefully into her first wide lock since we turned onto the Middlewich branch in April.
We were just about to shut the gate when we spotted another boat  coming down the cut behind us, so we got to share the whole flight of 21 locks with a lovely couple called David & Judith who were on holiday over Christmas on a hire boat.
With Harry & David steering, Frankie and Iggy dropping paddles and shutting up, Judith staying with the boats and us leapfrogging each other to set ahead, we got down the whole flight in less than three hours. Three years ago, when we went up, despite being excited by the prospect, we were rather daunted by Hatton. We put the call out to all out mates and relatives and ended up with a crew of about 15. It was fantastic fun, and we wouldn’t have done it any other way, but it just shows what we’ve learnt. With six people and two boats we made going down look very slick and easy.

Whilst chatting on the way down, it transpired that Judith and David had gone to the little shop on top of Shrewley tunnel a couple of days before in order to get stuff for Christmas dinner, only to find that they‘d sold out of potatoes. In our book, and no doubt yours too, not having roasties alongside the cranberry sauce and the crappy crackers is a crime of such heinous proportions that a satisfactory sentence has yet to be devised. So, when we were all done with engines and moored up at the Cape of Good Hope, Frankie was despatched with a generous helping of Large Whites to rectify the situation. Being such lovely people, David and Judith felt that an exchange of goods was called for and generously repaid us with some amazingly mouth-watering Italian cheese. Despite being told several times, we repeatedly failed to remember what it was called. However, we had it as a finale to every meal after that until it was all gone, and we had no doubt whatsoever that it was worth several sacks of potatoes.

On Christmas Eve morning we all went out for a little walk with Iggy, then in the afternoon Kim, Luke and George came over with a very tempting-looking and beautifully presented selection of home-baked Christmas fayre.

After less than three weeks of intensive crawling George had grown bored and had decided that walking was the only way forward or, more accurately, sometimes forward, but more often than not a sort of wobbly sideways motion while gripping bits of furniture.  An intensely determined toddler, however wobbly, is a force to be reckoned with and the confines of our little boat did nothing to improve things. Our Ecofan, as far as George was concerned, was the most desirable object on his bit of the planet, and he spent a good deal of his seemingly endless energy trying to breach every obstacle we put between him and our very hot fire.

When all the youngsters had gone we snuggled down to watch a film before hanging our stockings up and making sure we’d left adequate provisions for our expected nocturnal visitor.

In the morning the evidence was clear:  HE’D BEEN! Sadly the fingerprints were too smudged to provide an accurate ID.

Later in the day, after a traditional Christmas breakfast,
we joined David & Judith to go down the two Cape locks. Well that was the idea, but as there were several boats moored at the bottom we stopped in the pound. Not our usual habitat, but it was a big pound and we figured we’d be safe enough. We helped our new friends through the second one then said a fond goodbye. They were going on into Leamington, and then turning round to return to their hire base on the Birmingham and Worcester. We would have liked to have helped them back up Hatton on Boxing Day, however we had other plans.

Shortly after the Queen’s Speech our friend Coops came to stay. We haven’t seen him for ages so it was great to be able to chat and catch up on each other’s stories.

We spent Boxing Day in Chesterfield at Dave’s sister Anne’s house. While we were there Chloe and Shandy dropped in and so did Judith and Vince. Richard, Kathryn and the kids were going to come along in the evening but by seven o’clock it was snowing really heavily and they didn’t make it. About four inches of snow came down over Chesterfield that night; Chloe and Shandy only just made it to their digs and Judith and Vince got stuck in the ensuing hold-ups, getting home about half past midnight. We went to the pub. The snow was film-set perfect; big fluffy flakes piling up to make a thick powdery blanket that flew up when we kicked our way through it and made satisfying creaks  when we walked on it.
As we crossed the green we started a couple of snowballs and within ten minutes we’d built a snowman that was taller than we were.
In the morning, looking out at the thick pile on top of the car, we were a bit apprehensive about getting home, but as it turned out there was nothing to worry about; the M1 was heavy but moving and as soon as we turned onto the M69 all traces of snow disappeared.

Legend was freezing when we got home, but not for long; we’d got a new toy.
Our normal routine when we get back to the boat after a couple of days away is to light the fire and run the gennie for an hour or two to charge the batteries while it’s warming up. We figured that having a little fan heater in the bedroom while the gennie was on would help. It does. We’re now on the look-out for an electric blanket.

In our post collection from Anne’s was a pair of these.
We can now navigate nearly everywhere for a year, including the Nene and the Great Ouse, where we intend to spend most of it. As you can see, our latest attempt at preventing our licences from turning to a soggy mush while they’re stuck in the window is to seal them onto a piece of plastic with heavy duty tape. Not quite as good as lamination, but hopefully good enough.