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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

One Response to “The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 11”

  1. Adam said

    I’m surprised you were greeted like that at Calcutt, as we’ve always found the crew there very friendly and helpful. However, Tom at Kate Boats at Stockton (which is the marina where our share boat is based), is reputed to do the best pump out in the area!

    Really enjoying the blog, by the way.


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