Thursday 31 May 2012

Crick-bound - day 2

Last night there was a dramatic thunder storm accompanied by extremely heavy rain.  This morning was grey and drizzly to start, and we set off at 8.  Neil and Kath's friends Rick and Marilyn, who live in Long Buckby, were due to come and help us up the Buckby flight, and we spotted them walking along the tow path well before the locks.  For the locks, Kath took the tiller so I could have a go at swinging a windlass.

The bottom lock was against us, but there was no-one in sight coming down.  We took our time getting the lock ready for us and no other boats were approaching along the straight, so we set off on our own.  We also had to turn the second lock, but then started meeting boats coming down.  In fact, we met a boat at every lock after that, so didn't have to turn any more.  We got into a decent rhythm, and made good progress up the flight.

At the top, we were in need of tea and coffee, so we stopped on the water point so I could ensure I started the Crick weekend with a full tank.  It didn't take long, so we pulled the boat forward onto the next moorings which were completely empty.

Refreshed with tea and cake (Rick had brought one of this famous seed cakes to add to our collection) we set off again and turned right at Norton Junction.  The section from the junction to the locks always seems longer than it should.  When we got to the locks, and were third in the queue - the boat immediately in front was the Wharf House show boat.  Neil went to see the lock keeper who told us to go up the first two locks (which are individual ones) and wait below the staircase.  Three boats were to come down, so we moored up and had a very convivial lunch.

Once the three boats had passed us we entered the staircase locks, which have been decorated for the jubilee.  By then the rain had arrived.

We seem to have timed things very well.  A hire boat which arrived at the top was told they'd have to wait until tomorrow, and we were told that a queue of nine boats had built up at the bottom, including two Steve Hudson show boats.

Crick Tunnel was fairly dry inside, then close to the marina we were greeted from the tow path by people pointing us towards our mooring.  The space looked too short to me, but we got in with as much as half an inch to spare at each end.  Actually, there's not that much space, because Briar Rose's bow fender overlaps with the stern fender of the boat in front.

Neil and Kath have been invaluable help and great company, and I'm very grateful to them for giving up their time to make the trip.  It was also great to meet Rick and Marilyn, who are also very entertaining.

Tomorrow I'll hope to get into the show site, and may even be able to start looking at boats.  I've got twenty mini boat reviews to do, so any head start will be a help.

12 miles, 14 locks.  (27 miles, 21 locks)

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Crick-bound - day 1

I set off in the car at 8 this morning, bound for Crick, to pick up my guest crew - Kath and Neil from Herbie.  I arrived a bit early, so wandered along the tow path to identify my booked mooring for the show.  We arrived back at Thrupp Wharf shortly after 9.30, and set off in blazing sunshine before 10.  At Stoke Bruerne locks, we paired with a waiting Napton hire boat, and flew up the flight.  Neil and Kath worked the locks with the crew of the hire boat and a couple of volunteer lock keepers.  All the locks were in our favour.

At the top lock, a boat was coming down, so we could go straight into that one too.

We stopped above the locks for lunch.  I've never seen Stoke Bruerne so empty: between the locks and the tunnel there were only a couple of boats.

After lunch, we headed through the tunnel, completing it in half an hour.  It was cool but not cold inside, but it was very wet, with massive amounts of water coming down from the roof.  It was still sunny at the other end, but soon we saw a black cloud approaching.  Just after Gayton Junction, we passed a boat with a garden in a little boat behind.

Before long the rain started, and while it didn't last too long, at times it was absolutely torrential.  We moored for the night at Bridge 28, Standingham Bridge, at about 5.15pm, with the sun out again.

15 miles, 7 locks.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Crick prep day

I was awake quite early, in spite of being tired.  I think the night shifts followed by an early shift mean that my body clock is a bit confused.  Anyway, it was sunny so I got up as I had a list of jobs to do before setting off for Crick tomorrow.  Just after 8 I was on the roof trying to wash off the accumulated dust and the blossom which had joined it overnight.  Then I washed the towpath side of the boat and cleaned the windows.

At about 9, I set off towards the lock, bound for Tesco at Wolverton.  It would have been quicker to take the boat back to the marina and go by car, but the boat option seemed like more fun.  Cosgrove Lock was empty, so I checked to see whether anything was approaching the come up -- you can see for the best part of a mile from here.  There was nothing coming, so I filled the lock and took the boat in.  I think this is the first lock I've done single-handed, and while it's a wide one it's also fairly shallow.  As I emptied the lock, I was surprised to see a boat approaching.  It turned out to be Mick the fender man and his wife, Hazel, who moor along here, coming to get water.  Mick realised I was on my own, so kindly came and closed the gate after I left.  I noticed as I passed their mooring that their little dog was home alone, sitting serenely in its bed, just waiting.

There were no boats at Wolverton, so I picked my spot and moored up.  On one side of the canal is a beautiful old railway shed, converted to apartments and offices.  On the other is a new block of flats.  I always think it's slightly ironic that if you live in the better building, you get the worse view, but if you live in the worse building, you get a better view.

Either side of the bridge over the canal are sculptures of figures.  One is made of bands of metal and is carrying cyclists; the other is made from railway tracks and carries a train.

I made the two minute walk to Tesco and did a big shop.  Back at the boat, I made a batch of pastry and left it to rest in the fridge while I set off again.  The sun had come out again, and the temperature was rising.  I went to the winding hole at New Bradwell to turn around.  On the way back, I got to the bridge by The Galleon pub, which is at a strange angle and is completely impossible to see whether anything is coming.  I gave a blast of the horn, and was surprised to hear a blast in return.  It meant I was able to stop while an ex-OwnerShips boat came through.  It was the first moving boat I'd passed.

I moored up on the Cosgrove moorings just beyond the Iron Trunk aqueduct.  I rolled out my pastry and lined a flan tin, which I put in the freezer to chill while I had lunch.  Later I put the pastry in the oven, and while that cooked I made some cake batter; when the pastry came out, the cake went in; while that cooked, I made the filling for my flan, which went in when the cake came out.

In between all of this, I got the Brasso out and had a go at the mushroom vents and the portholes.  Also, having heard the distictive thump of an old engine, I poped outside to say hello to Alan Fincher, one of the stalwarts of the Canal World Forum, as he passed on his boat, Sickle.

I could quite happily have stayed here, but I need to be back at the marina for access to the car tomorrow, as I'll be going to pick up my crew for the trip to Crick.  But I decided to leave it late; I had dinner, and set off  at 7 on another beautiful evening, once Cabin Pressure had finished (one of Radio 4's 6.30 comedies that's actually funny).

The lock was against me, so I had to empty it.  Then I drove the boat in very slowly, and got off with the centre line at the tail of the lock.  When it came to opening the paddles, I took things very slowly.  Like most Grand Union locks, though, opening the ground paddle on the same side as the boat keeps the boat to the side.  Then I opened the gate paddle on the oppsite side, which has the same effect.  I bow hauled the boat out of the lock, because I thought that would be less trouble.  Back at the marina I did a perfect spin to reverse onto the pontoon, and was all moored up by 8.

Tomorrow, the journey to Crick begins.

6 miles, 2 locks.  (7 miles, 2 locks)

Monday 28 May 2012

Mostly (but not entirely) working

The alarm went off at 5am, and there was a fantastic view from the front of the boat, with mist on the water and the sun appearing over the hedge.

45 minutes later I was driving out of the marina heading for work.  I arrived back just before 7.30 this evening, with the sun shining, the air still, and the temperature still at 25C.  In short, it was too nice an evening to waste, so I changed into shorts, prepared the boat, and pulled off the pontoon and out of the marina.  I had an audience of the people in the garden and on the balcony of The Navigation Inn next door.

The water was so still there were some lovely reflections.

As I came through Cosgrove Bridge I was amazed to see two boats coming towards me, both Willow Wren hire boats from Rugby.  I slotted into a Briar Rose sized mooring above the lock.  Then another Willow Wren came past, and few minutes later two Union Canal Carriers hire boats from Braunston.

The church bell ringers have been practising since I got here.  This is the view from the side hatch.

1 mile, 0 locks.

Sunday 27 May 2012

Dozy Sunday

I came up to the boat this morning, at the end of a night shift.  It was my fourth night in five, so I was glad that the drive was easy and I arrived just before 9am.  Having unpacked the car, I changed the bed and put the washing machine on.  After a few minutes I realised that it works better if the water is turned on.

While the machine was on, I got to work cleaning the Squirrel stove, which I'm hoping won't be needed for a few months.  I also stowed the chimney, although really it needs replacing.  The handle is hanging on by a thread, and one of the struts on the coolie hat is broken.  Maybe there'll be chimney deals at the Crick show next weekend.

Once I'd hung the washing out to dry in the cratch, I set off for a walk to Cosgrove.  I'd noticed from the Free Spirit blog last night that they were moored above the lock, so I thought I'd see if they were still there.  They weren't; they must have left pretty early this morning.  So I walked past the lock to the aqueduct, where a day boat crossing.

On the way back I popped into the caravan park shop to get something for lunch, then wandered back along the towpath.  The way the sun was shining on Cosgrove Bridge really showed up how the stone has been weathered.

Back at the boat, I shelved any plans for washing the side: it was just too hot.  Then after lunch I was overocme by tiredness.  I went for a quick lie down, and woke up a couple of hours later.  Maybe now the sun has moved round, I might get round to at least cleaning the windows on the pontoon side this evening.

The marina is full of swallows skimming the water.  I was looking out the front doors earlier, when a swallow flew right inside the cratch, before making a sharp u-turn as flitting off again.  Over the past couple of hours, a whole procession of boats have returned to the marina.  The turn from the Stoke Bruerne direction is very sharp, and some helmsmen have mastered how to do much better than others!

It will be an early night for me, as I have one more shift to do before a couple of weeks off for the Crick boat show next weekend.  Tuesday will be a prep day, and I'll set off of Wednesday - the day the weather is due to change.  Of course in a normal year, this would have been the bank holiday weekend, and we'd have been sweltering at the boat show.  Let's hope moving the holiday weekend doesn't turn out to be a bad idea.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

May cruise - day 5

It's been a day which looks warm, but has been quite chilly in spite of the sunshine.  We were moored within sight of Stoke Hammond Lock, so Adrian walked down to get it ready while I cast off.

As I approached the lock, a boat arrived below, so we could leave the gate open.  Next to the lock is a pump house, which are common on this part of the Grand Union.  While many still have their pumps, and several have been brought back into operation because of the drought, this one has been converted into a lovely house.  It seems that the original part of the building in the kitchen, and there's a two-storey extension behind.

Many stretches of the canal in this area are lined with poplar trees, which look striking because of their height.

Before long we arrived at Fenny Stratford Lock, and this time were on our own.  This is the third time we've been through this lock, but the first where we've had to swing the bridge out of the way ourselves.

Heading through Milton Keynes, we met a number of boats at bridge holes.  The first was a widebeam boat operated by the St John Ambulance.  Then I waited while Nutfield and Raymond came through a bridge.

Adrian jumped off briefly at Gifford Park to go to the shop.  Just after Great Linford Wharf, we stopped for lunch.

Our next stop was at Bridge 74, on the outskirts of New Bradwell.  I'd researched recycling centres in Milton Keynes and found that there was one just a hundred metres from the bridge, and it takes used engine oil.  I walked down with the oil we took out of the engine yesterday, and disposed of it.  It feels particularly virtuous that we've managed to get rid of it by boat!

We were soon on very familiar territory, through Wolverton, across the aqueduct, and approaching Cosgrove Lock, which was empty for us.

A Wyvern hire boat was heading towards the lock as we exited, so we left the gate open for them.  Shortly afterwards, we we turning into the marina, and Adrian was making his first attempt at getting into our berth.  The first attempt was scuppered by the gusty wind, but a second attempt was neatly done.  We're staying on board tonight, but it's back to earth with a bump tomorrow, as we're both back at work.  I have to be in London for a shift starting at 6.30, so there'll be an early alarm call.

15 miles, 3 locks.  (43 miles, 14 locks)

Tuesday 15 May 2012

May cruise - day 4

Yesterday evening was very changeable, weatherwise.  Just after I'd blogged saying the sun had come out, there was a very heavy hail shower.  The hail stones bounce on the roof, and a few of them manage to come through the mushroom vents!

Later, we went across to The Grove Lock pub, where we had a very pleasant evening.  First, a colleague from work who lives in Leighton Buzzard joined us with her husband for a drink; they went home, and we had an excellent meal.  Afterwards, we walked along the canal, past the new Grove Lock Marina, up to the next lock.  It was clear and calm as the sun disappeared over the hill.

This morning it was raining when we woke up, sometimes quite heavily, and we were up relatively early.  By the time we set off at 8.15, it had stopped raining but was very cold.  We stopped briefly after about half an hour at the Tesco moorings in Leighton Buzzard, so we could get some bread and other things.

Counting the hire boats at Wyvern Shipping, it seems that four boats went out yesterday.  A boat was coming up the lock, so Adrian went to help them before we went down.  The next stretch was cold and blustery at time, but chinks of blue sky were appearing.  Soon we were at the top of the three Soulbury Locks.

I went to fill the top lock, then the lock keeper came to help.  There was a Wyvern Shipping boat going down ahead, and the lock keeper had asked them to wait for us in the bottom lock.  I assume the lock keeper and his assistant are volunteers; they're helpful, but don't seem entirely clued up on the most efficient way of doing gates and paddles.  Anyway, soon enough we were at the bottom, and decided to stop for water.  The Wyvern boat also wanted water, so a little boat which was on the water point having its engine worked on shuffled forward a bit.  It turned out that the two women on board were moving the boat for a friend who's selling it; they'd discovered that little or no maintenance had been done for a couple of years, so there were engine problems and the water pump didn't work properly.

The tap at the bottom of the Soulbury Locks has very good pressure, so we weren't long filling up.  Surprisingly, the sun had also come out.  We carried on for less than a mile, before mooring up just before Stoke Hammond Lock.  We had lunch (while a heavy shower passed through), then tackled an engine oil change, as it's just over 250 hours since we did the last one.

After another heavy shower, we set off to walk to Stoke Hammond.  Hopes of doing a circular walk were scuppered by large "Private, Keep Out" signs on the track near the lock (which used to have a narrow lock alongside, hence the double arched bridge).  Instead, we walked back to Bridge 106 and into the village, where there's a pub and a shop.  The village sign on the green says it was one of the handful of places which lost no men in the Second World War -- hence the "Thankful Village" on the sign.

We got back to the boat in the dry, but there have been showers ever since, including some hailstones.  We've been very lucky, because we've managed to dodge all the rain today.  Tomorrow's forecast is much more promising.

6.5 miles, 4 locks.  (28 miles, 11 locks)

Monday 14 May 2012

May cruise - day 3

It was raining first thing this morning, so we took the opportunity of dozing in bed.  Once we got up, I lit the fire as it was so much colder than yesterday, and we had porridge for breakfast.  We waited for the worst of the rain to pass, and finally set off at around 10.30.  I walked up to set Fenny Stratford lock.  It didn't take long as the rise is less than a foot; a boat had just gone through, so the swing bridge over the lock was already swung out of the way.

As we left the lock, a boat arrived to go down, so we could leave the bridge and the gate open.  Before long, the rain died out, and the canal passed through some very pleasant countryside.  We arrived at Stoke Hammond lock just as a boat was leaving, so we could go straight in.  The same thing happened at the three Soulbury Locks, where the boat leaving was another Braidbar, Ice Breaker.  There was also a lock keeper at the locks, so he went and opened gates further up the flight.

We stopped for lunch just before Bridge 108, where we spotted a length of piling.  Setting off again, we went past The Globe pub at Linslade, which is currently closed.  The building is surrounded by fencing, and there's a lot of refurbishment going on.  By now we were following a very slow boat; even on tickover we were catching them up.  But it did at least mean that we could share Leighton Lock with them, and once we were up they let us go first.

Immediately above the lock is Wyvern Shipping's hire base.  They have quite a few boats out, because we've seen them.  But they still had 24 boats back at base, moored up to three abreast across the canal.  Many of the boats are quite old, but they always look smart and well looked after.

We went through Leighton Buzzard, and on to Grove Lock where we winded in the arm just below the lock and moored up on the tow path.  As we moored up, the sun made an appearance.  We plan to treat ourselves to a meal out at the Grove Lock pub this evening

9.5 miles, 6 locks.  (21.5 miles, 7 locks)

Sunday 13 May 2012

May cruise - day 2

We woke to a beautifully sunny, calm morning, and although we're both quite tired were up and about reasonably early, setting off at 8.15.  The first major landmark is Wolverton, where the old railway sheds have been converted into smart flats and offices, with new builds opposite.  There's a dramatic sculpture outside the flats, then a little further on there's a mural highlighting Wolverton's railway heritage.

By canal, there's a bit of a gap between Wolverton, Great Linford, and Milton Keynes; by road, there's no gap at all.  There are quite a few moored boats along this stretch, so going was fairly slow.  When we got to Milton Keynes Marina we turned in because we needed a pump out.  There's plenty of room once you're through the marina bridge, and I was able to spin round and reverse onto the wharf so the pump out point was on the correct side.  They told us it was self service, but brought out a rubber cone to make sure the connection was air-tight, and also had to turn the pump on and off for us; so semi-self-service, really.  Either way, we were able to give the tank a good rinse through.

Setting off again, a hire boat had just come in the moor opposite the marina entrance.  It didn't make much difference the way we were going, but it would have made a turn the other way virtually impossible.  They realised it wasn't the best place to moor, and followed us for a bit.

We met a boat at a blind bridge hole, which meant a bit of reversing, then had to go through a fishing match which seemed to go on for miles.  Bridge 92 makes for a pleasant scene, with a collection of old canalside buildings.  Immediately beyond it, the A5 thunders overhead on a high bridge.

There were only a couple of boats on the extensive moorings at Fenny Stratford, so we picked out spot and moored up.  After lunch, we walked through Fenny and Bletchley to Bletchley Park, home of the wartime codebreakers.  The museum seems a little disorganised in places (some might even say random), and some attractions, like the model railway society, have nothing to do with codebreaking at all.  Still, we had a pleasant couple of hours looking round, and our tickets are valid for a year.

Bletchley town has very little to recommend it.  Our route took us along the main shopping street, which is mostly discount stores, takeaways, and charity shops.  When we arrived back at the lock, a couple of boats were going through, so we swung the bridge back for them.  Tonight, we'll roast a chicken and take things easy.

10.5 miles, 0 locks.  (12 miles, 1 lock)

Saturday 12 May 2012

May cruise - Day 1

I arrived at Thrupp Wharf at about 2pm, having stopped at Tesco in Buckingham on the way.  Adrian was coming up from Dorset, and arrived just after 3pm.  We set off less than fifteen minutes later, heading for Cosgove.  At the lock, a boat was coming up and one was waiting to go down so we joined them in the lock.

Below the lock another boat was waiting, so we could leave the gates open.  The Cosgrove trip boat had just winded, and went into the lock backwards, presumably because it moors facing in that direction.  The old working boats Raymond and Nutfield were moored below the lock.

We pulled in and moored up just before the Wolverton Aqueduct, and went for a walk to see it from below.  There's a little horse tunnel to get under the canal.  The aqueduct has recently been repainted, and there are new interpretation signs, all carrying the Canal and River Trust name and logo, rather than BW.

The River Great Ouse, which the aqueduct crosses, was flowing very fast:  ducks were speeding by without even having to paddle.  It's a very pleasant spot with open fields and well made footpaths, and seems to be well used by the people of Milton Keynes.  You can also walk up the line the canal used to take, before the embankment and aqueduct were built, when locks took boats down to the river and back up again.  One of the boards explains how difficult it was to cross the fast flowing river with a horse drawn boat, and you could really appreciate that today with the water moving so quickly.  There's also a reconstruction of one of the locks.

As we returned to the boat we bumped into Mick the fender man and his wife, Hazel, who moor opposite.  It's turned into a lovely sunny evening, and this seems to be a nice quiet spot.

1.5 miles, 1 lock.

BCN map

Heron maps have published a map of the Birmingham Canal Navigations - and inside are two of my photos.  The first shows Chimney Bridge on the Tame Valley Canal (with Briar Rose's roof!)

The other is from our Debdale days, and shows the converted mill alongside the Walsall locks.