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

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