Friday, 20 April 2018

Flecknoe (Karen’s final day of work)

Gifts for Karen on her last day
Karen went into the office on Thursday morning to complete her final handovers.  She was a bit apprehensive as she had seen in one of her team member’s diary an entry for “Karen’s leaving lunch”.  Her team obviously knew her well and hadn’t let her know what was happening as she would have declined πŸ˜‰

Karen’s last walk to the car for her morning commute

My last look at Napton-on-the-hill when Buddy and I went for our morning walk

It promised to be such a glorious day, so Buddy and I left our mooring early and made our way to Wigrams Turn marina where I knew I could fill up with diesel at 100% domestic thus avoiding the duty.  I feel it’s OK for people like us as we run the engine to get hot water or to run the washing machine and don’t cruise for hours on end each day.  It wasn’t too bad a price either: 70p a litre, the same as getting red diesel from Napton garage or Fen End in jerry cans as I have been doing lately.

Entering the alien territory of a marina

I knew it hadn’t been long since our last pump out but as they did a good job at Wigrams last time I was there I had one anyway.  It also means we will be setting off on our travels up north with an empty black tank but full diesel tank.

Moored up for diesel and a pump out

We were soon on our way again and travelling the three miles to Flecknoe.  As expected with the weather there were a lot of boats on the move.  Also, the section of the Grand Union between Calcutt and Braunston has many marinas on it so it does get a bit like the M25 at times.  To make it worse, the trees on the offside have been left to grow for the last few years and in many places you either have to wait for a boat to pass or plough through the overhanging branches.  I was rather surprised to see that it had all been cut back since we were last here.  I was also surprised when I looked back at the log and saw that it was as long ago as December 2016 when we were last here.

When we reached Lower Shuckburgh I was reminded of the hottest day of 2016 as Sophie and Yanos were staying with us and we were moored at Lower Shuckburgh for a week or so.  Yanos and Buddy were so hot that they sat under the bridge – Buddy asleep and Yanos doing some PhD work.  Ironically, I was going through the bridge on the hottest day of 2018 so far.

The bridge at Lower Shuckburgh

Even though there were lots of boats on the move, the whole cruise was rural and it was great hearing skylarks singing for the whole journey.

Nearing Flecknoe with no boats in view for once

I was hoping that our favourite mooring spot was going to be free when we arrived.  I know I often talk about favourite mooring spots, but this one at Flecknoe really is in our top three.  When we got to the straight at Flecknoe there were very few boats moored so I risked it and carried on round the corner to find our spot was free 😊 If it hadn’t been I was resigned to carrying on to the next winding hole, winding and coming back again to moor on the straight.

Moored at Flechnoe   

…and looking the other way

Buddy was still finding the sun too hot so was seeking out any bit of shade he could.  I did take him for a gentle walk later in the afternoon, but he wasn’t really up to it.  He kept standing in the water to cool down – he only really goes in when he gets too hot.

I saw plenty of butterflies including my first green veined white of 2018.  In one spot there were dozens of cowslips growing.  In some parts of the country you can find Duke of Burgundy fritillaries where there are cowslips as their caterpillars eat cowslip leaves.  I did look for them here, but I don’t believe they occur in this part of the country.

Fresh cowslip

When Karen got home from work we sat outside for drinks before dinner whilst she updated me with what happened on her last day at work.

Glass of fizz whilst Karen opens her cards

Her team had booked lunch at a restaurant in Leamington and, knowing that time was tight due to her meeting schedule, had pre-ordered the food to save time.  One of the guys gave a really moving speech and they gave her some flowers, a rather special bottle of wine and a pack of inland waterway flares - ideal for the commercial waterways of France πŸ˜‰ All in all she had had a very happy last day.

We will now stay here until Monday before we finally leave the area.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Calcutt Reservoir (drying out at last)

Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were grey but dry, and finally the sun started shining on Wednesday morning.  Karen has been working from the boat this week (her last) but has joined me and Buddy for an hour or so’s walk each day to get out of the ‘office’.  I know the weather must have been dull as when I downloaded my pictures today I realised I had taken none since Saturday. 

On Wednesday morning, I was just bemoaning the fact that 15 different species of butterflies have been seen around the UK already this year compared to my paltry four (!), when a male orange tip flew by the boat.  Now, when we see orange tips we know spring really is here.  During Wednesday I saw three more orange tips, countless male brimstones, a couple of female brimstones (again the first this year), a pair of peacocks and a small tortoiseshell.  To round it off in the afternoon I saw two more new species for the year – a small white and a speckled wood.

All the butterflies were skittish and none would rest long enough for me to take a picture but here’s an orange tip that we saw exactly two years ago here at Napton/Calcutt reservoir :

The female doesn't have the distinctive orange tips to its forewings
As it looked like being a gorgeous day on Wednesday, I set off for the water point at 8 in the morning.  Going early meant we could moor up there, have our showers and do loads of non-clothes washing like bedclothes and Buddy’s travel bed.  Of course, if anyone else turned up for water I would let them in but as it happened only one boat turned up and it only took them 10 minutes to fill up as the water pressure is high at Calcutt and they had filled up two days previously.

Reversing back to the water point – we had set off from around the corner in the far distance and I managed not to hit any of the moored boats πŸ˜‰

It already felt like a summer morning at that time of day and Buddy soon crashed out on the towpath:

When we moored by the reservoir last Friday we had to squeeze in behind Chris on his boat and Paul with his two boats.  When we were taking on water Chris came by on his boat; he was on his way to Stockton to catch a bus into Leamington for the day.  As I was just waiting for the water and washing I saw him through a couple of the locks at Calcutt.  He told me that when he comes back he would carry on and moor at Napton so it meant I could take his spot without feeling guilty.

The spot he was in is the prime position for a 50-60’ boat as there are two stout trees that you can tie to rather than using mooring pins.

For some reason Buddy spent a lot of the afternoon sleeping alongside where we had been moored

After lunch I took the car to Braunston to buy some longer centre lines.  Our current ones are 10m long, but we really need about 12m to feel safe when in locks.  When we got to France we are going to have to buy even longer ropes for the front and back – around 20-25m because of the extra deep locks on the continent,  We need to find out a few things necessary for moving to France, like rope lengths, from Mike and Aileen as their boat is the same length as ours and they already have two year’s worth of experience over there.

This is a speckled wood from last year – the one I saw today wouldn’t land

On the way to Braunston I drove through Flecknoe, one of the villages we would both love to retire to when the time comes to move back to bricks and mortar (I would say ‘if’ rather than ‘when’ but Karen reads the blog πŸ˜‰).  The reason for driving through the village was to check on the moorings available on the canal near there.  I plan on moving down there on Thursday and Mike & Lesley and Chris & Sue should be making their way there too on their boats - we are all meeting up on Saturday.

We have spent a few weeks moored around Flecknoe over the last couple of winters and it was always packed with fellow ccers.  I was expecting it to be busy now but only saw one boat moored up there – I suspect it’ll get packed by the weekend as people are beginning to set out on their summer travels and it’s a nice rural spot to moor.

The chap in front of me at the rope shop was asking for 4m ropes for his centre lines.  The lady ropemaker, quite rightly, was asking if that was really the length he wanted.  I suggested that maybe he had a very small boat to which he replied that it was 57’ (the same as ours).  The lady told him that he should have much longer, at least 10m, centre lines for that length of boat and I explained that I was just changing ours from 10m to 12m so he decided to go back to his marina and measure up again.

As I was driving back to the boat it seemed that there were male brimstones everywhere, I must have seen three dozen during the day.  The male is the distinctive bright yellow whereas the female is a pale lemon colour.

Male brimstone taken at Stockton two years ago

Female brimstone taken near Stratford three years ago

After I got back I took Buddy out for a walk and to find some willow.  It’s that time of year when Karen makes her willow frame for when she pots up her sweet peas which are currently doing very nicely in the cratch/greenhouse:

Dwarf sunflowers
Dwarf sunflowers on the left, sweet peas to the right, chillies at the back but they haven't started showing yet

In the evening we met up with Gill and her new man, Martin, to say goodbye.  We first met Gill on the River Avon last year and have kept in touch and had the odd drink or two since then.  As she is a local girl she has been very helpful in recommending things like dog sitters, opticians etc.  We were sensible and only had had a few drinks, but it was sad to be saying goodbye