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Archive for May 6th, 2009

The Odyssey 2009: Day 17

Posted by indigodream on 6 May, 2009

Sunday 4th May Napton (Lock 11) to Radford Semele

The start of the queue for Napton Bottom Lock (on the left)

The start of the queue for Napton Bottom Lock (on the left)

The mooring between Locks 12 and 11 were totally quiet and we had a peaceful night, apart from Lou, who woke me up at 4am to complain about her inadequate bed in the galley. I thought she might be cold but she just wanted a fuss and all was fine after that.

The only bit of disquiet was a toilet crisis which transpired late last night. Fortunately by this morning it had resolved itself – we suspect a foreign body had been flushed down and got caught up on the macerator blade.

I had some vague idea about having another early start, but instead we had the most relaxed morning – we had a lengthy (and very nice) continental breakfast and the men mooched around fixing Richard’s big bike – it had a puncture and Nick found that the bearings weren’t right and the brakes weren’t too clever either – death trap!

The windmill at Napton

The windmill at Napton

We eventually got going mid-morning, joining the stampede down the last few locks. Gil and Nick helped us to work down the last few and left us just above the bottom lock. It was a good spot to drop them off – there was absolutely no room whatsoever to stop below the bottom lock. With boats moored on both sides below the lock we could only get Indigo Dream out by tugging her over on the centre rope – the boats waiting to go up hadn’t left enough room for a 60 footer to come out of the lock. Further down, the morning queue was just building – it was 4 boats long when we passed with many more boats heading their way.

I was pleased to leave the crowded Napton flight behind but I have to say that Napton itself is very attractive. It’s not just the famous windmill; it’s the way the village curls round the contours, with houses arranged in a long ribbon so that they could  all take advantage of the view back along the valley. It must be stunning and I think a walk up the hill would be well rewarded.

Shallow narrow turns on the Oxford

Shallow narrow turns on the Oxford

We’re accustomed to the siren call of the water, but today it was if the land was calling us back. Well, that’s the mythic explanation for why we grounded again and again on the stretch out of Napton. The water’s almost totally obscured by moored boats and passing boats, leaving no clear water between us, passing boats and the muddy shoals on the inside of every bend. We thought that the water levels were fine – it’s just that the canal-sides badly need dredging. I hate to think what it’ll be like as the summer goes by. Come on BW, this has got to be the busiest waterway, let’s get it moving! More practically it could be our toilet tank (size of a small boat) getting full and weighing us down. Of course, the canal may be being left deliberately shallow – maybe getting grounded, reversing, swearing, waiting for passing boats to shunt some water your way, applying the barge pole, grunting and swearing again make for a more authentic cruising experience for hirers 🙂

Mind you, I did have the wry thought that if Indigo Dream had barnacles on her keel then they’ve been well and truly scraped off by now!

Room to breathe - the broad, straight Grand Union - Hurrah!

Room to breathe - the broad, straight Grand Union - Hurrah!

Luckily it’s only a short trip up to Napton Junction and as we turned onto the Grand Union I felt an acute rush of relief to be off the Oxford. If it weren’t the main link between the Thames and the canal network I can honestly say I’d never bother cruising it again. It’s a pretty enough canal but we’ve had enough low-level hassles there to spoil it – there are more beautiful canals after all; there are certainly quieter ones!

That’s the big dilemma – we know we need moving boats to keep the waterways alive but we prefer the seclusion of quieter stretches.

The Grand Union certainly feels like a more businesslike waterway after the Oxford. Both sides are properly piled (none of this leaving shallow beaches where livestock can take the waters!); it’s wide and deep. The only thing I regretted was the fact that we were back on wide locks – I do like narrow locks for our narrowboat.

Moorings at the Calcutt Locks

Moorings at the Calcutt Locks

The first stretch of the Grand Union was quite busy with boats to-ing and fro-ing from the local hire base and private boats just having a bobble down the canal before turning back for their marinas. But there was none of the crush of the Oxford and by the time we got past the marinas at the bottom of the Culcutt locks we had the canal largely to ourselves.

Note: The locks along this stretch have the characteristic ‘spark plug’ design of paddle gear. When the lock’s almost empty you sometimes get an alarming juddering noise which makes it sound as if the paddles have slipped. They haven’t – it’s just air getting behind the paddles (which are enclosed in arched alcoves) and giving them a good rattle. The broad locks are relatively recent, replacing the previous single narrow locks. The Grand Union Company had obviously looked at other locks and they built big solid structures designed for swift passage. The locks empty quickly through oversize paddles and gates swing easily. We did 27 locks today and it was no effort (that’s Richard’s comment – it’s never any effort for me sitting on the back deck!).

It wasn’t such a nice day today – the sun was pleasant but there was a glacial and gusty wind which blew the boat around a bit, but nothing that couldn’t be handled with a big enough prop!

Some dogs are busier than others......

Some dogs are busier than others......

The dogs had a busy day – especially Blue who had extended rummages down every lock flight. Lou was much less active – once she’d checked out the top lock of each flight she just enjoyed the ride down the rest. I was a bit concerned because Blue is displaying signs of turning into a labrador – he walked big distances today and even ran along with Richard as he lock-wheeled along the flights. He’ll be chasing sticks next (Blue that is, not Richard!).

The further along the Grand Union we cruised, the better we felt. We stopped for lunch on as rural a bit of towpath as you could wish for, so, this canal has it all – views, countryside and enough depth/width to keep us moving. It also had an added attraction – nb Brass Farthing which has a unique business on board selling bicycles and miscellaneous parts of bicycles. Richard was able to find the fiddly little bits he needed in order to fix his front brakes for just a pound – bargain. It’s such a useful service that we’ve decided to note the details (and give them a free plug while we’re at it):

Note: nb Brass Farthing hosts ‘Tiller Cycles’ and operates between Braunston and Leamington Spa. Email graham@tillercycles.co.uk Tel 07749 824784 Website http://www.tillercycles.co.uk

A view down the Stockton flight

A view down the Stockton flight

We had a bit of a delay at the top of the Stockton flight as a hire boat coming out of the lock drifted broadside to the canal and had extreme difficulty in getting straight again. As Richard deftly reversed Indigo Dream out of the way he had a trip down memory lane to when he made exactly the same mistake on our first hire cruise. The slight delay turned into a bit of good luck as it allowed nb Prince Albert to catch up with us.  We shared locks the whole way down with her crew Ann, Alan and stunningly obedient border collie, Meg – they were very good company. The dogs got on just fine – Meg was obsessed with her toy, Blue was too busy rummaging to notice and Lou couldn’t be bothered to make a fuss! Richard and Ann did all the hard work – my goodness, Ann is so fit – she worked those locks like a trouper then flitted onto the next one with no signs of fatigue. I was glad to be on the tiller, as was Alan, I suspect! We had a thoroughly sociable run down the Stockton flight, what with chatting to Ann and Alan, throwing the toy for Meg, and talking to the few boaters coming up the flight as well the numerous walkers enjoying the towpath.

View enhanced by two fine narrowboats!

View enhanced by two fine narrowboats!

I must mention that Prince Albert’s paintwork was immaculate – it’s the original paint and she’s nigh on 17 years old with 3 VERY careful owners before Ann and Alan took her on a few years ago. They obviously cherish her as well and she’s looking good for it. A hire boater complimented Alan on Prince Albert’s glossy finish then, realising that he might have offended me, hastily added that Indigo Dream was also looking good. I thanked him for the lie – it was very kind! Having said that, she’s looking much better for Richard’s touching up – a wash then a good polish will make the world of difference.

Prince Albert said goodbye to us at the bottom of the Stockton – they intended to moor up for the night. We pressed on though we cursed as, yet again, we managed to miss ‘pub central’ in Long Itchington. Last time we were too late to get there, this time it was too early to stop. It was hard to cruise past – the one pub had a beer festival on the go and the canalside garden was heaving with merry people and we were so tempted to join them.

The beer festival at Long Itchington - wish we were there!

The beer festival at Long Itchington - wish we were there!

After rhapsodising about the Grand Union, we were dismayed to find that the pound between Itchington Bottom Lock and the top of the Bascote flight was down by maybe as much as 6 – 8 inches. So there we were, back to getting grounded (twice) and having to pole Indigo Dream off the side. It didn’t last – by the time we got through the Bascote Locks the water levels were back to normal – go figure….

Because it was so shallow, we seriously doubted whether Prince Albert would find a mooring spot and so it proved. As we got settled into the top lock they hove into view and came down the flight with us. Blue particularly likes this flight – he just gets off at the top and meets us at the bottom! There’s the interest of a staircase lock at Bascote – Richard had to adjust the water levels to get the stair set properly. This made us wonder whether the pound above was low because of confusion over how to set a staircase. The next bit of drama came when a cyclist literally flew off his bike while hurtling down the slope by the lock. He didn’t seem badly hurt but it took him 15 minutes or more to restore his composure. He was in a group of cyclists – just as well as he got surprisingly little sympathy from our ground crew – “going too fast” was Ann’s verdict; “he’ll be fine” was Richard’s – they were both quite right!

Leaky gates at the Bascote staircase

Leaky gates at the Bascote staircase

After Bascote, the locks are widely but regularly spaced right down to Radcot Semele. Richard cycled between them but says that the towpath below Wood Lock is really rough and unsuitable for cycling (if you can avoid it).

My favourite bit of canal for the day came shortly after this. The so-called Fosse locks pass through a landscape that’s been occupied since the Romans, and possibly before. It felt good to be part of the continuing history, though even the Grand Union can’t match the straight lines of Fosse way – the roman road that cuts through the countryside nearby. It’s also particularly scenic here with a rich green landscape gently draped over the soft hills. I had a fancy today that the frantic early spring flowers were fading and that the rest of the plants were taking a breather before the blousy bounty of the summer blossom. There are still a few naked trees around, steadfastly refusing to follow the green fashion fad being paraded by their neighbours.

By the way, we didn’t meet a single greyhound all weekend (though we did spot a couple of lovely lurchers today). Maybe that’s a sign that we’re out of the excellent Oxford greyhound rescue’s catchment area!

We’d covered a fair few locks miles today and it was time to stop (Richard had been lusting after a pint since being forced to pass by the beer festival in Long Itchington!). After the trouble we had at our Warwick mooring last year, Richard had spent time researching secure spots for us to leave the boat this week. The

Approaching Radford bottom lock

Approaching Radford bottom lock

Patrol Officer for this stretch (Robert – contactable via the Hatton office -01926 626100) was very informative. He suggested that we shouldn’t moor overnight in Leamington Spa or Warwick. Apparently there aren’t major problems there but the towpath is used to get from pub to pub – as we so well know. He did suggest mooring around Radford Semele so that became our target for the day.

Good looking house overlooking the mooring at Radford Semele.

Good looking house overlooking the mooring at Radford Semele.

It is a lovely spot. There are moorings above Radford bottom lock but we moved on past Bull Bridge (No 34) to be in the company of other boats (we were feeling a bit insecure after Banbury!). It’s a very good mooring place. Although it’s not far back to the road bridge, there was woodland adjacent for dogs to rummage in. There’s a rubbish point by the bridge though the four skips were full to overflowing and stinking – they looked as if they hadn’t been emptied for weeks; but BW must be aware – they had maintenance workers on duty over the weekend. There was parking on the verge by the bridge so it’ll be easy to offload. It was also quiet, apart from the birdsong – a loud dusk chorus and an even louder one at dawn.

Sadly the pub in the village (The White Lion) is not dog friendly. It didn’t matter – the dogs were exhausted and settled down for a good sleep. We trekked the half mile to the village – take a torch as there’s not a pavement or street lighting over the narrow bridge. Radford Semele’s an interesting village – as we walked through the first ribbon of modern housing I was struck by how ugly some of the properties were. They looked as if they’d been built without the benefit of any co-ordinated planning permission. Then we got to the crossroads and suddenly saw signs of the old settlement with older, more interesting buildings especially the manor house, which has a truly unique tower at its heart.

There's a flock of these sheep opposite our mooring - they ran down to the fence to watch us and Blue & Lou ran to the end of the towpath to watch them. Don't fancy their chances against those horns though!

There's a flock of these sheep opposite our mooring - they ran down to the fence to watch us and Blue & Lou ran to the end of the towpath to watch them. Don't fancy their chances against those horns though!

The White Lion pub is part of the ‘Chef and Brewer’ chain – we perked up – we’d had a good time at the Chef and Brewer pub at Sandford Lock (on the Thames). But we were to be disappointed – although the food was great, the service was appalling – slow and inattentive.

We plodded back to the boat where we were enthusiastically greeted by the dogs for about 10 seconds before they headed back to their beds. We had to force them out for the necessary though Lou showed a great reluctance to leave her sofa – after all, it might be hijacked by strange humans again……

Photoblog:


View from oneof the Fosse Locks - lovely

View from oneof the Fosse Locks - lovely

Etching on a 'sparkplug' paddle gear - we assume that's the dimensions of the paddle itself - it's BIG!

Etching on a 'sparkplug' paddle gear - we assume that's the dimensions of the paddle itself - it's BIG!

Just as well the drop's fenced off - the local speedy cyclists would be straight over otherwise

Just as well the drop's fenced off - the local speedy cyclists would be straight over otherwise

What's behind the hatch in this bench?

What's behind the hatch in this bench?

....a disceet and loving memorial

....a disceet and loving memorial



Going back to nature - the reeds reclaiming this old tub..

Going back to nature - the reeds reclaiming this old tub..

Cement works by Stockton

Cement works by Stockton

The first of many boat maintenance projects along this stretch

The first of many boat maintenance projects along this stretch

The Grand Union's not without traffic - there's just more room for it here!

The Grand Union's not without traffic - there's just more room for it here!

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