Indigo Dreaming

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 54

Posted by indigodream on 1 October, 2009

Sunday 27th September

Newbold Tunnel to Bridge 28 (outside Nether Heyford)

*** Just to confirm, we were, in fact, on the North Oxford Canal yesterday :-)***

Blue inspecting the lights in the Newbold Tunnel

Blue inspecting the lights in the Newbold Tunnel

As always, Richard was first up and took the dogs for a rummage, exploring the tunnel that we’d come through last night. There’s a very useful information board by the tunnel entrance explaining in some detail why there were multicoloured spotlights now lit along the length of the tunnel. The tunnel wasn’t lit when we came through last night – they turn the lights off at sunset so as not to disturb roosting bats. The lights, blue, green and violet, are angled in such a way as to illuminate the path and to form a perfect circle with their reflection in the water. It’s a nice feature and so good to have an explanation on the signboard.

Note: I should explain that we have fewer photos this weekend – we managed to leave both cameras at home though fortunately we did have our camera phones so the posts won’t be utterly bland and boring!

We got off quite early by our standards and cruised past the long length of moorings (48-hour then 14-day then long-term) just round the bend from the tunnel. We definitely stopped in the right place – we might have struggled to find a spot further along.

One of many murals along the canal in Rugby

One of many murals along the canal in Rugby

Despite our rural surroundings, we’d moored just on the outskirts of Rugby. We were soon cruising above a huge retail park and bits of modern industry, looking strangely out-of-place next this old waterway. Rugby certainly seems to be proud of its heritage and celebrates it with murals on many of the modern bridges showing either scenes of rugby players (and their irregular balls….) or of canal boats and trains. I certainly felt that boaters would be welcome here.

Coming out of Rugby, the North Oxford excels, with a varied and beautiful landscape. There are many fine lengths of online moorings and there was plenty of traffic on the canal; nonetheless, it didn’t feel quite as congested as the southern stretch.

We spotted some fearsomely long-horned cattle by Bridge 86 prompting Richard to name the bridge “the little big horn” !

The approach to Hillmorton is unmistakable as a veritable forest of radio masts emerges from the landscape – the big masts may have gone, the Rugby time signal now comes from somewhere else and supposedly they don’t talk to submarines from there any more but there must be a hundred masts left– quite a sight. Hillmorton locks follow shortly after. I was surprised to see that we were locking up; the canal, which has faithfully followed the contours since Atherstone, already seemed quite high and I’d imagined that we’d be going down now. The flight was very busy, with a constant traffic up and down. A few boats just locked down, turned at the bottom then locked up again, which seemed a little curious. Fortunately the locks are paired here – there would have been quite a queue otherwise. The dogs had a very good rummage here and were exceptionally well-behaved.

Long horned cattle

Long horned cattle

We had a brief period of peace and quiet past the locks but a very nice stretch of online moorings slowed us down soon after. The moorings have their own plots of land attached and have road access – this would be a perfect arrangement for us with the dogs, shame it’s not a little closer to London. This slight bottleneck allowed us to catch up with the boat ahead and for the boat behind to creep up on our tail. We can’t complain – there were far more boats coming the other way, including a group of four hire boats, crews all dressed as pirates, with three competent skippers between them; the fourth skipper managed to swing his boat across the canal in front of Indigo Dream twice. There was no collision or any unpleasantness – I was just wondering what they were doing (they were so far across the canal I actually thought they were mooring……) and whether it was safe to pass!

We passed under Bridge 80 with some trepidation – it’s in a terrible state of disrepair. It looked familiar but we’ve not cruised this stretch before so where have we seen photographs of it? It surely can’t be the bridge that was partly demolished by a tractor and trailer last year – hasn’t that been repaired?

Dramatic viaduct....

Dramatic viaduct....

There’s no doubt that this is a beautiful canal – it’s mainly surrounded by open fields alternating between the soft gold of hay and the fresh green of grazing pastures dotted with sheep or cows. A perfect place to ‘stand and stare’ – many boaters obviously do, judging by the lengths of moored boats.

We passed another blogger today – nb ubique

We arrived back on familiar ground when we got to Braunston. This really is boating ‘central’ – the moorings approaching the junction were jam-packed but there was plenty of room between the junction and the top lock – these are 48-hour moorings in the summer but 14-day from October to March. Braunston isn’t just boating central – there were also lots of walkers on the towpath – it’s a sudden transition as we’ve hardly seen a soul on the towpath up to this point. There are fine views of Braunston Church which is visible for miles and from all angles as the canal weaves round the village.

We noticed that Braunston Manor Hotel is for sale – now that would be a desirable location. It’s on sale for just under a million and a half pounds – less than I’d expected but still a tad out of our league!!!

The aptly named “Gongoozler’s Rest’ floating cafe was busy – it’s only a short narrowboat and all the tables were full. It’s good to see a canalside business doing well.

We commented on an immaculately painted green boat before we realised it was Celtic Kiwi – a share boat from the same ‘stable’ as our old boat, Dragonfly. We’d heard that Celtic Kiwi was having her paintwork re-done – she looked magnificent.

Despite the large numbers of moored boats in Braunston, we had the big double locks to ourselves going up, though we did meet a few boats coming down (to our advantage). The dogs had an enjoyable rummage around the locks and were greeted by the rufty-tufty lurchers who live in the cottage by the bottom lock.

There was a LOT of water in the pounds today, with water cascading over the bottom gates at lock 5.

By the time we got to the top lock, the moored boats and gongoozlers had vanished leaving a profound stillness on the approach to the tunnel. The landslide here is shocking – it covers half the canal and obscures the tunnel entrance. It’s a 2-way tunnel and luckily there weren’t any boats coming out as we dodged past the landslip into the entrance. We did pass a few boats, inevitably where the tunnel curves into a chicane rather than where it’s dead straight.

We were surprised by how dry it was in Braunston Tunnel – we’d expected it to be much wetter.

We were astounded by the stretch between the tunnel and Norton junction – it’s been transformed. When we passed here 18-months ago the towpath was atrocious to the point of being unusable. Last winter, apparently, the whole stretch was restored and improved and is now in perfect condition, including the installation of some mooring rings. One moored boat here commented that in places it was too shallow to get into the bank, but the overall improvement has to be celebrated.

We started locking down at Buckby, though the dogs were unimpressed. There are good visitor moorings by the top lock but they’re also close to the road so Blue and Lou were confined. They were able to have a rummage further down though we got them back on board at lock 11 as there’s a road near to lock 12 (though well fenced and gated). Just as well – as the boat descended at lock 12, Blue, wearing an expression of extreme innocence, bunched himself up and hopped off the boat. Richard caught him and tied him up on principle!

The Buckby Locks have a strange feature – instead of the usual muddy water smell you get when a the lock drains, I caught a scent reminiscent of my granny’s hanky drawer – sweet and musky. I can only think that it’s from the algae growing thickly on the lock walls, or maybe someone’s liberated a load of mothballs into the canal!

The muscular presence of the M1 and mainline railway really try to overwhelm the canal here. There was a tremendous din from the trains, the traffic and the sirens of the emergency services going to attend some crisis on the southbound carriageway. I don’t wish anyone ill, but I did feel a little thrill of spite when I realised that the boat was travelling faster than the queue on the motorway.

Bridge 19 marks the start of some more desirable moorings spots as the motorway peels away from the canal – the sudden lack of noise is surreal. The stretch from Bridge 19 to 21 is thickly wooded, its dark and mysterious atmosphere enhanced by a gathering of new age boaters. They’d erected  a number of tents and gazebos just off the towpath and were sitting around a large bonfire. One of the boats was garnished with cannabis plants, undoubtedly being grown for the attractiveness of the leaves and for the rope-making fibre in the stems 🙂 We felt like intruders in an arcane rite and crept past quietly.

Bridge 21 is attractive, with a red brick arch and a tough blue brick parapet – it’s more intact than most bridges than we’ve seen this weekend! Strangely enough there’s a lighting shop near the bridge, specialising in LEDs – it may be useful in the future, we’re always after lighting.

Wheedon looked like a good place to stop, not least of which because it has four pubs close to the canal. But we’ve not done very well with pub grub this weekend so we decided to move on and eat on board.There were good moorings just after Bridge 25; we spotted the cheese boat here but it seemed a little too late to disturb them.

We carried on a little further in order to get away from the railway. We eventually moored up by Bridge 28 (just outside Nether Heyford). It’s a fine countryside mooring, opposite a canalside field sporting a few caravans. Richard had intended to take the dogs for an exploration of the footpath off Bridge 28, but the dogs weren’t interested – Lou was far too comfortable to move and Blue was spooked by the sound of a shotgun in the distance. I cooked dinner and Richard got on with some DIY before we settled down with a DVD – Ocean’s 13 – a happily brainless romp which suited our mood perfectly.

The mooring was exceptionally quiet and we had a very peaceful night.

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