Tuesday 31 May 2016

Post Crick: Day 1

We were up early again today, and before I'd even had breakfast I started making lunch! We set off about 7.45 in cool (no, it was actually cold) and blustery conditions. It appeared that if we.,d carried on round the corner yesterday we could have moored nearer the junctions, as boats which passed us yesterday evening were moored there -- including Blue Rover, and Lord Trimble's boat Sine Nomine.

The top lock of the Buckby flight needed filling, and we also got rid of rubbish while we were there. It meant we lingered for a while, waiting to see whether anyone else was heading down the locks this early. They weren't, so we set off on our own. The next three locks were all empty, with one or both bottom gates open. The next couple were full. This seems to be because these locks have no proper by-washes, so excess water goes through the paddle culverts and bubbles up into the lock; the effect is most visible when the lock is empty. One of these locks has some metal plates fixed to the wall, as an alternative to fixing the brick work.

It was really windy at times, but at least it wasn't raining as well. The blossom was all coming off the hedges, and in places the canal was completely covered in white petals.

The locks took a couple of hours, and we continued to Weedon where we moored up. I walked down to the little Tesco on the A45/A5 crossroads to get a few things we'd forgotten yesterday. Shortly after I got back, the rain started. The reason we'd stopped there was for a family visit. My sister and family arrived at about 12.30, en route from Cheshire to Kent. We noticed that the Alvechurch hire boat in front of us had come adrift at the stern; Ian helped pull it back it, we rescued the mooring stake, and hammered it back in. I also knocked the bow stake in a bit more, so it was more secure; I wonder if they noticed when they returned.

We gave the family lunch, then Ian took the car and the dog to Stowe Hill Bridge, while the rest of us went by boat. Emily, who's four, frankly found it a bit slow and boring; but Rachel, who's seven, enjoyed standing at the back with me, looking at the boats and the wildlife -- even though it was raining. We soon spotted Ian and the black lab, Harris, walking back along the towpath; when Harris saw Rachel on the boat, he jumped in and tried to swim over! When we reached Stowe Hill, the family disembarked, to continue their journey.

By now I was already wet, so thought we might as well put on a few more miles, so we're back at a reasonable time tomorrow. The rain was never heavy, just fairly steady, and the wind had dropped considerably. We tied up at the moorings just before Nightingales Bridge, at just after 4.30. In the same time, the family had reached the Dartford Crossing!

12 miles, 7 locks. (68 miles, 37 locks)


Monday 30 May 2016

Crick Show: Day 3

We had a great evening last night, listening to Tom Robinson and chatting to Del and Al from Derwent6, whom I think we haven't seen since Crick last year, and Mark and Sian from Mochyn Du. This morning we walked up to the Co-op in Crick to stock up the fridge and the cupboards a bit, then headed over to the show site. Adrian had a look on a couple of boats, and we talked to lots of people. It was nice to meet Graham of Cherilton Narrowboats, which has a boat as the boat test is the July issue. While I chatted to Tim Tyler, Adrian tested one of the massage couches on a stand opposite.

This afternoon, the winner of the vote for Favourite Boat was announced -- Silver Melody by Boating Leisure Services.

Betty by Oakcraft was second, and Once Bittern by Braidbar Boats was third.

As soon as all that was over, we headed off. Once again we were joined for the trip by my second cousin, Catherine, her husband, Nigel, and their kids, Grace and Matthew -- who were very eager to help wind paddles at Watford Locks.

We'd been fifth in the queue at Watford, but could go straight down, so there was no huge delay. By the top lock there are some plants in pots -- and Matthew heard one of the plants apparently tweeting. Underneath, in the soil, was a nest full of chicks. We later saw a robin going back and forth with food.

We stopped just short of Norton Junction, not wanting to get to the junction and find no spaces. It's been quite a good Crick Show this year -- we haven't got rained on, which is unusual, and although the number of boat builders exhibiting has been down, there were some interesting boats on show. But mostly it's been great catching up with people we rarely see, and making new friends.

4 miles, 7 locks. (56 miles, 30 locks)


Sunday 29 May 2016

Crick Show: Day 2

A much more overcast day than forecast today, and pretty chilly at times too; the sun has only really come out this afternoon. I managed to get a good number of mini boat reviews written first thing this morning, and then at around 10am we went over to the show ground. We walked all the stalls, and bought a special sort of glasses cleaner and some sausages. For lunch, we walked into Crick village, and went to the Wheatsheaf. In the afternoon we went back to the show, then I've written more mini-reviews.

During the day we've met lots of people we know, stopping to chat each time. Meeting up with people really is one of the best things about coming to an event like this.


Saturday 28 May 2016

Crick Show: Day 1

We had a great evening with the Braidbar crew at The Moorings last night; the food was good as usual, and so was the company was entertaining.

This morning I went over to the show ground at about 8.30 and met Andy the photographer. We started work looking at boats straight away. We managed to get quite a few done before the gates opened and the public arrived. By the end of the day, we'd looked at twenty-one boats. Now it's just a question of writing them all up.

Friday 27 May 2016

Pre Crick: Day 6

The moorings at Welford Junction have gone onto our list of favourites -- although to be fair I think there are probably lots of places on the Leicester Summit which are just as nice. It was so quiet, and the birdsong was amazing; this morning we heard a cuckoo.

Bright sunshine this morning, and without that far to go we had a cooked breakfast and set off about 9am. The canal was very quiet, and at one point we saw a small deer walking down the towpath ahead of us. The landscape was dotted with huge windmills, which I think look rather beautiful, and there were birds of all shapes and sizes.

On the way we passed the bloggers, Lillyanne, then at we approached Crick we passed Jubilee, Derwent6, and Blue Rover (highly recommended as a very entertaining new blog).

The water point outside The Moorings restaurant was empty, so we stopped and topped up the tank -- not strictly necessary, but reassuring none the less. Then it was down towards the tunnel to find our mooring. We're in the cutting here, but at least it's a bright day -- and next year I won't leave it until all the zone one moorings are booked before getting my order in.

This afternoon, we wandered over to the show site, mainly to collect tickets which was only partially successful. On the way back we called in to see Mark and Sian on Mochyn Du, which is the boat under test in the current issue of Canal Boat.

11 miles, 0 locks. (52 miles, 23 locks)


Thursday 26 May 2016

Pre Crick: Day 5

We were awake early again today, perhaps because we knew that how far we'd get really depended on how long it took to get up the locks at Watford; sometimes, especially with all the traffic for the Crick Show, the wait can be hours. As it was, we were up early and set off at 7am. We arrived at the bottom of the locks half an hour later, before a lock keeper was on duty. These days, the locks are left as self service when there's no keeper, rather than being closed. No-one else was around, so we set off up the flight. The pound between the first two locks was very low, so I ran some water down. By the time we were ready to go into the staircase two volunteer lock keepers had arrived. There were also boats arriving at the bottom and the top; the boater at the top was annoyed he'd have to wait, moaning at the lock keeper that it wasn't his fault it was Crick week. They told him he could come down the individual lock at the top after we'd gone up, and he'd have to wait there. Meanwhile, we just got on with climbing the seven locks, four of which are in a staircase.

By the time we got to the top, there were five boats in the queue to come down. We were shortly at Crick Tunnel, which as usual was dry at first, then quite wet at the northern end. As we slipped through Crick, we were trying to identify our mooring spot; I forgot all about booking until the closest zone was sold out, so this year we'll be down near the tunnel. It didn't really matter today, because we were carrying on and will return tomorrow.

It was a rather cloudy dank day, and seemed to get chillier as the morning went on. We wanted to fill the water tank and do some washing, so we're on the look out for water points. The one at the top of Watford Locks had a CRT work boat moored on it, and we thought we'd be in the way if we went alongside -- not to mention that it would be tricky getting the hose pipe across. The lock keeper told us it was there because some routine maintenance had been planned -- pressure washing of the lock gates and reprinting the cill markers. He said they'd managed to persuade the powers that be that it probably wasn't a good idea in the week before the Crick Show! The Yelvertoft water point had two boats on it, so we carried on going. The canal twists and turns, and is very rural, with plenty of fields of cows and sheep. In places, the hawthorn blossom was spectacular.

Quite a few boats were going the other way, some we recognised as Crick regulars. One appeared to have no-one at the tiller -- indeed it didn't, as the steerer was at a wheel inside at the bow.

We stopped for lunch at Welford Junction, then decided that as it was still early we'd head along the Welford Arm, mostly because it was there, and because there was a water point there. We haven't been along the arm since 2008, in our Debdale days. It seems the junction is an awkward distance from everywhere!

We'd seen a number of boats turn up the arm, so when we got to the only lock there was one boat going up and another waiting.

At the end of the arm we stopped at the water point, and waited while another boat finished filling his tank. We also started a wash load and got rid of rubbish. Once we'd watered up we turned and headed back.

We moored in the same spot at Welford Junction, except facing the other way. The sun has come out, and there's very little to be heard apart from birdsong. I reckon the nearest road is the best part of a mile away. I can see why people who want to work on their gunwales like this spot, as the bank is very low down; we've had to lengthen the rope on our fenders so they can reach! After we'd moored up, I went into the neighbouring field to find the aqueduct, which takes the canal over the infant River Avon (yes, that one); here it's nothing more than a stream, but it also forms the border between Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, and we're just on the Leicestershire side.

18 miles, 9 locks. (41 miles, 23 locks)


Wednesday 25 May 2016

Pre Crick: Day 4

We were awake and up pretty early, possibly because of the noise of the motorway and the trains. By about 8 o'clock I was making a lemon drizzle tray bake, as I knew we had visitors later. Once that was out of the oven, I walked back up to the broken lock to see what was going on. On the way, I passed a floating crane on the way up, which soon arrived where it was needed.

The problem was that the pin on the bottom of the lock gate was sitting on the cill, and the guys were having trouble lifting it off, and getting it back into its pot. The crane was really only there to support the gate -- it wasn't really big enough to do a full lift. The heavy work was done by a trolley jack and crow bars.

Progress seemed slow, so after a while I headed back. Our visitors, the Herbies, Kath and Neil, who'd dropped in en route from Cropredy to Cambridge, had already arrived -- and we had a great couple of hours catching up with them. We normally see them a lot at Crick, but this year they've moved their boat to Cropredy so won't be at the show.

At lunchtime, news filtered through that the gate was back in place, the CRT staff were fixing it in place, and there would be movement this afternoon. It was about 3pm when the first boats went into the lock; I walked up to the bottom lock with a windlass to help, as had two guys from the camping boat, William, which was much further back in the queue -- including Ryan who's usually on the coal boat, Southern Cross. The procession of boats heading for the lock reminded me of the Heathrow approach flight path.

We were in the fifth locking, sharing with the Mannings on Ivy, the little boat I wrote a feature on a couple of years ago.

After a few locks we started to meet boats coming down. At the lock which had caused the problem, the gate has been wedged into place with struts, and the balance beam has been cut off as it was damaged. It means only one gate is operational on that side.

We got to the top lock in two hours, which isn't bad going in the circumstances. We turned right at Norton Junction onto the Leicester Section; the moorings were quite busy so we carried on to a spot we've used before, near Bridge 3. There's a field of barley opposite, but mostly it's quiet -- you can hear the motorway and trains if you listen for them, but birdsong is the main sound here. Tomorrow we'll go past Crick -- we may have lost most of the time we were expecting to spend up on the summit, but we'll at least get one night there.

3 miles, 7 locks. (23 miles, 14 locks)


Tuesday 24 May 2016

Pre Crick: Day 3

A little boat that I wrote a feature about a couple of years ago came and moored in front of us last night, so this morning I went to have a chat with the owners. With the Buckby Locks still closed, we were in no rush to get going, and finally left at around 9.30. It's not far to the bottom of the locks, and we moored at the end of what looked like a very long queue. I walked up the flight to see what the situation was, and spoke to the most senior CRT person there, the aptly named Lee King. At that stage, all their efforts to put the gate back in place had failed, and they were waiting for more equipment to arrive. Lee said he'd never seen such a badly damaged gate.

Back at the bottom lock, I phoned Adrian, who'd stayed on board doing some work, and decided to have lunch at the Whilton Marina Cafe. While I waited for him to walk up the towpath, I sat on the balance beam and watched numerous birds busily fetching and carrying. A tiny wren made repeated visits to the lock, picking up things from the gate, and even disappearing inside the gaps under the coping stones to find food.

There are some nice cottages at the bottom lock, but one that's always been run down. It's now got significant work under way, with the owners appearing to be living in a caravan in the back garden.

Lunch at the cafe was so-so toasted sandwiches and rather greasy chips; I'm not sure we'd rush back there. Afterwards we went to the Canal Turn Farm Shop by the second lock, and bought some lamb chump chops for dinner tonight, plus some extra veg, butter, and milk.

The farm shop is collecting signatures on a petition, as they're having to close down at the end of the summer, because of the building of a new road. The Flore/Weedon by-pass is going right through the fields where they graze their cattle, and they'll end up having to pay rent on land they can't use. The same road is the reason for the works in the field next to our mooring last night: the road is coming right across it, and there will be a huge embankment and a bridge over the canal and the railway line. I guess that means we won't be stopping there again!

This afternoon we've washed and polished the towpath side of the boat, and talked to lots of people who are either stuck here like us, or were walking the towpath. It's not the ideal mooring, with the West Coast Mainline up on a big embankment on one side, and the M1 only about 100 metres away the other.

However, better news came this afternoon. Someone had been back up to the lock, and found that work boats have arrived, stop planks were in, the lock had been drained, and the gate wasn't as badly damaged at the bottom as had been feared. It might be possible to put it back in place tomorrow morning, so if everything goes to plan there's a chance the locks could re-open in the afternoon.

2 miles, 0 locks. (20 miles, 7 locks)


Monday 23 May 2016

Pre Crick: Day 2

We had a very enjoyable evening with Kathryn last night; we went down to the Navigation for dinner together. Afterwards, feeling rather full, we wandered up to the tunnel entrance, and were surprised by how few boats were moored -- only about seven including us. The other Stoke Bruerne moorings we'd passed during the day, at the Bottom Lock and in the Long Pound, were all completely empty.

This morning we woke to a much sunnier day than forecast. The view when I opened the stern doors was great.

We set off about 8.30, straight into Blisworth Tunnel, which was chilly and very wet in places. At Gayton Junction we turned right and let the stiff breeze push us onto the water point, where we wanted to top up the tank. On getting out the hosepipe, we found the fitting that screws onto the tap was missing -- and nor could we find the spare. Adrian went next door to Grand Junction Boats, where their little chandlery had the required thing; he bought two (as this isn't the first time we've lost them).

Getting away from the service point against the wind was a little more tricky, but we managed it without too much difficulty. Then it's just the long plod northwards. At one point a pied wagtail hitched a ride for a little way on the pole. He must have been tired from catching insects.

We stopped for diesel at Rugby Boats, then pushed across to the other side for a lunch stop. We could easily have stayed there, but decided to go to the other side of Weedon. The plan was that if the mooring before Dodford Bridge was free we'd stop there, otherwise we'd carry on to the bottom of the locks. We were able to stop at Dodford Bridge. Something is obviously happening in the field alongside: lots of the towpath bushes have been cut down, and lines of little sticks with yellow caps are marking out areas; while we've been here, fence posts have been knocked into the ground by a digger.

There's been no update yet from CRT on the progress with the damaged lock at Buckby, so tomorrow we'll move to the bottom of the locks anyway and hope for the best.

12 miles, 0 locks. (18 miles, 7 locks)


Sunday 22 May 2016

Pre Crick: Day 1

Adrian came up to the boat yesterday, and had it not be chucking it down with rain would have boated down to Wolverton. As it was, he decided to stay in the marina, and stocking up with food was done by car.

I had the last of my night shifts to do, and this morning caught a train up to Wolverton, where Adrian picked me up in the car. We set off from the marina almost immediately, at around 9.30. It was sunny and warm (as long as you weren't in the wind). There was plenty of wildlife about, including ducklings and goslings.

At Stoke Bruerne locks we teamed up with a Gayton hire boat, and with a number of crew, progress was pretty quick, even though we were following two boats up. We did some synchronised boating across the shorter pounds.

We had to wait ages for the penultimate lock. The pound above was rather low, and there was a hire boat of Canadians who didn't go into the lock because it had been left open -- and they didn't realise it was to help them.

We moored at the top of the locks, having seen Kathryn. We're going to eat with her in the Navigation this evening, so we'll get the latest on her recovery from her broken hip. We're moored just along from the museum, which is prime territory for having people peering in as they walk past. With it being a nice day, there are plenty of people about.

Normally, we take two days to get to Crick, and go as far as we can on the first day. But as the past few weeks have been both busy and emotional, we're taking the whole week. The plan was to spend some time beyond Crick; but at the moment one of the Buckby Locks is out of action and we don't know when it will be repaired. So we haven't come very far today, and tomorrow we might only be able to go to the bottom of the Buckby flight. We'll just have to wait for news and play it by ear.

6 miles, 7 locks.


Wednesday 11 May 2016

Mochyn Du on test

The June issue of Canal Boat is out, and includes my review of the Fernwood Boat, Mochyn Du. This boat will be at the Crick Boat Show later this month.


Tuesday 10 May 2016


To Mercia Marina for a boat test today. It rained. Even after a three hour car journey home, I'm still wet.

Monday 9 May 2016

A non-cold boat

For a variety of reasons, although principally that I have a boat test to do tomorrow, I drove up to Briar Rose last night after a late shift at work.  It's nice to arrive late and night and find the boat a reasonable temperature!

This morning it was a short drive to Wolverton station to catch a train to London for work.

Tomorrow I need to be up reasonably early for a drive to Derbyshire.