Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Big Push (Part Three) Claydon to Aston Marina.

Sunday 8th to Thursday 12th October from Claydon to Aston Marina.
A lovely early morning as we entered Claydon Bottom Lock, the first of five Claydon locks.
Curious cows peering over the bridge make excellent gongoozlers!
Unfortunately, at the fourth Claydon lock, R twisted his ankle stepping back into MM having closed the lock gates behind him - so now he has to hop rather than walk! (note from M. - "he's very uncomplaining!").
The light at this time of year has a special quality and, not for the first time, the scenery looked as if it came straight out of a Constable painting.
M's "second son", Scott, lives in nearby Daventry and walked down the towpath from Braunston to meet us.
It was so good to see him again and he travelled up to Braunston with us, where we moored for the night just beside the old toll office where Scott had to leave us.
No overnight stay in Braunston would be complete without a visit to the "Gongoozlers' Café" for breakfast. It was as good as ever and set us up for the day ahead.
The "Master Cutler" steam train from Sheffield to London was sadly axed long ago and the tracks torn up - but a solitary signal gantry remains to remind us of past glories.
Another new marina under construction called "Dunchurch Pools" already had some boats moored in it. This is a very popular area for narrowboats and we wish them well.
Might these two handsome birds keep the pesky Canada Geese under control? We wish!
Because of our late start, courtesy of breakfast at Gongoozlers', it was getting dark as we went through Hawksbury Junction. To our surprise, we saw Arthur on nb "Gordon Bennet" moored there; we last saw him on the Hatton flight, which we did together. He was pleased to see us and came for a chat as we went through the stop lock.
Tuesday was MM's sixth birthday and by mid-morning, we were at Atherstone with its flight of 11 locks. M was thrilled to see nb "Harry" in the top lock and had time to chat with Vicki Blick, who was steering. She and her husband Kevin are both regular contrubutors to Canal Boat Magazine. Vicki writes the cookery column and, like M, cooks on board every day.
We moored for the night at Hopwas and although rain was forecast later on Wednesday, the early morning was clear when we set off.
Soon after doing the two locks at Fradley Junction, we heard from our friends Mel and Peter on nb "Inkling". We knew that they were in the process of moving their boat from Mercia to Aston but had expected them to be ahead of us. We were surprised to find that actually they were behind us. Heavy rain just after Rugeley was a good excuse to moor up and wait for them.
A beautiful sunset followed the rain and the four of us (plus their two dogs) spent a happy early evening on "Inkling" catching up over an excellent glass of Beaune.

The last day of our "Big Push" treated us to a spectacularly colourful sunrise.

We cruised with the two boats together, each boat crew taking it in turns to set each lock for the other. At Colwich Lock, MM was moored up to set the lock for "Inkling".
Our first objective was to have breakfast together at Great Haywood's Canalside Café.
These chaps were cutting back the overhanging branches and afforded us great entertainment when one of them accidentally sprayed one of the others with the stuff coming out of the shredder. Good job that we couldn't hear his language over the shredder's noise!
Finally, Aston Marina. Such a welcome sight.
R backs MM into her mooring after 13 days, 221 miles, 108 locks and 98.4 hours' cruising since we left Guildford.
Peter and Mel sailed past us towards their own new mooring on the other side of the bridge.
R and Guy, our Skipper and Captain, who have successfully bought us "home". Well done, both of them, says M! Couldn't have done it without M, says R!
Five days: 94 miles, 39 locks and 40.2 hours.
This year's Trip: 574 miles, 432 locks and 336.2 hours.
Since MM was launched six years and two days ago: 3,165 miles, 2,210 locks and 2350.2 hours.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Big Push (Part Two) Goring to Claydon.

Wednesday 4th to Saturday 7th October 2017 from Goring to Claydon.
Breakfast at Pierreponts was a rare treat. Although the restaurant changed hands a year or so ago, the quality has not diminished and breakfast was delicious!
Normally, we have been setting off by 8:00am, but today we started late going through Goring Lock, which, like most of the locks on the Thames now the season is over, was on 'self service'.

We cruised up to Abingdon, where we moored up for the night and in the morning we were greeted by a lovely sunrise that lit up the riverside buildings.
Whilst the Thames has been beautiful, it was a huge relief to turn on to the Oxford canal with its familiar narrow locks! Isis Lock is the first lock as you enter the canal in Oxford.
This lovely wooden bridge illustrates perfectly the difference in scale between the canal and the River Thames.
R to the rescue! A working boat running in front of us was travelling far too fast past the moored boats and had torn out this hire boat's mooring pins so that it had ended up broadside across the canal. The hirers were not on board so R pulled the boat back to the side and re-fixed its pins while M set the lock just in front of MM.
Sunrise at our overnight mooring just outside Thrupp next to the "Jolly Boatman" pub, where we met our friend Richie (formerly of Kingsground) for supper last night.
We stopped for an hour at Enslow, where MM was launched, to see Richard and Tiffany and to have a catch-up. As we left there, we were very surprised to see Richie leaning out of one of the moored boats that belongs to his accountant, Sue. So, we stopped and chatted across the water for a while.
The Oxford Canal has narrow locks, so only one boat at a time can go into each lock. However, there was a queue to go through Shipton Weir Lock, which is a rare diamond shape, and we teamed up with some nice middle-aged chaps on nb "Surveyor" on their annual "Chaps' Jolly" cruise and managed to squeeze both boats into the lock together. A unique experience on the "narrow" Oxford Canal!
M, walking between the locks, was able to enjoy the  signs of autumn in the hedgerows, particularly the bryony berries, which always resemble strings of red beads.
Finally, we moored up at Somerton opposite a very large meadow and enjoyed the sunset reflected in the water.
The first lock that we tackled on Saturday was Somerton Deep Lock, which lives up to its name. At 12ft, it is the deepest lock on the Oxford.
The Oxford has many lift bridges, many of which are, thankfully, left open. This one we see from the M40 every time we pass by in the car.
What a lovely surprise to arrive in Banbury to find a festival going on to celebrate15 years since the current owner acquired Tooley's historic boatyard. Next year, the boatyard will celebrate its 230th birthday - it is the oldest boatyard still operating on the canal system. The boatyard is not normally open to the public, so it was a great opportunity see it.
M disappeared, ostensibly to go shopping but really to acquire R's belated birthday gift, which is an introductory blacksmith's course at Tooley's Yard. R was thrilled at the prospect and we have already talked of bringing MM down to Banbury next year for R to do the course.
The blacksmith's forge was open, so that we got a chance to look around the forge and talk to the resident blacksmith.
We continued on and moored for the night just below Claydon Locks.
Four days: 60 miles, 36 locks and 28.9 hours.
Trip: 480 miles, 393 locks and 296.0 hours.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Big Push (Part One) From Guildford to Goring.

Saturday 30th September to Tuesday 3rd October 2017, from Guildford to Goring.
Our autumn cruising schedule has been determined by a number of factors: the building work at home, mooring fees, the weather forecast and the winter closures programme. All these factors have changed over the past few weeks and so, having started with "Plan A", we are now on at least "Plan G", which is to get MM back up to Aston Marina as quickly as possible. To fit everything in, we need to be at the marina within 15 days - and Canalplan says that is 228 miles and 106 locks away!
So, on a misty Saturday morning, we said farewell to Guildford Town Bridge, with all its happy memories.
Pyrford Marina, which has hitherto had the monopoly on moorings in Surrey, had better watch out - a rival is under construction just a couple of miles further up the River Wey! When we arrived four weeks ago, it was an empty hole, now already it has been filled with water.
M, while sitting daydreaming on the lock beam of Town Lock waiting for the lock to fill, looked down and to her astonishment saw a snake sunning itself two feet below her. It was a beautiful grass snake, about 3ft long, basking in the sun on a floating carpet of leaves in the lock, with its little black forked tongue flicking in and out. By the time that M got her camera out, it was just diving under the water, so she only managed to photograph the body.
The lock keeper at Thames Lock said that they are a regular sight along this stretch of water and "island hop" using the canal.
At Thames Lock, the chestnuts were ready for gathering! The lock keeper helped M to gather a bowlful - and they were delicious.
Grey skies as we started up the Thames on Sunday and passed Runnymede.
Windsor Castle and Home Park always make a splendid sight from the river.
Lovely reflections in the water early on Monday gave way to brighter skies later in the morning.
Perfect weather for drying washing as we walked back from Bourne End with a "few bits".
... And a pretty sunset to follow....
The same view on Tuesday morning at sunrise....

Reading has a large Tesco store right by the river with its own moorings - but there were so many boats already moored there (they all looked as if they were there for the duration) that we couldn't get close to the bank, had to moor up to two horse chestnut trees and then use the gangplank to get ashore.
Passing under Caversham Bridge in Reading.
We have noticed this before, a post box half way up the wall on the river below Tilehurst! It would be difficult to access even from a boat as it is haf way up the wall and there is no path beneath it. We wondered how the "postie" collects from it? Hoverboots?
A very friendly chap in the little lockside café obligingly provided M with a large bag of piping hot chips as the lock was filling. Delicious!
Back at Goring once more and moored up below the lock for the night. We popped into Capture but Abbie was out. We also went into Caroline and Stuart's brilliant delicatessen, but it was late in the day and all their fresh pastries were gone. Bother!
Four Days: 67 miles, 33 locks and 29.3 hours.
Trip: 420 miles, 357 locks and 267.1 hours.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Messing About on the River (Part Two).

Sunday 24th to Friday 29th September 2017 on the Wey and Arun Canal.
More visitors on Sunday - Adrian, Sandra and Alex joined us at Millmead Lock in Guildford for a day trip to Godalming and back.
As we arrived in Godalming, the trip boat "Iona" was just leaving, pulled again by "Buddy". Such a beautiful sight and completely silent! There had been a lot of canoeists on the river on our way down and when Iona returned, the steerer remarked that, at times, the language got a little colourful as the canoeists did not seem to appreciate the fact that a horse drawn boat has "no ***** brakes"!

The five of us had a super lunch in the "Bel and Dragon" in Godalming. It was a really lovely day, as we rarely see the three of them and it was so good to catch up with Alex, who will be fifteen next month.
We sailed back to the Water Meadows outside Guildford where we said goodbye to Adrian, Sandra and Alex.
On the Monday, we went home by bus and picked up the car, so we were able to go home again by car on Tuesday to talk to the builders.
On Wednesday, we cruised down to Godalming again. At Cattershall Lock, we offered a lift into town to two Spanish ladies who had been walking alongside us along the towpath and who were intrigued by the narrowboat business.
After they left us in Godalming, we went shopping and, on our return, we found that they (Isabel and Elena) had left us a very sweet "thank you" gift on MM's stern.
In the evening, we had a farewell supper with Erika and the boys at their house in Milford. It was lovely.  And we caught the bus back to Godalming in the rain!
Finally, on Thursday, we said a reluctant goodbye to Godalming; it's been terrific here (even if Waitrose failed to have any fresh peas in their pods, said M!).
We returned to Guildford where we treated ourselves to a special Wagamama supper opposite the statue of the "happy scholar".
On Friday, we caught the bus back home for the last time before we take MM back to her winter mooring in Staffordshire. We've had an absolutely super two weeks "messing about on the river" down here in Surrey and it was particularly special because so many of our family came to visit.
Tomorrow we start the "Big Push" to get MM back to Aston Marina in two weeks. The "Canalplan" application says that it is 228 miles, 106 locks and will take about 109 hours - so watch this space!!
Over 6 Days: 16 miles, 13 locks and 13.8 hours.
Trip: 353 miles, 324 locks and 237.8 hours.