Back down the Ashby, onto the Coventry and thence to the Oxford and Grand Union canals
Phew! It’s a scorcher! Well – it wasn’t when we set off from Bosworth Marina (18th July) at 06:00, but by the time we pulled over, just before 9, near Stoke Golding the heat was intensifying to the point of being uncomfortable. It was such a beautiful, cool morning initially, but the countryside is starting to look very parched. Shade is very difficult to find on this canal and it seems that the bosky, shaded bits are also the shallow reedy bits where you can’t actually get close enough to the canal to allow you to moor.
Where we eventually stopped had some shade initially, but we knew that at some point and for some while, we would be in full sun. And it was. We closed the blinds and stuck the fan on and hoped for the best. The indoor temperature peaked at 36.4 and by evening, the fan was blowing warm air in our faces – more like a fan heater. It was horrible.
The dogs were clearly not enjoying it and we draped them with wet towels to cool them down, and then periodically, we took them ashore and poured a bucket of water over them. The look on their faces was priceless! We also gave them iced water, which they seemed to enjoy.
We drank lots of chilled drinks but didn’t have much appetite. Luckily, dinner was a Cobb Salad, so the only cooking I had to do was hard-boiling a couple of eggs. Not too onerous.
As the evening wore on, the sting eventually went out of the sun and we ventured out on deck with our drinks. A cool shower before bed would certainly help us sleep.
And sleep we did, thankfully. Until we were rudely awakened by the alarm at 05:45 again. But we have to take advantage of the (relative) cool of the early morning as it would be madness to be out in this heat all day. I feel a bit sorry for hire boaters to be honest. They are often on a pretty tight schedule and need to keep going to ensure they are back at the prescribed time. Nightmare!
We went on for longer than we had planned as we simply could not find anywhere with shade. In the end, Paul had to start work while I plodded on in the uncomfortable heat until we finally found somewhere we could actually get in to the bank. But with no shade. It was going to be scorching.
By midday, the max temp had already exceeded the day before and the heat indoors finally peaked at 38.2C, which came pretty close to being unbearable. But we got through it, with copious cold drinks. ice lollies and wet cloths on out heads – OK, that was just me. LOL
By 9, the heat was beginning to dissipate, to our relief. The last time we had experienced temperatures like that was in Puglia in the middle of a heatwave even the Italians were calling “Lucifero” – but then we’d had a pool and air con in the house. Even the canal had looked tempting at one point, today!
We went to bed pretty early as, not only had we been up early, the heat had been pretty exhausting. We had the fan on until the very early morning, by which time it was quite cool.
We left our mooring ant 06:00 again and pottered down to the end of the Ashby. We had loved this canal and would definitely be back. We felt quite sad as we turned back onto the Coventry, which we had left some 10 days before, and started making our way down towards Hawkesbury Junction – also know as Sutton Stop, from the name of a family which provided several lock keepers there in the nineteenth century. The Coventry canal continues its way down to – yes, you’ve guessed – Coventry. We won’t be making that trip on this occasion, as we’ve both been down before and we have other new places to visit.
We will eventually be making our way to Braunston and beyond, but for today, we moored just North of Hawkesbury, on a nice rural-ish stretch near Hawkesbury fishery. As we were sat there, we were passed by a succession of boats (mostly too fast for our liking) including the Hargreaves Trust all-electric boat, built last year by Ortomarine. The boat is based in nearby Nuneaton and is a Community narrowboat, run by volunteers. We exchanged cordial greetings!
The stretch of the Oxford Canal canal between Hawkesbury and Braunston was much like the M1 in the early 19th century, but it’s meandering route was unpopular with boaters of the day. It was so unpopular that there was talk of building a new, more direct canal. This threat spurred on the Oxford Canal Company and they commissioned Sir Marc Brunel – the slightly less famous father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, to straighten it. And by golly he did the trick! The new, straight route was a full 11 miles shorter than the old wiggly one! Traces of the old loops can still be seen in various places – the dotted lines in the picture below. As you can see – some were pretty big loops
Thursday (21st July – where is this month going?) saw another early start. We came up to Hawkesbury Junction, past the slightly decayed looking old Engine House and then turned left under the fine cast iron bridge, with its 60ft span. Not built by Horsely Iron Works, as so many you see on the canals are, but by Brittania Foundry in Derby.
There is a stop lock with a rise of just 6 inches. They seem a bit pointless, but were originally used as a way to control the flow between two different canal company’s water. The stop lock worked to completely break the flow of water and was a way to prevent one canal taking large amounts of water from another canal. And competition was particularly fierce between the Coventry and the Oxford Canal companies, which included legal action.
As we progressed along this stretch, I could not help but think that it must have been a lot more fun before it was straightened,. You may recall from our travels last year, that the Oxford canal was a contour canal – built to weave around hills rather than straight through. But the straightened canal means business, as it marches towards Braunston. It’s a bit boring, though!
It was pretty chilly this morning – we both resorted to coats. What a contrast to 2 days earlier. British weather can be very capricious. It was also doing that fine misty rain thing too.
We came through a bridge to see a boat in a very odd position and two ladies making some sort of distress signals. As we drew closer, it became obvious that they had gone aground. Very badly so. They had not been able to shift it at all under their own steam. We suspected they had probably gunned it in forward, in their inexperience, thus making a bad situation even worse. We tried all the techniques that you learn over the years – such as shifting all the weight from the stern to the bow, rocking the boat from side to side. We even tried pulling them off with Old Nick, but it was no good.
Paul got on their boat and started to push with all his might. I was just about to go ashore with their stern rope and trying to pull from the shore when another boat rocked up. I signalled to them to stop and the chap came over and offered to help. I threw him their stern rope and with him pulling and Paul pushing, we finally managed to free them.
The ladies were from North Carolina and this was their first trip on the canal. They were very grateful indeed and off we all set in a spirit of bonhomie. They’d hopefullly learnt a lot from their mistake and we left them with some good advice – TRY AND STICK TO THE MIDDLE! Particularly good advice this year, when water levels are lower than usual.
We pulled over, just near Brinklow and spent the day working and sewing. I’ll leave you to guess who did what!
As were we were only going a short way on Friday, we had a late start (and I got a lie-in!). We arrived at Brinklow Marina just before midday. We had booked in so that our friends, Jacquie and Steve would have a nice safe place to leave their car. Sadly, Jacquie test positive for Covid on Wednesday, meaning they would no longer be visiting. We decided to have a night there anyway as we are keen to visit other Marinas to see if we like them. Note that the entrance is spanned by a a Horseley Iron works bridge.
Paul had received a call from the Marina earlier and the chap said “Are you the Paul Sumpner who used to go to Portchester School?” When Paul replied, he said “I’m Mark Wilmott – I’m the Harbourmaster at Brinklow Marina”. Paul had been all through junior and senior school with him. What an amazing coincidence!
It’s a very nice Marina and seems very quiet. While I was waiting for Paul to finish work. I knocked up a quick batch of Cheddar Shorties. Really nice to serve with drinks or as a savoury sbakc.
150 g SR flour
100g salted butter
100g Strong Cheddar cheese
- Preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan). Line baking tray with parchment.
- In a mixing bowl add flour, three quarters of the cheese and the butter and bring it together with your fingers until a dough is formed.
- Tip dough out onto a sheet of parchment , place another piece of parchment on top and then roll out to roll it out to a thickness of about 5mm, then cut out rounds, I use a 4cm cutter, so that they are bite size.
- Place onto the baking tray, sprinkle each biscuit using the remainder of the cheese. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden. Cool before serving. They are nice served just warm.
We had a very quiet night at Brinklow, which we like very much, and set off about 11-ish towards Rugby, passing through the very short (250/230 yards/metres) Newbold tunnel with its towpath either side. We we picked up a few provisions (a couple of things I had forgotten to include in my delivery) in Rugby (at the very handy Tescos by Bridge 58) and then pressed on. At one point, near Brownsover, there was a very loud smell of – we thought – diesel for quite a long stretch (nearly a kilometer) and the surface had that tell-tale rainbow film. I took a W3W reference and quickly tweeted CRT to alert them. Very nasty for wildlife, as you might imagine.
We carried on towards the very busy Hillmorton Locks, reckoned to be the busiest locks on the entire canal system! In 2021, they were used over 8,000 times – and that was not a full year as there was little or no boat movement from January to May (Covid restrictions). You can get some idea of the task that CRT have to face when you hear that the locks that they manage were used an estimated 3.7 million times in total in 2021.
Today was no exception at Hillmorton. The Vlockies (Volunteer Lockkeepers) were doing a roaring trade on this first weekend of the summer holidays. They had had around 60 boats through when we went through at around 3:45. The locks at Hillmorton are unusual in that they are paired. And when I say unusual it’s because both pairs of the 3 sets are fully functional and you choose whichever chamber is in your favour. You thus have a succession of boats, some going up, some going down. It’s quite fun. And throw in an ice-cream from the cafe between the first and second pair and it’s almost perfect!
Shortly after Hillmorton, we rounded a corner to find a boat widthways across the canal – and no sign of life. We motioned the boat behind us to stop and I dropped Paul off on the bank. He clambered aboard and found that it seemed to have been tied on by just a centre rope. Never good practice. By this time, a chap from the boat behind had come ashore and, between them, they brought poor little Sweet Pea to the bank and secured her front, centre and aft – just to be sure. Again, I reported it to CRT so that they could let the owner know, although they might struggle because we could discern no registration number, which all boats are required to display under the terms of their licence. Naughty!
Once our second rescue of the week had been performed, we set off again, intent on finding a piece of bank to moor against. It took far longer than we expected and we were both pretty fed up by the time we had spotted a piece of Armco that might do. It was far from ideal as it was behind a boat that looked like it didn’t go anywhere very far, who was running his noisy, smelly generator to charge his batteries. But we couldn’t really complain as we’d chosen to moor there. There is a sort of convention or unwritten rule that it is impolite to run your generator/engine outside the hours 08:00 to 20:00. And to be fair, he switched it off on the dot of 20:00. The downside was that he switched it back on at 08:00 on Sunday morning, which is what woke us up. We were somewhat grumpy after our week of very early starts!
We set off towards Braunston, that mecca of canal towns, and by the time we arrived, we had a very antsy hire boater behind us, complaining that we were going so slow that he could not steer. We explained that we were going slow because it’s always chaos at the junction, in our experience. And then, as if to demonstrate our point (by which time he virtually had his nose on our rear fender – despite being asked to keep a boat length behind us) a boat appeared at the bridge hole (they are always on bends) and we had to take evasive action. Mr Speedy very nearly hit us at that moment, which ably illustrated why we had asked him to BACK OFF!
It was a cloudy but pleasant morning and Braunston was its usual busy, chaotic self. It’s where the Oxford canal veers off to the west towards Banbury and Oxford (a stretch we spent some time on last year) and the Grand Union begins. This means wide locks. Hopefully there would be plenty of boats to pair up with, as this makes it easier all round. More crew, less need to rope up in the locks.
We met a very nice chap called Giles at Braunston locks, who delivers boats for people who need a boat moving from A to B, but who do not have the time/inclination/ability to do it themselves. He also does helmsman tuition and it turned out that he followed Old Nick, too. It’s really nice to meet such folk and we had a good chat. He was even kind enough to help us through one of the locks!
We saw a cute little girl, out for a Sunday afternoon ride on her pony with her Dad on leading rein. She was clearly very much ay home in the saddle. A great age to start riding.
By the time we finished the locks, the sun was scorching and it was quite a relief to be plunged into the cool of Braunston tunnel, which is some 2,042 yards (1,867 m) in length. It was also time for lunch – albeit rather on the late side, the locks having been very busy. From the picture below, you’d never believe that it was wide enough for two boats to pass, but it is. We met one around the mid-point, although we’d seen them shortly after we entered. They told us our light was too bright and glary!
We arrived at Norton Junction and took a left onto the Leicester Line – new ground for all of us and quite exciting. We moored not far after the junction and set about some chores and – don’t tell – a quick snooze before dinner, after our rude awakening. New adventures this week then, and the Watford Gap Locks to ascend. And maybe a visit to Crick, where a couple of other Ortomariners moor. So ends Week 11!