Saturday 30 September 2023

Wending to Wales: Day 34

Another great evening with Catherine and Nigel last night.  It turned out quite a lot had happened since we last saw them on the August bank holiday weekend, so we got all the latest news and a little bit of wine was drunk.  This morning, there was mist hanging in the valley beyond the towpath hedge as the sun came up.

As we didn’t have a very ambitious day planned and it was our final Saturday of the trip, we treated ourselves to a cooked breakfast.  Even so, we were still away before 8.30, on a very pleasant morning.

These are very familiar miles, as we plodded through Nether Heyford and Bugbrooke.  But it was almost an hour and a half before we passed a boat going the other way.  Gayton Junction and Blisworth ticked by.  I spotted a couple of boat names, one of which I have no idea about, the other just made me chuckle.

In the tunnel in which we passed one boat.  At the locks, the top one just needed topping up before we could go down.

The flight took the usual hour and a half, helped by meeting quite a few boats coming up.  At the bottom we thought we might as well top up with water, and we had lunch while the tank filled.  Then we moved along to the moorings just round the corner, taking the first available space.

This afternoon we walked back up to the village to see Kathryn, and also bumped into Steve Furniss from Grand Union Narrowboats at Weedon, who comes down to give his hire boaters lock training.  We all had an ice cream from The Boat.  On the way back we called on Free Spirit, and were provided with tea, biscuits, and plenty of excellent company by Irene and Ian.

We haven’t actually seen them since we made it up to the Great Northern Basin in 2016, so there was plenty to talk about, although of course blogging keeps us all in touch.

11 miles, 7 locks.  (380 miles, 314 locks)

Friday 29 September 2023

Wending to Wales: Day 33

There was more heavy rain last night, but this morning was very still.  We set off at 8.15 with Adrian walking up to the lock and me bringing the boat.  The water was like glass.

As we got to the lock I could see a boat approaching from behind, so they joined us as locking partners.  Halfway up the flight we met some boats coming down, and there were more coming down the top lock.  We did all six in about an hour and a half.

We passed one boat in Braunston Tunnel, fortunately not at the bits where any of the kinks are.

As we approached Norton Junction, a boat was about to set off and asked if we’d like locking partners down Buckby.  Of course we said yes.  We carried on at the junction, while our Braunston partners turned towards Watford.

At the locks, a boat was just about to go in so we joined him — leaving our prospective partners on their own; but that’s just the way it happens sometimes.  The boat we were with was a single hander, but the whole flight was easy because we met boats coming up at every lock.  We must have passed eight in total.

There was a bit of a delay at the penultimate lock, because a hire boat was waiting for another boat to come up the bottom lock.  It seemed to take them ages, even when they were out of the lock it seemed to take forever to get across the pound to the next one.  But it was sunny and warm so no real hardship, and even so, we got to the bottom in around an hour and a half again.

Having seen so many boats in the flight, we then didn’t see another one for miles, in fact not until most of the way through Weedon.  We had lunch on the move, and stopped for diesel at Rugby Boats, where the price has gone up again, to £1.28.  We carried on just a few minutes further, to opposite the motorhome field.  Catherine and Nigel are coming to see us this evening, so it’s easily accessible.  The towpath hedge has been cut quite low, so we have views of Flore and the M1 in the distance.

10 miles, 13 locks.  (369 miles, 307 locks)

Thursday 28 September 2023

Wending to Wales: Day 32

The promised strong winds certainly blew yesterday evening and night.  The rustling of the bushes was quite loud, and we were glad we were moored on rings and without any big trees nearby.  This morning we set off about 8.15, Adrian bringing the boat while I walked up to Itchington Bottom Lock.  There waiting for a locking partner were our friends on Conqueror. We went up that one, then Shop Lock.  Lola the dog was keeping a lookout.

We started up the Stockton Locks, but at the second lock a dog Walker told us the pounds further up were empty, and there didn’t appear to be a volunteer lock keeper about to sort it out.  Richard went off on his bike to investigate, and started running water down, while we came up the lock.  I walked up to see what the situation was.  The pound with the bridge was empty, even with some water now arriving, and so was the one above.

A lockie had arrived and said it was a daily occurrence for the pounds to be empty.  But actually it didn’t take long before we were on the move again, and by the time we reached the top half of the flight there was, if anything, too much water — with cascades over the gates.  Towards the top we also met a single hander coming down.

At the top, we did the couple of miles to Calcutt Locks, where Adrian and Sharon did the work while Richard and I steered.

We were following a boat up, but the three locks didn’t take long, and a boat arrived at the top as the rose. Conqueror carried on, while we reversed onto the water point to fill the tank and get another load of washing going;Adrian also went to the marina shop for some milk.  We’ve really enjoyed the past few days travelling with Sharon and Richard.  It’s amazing how sometimes you just click with the people you’re sharing locks with.  From Calcutt it’s just a short hop to Napton Junction; the boat in front of us turned right towards Oxford, while we turned left towards Braunston.

The next section is shared between the Oxford and Grand Union canals, and I always repeat the quirk that boats going north on the Oxford go one way, but boats going north on the GU are going the opposite way. Along this section we passed Mary H with Richard at the helm, and also a boat whose steerer I recognised as the woman who’d been steering the Brindley trio boats in Birmingham at the weekend.  We also passed Conqueror moored up, and Derwent6 where we had a brief chat with Del and Al.  Then it was the right turn at Braunston Junction.

After some investigations about the availability of moorings, we slotted into a spot after Butcher’s Bridge.  It’s been quite busy with boats in both directions.  We went to Tradline Fenders to get a mooring line to replace one which got a broken strand at Grindley Brook, then to the butcher’s for some bacon and black pudding for a cooked breakfast, and finally the Bottom Lock shop for a Llangollen Canal bridge plaque.  We also treated ourselves to an ice cream, even though the sun has only been out for brief moments today.

10 miles, 13 locks.  (359 miles, 294 locks)

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Wending to Wales: Day 31

It was gone 8.15 when we set off this morning, with Adrian going down to set Cape Top Lock.  There was a boat coming up the bottom one, so we could swap in the middle.

The crew of that boat had useful info to impart: the moorings right outside Warwick Tesco were full, but there was a gap between two boats just before the bridge.  Before getting there, though, we passed the now closed Kate Boats base, where there’s massive building going on, both sides of the canal.  The new places opposite have been given features matching the Kate building, such as grey bricks over the windows and a circle of grey bricks in the gable end.

We stopped before the Tesco bridge and walked down to the supermarket to do a decent sized shop, including fresh stuff and more wine.  Just before we set off again, the boat that was moored in front of us went past, and we followed them all the way to Radford Bottom Lock.  We also passed Momentous, who’ve done just slightly fewer miles and locks than us, since we saw them on the bank holiday weekend!  We teamed up with Atlast at the locks, and gradually worked our way up.  I walked the whole way.  Before Welsh Road Lock, the conveyor that was over the canal at the HS2 works has been taken down, and is now in bits in the field.

Adrian, being on the boat and more able to see over the hedges, could see tunnel portals.  We’d caught up with another boat, who had waited at the lock for his locking partner who must have stopped without telling them.  We then followed up.

At Bascote, the single boat was going up and two were coming down so we waited again.  Then the single boat said we should do the staircase ahead of him.

The wind was beginning to get up (there’s a weather warning for a storm much further west).  We carried on to the rings just before Bridge 26 at Long Itchington.  It was gone 2pm so we had a late lunch and then did a circular walk down to Long Itchington village, and back via the cycle path and the canal.  I’m about to make the batter for a toad in the hole, and a crumble.  The blackberries on our route have been a real disappointment; most of the hedges we’ve stopped by have had no brambles and all (but loads of rose hips and hawthorn berries).  So today we actually bought some blackberries to go with our apples.

9 miles, 12 locks.  (349 miles, 281 locks)

Tuesday 26 September 2023

Wending to Wales: Day 30

We thoroughly enjoyed seeing Bob and June last night, and catching up on various news from the past year.  The food at The Boat was good, but the pub was too dark, the music was too loud, and the service was shockingly slow.  We had to go and ask for someone a couple of times.

We had a tentative agreement with the boat from yesterday that we’d team up today for Knowle and Hatton Locks.  They also knew we needed to water up.  So we set off at 7.30 on a very calm, still morning.    We’d only been going a few minutes, though, before it started to rain; then it turned heavy, with thunder and lightning.  I resorted to putting on my waterproof trousers.  We got to the top of Knowle in about an hour and stopped on the water point.  There’s a full range of services there, and we got the washing machine going.  At about 9, two boats arrived, our friends on on Conqueror, preceded by another that had been moored at Catherine de Barnes, Firefly.  We let Firefly go down first, and teamed up behind them.  It rained pretty much the whole time.

Shortly after leaving the bottom lock, there was a dramatic change in the weather.  Suddenly the sun was out and the temperature rising.

It’s a while since we’ve done the stretch between Knowle and Kingswood, and I didn’t remember much of it at all.  Then we passed Kingswood Junction, and were on to more familiar waters, including crossing Rowington Embankment, and going through the very wet Shrewley Tunnel, the one with the foot tunnel alongside.

We had lunch on the move, and always had Conqueror in sight in front of us.  At the top of the locks, Firefly was waiting for the water point to become free, so our two boats headed down.  It was about 12.45.

As we approached the volunteer lockie station about four locks down, a few volunteers popped out and lent a hand.  One of them joined us for a few locks.  We were also getting on very well with Richard and Sharon; Richard was buzzing back and forth on his Brompton setting ahead.  There was a brief pause while we waited for a single boat coming up.

They had a lockie with them and had been leaving a gate open, so Richard cycled down and opened the second gate of the next few locks, but once we were out of the thick and the locks were further apart we were left to our own devices.

About four locks from the bottom we caught up with a single hire boat going down, so we had a bit of a wait at each one.  Even so, we completed the 21 locks in the flight in 2hrs and 45 mins, which isn’t too bad.  In the bottom lock, Richard cracked open a keg of beer bought from the pub last night!  They were heading to the Saltisford Arm, and we continued round the corner to moor on the Cape moorings.  We hadn’t been tied up long when the rain came back with a pretty sharp shower.

14 miles, 26 locks.  (340 miles, 269 locks)

Monday 25 September 2023

Wending to Wales: Day 29

It lashed it down with rain and blew a hoolie yesterday evening and into the night, but by this morning conditions were much better.  We set off just before 8, which turned out to be just after a boat coming out of the Oozells Loop, and we followed them down to the locks.

Last time we left Birmingham we used the North Stratford route, so we were going a route today that we haven’t done for a while — starting with Farmer’s Bridge Locks.  It’s really urban, but remains one of my favourite flights.  The boat ahead had a crew of three, so lifted a paddle to fill each lock for us as they left, which was very good of them.

We got to the bottom of the 13 locks in an hour and a half, which is pretty good.  Then at Aston Junction we turned right onto the Digbeth Branch.

Ashted Locks go through the campus of the Birmingham City University.  When I did my postgrad there, the campus was up at Perry Barr, but one of my lecturers is now a professor there, and was watching for us from the fifth floor of the Curzon Building.  I got a message to look up and there was Diane, and she also sent me a photo from us there!

The bottom Ashted lock is surrounded by HS2 works.

Camp Hill locks are uphill, undoing some of the day’s downhill work.  There is graffiti aplenty, and the locks are without doubt the shonkiest we’ve been through this trip, with plenty of paddles not working, and some of the rest in a questionable state.

We got to the top at around 12 noon, so all 25 locks had taken four hours, which was the same as last time we did them.  Camp Hill top lock was also our final narrow lock of the trip (and we have done 223 of them); they’re all wide from here back to base.  We carried on to Catherine de Barnes, passing just a couple of boats going the other way, and moored on the end of the rings.  We’re going to The Boat this evening with Bob and June.

11 miles, 25 locks.  (326 miles, 243 locks)

Sunday 24 September 2023

Wending to Wales: Day 28

We had a great evening with Helen and Andy last night, involving eating, drinking  and chatting.  It’s always great to see them, and it’s been a while since the last time.  This morning, it had rained overnight but wasn’t actually raining when we set off to walk down through town to the Birmingham Back to Backs.  We’ve been trying to visit this National Trust property for years, but we’ve previously either been here on days when they were close, or we left it too late and they were fully booked.  This time we’d worked out a plan, and booked a couple of weeks ago.

The houses are small, so there are timed guided tours.  We were on the first of the day, with three generations of the same family making up the rest of the group.  The kids, aged six and seven (nearly eight!) added to the whole thing, because the excellent guide got them involved in doing things children would have been doing in the 1830s.

The tour lasts quite a long time so afterwards we had lunch and did some food shopping for the next couple of days on the way back to the boat.  This afternoon we walked along to the Roundhouse and had a look at their exhibition.

They were showing some tv films from the 1960s and 70s about plans for the regeneration of Birmingham’s canals, we were fascinating.  One of them showed a trip up the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal from Salford Junction to Cambrian Wharf, but apart from the BT Tower it was difficult to recognise anything, it looked so different from today.

We also walked up to the Port Loop development to have a look at what’s going on.  Only one side of the island has houses so far, with lots more foundations on the other side.  The houses appear to come as prefabricated units, which are then clad.  On the way back, we passed one of the groups who were paddling a kind of double canoe type thing, not sure if it was for pleasure or team building.

The weather hasn’t been nearly as bad as forecast.  It’s hardly rained, although it has been a bit blustery at times.  We start moving again tomorrow, and it will really feel as though we’re heading home.

0 miles, 0 locks.  (315 miles, 218 locks)