Tuesday 31 December 2019

New Year’s Cruise: Day 2

Short journey to the bottom of Stoke Bruerne locks this morning, before winding and mooring at the visitor moorings. After a quick lunch I walked up the locks to meet the NB Rowington crew, and to help them down the locks. We moored up around 3pm, and then onto Rowington for tea and chocolates.

I’ve come back to Briar Rose for a couple of hours, before heading back to join Catherine and family on Rowington for dinner and an evening of games, and a few drinks I’m sure, before seeing in the New Year.  Adam finishes work just after 10pm today, and will hopefully make it to the boats in time to see in the New Year with us.

Happy New Year!

3 miles, 0 locks.  (5 miles, 0 locks)

Monday 30 December 2019

New Year’s Cruise: Day 1

It’s Adrian here. I drove up to the boat this morning for our New Year cruise. We’re meeting Adam’s cousin Catherine and family on their boat, NB Rowington, at the bottom of Stoke Bruerne for New Year’s celebrations. Adam is working, and will hopefully be able to join us just before midnight on New Year’s Eve. He’s also working on New Year’s Day, and then we’ll have a few days on board.

Worked through the usual list of tasks on getting to the boat: de-winterising the boat; emptying the compost loo; getting the fire alight; and an emergency trip to the supermarket when I realised we didn’t have any wine or tonic water on board! Disaster averted!

I’ve travelled half an hour from the marina, and am moored in the beautiful Northamptonshire countryside.

2 miles, 0 locks.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Vera May on test

My boat test on Vera May by MGM Boats is in the January edition of Canal Boat.

Monday 9 December 2019


A quick dash to Droitwich for a boat test.  It was sunny but pretty windy and chilly.  Spot the lock gates.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

Saturday 2 November 2019

April 2020

The Friends of the River Nene calendar has arrived, and my photo is April.  Rather nicely, they also sent me a print of the photo — I can’t actually remember the last time I had a physical photo.

Monday 28 October 2019

Hanbury Wharf

A quick visit today to Hanbury Wharf for a boat test.  For some reason there’s a lighthouse there.  My route took me up the M5 over the River Avon not far from Tewkesbury.  The river currently fills most of the flood plain — very different from when we went under the motorway by boat last month.  Then the river was is anything a bit low, and people were out paddle boarding.

Wednesday 16 October 2019


A quick dash up to Northamptonshire today.  I first went to the marina to pick up a couple of things from the boat and drop off a couple of other ones.  Then on to Weedon for a feature article I’m working on.  After that, just to stretch my legs, I went for a look at the Weedon Royal Ordnance Depot.

Bearing in mind the number of times we’ve been through Weedon, it’s amazing that this was my first visit.  The canal arm used to join up to the mainline.  These days, the buildings are rented out as offices, and there are a few specialist shops too.  Then it was back in the car to head home.

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Autumn Cruise: Stats

Here are some stats for our trip.

290 miles and 303 locks, of which 138 were narrow locks and 165 were wide.  67 of the miles were on rivers, the rest on canals.

CanalPlan says we could have done the trip in 22 days, but it took us 29.

We travelled on the following waterways:
  • Grand Union Mainline
  • North Oxford Canal
  • Stratford Canal
  • River Avon
  • River Severn
  • Worcs and Birmingham Canal
  • Droitwich Junction and Barge Canals
  • Staffs and Worcs Canal
  • BCN -- Old and New Mainlines, Gower Branch

We went through the following counties:
  • Northamptonshire
  • Warwickshire
  • Worcestershire
  • Gloucestershire
  • Staffordshire
  • West Midlands
  • Buckinghamshire

We went through lots of tunnels:
  • Blisworth (twice)
  • Braunston (twice)
  • Shrewley (twice)
  • Dunhampstead
  • Cookley
  • Dunsley
  • Wolverhampton
  • Coseley
  • Summit
  • Edgbaston
  • Brandwood
Just over seven miles of the trip was underground.

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Yelvertoft spec boat on test

The November issue of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test on a spec boat built by Yelvertoft Marina.  The front cover is one of Andy’s fantastic drone shots.

Monday 7 October 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 29

It was raining again this morning, but at least it was fairly gentle and it was very calm.  I set off at 8.30 and found Cosgrove Lock was empty so I could go straight in.  As I was leaving the lock a Wyvern hire boat arrived so I could leave the gate open for them.  They eventually made it into the lock.  I stopped by the service block and dealt with the loo and the rubbish, then continued to the marina.  With the calm conditions is was easy to reverse into our berth.  It wasn’t long before I was in the car heading home.

1 mile, 1 lock.  (290 miles, 303 locks)

Sunday 6 October 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 28

This was another day when we expected to get very wet, because the forecast was was rain pretty much all day.  And there was rain last night and early this morning.  But by the time we got up, it was fairly bright and the sun was even trying to come through.  We were getting ready to leave when a single boat came along, having come down the top two locks, so we got our act together and joined them.  It turned out to be a man who’d bought the boat as a replacement for a caravan at the Cosgrove Park, being helped to move the boat by his friend and his two sons.  With crew, it meant I could go ahead and set the locks ahead.

Even though we were catching up with a single-handed boat going down ahead, we did the five locks in about 45 minutes, largely thanks to each one being ready and open for the boats to enter.  At the bottom of the locks, we set off south.  It was sunny, warm in the sunshine, but very blustery.

We had intended to go back to the marina today, as Adrian needed to get a train to London and I had hoped to do a boat test tomorrow.  However for various reasons the boat test is postponed, so we sailed right past the marina entrance, went down Cosgrove Lock, and continued across the Wolverton Aqueduct.

Just before the Grafton Street Aqueduct there was a very heavy but thankfully very brief shower.  The rain hammered it down, but for probably less than a minute.  We turned around at the New Bradwell winding hole, where the boat always seems to turn very easily, and went back to Wolverton.  When we’d passed through, there hadn’t been a space big enough for us, but one of the boats there was coming the other way, so we knew there would probably be room to stop.  The boat was Tarporley from Camden, which has just had a nice new paint job at Baxter’s at Kingfisher Marina.

We moored up, made a quick visit to Tesco, then Adrian got a train from Wolverton Station to London.  I continued retracing our steps, mooring up beyond the aqueduct.  The last ten minutes or so were somewhat frustrating.  I’d caught up with a not-very-wide widebeam to such an extent that I had to keep going into neutral, and in front of that was a monster widebeam, which seemed to make a right meal of getting over the aqueduct, and then through the moored boats towards the lock.  Since mooring up I’ve done a few jobs, including tacking the oven shelves which we omitted to clean when we did the rest of the oven at Hanbury Junction, and trying to seal the bathroom mushroom vent, which appears to be letting in water.

11 miles, 6 locks.  (289 miles, 302 locks)

Saturday 5 October 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 27

We had a very nice evening with Catherine, Nigel, and the kids — with good fish and chips delivered by them to our door.  They needed an escort to get home up the A5, as the road is closed overnight for roadworks.  This morning was overcast, but completely still.

We set off at 8.15, and one of the Canal Boat Club boats moored behind off was doing the same.  I wondered whether they might be turning at the junction for Market Harborough, but in fact they followed us round the corner on their way back to Gayton.  When we got to the top lock a boat was coming up, then our two boats went down.  Our companions turned out to be excellent locking partners, having had the timeshare membership for many years.  By the second lock, it turned out we were following another boat down, who must have been moored in the long pound.  Between us, we had enough crew that someone could always go down to the next lock to prepare it.

As we arrived at the second lock, the Anchor Cottage shop was just opening.  They were in the process of putting all the outside display items on the racks when I popped in to see if they had a Stratford Canal bridge plaque.  I’m not sure why we haven’t already got one as we’ve done the whole canal before; I tried in Braunston yesterday, as the bottom lock shop usually stocks the whole range, but the chap said the manufacturers had managed to lose the moulds and he hadn’t been able to get any for nine months.  Apparently they have been found, and production has restarted.  Anyway, Anchor Cottage had one, and it’s rather nice with one of the barrel-roofed cottages on it.  They are also slightly cheaper here than in Braunston!

At the bottom lock I popped into the chandlery to get some bread and cheese, as we’d realised we didn’t have much in for lunch.  In spite of following a boat down, we’d done the seven locks in two hours.  Our companions moored up for breakfast at the marina cafe, while we carried on.  A boat heading for the locks said there was nothing on the move, and they’d have to go up alone.  They could hardly have been more wrong: we seem to have seen more moving boats today than any other day of the trip.  The stream of boats going the other way has been constant, with one or two met at awkward bridge holes.

We stopped at Rugby Boats for diesel.  With the service wharf occupied by someone loading stuff from a car, we tied up outside two brokerage boats, and the diesel hose was brought across them.  That’s the second time this trip we’ve taken on diesel while moored outside other boats.

We plodded along these very familiar waters, went through the tunnel, and were surprised by how much space was available in Stoke Bruerne.  However, we decided to go down the top two locks into the long pound where it’s a bit more open.  There appeared to be a boat in the top lock, and they opened a gate for us to join them.  They said it appeared they were doing us a good turn, but in fact we’re just pausing for tea and a sandwich!  As Kathryn came out to say hello, and Mike from the trip boat wandered down for a chat, we all just paused in the lock for a few minutes.

There was loads of space in the long pound, so both boats moored up.  I’ve added the plaque to the collection in the engine room.

16 miles, 9 locks.  (278 miles, 296 locks)

Friday 4 October 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 26

It blew an absolute hooley last night, but by this morning it was much calmer.  In spite of rain it the forecast, it was also dry but overcast.  We’d slept really well on the very quiet and dark mooring, so didn’t set off until 9am.  As we approached Bridge 102 it appeared that Ryan on the fuel boat, Southern Cross, had just taken on a delivery of diesel.  The boat was certainly low in the water.

It was just a few miles into Braunston, where the sight of the church and the former windmill on the top of the hill is something special to the canal traveller.  We turned right at the junction towards the village — meaning that on this trip we have done all three sides of this triangular junction.

We waited to stop, and gambled on there being a space nearer the village, outside the marina.  Having left a bit later than normal we thought our arrival time was pretty good, and we had seen a few boats on the move.  Sure enough, there was a big space beyond Butcher’s Bridge, which we and another boat slotted into.  We went up to the village to the butcher and the convenience store, returning across the field to the bottom lock.  We set off again to go up the locks.  The former chandlery at the bottom has turned into an artist’s studio and gallery in the past three weeks.

We met quite a few boats coming down the locks, and eventually teamed up with a singlehanding lady going up.  At the top, we continued through the tunnel, where I took one of my best fluke shots of an air shaft.  While steering, I just have to point the camera upwards and press the button at what I think is the right time — so I was pretty pleased with this one.

We were aiming for the new piling just before Norton Junction.  It was pretty busy, but there was still space — and there will soon be more, as even more piling is going in.

This evening, Catherine, Nigel, and the kids are coming round as they live very close — and they’re bringing fish and chips from their village chippy.

7 miles, 6 locks.  (262 miles, 287 locks)

Thursday 3 October 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 25

There was a very atmospheric scene outside the boat this morning, with mist rising off the water and the sun trying to burn through the cloud.

We set off into the mist at 8.30 and soon reached the first lock of the day, Radford Bottom Lock, to begin our climb off the sump pound.  At the middle of the three Fosse Locks, we joined a hire boat which had just set off, and as they had plenty of crew I walked up to set the next lock.  They promptly stopped for water at Fosse Wharf, so we were on our own again.  On the approach to Wood Lock we passed a boat which appeared to be about to set off, so we waited for them in the lock.  It turned out to be a good move, as Linda and Steve on board Hydeaway were excellent locking companions.  We did the Bascote Locks, including the staircase pair.

Above Bascote Locks there’s a field where workers were harvesting hundreds of pumpkins.  There were huge crates of them at the top of the field, with many more to go.  We did the bottom two locks of the Stockton flight, which are a bit separated, then were into the main part of the flight.  A couple of times we met single boats coming down.

We completed the eight locks in the main part of the Stockton flight in an hour, which is pretty good going, thanks to having a system where someone would set ahead, while someone else would close up behind the boats.

We had lunch on the move above the Stockton Locks, on the way to Calcutt.  Our new friends had decided to come with us as we had such a good system going, even though they don’t usually do so much in a day.  They have just got a roving trader licence, as Steve is making fenders and Linda is doing crochet and embroidery.  They gave us one of the key rings Steve is making; there was a big bag of different colours to choose from.  It’s been put on our handcuff key.

We did the bottom two Calcutt Locks together, even though someone who came flying out of the marina did their best to get between us, then Hydeaway stopped on the wharf for diesel.  We went up the top lock and reversed onto the water point to fill the tank and get some washing going.  Adrian also went to the shop to get some milk and a bag of logs.  Setting off again we made our way to Napton Junction.  The countryside here really emphasises that we’ve climbed out of a valley.

We turned left at the junction towards Braunston, and moored up before Bridge 102, where there’s a nice view and it’s pretty quiet.

12 miles, 23 locks.  (255 miles, 281 locks)

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 24

We’ve had a really lovely day today.  It was bright and sunny but very chilly this morning, and we travelled the half mile to the top of Hatton Locks, arriving at 8.30.  While we were in the top lock, I had a text to say our friends Bob and June who used to have a boat called Autumn Myst, had arrived at the car park.  They were going to get a boating fix by helping us down the locks.  From the ‘thick’ of the locks, there’s a great view down across Warwick, with the church very prominent.

Immediately after the thick, we met a couple of boats coming up.

At one point, I suddenly saw a toad hopping across the lock side.  He, probably wisely, decided against jumping into the fast-flowing by-wash, but I wasn’t sure about the wisdom of sitting on the tow path instead.

We made steady progress down the flight, with most lock just needing to be topped up.  Someone was always able to go ahead to get the next one ready.

We got to the bottom at 11.15, so it had taken 2 hours 45 minutes, which is a pretty respectable time for the 21 locks.  We immediately moored up for tea and very nice fruit cake baked by Bob.  After an hour or so we all walked back up the flight (which seems a much longer walk when you’re not accompanying a boat) for lunch at the cafe.  En route, we spotted Hadar coming down, and had a quick chat on the towpath with Jo.

After lunch (Bob and June had breakfasts which came with extra sausages as the cafe had too many, so the extra ones got passed to us), we had a lift back down to the bottom of the locks, before Bob and June headed off.  We hope to see them again in the spring.  We set off again, down the two Cape Locks.  At Kate Boats, a massive widebeam had just tied up alongside a hire boat on the wharf, leaving only just enough room to get through.

We crossed from Warwick to Leamington Spa, where again the graffiti is worth a look.  I also like the painted instruction on the inside of the bridge.

We moored at Radford Semele, somewhere we’ve always liked the look of but never moored before.  The church burned down in 2008 and for a long while was under covers while it was restored.  It’s a lovely sunny spot which is a really popular mooring.

7 miles, 23 locks.  (243 miles, 258 locks)

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 23

We donned full wet weather gear before setting off this morning, following a forecast of thunder storms and torrential showers.  As we said to a dog walker who stopped for a chat, we’ll either need it, or putting it all on will prevent the weather from happening.  The latter turned out to be the case.  I walked up to the lift bridge, which took 60 turns to raise but only 40 to lower.

I then walked on to the top lock of the Lapworth flight, which has a nice house next to it.

The first four locks are a bit out on their own.  Between the third and fourth is a house which has been extensively done up.  Even the boat moored outside matches.

After a bit of a gap the locks get much closer together.  Some of them have very awkward turns from one to the next.

A volunteer lock keeper turned up after a while, and wound a paddle of two.  Towards the bottom of the ‘thick’ of the flight, we met a boat coming up.  These pounds are ridiculously short, and have so little space on the towpath side that there’s no room for a boat to wait.  It’s impossible for two reasonable length boats to pass, so Adrian ended up having to go off over the other side of the pound, which in turn makes getting into the lock tricky.

In the lower section of the flight, we swapped with a hire boat, fortunately in a longer pound.  Then below Lock 18 we stopped at the water point, put the washing machine on, and filled the tank.  I walked up to the bins and recycling, and found this little guy sitting on the fence.

For the final lock of the flight we had a choice, with one lock pointing towards Stratford and the other  angled towards the link to the Grand Union.  We took the GU option.

This arrangement means that even when you do the whole of the Stratford Canal as we’ve just done (albeit we did the lower half first) there’s always one lock you don’t do.  By going back onto the link to Kingswood Junction, we completed a big ring — consisting of about two-thirds of the Avon Ring and two-thirds of the Stourport Ring, with a two-thirds of the Droitwich Ring thrown it.  I’m thinking of calling it the Avonwichport Ring.

We turned right at Kingswood Junction, where by now the skies had cleared nicely and the sunshine was quite warm.  Approaching Shrewley Tunnel from this direction you get a much better view of the foot tunnel, which goes up to the High Street.

We moored on a nice piece of piling indicated on the Waterways Routes map, just before Bridge 55 and the somewhat dank cutting which houses the official moorings at the top of the Hatton Flight.  It was lunchtime, so we walked down the road to Hatton World where we had an excellent lunch in the cafe.  It’s the first time we’ve been here, in spite of going past many times.  While we were there, there was thunder and very heavy rain, although it had pretty much stopped by the time we came back.  As we were going up the steps at the Bridge, we waited to see a boat coming along, which turned out to be Debdale, the boat we had a share in for several years — although it now looks completely different, in a new livery.

7 miles, 19 locks.  (236 miles, 235 locks)

Monday 30 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 22

We had a very nice evening last night, with Helen and Andy from the Jam Butty visiting us for dinner.  There was lots of boating chat and it was great to catch up with them.  Sunday night in Birmingham is pretty quiet too, so we slept well.  This morning was bright but much cooler than of late.  We set off just after 8, heading round the corner and through Gas Street Basin and Worcester Bar, the start of the Worcs and Birmingham Canal.

We stopped at the water point — well, just beyond the water point as there was a boat which had moored on it overnight — at Holiday Wharf.  We got a wash load going and while the tank filled I went to the little Tesco at the Mailbox for perishables.  It was around 9.15 when we set off again.  It was 2011 when we last came along here on Briar Rose, so a few things have changed.  Edgbaston Tunnel is now single way working, thanks to a widened tow path; I don’t begrudge the tow path users the extra space — it’s very busy with walkers, runners, and cyclists, and it’s not as though boaters are being hugely inconvenienced.

Last time, the road under the new aqueduct was just being built.  Now it’s not only busy, but surrounded by new buildings which rather block out the views of the university.

At King’s Norton Junction, we turned sharp left onto the North Stratford Canal. The Junction House, which was damaged by a fire, is enclosed in scaffolding and sheeting, undergoing repairs.  As we did the turn a boat was coming through the former stop lock, and as we got closer another one appeared.  Then it was our turn.  These days, there’s no actual lock.

The North Stratford seems like pretty slow going, with even bridges in short supply at times.  We were even denied the excitement of stopping the traffic by lifting the Shirley Drawbridge as it’s currently stuck open, and the road is closed.

We were being caught up by an old motor and butty, so we waved them past.

In the end, it meant they did the next lift bridge and also let us through.  It had begun to rain, pretty much on schedule, so we stopped at around 3, just past Swallow Cruisers and before the lift bridge at the top of Lapworth Locks.  We have lit the fire for the first time this trip.

16 miles, 0 locks.  (229 miles, 216 locks)