Friday 25th & September 26th September
Hartshill to Rugby (Newbold Tunnel)
We did our usual dithering over whether to drive to the boat on Thursday night after work (and get a full day’s cruising on Friday) or have an unhurried drive up on Friday morning, knowing that we’d then only cruise for the afternoon. In the end neither plan quite worked. We decided to drive up on the Friday but first sorted a multitude of little jobs at home (including liberating one of the larger fish in our pond, which had managed to swim onto the top of the net that’s intended to protect them from marauding heron).
We left home at 11am but with the comforting knowledge that we’d missed the rush hour and that we’d be at the boat in a couple of hours. It was not to be – there had been an awful car fire on the M40 (I hope no-one was hurt – the car was totally gutted) so we got stuck at a crawl for an hour, then we got caught in roadworks. We didn’t make it to the boat until 3pm.
Never mind, still time for a quick cruise down into Coventry to moor overnight in the basin. But the fact is that Bridge 29’s a really nice mooring – there’s a real feeling of community here, even though most of the boaters are just transient visitors. We got chatting to the crew of Gentle Jane, then to the crew of Briar Rose – they’re all ‘dog’ people. They persuaded us, almost subliminally, that the last thing we wanted to do was run the gauntlet through Coventry, why not moor here and come to the pub, the dogs are so happy here and the pub allows dogs in the back bar ……
So we decided to stay one more night – what a good decision. We wore the dogs out with a good run round the adjacent field (no casualties this time) then we headed off to Nuneaton for provisions and to scout out some parking near the station (Central Avenue). There’s a very good Asda in Nuneatons plus a range of the usual mix of big stores and high street.
As well as all the delights of a large town, the drive to Nuneaton from Hartshill is also fascinating. As you drive along the road into town (which runs roughly parallel to the canal but at a much greater height) you get occasional glimpses of a far off and beautiful view between the trees. You also get that strange attraction caused by a large void – there is a gargantuan quarry hole in the ground here. It seems to suck you in (even though it’s partly obscured by trees) and it’s this cutting away of the hill nearby that gives the wide vistas beyond. Of course, you can’t dig a big hole without creating a big heap and a bit further on there’s a characteristic cone of spoil. I’d say it’s a bit far to walk from the canal but if you happen to be driving that way then watch out for it.
Once we were fully provisioned, we went off to the pub with the dogs – it was still only 7pm and it was nice to eat early (by our standards). The Anchor is full of friendly locals – they made a big fuss of the dogs, though Blue and Lou weren’t as relaxed as usual – probably over-tired and in need of their duvets. We were a bit that way ourselves! The beer was good but our meal wasn’t the most inspiring or perhaps we made bad choices – I think that Sunday’s carvery is better. Nonetheless, the warm welcome means that the Anchor definitely stays on our recommended pub list. We were back on the boat ready for the last half hour of “Strictly Come Dancing”, which was about as intellectual as our tired brains could manage.
We had a quiet night on the mooring – this is a good spot, even though it’s not very glamorous to look at.
We had a relatively relaxed start to the day and could easily have spent longer here – Blue and Lou love this spot with its perfect rummaging field. But we had to move on, as the song says “London calling…..” – the chilly evenings and shorter days are prodding us to get back before the stoppages.
There was still time for a long walk with the dogs and an even longer natter with John from nb Briar Rose (a Braidbar boat) who has fascinating tales to tell about his career working in the boating industry. If I understood him rightly, he has recently lost a much beloved Spanish rescue greyhound, though he is now besotted by his adorable springer spaniel (who conned me into throwing her toy down the towpath for quite some time yesterday evening!).
I eventually got the boat away at 10am. Richard had taken the car off to find a parking space on Central Avenue reasonably close to Nuneaton Station.
I was fascinated by the landscape on the stretch approaching Nuneaton. To start off with, it’s rural and inviting, with fine countryside moorings. Then there’s the landscape itself; to the left there are open fields showing the typical autumn patchwork of dusty golden crops and the rich brown of ploughed earth. But to the right there’s the strikingly man-made topography of the quarries – deep excavations, conical spoil heaps, trees and houses seemingly clinging precariously to the edges of these unnatural cliffs. But I believe that the quarries are long gone – on the far side of the road one of the quarries is already being developed for housing. I wondered about how they’d go about filling in and levelling these caverns – as Richard wryly put it “They make money from allowing deep holes to be filled” – so waste can be put to constructive use after all……
Richard cycled back from Nuneaton and I picked him up by Bridge 22. Despite its rough reputation, Nuneaton’s not too bad by water, during the daylight. The canal’s mainly surrounded by sports grounds and long lengths of allotments. It’s been a good growing year if the crops that we saw are anything to go by. We passed two moored boats by Bridge 19A who had three greyhounds between them, lying peacefully on the towpath. Later on we passed nb Nackered Navvy, who we’ve previously met on the K & A. We were bemused by nb Peace who had, in fact, decorated his bow with human skulls (well, models of skulls, we hope!).
There’s a useful boatyard at Boot Wharf in Nuneaton, selling diesel at 66p per litre basic price (114p propulsion). As we passed by we asked them whether the canal through the town was as troublesome as we’d heard. “Not really” was the reply. Shortly afterwards we asked nb Wild Rose whether she’d moored overnight there and whether she’d had any bother – “Yes” came the reply, “We had a drunk who nicked something off the roof”. So, mixed views of whether it’s ok to moor overnight in Nuneaton – we certainly didn’t have any trouble but we did pass through relatively early in the day. Such locals as we met on boats and walking along the towpath were very friendly.
Nuneaton’s contrasts carried on as we passed out of the town – one stretch had very nice canalside houses with positively ostentatious gardens full of statuary; shortly after we were flanked by dismal social housing with mean squares of grass littered with kids’ toys.
Past Nuneaton, the Coventry Canal once again becomes a quiet countrified waterway – it’s been a revelation. We hadn’t been expecting much but it’s actually been fascinating and beautiful in equal measure.
There was an affable little community of boaters by Marston Junction and we admired a neat whippet on nb Northumberland. We were very tempted to turn left at the junction – the Ashby canal looked so enticing – straight, narrow and deserted. But we resisted, after all, we have to leave some unexplored territory for next year’s odyssey.
I’m afraid to report that our toilet tank was a bit whiffy after 2 weeks of no dosing and uninterrupted fermentation so we were after a pump-out today. The first potential was Charity Dock, marked as a boatyard on our Nicholsons. Well, what a place – it must qualify as the most eccentric site on the canal network (and there is some competition). The boatyard itself is a haphazard collection of moored boats, bit of boats,
old scrap and lifesize human dummies, like you’d get in shop windows, dressed in a random assortment of clothes and wigs, and arrayed in strange postures. We mistook the only living person at the dock for a dummy until he actually moved. Although the yard apparently sells diesel (£1.44 per gallon said the sign – may be a little out of date!) they didn’t have an obvious pump-out point so we moved on rather gratefully.
The next bit of excitement was Hawkesbury Junction – a complete contrast to Charity Docks. Everything’s neat here – decent moorings (visitor and long term), accessible water points (but no pump-out) and everything cleanly painted and picturesque. The pub on the junction, the Greyhound, was very popular – according to the locals it’s a fine pub which serves a decent pint of Guinness. There are interesting signboards here – I was tickled by the fact that the stop lock has a rise of just over 6 inches, apparently as a result of a setting out error by Brindley or his Clerk of Works! It was also interesting that the Oxford Canal used to run parallel to the Coventry Canal for quite a distance until the canal companies settled their differences and built the ‘new’ junction at Hawkesbury in 1785. The turn at the junction looks tricky but it proved to be easy thanks to a wide entrance.
Note: nb Gentle Jane advised us that when approaching Hawkesbury Junction from Nuneaton take the first mooring that you spot on the towpath side before the junction – apparently it’s quite difficult to get a mooring on the other approaches and, sadly, the pub doesn’t have its own moorings.
We were due to meet our friends Lizzie, Pal, Nathan and Sasha – now old hands at boating, having cruised several times around Birmingham with us. While we were waiting for them we moored up at the water point below the stop lock, filled up with water (good pressure here) and pressure washed the boat. She was filthy – covered in a thick layer of dust, possibly from the quarries, who knows? As she changed colour from grey to blue, it became apparent that giving the paintwork a good polish is so worthwhile. The polished side came up so much cleaner – the dirt doesn’t cling to it in the same way. Having found out how much a re-spray costs there is going to be a determined effort to slap more polish on …
Our guests arrived just as we were finishing our chores and we set off along the Oxford Canal – another new stretch for us. We decided to leave Coventry City for another year.
The North Oxford is a grand waterway – we spent the afternoon enjoying the simple pleasures of fine weather, good company and lovely scenery- who could ask for more?
Richard and Pal took the dogs for a long walk along the footpath which runs from Bridge 16 to Bridge 20 while I cruised along with Lizzie and the kids. Nathan refused to go for a walk – I think he was tempted to walk with the men but he just hates to leave the boat. Once again, the canal runs very close to the railway and Lizzie and I managed to get a freight train driver to beep his horn and give us a wave from his cab. Aah for the days when we’d have got that response because we were hot young babes rather than because we were on the back of a beautiful narrowboat 🙂
In the meantime Richard, Pal and the dogs were having an eventful time. The greyhounds just don’t do stiles – they’re too big to go under and too wussy to jump over. Richard had some heavy lifting to do – Lou protested vigorously! They also safely negotiated a field full of sheep and ended up walking a lot further than they intended because I was looking for our rendezvous at Bridge 20 without realising that it’s an aqueduct not a bridge. I was a bit worried because I’d arrived at Bridge 24, but I hadn’t gone so far – this stretch of the Oxford Canal has been extensively straightened and the bridge numbers often don’t run in sequence – Bridge 24 is the next bridge after 20! When the men came into sight the dogs were trailing far behind them – they’re used to little rummages rather than long walks. They were so relieved to see the boat….
I’ve talked before about the hierarchy of old transport routes, with railways often being put above canal. Well, at the M6 bridge both modes of transport are put in their place with the canal and railway squashed impossibly beneath the vast motorway.
A few specifics did stand out; the stretch up to Bridge 34 is a shaded cutting with obvious signs of landslips all along the offside. There’s a BW sign on the towpath side warning boaters not to moor here because of the risk of landslips and falling trees – I was a bit amazed at the number of walkers that were risking the path!
A bit later on we passed some good moorings at Oakwood with a useful canalside car park nearby. Bridge 35 is particularly scenic with an attractive canalside cottage. Bridge 37 is a quirkily pretty (and low) redbrick bridge. As we cruised into the late afternoon we were surrounded by pastoral views washed in gold by the lowering sun.
We stopped at Rose Narrowboats for a really good pump out. Whilst that was happening Pal explored the ice cream fridge and Richard explored the chandlery (having left his order with Pal). The chandlery is very good, excellent range, reasonable prices and knowledgeable service. Fortunately there was a queue forming for the services so Richard could not spend too much time in there …
Our destination for the day were the moorings just beyond the Newbold Tunnel (Pal had thoughtfully left a car here for their return journey) . The tunnel itself is deceptive – from a distance it looks as short as a wide road bridge – 25 metres rather than the 250 written on the map. But the map was right! It is a high wide tunnel with a footpath running through – it was dark when we went through but we found out more about the lighting the following day.
We moored immediately after the tunnel as the visitor moorings further along were jam-packed. There are two pubs nearby – the Barley Mow and the Boat. Some passersby told us that the Boat wasn’t doing food so we went to the Barley Mow, which is dog-friendly. I’m afraid to report that the pub was hopeless – the food took over an hour to arrive and there was an interval of around 20 minutes between the first and last meal arriving at the table. The food was ok but nowhere near good enough to justify the wait (Liz’s chilli was the just about the worst she’s ever eaten and the garlic bread was horribly soggy; but at least the dogs’ sausages looked very good). Worryingly the fire exit panic bar is held closed with a broom stick – it would probably break if you were in a panic but that is not a good sign.
The pub’s tardiness made for a late evening. We said a reluctant goodbye to our guests but it was just as well, We barely stayed awake from long enough to see them off! This mooring is very quiet though and we all had a good night’s sleep.