Sunday 30 November 2014

Nobody on phones

It seems that every morning, wherever we are, there are swans or ducks at the kitchen window when I draw the curtains.  This is despite the fact we never feed them.

As I generally make the first beverages of the day I am always reminded of my Dad as I get the tea and coffee off the shelves.  He is very keen on wood working as it keeps him active.  He made these angled shelves, the two chopping boards and the fine solid oak table in this picture.

I went out to cut some logs but couldn’t get the chainsaw started and, as the sun had come out, we decided to cruise down to Braunston.  We had moored under trees on the Friday evening so the roof was covered in leaves.

After a couple of miles we went through the 2,042 yard long Braunston tunnel.  Amazingly, this was completed in 1796 and has two disconcerting bends in it so it is shaped like a drawn out S.  I think I mentioned that my son Steve and his partner Amanda gave me a smart brass tunnel light for my birthday.  It is much better than the previous car headight we used to have and makes the tunnel work easier. A boat called Fizzical Attraction followed us through the tunnel and then paired up with us as we locked down the first four locks into Braunston.

We decided to moor up in the pound above the final two locks.  This is well known as the Admiral Nelson pound as it is right next to the pub.  Even though it is the end of November it was packed with boats and we just managed to get the last spot.

This whole area is notorious in that there are no mobile or TV signals but, ironically, we get a very good broadband signal.  Karen made some parsnip soup and we walked into Braunston to get a paper and have a look around.

On the way back we popped into the Admiral Nelson.  It was refreshing to see that no one was on their phones – an advantage of there being no mobile signals.  We went back home to the boat and Karen made some smashing patatas bravas. We decided to stay in Braunston tomorrow (Sunday) as there are the ruins of a medieval village that we want to find and we have a few chores to complete. 

Saturday 29 November 2014

Almost fell in

After a walk around Weedon Bec we set off for Norton junction. Just after we set off we passed Jim the boat builder on Mike and Aileen’s boat in his yard.  Here he is with a cupboard front he had just finished from some reclaimed black walnut (rather reminded us of my father who has made some lovely pieces for us on our boat).  We had a brief chat and off we went again.

When we went for our morning walk we deliberately found a field where Buddy could meet up with other dogs and have a good run around (walking the tow path doesn’t really give him the chance to let off steam).  At one point there were seven dogs running together although there are only five in this picture, with Buddy in the forefront.

After a while we passed a CRT boat coming in the opposite direction loaded with new lock gates.  Canal lock gates are built at two workshops in England; one is at Bradley near Wolverhampton and the other at Stanley Ferry near Wakefield.  Lock gates are always made of English Green Oak.

At a place called Brockhall we met up with the M1.  For about three miles the motorway, canal and railway line run closely together.  You can just make out a Virgin train on the left and trucks on the M1 on the right.

We stopped at Buckby wharf for a pump out and Karen went for a look round the farm shop and chandlery.  I was getting the equipment sorted out and slipped off the side of the boat,  I managed to cling onto the roof but one leg went in up to its knee.  Doesn’t count as falling in but close.  Funnily enough the wet foot felt warmer than the other after another hour or two of cruising. Here is the boot drying near the fire later in the evening:

As I was putting everything away a boat came past and asked if we were locking up the next seven locks which are close together (Buckby flight).  Of course we said we would as it is better to have two boats going up together for several reasons:

  • Saves water
  • Easier to lock with more hands
  • Quicker on a flight where the locks are close together as one person can go ahead and get the next lock set so you drive straight out of one into the next
  • Chance to meet and chat with other people
  • The boats remain stable.  A single boat in a double width lock will have a tendency to bounce around and hit the sides if you are not very careful with the operation of the paddle gear and ropes

The couple we locked up with were John and Mary on Mallard.  They were taking their boat to Braunston marina as it was going on the market.  They also have a cruiser on the Great Ouse in Norfolk and were going down to one boat as they (as they said) were not young any more; I learnt that John was 73 but he looked very active.  Coincidentally their cruiser is called Lysandra which is a genus of blue butterflies, such as the Adonis Blue, but not the genus to which our Chalkhill Blue belongs.

At the top of the flight there was a box of apples by the lock cottage for people to take so Karen took a bagful.  I’m looking forward to apple pie or crumble this weekend now.  Next was Norton junction.  The canal to the right is the Grand Union Leicester line and to the left is the Grand Union mainline.  

The old toll house can be seen in the centre of the above picture.  Below is a poor shot but the signpost says, "Leicester 41 1/4 miles, Brentfrod 89 1/2 miles, Braunston 4 miles".
As we decided last night, we took the left branch and moored up a short while later without any signs of boats, cars, houses or people.

Friday 28 November 2014

Decision day

Mizzle again on Wednesday morning but we thought we would move on as it was forecast to be a dry day.  Karen put the bread maker on as we were running out of bread and we set off.  The tow paths in this area are particularly muddy at present and not a lot of fun so Karen and Buddy only walked about three miles and then joined me on the boat.  By lunchtime we reached Weedon Bec, the bread was ready and the sun was out.

After lunch we went to see the Oakcraft boat builders in Weedon.  We have always felt that if we are going to continue to live on the boat that we would have to buy a new one.  As much as we love Chalkhill Blue, she is old and therefore has poor insulation and single glazing etc.  Having had her for five years, at least we would know how we would design a new boat.  We know that most boat builders have waiting lists of at least a year so visiting one now was sensible to get to understand all the logistics in the boat building process, from the build of the steel shell to fitting out and then painting.

We were interested in Oakcraft as we were really impressed by Mike and Aillen’s boat Quaintrelle and they were very happy with it too.  Also we were going past the boat yard.  We met Jim the boat builder, a lovely chap, and he showed us round a couple of boats that he had built and the owners keep them in the marina next to the yard.  We were very impressed with his craftsmanship and we left with a lot of food for thought.

When we got back to the boat we had some decisions to make as we were shortly coming up to some junctions.  As we have said before we have no real plans other than to visit Nottingham to see Catherine and also go to places such as Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Lancaster, Leeds, York and the Peak District.

We are only six miles from Norton junction.  North heads direct to Nottingham to Leicester; the last few miles on the River Soar.  West takes us a few miles to Braunston junction where you either head for Birmingham or Coventry.  Two things impact the decisions: winter stoppages and river conditions.  As we have to go back to Kent for the children for a couple of weeks at Christmas we don’t want to leave the boat on a river in case we get lots of rain.  We have had enough of being stuck because of high water levels in the past.  We also need to be wary of leaving the boat for two weeks in places like Birmingham.

We decided to head west at Norton, north at Braunston and then take the Oxford canal to its northern point, head north a little way up the Coventry and then go on the Ashby canal which has no planned closures over the winter.  The Ashby is also very rural and we are bound to find places we can leave the boat for two weeks.  When we return after Christmas we will then decide which route to take to Nottingham.

Thursday 27 November 2014


It wasn’t frosty on Wednesday morning but very misty and drizzly, I assume that is what is called mizzle. Once we were up we went up the final two locks into Stoke Bruerne.  The children (those that who have time to read this blog) will remember why we call the top lock titanic lock.  To the right of the top lock is the Indian we went to last night in case we never saw an Indian by a lock again.  Mind you we will be going through Birmingham at some point.  On the other side of the lock was The Boat that we also popped into last night.

There were a couple of swans in the top pound with three cygnets.  The father swan was constantly getting rid of a fourth cygnet.  We weren’t sure if it was originally part of the family or just trying to join it.

We moored just before Blisworth tunnel and put some baked potatoes in the stove.  We put them in the stove itself this time rather than in the ash pan to see if they cooked any differently.  We then went to the canal museum in Stoke Bruerne for just over an hour and the potatoes were spot on when we returned.  The museum offered me my first opportunity to have a concession ticket!

After lunch we walked across the top of Blisworth tunnel but after a mile the path came out on a road so we cut across country and completed a circle back to the boat.  It was very muddy in the cattle fields.

Once we got home we set off to go through the tunnel which, at 1 ¾ miles in length, is the third longest canal tunnel still open to navigation.  It wasn’t built until the late 1700s so there used to be a tramway linking the two ends of the canal.  It is so difficult trying to understand the conditions the men worked in.  17 vertical shafts were dug first and then horizontal tunnels dug out from the base of each until they all joined up.  All this was in the days when it had to be carried out by hand.

Most of the shafts were closed off once it was built but seven were left for ventilation and also to let water pour in on unsuspecting boaters.

Before mechanisation came to boats men used to be employed to leg the boats through.  Here is a model of men legging, although Blisworth tunnel is wide enough for two boats to pass so the leggers' boards would have been longer.

Whilst the boats were legged through, the horses were walked across the top and waited in these huts that are still present at either end of the tunnel.  There are also huts where the leggers waited to be hired.

We moored just north of Blisworth village and Karen made some gorgeous flapjacks. In the evening we went to the Walnut Tree restaurant in Blisworth as my children had treated us to a meal out for my 60th.  We had a fantastic time and a really good meal.  Lovely to be treated :)