Thursday 19th July; Braunston tunnel (east past bridge 6) to Yelvertoft bridge 21
It was a very quiet night, and apart from a duck landing on the roof at stupid o’clock, and then an early morning runner, we were not disturbed till the builders started work at 8.30. We were ready to leave at 9.30 but had a short wait for a couple of kayakers to go by. They seemed to be doing training of some kind – an agreement for ‘5 then 15, right?’ which meant 5 gentle paddles each side then hell-for-leather for 15, followed by laughter. We hadn’t been going long before they were passing us again on their way back towards the junction.
One reason we stopped where we did last night was that the moorings before Norton junction have been semi-collapsed and adorned with red plastic fencing for a few years, so we were delighted to see some work in progress. We held back to allow a small tug to manoeuvre into position before passing.
There is a couple of hundred yards or so of shiny new piling being installed, though we will have to wait for the back-fill to settle before we can take advantage of it, I think.
We quietly trickled round the junction onto the Leicester section of the Grand Union. The pretty cottage on the junction is almost obscured by the willow.
The sun shone as we cruised gently through beautiful England toward the Watford Gap.
Gradually the noise of Watling Street (the A5) crept closer. When I was at school, we learned in Geography that Watford Gap was the only route through a vast and high range of hills. Watling Street, then the canal and railway, and finally the strange new thing called a Motorway all passed through it. It’s not quite as impressive as I imagined at school ……. and not obvious at all unless you look at the contours on the map.
The air was very still and the wind turbines we saw were not moving. We passed the back of Watford Gap motorway services; I once slipped through the fence to get some milk but that was years ago. The hedge and security fence prevent it now, though Nicholson’s still suggests coyly that ‘it is by no means inaccessible from the towpath’.
No-one was waiting at the bottom of Watford locks so we pulled in to wait while I went up to find the lockie. There were a few boats coming down so we moved onto the water point and filled up while we waited. The flow is better than the tap at the top and the tank was full just as word came for us to start up. How convenient was that? We passed the last boat coming down in the bottom pound, and were soon through the second lock and approaching the staircase.
While we worked up the staircase I heard about the latest boater who hadn’t come up to book in, and was in the bottom of the staircase before he was spotted, just in time for the lockies to avert the flooding of the bottom side pond. The first notice about booking in before you start the locks is badly placed, so he could easily have missed that one, but …. His excuse was that the crew ‘didn't know where to find the lockie’.
This is at the bottom of the flight! You have to walk round it!
And they had got the paddles completely wrong so clearly hadn’t even read the instructions – which are on the lock beam. We had three lovely lockies – why wouldn’t you want their help?
There was a boat already on the facilities mooring at the top, so we were glad we had already filled up. Dave passed me the cassette and the rubbish to deal with while he took Chuffed out of the top lock, and waited under the motorway bridge for me to catch him up.
It didn’t take long to reach the tunnel, which we had forgotten has a very wet north end!
As we neared the first bridge, somewhat damply, there was a boat the other side approaching between boats moored on both banks, so we pulled in and moored up straight away. We had some lunch then I went up to the village shop and was delighted to find some runner beans for sale, freshly picked from a local allotment. On the way back I found this sign – we have seen another too, and remember them from previous trips.
Now I’m back at home with a decent internet signal and electricity supply, and Calcutt is sorting out the dodgy alternator, I’ve managed to find out that Living Milestones are trees that were planted by the Old Union Canals Society, at least 19 of them, but nothing else. The two we saw were right up against overgrown hedges. I have emailed them for more information.
Before we got going again we had to wash the roof and the port side of the boat. The duck that had crash-landed on the roof at dawn had very generously left its calling card – more than one unfortunately - and the few branches above us must have been a roost for some other birds. Between them they had left a right old mess.
NB Wea-ry-Tired (pronounced we are retired) came past from the tunnel before we left and moored further along. They were at pains to point out that their boat is the original one with that name! We were astonished that there are three or four others as well. it’s an amusing pun but I wouldn’t want people to think I am ‘weary tired’ all the time because that is how I always read it.
We went on past Yelvertoft visitor moorings, where we could have just squeezed in, but preferred to be on our own and moored just before bridge 21. The only shade was beside the boat, but as Meg would need a walk and we fancied a beer I got the evening meal prepared before we walked back to the visitor moorings (with a pause for Meg to have a drink at the water tap) then down the lane to chill for a while in the pub garden with a refreshing pint. It was a bit cooler by the time we got back.
It was far too hot to eat inside the boat, so we sat outside and watched the cows come home. They were mostly cows with calves, all slowly wending their way back to the bridge and down behind the towpath hedge.
The Big Daddy was with them too, though this isn’t him – I just liked the reflection.
The wind turbine at Yelvertoft marina had been turning slowly as we passed. Here it is behind the trees on the far hill.
It was a T-shirt-and-shorts-outside-on-the-bank-till-after-8.30 sort of day, in the wonderful Northamptonshire countryside. How lucky we are.
About 9 miles, 7 locks (Watford flight), Crick tunnel.