Thursday 29 November 2018

Water Eaton (Bletchley Park next time then)

Tuesday was tunnel and lock day again.  This time we had to go through the 1 ¾ mile long Blisworth tunnel followed by the seven locks at Stoke Bruerne.  It really was a November morning; fog coming in and it felt cold even though it wasn’t frosty.

Leaving Bugbrooke in the murk
After a couple of miles, we went through Gayton junction where the Northampton arm goes up to Northampton to join the River Nene.  The River Nene is navigable for 88 miles right up to the Wash.  It also provides access to the waterways of the Fens (Middle Level Navigations) at Peterborough with yet another 100 miles or so of waterways or ‘drains’ to explore.

Gayton is where we are having the boat craned onto the lorry next March which is only four months away now 😊

Going through Gayton junction

Signpost at Gayton junction – Braunston is already 17 miles away
When we got into the tunnel, we could see the tunnel light of a boat coming the other way, but we were OK as it’s a two way tunnel.  Well, it’s two way for narrowboats but we were slightly concerned as the approaching boat, which was probably about ½ mile away, had two lights at the front.  For a brief moment I thought, oh no it’s a wide beam who doesn’t know the rules.  Wide beams have to make prior arrangement with CRT to make a passage as the tunnel has to be closed in the opposite direction.

I assumed that it wasn’t a wide beam as, if it was, the driver would have started flashing his lights when he saw us coming into the tunnel.  His lights were extremely bright and were pointing directly ahead which makes it very difficult for approaching boaters to see; lights should be aimed slightly to the right and also slightly upwards.

In the end it was yet another very new boat – when I reached him, he was hardly moving, and he told me that he was really nervous as he had never been in a tunnel before.  I told him it’s safer to be nervous and move slowly than be over-confident and try and rush past another boat.  I did tell him that his lights were very bright and the angle should probably be adjusted and he laughed saying, ”Yeah they’re OK for me but I suppose you’re right”.

Entering the tunnel with a leggers’ rest hut on the left

Leaving the tunnel with stables on the right
Stoke Bruerne is one of the most touristy places on the network but not so on a foggy and cold November day.

Looking back at the tourist trap of Stoke Bruerne from the top lock
By the time we got down to the penultimate lock it started raining and it didn’t stop for the rest of the day.  At least the afternoon didn’t feel as cold as the morning and we made good progress, mooring up for the day just past Thrupp.

We had had several abortive attempts to moor before Thrupp but the sides were far too shallow.  Even so, we still had to use a gangplank where we eventually moored.

Moored for Tuesday night
A heron was fishing from the towpath just where we pulled up and didn’t seem keen on moving.  He ended up just behind the boat and kept eyeing me up as I was making the boat fast.

With strong winds forecast for later on Wednesday we made sure we were away by 9 o’clock as we wanted to get through and out the other side of Milton Keynes by the end of the day.

As we cast off, the heron from last night was still next to us but this time totally ignoring us:

It certainly was windy as predicted and there were occasional very strong gusts that kept taking us unawares.  It was the sort of day where you wanted to be able to hover in front of locks whilst they are set.  Otherwise it would mean mooring up at the side and then finding it really difficult to get away when the lock was ready.

The first lock was at Cosgrove where a branch used to leave just above the lock and go down to Buckingham.  A local society is active in restoration as with many other disused waterways around the country.  It always strikes us that it takes a special type of person to be involved in these works as, in nearly all cases, they won’t live to see the end result; they are doing it for future generations.

I saw a boat coming behind us in the distance, so we waited for them to join us in the lock.  I was gesticulating that we were waiting but the driver seemed to be totally ignoring me.  Once he was closer, he put his glasses on and when I mentioned I had been waving at him he apologised as he could only see a short way without his glasses on.

There were two youngish lads on the boat and they were really excited as they had just bought it and were taking it down to Bath to live on around there.  They were also excited as it was their first lock – that’s three new boats in three days that we shared with or saw going into their first locks.

We were then lock-free for the next twelve miles or so as first we went over the River Great Ouse and then wound our way around Milton Keynes.

Crossing over one of the Milton Keynes boulevards
As we were passing through, we were on the look out for Jules Cook on her fuel boat.  Her area is from Stoke Bruerne down to Berkhamsted, so we had been in touch to find out where they were.  As luck would have it, they were heading north, and we met up to take on diesel and coal.  Off course, we met them on a blind bend but, as there was no boat traffic around we just moored up across the cut together.  They had their boat and butty breasted up too so there was no way anyone could get past us.

Jules preparing our bill
I was surprised to find that we had room for 98 litres of diesel as it had only been 11 days since we were filled up be Lee & Roberta at Etruria.  Without the sun in the evening in the winter, to top up the batteries, we tend to run the engine in the evening.  I keep forgetting that this uses fuel too

Jules Fuels off on their way again
A new marina is being built at the point where the proposed new 20-mile canal to join the Great Ouse at Bedford is scheduled to be built.

Yet another new marina going up (or down)
The proposed canal, the Bedford & Milton Keynes waterway, if ever constructed, will be a broad canal.  This would mean that for the first time ever the north and the south would be connected for broadbeam boats.  Up until now only narrowboats have the freedom to cruise both the north and the south.

Looks like the writing was handwritten
At the far end of Milton Keynes, near Bletchley Park,  is a place called Fenny Stratford where there is a lock with a swing bridge over it.  We had both forgotten about the swing bridge and were entering the lock and realised at the last minute before any damage was done.  Amazing that two of us could get a lock set and start taking the boat in without either of us noticing a metal road swing bridge across the lock!

We have never stopped off to pay a visit to Bletchley Park (the home of the WWII codebreakers) but when we are on our way back up to Gayton next March on our way to France, we should have plenty of time.  It is one of the places we have both wanted to visit and we should be on a more leisurely mission to get to Gayton so there should be no excuses.

About a mile later I was passing some moored boats and a guy leaned out of a window shouting and swearing that I was going far too fast.  I was really taken aback as I was on tick over, there was no wake and the cut was wide and deep at that point.  I just concluded that he was just someone that always did that whatever speed the passing boat is doing.  This was further reinforced by cheery smiles and waves received from other boaters moored near him.

Water Eaton is the final suburb of Milton Keynes and we moored up as soon as we found some Armco.  We wanted to make sure we were secure with the high winds forecast and didn’t fancy using mooring pins.   As we were mooring up, Buddy seemed very interested in something in the hedge.   

He had found a stone cat and appeared to have thought it was real at first

Moored at Water Eaton for Wednesday night (a bit shallow as you can see!)
Over the last two days we have travelled 25 miles through nine locks and, weather permitting, are still on schedule to be in Aylesbury by Saturday.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Bugbrooke (narrow passages at Clifton)

We had a half day on Saturday as we had got ahead of ourselves during the week.  We only had nine miles to cruise to get to Clifton Upon Dunsmore where we were meeting up with Chris & Sue (& Bracken) for drinks in the Bull.

On the way we stopped at Rugby where we did the weekly supermarket run to Tesco which is only a hundred yards or so from the canal.  A lot of boats seemed to be on the move and then we realised it was a Saturday.  The weekend is when continuous cruisers, who are still working, tend to move, especially in the winter when it’s dark by the time they get home from work during the week. 

As usual, everyone we met was happy and smiley, even if they were on a mission to get to their mooring location for the next fortnight.  Twice, guys told me it was moving day and I was reminded of when we used to be on similar missions.  A great advantage of this time of year is that mooring restrictions tend to be lifted, so handy 24/48-hour mooring sites in the middle of a town like Rugby, are extended to two weeks.

Approaching the Clifton Cruisers hire base we were confronted with the usual narrow passage on a bend.  In the winter they double and treble moor their boats across the cut meaning passing boaters have to assume that nothing is coming the other way and gingerly push through.

Usual winter narrow passage at Clifton Cruisers
Just around the corner from Clifton Cruisers there have been works going on either side of the waterway the last few times we have come through.  This time, we rounded the corner and were confronted with a new bridge in exactly the spot we were going to moor up for the day!

New bridge 66a
The bridge will carry a new road from a housing development near the Rugby Radio Station into Rugby town centre.

We moored up just beyond the works and had to use a gangplank to access the towpath for the first time for many months.

Our Saturday night mooring at Clifton Upon Dunsmore
After lunch we walked up to the Bull to meet Chris & Sue for the afternoon.  They brought their new puppy, Bracken, who is about eight weeks old and absolutely gorgeous.  They were nervous about how well behaved she would be and were afraid they might have to cut their visit short.  As it was, she was perfect, and we had a great 2 ½ hours catching up in the pub. 

Buddy, like most adult dogs, is aware when another dog is a puppy and will allow it to jump up and lick his face without any reaction.  Unfortunately, all the pictures of Bracken and Buddy together were out of focus.

We wanted to get onto the Grand Union canal at Braunston on Sunday as we were meeting Mike & Lesley in the Admiral Nelson later.

The sun was half out which helped make it a very pleasant cruise.  It wasn’t far until we were at the bottom of the Hillmorton locks.  These are three pairs of narrow locks, the second of each pair being added after the canal was opened in order to ease congestion.

Approaching the bottom locks at Hillmorton

Herb garden at the bottom lock which wasn’t there when we came down six months ago
When we got to the second pair, we could see two boats heading down the flight and, amazingly, two more heading towards us when we got to the top.  We must have seen over a dozen boats on the move during the day and most of them very new (judging by their licence numbers) and shiny.

We are now in an area where there are many expensive marinas with more being added.  One reason for the popularity is the number of canals that converge in the Braunston area and consequently the different options available for people choosing their holiday routes.  Most people today seemed to be taking advantage of the sun and taking their families on day trips in the fresh air – always a lovely thing to see.

Buddy always sits on the rear deck as close to the edge as possible and looking forwards down the side of the boat.  Today we got him to sit on the side lockers and he seemed quite happy – maybe he could see more.

Buddy’s new seating position
After a few miles we could see the distinctive church tower of Braunston in the distance and knew we didn’t have far to go.

Approaching Braunston
The winter moorings in Braunston were half full which must be a good for CRT as most winter mooring sites we have seen this year have been empty or very sparsely populated.  Winter mooring sites are put up for sale by CRT each year and purchasers may stay on the site without incurring any penalties for not moving.  They are available for the months of November to March inclusive. 

We bought a winter mooring three years ago at Stockton but never used it as we prefer to move around.  It did mean, however, that we were treated like marina boaters and could have a legitimate limited cruising range – ideal as Karen was working at the time.

At Braunston junction we joined the Grand Union canal and headed towards London as opposed to Birmingham.  Coming out of Braunston are six locks and we planned on getting to the top and mooring just before the tunnel for the night.

Heading for Braunston bottom lock
The locks from here until London are all broad so it is always good to share with another boat, both for water conservation and for ease of passage.  A guy was going up on his own, so we shared the locks with him.  He had just bought a boat share, and this was the first time he had been in locks, so he was pleased to have someone else to show him the ropes as it were.

As we were nearing the top, we saw a boat going into the top lock and they were clearly having some sort of issue so Karen went up to see them.  It was a couple of guys in a brand-new boat and, again, it was the first lock they had encountered so were taking a long time trying to work out how to operate it.

We moored for the day just before Braunston tunnel and had lunch. 

Moored between Braunston top lock and the tunnel
After lunch I walked Buddy across the top of the tunnel to the other side; the tunnel is just over a mile long and the path over the top is a very pleasant walk with good views of Northamptonshire and also passes the three tunnel air shafts.  To be honest the main reason for walking over the top was to check the path out as Karen would be running it in the morning - we wanted to be sure she wouldn't get lost!

Plaque put up in 1996 at the tunnel entrance commemorating 200 years since it was opened in 1796

The three air shafts

The old towing horses path across the top of the tunnel
The northern portal with its varied brick work
In the evening we wandered down the towpath to the Admiral Nelson for drinks with Mike & Lesley followed by a takeaway curry on the boat.  It goes without saying that we had a great time and a good catch up as it had been a few months since we were last together.

As we have found before at the top of the Braunston flight we had no phone, internet or TV signal, consequently this blog entry is a bit longer as it covers thee days rather than the usual two.

Monday was another dry day and we set off for Bugbrooke around nine.  First, we went through the mile long Braunston tunnel and for once, it was bone dry.  Well, there was water at the bottom of course but none coming through the roof.  A passage through the tunnel usually means the steerer gets wet from cascades of water – we have even seen people with umbrellas up going through the tunnel which is mad as it’s so dangerous. One other thing was that we only saw two of the three air shafts which was odd as they’re not easy to miss.

A couple of miles later we were going through Norton junction where the Leicester line heads north to (you’ve guessed it), Leicester and then on to Nottingham.

Hitting Norton junction
Just past Norton junction are the seven locks of the Buckby flight with a service point at the top where we stopped to take on water.  Monday is our washing day, so we always take on water as soon as the washing has finished then we know we’re topped up for the next few days.

Taking on water at the top of the Buckby flight
The locks seemed particularly difficult compared to how we remembered them as many of the bottom gates were extremely heavy.  We passed two boats on the move during the day and both of them were at bridge holes.  Both boats had got their noses in before I did so I gave way on both occasions. They do say that if you’re going to meet another boat it will be on a blind bend or at a bridge hole.

Once down the locks the canal runs alongside the M1 for a while (between junctions 16 & 17) and, for once, we were travelling faster than the traffic.

Traffic at a standstill on the M1
After stopping for lunch, we went through Weedon and Nether Heyford.   Weedon has always been spoilt as its on the junction of the A5 and A45.  A new bypass has been built (together with yet another new bridge across the cut) since we were last here.  It opened just a week ago and should have a big impact on the village in terms of the reduction in traffic volumes.  It should also make it more pleasant walking around the place.

There were plenty of kingfishers around and I’ve come to the conclusion that they can sense if I’m pointing my phone camera at them.  If I just pass them slowly and look at them, they will stay on their perch almost daring me to take a picture.  If I decide to take a picture when I see one in the distance, then it will fly off as soon as I reach it!

It was getting gloomy as we moored for the day just south of Bugbrooke.  We remember coming to Bugbrooke on a hire boat holiday many years ago with seven of the children, including bikes.  We all cycled into the village one evening to go to one of the pubs.  We seem to remember it was the first time Matthew had a beer in pub (well with us anyway).

Our mooring for Monday night
So, the last three days have seen us cover 31 miles through 12 locks leaving us just 46 miles and 41 locks to get to Aylesbury basin by Saturday.

The dark blue line is our journey for the last four weeks since leaving Skipton

Saturday 24 November 2018

Brinklow (where we sold the old Chalkhill Blue)

We awoke to ice inside the bedroom windows on Thursday morning which gave us a clue that it was frosty outside.  It certainly was frosty, but the sun was up at Fazeley junction as we left around 9.30am.

Getting ready to leave Fazeley junction on a gorgeous, frosty morning
One drawback of it being frosty on a boat is that the lines are frozen solid so are not so easy to handle and coil up.  With the sun on them they soon thaw out at this time of year as it doesn't tend to be freezing all day.

Karen and Buddy set off for a run and we arranged to meet up at Amington which is to the east of Tamworth.  They ran into Tamworth on their way to pick up some fresh pain au chocolate from Lidl.  Remember we think they sell the best out of all the supermarkets and they often have a special offer of three for £1.  An added bonus is that they reheat really well and still taste fresh when heated up several days later 😊

I turned left at the junction onto the Coventry canal and headed for Glascote locks.

Fazeley junction – right for Birmingham and left for Coventry

Going over the River Tame south of Tamworth
I was just going up the second of the pair of locks at Glascote when Karen and Buddy appeared.  She hadn’t finished her run but wanted to get rid of her backpack full of pain au chocolate 😉

A couple of miles later I picked her up as planned and we decided to cruise to the bottom of the Atherstone flight before stopping for lunch.  By now the sun had gone and it had turned quite murky and it stayed that way for the rest of the day.

As we cruised along, we discussed how we felt about travelling every day for practically five weeks in order to beat some lock closures.  We both felt it was a bit like being back at work.  Normally, if somewhere takes our fancy we can stop for a few days or so and have a good look around; not so with this schedule.  Still, we agreed it was still great fun and we were just as happy but in a different way and for different reasons.  I suppose it helps that we’re travelling a well-trodden path for us, so we don’t quite feel we are missing out on too much.

At one bridge we had to wait for a CRT workboat that seemed to be listing badly.  This was despite several guys (with cups of tea in hand) standing on the side to weigh it down.

It was only just after midday when we arrived at the Atherstone flight of 11 locks, so we decided to do the first four locks and then stop for lunch.  The schedule dictated that we stop for the day after the second lock, so we knew we would be ahead.

Coming up the bottom lock

There used to be a lock cottage on the right at this, the second lock up
We both really like the Atherstone flight as it is generally very pretty and varied, the first six locks being rural and open and the top five being near the town and closed in by tall trees.  They are also fun to do, with easy to wind paddles, gates that aren’t too heavy and nice long lock heads.  The long lock heads mean it’s easy to park the boat without tying it up and then close the gate while the other person is opening the gates of the next lock.

Over lunch we decided to do the rest of the flight and moor at the visitor moorings at the top.  In the end we carried on past the visitor moorings and moored up outside Mancetter in a nice rural spot we know well.

Moored at Mancetter for Thursday night
Getting ahead of schedule is good as it means we can take time off to do other things if we need to. For example, if we want down time or visit somewhere or if the weather is really grotty and we don’t fancy cruising.

This time it’s for a different reason, we’re meeting up with Chris & Sue on Saturday and Mike & Lesley on Sunday so being ahead relieves the pressure on getting to our agreed meeting points (pubs) ðŸ˜‰

We spent the rest of the day indoors and decided we’re going to have to bite the bullet and get a titre test done for Buddy in the next week or two.  A titre test is a blood test that proves he has the rabies antibody in his system.  If we remained part of the EU (or had a sensible exit if there is such a thing) this wouldn’t be necessary, but it looks more and more likely that the Brexit outcome will dictate that titre tests will be required. 

You may wonder why we don’t wait until March when we move to France, but the test shows up negative results in about 10% of cases.  The test also has to be done at least a month after the rabies injection so if there is a negative result then another rabies injection is required followed by another titre test a month later.  In addition, the rabies vaccination has to be done at least three months before the animal is brought back into the UK.

This is why the Government is recommending that titre tests are carried out four months before travel for those planning on returning to the UK on or after 29th March.  I know we plan on staying in France for longer but if there’s an emergency that requires us to come back to the UK then we don’t want the hassle of having to leave Buddy in kennels or quarantine.    

Breakfast view on Friday

The picture above shows how grey and murky it was on Friday morning and it stayed like that all day but at least it was dry most of the time and we got on the move soon after nine.  We had a pit stop for water at Springhaven marina after a couple of miles.  Water pressure there is really high so it saves a lot of time and as I had to buy a couple of things it was free (marinas often charge if you just go in for water). We then pressed on through Nuneaton and stopped for lunch at Hawkesbury junction which is where the top end of the Oxford canal meets the Coventry canal.

In the stop lock at Hawkesbury junction having come through the bridge onto the Oxford canal
Although the Oxford canal is rural for most of its 77-mile journey from Coventry it does run alongside the M6 for a mile or so at the top end.  We also went under the M69 and then the M6 itself before mooring up for the day just before Brinklow.

Between Ansty and Brinklow – still murky in the early afternoon
Just before we moored, we were slowly passing a line of permanent boats when we saw a boat skewed across the cut ahead of us.  We stopped to find out what the problem was, and it transpired that the guy had run out of diesel.  Unfortunately, we were heading in the wrong direction otherwise we would have towed him somewhere.  

I popped into the engine bay to check both of our jerry cans but they were empty, so we couldn’t help.  We left him on the phone to a mate who was on a boat a few miles away so hopefully it wasn’t long before he was sorted out.  

Moored for Friday night at Grimes bridge
We have moored at this spot several times in both the boats.  It was here that the guy, who bought our first boat from us, came to see it and we struck a deal there and then 😊

We've cruised 26 miles up 14 locks over the last two days.

Thursday 22 November 2018

Fradley (with a boating “buddy”)

Cruising companion for the day

We set off for Kings Bromley at nine on Tuesday morning.  There had been no frost overnight, but it felt chilly on the back of the boat as there was a fairly brisk breeze.  Still, the sun was shining, and we saw the odd kingfisher as we headed towards Great Haywood junction. 

Great Haywood junction is where the Staffordshire & Worcestershire canal leaves the Trent & Mersey and winds its way 46 miles down to the River Severn at Stourport.  We first went down the Staffs & Worcs in February 2015 – click here for a link

The beautiful (I think) bridge at the start of the Staffs & Worcs at Great Haywood junction
We stayed on the Trent & Mersey going down three locks and got through Rugeley before mooring up for lunch just before Armitage tunnel.  It started raining as we got to Rugeley and it didn’t stop for the rest of the afternoon.

Saying we moored near Armitage tunnel is a bit misleading as it is no longer a tunnel.  It is thought to be the first canal tunnel in the UK when it was opened in 1770.  The roof was removed in 1970 as the tunnel was suffering from subsidence caused by coal mining.  Now it is just a long cutting wide enough for one boat and with a kink at the end.  As there is a kink someone has to walk ahead to make sure the way is clear and stop any boats about to come the other way.  Fun when you have to do it on your own which I had to do twice when taking the old boat up north to swap it for the current one and then bring it back.

We moored by bridge 55 at Kings Bromley on Tuesday evening having covered 11 ½ miles down three locks.  Talking about miles and locks, Karen has pointed out that I made a mistake in the last entry rather than having 155 miles and 111 locks left to Aylesbury, I should have said 118 miles and 74 locks!

The rest of the day was spent indoors, and we finally decided what to do with the car when we’re in France next year.  We have been weighing up the pros and cons of various options including leaving it SORNed for a couple of years in the UK and hiring a French car if we come home for a holiday.  We have now decided that we will leave it in a port in France whilst we cruise and, when we pop back to the UK, find a way of picking up. 

I also got in touch with the ropemakers at Braunston to order the remaining lines and zigzag fenders we need for France.  We will pick these things up when we’re cruising through Braunston next Monday. 

Wednesday was our CRT boating buddy day.  This meant Adnan Saif, their West Midlands regional director, got to taste life for a day on a narrowboat and was able to try and see things from a boater’s perspective.

He was dropped off at the boat at nine and after our introductions and a safety (?) chat from me we set off.   We were heading for Fazeley and there were only three locks on the journey and he and Karen did them together under her excellent instruction.

Karen and Adnan getting ready to close up Wood End lock
Other than talking about boating, CRT and waterways we also covered some of the history of Yemen.  Adnan and his wife are both Yemenis and it was interesting hearing about the history and the current political situation of Yemen.  In return he seemed to be really interested in our way of life and our views on CRT, its current direction and what we think is good and what’s bad about the organization and its approach as a charity.

After the three locks we arrived at Fradley junction which is usually a honey trap for gongoozlers; today there were none to be seen.

Fradley junction with just Karen and Adnan in sight
We turned right at the junction onto the Coventry canal and stopped at Huddlesford for lunch.  Later in the afternoon we dropped Adnan off at Whittington just after the Coventry canal becomes the Birmingham & Fazeley canal.  It is now the Birmingham & Fazeley canal all the way to Birmingham.

Waving Adnan goodbye
While we had been cruising in the morning, we were on the look out for kingfishers as Adnan had never seen one.  He was unlucky I’m afraid and, ironically, we saw three in the next hour after we dropped him off.

I’ve probably mentioned this at least once before, but the northern stretch of the Birmingham & Fazeley is called the Coventry because the company building the Birmingham & Fazeley ran out of money, so the Coventry company stepped in and paid for the final five miles to the Trent & Mersey, so they could have the through link to those rivers and their cities.

After 13 ½ miles we were ready to retire for the evening when we arrived at Fazeley especially as it had turned a lot colder during the afternoon.