Leaving (but not) on a Jet Plane

May 9th – 19th – along the Oxford Canal, up the Grand Union and onto the River Nene

Even though the event – Electrika 2024 – was over, there were still a number of jobs that needed to be done. Mainly thanking people and designing and issuing “exit” surveys for our Exhibitors and for our Visitors. This and getting the washing done, making lists of stuff to go into the car and stuff to come out of the car, kept me busy for most of the week. Paul had to go to a meeting on the South coast on Wednesday – 3 hours each way – I didn’t envy him but he was back by about 5pm. Very tired though, understandably.

We were originally planning to leave on Friday morning, but the weather was set faitr, our groceries had arrived and we saw no reason not to leave after Paul had finished work. So we did! We love it at Brinklow but were both so happy to finally be heading out for the summer. We even had a G&T to celebrate – with many thanks to Neil and Linda on |Eau de Folles) for their kind gift of Hintons (of Bewdley) gin – not to mention the squidgy brownies!

We tied up in Newbold on Avon and treated ourselves to Fish & Chips from the excellent Fishsmiths chippy which is only a few steps from the canal. We were both tired and had an unusually early and largely quiet night.

After a well-deserved lie-in on Friday morning, we set off along the now familiar stretch towards Hillmorton. The weather was lovely and it was a joy to be back boating. I think the boys like it too – all those new blades of grass to pee on! We have noticed that the new prop is much quieter, even, than our old one and so we happily cruised along towards the locks.

The Hillmorton three are paired and one was in our favour – you can tell from a fair way away whether a lock is set for you by looking at the gates. There is usually some leakage where the two gates butt together if a lock is full, so if you can’t see any escaping water, it’s a fair bet that the lock is empty. I dropped Paul off and a lovely lady sitting by the lock helped him with the lock gates.

Our first lock of the 2024 Summer Season! It was also our last lock of 2023. Hillmorton are usually the busiest locks on the entire system, but they’ll lose that crown this year, thanks to the Easenhall landslip. If you’re interested in the stats, the Annual Lockage Report can be found here. The Vlockies were on duty, but as there was so little traffic they were up at the top lock doing some mowing and weeding. They did very kindly come and assist though, and we thanked them for the invaluable work that they do.

We moored that evening just by Dunchurch Pools Marina – a lovely quite spot – disturbed only by sheep, birdsong and geese clanking away.

Day three was another fab day – spoilt by the news that pretty much everyone else had seen an amazing display of Northern Lights – even on the South coast. Not we numpties though. We were in the land of sweet dreams before 11pm – still recovering from our Electrika exhaustion. Tsk.

We set off towards Braunston, noting that there were quite a few boats on the move. The lovely weather had clearly drawn them all out. We spoke to a few hire boaters as they passed, on their way back to Clifton Cruisers. near Rugby. They could not believe how lucky they had been with the weather. Especially after the long and dreary winter we have just experienced!

The stretch leading to Braunston is beautiful and it’s always nice when you spot the first glimpse of the old windmill and All Saints’, Church, which is known as The Cathedral of the Canals. We spotted vloggers Pete and Caroline’s’ boat One Day More, whom we had recently seen at Electrika, on the way through.

Braunston Turn is usually pretty chaotic, but there was no boat on the service moorings – which must have one of the trickiest locations on the entire system. You can either get your stern tied in or your bow, but not both! We dumped our rubbish and Paul nipped to Midland Chandlers to get a Lump Hammer – ours had gone missing on the morning of the Marquee erect and we’d forgotten to ask about it. We also needed a new hose. Our old one had a few pinholes and we had stupidly thrown it away – reel and all.

I say stupidly because Braunston did not have one food grade hose in stock. Not one! And we should have kept the reel anyway. It was a touch of over-zealous spring cleaning that led to our hoseless state. We had already decided that we would arrive at the spot where the Northampton arm turned off too early, so would take a detour down the Oxford canal to help kill some time, allowing us to tackle the Rothersthorpe flight of 17 locks down to Northampton next weekend.

It’s such a lovely stretch – one of our favourites – and so peaceful. It seemed everyone had the same idea, though – it was like the M25 on a Bank Holiday Monday! But we found a nice spot near my favourite Bridge (No. 100 or Chamber’s Bridge) and settled down for the afternoon. We had a plan to watch Eurovision and perhaps, later, a bit of Aurora spotting?

We both had showers, put some washing on to take advantage of the fine weather and – reader – I cannot deny it – popped into the bedroom for a snooze. Well – we were planning a late night! Sadly another boat turned up in front of us and started chatting quite loudly. All hope of a rest in the arms of Morpheus flew out of the window for me – although Sumps slept through it! The boat behind us later popped by to introduce Mabel, their gorgeous Border Patterdale cross bitch. Such a cutie. The boys seemed to like her and I began to wonder whether a Blood Brothers scenario might develop!

The Eurovision was its usual camp old self and our glorious nation did its usual good performance but garnered few points. Predictable. It seems that no-one likes us! We popped out on deck with our phones at around midnight, but there was no sign of any Auroral activity so we turned in for the night.

We had applied ourselves to the knotty hose problem and come up with a solution! We’d pop into Wigrams Turn Marina for a couple of nights and get a hose delivered there. There is no additional cost to us for this (other than perhaps some electricity). Being Aquavista moorers, we have access to their rather wonderful Explore 100 scheme, which allows us to stay for free for up to 100 nights at any of the marinas in their portfolio – provided they have room for us. A quick phone call and we were all set.

We stayed on our mooring on Sunday morning, long enough to get the washing dry (I’d left it out overnight) and then set off late morning to Wigrams. Another lovely day, another lovely bit of canal. And we had a lovely surprise. There, basking on the canal bank, was the largest terrapin (I think) I’ve ever seen in the UK. Because we are silent, he had not noticed us coming past. I managed to bash off a couple of shots before he realised we were there and plopped back into the cut. We also had the joy of seeing quite the tiniest moorhen chicks I’ve ever seen, They must have been newly hatched. Adorable.

We arrived at Wigrams in plenty of time and were assisted onto our pontoon by Bob, who was very helpful. Wigrams is a lovely marina, which also has a small campsite with glamping pods, a nice big dog field, a very pleasant boater’s lounge and a dog wash. Here’s a plan of the site and where we berthed.

While we were at Wigrams I ordered some more duck and swan food. I’d mistakenly bought a 20kg bag of food to bring away with us as usual, although I’d shopped around and bought a different brand. And therein was my mistake. The food I had ordered was not floating food, which is our usual type, it’s the sort you put in a bowl to feed your captive ducks.

We had noticed it was smaller than usual, but it wasn’t until we started feeding, and ducks kept ignoring it, that we realised that it sank immediately it hit the water. They weren’t so much ignoring it as being unable to find it! Fail! What a waste of time and money. And space!

I’ve had to improvise with Rice Krispies, which I know they like and is the subject of our most watched ever video – Swans and Rice Krispies – which has had over 8k views!I tried it out with a duck couple here at Wigrams and it was a great success. So much so that they returned in the evening for seconds. The drake was actually tapping on the window with his beak! It was so funny! In the video below, I was trying to use up some of the non-floating food I’d bought. There is 20 kg of it after all!

Our new hose finally arrived on Wednesday morning, so we were free to go. The batteries were full, the water tank was full and toilet was empty. All was well with the world. I quickly made a sandwich before I left and then set off, back the way we had come on Sunday. I cruised out of the Marina and turned right. No one about so all good.

It was a beautiful afternoon and I thoroughly enjoyed my solo cruise, spotting Canada Geese and chicks and ducks and chicks and it was sunny with a pleasant breeze. As I approached the place where Terry Terrapin had been basking I saw that he was out there again – must be his favourite spot. I manged to get a good shot this time! The spot is near the Warwickshire village of Flecknoe – which always makes me go Flecknoe, Flecknoe Flecknoe Flecknoe. I guess you had to be there 30 years ago, when Too Untalented were at their height!

Terry Terrapin

We were aiming to get back to Bridge 100 – a favourite spot. We have done some calculations and have something of a plan – let’s call it an outline – for the weekend. And there’s quite a few locks featuring in that plan. Plus a tunnel. But I digress. We arrived and moored and I’m now sitting listening to a blackbird serenading us. No other noise. Bliss.

Thursday was a proper misty moisty morning and I took a look at the weather forecast. It looked loke there’d be some heavy rain from about 1 pm onwards so I decided to get us moved off to the bottom of the locks at Braunston before then. I set off in a very light drizzle but it soon deteriorated into proper rain, although not too heavy. The forecast got it wrong – again. Tch. Our plan was to whistle through the 6 locks after Paul had finished work later in the day, when the rain looked as if it might be stooping.

As I approached the Braunston turn, with some caution, I did a loud blast on the horn – announcing my intention to turn right. I’d just started my approach to the narrows (see the pic below), doing another blast of my horn, when suddenly a boat appeared. It’s a T Junction with very little visibility in either direction so use of hoens is pretty vital. He just turned left – no horn to indicate his intention (it’s two blasts for left) – and into the narrows. I had to do an emergency stop – not easy on a nearly 60 foot boat but I managed to avoid him. It’s just what you don’t want to happen and I don’t understand why people don’t use their horns.

I pulled over just as the rain started stopping – typical! But it was only a temporary lull and it rained most of the afternoon, until around half -fourish. By the time Paul finished work, there were odd patches of blue sky as we finally set off. We had six locks to do and – unless someone was coming down the flight and taking locks, they should all have been in out favour. Well – we did meet someone coming down after lock three, so not too bad.

We finally pulled over around 7-ish. Luckily I had prepared dinner earlier and it was just a case of popping it in the oven for half an hour. Paul was very pleased with the Stalink performance – even though we were in a tree lined stretch. Good job as the phone signal was pretty much non-existent! We had a very quiet and solitary night – apart from a male fox barking nearby for some years!

We were under way by 08:30 on Friday morning, which was beautifully sunny, and headed straight under ground through Braunston tunnel – which has a length of 1867m (2,042 yards). I was convinced it’d be raining when we came out the other end, but no. Still sunny. It was actually quite perfect – warm, not hot – and just right for locking.

We passed the entrance to the Leicester Arm – where we’d turned left 2 years ago – and were soon within sight of Buckby top lock. And there was a boat just waiting to go in. Excellent. The Grand Union Canal, which we’ve been traveling on since turning onto it at Braunston, is a wide beam canal. Thus 2 boats can enter the locks side by side and go up or down together. Two boats = double the crew – but the gates are really heavy brutes.

We soon got into a rhythm and we had a pleasant lock down to Whilton Marina, which is at the foot of the locks. The locks – 7 of them here – have a total rise of 20 meters. The crew of the Elsa left us here as they were stopping off for a pump out, so we wended our way on down the canal. It’s a very pleasant stretch, marred by being sandwiched between the M1 and A5 with a pretty main line railway, running alongside, to boot!

Our destination for the day was Weedon Bec, where we would have dinner and receive a shopping delivery. We made it in plenty of time, bagged an excellent position, right by the bridge and even had time to have a snooze, a tidy up and a shower! It would be a noisy night – within spitting distance of the railway, but some nights that’s unavoidable.

Well the less said about dinner, the better. Suffice to say it won’t be getting a good review from us! But we did meet a delightful and very chatty 6 year old named Thea. She loved the boys and I got her entire life history and she told me that she had received a Kindness Sticker that day at school . Apparently her friend had fallen over and grazed her knee – resourceful Thea had called for help and sat with her friend while she was being administered to. She was utterly adorable. Just before we left the pub, she dashed over with some colouring in that she had done, which naturally I admired greatly. She insisted that I keep the piece and I promised to display it on my boat. Which I have.

The groceries arrived and were swiftly packed away, before we sat down for a short spot of TV and then bed. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sleep with all the train noise but went out like a light! I did wake up once in the dead of night and it was very quiet. Until 06:30, when the trains started thundering through again. I still managed to doze for another couple of hours though.

We didn’t have too far to go on Saturday – from Weedon Bec to Gayton Junction where the Northampton Arm branches off from the Main Line. It was a pleasant cruise and we spotted some nice moorings for the return journey, at points where the railway line veers away from the canal. It was pretty quiet on our journey down and we only met 3 or 4 boats.

We saw a sunken boat and – in chatting to nearby boaters, – the story is that the owner had been repeatedly asked remove it (or licence it) by CRT, as it was unlicenced. Rather than move it – making it his problem – he drilled holes in the bottom and sunk it – making it CRT’s problem. And a very expensive one at that. If true, it’s a despicable tale. We also spotted a very familiar boat from our Droitwich Days – my dear friend Jayne’s old boat, looking fabulous. Janyne has retired to the shore but the Sarah Kay lives on. A lovely sight. Our final spot was the beautiful butty Hyades – paired with Hyperion – both built by Harland and Wolff in Woolwich in 1935. You can read more of their history on the National Historic Ships UK Register, here.

The 14-day moorings on the approach to the Northampton arm were already chock-a-block so we had no choice but to turn into the Arm. Whilst there, we dumped the loo and set off to find a mooring place. Easier said than done! But we eventually managed to find a spot. Possibly an even noisier spot than last night, as the busy A43 is very close by indeed. But we had a plan.

We’d spotted a lovely little mooring, just above the top lock. Now I’m the first one to moan about people abusing lock landings, but here’s the thing. It was going to be hot the next day – like 22C – which is more than hot enough for locks. We aim to arise early and crack off the locks shortly after sunrise, before the heat cranks up. There appear to be no other boats coming down the locks behind us tonight (we are back to narrow locks by the way) and if there were, well we’ld help them on their way The way I see it, we are doing no harm – there is another lock landing on the opposite bank (actually on the towpath side) – we’re just using common sense. Others may disagree. If you do, let me know in the comments?

We waited out the remainder of the day at our horribly noisy mooring, doing a spot of cleaning and bike maintenance and at around 19:00 we moved into “pole”. Lovely views from the top of the locks, as you can see. And a cute little lock-keepers “hovel”. The boys had a great run up and down playing chase. It was a really lovely spot.

We had a much quieter night at our naughty spot and we both slept soundly until 05:30, when the alarm went off. Ouch! That was early. And chilly – the sun didn’t start warming things up until 10-ish. Paul got the bike off and went to ready the 2nd lock – having already set the first one, which was nearly full anyway. He came back and we whistled through Locks 1 and 2 and then we had a problem. The pound below Lock 2 was very low indeed so Paul cycled on down to check the next couple of locks. The next 2 pounds were almost completely dry. He had to go back up to the top and start flushing water down. It took about an hour to re-water the offending sections and Paul had worked so hard. And still 14 more locks to do.

They are not the easiest of locks to operate. And made doubly hard by there being no safe way of stepping across the bottom gates, so it was a trudge round each time to open the gates, We finally got to Lock 13 – the last of the Rothersthorpe flight and decided that – as there was no-one else about – we’d have our breakfast in the lock. I quickly whipped up a batch of banana pancakes (Mashed ripe Bananas, a couple of eggs and a touch of flour) and we were soon tucking into them with some fresh strawberries. Shame there’s no pic. You’ll just have to imagine it, We only saw one other boat on the move (in the opposite direction) and it was an Ortomarine boat – Count for Nothing. Their very last non-hybrid boat. What are the chances eh?

After breakfast we continued on our way, through the floodplains, accompanied by the Nene to our left. It was weedy, so progress was slow, but we were in no hurry. We felt a bit like “African Queen” as we inched our way through. But you’d hardly know you were in town to be honest – apart from the flipping graffiti.

There is a mosaic at every lock which is part of a nature trail. You have to collect info from them, piece it all together and then submit the result to win an award. We did not play today, but it would be a fab thing to do if you had kids in board. A very nice idea.

The skyline is dominated by the 127m (418ft) “National Lift Tower“, built as a lift-testing facility in the early 80s. It’s a popular abseiling venue today – the tallest in the UK. – and it has Grade II listed building status. Then – as we exited the last lock – we got a great view of one of Northampton’s other claims to fame – the Carlsberg brewery. Working today, I found it to be a pretty stinky affair, although Paul could not smell it! More about Northampton next week.

The final four locks of the Northampton Arm are pretty spaced out, so the bike came back on board. We finally arrived at the end and turned right onto the Nene. On the River at last! Paul had got the anchor out in the last lock, so we were good to go. Although not very far initially. as we are having a couple of nights in Northampton Marina, before starting down river next week. I’ll provide a few stats about the Nene in the next edition.

So there we are. Week1 (and a bit) done. Here’s to the summer being a nice one!

8th May to 19th May4533

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