Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Remind me why we do this …….

Sunday 12th February; Marston Doles to Calcutt Marina

Another dismal, freezing and sleety day.  We have stuff to do at home in the week and had to get back to the marina today so, fully clad in thermals and multiple layers, off we went.  In spite of my little mishap with the spinning windlass yesterday, we like the Napton flight; the locks are gentle enough on the way up as long as you get the bow right forward before opening the paddles, they are reasonably quick (unless a paddle is out, which was the case for two of the locks) and the offside bottom gates are amenable to being opened from the towpath side by pushing with one foot as you stand on the footboard of the other; even someone of my height can do it, although I have to position carefully and hold on tight to the handrail.  And when it’s dry and I’m not wearing full wet-weather gear, I can take a step across the gap when closing up.  I don’t jump – if I can’t get my hands on the handrail straight away as my trailing foot leaves the other gate I don’t do it.  I certainly don’t do it if there are children around but we haven’t seen any gongoozlers or young holidaymakers this trip!  And if I’ve got wet-weather trousers on it’s too restricting and feels unsafe, so today there was a lot of extra walking.

On the towpath I met a lady I have seen before in this area.  She runs with her dogs and likes to do 20 miles on a Sunday.  She has three collie-types and though the oldest one, who is 14, has to be dropped off at home after 12 miles, the others do the full distance with her.  Impressive, as she is of rather mature years, especially in this weather. 

I didn’t get particularly cold this morning because of the lock work, but poor Dave did.  We were able to moor above the bottom Napton lock, but only just – four boats were already there.  We quickly removed a few layers and changed into something a little less muddy and were in the Folly at midday.

1 roaring fire in the folly

What a wonderful sight!  We had a lovely roast lunch and if we hadn’t had commitments next week we would have had a drink or two and stayed for the afternoon’s live music – but as we were were still cruising it was just orange juice and a pot of tea.  We haven’t been in the Folly for some years and I was rather taken aback to meet Venus in the Ladies’ loo.

2 venus in the ladies loo

She presumably goes out into the garden in the summer! 

We gritted our teeth, got togged up again and were on our way by 2.  Moored nearby was Norma Jeane, who we had passed on the way to Fenny the other day.  Dave had a quick chat with Stuart who popped out as he passed.  I got a snap of their eye-catching artwork as I walked up to the lock.

3 norma jeane artwork

We stopped at the services to empty the cassettes and do the rubbish – a great deal more convenient than using the marina facilities which on our mooring means dragging your trolley for over a quarter of a mile.  By the time we were on our way, three boats had gone up the bottom lock, including a hire boat and a share, the crew of both with big grins and clearly enjoying themselves in spite of the dire weather.  We passed another two boats as we cruised to Napton Junction, though they were rather less cheerful as the wind was blowing the icy rain right into their faces.  

Last year we reported a section of collapsing towpath with holes to catch the unwary.  CRT have fenced it off, but I wonder how long it will be before anything gets done.  The path behind it has rather a steep camber I seem to remember.

5 the collapsing towpath we reported last year

Calcutt locks took a while to get down – the boat in front was leaving a bottom gate open, which was annoying, but to my relief they shut up the bottom lock when they saw us coming down behind them.  Even though it was still before 4 the light was going and I hate locking in poor light.  The wind had got up by now and was whipping across the marina – there was already a boat trying to moor which had been blown broadside across the end of their pontoon and the same happened to us.  We got off again with some difficulty and went in bow first.  While we still had our wet-weather gear on we removed the mooring ropes and tied up using the centre lines.  We will take the mooring lines home to wash – they are green with algae and full of grit.  As are the centre ropes of course, and we’ll do them next time.

10 locks, 4 miles

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Doleful at Marston Doles

Saturday 11th February; Fenny Compton to Marston Doles

There was a thin layer of snow on the boats this morning and sleety snow in the air.  I took Meg up to the village – we needed a few bits from the shop and she needed a walk as she wasn’t going to get too much of one on the towpath today.  The snow looked quite pretty though there wasn’t much of it.

1 snow in Fenny We were away at about 10, aiming to get below Marston Doles locks today so that we have plenty of time to get to the Folly for Sunday lunch.  It was miserable weather for cruising; it snowed for a while, which was ok, then it turned to sleety drizzle which made it seem even colder in the keen wind.  There was a boat moored at the Wedding Bridge, well tucked up with their fire lit. 3 wedding bridge bit different from last summer

Rather different from when we stopped here last year in baking heat! 

7 shady mooring

Apart from a distant view of a deer there was very little to see as visibility was rather poor.  Needing to warm up, we had a quick lunch stop in the Priors Hardwick area with some hearty soup made from casserole leftovers.  We set off again smartish, aiming to get below Marston Doles locks where there is a good stretch of piling.  It was still sleeting and freezing cold but these sheep didn’t seem to be worried.

4 sheep in the snow

Everything went well till we reached the top lock.  It was empty; no problem.  But it just wouldn’t fill enough to open the top gate.  I checked the bottom paddles – one wasn’t quite down – so I sorted that, waited, trotting up and down to try and get warm, and still no joy.  Dave came to help, as my boots were slipping on the brick surround, but to no avail.  There was nothing for it but to empty the lock to see if anything was stuck between the bottom gates. There seemed to be a small quantity of cuttings from the vegetation clearance that has been carried out; nothing big, but we thought we’d try again anyway.  I went to close the paddle again but wasn’t paying attention and tried to do it from the wrong side of the balance beam.  I think your brain slows down when your feet are cold.  My hand slipped off the windlass,  the paddle whizzed down and the windlass clouted my elbow.  (I have to confess the air was blue for just a tiny second).  But the paddle wasn’t damaged, the windlass stayed on land and I didn’t seem to have broken anything, and as the lock filled again we could see what must have caused the problem.  Amid the bits of bramble and small twigs was a finger-thick length of willow.  As I pulled it all out it was clear there was more like six or eight similar lengths, quite enough to stop the lock filling properly. After that excitement we were quickly down the two locks and moored, and I was lighting the fire before Dave had finished closing up the back.  Copious applications of arnica were applied to my poor elbow and Dave got to cook the tea.

2 locks, 6 miles

Saturday, 11 February 2017

A bit of snow

Friday 10th February; Marston Doles to Fenny Compton

Another freezing cold day and no locks to warm us up.  But we were only going to Fenny Compton so there was no need for an early start.  We were in quite a sheltered spot last night, out of the wind.  The towpath wasn’t particularly muddy, either.

1 moored near marston doles

There were flakes of snow in the wind as we set off but at least the bends in the canal meant that we were out of the icy wind for at least some of the time.  The person who lives in the boat in the field seems to be there to stay – he/she’s got a washing line anyway – but with no way out other than across a muddy field their boots must be thick with mud every time they come back to the boat.  They have got a good wide metal gangplank but that looked pretty muddy.

2 moored in a field

Apart from a hire boat that passed us while we were having breakfast, we saw only one boat on our way to Fenny.  It was Jo and Stuart, the professional boat movers with whom we locked up the Stockton flight last year.  This time they were on their own boat, NB Norma Jeane.  It was a pretty uneventful cruise after that.  The HS2 placards are still in evidence.  I’m not sure whether there’s any point to them now.

             4 no hs2  5 no hs2

We saw a couple of kestrels but they were not very obliging and both flew off when they saw my camera.  It’s a new one, with better zoom than the old one.  Most disappointing.

6 kestrel

We also saw a white pheasant but there were too many bushes in the way for a picture.  White pheasants are specially bred for the shoots; I think they are bought in as eggs, and once the pheasants are grown they tend to hang around together.  The white ones are easy to see, so the gamekeepers know where most of the birds are and can more effectively decide where the beaters should operate.  I couldn’t find out much but it appears that if you are on a shoot and you bag the white one (leucistic I think is the correct term) you get fined.  I tried to check this info – we had a white one in the garden a few years ago – but I can’t find the original source for my info.  I hope I’ve remembered it correctly.

Then we saw  this poor chap – bet he’s cold!

7 he looks cold

As we passed Wormleighton we noticed how visible the lumps and bumps have become where the mediaeval village must have been.  We have only been this way before in the summer, when the grass has been growing and the reeds and vegetation high and we could never see anything of interest.

8 wormleighton

All the way from Napton we have seen evidence of CRT vegetation clearance activity since the summer and that may have helped.  The weather remained mostly overcast with the odd spell of snow, but occasionally a few shreds of blue sky appeared, though they didn’t last long.

We arrived at Fenny Compton just before lunchtime and Dave winded while we considered our mooring options.  There was one spot on the moorings below the bridges, but the towpath is very muddy there.  We waited on the water point and he walked up to check the size of a space further along on the bend.  We had to pause while another boat turned, but thankfully he went away and didn’t pinch that space! before Dave took us gently back past the two moored boats and we slotted neatly in.  Silky manoeuvring!

After some warming soup for lunch we set off in the gently falling snow.  Meg needed her walk after all, and so did we with no locks today!

11 off for a snowy walk

We walked to the turnover bridge where the de-roofed Fenny Compton tunnel starts, crossed over and went up onto the road to turn back over the canal and pick up the footpath to Fenny Compton.  When we cruised through the ‘tunnel’ in the summer there was barely room for a single boat in places – now I would say it’s as wide as it’s ever been.

12 fenny tunnel veg has been trimmed

It was a bit of a slog through the mud up Mill Hill but not really that hard.  At the top is the lovely Mill House with the mill on the end incorporated into the living quarters;

12 mill house fenny

then it was downhill into Fenny and we came out just up from the shop.  The sun came out as we neared the canal, and we were able to clean our boots, wet-weather trousers and the dog before the cloud came over and the snow started again.  By then we were snug and cosy inside.

We went up to the Wharf for a meal and a pint – the beer was ok, the meal was fine, the place was warm and comfortable – not a lot more to say really.

8 miles, no locks

Friday, 10 February 2017

First cruise of the year

Wednesday 8th and Thursday 9th February; Calcutt marina to Marston Doles

Not the most wonderful cruising weather …. we drove up yesterday, leaving the sunshine behind at Bristol.  Calcutt was cold and grey (though with the usual warm welcome in the office).  Dave’s first and most important task was to refit the Mikuni heater which he brought home after our last cruise for a clean-up.  With a new mantle and thoroughly de-coked it sprang into life and with the fire lit too the boat soon warmed up. 

It was jolly cold last night but no frost this morning as we set off for our first cruise of the year.  By 9.30 we were approaching our first lock – whichever way you go from Calcutt you will reach a lock pretty soon but this one is just above the marina entrance.

1 calcutt bottom locl

Meg hopped off as soon as she could, happy to be pottering around as I worked the locks.  Plan A had been to top up the water above the locks, as the water supply to the pontoons in the marina is turned off till next month.  Although there is a tap under a manhole cover at the end of each mooring bay, our hose isn’t long enough to reach it.  Anyway, the first boat we saw on the move happened to be slipping onto the water point as we came up the top lock!  No problem really, we just went on towards Napton past the forlorn Bridge Inn which has been closed for a while.

2 forlorn Bridge inn 

It’s such a shame.  We’ve had some good meals there in the past.  I suppose it’s quite hard to survive when the King’s Arms up the road is so much closer to the village.

We watered up at Napton, though we didn’t fill the tank as we are only out for a few days and we’d only have to drain most of it out again if we fill it right up.  Then off up the locks, with Meg ecstatically belting up and down as I lockwheeled.  The work soon warmed me up in spite of the icy wind but Dave was grateful for his big jacket.

5 well wrapped up

We wondered about an early lunch stop at Shut Bridge, where the moorings were empty, but decided to carry on for a while.  In spite of the cold and overcast sky it was still great to be out in the countryside.

4 lovely in spite of cold

The water buffalo were nowhere to be seen on the way up – perhaps they go indoors for the winter – but we saw our first canal lambs of the season.

7 at napton adkins

We pulled in above Napton Adkins lock for lunch. We didn’t stop for long and carried on to Marston Doles where this is painted on a wall by one of the locks; it says ‘Gaz Moorhouse  RIP  Shardlow’ so we presume he was a boater.

8 rip at marston doles

The visitor moorings above the top lock are designated winter moorings, and although there was just room for us on the end we went on to the stretch of piling on the way to Prior’s Hardwick, out in the country and quiet away from the road.  And we saw our third moving boat of the day.  Busy!

At the back end of last season, the wooden panel that was glued to the underside of the sliding hatch had rotted and was coming off.  Dave had prepared a replacement at home but didn’t have the right glue when we came up last time, so got that done as soon as we had stopped.  No photos – I was too busy lighting the fire and getting the kettle on.

12 locks, 5 miles