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Archive for September 6th, 2011

The Odyssey 2011: Day 40

Posted by indigodream on 6 September, 2011

Kilby Bridge to Foxton Top Lock (Gumley Road bridge)

Saturday 13th August

Tandem manoeuvres with nb Kiewa...

We had intended to come to the boat on Friday, then that changed to Saturday morning, but we were worn out and had stuff to do at home so we delayed our journey until Saturday afternoon. The moorings at Kilby Bridge were now jam-packed – even on the offside. I guess it’s a knock-on effect of the stoppages as boats are getting temporarily stranded by the early lock closures. We got the hounds on board – Ty joined us this weekend – much to his horror – I’m afraid it was valium all round – Ty for his nerves (only when boating) and Lou for relaxing her spasming muscles – she’s been in a lot of pain this week.

We’d got essential supplies on the way up – it’s very useful having decent food shops in motorway service stations! But we fancied a takeaway and, as we had the car, went off to South Wigston in search of a chinese – there’s quite a selection and we had a great cantonese meal on board.

Sunday 14th August

We had some targets today – the first was to get past Kibworth Top Lock (No. 18) – the last of the locks affected by the restrictions; the second was to get to the top of the Foxton locks by the end of the day.

We started out early with fine weather on our side. We soon picked up a locking partner – nb Kiewa. She seemed familiar and as we got talking to their genial crew we realised that she was an ex-boatshare boat – years ago she was moored next to Dragonfly (our own Boatshare boat) at the Heritage marina on the Macclesfield – small world!

It's a very efficient way of moving between locks along a short pound...

Nb Kiewa’s crew had had a difficult holiday – the lady of the boat had hurt her ankle badly (ligaments but not bones broken) at one of the locks and they’d had to call an ambulance to help her. Later they brested up to a narrowboat at the fully-occupied Castle moorings in Leicester so that the lady of the boat could come back from hospital (on crutches). Their narrowboat neighbour (who shall be nameless – it’s not our tale to tell) took exception to their being brested up and tried to cast them adrift when they weren’t looking. It was a despicable thing to do, especially on a river navigation where a boat adrift could end up over a weir.

Sharon and Steve proved to be very good locking partners and we had a convivial and efficient trip up to Kibworth. This stretch is very scenic so Lou and Lynx had multiple rummages and, where we had to wait for locks, it was quiet enough to tempt Ty off for a bobble (on lead) though he’d much rather cower inside!

Water levels were generally low, even this early in the cruising day – I guess it must be pretty bad later on after a few boat movements. The pound below Kibworth was so low that nb Kiewa grounded yards away from the side and Indigo Dream scraped along, barely missing the bottom, even mid-channel. It was a sobering experience – the lock-keeper had photos of the reservoirs that supply the canal – two are dry, two are in water – just. It’s a desperate situation and hard to take in when it’s been such a wet July/August – or maybe that’s just Surrey!

Note: we’ve just seen a stoppage notice dated 25th August advising boats over 2′ 4″ deep NOT to navigate this section – Indigo Dream is 2′ 3″! It seems likely that the whole section will be closed to navigation sometime in the next few weeks.

As we ascended Kibworth second lock we were joined by a dad and his four kids – they cheekily asked for a lift and were charming enough for us to agree. It was a real tonic after the riots – a family enjoying a simple walk along the canal – they cadged a lift down with one boat and came back up with us. The kids said they’d had a “brilliant day” – so there is hope for the future after all….

There is a long lock-free section past Kibworth top so we left nb Kiewa behind and headed for Foxton. This section is lovely with prominent ‘ridge and furrow’ fields – marks of centuries of cultivation.

Fabulous views (1)....

We passed Debdale marina – it has to be the most discreet marina on the network – screened by trees, the neat entrance belies the size of the basin beyond.

Foxton was a shocker – the canal was quiet and rural right up to bridge 62 then it opened out into a junction/basin occupied by thousands (no exaggeration) of miscellaneous people and their associated noise – the hooting of the trip boat’s horn, the dubious Johny Cash tribute band at the pub and the chatter of the crowds. Ty was horrified – I wasn’t too chuffed myself – I do like a quiet life! We slotted in behind a boat at the mooring bollards on the right beyond the bridge – there were boats moored all around the basin so it was difficult to see who was in the queue and who was just moored up for the night. Richard went off to ‘register’ with the lock-keeper and we were told that there would be around an hour’s wait and that we would be second in the queue.

Foxton is unique in so many ways – there’s obviously the engineering wonder of the staircases and, somewhere around here, the remnants of the inclined plane, then there are the crowds!

Richard took Ty off for a walk away from the basin while I took Lou and Lynx off to try and find the site of the inclined plane. We never got there – I was daunted by the thought of pushing through the hordes on the narrow lock bridge with two large hounds in tow. As it happens we never got as far as the locks (or the inclined plane!) – so many people wanted to talk to/admire/fuss the greyhounds that we never got further than 10 yards from the boat!

As the end of the hour drew near, the crew of nb Kiewa caught up with us (they’d moored up and were going through Foxton tomorrow) – they had a tour of our boat and were sensible enough to admire her extravagantly – top people! We had more visitors later – the crew of nb Panacea, who we’ve met many times on St Pancras Cruising Club convoys on the Thames. It was good to see them again – they were also dashing down to London to take part in September’s tideway adventure – Panacea is looking very smart, having been repainted last year.

The hordes at Foxton bottom....

So the hour passed quickly and we were off. The lock-keepers are very jolly – the bottom lock-keeper told me about polishing his brasses – I told him that life was too short for polishing brass – “sex and alcohol” he replied cryptically – hmmm, was that a request or an invitation I wondered 🙂 Neither as it turned out – merely a list of the things in life that are worth spending time on!

If you have never seen a staircase then it is simply a collection of locks where the back gate of one lock is the front gate on the one before, very efficient in speed terms and saves water whilst boats are all travelling in the same direction. The paddles are a little less straightforward than in single locks but there are usually clear directions at the lock. In this case, once you get into the first lock, always open the red paddle first, this starts water getting into the lock from the balancing side pound. Once the boat in front has cleared the lock above then you can open the white paddle to drain the lock above – that sends water into the side pound and tops up the lock you are in. Once levels equalise you open the gates, shut the paddles, shut the gates and do the same again. There are 2 staircases of 5 locks, so 10 locks in all but they’re so efficient that you can get up to the top in around 45 minutes. Rumour has it that the England Rugby team did in something silly like 26 minutes! If you have never seen a staircase then there is a virtual model of half of Foxton here: http://www.foxtonlocks.com/sections/kids/flashgame.php The aim is to get a score of over a 1000.

Waiting for the staircase locks is a pain, but once you’re in the ascent is smooth and quick – the side-pound operation meant that numerous boats could work through without leaving the preceeding boats stranded. The crowds and noise continued unabated – I’ve never seen so many gongoozlers – one boy offered his services as relief crew and worked hard on the paddles – we gave him and his family a lift up the last two locks as a ‘thank you’. Like most places on the canal network, people are friendly, interested and it is a great day out. There were charity buskers all along the flight – of variable quality – but it’s undoubtedly a good place to stand with a collecting tin!

The gap between the two staircases is very awkward – there was a boat in the short pound, waiting to go down. They’d secured the boat with a centre rope but their front drifted out, leaving me no room to exit the locks neatly – inevitably their back then came out as I passed and it was a choice of scraping them or the lock. As one passing through, I’d advise holding your boat front and back if you’re stuck in the short pound!

We soon got to the top – the view is spectacular. We moored up for water at one of the many points – the water pressure wasn’t very good, but that was in our favour as it gave Richard time to offload his bike as I scouted out the moorings. It was 5pm-ish and there were one or two spaces between top lock and the bridge, but there were many more spaces beyond the bridge (though these filled up later). There were a few ‘commercial’ boats selling their wares on the towpath, giving the place a bit of a “leave via the gift shop” feel. Many more boats arrived at the top of the flight as I filled with water – it was doubtful whether they would go down the flight today – judging from the comments I overheard I suspect that the water points would be used as overnight moorings.

Gaggle of gongoozlers...

Foxton is undoubtedly a marvel and a definite must-do, but I found it a bit overwhelming on such a busy day – I’d love to come back here on a quieter day and have more space/leisure to explore….

Richard headed off to get the car and I watched the water tank – it took a while! When it was full, I decided to move the boat to a mooring beyond the bridge. I judged that this would be better for Ty as the numerous passersby between the locks and the bridge were rubbing on his nerves. I had some difficulty in mooring – there’s a good stretch of armco but the canal was shallow. In the end I managed to poke Indigo Dream’s nose into the bank and left the back grounded about six inches out – within acceptable leaping distance for the arthritic Lou and clumsy Ty!

Boats continued to arrive and I had a chance to observe the whole spectrum of boating life as a ‘drunken sailor’, meandering all over the canal, was followed by a prissy shiny boat complaining mightily about his behaviour. I found that I had sympathy for both parties – we hate being behind erratic boaters, but the drunken helmsman was cheerfully charming (as many drunks are!).  A boat moored a little way up had lost his cat – she had leapt for the bank as they were mooring, missed, ended up in the canal and subsequently disappeared – the distressed crew were searching both banks and water but they hadn’t found it by the time we left.

In the meantime, Richard was toiling back to Kilby Bridge along narrow and uneven towpaths, narrowly avoiding falling off his bike on several occasions. On the most notable occasion, the towpath was blocked by a middle-aged couple locked in a passionate embrace – Richard tells me he almost fell in the canal because they, and their dog, were obstructing the way………he wasn’t at all distracted by the sight of the very fine pair of breasts on display as the lady bent down to hold her dog 🙂

When he got back we decamped quickly – for future reference, there is a rubbish point at the BW car park!

We had the usual tedious trip through the M1 roadworks but we were buoyed by the fact that we are travelling ever southward and the commute will become easier as the weekends pass…..

Photoblog:

Fabulous views (2)....

Hitch-hikers! Oh, and the detail on nb Kiewa's prow - I like that design...

Isn't this beautiul?

"The canine carrying co" - that's should be written on the side of our boat!

The discreet entrance to Debdale marina...

Trip boat Vagabond plying its trade near Foxton...

nb Panacea looking very smart....

Deep staircases are so imposing...

Another view from the top...

Great views and see the flow into the side-pound below - very clever....

Now, how's this for an idea - if every visitor bought a 2l bottle of water with them and poured it in at the top then maybe these locks could stay open for longer this season...

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The Odyssey 2011: Day 43

Posted by indigodream on 6 September, 2011

Weedon is a popular mooring spot - well, the village does have FOUR pubs!

Weedon to Great Linford

Friday 26th August

We decided to drive up after the rush hour and set off from home at 8pm – good decision – we had the smoothest trip along the motorways and got to the boat by 10pm via Waitrose in Northampton which shuts a little later than the nearby Asda.

Weedon is not the easiest place to offload the dogs – bold Lou and Lynx were fine though we kept them on lead past the moored boats; Ty, predictably, was terrified by the traffic and we had to be vigilant to ensue that he didn’t slip his collar and bolt. It was Ty’s 6th birthday today and he’d had a lovely day until we arrived at the boat – he gave us some very reproachful looks!

Despite the proximity of the busy A5, we had a quiet night on the moorings – just as well, we had a big weekend ahead of us……

Saturday 27th August

We got off at 8.30am – these last few weekends are setting a new standard for Indigo Dream – where have our comfortable 10am starts gone?!

The canal was quiet, though we noticed that  many of the moored boats had already moved away. The further we cruised the more we were reminded of how grand the Grand Union is – we fell in love with it all over again and cruised along with increasing enjoyment. The stretch out of Weedon is so high, with gaps in the trees offering delightful glimpses of the surrounding valleys.

I love the way the landscape is framed by the arched bridges - hard to get a good photos while trying to manoeuvre the boat through the bridge holes though...

We stopped off at Stowe Hill marine for a pump-out (£14) and decided to fill with diesel while we were there (83p base – we declared a 60/40 split). We like the folk here – they’re very friendly and the lady is a greyhound fan (she lost her beloved hound a while back) – she came on board to give our hounds a fuss – even Ty consented to be cuddled!

I was amused by today’s car shuffle – Richard would leave the boat to shuffle the car then pop up in time for locks and tunnels before disappearing again! I first dropped him off at Nether Heyford – he shuffled the car to Blisworth and cycled back in time to take the boat through the tunnel. It’s safe to say that there are no water shortages in the Blisworth tunnel – it was a wet as ever, though coming South you do tend to miss the pressure jet in the middle.

I noted in passing that Heyfords Fields marina is immaculate – possibly the most inviting marina we’ve passed yet. I also noticed a banner by Bridge 35 advertising that the 5-bells pub has a new chef – hmmm, maybe we’ll try that next time we’re in the vicinity!

Stoke Bruerne was as attractive as ever – it’s one of our favourite spots (there are so many :-)) and it was relatively quiet – there were two boats coming out of top lock and we joined nb Firefly who was waiting to go down. Nb Firefly is a Carefree Cruising share boat with a competent and pleasant crew – we had a great passage down the flight. Lou and Lynx had their usual bobbles at the locks though their activity was soon curtailed by a torrential rainstorm. They weren’t amused at being confined indoors – I don’t know what they were complaining about – I’d have paid good money to be forced out of the rain! Having said that, I didn’t get wet – my raincoat and hat did but I was actually quite snug.

We changed locking partners at bottom lock as we caught up with single-handed nb Jasper – we were to share the rest of the day’s locks with him and he proved to be obliging and ‘busy’ (some single-handers sit on board and let Richard do the work – not that he minds, usually!).

With the flight done, Richard cycled off for the car and popped up later at Cosgrove. I’d fed him a sandwich before he left and had prepared my own lunch to eat on the move. I have to offer nb Mona Lisa an apology for my erratic course along the canal – I was, at the time, wrestling unsuccessfully with Lou and Lynx for possession of my sandwiches. Lou had already sneaked the ham off my plate, I managed to grab and eat one sandwich but dropped the other two onto the deck in the melee! I cruised along hungrily while my smug hounds licked their lips with satisfaction. I did manage to dash inside on a deserted straight and grab some cookies to keep me going…

Bit of a restoration project....

The heavens opened again on the approach to Cosgrove but I had my coat to hand – it was that sort of day – I’d worn, in turn, my sun hat, warm fleece hat and rain hat, light fleece, heavy fleece and raincoat…

Cosgrove was as busy as usual with a small queue waiting to go down and a vast queue waiting to come up with boats arriving by the minute. I surmised that the Wyvern hire fleet were having a good weekend – I’m sure that we’ve seen most of their boats on the move today. The young crew of one hire boat were having a debate about where to moor for the night – they were worried about cruising too far and ending up in a manky industrial estate – I was able to reassure them that there weren’t any manky mooring spots between here and Gayton!

For the record, I HATE trough aqueducts (Richard loves them!) – I was interested in the river Great Ouse below but really, whose bright idea was it to have such a tiny unprotected gap between the deck and the fall – the dogs were locked inside, I have nightmares about them jumping/falling over the edge.

Sadly Richard missed the aqueduct – as soon as I was out of the lock at Cosgrove he went off to take the car to Wolverton train station, where we’d leave the car for the rest of the weekend, protected by the car park’s CCTV cameras. We’d pick it up on Monday – our destination, Berkhamstead, has a train station with handy connections.

We had planned a long day’s cruise, but by 6.30pm I was very weary and though we could have gone further we decided to moor at Great Linford. We’ve always admired the visitor moorings here – there are only two 48-hour spaces on the offside and we were amazed to see that one space was vacant. That’s fate! The moorings are flanked by a fine park which we hoped would suit Ty. As it happened, he was intimidated by the odd walker and blare of a car horn nearby and, later on, the bang of a small firework – never mind, he did relax enough to wee and that’s all that matters. We scouted out the surrounding area and found a charming thatched pub, the Nag’s Head, in the village (walk straight up the path from the moorings and there’s the pub). The lounge bar is small and quaint (no dogs allowed)  but the saloon bar (dogs allowed) is surrounded by no fewer than 3 TV screens showing football. We ended up in the saloon with the hounds – they immediately settled onto their sheepskins, much to the amusement/amazement of the locals. We had a good pub meal here and the staff and drinkers were very friendly. Ty did very well – he was relaxed enough to eat a sausage and that’s as good a measure of his mental state as anything!

We might have stayed in the pub for longer but I was on my last legs so we wandered back to the boat before it got fully dark and settled down in front of the TV. Unfortunately Lou had a severe muscle spasm after the day’s exertions so she ended up on valium and tramadol for the weekend. The drugs work very well, with few side-effects; when she spasms Lou becomes as rigid as a hound carved of oak, and I can’t describe how much pain she’s in so “c’est la vie”. She’s due to see the physio on Wednesday – that usually makes a big difference.

Photoblog:

That's a polite notice - I like it...

Interesting developments here - there's a tidy canalside mooring, the site has been levelled and there's a gravel drive down from the road for good access...

The immaculate Heyford Fields marina....

Approaching Blisworth...

Inside the Blisworth tunnel...

Blisworth ventilation shaft..

Stoke Bruerne water front...

Manoeuvres in the Stoke Bruerne flight - there's plenty of room to pass, even in the shortest pounds, though the pair coming up made it hard by moving off so very very slowly....

The scenery below Stoke Bruerne is lovely....

Lou and Lynx enjoyed the view....of the sheep!

The English countryside - we'll never tire of it....

The villages are quite distant on the stretch between Stoke Bruerne and Cosgrove....

The towpath as it might have been years ago....

Rainbow over toy-town....

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The Odyssey 2011: Day 39

Posted by indigodream on 6 September, 2011

Blue Bank Lock to Kilby Bridge

Monday 8th August

Leaving our mooring below Blue Banks lock - it's a lovely spot....

It was a fine morning and although the enforced stoppage was very inconvenient, it was pleasant to be cruising in the morning sunshine rather than last night’s thundery showers!

The Blue Banks mooring had been very quiet and also offered excellent dog walking in the adjacent field – though watch out for the large herd of ponies which seems to travel between the different fields. Luckily they were elsewhere when Richard took the hounds for their morning rummage. Lynx and Lou did a lot of rummaging today – there were plenty of locks and most were rural/fenced so perfect. Slightly less perfect was the inexplicable presence of large cowpats adjacent to Gee’s lock. Cow poo is Lynx’s favourite grooming product (as he eloquently described in his latest diary) and he smeared himself…….and me – sigh!!!

I have to say that the area around Blaby Bridge doesn’t look like bandit country though there are large housing estates on the offside – what we could see from the canal looked very civilised. However we did see Del boy’s 3-wheeler parked upstream of Bridge 43 – we wondered whether it was the original ‘prop’ from the TV series or a faithful reproduction!

We got to Kilby Bridge before midday – there are useful services offside so we got rid of the rubbish but we decided not to stop for water. We pushed over to the towpath side, where there were ample mooring spaces, mainly bollarded – it’s 48-hour near the bridge but 14-day a little further back.

We packed the boat and headed for home – our route to the M1 took us through several small villages where we’d hope to find a nice pub/cafe for lunch – there wasn’t one! So, we had a little detour to the charming town of Lutterworth and ate in the very fine “Greyhound coaching inn”.

Lou at the Greyhound Coaching Inn, Lutterworth....

As Richard parked the car I went into the pub to ask whether dogs were allowed –

“er yes” said the barmaid “er are they small dogs?”

“they’re greyhounds” I replied – they were admitted immediately!

We had a good pub lunch here – it’s a very welcoming place with a nice atmosphere – they also have accommodation. It would be a good place for a gathering – now we just need to think of a good excuse for one!

We had a good drive back but were in for a shock when we got home. We hadn’t watched the telly or listened to the radio while we were away so we were stunned by the news of the riots. We were even more astounded as the news unfolded on Monday night and we saw businesses within a stone’s throw of Richard’s office being looted and going up in flames. We could have watched the news all night but finally went to bed at midnight, keeping our fingers crossed that Richard’s office would be ok.

Note: Luckily Richard’s business was unharmed but we felt quite sick at the sight of people’s livelihoods being wrecked by unthinking mobs – after the incident with the fishermen I was musing gloomily that this is how the apocalypse starts – not with fire and brimstone but with the unravelling of the good will that weaves us all together……

Photoblog:

Green...

Doesn't look like 'bandit country' from here?

Lovely views from Kilby lock....

Lou's locking technique - get off boat, lie down, get back on boat - simple!

Well, I wouldn't go to sea on it!!

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