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Archive for June 15th, 2008

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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