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Archive for June, 2008

The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 16

Posted by indigodream on 29 June, 2008

We got off to a slow start today – we’d heard that there was dragon boat racing in Birmingham and we didn’t want to get caught up in the closures so we just pottered along! Richard’s boatyard was ever-helpful and gave us permission to leave the car in their car park for the weekend – don’t park there without some sort of permission as some of the locals are a bit territorial (can’t blame them!).

Trees - above and in the water!Plenty of interest today (isn’t there always!). We were surprised to find that a large branch had fallen across the towpath mooring overnight and there were several trees across the water further along. The canal was generally full of debris – the usual plastic bottles and tyres in the built-up areas but mainly bits of tree! We’ve only seen the like up in Penkrdige after a big storm a few years ago (which closed the M6) – if there had been a storm of that magnitude overnight then we managed to sleep right through it! All this debris made for a noisy trip – we were accompanied by the constant clunking of stuff bumping along under the counter. We’d normally suspect submerged trolleys and other hardware but in this case we’re pretty sure it was bits of tree!

The Stratford Canal continued it’s winding path through the surprisingly rural outskirts of Birmingham. The M42 intruded briefly but was soon lost in the trees. Trees are a major feature here – the canalside is richly wooded and peaceful. One of our canal guides calls it ‘soporific’ – it certainly was quiet – just a few boats passed us going the other way.

Dogs enjoyign the viewWe noticed a few good pubs – The Wharf at Hockley Heath (just past bridge 25) had good access from the canal (we stalled here with a plastic bag round the prop so were in a good position to notice!). Later on just before Bridge 19 we spotted the welcoming sign of the ‘Cider House’ – fine pub moorings here. It was only 11am so a bit early for a pint but we’d like to explore there again!

Not far from bridge 16 we spotted another welsh boat, along with numerous welsh flags – this time it was nb ‘Rhyddid’ (trans. Freedom) that caught Richard’s eye. There’s a small canal branch here which is obviously used for mooring but also has a handy water point – not sure if it’s just for the moorers.

There are good moorings on either side of Shirley Drawbridge – maybe a bit close to the road for the dogs but there was a popular pub there and useful mooring rings. The drawbridge itself was electrically operated which was relief – the road’s surprisingly busy and quite a queue developed even with Richard’s fast finger on the button! However, just up from the bridge the canal felt quite rural again so Richard hopped off for a wander with the dogs. Good decision – we met another greyhound on the towpath – a BIG black and white boy (Proud Baz) – now six years old but retired early because he was too big for racing. He was a few inches taller than Blue and he’s not small!

Grand new developmentsThere were very grand new canalside developments on this stretch – I love it when towns make the best of their waterfronts – I’m surprised they don’t all take advantage. They reckon that a river frontage adds £200,000 to a property on the Thames! There were many canalside gardens here but a big contrast between how their owners perceived the canal. Some gardens were beautifully maintained with rich hostas (miraculously uneaten by slugs!) sitting on neat decking; others were just backyards full of compost heaps, mess and general debris. We weren’t quick enough with the camera but there was also one where a very ancient sofa was perched precariously on scaffolding poles above the canal. I have no idea whether anyone ever sat there – it looked a complete mess and I hope that it’s destiny isn’t to be wrapped round a prop one day!

Explains it all!Once you get past bridge 7 you’re in the outskirts of Kings Norton. Kelly warned us not to moor here and the sudden rash of graffiti on every flat surface hinted that the local youth are active on the towpath. There were great waterpoints by Bridge 5 but each waterpoint had been thoroughly graffitied. We were also mystified by a long stretch of offside moorings by Bridge 3 – all the boats had hefty metal grills slung over their waterside windows – we were alarmed – were they really used for target practice by the local youth?? Moored boats on the River Wey often have solid boards but that’s to stop the fisherman’s leads from smashing the windows – but we hadn’t see any fishermen here. We cruised by worriedly until we saw the sign pictured above…..

Lots of choiceIt was a shock when we got to the junction with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal – we’ve been here before! We passed this junction a few years ago in our shared boat, Dragonfly, on the way to our epic down the Tardebigge flight. As we turned right towards Birmingham bits of remembered journey came back but alas, our written log belongs to the Dragonfly so we didn’t have any past notes to refer to. That’s surely the strength of the blog!

I did remember that this stretch was prime territory for waving at trains (the track’s right by the canal). One train driver beeped in response to our enthusiatic (and slightly deranged) waving and another one waved – result! We didn’t manage to get any interest from the sad commuters….

Beware of this stretch of canal – although it passes through some industrialised bits it is quiet and tranquil – the people on the towpath smiled and waved and you could be lulled into a false sense of security. There are no boats moored here and there is a lot of graffiti (did someone on Radio 4 really try and claim that graffiti is art on Saturday morning?); the canalside businesses tend to be protected by spiky fences and razorwire so maybe all is not as it seems. The BW notice near Bournville maybe confirms the real situation – they warn that it is an urban canal and that thefts have occurred.

We savoured the rich smell of chocolate wafting over the canal from the Cadbury factory – slow down and enjoy it (unless you’re on a diet!). We had a visit to Cadburyworld last time we were here but we were disappointed – too much history and too little actual manufacturing. Given all the salmonella scares they’ve had since maybe it’s just as well we didn’t see the full process! If you want a good factory tour go round Wedgewood near Stafford instead – brilliant!

The university\'s hydrogen boatJust past Bridge 82 there’s a deceptively quiet mooring spot – all the bustle of Birmingham University is at the top of the cutting! This spot has useful access to the University train station – as we found out a few years ago it has good links to the west (Mum and her cousin started their journey back to Wales from here). Three years ago we moored overnight here without incident but we didn’t stop this time. It was good to see that the university’s involved in planning for the future of the waterways (see photo)

Birmingham is truly stunning from the water- it’s such a great mix of current industrial and swanky waterfront bars. Gas Street Basin and Brindly place were humming with life – possibly even busier than Camden. We were sad to see that the waterside Italian Restaurant which used to have a full-size venetian gondola morred outside had been demolished for development.

Dragon Boats at Brindley PlaceThe dragon boat racing was just finishing when we arrived – good timing for getting the boat through but a shame to have missed all the events. We headed for Cambrian Wharf at the top of the Farmer’s Bridge flight – it’s a bit quieter here. The local BW office was very helpful and gave us some handy advice on where to moor – they reckoned Cambrian Wharf was pretty secure. The ‘town’ side of the canal has 48-hour moorings but the basin itself has 14-day visitor moorings so that’s where we moored. We’re leaving the boat here for a few days – I have a meeting in Manchester on Friday so I’ll be using the boat as a ‘halfway house’. We’ll then resume our exploration of Birmingham next weekend.

When we arrived we were shocked to see that the Farmer’s Bridge flight was closed – not a bother to us but it was unexpected! Apparently a couple of the pounds lower down were completely dry – it took most of the day to get enough water down there to allow boats to pass. Just as well we moored early – later on the moorings filled up with boats that had been delayed coming up the flight.

We took the dogs on a wander round the action at Brindley Place – they were very good in the crowds though Lou was spooked by the loud drumming accompanying some chinese dragon dancers in one of the squares. I’m very pleased that we’re spending another weekend here – Brindley Place (above the canal) is full of lovely squares and fountains with a good array of restuarants etc. However, when we found our way out to one the main streets we lost every hint of the canal – talk about another world!

After much debate we decided to go home in the evening and take advantage of the unexpectedly good weather to get some jungle control done (other people call it gardening!). We walked from Cambrian Wharf to Snowhill – even with bags and dogs and bike it is not a long walkand from there we got a great train back to Dorridge (nearest station to where we’d left the car). Dogs as usual attracted attention on the train. The fare was £3.00 for two humans (and two dogs) and that was a return! Richard cycled back to get the car (3 miles) and I colonised the local pub with the dogs. We met a charming man there who owned a young lurcher (sadly not with him) – he gave the dogs loads of fuss and even gave Lou his jumper to lie on (Blue had my jacket). When Richard arrived with the car Lou was reluctant to leave her hero.

It was a long slog home (dogs had a good chase of rabbits at Cherwell Services!) but we’re glad we did it – we achieved a useful amount of stuff at home (including preparing nice food for the week) – this will make it easier for us to have a long weekend away next week.


Brandwood TunnelThe Brandwood tunnel has very grand portals – especially looking back on the Grade II listed west portal where there is a Shakespeare plaque. Shame about the graffiti – i don’t think it adds anything really…..

Old guillotine lockFine guillotine lock – no longer in use but a great feature.

All the bridges have on this stretch have little gates in the parapets – firmly locked. We’d passed under half a dozen before we realised they were fire brigade locks – apparently the fire service can draw water from the canal in an emergency!

Fire Brigade doors

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 15

Posted by indigodream on 29 June, 2008

Does it still count as an ‘odyssey’ even though we haven’t moved the boat?! Whatever – Homer left Odysseus on Calypso’s island for years and he didn’t call his book “the odyssey (apart from the bit where he was making out with goddesses)” so I’ll keep the title as it is!!

Euphoric Blue after a long car journeyForgive me – I’m euphoric at being back on board – hurrah! This in part has been caused by the sense of joy in finally arriving here – we had a terrible journey up from Surrey. I was trying to be philosophical about it but for some reason the 4mph that’s so blissful on a boat is just grim when you’d doing it in a car on the M25!

I must mention the Cherwell Services off Junction 10 of the M40 – they have the BEST dog-walking area of any services in the country. If you nip down the alley between the Travelodge and the main services (past the bins!), you’ll get to a little wooden bridge over a stream and there it is – a very large open field, flanked by woodland, with mown paths among the long grass and rabbits out late evening. We had no hesitation in letting Blue and Lou off the lead for a rummage and we had quite a long walk (and only explored a quarter of the available area)! This was such a relief – it had taken us the best part of two hours to get this far (we’d hope to be at the boat in that time) and we all needed a break.

Another reason to be euphoric – Kelly from the boatyard had done a BRILLIANT job of cleaning the inside of our boat. It was a real temptation just to camp on the towpath and just look at it through the windows – it wouldn’t last once we got on board! Dylan from the boatyard also did a competent job of fixing our back door – this was a relief as I’ll be staying on the boat by myself next week and it’s nice to know that I’ll be secure! Richard had wanted someone competent to check the alignment and that was pronounced perfect. We can thoroughly recommend this place – great service and very helpful people – it used to be Swallow Cruisers but is now Richard’s Narrow boats – tel. 0121 777 0697.

As Kelly predicted, the boat had been fine on this stretch of towpath – no security problems and we had a good night’s sleep – only interrupted by the loud calls of what I think was a peacock at 5.45am. Just on the other side of the fence here there’s a very civilised looking farm with free-range chickens and ducks, three large pigs and a few sheep – all looking fat and contented. We wondered whether it was a ‘petting’ farm – it was all so neatly laid out. We looked around to if they sold eggs but we didn’t see a sign – shame, we’ve had some wonderful eggs from canalside ‘farms’ who just have a few hens scratching in the garden.

Bridge 26 - good dog walking!On the dog-walking front – if you walk from the boatyard in the direction of Bridge 26 there is a decent towpath which is well fenced (despite being close to the road). At the liftbridge (26) the path is securely gated from the road and if you cross the bridge you get onto a useful footpath which seems to run into the village. We didn’t get that far because the main feature was open fields of crops with wide margins where the dogs could have a thorough rummage. Good time had by all!


Pekingese picnic bench!This unusual picnic bench on the towpath caught our eye – the end panel seems to be in the shape of a Pekingese!

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Guilty Pleasures: a night at the dogs

Posted by indigodream on 29 June, 2008

Guilty pleasures: a night at the dogs

We went to the dogs last night – greyhound racing at Walthamstow Stadium to be precise. We had a great evening – decent food, good service and wonderful dogs. I worry a lot about the greyhound racing industry but one thing you can’t deny is that these dogs love to run! They seem so joyous as they flow around the track – strong backs flexing and extending those streamlined bodies. At the end of the race they’re so excited – prancing proudly with tail held high. They seem genuinely pleased to see their trainers. Several of Blue’s half-brothers and sisters were running (same father), as well as numerous ‘cousins’ (same grandfather) – all as handsome as Blue and all good runners.

But I couldn’t help but see shadows behind them – probably the shadows of my conscience. I KNOW that greyhounds are abused – their living conditions are often spartan, they are just commodities. When their careers are over the luckiest will find new homes; the next luckiest will be humanely killed, the unlucky will be starved or beaten to death or just abandoned. But at the track the trainers/handlers treated the dogs with care and the proud owners fussed their winning dogs with affection. So, are these the same people who can say goodbye to their dog without looking back – either leaving them in a rescue kennel or lining them up to be put down at the end of a race. Are these the people who will inflict cruelty and neglect? I can’t get my head round it.

Richard thinks we need some perspective on this. Do note that our dogs were not abused, they were well looked after by Battersea and Greyhoundhomer. However it has been scary talking to people on our travels as to the problems that their greyhounds had – the worse being found with head bashed in and dumped in a skip. The Federation of Greyhound Owners seems committed to putting things right. Walthamstow prominently displays information on rehoming greyhounds on its web site. It is a wonder how all these dogs adapt – for example there is Chris who we used to meet on Kenley Aerodrome. Found by his owner as a bundle of fur and bones on a country lane, needed 3 months fairly intense care but quickly got over that to be a lovely (cheeky) dog. We always have had rescues, sometimes there has been some evidence of past problems but these dogs seem to realise they have a second chance and put their absolute trust in you. Oh and Walthamstow was a great night out!

I did go to the dogs, I did have a good time but my conscience is rumbling away – I can’t silence it but I will donate some money to the Walthamstow Stadium rehoming charity – there is a link right on the first page of Walthamstow’s web site.

Walthamstow’s closing down in August adding another dimension of worry about what will happen to the dogs ‘attached’ to the stadium. Richard actually managed to make a profit of £4 on the evening (he bet steadily on Blue’s half brothers and sisters!!); I managed not to lose £6 of my £20 budget for the night (!) – so that’s what’ll go to the RGT. I came home and gave Blue and Lou a big hug – I’m so grateful that we’ve been able to take on two rescue greyhounds. Needless to say, Richard grabbed me firmly by the shoulders and steered me quickly past the retired greyhound stand at the stadium – he could just see me bringing another one home. Having said that, if he saw a dog in need I’m sure he’d be the first to crack! [EDIT required here, Sue is not giving you the full story: We were lucky that in the group was a confined space rescue team so they put a rescue harness on Sue, roped her up, 4 people hung onto the rope (sadly we had no tripod handy as that would have been far more fun), a top man looked down from the top of the escalators and allowed the team to release the rope, steady now, steady, ok take the strain she is looking a bit eager…, thanks Lads, very helpful.]

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Water Alert

Posted by indigodream on 25 June, 2008

25th June 2008

I’m sure that most of you will have picked this up but I thought I’d put a notice out anyway!

Anglian Water put out a warning today that water supplies in the Northampton area have been contaminated with a nasty bug that causes quite severe stomach upsets. They’re advising people not to use the water for drinking (not even for your pets) or teeth washing unless it’s been boiled. The list of areas listed include some popular boating stops including Braunston – I assume that BW will be putting notices at the relevant water points but here’s the list of affeted area from the Anglian Water website!

Anglian Water Alert – 25TH June 2008

The following areas are affected:

Ashby St Ledgers Badby Boughton

Boughton Green Braunston Brixworth

Bugbrooke Byfield Canons Ashby

Catesby Chapel Brampton Charwelton

Church Brampton Collingtree Cottisbrook

Daventry Dodford Duston

Everdon Farthingstone Fawsley

Flore Gayton Grange Park

Great Houghton Hannington Hardingstone

Harlestone Harpole Hellidon

Holcot Kislingbury Milton Malsor

Moulton Nether Heyford Newnham

Northampton – Castle Northampton – Delapre Northampton – Kingsley

Northampton – Weston Northampton Abbington Northampton Billing

Northampton Boughton Green Northampton Eastfield Northampton Ecton Brook

Northampton Headlands Northampton Kingsthorpe Northampton Lumbertubs

Northampton Parklands Northampton Spencer Northampton St Crispin

Northampton St David Northampton St James Northampton Thorplands

Norton Old Overstone

Pitsford Preston Capes Rothersthorpe

Scaldwell Staverton Stowe Nine Churches

Sywell Upper Heyford Upton Walgrave

Weedon Bec Welton Woodford cum Membris


Anglian Water call centre number – 08457 145 145

Anglian water website

Hope this is helpful – we’re out of this area now but I did have an anxious count back to when we last filled in Braunston. Dogs and humans totally fine so we obviously didn’t get the extra bug with our water!

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 14

Posted by indigodream on 18 June, 2008

Lapworth Top Lock to Bridge 27

Alas, today’s the last day of this stage of the odyssey – it’s been a tremendous two weeks – the canal’s have been varied and interesting and we’ve had the best of the weather. It’ll be weekend cruising for the rest of the Summer but we’ll do another 2-week cruise in the autumn.

Today was a ‘packing day’ – good grief, how can two people generate that much dirty washing in a fortnight! I know what I’ll be doing for the next few days…..

The dogs knew something was up so they were in a state of high excitement all morning.

We’re leaving the boat for 10 days now so we were obviously concerned about security. One plan was to contact the local boatyard (Swallow Boats) and actually pay for a mooring with them. Richard went off on a recce with the the dogs and had a very productive chat with them. Kally was extremely helpful and gave us some very practical advice. They didn’t have any ‘private’ mooring spots to spare but they did tell us the best spot to moor on the towpath – opposite some residential boats so there would be people around. They also advised us that they haven’t had any trouble there so we were reassured.

We also booked some work on the boat – repairing a section of wood on the hatch, checking the engine alignment and possibly a bit of carpentry inside. Richard also gallantly booked a valet so I didn’t spend the last of my holiday cleaning fluff off the floor!

We were going to ask them to put in an extra ‘flushing point’ into the sewage tank (as per advice from Culcutt) but Swallow boats didn’t think it was worth it. A separate point apparently just lets water flow over the sludge without dislodging it. You’re better off running a load of water in (via whatever inlet you fancy) and then rocking the boat vigorously to mix the tank contents. So we decided not to have an extra hole knocked in the side! I’m always gobsmacked at the range of opinions about toilets on narrowboats!

We offloaded our gear at top lock – you can park a bit closer to the canal there making it a bit less of a trek with the bags. I then moved the car up to the boatyard and Richard moved the boat – all straightforward until I got an ’emergency’ phonecall – he’d encountered an unexpected liftbridge with the gear on the offside so I had to trot down the towpath to take the boat through! How do single-handed boaters manage? We passed through several swingbridges on the K & A with the gear on the wrong side so once you’d opened the bridge you couldn’t get back to your boat.

We are so slow when we’re leaving the boat – we dawdled and we dithered in order to delay the inevitable but eventually by 2.30pm we back in the car, going considerably faster than 4mph (and paying considerably more than 79p a litre for the piviledge!). We’re now home and the dogs are relaxed and happy – they enjoyed their holiday but there’s no place like home 🙂

Future Blogs

We’re new to blogging so I hope that everyone that’s been kind enough to comment will forgive us for not replying individually – we’re not sure of the protocol here. Thanks to all of you though – it’s been a great pleasure to read your positive and encouraging comments. I have really enjoyed writing the blog and have found that it’s enriched my cruising because I’m looking around for interesting things to add. It’s also my ‘memory’ (the one in my head’s notoriously bad!) so I’m sure that I’ll enjoy reading it over in the future.

We will keep blogging but as it’s our ‘ship’s log’ there won’t be much between journeys – the next will be in about 10 days’ time. Richard is planning to a guide to locking – he’s certainly had the experience! I’m planning to transfer our written logs onto the blog as the pencil’s starting to fade and it would be good to have an electronic version (which isn’t in my dreadful handwriting!). I’ll be heading these “The Archive” – then you’ll know not to read them (!) as my old written log won’t be as descriptive .

A last doggie tale

As the dogs are so accident-prone I regularly inspect them for cuts and bruises and am eternally vigilant for signs of damage. Richard, in conspiracy with the dogs, has taken to calling me (rather unkindly) “The paw police”.

So, here are the ‘paw police’ files:

Chief suspect


ALIAS: Druids Classic

ALIAS: Mummy’s Boy

Charge: Speeding without due care and attention; Failure to apply brakes.

Evidence: Cuts and bruises. Paw spin tracks at top of garden ramp and round side of shed.

Sentence: Visit to vet, staples and blue bandages!


ALIAS: Moors Gem Lou

ALIAS: J-Lou (she has a big bum),

Charge: Aiding and abetting!

Evidence: Cuts and bruises, bits of knee left on brick pier (ps thanks M&S Pet Insurance)

Sentence: More blue bandages!

These are the prime suspects but don’t let this put you off – greyhounds make great pets!

We’re currently sponsoring Paddy and Billy (at the Ockenden Branch –

Why not support a retired greyhound by giving one a home, sponsoring one or just giving a donation the Retired Greyhound Trust – – go on, you know you want to 🙂

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 13

Posted by indigodream on 18 June, 2008

Warwick to Lapworth Top Lock

Looking up to the aqueduct

This was our last full day of cruising and set to be a big day as we wanted to get up onto the Birmingham plateau – it meant that we had to do 42 locks today but that would make the next weekend’s cruising so much easier.

We did not quite get the sleep we wanted as we had a bit of trouble overnight in our mooring. It was such a shame – up until 3am it was the perfect spot – the towpath was occupied by a pleasant array of walker and cyclists, and the loudest noise was from the sheep bleating in the adjacent field. At 3am, however, the peace was broken by drunken shouting from the towpath and a loud thump against the side of the boat. We woke up but at first hoped they would just pass on; then we heard this bit of dialogue:

Drunk 1: “Come on”

Drunk 2: “Naw, I wanna do the boat”

Drunk 1: Come on, youz can do the boat any time”

At this point we decided it was time to take action!

Thankfully we never found out what ‘doing the boat’ might involve but I have a vivid imagination………

Richard went onto the front deck and handled the situation brilliantly – he is a big man and standing on our front deck he did loom over the four totally p***** lads on the towpath. His approach was calm and non-confrontational – he just talked to them and they quietened down and were positively respectful considering they’d just broken a stolen estate agent’s sign on the side of the boat! I’m glad he went out – I favour the ‘screaming banshee’ approach myself! While this was going on the dogs were barking ferociously – Richard would not let them out as teeth were showing and they were trembling with fear and anger. The man who lives in the canal cottage opposite kindly came out with a big torch to investigate and told us he’d report the lads to the police (Thank you – we did appreciate your support). In the face of all this attention the lads left us alone and went to chase the sheep in the field instead ….

I stayed up ’til 4am because I was a bit worried that they’d come back but they’d long since scarpered. We did find that the cheap solar lights that we put out to mark the mooring pins had been stolen – we don’t think it was the same lads as they weren’t in a state to hide them effectively. The police never did turn up – shame – I would have been reassured by a community officer just taking an interest.

As the law can’t help us here I thought I’d try an old-fashioned curse! So, to the people who stole our light – may you be cursed by absolute honesty for the rest of your days; to the four drunks – may you develop an allergy to alcohol and never get drunk again!

I’ve spent a bit of time today musing on whether I’d moor there again. My current answer is ‘maybe’ if we were on board BUT we’d take in or nail down every movable object on decks and roof. We would NEVER leave the boat there overnight unattended. Talking to a few other boaters we may just have been unlucky as Warwick is not known as a black spot (though there weren’t many boats moored along this stretch).
Let us know if you’ve heard differently.

Canal\'s supremacy over rail (for a change!)We did get a somewhat jaundiced view of Warwick – it’s not that attractive from the water though the guide books say it is fantastic in the centre by the castle/cathedral. We didn’t stop to sightsee – we were on a mission of get to Lapworth! . However, there a few things to note:

If you’ve ever been to Chirk you’ll know that the viaduct carrying the railway was built higher than the canal aqueduct to show the supremacy of rail over water. But here we have the canal in it’s proper place! Richard took photos of transformers next to footpaths below on the old power station site – their in the photoblog below for the geeks!

There is a useful Tesco and various other shops/takeaways by bridge 46 – the Tesco doesn’t have a Starbucks but it does do Krispy Creme Doughnuts! There are moorings here but they looked pretty full.

That\'s not daunting!Anyway, on to the locks – first we faced the Hatton flight. The guide books called these a ‘daunting sight’ but if you’ve done Tardebigge or Caen Hill then you have nothing to fear! According to Richard what made this flight manageable was the well-balanced gates and smooth mechanisms – much easier than Caen Hill. I’m just standing on the back wiggling the tiller so it’s all the same to me!

Dogs unitedIt was here we met another greyhound – Kirkstone Gem (aka Sally) travelling on nb Blue Moon. Our two were very pleased to meet her (even Lou but we think she recognised that this was one very fit looking greyhound). Sally was superbly muscled but very dainty for a girl, nearer in build to Blue – Lou is so stocky we sometimes doubt her pedigree! In the way of the Welsh we logged onto to see if our dogs were related and they are (in a very convoluted way!) Sally’s great-grandfather was Blue’s grandfather and somewhere back in the generations they share a link with “I’m Slippy” who seems to turn up in every bloodline.

At lock 33 we met some interesting birds – there was a family of three grey wagtails perching on the lock gate – they weren’t bothered by the boat grumphing past them and I got a great view. There was a wren on the lockside – so bold for a bird the size of a walnut! We have them in the garden – they make the most amazing racket but it’s rare for us to see them out in the open.

Loads of boats were coming down the flight, hardly anyone going up so we were single in a double lock. Best technique to keep the boat steady in the lock (we tend not to use ropes unless we are on the Wey) was to open the ground paddle on the same side as the boat to halfway – 11 turns, then pause. Once you can see appreciable flow into the lock open the paddle one turn at a time. This way the boat stays fixed nicely to the the lock wall. Once you have that first paddle open you can open a second and boat stays steady. For most of the flight we went up opening just one paddle – this gave Richard just enough time to cycle to the next lock, set it, then come down to finish the lock I was in. Surprisingly it did not take longer – we got up the flight in under 3 hours and think that opening two paddles just took longer as Richard could not quite get back in time. But if you try this, watch out for the odd leaky gate – there were a few where we had to open the second paddle just to get the last 6 inches.

Hijack!!!!The pounds between the last three locks were ridiculously low (by about 2 feet) with clear mud banks visible on the right. Watch out for this – we didn’t meet anyone coming down here but I was glad that I could keep to the middle of the pounds.

There’s a lot of interest at the top of the flight. We genuflected and chanted ‘we’re not worthy’ when we passed Stephen Goldsborough Boats – they were utterly out of our price league when we were buying a boat but they had stunning designs.

A slightly sinister dragonfly at Hatton top locks

Lots to see at Hatton Top Locks

Notice on the friendly cafe

We also met a lot of ramblers today. One old gent was indignant when I told him that Richard did the locks while I drove. He thought I was letting women’s lib down and ought to be sharing the heavy work! I tried to convince him that driving WAS women’s lib as it’s a technical task but he wasn’t having it.

There’s a water point and rubbish bins by the top lock but you have to moor at the lock moorings to use them – we always feel a bit guilty about that as our tank takes so long to fill! Past that there’s a long line of long-term moorings so if you want to explore the top lock then moor up past these. It’s a cool wooded embankment and a good place to stop. We had a wander down to top lock – there are interesting exhibits there and a fine cafe which does very good ice-cream!

The next feature was Shrewley Tunnel. We were surprised to find 48-hour moorings by the tunnel mouth – it might be a useful place for the future. We had lunch there before setting off – it’s another 2-way tunnel but short and straight so no more clanging and banging!

Our ‘Nicholson’s’ guide is getting a bit old so we were pleased to see an unmarked water point just after the bridge at “Tom ‘o the wood”. Water pressure was excellent so we filled up and washed the boat. We met nb Lord Portal there bedecked with white ribbons – the ‘crew’ of 2 were on honeymoon! He works for the RAF and the narrowboat is actually owned by the RAF – I didn’t like to tell him that it’ll never fly (though they were wrong about bumble bees!).

The BW man that we met in Stockton told us to abandon the Grand Union at Kingswood Junction as the route not very scenic and runs through bandit country with difficult moorings. He advised us to head up the Stratford on Avon Canal instead – after Warwick we were happy to comply and it’s another bit of canal we haven’t done before. We joined the Lapworth flight halfway up and joy – narrow locks – proper narrow locks with an inch to spare (rather than the foot to spare on the Aylesbury Arm). Although it’s a long, closely spaced flight (19 locks) there were 48-hour moorings in some of the pounds – I was tempted to stop but as I mentioned, we were on a mission!

One paddle on lock 11 (downstream end, offside) is awkward to wind up and even harder to wind down – we would suggest not bothering to use it unless you are in the middle of a convoy. Watch out for the pound between locks 9 and 8 – it’s not really big enough for two 60 footers to pass comfortably. My wry thought as I looked up at nb Perintis coming out of the lock ahead was “this pound ain’t big enough for both of us”! The only way we could pass was for Perintis to turn right and poke her nose into the side-pound while I wiggled right and scraped along the lock moorings. Richard had wandered up the next lock so could relay between steerers using our exceedingly useful 2-way pmr radios. The crew of Perintis took this in their stride effortlessly but try to avoid meeting here if you possibly can!.

The lovely lock 5This flight was truly lovely – green and tranquil. We met a few boaters coming down but here was an air of a long sunday afternoon about the place. There are permanent moorings at the junction and I got the impression that the boaters there don’t see many outsiders! To the boater who told me off for manouvering into the lock moorings using my engine rather than pulling it in quietly with a rope – I apologise for disturbing your peace!

The approach to Lock 5 is particularly beautiful and lined with foxgloves. It wasn’t until I saw them that I realised that haven’t seen a wild foxglove for years – maybe not since I was in school. It was a joy to see them now. To the person who owns the cottage just after lock 4 – you’re garden is marvellous and really added to my enjoyment of the flight.

A drift of foxglovesIt was gone 7pm when we got to Lapworth Top Lock – it’s an enchanting time to be cruising as the water looks thick and glossy like treacle and there are perfect reflections in the soft light. Sometimes we cruise until nightfall just for the magic of it but after a heavy day’s locking we were done in. But our labours weren’t over – we got a taxi back to get Richard’s car so that we’d be all set for the morning. After all this we slept so soundly that you could have sawed the boat in half and we wouldn’t have noticed! There really wasn’t any trouble here and local boaters told us that this stretch is a safe place to moor though from a doggie point of view it is near a busy road.
Perfect reflections

I’ll leave you with some perfect reflections at Lapworth Top Lock.



Richard’s been doing a lot of work with electrical engineers recently and the sight of this transformer so close to the footpath with a relatively flimsy fence made him take a photo before running away at top speed!

And the live cables poking through within easy reach under the railway bridge made him wonder how the local yobs had survived so long without being electrocuted!

Live cables

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 12

Posted by indigodream on 15 June, 2008

Stockton Top Lock to Warwick (just past Bridge 45)

All aboard were well this morning and I think we managed the earliest start of our trip – 9.15am! We had a good day’s locking ahead of us and it made sense not to dawdle. Richard spoke to a BW man at Top Lock who told us that the stretch of canal between Napton Junction and Braunston is the busiest in the country – there are three marinas in Napton and weekenders like the easy toddle down the lock-free pound to Braunston and back. So, yesterday was just a normal weekend – I can’t imagine what it’ll be like there when there’s a festival!

Into the time machine - Stockton Top LockI was so pleased that we didn’t do the Stockton Locks last night – it would have been such a slog. By contrast, there was a positive ‘stampede’ (tell me if there’s a better word) of boats coming up the locks so ALL the locks were set our way, well apart from 2 that got turned in front of us. *&^$£ $&(*$%s. It still took just over an hour to complete the flight of 10 – nowhere near the alleged 17.5 minutes for the main flight of 8 done by someone who has best remain nameless.

All the birds I’ve seen so far have been ones I’ve spotted before (usually in our garden – including herons who come to droll over our well netted fishpond) so I was really excited to see a new bird yesterday – it was small (about the size as a chaffinch) with a totally black head, white collar and brown body. A search of the birds books proved it was a male Reed Bunting – hurrah!

When we got to the bottom lock we started to have pangs of regret that we didn’t do the flight last night – Long Itchington is pub central!

I noticed a good water point and rubbish skips just after Bridge 27. I should say that my definition of a ‘good’ water/rubbish point is that it’s clear of moored boats, accessible and clean!

Red Hot PokersWe soon reached the Bascote Locks. Now I feel as if I’ve spun you a line a few days ago when I told you that Marswoth Junction had the only staircase locks on the Grand Union. I must have mis-read the notes as Bascote Top Lock is most definitely a staircase! We were joined here by hireboat ‘Andean Duck’ and shared locks with them for the rest of the morning. There was a party of Australians aboard (on holiday from Perth) – I’m so pleased they chose narrowboating for their ‘taste of england’ – I think they were having a good time! They seemed unusually reserved for Aussies – or maybe our australian friends are just noisy!

Blue has been very wilful today – we lost him twice – he ran into the undergrowth at Stockton Lock 3 and didn’t catch up with us until we were down 5 locks. At Bascote he disappeared into the bushes at Top Lock and we didn’t see him ’til the bottom despite much shouting and searching. He’s such a boy – he just likes to be independent. I am quietly convinced that he doesn’t go very far away and can always either hear us or see us. He’s doesn’t seem bothered that we can’t see him! Lou was her usual well-behaved self though she’s spent most of the day fast asleep with no interest at all in the world outside her sofa!

One of the locks was littered with a group of ‘mature’ people stretched out on the lockside eating their sandwiches. They were the Sutton Coldfield Rambling Club and were a great advertisment for the benefits of exercise and maintaining your mobility. They said they were out for a gentle 10 miler though apparently they regularly ramble further. They were a fine sight and it was a great pleasure to meet them.

Hill near the Fosse WayBy Lock 20 we noticed this unusual ‘hill’ – what caught my eye first was the pink soil then I thought that there was a man-made feel to the stucture. Was it an old fort or a barrow – where’s Time Team when you need them?! A look at the OS map showed that we were close to the Fosse Way – an old Roman Road so we wondered whether that had a bearing. Let us know if you’ve heard anything.

We’ve enjoyed the locks today – partly because of the company and partly because it was such a pleasure to see lock that were so well-built and well-maintained. As in Braunston, the gates were sturdy and well-balanced with smooth paddle-gear and not too many leaks. Richard reckons 2 minutes from him coming up to a paddle to having a gate open, he will probably start timing all flights now. We read that the locks used to be narrow but these were apparently replaced when the canal was widened at some stage to include the current broad locks. The narrow locks can still be seen though they now seem to be used as side-pounds How we wished the narrow locks were still in place – they’re so much easier for a narrow boat!

Old narrow lockBuilt to last!

We lunched at ‘The Moorings’ pub in Leamington Spa – there are mooring rings just past Bridge 43 outside the pub on the right. The pub does not allow dogs indoors but they can sit in the ‘garden’. We had the sunday carvery – it is HUGE. The chef also generously gave us four sausages for the price of two for the dogs. With these and or leftovers the dogs had a great feast when we got back on board!

The real world intruded then – this bit of our odyssey is almost over and it was time to think about how to get the car from Kings Langley. A train from Leamington Spa seemed to be the best option so we found a great spot to moor just past Bridge 45 (between the rail and river aqueducts – photos tomorrow).

Note: The towpath here doesn’t have mooring rings but although it looks like concrete it is perfectly possible to bang a pin in!

Richard went off to Leamington Spa train station – easily accessible from Bridge 41. The platforms have lift access so easy for bikes! We missed a trick here as what we really need is the equivalent of a canal guide but for the railways as there are a couple of places which might have had more convenient rail links – basically we had unwittingly strayed off the WCML so we needed a change in London.

While he was away I walked the dogs – walk over the river aqueduct and turn left down a steep flight of steps to the river walk. At the bottom of the steps turn right (to get onto the walk) and when you reach the river turn right again – this gives you a long length of river path which ends at a large park. The left turn takes you on a short boring walk to the main road! The walk’s not particularly scenic though bits of it are straight from ‘The Archers’ – cricket on the green, sheep in the fields, platforms for fishing and the sound of church bells in the distance. However it is a great walk for wearing out your dogs – we were out for an hour and three-quarters – even Blue was ready to settle down after that!

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 11

Posted by indigodream on 15 June, 2008

Bridge 7/8 Grand Union Mainline to Stockton Top Lock

Rolling farmland (1)I’m pleased to report that yesterday’s melancholy had totally lifted by this morning (though Richard was still a bit under the weather). It was a fine morning – sunny and cool. The dogs were in good spirits as they raced along the towpath so all was well.

What we thought was a quiet bit of canal last night proved to be the boating equivalent of the M1 this morning! I lost count of the number of boats that passed us before we eventually started out at 10am. I should mention that this section is the second summit of the Grand Union.

Braunston Tunnel was the first feature. We were well into the tunnel when Richard realised that it was a bit dark – our headlight wasn’t working! He optimistically sent me to the front of the boat with a big torch and we clanged along for a boat length when we realised that it just wasn’t going to work! Richard reversed out of the tunnel – blowing the boat horn every few seconds just to warn any approaching boats that we were in trouble. Just as we moored up three boats emerged (it’s a 2-way tunnel) – thank heavens we’d come out – I’m sure they wouldn’t have been able to see us without the big headlight. Lou and Blue took this as an opportunity to escape up the embankment and it looked at one stage as if I’d have to walk over the top of the hill with them!

The headlight was soon fixed. It was just a loose wire, dislodged when Richard was fixing the boat’s horn last night. We enticed the dogs back on board and set out into the tunnel, again. We didn’t count the number of boats that passed us going the other way but the boat in front of us counted 14! There was much clanging and banging – the tunnel is narrow in places and has a bit of a bend in the middle. This tunnel’s nowhere near as wet as Blisworth but Richard had his hat on just in case!

If the tunnel was like the M1 then Braunston Locks were like Clapham Junction – so many boats locking up and down. This made for a queue at some locks but for the most part we benefited from having extra crews at each lock. We shared the locks with nb Ruby – a neat 39’ boat imported from China (in a container apparently). They were pleasant and efficient boaters and we got down the locks in no time.

We did ‘lose’ Lou at the top lock – she got off the boat, found herself a patch of soft grass to lie in and left us to it. She got a fuss off the crews of every boat coming behind us. It took a lot of persuasion to get her to follow us down the locks! Both dogs had a great time here – Blue was rummaging around, sniffing and weeing, and Lou was finding soft places to lie where she had maximum exposure to fuss from passing strangers. She was even quiet with other dogs – this is unusual as she normally has a lot to say for herself!

We topped up with milk at the handy little shop at bottom lock. We stopped at the water point just past the Marina entrance (past Bridge 1). If you’re not sure if you’re in the right place then look out for the floating café moored here! It was a little bit quieter here and there’s a good rubbish point (though no recycling that I could see). The place is plastered with notices asking people not to moor unless they’re using the facilities – I guess boaters must be tempted to flaunt the rules when it’s so busy and moorings are at a premium. There’s a real buzz about Braunston – it’s a lively place (by boating standards) with the many boaters and walkers taking time to exchange their towpath tales.

While were watering up at Braunston a bird came right up to the boat and peered in curiously before dipping his head for a drink in the canal. We think it was a young crow – it was the right size for a jackdaw but it didn’t have a pale marking on the back of the neck.

Among the plethora of signs here, we noticed that Braunston’s having a festival from 21st June – 5th July – maybe that explains why there was so much traffic on the waterways – or maybe it was just a normal summer Saturday! We turned left at Braunston Turn to continue on the Grand Union – there were boats coming the other way at a rate of one every 3 minutes – we have never been on a busier waterway. Luckily the canal here is wide, even with moored boats, so passing wasn’t an issue.

Rolling Farmland (2)The stretch of the Grand Union between Braunston and Napton Junction is beautiful. It’s surrounded by neat rolling farmland and you feel that great care has gone into maintaining every acre. We stopped for lunch at a particularly scenic spot.

Note on passing moored boats: Pass close if you need to need to; pass fast if you must; but don’t pass close and fast! This would be my advice to the boat that passed within inches of us, fast, lost control and scraped down the side of our gunwales – thanks mate! We know it’s a contact sport but there is a limit! By the way, it wasn’t a hire boat…..

Among today’s curiosities, was a narrowboat selling pushbikes of all sorts and offering a bike repair service. We’re always amazed at the inventiveness of the business that people manage from their boats.

Rolling farmland (3)We also met nb Meridian today – looking very good after her new paint job. Meridian is from the same ‘stable’ as our old shared boat ‘Dragonfly’. They’re both moored at Wigram’s Turn now – a smart new marina at Napton Junction. It would be fun to bump into Dragonfly on our travels (not literally, though if she’d passed us in the tunnel then we might have already!) We haven’t seen her since we sold our shares three years ago or so.

At Napton Junction, we turned right along the Grand Union – this was a big moment for us. Up ‘til now we’ve been backtracking along canals that we came down two years ago but now were in new territory! The canal was much quieter here though a bit slow past the many on-line moorings.

It was soon after the turn that we noticed the dreaded red light on the toilet tank – this proved that the pump-out at Pitstone Wharf wasn’t up to much! There’s a bit of a toilet saga coming but I’ll mention now that we rang ahead to Culcutt Boats to check that they could do a pump-out today and were told (by a very pleasant lady) that it would be fine if we could get there by 5pm. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

The lock mechanism aka \'the time machine\'We thought that Culcutt Boats was based in the marina at the bottom of the three Culcutt locks so down we went. We shared with the very pleasant crew from hireboat Cannes – just starting their holiday and on their way to Birmingham and the ring back round to Napton.

Lock mechanisms are amazing – I thought we’d seen every type there was but this stretch has quite a unique design (see photo). To me, they look giant spark plugs – something that a mad professor would use to move time around rather than just tons of water.

It was in the Culcutt locks that we had the pinnacle of our day – meeting nb Elsewhere who had THREE ex-racing greyhounds aboard. We only caught a glimpse of them through the windows as they were firmly locked away – they looked like they’d have been a riot on the towpath! So, we have two, Elsewhere has three and Greygal (the other blogger) has 5 – can anyone top that! I think we’re a bit light on greyhounds myself……..

Rolling Farmland (4)Anyway, back to the toilet saga. I’ve mentioned before that customer service is a bit of an alien concept among boatbuilders though maybe I’m a bit too fussy – you decide! We arrived at the bottom lock, turned into the marina, asked directions from a resident boater and moored up at the pump-out at dead on 5pm. The place was deserted so we rang the office and after much rumbling about how late we were, they agreed to do the job. I walked up to the office to pay (£13) and while I was being dealt with by the courteous counter staff, the owner/manager shot out of his office to give me a sound telling off for coming to the wrong place. We should have stopped canalside by the top lock then he wouldn’t have had to send someone 10 miles (100 yards actually!) to do the pump out, we should look for the blue pumpout signs, this is what they look like etc etc etc……… Lecture over he abruptly shot back into his office. Was he being funny? I’m afraid I had a sense of humour shortfall!

Rolling Farmland (5)Nonetheless, they did do the pumpout and did it well – leaving us the equipment to do a really thorough flush of the tank. The man who did the pumpout for us (and there more glamorous jobs, believe me) gave us a very useful tip on the design of toilet tank systems – put in a separate ‘flushing point’ opposite the pump out point so that you can run water into the tank more efficiently when washing it out. He also showed us the useful technique of running water in through the vent hole while the pump-out nozzle was working at the main outlet. The only thing is that he gave us this advice after telling us rather brusquely that our set-up was ‘useless’.

So you tell me – although we were late we got an efficient pump out and some handy tips at a reasonable price – is that enough to be classed as good customer service?

I think I answered that question when we passed by the Kateboats yard/marina just past Bridge 21 and made a note for the future that they do pump-outs as well……

By the way, I’ve added some scenic photos because if you have to read a toilet story then the least I can do is give you something nice to look at!

Charming church - probably Lower ShuckburghWe had a dilemma at Stockton top lock – we inadvertently passed the visitor moorings and got to the top lock where there were just long-term mooring spaces (note for the future). Our choices were to do the 10 locks (all set against us) to the next mooring spot; reverse back quite a way to the visitor moorings or squat for the night here. Richard was tired and I was feeling downtrodden (after Culcutt Boats) so we talked to some residents and found that where we’d stopped had been empty for 6 months so we’ve stayed here for the night. We were revived by a fine meal (and good service!) in the Boat Inn (on Bridge 21). It is a dog-friendly pub – they’re allowed in the bar area and in the large garden. We had some warm evening sunshine so we sat outside. The dogs were very relaxed, Lou lay on her back sunning her tummy, and Blue rubbed his face in the soft grass – signs of extreme contentment. They downed a sausage each plus our leftovers before walking back to the boat (via a rummage in a bit of woodland by the towpath) so life just couldn’t be better.


Boat on the towpath

This old wooden hull (left) was ON the towpath!

And the boat below (moored nearby) is what estate agents might describe as ‘in need of modernisation’!

In need of modernisation

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 10

Posted by indigodream on 14 June, 2008

Stoke Bruerne to Bridge 8 Grand Union Mainline

It’s been a funny old day today – although Stoke Bruerne is as peaceful a mooring as you could wish for we both woke up at dawn (4am in these parts!) – the idea of a sunrise cruise was briefly contemplated and hastily rejected so we went back to counting sheep! This must have worked because the next thing I know is that Lou is whining pitifully at 4.50am – her blanket had fallen off and she was cold! So, back to the sheep…… We eventually motivated ourselves to get up at 9.30am-ish after the central heating had been on for a while and the boat was toasting and full of the smell of the fine baguette that we bought yesterday. The dogs didn’t rouse until 10.30am – this is normal for them! I should say that it was a baguette minus the first four inches – Blue loves bread as you’ll find out later…..

Verdant countrytside and reflective bridges!Anyway after that strange night’s sleep we’ve been cruising in a bit of a trance today – still lots of interesting things on the waterway and plenty of verdant countryside but it seemed to lack all power to excite us. I blame the weather – it’s been cold and cloudy most of the day and the atmosphere seemed to press down on us like a heavy blanket. Of course, all that won’t stop me from writing my customary 1000 words!

I haven’t been as observant of nature today though I did spot some woody nightshade in an otherwise relentlessly green hedgerow. So I’ll tell you some doggie tales instead 🙂

First of all, why was Lou cold when Blue wasn’t? Well, our bedroom is in the front of the boat – the bed folds away against the ‘wall’ so there isn’t a window there and on the opposite side there’s a porthole which we bung with a classy (NOT!) piece of insulating polystyrene. In this cosy cabin sleep me, Richard and Blue (in a nest of duvets, blankets and cushions at the end of our bed). Blue had always slept here as he likes to be close to the pack. Terry Pratchett describes a barn as being ‘cosy, warm and slightly flatulent’ place – that’s our boat bedroom with two humans and a dog! (Speak for yourself Sue) It was 2 degrees warmer than the back of the boat this morning! The back of the boat being where Lou sleeps – she likes the comfort of the sofa – lying on two sheepskins with a pillow for her head and covered with a blanket. As long as she’s comfy then the pack can go hang – but she is in the coldest part of the boat!

Once again Lou came soaking wet from her morning walk – this time she’d dived into a very smelly pond and was thoroughly proud of herself. I hear that some owners have greyhounds that don’t like getting their feet wet – LUCKY YOU!

I mentioned the fine baguette. Blue likes a steak if he can steal one, and is very fond of pate, but if you want to see him drooling (and you don’t really, take it from me!) then give him some bread, preferably with butter and maybe soaked in a little milk. When we came in from Tesco yesterday he was pleased to see us, but he was ecstatic at the sight of the baguette. He managed to slobber over the end of it while we were coming down into the cabin and was rewarded for his efforts by a large chunk (which we really didn’t fancy!). I don’t begrudge him a chunk of bread but his table manners leave something to be desired!

Our ever alert lock-detectors!Both dogs were very excited today – Lou spotted a rabbit on the towpath just as we were leaving our mooring and both have been on the alert all day. I’m surprised that Blue’s nose hasn’t fallen off – it’s been twitching all day, especially as passed fields full of sheep and rabbits. He definitely had a ‘gravy ‘n mint sauce’ gleam in his eye – we revved the engine and passed on quickly! The photos shows them in ‘lock detector’ mode – they adopt this pose every time they hear the engine go into reverse!

Anyway, enough of this maudling – on to our travels! We passed through the last two locks at Stoke Bruerne and had intended to have a look at the canal museum. Alas, the moorings were totally jam packed with boaters left over, I believe, from the festival last weekend. There were some fine old working boats plus one particularly enticing boat selling fudge and ice cream. Regretfully we didn’t stop – with boats brested up there was just space for one narrowboat to get through and I didn’t think we could justify blocking the canal in the name of fudge! We’d like to explore Stoke Bruerne again though – so far in our two visits we’ve focussed on doggie facilities but we really must visit the museum one day – maybe next year.

Note: The locks at Stoke Bruerne are in particularly good condition with gates that don’t leak, perfectly balanced beams and well-oiled and smooth mechnisms.

On then to the Blisworth Tunnel – the third longest in the UK. Richard likes tunnels – he does a particularly evil maniacal laugh and likes to take advantage of the echo in tunnels to practice. But today he was all business – he had a target to achieve for getting through (I looked around for the teambuilders!) and as the Blisworth is 2-way tunnel then it demands a bit more concentration – we met 3 oncoming boats one of which was a bit of a pain – bright headlamp pointing left not right. We were struck by the fine condition of the tunnel – it is well-lined, of an even and generous diameter and absolutely straight – if you’ve ever been through Standedge then you’ll appreciate why these features are so important!! We read later that the tunnel was closed for 4 years because of its poor condition but was re-lined in 1984 – what a great job! As always we were fascinated by the ventilation shafts – just big ‘holes’ that reach from the tunnel up to the top of the hill – you can often spot them by the faint circle of light on the water. We did what we always do – we looked up to see the light and got drenched in the process – although it wasn’t raining on the hill there was a tremendous seepage of water into the tunnel and the boat was soaked. After the first one I hid inside with the dogs and let Richard get wet – he’s a man, he likes that sort of manly challenge! Talking of challenges – he made it through the tunnel in 25 minutes.

Note: You need to turn off any naked flames before you go into any tunnel – this is because tunnels sometimes have pockets of methane which are explosive! As well as your tunnel lights, switch on all the internal lights – they really help you to ‘place’ the boat in the tunnel; Carry a torch on the back deck or you won’t be able to find the tea that your wife helpfully made for you before turning the gas off! Tunnels tend to drip so take perishable objects off the deck and wear a rain hat! There is a particularly nasty heavy flow of water about 2/3rd of way through which we could not avoid as an oncoming boat had slowed to a crawl just there. So top tip: If you see the downpour (looks like a 3″ hose is running) then stop until you can go past avoiding it.

Burnt out boatQuestion: Are there any reported incidents of a boat exploding methane in a tunnel or is it just an extreme safety precaution? Let us know if you’ve heard of any. This burnt out boat (always a sad sight) was well away from any tunnels…..

After the excitement of Stoke Bruerne we started on the soporific lock-free pound towards Buckby. I thought Richard had won the prize for ‘not paying attention’ this morning when he uncharacteristically left the bottom paddle open while trying to fill the lock (meaning that water was flowing out almost as fast as it was flowing in). But I’m so competitive and beat him to the prize by missing the turn after one bridge and driving the boat into a load of bushes offside. It’s not a holiday if you haven’t had the boat in the hedgerows!

Like just about everyone in the world at the moment we’ve been musing on fuel prices, in our case, Red Diesel. When we started boating around 6 years ago it cost 30p/litre (them’s were the days….) but this week the most expensive price we found was 95p/litre and the cheapest was 75p/litre (off a fuel boat). We would have filled up from the boat but sadly they were closed and we didn’t think they’d catch up with us this week. So, we stopped off at Stowe Hill Marine (by Bridge 27) where the diesel was a reasonable 79p/litre. There was an absolutely delightful lady serving at the the boatyard – great customer service. This boatyard specialises in Tradline ropes and fenders – we think they do good ropes and have stopped here before to stock up. Today we invested in a new ring fender for the side (we’ve ripped one off somewhere), a new spare rope (for the back) and some mooring chains. Now, the more naughty of our readers will make something of this shopping list but I can assure you they’re all tools for tying the BOAT.

After this brief sunny interlude I soon sank back into my torpor. I knew that you could feel oppressed by the M1 when you’re driving on it, and we all know that the West Coast mainline (train) is enough to get anyone down but I hadn’t realised how they could dampen your spirits when you’re just travelling in between them! To the left of the canal is the M1 – I hadn’t realised just how pervasive the noise was until we finally left it behind and it was so suddenly quiet. On the right was the train line with the Virgin Pendalino’s heeling over alarmingly as they sped along. This continued for some miles!

The M1

The photo on the right shows a truck on the M1 – it’s literally on the other side of the hedge! And below is the West Coast mainline.

The West Coast Mainline

Note: It’s a tradition on Indigo Dream that we wave at everyone, including trains. It’s now become a game with maximum points going to the person who can get the train drier to beep his horn. Points are also awarded if you get a sad commuter to wave back from the train……

Lock 12 has it all!Richard was throughly bored by the lock free stretch (as were dogs as they normally get to frolic round the locks) so Buckby Bottom Lock was a welcome sight. The next lock in the flight was just a perfect dog place (see photo!) – the lockside is fenced off and gated so that they can’t get onto the road and there is a dog poo bin and a supply of free poo bags – everything you need! Richard and the dogs burnt off some energy cycling and running between the next 4 locks before I took the dogs back on board (road looming!).

Note: The people living in the lock cottages by Bridge 12 have done a great job of looking after their plots. The drift planting of all the old cottage perennials by the bridge (and in crevices in the bridge wall) were beautiful. I’m sorry I wasn’t quick enough to get a photos – I’ll just have to remember!

The sun breaking throughI don’t know what I’d hoped for this evening but we decided not to moor in Buckby Wharf but carried on left onto to the rural stretch between Buckby and Braunston (the right branch heads off towards Leicester). Well, there it was, as we turned onto the mainline the sun broke through and lit up a lovely rolling valley (see photos left and below). My spirits lifted immediately. We’re now moored up by bridge 7 on a stunningly rural stretch near to a footpath -we’re full of home-made Bigos (a hearty polish stew) – dogs and humans all well-fed, warm and contented so a good end to the day. Beware towpath is incredibly rough here!

Looking back towards the Leicester Arm


Here are a few other bits that caught our attention today:

Train and canal bridges

We though that these bridges taking the road over the train line and the canal were very attractive for relatively recent structures.

Mobile phone mast

The phone companies try really hard but we still worked out that the odd looking tree was a mast!

Live wires!

As we passed under these power lines they were crackling with energy and Richard’s hair was standing on end – another case for revving the engine and moving by FAST! WE never know how risky it is to be in a metal boat on water during a thunderstorm (usually holding a brolly!) but we usually moor up……

Canalside cannonThere are many ways of asking boats to slow down – simple signs (“please slow down”), witty signs (“for duck’s sake slow down”; “elderly ducks crossing – please slow down”), dramatic signs (“go round us not through us”). However, we thought that threatening boats with a cannon was going too far!

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 9

Posted by indigodream on 13 June, 2008

Soulbury Three Locks – Stoke Bruerne below Lock 15

There was torrential rain overnight – just enough for the furious drumming of raindrops on the roof to wake us before we went back to sleep in the comfortable knowledge that we were snug and warm inside! The rain carried on into the morning so we just sat and watched telly until the sun came out – sheer luxury. We were very lucky with the weather – once we started cruising we only had one torrential shower and that was when we had moored up for water so we were able to shelter! It’s been a bit chilly but we’re well stocked with clothes for all weathers.

What struck me today was the sheer number of Welsh boats on this stretch of canal – we passed Ysbryd Rhydd (free spirit), Taid (grandad in gog – that’s north welsh to the uninitiated!), and Bendigedig (hard to translate – the nearest I can think of is Glorious – maybe my relatives can help me out!), as well as at least three boats flying the welsh flag.

We shared a couple of locks with nb Kairos today (piloted vary ably by Jan and Jonathan) – we’ve been playing hopscotch with them up the canal but this was the first time we’d shared locks. They were very good company and I’ll look forward to seeing them again.

Whispering birches in Milton KeynesToday’s stretch of canal skirted around Milton Keynes – it’s much more pleasant that you’d imagine given how Milton Keynes is so lambasted in the media. All the way up from Fenny Stratford the canal was flanked by neat and beautiful gardens obviously lovingly tended by their owners. Totally different character to the countryside but still a very pleasant cruise. Fenny Stratford (just south of Milton Keynes) has the silliest lock ever at just 1′ 1″ – hardly worth the bother but apparently it’s there to ease pressure on the embankment at Cosgrove.

While I remember, there won’t be so many photos today as the camera ran out of power! We’ll be back in action tomorrow!

Note: Decent looking mooring by some parkland by Bridge 90B

Note: Useful water and rubbish point by Bridge 78 but don’t bother with the ‘supermarket’ marked on the canal maps – it’s a one-stop with a poor range of stock. The pub nearby smelled appetising though!

Part of a mural at Wolverton - restored in 2005 - tremendous!We stopped at Wolverton (Bridge 71A) to visit yet another Tesco close to the canal – we didn’t need much but we stopped anyway – we were fascinated by the change to the area. Last time we came through the place was quite run down but in the last 2 years the developers have been busy – the towpath has been improved and new mooring rings put in; the old warehouses are being converted to housing and there’s a brand new housing development going in opposite – it will be very smart when it’s done. The main development to Tesco is that it now has a Starbucks coffee bar – we set off with two lush caramel latte’s and all was well with the world. Richard had a slice of blueberry cheesecake – a proper creamy baked cheesecake so he had a bigger smile than normal on the boat!

We passed over two aqueducts today – one over a dual carriageway and the other over the Great Ouse River. We waved at the cars whizzing by below – one actually waved back but the others seemed oblivious to the fact that there was a great narrowboat suspended above them! The latter aqueduct was a typical iron trough (reminiscent of the famous Pontcysyllte aqueduct in North Wales) so on one side there’s just a 4″ bar between the boat and the drop – dogs very firmly locked inside!

Aqueduct over the roadTrough aqueduct over the river

Of note in Cosgrove was a sympathetic and lovely office/housing development called ‘The Old Brewery’ – a hint at its previous use presumably. Just after this was bridge 65 – an oustanding stone bridge made of beautifully warm textured sandstone and carved with gothic/romantic decorations.

Past Cosgrove and we were back in the countryside – a different character again – fewer flowers – more wild and overgrown. Everywhere we looked in the distance there were church towers and spires though there was little sign of the villages attached to them! One distant spire, with ornate flying buttresses, particularly caught our eye – it was visible for miles and seemed to glow when the sunshine broke through – it was a picture postcard scene. We must have seen it from every angle as the canal meandered around. We found out later that is was Hamslope Church. Soon after we noticed the imposing crenellated tower of Grafton Regis Church which was apparently built in the 13th century. I’ve never been a great student of history but it’s hard not to be interested when the landscape provides it in such attractive packages.

We’ve done comparatively few locks today – we reached the low point of the canal and meandered round the valleys until we reached Cosgrove – there the canal starts to climb again towards the second of its three summits.

Blue was grounded for the afternoon for being naughty – he got thoroughly overexcited at one lock when a cat strolled past him on the towpath (luckily we’d seen the cat first and had him firmly by the collar!). The cat must have had a deathwish – it strolled very close to Blue, unaware that Richard was putting all his weight into keeping Blue back. We bundled Blue onto the boat but he was like a coiled spring for the next two hours – up on deck, alert and watching out for new prey. When we let him out at Cosgrove Lock he just ran straight off the towpath and up the road at top speed (a very quiet track down to the canal cottages mercifully). He was just too hightly strung to be let out so he was confined to the boat until we moored an hour or so later – there was much whining and complaining!

Less than ladylike LouIt all came right though as our mooring (which we’ve visited before) is near to a very good dog walk with lots of rabbits so he and Lou had a long and exciting run to get rid of their pent-up energy (well, Blue’s energy to be precise – Lou was showing no signs of having excess energy – see photo!). Last time we were here we ate at the Boat which was a bit rough and ready but does allow dogs in the bar and did plain solid pub food. This time we decided to try the Navigation Inn – this was a much posher pub with better menu though dogs were only allowed in the garden which was fine (just warm enough for us to eat outside but we missed a trick in not sitting at a table with a heater!). We met another greyhound lover (she’d left hers at home) who gave Blue and Lou a generous fuss – they were in heaven! Add to that the four sausages they ate between them and you have the perfect recipe for doggie contentment.

All in all we had a great evening BUT to top it all we saw a barn owl hunting in the field by the canal. I saw a very distinctive bird with pale fawn plumage and oddly blunt head – it took me a minute to work our what it was. What an amazing thing – I was surprised by its wingspan – it was much bigger than I thought.


Arch failure

Richard the engineer was fascinated by the arch failure on this bridge. Maybe the large crack explains why we drove under it so fast!!!!

Different types of canal bridge

Meanwhile, Sue was struck by the juxtaposition of the blocky modern road bridge, the traditional red brick canal bridge and the pipe bridge.

Note on pipe bridges: They could contain anything from sewage to fresh drinking water to chemicals from a processing plant – pass under them quickly and if you have to look up then keep your mouth closed (in case of drips)!

The last photo is of the ‘drains’ off the canal coming up to Stoke Bruerne – most were built in the 1930s and we were really impressed that they took so much care to make them so attractive.

Brick arches at Stoke Bruerne

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