Thursday 31 August 2017

North West Passage: Day 6

Last night's train journey was fine. This morning, there were quite a few boats working the locks as I walked up the towpath from the station. I liked the reflections of the water under the bridge at the top. Briar Rose is the fourth boat along.

I was pleased that the batteries were higher than when I left last night; by mid afternoon they were up to a hundred per cent, really showing the value of the solar panel.

Adrian arrived back a bit after 5pm. I have one more night shift to do. By the way, Atherstone station is quite bizarre. The building is now a vet's, and the only way to get from one platform to the other is to go back out onto the road, follow it under the railway lone, and come back up the other side.

Wednesday 30 August 2017

North West Passage: Day 5

A non-moving day today, moored just across from the old hat factory. I've been asleep betweem night shifts, and Adrian went off to London this morning -- I saw him briefly on the opposite platform of Atherstone Station when my train arrived at about 9am.

My journey to London last night was a disaster. An exploding e-cigarette closed Euston Station for most of the evening, meaning my train was first delayed and then cancelled. At one point I was stranded at Northampton with no trains going anywhere, and a group of us got in a cab to Wellingborough to get the last train from there to St Pancras. The whole exercise took five hours door to door. Hopefully tonight's journey will be pain free.

Tuesday 29 August 2017

North West Passage: Day 4

After putting in the hours to get the miles under our belts over the weekend, we had just a short hop to do today. We slept much later, and Adrian had a call to take at 10, so it was gone 10.30 by the time we set off. We'd been passed by quite a few old working boats, presumably coming back from the bank holiday gathering at Alvecote. I'm not sure if this one was there, but it was certainly the most unusual.

We had decided that if there was space at the top of Atherstone Locks we'd stop there, and if not we'd go down five to the moorings there. As it happened there was plentybof room at the top, so we picked a spot and moored up. We will be here for a couple of days now, as I have a set of night shifts to do, and Adrian has some meetings in London. We've been to check we know how to get to the station, and we've got some shopping in Aldi. Atherstone also has a busy high street with lots of independent shops, including a chaotic hardware store with almost everything you're ever likely to need.

2 miles, 0 locks. (60 miles, 24 locks)

Monday 28 August 2017

North West Passage: Day 3

Another sunny day, which got really quite hot by the afternoon. We set off at 7.15, and weren't the first boat down Hillmorton Locks, which meant we had to turn them all. Adrian walked down to the locks, while I brought the boat. We carried on through Rugby, of course meeting boats at the busy Clifton Wharf, and at the moorings which are on a bend. At Rugby Wharf a Willow Wren hire boat was trying to get back into the arm, and failing. I'm not even sure how he got himself in that position in the first place, with bow wedged on the bank and stern stuck in the winding hole.

Typically, it was also busy at Stretton Stop, with a day boat going out and two boats coming through the narrows. The next bit of the North Oxford is rather dull, but the sun was shining and there was plenty of farming activity to watch -- harvesting, baling, ploughing, and tilling. Having passed next to no boats where passing is easy, when we got to Ansty with its bridges, sharp bend, and moorings, we met four.

A boat was just coming out of the stop lock at Hawkesbury Junction, so we could go straight in.

Adrian did a textbook turn through the junction, giving the many drinkers at The Greyhound nothing to comment on.

We stopped at one of the water points to top up the tank, and run a wash load. A day boat was moored right in the middle of the water point moorings having their lunch, but we managed to fit in behind them.

At Charity Dock, the manekins looked much more organised than ever, as if some thought had been given to the vignettes. A montage is virtually compulsory.

As we approached Nuneaton I texted my Radio 4 announcer colleague, Jim Lee, who lives nearby, and he walked down to the canal and jumped on board for it bit. It was great to see him, and as he grew up round here, he knew even more than the guide book about the quarries and the lost railway lines.

We carried on to Hartshill, mooring up at around 5pm. The boat ahead of us had come adrift at the stern, so we re-moored that, stopping it from drifting out across the cut.

25 miles, 4 locks. (58 miles, 24 locks)

Sunday 27 August 2017

North West Passage: Day 2

We are on a bit of a mission this weekend, and fortunately I'm in the habit of early starts this week, so I was up at 6 and set off at 6.45. Adrian stayed in bed a little while longer. It was a lovely morning -- chilly but bright.

It took the expected time of just over four hours to get to the bottom of the Buckby Locks. The only slight delay was that just after the massive earthworks for the new Flore-Weedon bypass, there was a clunking noise and the tiller became very hard to move. I pulled over, at which point whatever has caused the problem seemed to fall off; I had a poke about with the pole and down the weedhatch, but couldn't find what the problem had been.

At the locks, we shared the bottom one, but they had friends waiting at the next one, so we were left alone. I wasn't too disappointed, as they were borrowing the boat and had little idea what they were doong, but it did make for a slow ascent. There was also quite a bit of traffic coming down, so there was a fair bit of waiting around. It was a lovely sunny warm day, so not much of a hardship. We've done this flight so many times I took few photos, except of a butterfly.

At the top lock I chatted to some people on the last leg of the London Ring, returning to Blisworth. We turned left towards Braunston at the junction, and had lunch on the move before the tunnel. We passed lots of boats on this stretch, including Ryan on Southern Cross, and in the tunnel we passed three more almost immediately. That end of the tunnel is very uneven, and each boat seemed to be at a kink. Two of them had nav lights, and I realised how much easier it is to judge where boats are when they have them.

As we got to the top lock, two boats were just going in to go down. We'd arranged to meet Catherine, Nigel, Grace, and Matthew -- who only got back from two weeks on their share boat, Rowington, yesterday, but always seem up for a bit of locking. There had been no-one visible behind us in the tunnel, so we eventually set off alone; once again it was slow going, with all the traffic down hill. Another boat started to come down the top lock, so we said we'd wait for them in the second, but then another boat joined them off the moorings, so we went ahead ourselves.

At the bottom of the locks, we all had an ice cream from the shop, then we gave the family a little trip down to the junction. Along the way we passed Waterway Routes, and had a quick chat with Paul. After we dropped off Catherine and co, we had an interesting few minutes. Through the road bridge, where it's pretty narrow anyway, there's a burnt out Sea Otter at the start of the moorings, then a couple of old boats usually seen in the Rugby area were being hauled along the outside of the moored boat, followed by a hire boat. We reversed a bit to get out of the way, then another boat came along after we'd set off again, which meant a visit to the offside bushes for us. After that, the canal was pretty quiet and beautiful.

We carried on as it was a nice evening, right the way to Hillmorton. We stopped before Bridge 72, just in case there wasn't room after it. We'd been on the move for almost exactly twelve hours, but by turning off the engine during the longer lock waits, we had only 10.9 hours on the engine.

24 miles, 13 locks. (33 miles, 20 locks)

Saturday 26 August 2017

North West Passage: Day 1

Another early alarm, and as I went onto the M1 at Milton Keynes the junction's southbound slip road was a mass of blue flashing lights. The crash there turned out to be one of the biggest stories of the day.

While I was at work, Adrian did various boat jobs. He went to the tip with a load of stuff we've been carrying around in storage under the dinette, including two old televisions, a Sky box, and the satellite dish we gave up on years ago. He also went to collect things ordered yesterday from John Lewis and M&S.

My journey back from work was one of the quickest ever, and we were pulling out of our berth in the marina at 3.30, in very nice conditions and under big Northants skies.

It took the usual hour and a half to get to the bottom of the locks, in which time we passed ten boats going the other way. At the locks, a widebeam was coming out of the bottom one so we could go in, and there was a narrowboat waiting to come down. There was a boat in the third lock, which waited for us, and we did the next two together. They moored up in the long pound, while we carried on. We knocked on Katharine's door and had the usual catch up while the top lock filled. Moored just beyond Sculptor is the interesting-looking Progress.

It was 6.30 when we went into Blisworth Tunnel. It was so misty in there that we were a good third of the way through before I could see the far end. The tunnel took 29 minutes. We carried on to Blisworth, where the village moorings were as empty as I've ever seen them, so I was pretty confident the ones closer to Bridge 49 would also not be full. Sure enough, there are only a few boats here, and there was even a space on the piling, rather than the bit where pins are needed.

9 miles, 7 locks.

Friday 25 August 2017

Pre-trip: Day 2

My alarm went off at 4am and I caught the 0500 train from Wolverton to London for work. Adrian has been working from the boat; fortunately the mobile signal seems better in the marina these day. He's also been to do a big shop.

When I got back, I changed a couple of our 240 volt sockets for new ones with USB ports, to reduce the number of plugs needed.

Another early alarm call tomorrow, and I'll have to drive as there are no trains into Euston.

Thursday 24 August 2017

Pre-trip: Day 1

We've both come up to the boat today, but separately. Adrian had an appointment with the surgeon who did the operation on his spine two months ago, so as that was in Wimbledon it made sense to carry on to the marina afterwards. The surgeon was pleased with progress, and doesn't need to see him again, so that's good.

I drove to an early shift at work, and came up afterwards. I have two more shifts to do before we can set off on Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday 16 August 2017


A much better day weatherwise than forecast. I set off in the car before 7, and had a very good run up to Overwater Marina at Audlem. I'd been expecting quite a lot of cloud, but in fact there were blue patches and even sunny spells at times. It was a bit breezy though, although every marina seems breezy almost all the time. Ian was the photographer today, and as it was gone 12 by the time we had finished, we went for lunch in the cafe. There were signs saying it was under new management, so I was pleased to find they still had oatcakes on the menu, which I had with bacon and brie.

The drive back was good too, and since then I have had another go at stopping the drips from the towel rail (I fear still not completely stopped), and have checked and topped up the batteries. They were on 90 per cent when I left this morning, and with it being nice and sunny here, back up to 100 by the time I got back. It was supposed to have clouded over by now, but it hasn't.

Tomorrow I'll be up very early to be at work for 6.30, and then go home. We'll be back on board next week, ahead of setting out on our big autumn trip.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

A long gap

It's been two months since I was last at the boat. I came up today as I have a boat test to do tomorrow. When I arrived, I was pleased to find the batteries at 100 per cent; they've been kept that way entirely by the solar panel.

I got here at about 3pm as i wanted to do a couple of jobs. One was to use sealant to try to stop the leak on the heated towel rail. Early indications are that it's partly worked, but not completely.

The other was to empty the loo. As it's been quite a long time since it was used, it was the easiest empty so far. Everything was really dry and well composted. There was a bit of a fly problem with the pee bottle, but 95 per cent of them were dead.

I've also had to expel dozens of spiders, include a huge one who'd taken over most of the shower room ceiling. He went out the window, but I'm not entirely sure that he's not still on board.

A fairly early start tomorrow; unfortunately the weather doesn't look as though it'll be as good as it has been today.

Friday 4 August 2017

Jem Boats on test

The September issue of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test of Jem Boats' first boat.

Tuesday 1 August 2017

Waterway Routes maps

Way back at the Crick show, Paul Balmer of Waterway Routes kindly presented me with a full set of his maps.

A few weeks ago, I finally found time to load them onto my computer, and my iPad. I've been looking at some of the places we'll be going on our bit trip this September, and the maps have a lot to reccommend them. For instance, I like the way they tell you how long you're allowed to stay at official visitor moorings, and that loads of unofficial mooring sites are marked too.

These maps have proved a really good planning tool. Will I use them on the back of the boat? I'm not sure -- because i don't particularly want my iPad out there, and I'm also addicted to the commentary in the Pearson's guides! But for sheer volume of information, and because they're regularly uldated, Paul's maps are a really useful addition.