Thursday, 8 October 2015

Back at Braunston

Thursday 8th October, 2015 in Braunston Marina
We have had some peerless early mornings on this trip and today was another one. A clear blue sky and a slight mist on the water.
Our breakfast was supervised by the cows on the other side of the canal. "Were we drinking whole milk?" they wondered.  The answer is "yes" - none of that skimmed rubbish!
We set off after breakfast for the very short run to Braunston; it was a lovely moment seeing the spire of Braunston church in the distance.
"Sheep may safely graze" (with apologies to J.S. Bach). This is a big flock.
Braunston is renowned for the junction between the North Oxford, South Oxford and Grand Union canals, spanned by two classic "Oxford Canal" style cast iron bridges.
We turned into Braunston Marina, where we have booked a mooring for two nights with a power hook-up. "Tail End Charlie" (below) is the boat belonging to our friend Angela, and it is currently for sale in the marina.
We made our way to one of our favourite cafés, the "Gongoozler's Rest", a well-known narrowboat café permanently moored here.
We were touched that the owner, Avril, remembered us and MM from when we were here two years ago. Sitting at the next table (on the left in the picture) was Jenny, the original owner of the café. She first opened the café on the Chesterfield Canal - when the narrowboat was only 25ft long. It was so successful that she added an extra 15ft to the boat and then later another 5ft with an engine - so the boat is now 45ft long! Our second breakfast was excellent, as ever.

Later, we walked up into the village and were saddened to find that another of our favourite tea rooms, the "Cake Slice" in Braunston village, was no more. However, it was heartening to see that it has been taken over by a group of local volunteers as a community project, which seemed to be well frequented.
Walking back to MM via the local locks above Braunston, we were astonished to see this small bat clinging on to a barn wall, apparently fast asleep.
As it was a sunny afternoon, an ice cream from the well-known canal shop was a must. The current owner told us that he has been in residence for 19 years. The shop is a veritable Aladdin's cave of memorabilia, canal ware and provisions - including freshly baked bread.
Tonight and tomorrow night, we will stay in the marina so that we will have power and water and will not have to run the engine to top up the batteries.
Today: 2 miles, 0 locks and 3.9 hours.
Trip: 437 miles, 320 locks and 330.5 hours.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Hillmorton Locks.

Wednesday 7th October, 2015 at Willoughby.
The morning was cold, windy and overcast, so we were in no hurry to leave.
There are three locks ahead of us today at Hillmorton and it was not long before we approached them.
These locks are unusual in that they are duplicated narrow locks - pairs of narrow locks side by side.
Approaching the second pair of locks, there was a narrowboat waiting for the right hand lock so we took the left hand lock.
It transpired that the couple on the other boat were completely brand new to boating and had never done any locks before; they were very confused! They had opened one paddle on the tail gate and one on the head gate and were slowly draining the pound above. Oh dear!!  M quickly and expertly (says R) put them right, exlained how locks worked and helped them through this lock and the next one. 
Then - would you believe it - as we left the top lock, we met two very nervous girls on a hire boat - about to do their first ever lock as well! Luckily there was another boat behind the girls and we asked them to help the girls down the flight.
We love the accommodation farm bridges on this canal. No cars, just bullocks (what? says M?!) wandering from one side of the canal to the other, oblivious to us passing underneath.
Mind you one bullock seemed quite inquisitive and watched us carefully as we approached the bridge.
The clouds began to clear creating a lovely light effect on the water.
We moored up by bridge 85 next to the village of Willoughby.
M's birthday present to R is a special falconry day with Jan, the falconer from Mary Arden's farm. It was to have been today but it has been postponed to Friday because of the bad weather. Jan lives in Willoughby so we moored here because there was a possibility of getting together tonight and to do some reconnaissance.
Unfortunately, it now seems that we can't meet tonight after all - so we will go down to Braunston tomorrow and come back here for Friday.
Today: 8 miles, 3 locks and 4.9 hours.
Trip: 435 miles, 320 locks and 326.6 hours.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Brinklow Castle, Sloes and on to Rugby.

Monday 5th and Tuesday 6th October, 2105 in Rugby.
A rather grey morning with occasional watery sunshine. We set off across the fields in search of The Tump and second breakfast. You can see The Tump in the background.
The "ridge & furrow" pattern in the fields is very common hereabouts.
Brinklow is famous for "Brinklow Castle", a Motte and Bailey fortification built alongside the Roman Fosse Way by the Normans, although there was probably a Roman fort here earlier. It is very unusual in having both an inner and an outer bailey. It is surrounded by a deep ditch, which would originally have been a moat.
We climbed up the "Tump" as the Motte hill is called.
It stands about 40ft above the surrounding land and has a magnificent view of the countryside in every direction. You can see the double bailey in the foreground.
Second breakfast at Pumpkins Deli was as good as it was two years ago! This little coffee shop offers something unusual - gorgeous wedding cakes made entirely from different cheeses! They are works of art.
To M's frustration, there is an abundance of sloes this year yet they are invariably tantalisingly out of reach on the non-towpath side of the canal. But hooray!! - these were on the towpath side and within reach. 
We also gathered some wild damsons near The Tump on our way back to MM where we picked over and sorted these ready for the freezer. Visions of many bottles of sloe and damson gin to be enjoyed this winter! Goody!
The North Oxford Canal is a "contour" canal that meanders along following the contour of the land. In the 1830s, as competition increased from other canals and the threat of railways arrived, the canal was shortened by building embankments and cuttings. Originally it was 36 miles long between Hawksbury and Braunston, yet after the changes had been made, it was over 13 miles shorter! These lovely iron bridges typically mark the original course of the canal.
We moored up in Rugby for the day where we fell into conversation with little Noah and his grandmother, and they came aboard for a look around. Noah had been on a narrowboat "café" earlier in the summer and wanted to know if our narrowboat was a café too. He also fed the ducks.
We had a free afternoon and had planned to go to the cinema. Unfortunately, we set off in quite the wrong direction and walked a mile and a half up a rather horrid dual carriageway. It seems that Mr. Kipling is big in Rugby. Note the floral "cupcake" above the advertisement!
By the time we discovered our error and walked all the way back, we had missed the film that we wanted to see - but we did see four "Eddies" and found a Tesco with a Costa, so all was not in vain!
Tuesday morning dawned fine, but the weather rapidly deteriorated. Soon the rain arrived and we decided to have a quiet day as we are not in a hurry to get to Braunston.
The large cinema complex that we looked for yesterday turned out to be very close (in the other direction!) so, after the customary visit to Costa, we took ourselves off to see the new film "The Intern". It turned out to be the right place to be because when we were watching the film we could hear the rain hammering on the roof!
The film was excellent, funny and touching and very much appealled to Old Codgers like us.
As we left, M was upset to discover that last night there had been a live screening of the "Marriage of Figaro" from the Royal Opera House - and we could have made it. Bother!
Back at MM, the sun came out briefly, but the weather remained very unsettled so we had a quiet evening in.
Yesterday: 5 miles, 0 locks and 6.6 hours (2 days).
Trip: 427 miles, 317 locks and 321.7 hours.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

A Caraboat? And the Vulcan!

Sunday 4th October, 2015 at Brinklow.
Early morning in the middle of nowhere but the weather looks set fair and it turned into a lovely day.
We passed Marston Junction, which is the junction with the 22 mile long Ashby Canal. Two years ago we went to the end and back, it was a lovely journey - and no locks!
Another odd sight – a “Caraboat”. A cross between a caravan and a boat, you can see the folded tow hitch at the front.
Hawkesbury Junction is known to boaters as “Sutton Stop”. It is the junction between the Coventry Canal and the North Oxford Canal and was one of the places where working boaters picked up their “orders” to pick up coal from local coal fields. We filled up with water here opposite the old engine house, which is in the process of being restored.
There is a very tight 180deg turn off the Coventry, under the classic “Oxford Canal” cast iron bridge and through a six inch deep “stop lock” designed to stop the Oxford stealing the Coventry’s water in the days of working boats.
The lock is very narrow and, after such a tight turn, R seems unsure if he will make it in to the lock!
A hire boat was waiting to come into the lock from the other side. It was their first ever lock and R explained how a paddle works to the lady, who asked for help as she was very unsure of what to do!
Soon after we set off on the North Oxford Canal, we saw this gentleman apparently sleeping on the bridge parapet. Sleeping off the excesses of a Saturday night perhaps? We hoped that he did not get out of bed on the wrong side, he would have had a nasty shock!
The afternoon was lovely (Look at that peerless blue sky!) and Bridge 16 made a beautiful picture, even though it was a bit battered.
We could not say the same thing about the M6 bridge, which is both ugly and very noisy. Horrid!
By contrast, the tractor in the adjacent field tilling the soil epitomised the peaceful rural idyll.
We moored up for the day just outside Brinklow, almost in exactly the same place as we did two years ago.
Another very unexpected sight was the Vulcan flying low past us. We just managed to get the camera out in time to catch it as it flew past.
It is due to make its final flight this weekend, 10th and 11th October, so we were privileged to see it this evening.
One other “first” today was a sighting of a water vole at the water’s edge. They are an endangered species, not least because they are very shy and wild mink like to eat them – so a rare sight indeed.
And lastly – an unwelcome surprise – we are without internet for the next three days. "Bother!" (says R). "Hooray!" (says M)!
Today: 10 miles, 1 locks and 4.4 hours.
Trip: 422 miles, 317 locks and 315.1 hours.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Lockwheeler on the Atherstone Flight - 16 Weeks Old!

Saturday 3rd October, 2015 Near Polesworth.
Nice to see nb “Tacet” still next to us in the early morning. We made an early start, hoping to find the Atherstone Flight of eleven locks in our favour.
No such luck! Another boat had started up the flight even earlier than us and, as a result, every lock but one was against us! Despite this, we did the flight in just two and a half hours and found them thoroughly enjoyable.  Close to the top, we met baby Malachai (aged 16 weeks) doing his first ever locks – with a little help from his Dad!
Malachai’s Mum and Dad live on board, so no doubt it won’t be too long before he is doing the locks on his own.
Bridge 42 presented a lovely vista with the Virginia Creeper turning red.
We moored up at the top of the lock flight opposite a disused hat factory. We met the lady who owns the house opposite, she complained that yobs were always robbing stones from her garden wall to throw at the factory. In consequence, her garden wall had a large hole in it.
Atherstone has a proud history of hat making, which we plan to explore more on our return journey in about ten days’ time. The town has some charming side streets that are still cobbled.
And, no visit would be complete without a short break at Costa!
After lunch, we carried on south. It is not often that we have seen llamas on our travels.
But certainly, this is the first time we have ever seen Dr Who’s Police Box – I wonder if he remembers where he left it?
There are many tall spoil heaps in this area, remnants of an industrial past. The one in the background of this photograph is known locally as “Mount Jud”.
This was a surprise! A reminder of a less sophisticated technology – able to handle as many as 24 trunk calls simultaneously!
Today: 11 miles, 11 locks and 9.0 hours.
Trip: 412 miles, 316 locks and 310.7 hours.