Saturday, 27 September 2014

A day in Braunston and why our ascent went downhill......

Friday morn saw us pull the pins mid morning.  We had not got far to travel, just enough to charge up the batteries.  The journey in was uber familiar. This is a route we have covered many many times. The weather was pleasant and the views over the rolling Northamptonshire countryside could not be bettered.  It was a slow journey as we were following a hire boat who was taking it easy, enjoying the journey and slowing down passing moored boats.  This year for some reason, we have become more aware of just how quickly boats now travel when passing moored boats, because we have been on the receiving end so often perhaps.  So it was nice to see a boater showing consideration.  The main culprits are undoubtedly private owners, of shall we say, a certain age!

 Anyway, at the picturesque junction, with the familiar church spire on the horizon, we turned right. The visitor moorings were busy, but we spied a space opposite the Boathouse P.H. and we were in. We spent the day wandering between Bottom lock and Midland chandlers, buying a few bits and pieces, then chilled out on the boat.

In the evening we met Paul and Jane at the Boathouse. This is a two meals for a tenner establishment, so not high cuisine, but the beer is good!  With the exception of Paul's meal, which was a dry and bland burger, ours were ok.  Enjoyed the beer perhaps a little to much though.......

Miles 5
Locks O

This morning, after Ali had walked in for bread and milk, we slowly made our way past the numerous moored boats. As nothing had passed us heading for the locks, we expected a relatively easy passage.  How wrong were we.

The first indication was when a boat passed us and warned the locks were somewhat chaotic.  The pounds were low and they were queueing.  As we approached bottom lock, we saw two boats entering the lock, with another waiting. We joined them.  Apparently, the low water levels were a result of someone draining the Buckby flight.  Eventually, it was our turn.  The lady piloting our companion boat, ordered, and I mean ordered me to enter the lock first.  Hackles up!  When she eventually joined me in the lock, she said this was to ascertain my competency.  Cheeky cow.  It was one of those, "we look down on you" moments and she announced they were live aboards, as if this gave them some seniority in the pecking order.

As we left the lock, we could see the water levels were seriously low.  Strangely, there was a single boat waiting to ascend the next lock, although we had only seen pairs ascending.  Apparently there had been some sort of kerfuffle earlier when a boat drove straight into a lock, ahead of the two boats who had worked it.  Looks like this was the culprit and had been abandoned.  We let our erstwhile companions join the miscreant in ascending the rest of the locks, whilst we were joined by a lovely couple who had come up the first lock alone.

It was slow going, painfully so.  At one stage there were six boats in a short pound, add to this the fact that the bottom was too close to the top,  made it fun.  Not really, it was tedious.  The six locks on this flight took longer to ascend than the twenty one at Hatton.  By the time we left the last lock, we were knackered.  The water level had recovered somewhat and our lock companions waved us ahead as we bade then farewell.  Not a boat was moving towards us and Braunston tunnel was eerily quiet.  We could see through and no lights greeted us, so a swift passage was made .  Back in the daylight, we puttered on to Norton junction, then a swift left onto the Leicester line.  Almost full circle now and home, but not quite.

We have moored for the day just prior to Bells bridge, all on our lonesome.  Well we were until 1830 when another boat joined us.  So the last locks of the season for us tomorrow, the last tunnel, then into the marina.....

Miles 5
Locks 6 but felt like 60
Tunnel 2042 yds

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Home ground, nearly.

When we have Napton on the Hill in view, we know we are within days of our home mooring.  Today we saw it.  Not so long now before we will be back in the marina.  So somewhat sad.

But, the weather has again been kind, dry, bright if a tad windy later on.  This morning we once again sat tight whilst the washer dealt with yet another load.  We were in sight of the first lock of the day.  As the washer washed, a boat hove into view and prepared the lock.  Just as they were preparing to enter, along came a second and so both entered and began the ascent.  A lady single handing had preceded these two and we expected she would hold them up somewhat.  How wrong were we!

Cleaning off the leaves, whilst waiting for the water to fill

Half an hour or so later, we were off.  This is a flight of ten wide locks.  Using the trusted one gate and one paddle system, up we went.  After a few locks we became aware that we had caught up with the two boats we had seen starting the flight before us.  And so we followed them up the rest of the flight. Sometimes these locks are as easy on your own, as with company.  We saw not a sign of the single handed lady boater, who was obviously somewhat quicker than this pair.

At the top of this rather pleasant flight we ambled past Ventnor farm and Calcutt marina's.   Approaching the three Calcutt locks, there was the lady single handing her boat who had passed us earlier in the morning.  You have to admire someone who tackles these locks alone.  We shared the locks with her and were soon at the top, she was very efficient.  At Napton junction, we waved her goodbye as she headed for Banbury on the Oxford, whilst we continued on the Grand Union, towards Braunston.

The woodpecker was very vocal

We are really back in hire boat country again now.  The numerous marinas in the area also contribute to the traffic.  Bit of a shock to the system after so few boats moving since leaving the Stratford. After a few miles,in sight of  Bush hill, we moored up for the day.  Ali did some touching up to the wounds and we chilled out, or I did. 

The fruits of yesterdays foraging resulted in a delicious Apple and Blackberry pie, baked to perfection, by Ali of course.

Miles 6.5
Locks 13

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Day of Mellow Fruitfulness.

How dare it rain!  Woke up to the sound of rain hammering on the cratch, peeked out and confirmed it.  Now this was forecast, so not so much of a surprise and they said it would be over by mid morning. So no rush to depart.  We had a wash load to do  So once showered, it was on with the engine, engage the travel power  and washer on.

Having no access to the power grid, all generation is in "Boat". Now we have a normal washer/dryer which runs off 240v. This we obtain via a large alternator on the engine and via an inverter to give us pure sine wave power which the washer likes!  An hour or so later, job done.  Just the drying now. We could use the machine, but this demands constant power and with the prospect of locks ahead, producing consistent power was not on.  Plan B was to engage the system we have whereby the engine can be used to heat the radiators whilst underway.  This is done by passing the cooling water from the engine circuit, through a heat exchanger which passes excess heat into the radiators.  So washing on radiators, get moving and after a few hours, dry shreddies!

By mid morning, the clouds had cleared and we had blue sky, mostly.  But the wind remained a little raw all day.  We were soon approaching the first lock of the day, Radford bottom lock.

These are wide locks and will accommodate two narrowboats, but we were alone.  So we entered using only one gate, then used the paddle on the same side as the boat to fill the lock.  This forces water against the opposite side of the lock chamber to the boat, then back against the side of the boat, holding it against the side.  Once up, out using one gate.  Pretty painless ascent for me as the boat sticks to the side of the lock.  A tad harder for Ali, as these are big gates and the paddles require many a turn to raise them.

After three locks, we arrived at the services.  Some years ago we stopped here and the Elsan disposal point was the most disgusting we had ever come across. The small hut is now gone, replaced by an AL Fresco facility. Clean and odour less, so much improved.  Whilst filling with water, Ali collected a bowl of blackberry's. The briers had climbed into the hedge and fronds of ripe berry's hung above us. At subsequent locks Ali collected Damsons, then Apples from the hedgerow, so a bake seems on the cards.

There was little in the way of boat movement, but most of the locks were in our favour, so on approach it was open the bottom gate, enter, close up then fill.  We had a system which worked well on all bar one lock.  Here a chap was moored above a lock that was in his favour.  As Ali approached the lock, he ran and opened the gate, then went back to untie his boat. Eventually he moved into the lock and Ali helped him work it. As the bottom gate was opened, Ali assumed he was single handed and told him to get on his boat.  At this point his missus appeared!  Takes all sorts I suppose....

By mid afternoon we had reached Long Itchington and called it a day mooring below the bottom lock of the Stockton flight.  Chilled out for the rest of the day.

Miles 5
Locks 10

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Warwick. And that means the Hatton flight!

It was a tad chilly today, although it did remain dry.  The sun did peek out, but the breeze kept the temperature down.  We did not hurry leaving our overnight mooring.  And this was despite the noise from the rail line!  When we moored we were aware of the line, which seemed to be local traffic only. Late evening, the freight movement started and went on, and on...... Still, slept well despite this.

We chugged towards the top of Hatton and as we passed a boat preparing to cast off, we were hailed and asked if we minded sharing with them down the flight.  Of course we did not, so told them we would be ready as soon as we had used the services.

As we watered up an ex working trust boat was just exiting the top lock, manned by several volunteers sporting life jackets.  The steerer shouted he had a prop foul whilst the stern of the boat was still in the lock.  Did anyone get off the boat, or use a pole?  Of course not!  With much prop thrashing the bow rapidly approaching us, quite intimidating due to its height.  I mounted our bow and managed to fend it off whilst Ali went to catch a rope from them and guide them to the bank.  Our travelling companion, N.B. Mars managed to enter the lock and we followed.  Not the best of starts, but it did get better.

Two volunteer lock keepers asked if they could assist us down and we gladly accepted their offer. This meant that between us we could work each lock whilst the others got the next ready.  All the locks were either in our favour, or nearly so and with the assistance of the volunteer's, for a good way down the flight, we set a cracking pace with a smooth system.  We started at 10 am and were down the 21 by 1220, so really good going for these broad locks.  At the bottom we waived goodbye to NB Mars, who were heading into the Saltesford arm and continued alone down the two Cape locks.

We really did need fuel.  Initially we had hoped to stop at the Kate Boat base, but they were moored three deep there.  Just past this however we spied the working boat N.B. Callisto making a delivery, and arranged to meet him near Tesco's.  We found a mooring and in a short time, Callisto appeared and we refuelled whilst Ali nipped for a little shopping.

A quick bite to eat and we resumed through Royal Leamington Spa.  I do not know why, but this place does not really endear itself.  Apart from the fact that many years ago I got bricked from one of the bridges here, it just does not have an inviting feel, despite numerous moorings.  So we chugged through and by late afternoon we were in the countryside once more and found a nice mooring with the church at Radford Semele on the near horizon. 

Enough locks for one day and time for a rest!

Miles  9
Locks  23 big un's.....

Monday, 22 September 2014

Stratford. Been and gone!

We have had a rather busy few days!  Too busy to blog, then when we did have the time, we didn't have a signal.  I think when we last posted we had moored in Wooten Wawen. I must say, since then, the weather has been more than kind.

On Thursday we set out our stall and decided we would moor in Stratford that afternoon, so an early start.  All went splendidly at first, the sun shone, the scenery was beautiful and quaint barrel roofed lock cottages were splendid.  Initially, bar one lock and the Edstone aqueduct, we made good progress.  All looked good.

 Then as we approached Wilmcote top lock, we saw we had caught up with several boats all heading the same way as us.  Two of these were single handers, who inevitably make slower progress when tackling locks and they were immediately in front of us.  So we resigned ourselves to a slow day. Then our descent ground to a halt for an hour or so as one of the bottom gates further down the flight jammed and refused to open.  Eventually CRT staff sorted it, a brick wedged behind the gate.

So slowly, slowly we descended, having to fill each lock in order to descend as only two boats left Bancroft basin that day.  Eventually, by mid afternoon we were in the basin and moored to one of the visitor pontoons.  The sun was out and so were the gongoozelers, of many nationalities here.  You get used to them peering in through the windows and if you let them, getting onto the boat for a photo shoot!  All part of the fun really.  After a walk around town we chilled a while then out for a meal in the evening.  Just one bit of excitement.  A couple had called to see friends of friends on their boat. The lady spotted the boat she was after and ran down the pontoon to confirm it was the correct boat I presume.  Well, the pontoon ran out!  Splash, one very wet lady.  Whilst hubby went home to get the car, Ali furnished her with a towel whilst her friends provided a hot drink... All life is here in Stratford!

So a strenuous day.  The locks are bar stewards with only one top and bottom gate, making them heavy. This is not helped with only a gate paddle on the lower gate.  All are narrow, but some more so than others.  By bed time we were both pooped.

Miles 7
Locks 17

On Friday we sat tight enjoying all Stratford had to offer.  In the evening we went to the RSC and in the Swan theatre saw a performance of " The Roaring Girl".  Highly entertaining and as to be expected, so very well crafted.  Then onto Carluccio's for a meal, so another late night for us.

Giant Cream Scone -  Hobsons in Stratford style

enough to share

Saturday saw us shopping and then musing as to when we should leave.  Technically, our 48 hours was up that afternoon, but there were plenty of free moorings.  Then on a whim, we decided just before 1700 to move off.  It looked like a mass exodus was planned for the morning, so we decided to get ahead of this.  The bonus would be we would hopefully find the locks in our favour the next morning if we had an early start.  So up five locks we went and moored by 1900 just out of the conurbation and below the locks.

Miles 2
Locks 5

On Sunday we were up with the sparrows and began the ascent out of Stratford proper.  As anticipated, the chambers were all in our favour and so we made good progress.  It is far easier ascending these locks than descending.  The day was dry, with some sun, but there was a definite autumn nip to the air.  By 1400 we had reached Lowsonford and decided to call it a day.  Just so happened that there was the rather nice Fleur de Lys pub opposite, so it would have been rude not to visit, so we did.  A rather nice Sunday lunch enjoyed.....And a drink or three... Just when we had time to blog, no Internet signal!

lovely autumn colours

Back over the Aqueduct

Cast Iron Split bridge

 with a gap in the bridge for the towing rope to be fed through as the horse walked up and over the bridge

Miles 8.5
Locks 20

Today we awoke after what must be the coldest night thus far.  But it was clear and after the mist lifted, it became a glorious day.  We did not intend going far today, so did not hurry ourselves leaving our mooring.  We knew there was a boat ahead of us, so Ali had to empty each lock before we ascended, but as stated, going up is far easier.  After nine locks we were once again at Kingswood junction.  After making use of the services, it was a swift right and out onto the Grand union.  By lunch time it was hot.  Not fancying committing to the Hatton flight today, we eventually moored in a spot with an open aspect, in order to enjoy the sunshine.  This was just after passing through Shrewley tunnel and after bridge 58.  So having a chill out, enjoying the sunshine and with full Internet here, able to catch up with the blog.

Barrel roofed cottage 

 The tunnel also as a towpath tunnel

As we neared the tunnel we noticed a floating island of weed inside

Miles 6.5
Locks 9
Tunnels 433 yds