Tuesday 31 July 2018

Test post

In trying to post Sunday’s exploits I am getting error 403 from Blogger.  Let’s see if this succeeds

Saturday 28 July 2018

No roast lunch, just roasting weather

Sunday 22nd July; Crick to Braunston Top Lock

Well, half the country seems to have had thunderstorms by now and it’s a bit cooler at last – it’s Saturday 28th as I write – but last Sunday it was EXTREMELY warm although overcast for a while.

We wanted to get away early today as there was a chance we could make it for lunch at the Admiral Nelson in Braunston.  So before 7.30 I went up to the village shop for the paper, and was back at the boat as Dave was casting off at 7.45.  There was no-one about and we were at Watford Locks before 9.

First there was a cassette to be emptied and rubbish to be disposed of.  We were thinking about pushing over to the lock moorings when the lockie arrived.

1 pushing off from facilities

Howard had just been down to put out the notice requesting boaters to book in before they start up.  He put his coffee mug away while we did the top lock, then got straight to the business of helping us down. 

2 howard the lockie

We shared the work, as you do.  Once you enter the top of the staircase, you have to operate the paddles in the correct way – red before white.  I think this is the way it works – as Howard said, the staircase locks around the system all have different arrangements!  This is the edited version – Tom (ex Waiouru) raised a doubt in my mind so I looked it up.

The red paddle takes water from the side pond to the next chamber down.  When the white paddle is raised it releases water from the chamber you are in into the side pond as shown below.  This is the site I got the explanation from.  There is no direct connection between the locks.  I thought the side ponds were used for water saving, as at Hanbury locks on the Droitwich Junction canal, but I am not sure about here.  I tried looking it up and found a forum with a variety of views on staircases and why side ponds are there at all – or are they pounds? there was argument on that too.  I’m confused now so I will shut up!   If someone else would like to put us straight I would love to hear from them!

3 filling the side pond

I went for a few arty shots as I haven’t taken many photos this trip.  So here is a straight down one, taken from one of the footbridges over the staircase.  Meg is dozing on the starboard locker cushion.

4 bottom of the staircase

There were a couple of boats at the bottom.  The first was already in the bottom lock, and stopped there only because the one following them told them to.  He and his crew claimed not to have seen the large red A-frame notice telling you to book in before starting up the flight.  There is a good reason for this; there is room for two boats to pass in the bottom pound, but not the the one above, which is short and on a bend and then it’s the staircase where passing is impossible. So it needs to be under the lockie’s control or there could be chaos.  I gather a courteous but firm explanation was delivered.

As we cruised towards Norton Junction we passed a few boats we had seen recently.  This one has a tiller which moves back into a vertical position when the boat is moored – not unlike the old working boats where the wooden tiller was reversed (curves upwards rather than down) when not in use to allow more space at the stern.  When we saw it go by later, Dave noticed how low the tiller arm was set when in cruising mode – so low that the steerer’s arm was hanging almost straight down, so perhaps it was designed for someone with shoulder or elbow problems.  At the stern, the sides of the boat above the lockers are quite low, presumably so the tiller can be swung across them when necessary.

6 interesting design of tiller

We rounded Norton junction without meeting another boat.  The work on the new piling has proceeded apace and looks as though it is nearly finished.  It’s Sunday, so there is nothing going on today.

7 new piling nearly done

We cruised through hot sun and patches of welcome shade towards Braunston tunnel.  The lockie at Watford had wondered why everything seemed so quiet – the school holidays have started in the Midlands, where are all the boats?   Well, here they were, still on their way up the locks and through the tunnel.8 boats in braunston tunnel

We could see one boat in the tunnel, some way in, so we started our transit.  There were four in all, three with the tunnel light set correctly and one very much not! No matter, we made it through and tied up just before the start of the top lock moorings.  We had attempted to moor closer to the tunnel, but soon realised that although the towpath has been improved now, the work hadn’t actually done much for the moorings!  There is a lot of water draining down the hillside even in this dry weather.  There are drainage pipes every few yards along the bank.  The towpath above them is dry and level, but unless you want to hear trickling water beside your boat all night long you really do need to moor closer to the lock.

We were settled by 12 – unexpectedly early – and I went down to the Nelson to see about a table for lunch.  Oh dear….  not only does the Nelson not do Sunday Roasts, they were a chef down today so it was bar meals only.  Their card machine wasn’t working either.  We hadn’t got much cash and didn’t fancy thing and chips for lunch, so we had a sandwich on the boat then took Meg out for a walk up over the tunnel.

9 tunnel plaque

It was very hot up there.  We turned back before we reached the A-road that crosses the tunnel.  Here is a different view of Braunston Church, not the usual one from the canal.

10 new view of church

Things are looking very dry up here, but there are still wild flowers holding their own – this is some field bindweed in the hedge, the small pretty pink and white one, not the big white thug.

11 pink bindweed

Back at the boat, we had a cool drink, then a cup of tea and some cake, read the paper, watched the boats go by …. too hot to do much else even though we had a bit of shade.  Much later, having left an egg and bacon pie cooling for our tea, we went down to the Nelson for a beer.  Or two.  On the way back up, Meg’s ball went in the canal, way out of reach of an outstretched arm.  A lovely boater on her way down the locks gently coaxed it into the side … how kind!  I‘d gone to help them close up and happened to mention our plight …..

12 retrieving the ball

The boat behind us had a rather lovely pussy cat.  It taunted Meg from the safety of its roof.

13 taunting Meg

8½ miles, 7 locks (Watford flight), Crick and Braunston tunnels.

I have had a very informative email about the Living Mileposts, and I’ll add that info at the end of this trip’s posts.

Friday 27 July 2018

Starting back

Saturday 21st July; Welford to Crick

The rain yesterday evening didn’t come to much and the ground even away from the tree cover was perfectly dry.  The morning was bright and sunny once more.  I took rubbish and recycling up to the basin, and nipped up to the shop for the Saturday paper before we left.  We waited a while for the first two boats of the day to get ahead, but we still caught them up – the first was leaving the lock as we reached it. The second was a resident moorer at the end of the arm who wanted to spend the day doing some noisy work on the boat, so had decided to get out of the marina area and moor further down the arm. 

I wonder how long this sign has been on the lock - haven’t windlasses with a small tapering hole been around for rather a while?

1 on welford lock

After yesterday’s quiet cruise, the moorings at Welford junction were now quite full and there were a lot of boats coming towards us as we turned back towards Crick.  Around Downtown Bridge the fields are wide, full of what looks like barley, and the skies are huge.

2 downtown bridge view

Nearer to the Hemplow Hills the trees close in again.

4 hemplow hills

As the morning wore on and the thermals began to build the gliders started to make an appearance.  At last I managed a photo of one being towed up (considerably cropped and enlarged I have to admit.  If I try and zoom in to take the photo I can never get the blessed things in the viewfinder).

5 glider on tow

It was the same with this buzzard, coyly turning away from the camera.  She is a bit fuzzy.

7 buzzard

We moored for lunch just before Yelvertoft in a little patch of shade, then as the sun came round we moved on to fill up the water tank at Yelvertoft’s Skew Bridge.  There are plenty of wind turbines in this area, mostly turning slowly in the gentle breezes.  These two, photographed from the water point, almost made a star pattern.

9 star wind turbines

As we neared Crack’s Hill we thought we saw a narrowboat in the field, a bit like that one (on the Oxford?) where someone has filled in the way back onto the canal so they didn’t have to pay a licence fee.  This one’s not quite habitable though!

10 wheres the hull11 but wheres the cabin 

Further round the hill was a row of boys hanging on the edge of the footbridge.  And yes they did jump in!  Luckily not when we were too close.  We asked how deep it was and were airily informed ‘plenty deep enough’.  I took the photo from a distance after we had passed them, and zoomed in – didn’t want to encourage them.

12 yes he jumped

As we were considering where to moor this little insect appeared.  It zoomed around on the roof, antennae waving gently, but it was its front legs doing the biz, sweeping vigorously back and forth, as if it were tasting or sniffing for something.  It was definitely doing something with its mouthparts when it paused, concentrating on the ring spilt from my morning coffee – was it the caffeine or the milk it liked? No sugar!

13 sweepy front legs insect

We moored between the marina entrances in lovely shade.  After an hour or so we had cooled down a bit, so Dave and Meg went for a walk in the Jubilee Field; the entrance is by the bridge the kids were jumping from.  I went for a run, going across that bridge and following the bridleway over the shoulder of Crack’s Hill to bridge 17 to rejoin the towpath.  If the path had gone over the top I would have chosen a different route!  Back at the Jubilee Field I took the footpaths to the edge of the village through some new housing (following a resident’s instructions to come out near the school), and came back to the canal near the tunnel entrance, via the footpath that leads from the road near the shop.

11 miles, 1 lock

Thursday 26 July 2018

Postman Pat and Fox’s Paw

Friday 20th July; Yelvertoft bridge 21 to Welford

Apart from the occasional distant bellow from a cow the night was quiet.  As we finished breakfast we were lucky to catch a glimpse of a hare in the field opposite; she sat up straight in front of the far hedge before lolloping casually across the field and disappearing.  

We set off at about 9.30 in hot sunshine through beautiful undulating countryside with patches of cool woodland and shade.

1 lovely leicester line n of yelvertoft

A mere photo can’t express the utter peace of the morning and the gentle caress of warm air on bare skin, or the coolness under the trees.  Neither can it capture the perfume of the meadowsweet wafting through the warm air. 

2 abundant and perfumed meadowsweet

There is some sort of camp across the fields, with a group of tents around a marquee.  (I thought I'd give you the poetic bit before the prosaic).

We only saw 3 or 4 boats all morning.  We moored in the shade at bridge 37 and set off for the reservoir and nature reserve shown on the map.  As we walked, Dave got the feeling he had been here before …..  he had, probably with our old dog.  And the parking area shown in Nicholson’s was still gated off with a large ‘Private’ sign.  Disgruntled, we returned to the boat, entirely forgetting to take a photo of the water mocking us through the trees.  Our Nicholson’s is now updated. 

After lunch, as we were still in the shade, Dave prepped the port gunwale and applied a coat of red-ox paint.  After a pleasant chat with the chap on the boat moored nearby we set off again later in the afternoon to Welford Junction.  The junction creeps up on you – it is quite a surprise if you are not expecting it – but it is a very wide turn into the Welford Arm.

4 rounding welford junction

The signpost says it is still 7½ miles to Foxton.  Yesterday in Crick I met a share boat crew ‘doing’ the Leicester Ring in 2 weeks.  They had just come the 15 miles from the top of the locks without a break, were stopping at Crick for a beer, then cracking on to get down the Watford locks during the afternoon.  Rather them than me, though I do remember those days (quite fondly too).

5 signpost

The Welford Arm winds peacefully through the trees with abundant wild flowers.

6 welford arm

There is only one lock, with a rise of just 3’6”.

7 welford lock

8 welford lock

We didn’t need to go up to the facilities at the very end of the arm, so we turned in the winding hole by the little marina and tied up on the end of the 14-day moorings.  It’s shady, and as it was clouding over was rather dark too, but quiet; the towpath stops at the marina entrance so no-one passes except by water.

9 shady mooring

We walked up to the village for some supplies.  The towpath runs around the little marina which is home to some very large fish, though we didn’t see any today.

10 welford marina

We walked through the Pocket Park to the shop.  Last time we were here we thought the shop was on its last legs – and it still looks like that from the outside – but inside it seems to have been spruced up and has a good range of items.

On the way back I snapped Postman Pat (and Jess), carved from a tree stump some years ago.  They are now looking rather the worse for wear.  Poor Pat’s head is rotting, and Jess has a band round his tummy to the back of the original stump, so they don’t fall over.

11 postman pat

The Pocket Park is a strip of land fenced off from the busy road with trees and shrubs planted, and some flowers too, with paths, seats and a little pond.  It provides a pleasant way to avoid walking down the busy road and comes out at the Wharf Inn. 

12 welford pocket park

We thought it would be rude not to stop for a beer.  We sat in the garden with an excellent pint of Fox’s Paw till it started to rain, then we moved under an enormous umbrella.  The rain stopped as we left, and though it was half-heartedly trying to soak us as we walked back it didn’t really succeed.  There was just enough of it to make us close the cratch up but we left the side hatch open as it was still so hot, with a towel to protect the interior woodwork.  The land needs the rain, but this really wasn’t more than a spit in the dust.

8½ miles 1 lock 1 junction

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Out into the peace and quiet

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.

1 kayakers near norton jct

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.

3 shiny new armco

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.

4 junction and pretty cottage

The sun shone as we cruised gently through beautiful England toward the Watford Gap. 

5 england

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.

6 ascending watford

7 watford

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!

5 how did they miss this

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?

8 watford vol and side pond

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. 

10 living milestone

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.

11 original wearytired

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.

12 lovely mooring past yelvertoft

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.

13 cow and calf

The Big Daddy was with them too, though this isn’t him – I just liked the reflection.

15 reflection

The wind turbine at Yelvertoft marina had been turning slowly as we passed.  Here it is behind the trees on the far hill.

16 three trees and wind turbine

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.

Monday 23 July 2018

Some heavy locks

Wednesday 18th July; Flecknoe to Braunston tunnel (east end)

We have had no luck with a signal for days, so this blog is getting very behind.

There were reminders that we are on one of the busiest parts of the network from about 7 this morning.  We were ready to leave at about 9.30, but as soon as we had pulled pins (or unhooked hooks, in this case), more boats appeared.  Eventually the canal was clear enough for us to go.

The busiest parts of the moorings, nearer to bridge 102, had plenty of space by now but many boats were staying put, with washing going out to dry.  Once more the weather was warm but without too strong a sun as we made our way towards Braunston.  Of course, when we met a boat it was at the very junction so we ended up reversing a little way to let them come through. 

1 braunston turn

We moored shortly before the Stop House water point, and went up to the village for some shopping.  It’s a pleasant walk up the hill from the bridge and Meg enjoys it too.  The grass is as dry as everywhere else but there are wild flowers in bloom, like this pretty mallow.

2 mallow on nibitts lane path

On the way back I popped into AJ Canopies at the marina.  The canopy guy bungees on our very ancient pram cover (which is just a flat sheet to cover the rear deck when we are away) have all failed over the years and been replaced by ones that aren’t quite the right length.  When we leave the boat, unless we prop the canopy up on a folding chair with a bucket on the seat, any rain pools instead of running off and breaks even more of them.  AJ don’t use the ones we think are the originals, but now I have some shock cord to make some ourselves.

We had lunch and set off for the locks.  Two boats were just emerging from the bottom lock, but even better a boat appeared behind us so we had company.  As well as the water saving in this dry weather, it made the locks a great deal quicker to work.  NB Concorde was on the way back to Weltonfield Marina.  These gates are heavy!  But the owners have a similar outlook on life to us and we work the locks exactly the same way, so we had a very enjoyable ascent together.

5 pretty cottage and nb concorde

With boats coming down too it wasn’t long before we were approaching the tunnel.  It’s double-width, and we were through in about 20 minutes without meeting another boat.  We moored in peace and quiet between bridges 6 and 7, beneath the trees.

5 moored east of tunnel

There were some rough steps up the bank, so up I went expecting to see a field or woodland.  Imagine my surprise to find a half-built housing estate!  It must be right on the edge of Daventry.  The builders weren’t too noisy so apart from a larger number than expected of walkers, runners and cyclists on the towpath it was still pretty peaceful. 

We Dave made a start on making new canopy guys for the pram cover.

6 locks, 6½ miles, Braunston tunnel