Saturday 13 December 2014

Excellent poem on the first canal ice of the winter

Poem from Jo Bell, the Canal Laureate.

I particularly liked the way she describes the  chilled air gathering around your feet.  (Not the actual feeling obviously).
 ice on B&W
Worcester and Birmingham, 2013

Thursday 11 December 2014

Stats for 2014

These figures are only approximate as I omitted to keep a running total at the time.  So I’ve just done a quick spreadsheet based on the Captain's Log, the paper record of our trips which is often written in haste (apart from the engine hours which Dave looks after).  It’s strange though that the number of locks is so high when we seemed to be travelling so many long lock-free stretches this year.  I suspect the Stratford canal may have had something to do with that.

Miles travelled
Engine hours
Moveable bridges
Days on board

5 port of berkhamstead
July; sunny day on new waters.

Waterways cruised
Kennet and Avon canal
River Thames (Reading to Brentford)*
Grand Union canal (part*), including Paddington*, Wendover* and Aylesbury* arms
Hertford Union canal*
River Lea navigation*
Stratford-on-Avon canal
Worcester and Birmingham canal
Birmingham Main Line including Soho* and Icknield Port* loops
Birmingham and Fazeley canal
Coventry canal
North and South Oxford canal
* for the first time

Places visited
Devizes, Newbury, Reading, Kingston, Paddington, Hertford, Aylesbury, Stratford-on-Avon, Birmingham, Fazeley, Rugby

Marinas stayed at
Caen Hill, Froud’s Bridge, Packet Boat, Heyford Fields (blacking only), Calcutt.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

All tucked up now

Thursday 4th and Friday 5th December

Another gloomy start but with no wind which boded well for manoeuvring in the marina!  We left our muddy mooring at Braunston and went straight down towards Calcutt.  Dave commented as we approached the scrawny bridge 100 near Flecknoe, ‘Not very impressive for the Hundredth Bridge on the Grand Union Canal’!

1 bridge 100 on GRAND union

We passed a boat with extremely tidy wood on the roof.

2 beautifully stacked wood

As we negotiated the bends before bridge 102, we had a momentary doubt – surely there aren't any lift bridges on this section?

5 not a swing bridge

But it was a tipper lorry on the road.  The workmen were still busy – this cheery chap kindly paused his bricklaying till we had passed!

3 cheery bricklayer

4 cheery workers

I wonder if this is one of the bridges that has suffered a ‘hit-and-run’ accident?

It was quiet for the rest of the trip to Calcutt, though we were able to share the top lock with  share boat Festina Lente with their amusing graphic before we pulled in at the wharf to fill up with diesel.  We went down the remaining locks by ourselves before Dave reversed us smoothly into our mooring.  We spent the rest of the daylight doing outside jobs, including cleaning up the mud!

We’d been really looking forward to a nice meal at the Bridge, having arrived after the kitchen closed on our last visit.  So we jumped in the car.  But in spite of all the lights being on, the doors were locked, the bar deserted and a small note on the door declared that they were closed this week.  Weird!  So we back-tracked to the King's Head only to find no parking at all as it was Gourmet Burger night and the place was heaving.  So back to the boat for bacon and mushroom baguettes followed by some left-over crumble and custard.  Not as exciting as a meal out but much cheaper!

On Friday morning we packed and tucked up Chuffed for the winter.  Back home to catch up with the Christmas shopping!

5 miles 3 locks.

Happy Christmas!

Monday 8 December 2014

Sunny Hillmorton, chilly Rugby, muddy Braunston

Tuesday 2nd December

After yesterday’s gloom it was a lot brighter this morning with tantalising shreds of blue sky.  We watched a flock of starlings having their breakfast in the field opposite while we had ours inside in the warm before pulling pins, well wrapped up in the icy wind.   The starlings came too, and were soon joined by a flock of redwings and fieldfares, diving into the hawthorns for the few remaining berries before we chugged along to disturb them.  Eventually they all took off over the hedge and back the way they came, leaving us alone on the cut.

It was deserted all the way to Hillmorton locks, unlike last time we came this way when we had to wait as a CRT work boat brought the new Hillmorton gates slowly through the Barby moorings.  At the locks I had to turn the first two, then we met the first boat of the day rising up the bottom one.  I only took a couple of photos today – this bunny on the towpath.  An escapee?

1 towpath bunny  2 towpath bunny

We carried on in sunshine to get to the Brownsover moorings in time for lunch.  We were able to moor on the park side so, to Meg’s great delight, Dave took her out for a great game of ball. 

Then we walked into Rugby, which we’ve never visited before, as we’ve always found the moorings chocker when we’ve wanted to stop before.  It’s a fair trek, and in spite of the  freezing wind we were glad we’d removed the thermals before we set off!  We weren't terribly impressed with the town centre, though I’m sure it feels more welcoming in summer.  We aren’t great rugby football fans (Dave’s a dyed-in-the-wool Spurs supporter) so didn’t want to visit the Webb Ellis museum, nor look at the school, so we went to the town museum and Art Gallery instead.  We only looked at the art bit – an exhibition of Japanese wrapping cloths (a bit specialist) and the local art group’s show.  But it was warm, and we did manage to get a couple of Christmas presents in their shop.

We went back via Tesco and it was nearly dark when we got back to Chuffed.  Fire lit, we settled down for an evening in.

6 miles, 3 locks

Wednesday 3rd December

In spite of the racket from the road we slept in and the frost had long gone from the park by the time we got going.  We went past the next bridge to turn, passing Waiouru who must have arrived while we were out yesterday afternoon.  No-one around unfortunately.

1 waiouru at brownsover

It was lovely cruising in the glorious sunshine.  Meg was quite comfortable without her little coat, even in the occasional shady bits. 

 7 no coat today  

At Hillmorton we went up one side while the tug ahead of us went up the other.  A local liveaboard helped us both through the middle locks, retrieving a floating tyre as we waited for the lock.  He had been having trouble with the lower pound dropping overnight and was grumbling that the lower lock leaks hadn’t been fixed while the other work was going on.  We left him running another lockful through to the lower pound.  There was still frost on the beams where they were in shadow, even at lunchtime.

5 leaving hillmorton

As the canal goes round a bend Rugby Cement works (which we’d seen on our walk into town) came into view on the horizon.  How much of that plume is dust I wonder?  or is it all steam and wasted heat, as at power stations?

8 rugby cement works

About 100 geese were grazing in the fields on the offside.  To start with we thought the greylags had segregated themselves from the canadas, but the last group was a mixture of the two.

9 grey lags  10 canadas too

We had a quick glimpse of a kingfisher too.  As we approached Braunston the sun was very low, in our eyes a lot of the time, and the shadows it cast showed up the mediaeval strips.  I’ve never managed to get a photo to show them clearly before.  According to WIkipedia the strips are called selions and were typically one furlong (660 ft) long and one chain (66 ft) wide, giving an area of one acre.

11 strip farming `   12 strip farming 2

A slightly different photo of the church anyway!  We moored before the main road bridge in case there wasn’t room further along, and went off to the chandlery for some insulation strip for the hopper windows and then for a walk round the village and back past the marina.  There was space to moor but by now it was too dark to move safely.  We passed Milly M but didn’t see Maffi, and then picked our way back through the mud to Chuffed. 

9 and a half miles, 3 locks.

Sunday 7 December 2014

Winter canal fix 2: a short trip on the North Oxford

This is posted after the event.  We usually forget something on our trips – Dave has forgotten his thermals in winter, and I’ve also left my glasses and phone charger behind.  This time I forgot the camera lead to download my photos to the laptop, so the blog will have to wait. I  forgot my purse too, though as I know where Dave keeps his cash that’s not a problem …
Anyway, I’m posting this now we’re back home.

Sunday 30th November
At last a dry forecast matched a free week so we drove up to Calcutt for a few days on Chuffed.  We had a good journey up, sailing merrily past the poor souls waiting to leave the M5 to do their Christmas shopping at Cribbs Causeway (the enormous shopping centre near Bristol).  Although it was still sunny it was too late to get very far, so we stayed in the marina on the shoreline and got on with some jobs.  I didn’t take any photos today so here’s one of Meg last night wondering whether the packing activity meant another boating trip!
wheres my sleeping bag
Dave’s first job was topping up the antifreeze on the Mikuni so we could start warming the boat up.   Summer or winter, my first job is always turning on the gas and making a cuppa!   We get condensation dripping from the mushroom vents, particularly above the cooker, so I had some mopping up to do as I’d forgotten to cover the cooker top before we left last time.  Then I spent a few minutes fiddling about with matches to dry a burner so the gas would burn properly.   Chuffed looked surprisingly dirty outside even though Dave had washed her down before we finished the last trip, so out came the mop for the starboard side before it got too dark to see what he was doing.  Meanwhile I sorted out the fire for the first use since that glorious autumn.  Seems so long ago!

I’d thought last trip that my camera was kaput – it only showed a few of the photos I took.  I spent some time with Google at home and finally, after cleaning the memory card I realised it hadn’t been properly locked in place.  These are a couple of my ‘test’ photos – a squirrel decided to bury a whole sweetcorn cob in the flowerbed at home (the blurry bit is rain on the window).

  P1030067  P1030064
It took three attempts before it managed to dig a hole big enough, hauling it out again for each new attempt.  The funniest bit was seeing it stamping its little front feet to pat down the earth afterwards.  Where it got a whole cob from at the end of November I have no idea – the local maize harvest is long finished and the rooks and deer finish off any spills from that.

Back to the boat.  We hadn’t decided where to go this trip before we left home, so once it got dark we sat down with Nicholson’s and another cup of tea with some yummy Christmas snacks – I won a hamper at the village church Christmas Fair last week!  We think we’ll make for Rugby and try to start our Christmas shopping; we’ve never actually stopped there before though we’ve been past many times. 
We spent a cosy evening on board.  When Dave took Meg out at bedtime there was a skim of ice on the pontoon and I could hear the owls calling as I turned out the light.

Monday 1st December
It was so overcast when I woke up I though it was only about 7 – it was actually after 8 but with that horrible flat sheet of dismal grey cloud which didn’t lift all day.   
As I was having breakfast I felt I was being watched – this coot and a couple of mallard were peering up through the window.  Aren’t coot feet wonderful?  Their toes seem longer in proportion to their body size than the mallard’s – I suppose they need to be as their feet are lobed rather than webbed.
1 welcoming committee  2 coot feet

Dave checked the engine and did the brasses while I went up to the office to pick up Towpath Talk and buy some coal, and we finally got away around 11.30, missing sharing the bottom lock by about 10 minutes.  But someone else came along so we had company at all 3 locks.  We left him waiting for the water point as Zulu with butty Alsager made ready to follow us up to the junction. 

The heavy cloud cover made snapping the view a waste of time so I took a few of Meg instead.  She enjoyed pottering around at the locks and then took up her usual position overseeing Dave in his steering duties.
3 keeping an eye on dave

Dear old Tess was a collie/lab cross so had lovely thick warm fur.  But Meg has whippet somewhere in her ancestry and gets cold quite quickly when she’s not running about.  She is lightweight and skinny too, so a coat that isn’t too loose round the chest is a bit short for her back so when we get home I’ll have to make her a nice fleecy one to keep her bum warm too.  She loves sitting on the locker and sniffing the air but even with her coat on the nasty thin north-east wind sent her inside before long. 

We had a good morning bird-spotting – I’d heard fieldfares chacking their way over the marina and we saw a flock of them with redwings too.  Nearby was a large flock of finches, though the light level was so low I could only recognise the chaffinches.  Then we heard the high-pitched call of a bird of prey and there was a sparrowhawk (we are pretty sure it wasn’t a kestrel as we saw one of them later) harassing a pair of crows.  I’ve only ever seen birds of prey on the receiving end of that before!

We stopped near Flecknoe for lunch, then donned another layer of clothing before cracking on under bridge 102 which is being repaired.

4 work at bridge 102 flecknoe

On towards Braunston turn and Meg was out again keeping an eye on things.
5 what can she see

We had hoped to call in at the chandlery, but their mooring was taken (by Fizzical Attraction) so we’ll try again on our way back. On we went towards Rugby.  There were lots of boats on the move this morning – we’d seen 12 by the time we got to the turn, but after that nothing stirred apart from us and a couple of hardy walkers.  There were some intriguing smells apparently though and I don’t think it was Dave’s tea!

6 investigating by nose

n the greyness, the light seeped away so gradually that it was getting dark before we realised, but we managed to find a reasonably un-muddy spot between Willoughby and Barby in time for Dave to take Meg out before it got too dark to see.

Another cosy evening in and an internet signal too, though this won’t get posted till I can upload my photos.

8 and a half miles, 3 locks.

Monday 17 November 2014

Winter canal fix 1: the Exeter Ship Canal (part 1)

Saturday 15th November
Time for a canal fix!  Our nearest canal is only a few miles from home, but very short and with few convenient access points.  We moored parked at Salmonpool swing bridge, about a mile from the terminus in Exeter, having driven through a large industrial estate.   salmonpool swing bridge
This is the view over the swingbridge towards Exeter, with the industrial estate visible to the left of the pylon.  To the right is a scruffy carpark, some changing rooms (I think) and playing fields.  If you turn round though you get a much better view … the startling reflections caught Dave’s eye.reflections south of salmonpool swingbridge
The canal terminus is below the city of Exeter and close to the river Exe.  Seagoing ships had sailed up the river to Exeter for trade, but some time around 1280 in the reign of Edward I, Isabella de Fortibus, Countess of Devon, had a weir built across the river downstream to power her mills.  Unfortunately for Exeter, this not only damaged its salmon fishery but also prevented ships getting up the river to trade.  So ships were forced to unload (and pay harbour dues) at Topsham, which itself became a thriving port.  Despite Exeter traders’ petitions to various kings, permission to remove the weir was not granted till 1550 – by which time the Exe above the weir had silted up and passage of ships was impossible.  So Exeter traders paid for a canal to be constructed and the first part of the Exeter Ship Canal was opened in 1566. This is what the Quay looks like today, from the canal basin side.
It is the oldest surviving ship canal in England.  To start with it was less than two miles long and had three locks – the first pound locks in Britain.  However, boats still had to pay dues to pass Topsham, and the canal could not be reached at all stages of the tide.  By 1701, however, it had been extended and the three locks were replaced by a single one, known as Double Locks. The cut was then 10’ deep, 50’ wide and could carry coasters of up to 150 tons. This is what Double Locks looks like today.  It’s huge – as well as allowing passage of sea-going vessels, it was also used as a passing place.  Max dimensions given in Nicholson’s are Length 122’, beam 26’3”, draught 9’9” and headroom 32’9”.  The lock itself is longer than 122’, but the canal basin (according to Nicholson) is only 120’ wide …..  I think one figure must be wrong there.double locks from the top
The white post nearer the middle of the photo is to lock the top gate closed – at the moment the top gates are locked open, and you can just see the end of the balance beam locked to the white post on the left. The pontoon to the left of the towpath runs along most of the lock and you can just see the bottom gates with the Double Locks pub below them.   The paddle gear looks familiar – bottom gates on the left, top on the right.
paddle gear bottom gates double locksThere is winch gear in place to operate the gates – they look pretty heavy!
paddle gear top gate double locks
In 1825 the canal was extended a further two miles as far as Turf Lock, where it meets the Exe estuary on the opposite side of the river from Topsham.  Exeter was a busy port, but activity started to reduce in the early nineteenth century when the wool trade ceased, and then of course when in 1861 the railway reached Exmouth (situated at the mouth of the river, as you may have guessed) its fate as a port was sealed.  However the canal was still used commercially after the war and the last commercial vessel sailed out of Exeter in 1972. 
The basin today has been poshed up and the Piazza Terracina is an attractive square with restaurants, canoe hire and the Quay Climbing Centre nearby.  It is also the end of various races organised by local running clubs, such as the First Chance 10k, run in January, and weekly Parkruns The warehouses on the far side of the basin (below) used to contain the Exeter Maritime Museum.
warehouses at basin - ex museum
This was a fascinating collection of boats and ships of the world, which our kids loved - smaller things such as a coracle and dugout canoe inside, and larger craft in the basin outside.  Unfortunately it closed in 1997 but some of the collection can still be seen at Eyemouth in Berwickshire.  For more info and photos of the exhibits, see   The tower on the right of the picture is the climbing wall at the Haven Banks outdoor pursuits centre.
  turntable at basin
There are few other reminders of the basin’s busy trading past.  This is a turntable used for trucks which ran along the rails – there is another set of rails running off to the right along the side of the basin. One set is standard gauge and the other broad.  It was one of two turntables in use, and was excavated in 1985 as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of God’s Wonderful Railway which ran through Exeter. (Still does though it’s not called that now!)

The basin is still used by leisure craft, of which there is a huge variety.  As we walked up to the basin, we passed a long line of boats laid up for the winter, either moored or on the hard standing – a yacht had just been craned out alongside what looked like small fishing boats.  Most of these have their summer moorings on the estuary at Topsham or Lympstone, and come onto the canal for the winter.  Still in the water were larger boats like these - the one in front had an MOD plate and may have been a troop carrier. 
ex mod ship near basin
We walked down as far as the main road and bascule bridge at Countess Wear, two miles from the basin.  The village here (now swallowed up by Exeter) was named after Isabella and her weir.
bascule bridge from towpath
  countess wear bridge far side
The control tower is not manned full-time so any boat wishing to pass  - indeed, any boat wishing to enter the canal – must book with the Exeter Harbour Office and pay the fee.  The road is very busy so it’s probably just as well the canal is not heavily used – just summer boat trips and at either end of the summer when boats pass through on their way to and from the basin.
We stopped for lunch at Double Locks, the pub by the lock.  It’s a lovely setting and very popular in the summer.  Road access is not easy – through the Industrial estate, over the swing bridge and down a single-track road, watching out for the cyclists who share it (luckily you can walk the towpath on the other side of the canal to avoid them).  In spite of that it’s always busy in summer as it’s a pleasant walk from Exeter through the playing fields. Dave and Meg were quite keen to get there  …..
double locks pub
How dog-friendly is this?  Clean towels hanging on the wisteria!
dog friendly  dog towels at double locks
Meg could have stretched out by the fire but it was far too warm inside!  So we sat outside happily listening to the rush of water over the lock gates.  This is as close as we got to any narrowboats though.
double locks pub sign
For further info and some interesting photos, especially of the shipping of the past, visit

Saturday 1 November 2014

Hopwas Woods saved from quarrying threat

A large part of Hopwas Woods - the size of 44 football pitches – has been under threat of destruction for the creation of a sand and gravel quarry.  (For those not familiar with the location, it’s on the Coventry canal near Tamworth and Fazeley Junction).

There was a massive adverse reaction from the public, locals of course as well as organisations such as the Woodland Trust.  I’ve just had an email from the Woodland Trust to say the plan’s been dropped, thank goodness!

Here’s the story -

Friday 24 October 2014

Living on the London Canals – radio feature


Just heard a feature on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours about living on a boat in London.

There was a guy who’s done it ‘right’ ie he’s paying for a mooring on the Regent's Canal, someone from the Friends of the Regent's Canal who can see the problems, a woman who says she is a Continuous Cruiser and a CRT guy.  The woman who has the CC license said she has to ‘follow the rules’ so she moves every 2 weeks – ‘as far as I think is fair …..I think that’s the best I can do’.  I wonder quite how far that is?

The CRT guy reckons they ‘will enforce when we have to’ which rather sounds as though they are not doing it now ……  He was not asked anything about the current problems for genuine CC-ers and other visitors.

Here is the link to it -

Thursday 9 October 2014

Autumn’s on its way …. ghosts? and rain. And wind.

Saturday 4th, Sunday 5th and Monday 6th October – Wormleighton Reservoir – Fenny Compton – Napton – Calcutt
It was raining lightly as we had Saturday breakfast and watched Nutbourne and Raymond go by on their way down to Banbury.  Soon it was raining heavily so we had another cup of tea ….  Unfortunately we had run out of bread and really needed to get to Fenny Compton, so we told ourselves to stop being wimps, got full wet weathers on and pulled pins around 11.  By midday we had tied up at Fenny and the rain had eased a little.  I needed a run today, so took the rucksack and set off in the rain up to the village.  Luckily it is the first Saturday in the month and the little farmers’ market was there by/in the village hall, so I bought some lovely bread before getting a few other bits in the Co-op.  Even more luckily the rain stopped and held off till I got back to the boat.
The sun came out mid-afternoon, so off we went for a 2-hour walk round the fields and footpaths.  We met a family hunting for fossils in one field – they had found plenty of little ones, including what looked like an oyster shell and possibly some crinoids, known as sea lilies (though they were not plants).  We got a bit lost after that, as Nicholson’s is not the best map for walking with, but made our way back eventually.  Meg found a pond to get muddy in and we also put up a couple of partridges, which we don’t see very often.
We had a pleasant meal in the Wharf this evening, where it was nice and warm.  It had got quite chilly and we put the heating on once we got back from the pub.
No pictures today! and just a mile and a half cruising.
A slow start to Sunday.  Dave took Meg up to the village to get a paper and I shook out the dog’s blankets and cleaned our walking boots of yesterday’s mud.  We moved down to the water point, sharing the space with some Napton hirers who had had a wonderful holiday, in spite of yesterday’s rain, and declared themselves hooked on the waterways.  We got going again in sunshine, with some more autumn colour – I think the red leaves here are Guelder Rose, a wild Viburnum, which also has bright red berries which gleam in the sun.
1 autumn colour near fenny compton
We stopped for lunch between Knott’s and Ladder bridges, and got another bowl of lovely blackberries.  I had a discussion the other day with a boater about when you should stop picking blackberries – is it 1st October or 1st November?  I remember as a child being told that the devil  ‘swishes his tail’ over them on 1st October and they become inedible, but we couldn’t believe that was right as they are still so good.   I found different versions of the legend on the web – St Michael threw the devil out of Heaven on 10th, or maybe 11th, October (old Michaelmas Day) and, landing in thorny blackberry bushes, Satan took his revenge by cursing them, spitting (or maybe peeing) on them.  Or it might be the modern Michaelmas (29th September).  Whichever it is, apparently you are more likely to find grubs in them now than a few weeks ago and the increase in tannins at the end of the season is supposed to make them taste bitter.  Though they were still delicious on the 5th this year! and no unwelcome protein either.
As we neared the top of Napton locks we came across a group of youngsters training for their Duke of Edinburgh’s award.  It seemed to be their first trip with heavy packs and they had just got up from a rest!
2 d of e hitching
They tried hitching, but of course they were walking faster than we were going.  We caught up with them again at the lock where they were thrilled to learn about locks and be allowed to help with the bottom gates.  The rest of the flight was pretty slow – near the top we had to wait for boats coming up, but halfway down they had all gone.  Then we found that the boat ahead of us had left all the bottom gates open and the pawls flipped open (they are the catches that stop the paddles dropping when you open them).  This annoys me, partly for safety reasons – if something goes wrong, the paddle gear could crash down and send the windlass into your face, or damage the paddle itself - but also because they get covered in oil which transfers to your hand when you engage them if you aren’t careful.  On the Claydon flight someone had put little sticks on the top of the ground paddle stands to flick the pawls with.
Lock 10 is the one where the approach wall on one side collapsed a while ago.  It has been braced, so the lock is safe to use, but is one of the early stoppages this year for repair.  They will also be replacing the top gate beam on the bottom lock.
4 damage at napton flight  5 damage at napton flight
On the left (below) you can see that the fallen masonry has been removed (or is underwater) and the bank covered with a tarp to stop it collapsing further.
6 damage at napton flight
We paused at the bottom to empty a cassette, and moored just before the winding hole at the Folly moorings.  But there was no radio signal on either the boat radio or the portable, so we moved on a bit, deciding to continue to the Bridge and try to get a meal.  It was getting dark too quickly to go much further.  The moorings were full – Napton changeover day tomorrow -  but there is a stretch of Armco a bit further along.  We could see people in the restaurant as we passed, but when we got there we found the kitchen closes at 6.45 on Sunday (and the pub is closed on Tuesdays this time of year).  The King’s Head in the village serves food till 8, but the beer at the Bridge was good and the company congenial so we stayed and enjoyed a pleasant pint while chatting to two chaps (wives on the boat….)  They were experienced Napton hirers having a short weekend break to assess whether the two couples were compatible for a longer boating holiday together.  One of them looked a little doubtful though!  They went back to their boat while we had another pint and chatted to the barman.  Although Nicholson’s asserts that the pub is haunted, he is certain it’s not, and regaled us with creepy stories of three pubs he had worked in where he had definitely felt a ‘presence’ …..
We tottered back in the moonlight (well I tottered, two pints is quite enough for me), hearing what we thought was a barn owl on the way, for a fry-up on the boat.  An enjoyable evening, even without a restaurant meal.
9 locks, 10 miles
On Sunday night of course autumn blew in with a vengeance, with the boat rocking in the gusts.  We stared glumly out at the rain as the Naptons went past on their way back to base, with several other narrowboats also on the move.  One appeared to have no-one at the helm!  We looked out in alarm for a steerer in the water but the engine note changed and the tiller moved so we guessed it had a wheel at the front too, or possibly remote control - a few years ago we saw a boat being brought out of one of the Audlem locks by a man with a remote control handset.  When we thought there was a lull in the wind and rain, we hastily got ready; we cast off and were promptly blown back onto the bank.  So I had to get my trusty short pole to hold the front out so we could get off the edge and round the bend, and eventually off we went – just a short trip to Calcutt but we still passed 4 boats as the rain poured down.  The locks were straightforward, but the turn into the marina was a bit of a nightmare as the wind had other ideas for us.  Luckily for us the central island in the marina sheltered our mooring so we slipped alongside the pontoon without trouble (though Dave decided not to risk reversing in this time!).  No pictures today – a bit wet for the camera.
1 mile, 3 locks
Back home now.  Chuffed is semi-winterised, in that we have taken the bedding home, along with packets and opened jars from the galley, and left the water-tank half empty with taps open etc.  We expect to be up again before winter sets in though, so didn’t want to drain everything right down.  Time to light the woodburner …

Wednesday 8 October 2014

The last hurrah for shorts? and a new take on hair care!

Thursday 2nd and Friday 3rd October - Wormleighton to Cropredy

It was very grey first thing, though still mild.  We set off a bit later than usual and gently pottered to Fenny Compton behind another boat.  The canal was quite busy, with oncoming boats at bridges or bends in the usual way, including the hotel boats Duke and Duchess.

1 duke and duchess hotel boats

The boat in front stopped for water and as we only needed to dispose of some rubbish, we were away first.  As we came through the Fenny Compton ‘tunnel’ the cloud began to break and by the time we reached Claydon Locks the sun was out again and the shorts back on.  The lock cottage at the top is still for sale – with the nearest road access a quarter of a mile away at the next bridge I can’t think that Tesco would be doing a doorstep delivery!  We saw the present occupant walking down to her car with cushions under her arm and a rather beautiful lurcher alongside.

There were plenty of boats coming up, and we were down in time for lunch on the long moorings at the bottom.  We were attended by a couple of splendid hairdos -

2 love the hairdo dear

I wonder how quickly the introduced genes disappear from the wild population, or do they hang around for ever, occasionally producing a tufty-headed duck?

The autumn colours are hotting up a bit – a good crop of rose-hips at the bottom of Claydon locks;

3 hips reflections at claydon bottomand a large berry-bearing shrub at Broadmoor lock.  The hawthorn bushes have a heavy crop too.  I suppose people will say it means we’ll have a cold winter, but I think it has more to do with a good spring and early summer (though my apple crop is very poor this year!)

5 autumn berries broadmoor lockBefore we got there though we were on the lookout for the scarecrows and pumpkins at Clattercote Farm above Elkington’s lock.  Disappointingly, there were only a few pumpkins on a trailer and the scarecrows had all gone into a huddle by the barn.  4 huddle of scarecrows clattercote farm

One year we passed at the end of October and the boats under the canopy had rows of grinning pumpkins all along their roofs.  Cropredy Marina looked pretty full and is clearly very popular – we were later told by a share boater based there that there are no vacancies at all.  We arrived at the Cropredy moorings at 3 o’clock and were delighted to find there was plenty of room.  We moored at the start of the 24-hour stretch and went off for a stroll round the village and to check the pub menus.  On the way we passed nb Herbie, moored closer to the lock, and had a chat with Neil who was washing the outside.  We fell into conversation with another dog-walker outside the Red Lion and discovered that the couple who had run such an excellent restaurant had moved on last year – somewhere near the river in Oxford.  The menu now is just a basic ‘pub meal and chips’, so rather than risk spoiling good memories we thought we’d go to the Brasenose Arms to eat.  Dave took Meg out for a walk before we went to the pub, and noticed the two narrowboats the other side of the narrows had had their mooring pins pulled loose, so went back with the mallet.  A few years ago when we were moored there, Dave went out to check we were secure before we went to the pub and found the hire boat behind us was on the other side of the canal!  We shouted for some time before they heard us and came out – at least they had plenty of help to get secure again.  We weren't entirely happy with the Brasenose Arms food – Dave had a curry, which was nice enough but not with enough rice, and I had a steak pudding with suet crust which was rather crispier than you would expect – nice filling, but not the best crust.

8 locks 9 miles

Friday 3rd October – back towards Fenny Compton

A grey start again but not cold.  We weren't in a hurry, just turning round below the lock, so we waited for the early batch of boats to go down before moving off.  I wandered down to the shop for a few bits and noticed there were two boats at the service area, one moored in the winding hole, so there was no point rushing!  We finally moved off after 10.  The lock was empty and a boat was approaching below, so I opened up for them as Dave brought Chuffed along.  Herbie was following us down, and this morning we met Kath, who kindly gave me a hand.  Fortunately the services were deserted so Dave reversed into the turning area so we could get the cassette off to empty it.  The tap (for rinsing the cassette) was slow, and we were only just leaving as Herbie came down and moored for water.  (You can hardly see it but they have got hold of a rope!)  Cropredy must be one of the most awkward water points on the system!

1 Herbie mooring at Cropredy waterpoint

Nice to meet you both, and thanks for the help at the lock!  There was a prolific conker tree at the services, and I gathered a few – they are supposed to deter moths – as another boater arrived to collect some too.  He strings a few up and puts them by open windows as he reckons they deter spiders.  So that’s one to try.  Anyway they are glossy and beautiful, and look and feel lovely so I always have a few on the shelf in the autumn.

Back we went through the bridge and moored on the rings.  Dave had spotted a broken shackle holding the rear fender and wanted to fix it before we went on, so we had an extended cake and coffee stop.  Very enjoyable (for me anyway, I wasn’t upside down over the stern).  Then an industrial extractor started up above us and an occasional waft of car paint drifted by from Cropredy Bridge garage – ‘The Original Home of Jensen’, and they still have ‘Jensen specialists’ above the door.  We used to work with a guy whose Interceptor was his pride and joy.  Anyway, we moved on up the lock and then the three above Cropredy with someone ahead of us all the way.  The moorings above the lock were deserted by now, having been full by the end of yesterday afternoon.

2 empty cropredy moorings

But the weather’s lovely again, so no worries.  We stopped for lunch below Claydon locks, hoping that the boat ahead would have long gone by the time we started, but of course someone else came along so we had to turn all the Claydon locks too except for the one below.

5 crossing at claydon locks

The Claydon bottom gates are amenable to opening if you stand on the towpath side gate and push the offside one back with your other foot, to save going all the way round to open it.  I leant too far forward while doing one of them and my hair brushed against the paddle, coming away with a lump of black grease – not really the best conditioner…… at least it came out quite easily.  The autumn colours are beginning to show now. 

6 autumn colour claydon flight

According to the radio, this is going to be the last of the warm sunny T-shirt and shorts days, so rather than going on to Fenny as planned we pulled in on a sunny spot by Wormleighton Reservoir to make the most of it.  (A lucky action photo, Meg is in mid-air).

8 mooring at wormleighton reservoir

8 mooring at wormleighton reservoir

Apart from the trains, which don’t bother us, this is a very peaceful spot.  We walked up onto the reservoir embankment by bridge 139.  There is a footpath running along the canal side of the reservoir, but you can’t walk all the way around it.  We’d expected a large lake, but the water level was very low with huge expanses of mud.  The reeds show the normal water level.

9 reservoir very low  11 reeds show the normal level

The outflow was dry where (we assume) it would normally run into the canal.  There are other reservoirs such as Boddington which I think supplies the feeder that comes out at Feeder Bridge.  Though some pounds have been a bit low we haven’t had any problems with water levels.

12 dry outflow

10 locks (Cropredy twice) and 4 miles.