Wednesday 28 May 2014

Post Crick -- Day 2

I was just about to start cooking dinner last night when there was a knock on the roof:  Kathryn had read the blog, and walked up to tell us about a stoppage at the top lock in the morning.  It was due to start at 8am, and continue until 4.30.  If only we'd gone down the top two lock like we normally do!

As it happened, Adrian had gone to the pub to use the wifi, and was planning to call on Kathryn on his way back.  When he did, he was a bit surprised that she already knew where he'd been.  Later in the evening, we went with Kathryn to The Navigation for a drink, and a very pleasant couple of hours chatting.

On the way back to the boat, I knocked on the roof of our neighbours (our locking partners for the Buckby flight), because I knewthe stoppage would disrupt their week's hire.  We agreed that we'd set off together, early.

And so it was that at about 7.40 this morning, I was heading to the lock with a windlass in one hand and a cup of tea in the other.  It was raining again.  The CRT guys were already there to start work on the lock, to stop the bottom gates leaking so much.  One of them told us it was pointless going down, as someone had been sent to lock the bottom lock, to stop people coming up.  This seemed like a mad idea to me, as people could still come up to the long pound, or go down from it.  Anyway, we filled the lock, got the boats in, and were down the lock before 8am.  As he set off, Adrian told a couple of Wyvern hire boats behind us what was going on; they also got moving quickly, but I'm not sure whether they were quick enough.

Our locking partners moored up in the long pound, as they had friends meeting them for a bit of boating today.  Fortunately, a boat had just set off from the same pound, so we teamed up with them for the remaining five locks.

The couple on the other boat had owned it for 25 years, and moor just this side of Marsworth.  We had a very efficient and pleasant trip down the locks with them.  There was an enormous amount of water down the flight.  At some locks, not only was the water over the gates, it was also over the sides and flowing down the towpath.  At the bottom, which we reached before 9am, we told a few crews about the stoppage.  No-one knew it was happening, and there were no signs anywhere.

We had a very easy run back to the marina, arriving a bit after 10am.  We were soon moored in our berth and had our stuff packed up.  Within an hour, we were in the car heading home.  We were saying as we drove that Crick is one of the most sociable times of the year, with plenty of meeting up with friends from around the system.

6 miles, 7 locks.  (28 miles, 21 locks)

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Post Crick -- Day 1

I listened to the weather forecast on the Today programme this morning, and couldn't determine whether we were in the part of the country where the rain would clear in favour of a much brighter day, or the bit where there would be heavy rain all day, leaving dangerous amounts of standing water on the roads.  It seems we were in the latter part.

We set off at 8.10 in the rain.  It was a little under half an hour to Norton Junction, and just as we approached a Napton hire boat went across, heading to the locks.  It meant we had a locking partner for the Buckby flight.  The couple on board are long time hirers, and we made good progress.  A few of the locks had to be turned, but we also met a couple of boats coming up.  It seems I took just one photo today.

At the bottom of the locks, Adrian pulled onto the offside mooring so he could get some firelighters and logs, while I walked back to the next lock to go to the farm shop for pork chops and some veg.

Setting off again, I steered the long lock-free pound while Adrian worked.  We had a stop for water just through Weedon, as we haven't filled up since before the show.  The tap had decent pressure, so it didn't take too long.  In the afternoon it stopped raining at times, but it was still pretty cold and damp.  We came through Blisworth Tunnel without meeting anyone, and then had a decision to make.  We prefer the moorings two locks down as most of the ones at the top are in a rather gloomy cutting; but we decided that if there was a nice open mooring in the village we'd stop there.  As it turned out, there's almost no-one here at all, so we tied up at about quarter to four, just as it came on to rain again.  I was so wet and cold I had a hot shower to warm up. Our locking partners from this morning have just arrived, and slotted into a space in front of us.

17 miles, 7 locks.  (22 miles, 14 locks)

Monday 26 May 2014

Crick Show -- Day 3

It's rained on and off all day, and more on than off.  With no particular reason to get up early, we were a bit later to surface.  Once we'd had breakfast we decided to turn the boat around so set off up to the winding hole.  Having turned, we slotted back into our space.  The whole thing took about forty minutes.

As it was raining, we both did some work before heading over to the show ground at lunchtime.  We hadn't been there long when there was a text from Kath asking if one of us would go on the waltzer with her granddaughter, Grace, as neither she nor Neil could face it.  Adrian was volunteered, and it's safe to say he enjoyed it less than Grace did.  Next stop was the dodgem cars, where I was the accompanying adult.

We were waiting for the result of the vote for Favourite Boat at the show.  It went to Shackleton, by Boating Leisure Services at Heyford Fields Marina.

We set off a little before 3.30, trying to get ahead of the crowds a bit.  We passed two boats in the tunnel, then arrived at Watford Locks.  One boat was coming up, and there was a queue in our direction.  One boat was in the pound below the top lock, and we were seventh in the queue at the top.  I went ahead with a windlass and helped the six boats in front of us down the top lock.  We were a bit too efficient, as we kept having to wait for the top lock of the staircase to be reset.

Finally it was our turn.  People from the five boats which had arrived behind us came to help us down the top lock, then it was a fairly rapid descent of the staircase.

With the two lower single locks done, we decided we'd stop at the first nice looking spot we saw.  A bit of piling just before Bridge 3 looked appealing, so we pulled in.  It was nearly 7pm -- a pretty late finish for us these days.  With the queue at the locks, a pretty short journey had taken a long time.  Fortunately, Adrian had started to make dinner hours ago, so we could eat soon after stopping.

5 miles, 7 locks.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Crick Show -- Day 2

Last night we went to see Toyah Wilcox.  She was pretty good, and the crowd was the biggest I've ever seen for the evening entertainment.

Today was much sunnier.  Andy and I looked at five widebeam boats, and because we started before the show opened, we were all done by about 10.30.  Adrian and I then had a look round the show, which seems smaller again this year.  We went back to BR for lunch, then both did work for an hour.  In the afternoon, we met up with Catherine and family, and popped over to the marina to see Chris and Steve who showed us round their boat, AmyJo.

In the evening we had a few people round for drinks.  Unlike last year when everyone turned up together, this time we had visitors strung out over the whole evening.  We ended up going for a food from the Chinese up at the show ground, eating it with friends on the back of a show boat.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Crick Show -- Day 1

The day started with rain, which was torrential at times.  I went over to the show site at about 8.30, and Andy the photographer arrived shortly afterwards and we started looking at boats straight away.  By the end of the day, we'd looked at eighteen narrowboats.

The weather cheered up by late morning, but there was still the odd shower around.  Then at a bit after 5pm a very black cloud came over, and there was the most tremendous thunder and hail storm.

I went back to the boat and have written up a good few mini boat reviews.  We'll go back over to the show site a a little while to see what's available to eat, then Toyah Wilcox is playing later on.

Friday 23 May 2014

Pre-Crick -- Day 4

Just a short update today.  I spent most of the morning over st the show site, and managed to look at a few boats.  I've even written up some of them.  Adrian arrived back from London at about 3pm, and shortly afterwards we were invited over to Herbie for tea and cake with Kath and Neil.  It rained pretty hard while we were there.  We went straight from Herbie to The Moorings, for the pre-show Braidbar dinner.  The food was pretty good.

Thursday 22 May 2014

Pre-Crick -- Day 3

Back to yesterday evening first of all, when we had a visit from my second cousin, Catherine, and family, as they live just a few minutes from where we were moored.  It's great how the kids, Grace and Matthew, just come into the boat and make themselves at home now, without any shyness at all.  Matthew was particularly excited about coming to see us in the evening, as he hadn't done that before!

There was heavy rain overnight.  By the time we left at around 8am, it was looking pretty miserable behind us, but much more promising up ahead.  We did the top lock at Buckby, then headed for Norton Junction.  Braunston is to the left, but we turned right onto the Leicester Arm.

Before long the clouds cleared and the sun came out.  Waterproof trousers and coat came off too.  The countryside is pretty, but what the photo doesn't show is the roar of the M1 which is never far away.

Arriving at the bottom of the Watford Locks we were amazed to find no-one waiting.  I walked up to find the lock keeper, who was near the top, and booked us in.  He said we could come up the first two locks, which are singles, but we'd have to wait while boats came down the staircase of four locks.  So we moored below the staircase and waited for about an hour while four boats came down.  I re-set the second lock each time, to speed them on their way.

Then it was our turn to go up, by which time there were at least three more boats behind us.

Above the locks, once you get underneath the M1, it's pretty rural.  I spotted a green woodpecker in a field, then lost it, then spotted it again.  Consequently, I have just two rather poor photos.

We'd been warned by another boat that Crick tunnel was very wet inside.  They obviously haven't done Blisworth Tunnel after rain, because it wasn't that bad at all.  It's just the last couple of hundred yards which give you a soaking.

We wanted to top up the water tank as we'll now be here for the show at the weekend, and we had to wait for a few minutes while other boats sorted themselves out.  When the tank was full, we set off to find our booked mooring.  There are signs in the hedge, but they're too small to read from the boat, so Adrian got off at the bridge and walked along to identify our spot.  To get there I had to negotiate the temporary bridge which is built each year for the show.

We're tied up outside Farne, just like we were at Higher Poynton last September.

We had a quick lunch, then Adrian headed off to meet a taxi to take him to Rugby railway station.  He's got meetings in London this afternoon and tomorrow.

Since then it's mostly rained, with a few rumbles of thunder.  I'm going with the rest of the Braidbar bunch into Crick later, for a meal at the pub.

6 miles, 8 locks.  (28 miles, 21 locks)

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Pre-Crick -- Day 2

It's been a really fantastic day's boating.  We were up pretty early, and set off at 7.45.  It was misty behind the boat.

The sun was already burning off the mist up ahead though, and it wasn't long before my fleece had to come off, then a couple of locks further up I changed into shorts, as the temperature was rising very nicely.

We did the first five locks of the Stoke Bruerne flight on our own, then joined a boat which had been moored in the long pound for the top two.  The couple on board have retired, rented out their house, and were on their way to Liverpool and Lancaster.  We were jealous!

Through the tunnel, we caught up with a Black Prince hire boat which was going very slowly.  Just one boat came the lther way.  A little way past Gayton Junction we passed Windsor Castle, and I had a very quick chat with Alice and her daughter.  We were in a procession of boats, and her husband was hanging onto a rope for dear life as boat after boat came by as he tried to moor up!

It's a while since we've been past Gayton, so although the water through Bugbrooke, Nether Heyford, and Weedon is very familiar it didn't seem boring.  The sunshine helped, no doubt.  I steered, as Adrian had work to do.  At Whilton, a boat was going into the bottom lock as we approached, and apparently didn't spot us in spite of arm waving and horn sounding.  Still, they waited for us at the next lock, and it turned out to be the Blisworth Tunnel Narrowboats Crick show boat.

We made good progress up the locks, but decided to stop above the sixth lock as Adrian had a conference call at 3.30.  Having moored up, and with the shop just a few yards behind, it seemed rude not to go and buy ice creams.

The forecast for tomorrow seems to have improved a bit.  Anything better than a day-long soaking will seem pretty good.

17 miles, 13 locks.  (22 miles, 13 locks)

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Pre-Crick -- Day 1

We both got up at 4 o'clock this morning.  The car was already packed, and we set off about 40 minutes later, bound for London.  I was dropped off at work, ready for my shift to start at 6.30.  Adrian carried on up to the boat, where he's been working remotely.  When my shift was over I got the train to Wolverton, Adrian collected me, and we were back at the marina soon after 4.

Within a few minutes, we were setting off.  Not far out of the marina, the local swan family came past.  Two cygnets were on the mother's back, and a third then forced its way on board.

My aim was the moorings below Stoke Bruerne bottom lock.  There's always a bit of apprehension when arriving in late afternoon, in case all the moorings are full.  As we turned the final corner, my heart sank as I spotted a boat moored in the rough off the end of the moorings.  Then the moorings themselves came into sight -- and were completely empty.  We picked a spot and moored up at just before 6pm; a little while later a Wyvern hire boat arrived and moored behind.

5 miles, 0 locks.

Friday 16 May 2014

Back to base, then to Shardlow

I woke to a beautiful morning.  I was up early and set off back to the marina at about 7.40.  Within half an hour I was moored back in our berth, reconnecting the shoreline, packing up, and heading for the car.

1 mile, 0 locks.  (6 miles, 0 locks)

Destination for the day was Shardlow for a boat test.  It was beautifully sunny and very warm.  We took the boat to the wide area in front of the Clock Warehouse for the photos.  No sooner had we finished than it clouded over.

The drive home was long and slow.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Cosgrove again

Just like last Thursday, I've come up to the boat after night shifts because I have a boat test to do tomorrow.  Today, I was driving.  I stopped at Tesco's at Wolverton on the way, and arrived at the marina just before 10am.

I set off pretty much straight away, heading to Baxter's at Yardley Gobion, about half an hour away, for a pump out.  That was completed efficiently, so I winded in the marina entrance and began the journey back.  By now the clear skies had mostly clouded over.  As I always prefer to be out of the marina rather than in it, I carried on past Thrupp Wharf heading for Cosgrove.  I've never seen the moorings so empty: the only boat here was the CRT work boat and associated flats, which have been here for a good few weeks.  I winded above the lock; the cattle in the adjoining field were having a great time paddling in the canal.

With a choice of moorings, I picked a spot a couple of boat lengths along from the CRT boat.  As I had my lunch, another boat arrived, and faced with several hundred yards of available space, slotted themselves between me and the CRT boat.

This afternoon, a couple of CRT guys arrived and moved their boat just round the corner.  For what reason, I've no idea.

The sun has come out and it's been really warm.  I took a director's chair into the cratch and was tempted to have a sleep in the sunshine, but instead decided that with the weather improving I'd sweep the chimney and clean out the stove.  I got up on the roof with the chimney brush and got to work.  This is a job which creates what is known in technical language as a right mess, both on the roof and in the stove.  Having swept the roof, I set about the inside of the stove.  All the soot lands on a baffle plate which isn't removable, and has to be taken off by hand.  It's a messy business, and I needed a shower afterwards.

5 miles, 0 locks.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Posh Fox on test

The June issue of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test of Posh Fox by MGM Boats.  It's their Crick Show boat.

Saturday 10 May 2014

Olympic Waterways

Today we went up to London to join Doug and James on Chance for the inaugural cruise round the Olympic Waterways.  It was organised by the St Pancras Cruising Club, and more than thirty boats took part.  We got to Three Mills, and waited for all the boat to arrive.  They'd overnighted at Limehouse.

There's not currently a circuit possible of the Olympic Waterways, because Carpenter's Road Lock is un-navigable, and there's also a blockage because of Crossrail being built.  So today's trip was two there-and-backs.  Half the boats did one arm first, while the other half did the other.

We turned first up the Bow Back River, and quickly reached City Mill Lock, which was open at both ends as the water was level.  Beyond the lock is tidal.

You're soon on the Waterworks River and into the Olympic Park, with the Aquatics Centre on one side, and the ArcelorMittal Orbit on the other.

We turned in front of Carpenter's Road Lock, which has a mirrored bridge over it, then headed back the way we'd come.

After returning to the Lee Navigation, we then turned onto the Old River Lea, just before Old Ford Lock.  The Olympic Stadium is immediately beyond.

You then come to the other side of Carpenter's Road Lock.  After turning onto the City Mill River, you're then on the other side of the Orbit.

 There's lots of work being done to reduce the capacity of the Olympic Stadium, and there were people at work high up in the scaffolding.

It was a really great trip, and the forecast heavy rain didn't materialise.  There was just one heavy shower, and we happened to be under a big road bridge at the time.  It seems that doing an organised trip will be the only way to do these waterways.  They revert to CRT ownership next year, but they have only remainder status, and they're also flood relief channels, so are unlikely just to be opened up for public use.

Many thanks to Doug and James for inviting us to join them, and thanks to the SPCC for organising the trip.

Friday 9 May 2014

Wigram's Turn

To Wigram's Turn, or Napton Junction, today for a boat test.  It was pretty windy, but we weren't put off.  The sun shone sometimes, and it didn't rain, which was about as good as we could have hoped for.

Back to base

I walked down the towpath to the refuse point yesterday evening, and found that lots of boats had arrived and moored behind.  Cosgrove's moorings were still far from full, though.  Later on, the skies cleared, a half moon shone, and there were bats darting about above the water.

This morning it's sunny but breezy.  I set off at about 7.45 and was soon at the marina.  The wind was strongly down the marina; I knew it would blow the bow round, so I'd have to leave the turn late if I was to reverse into our berth.  We have a new neighbour, a short boat whose bow only comes up to our dinette window, and this made things easier.  I was able to get the stern in the jaws of the gap, and let the wind do the rest.

I'm just hoping that the sun is shining and the wind not so strong in Warwickshire in a couple of hours time, otherwise it'll be a tricky boat test.

1 mile, 0 locks.  (8 miles, 2 locks)

Thursday 8 May 2014

Night shifts

The reason for boating down to Wolverton on Tuesday, was that I had a couple of night shifts to do.  I have boat test tomorrow in the midlands, so it made more sense to stay up here than go home.  Wolverton is very convenient for commuting to London, with the station about three minutes walk away from the moorings, and journey times of less than an hour.  The only thing that went wrong was that last night's train to work broke down at Leighton Buzzard, and of course the next one was the stopping service.  A fantastic aspect of the mooring was that I logged on to a very fast BT Wifi hotspot, so I didn't need to use the MiFi the whole time I was there.

This morning, it was already raining in London when I left work just after 7.30 for the walk to Euston.  At Wolverton I made a quick visit to Tesco to buy something for lunch, then got ready to move the boat -- including putting on full waterproofs.  The rain hasn't actually been that heavy (I'd describe it more as steady), and most of the day has also been quite bright.  I headed up to the winding hole at New Bradwell.  When I was about half way through the turn, I noticed that I was being watched by a man on the towpath.  He complemented me on my 'three point turn', and even reckoned it was worth eleven out of ten!

As I headed back I passed a couple of boats coming the other way.  At Cosgrove lock, I was preparing to stop when a lady appeared and opened a gate for me.  She was with a boat about to come down, and as i was single handed offered to work me up the lock, which saved a lot of time.  As I'd always rather be out the marina than in it, I moored at Cosgrove, where I had hundreds of yards of moorings to choose from.  I've come a bit further round than usual, because there's a CRT workboat and flat moored up, and I thought the sound of them clanging against each other would drive me mad.

This afternoon I've done very little, apart from light the fire and doze in front of it.  The only job of any note, was to refill the stern tube greaser.  The local swans have been round a couple of times, showing off their new family.  There are nine cygnets, which looks like quite a handful by anyone's standards.

The forecast for tomorrow is improving all the time, so I'm hopeful we'll get some good sunny spells rather than heavy showers.  A slight concern is the strength of the wind -- both because I've got to get Briar Rose back into the marina, and because it can make boat tests very hard work.

4 miles, 1 lock.  (7 miles, 2 locks)

Tuesday 6 May 2014

New Cratch Cover

This morning, Tim Garland came to fit our new cratch cover.  The old one, which we think is probably the same age as the boat, was falling apart and leaked through the seams whatever we did to them.  Here's the before and after.

We've gone for two zips each side this time, and the doors roll up very neatly.

Tim was all done by mid morning, so I made preparations to head out of the marina.  Reversing off the mooring was ok; I'd feared the gusty breeze would catch the stern and leave me facing completely the wrong way, but in fact I went straight backwards, and the wind helped blow the bow round.

Cosgrove Lock took an age, but as i wasn't in a rush i chatted to the other boaters around.  A boat was in the lock to come up, but was waiting for either a boat on the water point below the lock, or another one coming down the straight.  As it happened, the approaching boat pulled in to moor, so the water point boat, which turned out to be Tranquility, whom we'd seen a few days ago, came up.  By the time I was ready to go down, a Napton hire boat which had been on the water point above the lock was ready to join me, and as they spotted I was on my own, they offered to do all the work.

Below the lock, a mallard hopped up onto the roof, walked about a bit, then got off the other side.

I moored up at Wolverton.  It's a bit of a wind tunnel here, and I had quite a job to get the boat tied securely.  Various other boats have stopped for short periods, presumably to go shopping, but the only other boat here now has a patrol notice attached to it.

This afternoon, a little boat with an elaborate structure on the front, and three guys on board, came past.  They were electro fishing, apparently to remove zander from the canal.  I know this only because every now and then one would shout 'zander', and other would net the fish and put it in a big tank on the boat.

3 miles, 1 lock.

Monday 5 May 2014

Bank Holiday Weekend - Day 3

At our mooring at Stoke Hammond, and the previous one at Bridge 109, we'd seen birds wheeling over the fields making a strange whooping sound.  A bit of research revealed that they were lapwings.  In flight they're black and white; on the ground, you can see they have a big bit of plumage on their heads.  I'm not sure I've ever seen one before.

This morning was another bright sunny day.  We had a fairly leisurely start, and set off about 9.15.  I walked down to Stoke Hammond Lock.  It's joined the ranks of locks on the southern GU which have notices asking that the lock be left empty, so I was pretty sure it would need filling.

While the lock filled, a tern landed on the telephone cable overhead, and squarked.  It was soon joined by another, carrying a fish.  The adult, I presume, then gave the fish to the juvenile, which swallowed it whole.  It was really quite a special moment.  Click on the photos to see them bigger.

We carried on through Milton Keynes, where a marathon was getting under way.  We stopped just after the Portway bridge, with the plan of going to the Camphill Cafe, by Bridge 81, for lunch.  But having walked there, it turned out to be shut, presumably because it's a Bank Holiday.  So we went back to the boat for lunch instead.

This afternoon we've completed the journey back to the marina.  At times it's been very sunny and warm, and we've seen more moving boats today than the past two days put together.  Adrian worked Cosgrove Lock; above it, a chap pulled off the water point right in front of us without looking, and got a bit of a shock when he finally turned round to find us just a few feet behind.

At the marina, we've moored bow in, for the first time ever.  Everything seems a bit strange being round the wrong way!  The reason is that Tim is coming in the morning to fit the new cratch cover, and it'll be easier for him with the bow to the bank.  I'm staying here because of that, but Adrian has to go to work in the morning, so is heading home once we've had dinner.

15 miles, 3 locks.  (42 miles, 14 locks)

Sunday 4 May 2014

Bank Holiday Weekend - Day 2

It wasn't nearly as cold last night, and the sun was again out when we got up this morning.  As we had the eggs from the Stoke Hammond hens, we had scrambled eggs for breakfast, then set off at about 9.15.  It's pretty slow going through Old Linslade and along by The Globe pub because of moored boats and fishermen.  At Leighton Lock we shared with a funny little boat, with a bow a bit like a landing craft.

Above the lock we saw some tiny moorhen chicks -- they were paddling as fast as they could but seemed to be getting nowhere.  Wyverne Shipping had about twenty boats unhired.  Strangely, we haven't seen any heading back today, which is unusual because normally all the weekend boats are due back on Monday morning; perhaps there's a Bank Holiday Weekend hire period, allowing people to return their boats late on Monday, or even on Tuesday.

We stopped at the Tesco moorings in Leighton Buzzard, to get a few things off our running list.  In town, Adrian bumped into Martin, from the Braidbar boat, Icebreaker.  We set off again at around 11.30, and rather than using the winding hole just through the bridge, decided to go on the Grove Lock and turn there.  Below the lock there's an arm, which I think is actually a river which runs into the canal.  I'm not sure whether it's an official winding hole, but plenty of people use it.  My job was made a little trickier because there was a boat moored directly opposite.  Still, there's enough room, and we were soon heading back. 

We passed Tesco again about an hour after we'd left, then dropped down Leighton Lock.  A boat which had just come up left a gate open for us.  We moored below the lock for a lunch break.

This afternoon, we headed back to the Soulbury Three Locks.  There was a boat in front of us, so we reckoned we've had a partner for the locks.  There were also some volunteer lock keepers on duty, so all the locks were set for us, and we hardly had to wind a paddle or push a gate, so we had an easy run down.  The water levels were pretty high in the flight though, so the middle lock was emptied slowly, to avoid flooding the tow path and the pub.  Adrian and the other helmsman, from an ex-OwnerShips boat, Steelaway did some more synchronised boating.  I like the way they're both looking down the side of their boats in this photo!

The pub was pretty busy, not surprisingly as it was so sunny and warm, so we had quite an audience. We've moored up just a little further along, at Stoke Hammond.  When we passed here yesterday, there was virtually no-one here; today there's a long line of boats.  We're actally only about 2 miles from where we moored last night, but it's taken 10 miles and most of the day to get here!

10 miles, 5 locks.  (27 miles, 11 locks)