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Archive for September 7th, 2011

The Odyssey 2011: Day 42

Posted by indigodream on 7 September, 2011

Watford Top lock to Weedon (Bridge 24)

Sunday 21st August

View from the Watford staircase...

We had a reasonably relaxed morning – the locks didn’t open until 9am so there was no point in getting up very early, but we did make sure that we were ready to go as soon as the lockie gave us the go-ahead. We had been assured that he would let the boats down first before starting on the queue below and we entered the first lock just after 9am. We were glad to get started – the lockie believes that the stoppages will be extended with shorter opening hours and potential “one up, one down” working.

The Watford flight is very interesting – a mix of single locks and a quadruple staircase – I’d thought there were two staircases, because what else could cause such a boating log-jam?! Once again the staircase makes good use of side-pounds and they provide a scenic backdrop to the locks.

The lockie let five boats down – the three of us that had spent the night above the locks and two others that turned up at 8.30am – they were very lucky indeed! As we descended, boats started to ascend – there is room to pass in the lower pounds but it’s quite a logistical exercise.

Nonetheless we got down quite quickly and moored up at the bottom to top up our water tank and give the hounds another bobble – not that they were interested – they just slumped on the towpath, though I’m sure they weren’t suffering from CO poisoning! We’d come down the flight quicker than expected to we were glad of the interval while the tank filled as it gave Sarah time to catch up with us. She was bringing favourites Ranger, Henry and Archie for a cruise, culminating in a late-afternoon greyhound gathering in Stoke Bruerne. We had some logistics of our own, we’d also made arrangements to meet up with Roger and Margaret of nb Mary Beth and their two greyhounds Bess and Shari, who came cruising with us back in April when we passed through their home town of Berkhamstead.

Looking up to Watford top lock...

We picked Sarah and the hounds up at Welton Station Bridge and Richard moved the car down to the Buckby flight, where we joined him later. Mindful of our speed, I put Sarah on the helm and saw to coffee/food instead! We enjoyed a girlie cruise and Sarah relived some more memories of cruising with her dad as they used to hire boats from Welton Hythe. All too soon we were at Norton Junction. It was a strange feeling – I was mightily relieved to be off the Leicester Arm – it’s well worth exploring but the water shortages/stoppages have been tedious and frustrating. Nevertheless, coming back onto the familiar Grand Union mainline was like leaving Oz – we’ve explored some fantastic new waterways ‘over the rainbow’ but it was also pleasant to be back on our favourite home waters.

We met up with Richard at Buckby top, where there was a queue of 6 boats waiting in front of us – at least they’re double locks! At first we had to brest up to a BW workboat, but as the queue shuffled forward we got a spot on the lock moorings so that the hounds could come off for a bobble. They really enjoyed themselves as they got lots of fuss from the boaters and passersby. As we entered Buckby top we acquired a locking partner (with a terribly smokey engine – we did our best to stay away from the ‘exhaust’ side), which made things a little easier. Richard lockwheeled while Sarah and I took turns to steer, make coffee and entertain the hounds. The middle locks are well-fenced so the hounds could have a good bobble, when they could be bothered! Towards Buckby Bottom lock, a spot where Blue would escape and explore at every opportunity, Lynx just found a patch of deep shade to lie in and flat refused to come back to the boat! While the other hounds ran back to the boat joyfully, Lynx lay on his side and used his amazing hypno-powers to persuade random passersby to rub his tummy!

The Buckby flight was very jolly with banter between passing boaters and walkers, but it was so so slow. After a couple of locks we caught up with the boats before and had to wait at every one. We already knew that we wouldn’t make Stoke Bruerne bottom lock today, but now we knew we wouldn’t even make Gayton junction. I fed the crew and Richard cycled back to get the car from Buckby. In the meantime Sarah and I cruised on  – it was up to us to decide where to stop – somewhere between Weedon and Bugbrooke.  As the canal was so busy we decided to moor up in Weedon, just before Bridge 24. There is a long line of 14-day mooring rings, plenty of other boats and good access to the road. We directed Richard appropriately and he brought the car down. We then changed crew – Richard fed the hounds and packed the boat while I took Sarah back to get her car from Watford bottom lock – a surprisingly short distance away via the A5!

Side pound in action...

When we got back, we quickly bundled the dogs into the cars (mindful of the fact that nb Leo moored in front of us had 2 cats) and drove to the greyhound gathering at Stoke Bruerne.

We had a lovely afternoon – we met up with Margaret, Roger, Bess and Shari and enjoyed the company of many other hounds. Considering it was a barbecue with lots of loose food around, every hound behaved impeccably and peace reigned. The event raised over £1000 for GWRE (Greyhound Rescue West of England). There was stand with lots of greyhound goodies – I confined myself to a greyhound mascot for the boat and a new winter coat for Lynx.

It was gone 6pm by the time we left – we’d had such a good time and when five boating greyhound-mad people get together there’s never enough time to talk about everything that needs talking about! We dragged ourselves away with great difficulty. Luckily we didn’t have a bad journey home but we’d have to take a close look at our cruising schedule – it’s essential that we get back to Limehouse by the 8th September and the stoppages have put us under real time pressure….

Photoblog:

The tall top gates in the staircase are alarmingly leaky - I was glad Indigo Dream is only 60' so I could avoid the shower!

That's why the locks are restricted...

Harvest...

Queueing at Buckby top....

The crew back together again...

Such a pretty cottage...

We really do need a bigger back deck...

With the deck full, Henry had to take the sofa - it's a hard life!

At the GWRE barbecue - it was reassuring to be among a crowd of people who are even more besotted with their hounds than we are 🙂

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The Odyssey 2011: Day 41

Posted by indigodream on 7 September, 2011

Foxton Top lock to Watford Top lock

Friday 19th August

Landscape...

It’s been a hectic week – I needed to clear the decks because I’d be spending a large part the following week in Wales (very long story); I was also busy making jam from the super-abundance of fruit in the garden, finishing off some proper work,  dealing with a couple of dog health crises and negotiating with some water board workmen who turned up unexpectedly to do some essential but, at this time, inconvenient work!

Just to update – Lynx had to have an endoscopy for a suspected tumour of the trachea – fortunately it wasn’t – ‘just’ severe inflammation caused by an infection or allergy – easily treated; Lou had a gum infection which culminated in the vet pulling out a loose tooth with his fingers (while she was conscious) – she is much happier with the rotten tooth and infection treated!

On the water front, getting connected to a different main has resulted in an increase in our domestic water pressure from a measly 0.6 bar to a whopping 6 bar – we’re having to switch the main on slowly just in case the extra pressure blows our old plumbing apart – so far so good!

Nonetheless, we got away on Friday afternoon, via Richard’s mum to drop Ty off and via Greyhoundhomer for a jam delivery – we eventually got to the boat in the early evening.

The boat had been fine – the water levels must have come up slightly and the back was still  aground but now tight against the bank! There is a large BW car park nearby but the signs say “no overnight parking” so Richard parked in the lane nearby. There is very good dog walking in the fields adjacent to the canal – wear enclosed shoes though – the thistles were very prickly through my sandals!

We quizzed our neighbouring boats to ascertain the local cat population (none!) – we got the melancholy news that the missing cat from last week had drowned – what a shame.

Folded landscape...

Saturday 20th August

We woke to a fine but cool morning – it’s alarmingly autumnal now with the landscape washed in a softer palette of mellow berry reds and leafy rusts. We’re already brushing fallen leaves off the roof. Lou and Lynx woke in good spirits – a miracle after the week that they’ve had!

We got off early – 8.30am – the canal was deserted and we enjoyed the peace of the next stretch. The landscape is amazing here – gently folded like a meringue in a mixing bowl. I noticed a reed bunting and a silent falcon hunting above. If a heavy harvest is a harbringer of a hard winter then order your thermals now 🙂

This is a long lock-free pound but the hounds had a chance to walk with Richard between bridges.

Richard took us through Husbands Bosworth tunnel – it’s a 2-way tunnel but we let two boats out, both from Northampton, before we ventured in. We met one other boat in the tunnel – nb Rundlestone – a very fine looking boat with immaculate paintwork.

Encouragingly, past the tunnel it was summer again – the sun came out and the landscape seemed greener. The towpath is infilled and soft beyond the tunnel so we had to get to the next bridge to let Richard off with his bike. He was going to cycle back for the car while I took the boat along the pound towards Watford. Note from Richard: The tow path is dire, in lots of places he had to walk, in one stretch he had to carry his bike as there was not enough room for him to push his bike alongside. The drive between Foxton and Watford is also slow so all in the car shuffle took 1 hour longer then anticipated.

Cracks Hill...

I loved the next stretch but it was slow going in the shallow waters. There were many moored boats, all looking very relaxed with human and canine crews snoozing gently on the towpath. Above, silent gliders were being towed into the blue heavens by noisy little aeroplanes. The landscape was a treat for the senses – the varied colours, the sound of birds and engines and the smells- the soft warmth of hay and the pungent radiance of manure. Another feature that I noticed were the “living mileposts” – there were plaques marking them but I couldn’t work out whether the ‘living’ bit was a particular type of tree – it wasn’t obvious from the water. The scenery continued to amaze – the Welford Arm looked very enticing and Crack Hill looked intriguingly artificial – but it isn’t, it’s a moraine formed by glaciers!

I had one stop with the hounds – Lou seemed distressed so I bought the boat in beyond bridge 39 to let her off for the necessary. This would have made a perfect overnight mooring for the hounds – quiet, deserted and flanked by fields where they could run. Luckily Lou and Lynx weren’t interested in running today – they just had a short bobble on the towpath and quickly hopped back on board.

Past Bridge 29 I started to encounter more oncoming boats – presumably coming up from Watford. They seemed to appear in pairs, making me think that the Watford locks were doubles – but they’re not! Passing was awkward in places but that’s sods law – you’ll always meet an oncoming boat where it’s narrow, shallow, obscured by reeds, with overhanging trees approaching a bridge on a blind bend – that’s just the way it is 🙂

I picked Richard up at Bridge 20 – he was stressed – he’d talked to the Watford lock-keeper on his way back and had been told that we’d need to arrive at top lock by 3.15pm in order to get down tonight and we were well behind schedule. He took the helm and I made lunch, anxiety about the time taking some shine off the afternoon.

Another view of Cracks Hill - there's a beacon on top - it must be magical up there when the beacon is lit...

We got to Watford top lock just after 3pm and found two boats waiting in front of us. We talked to the lockie and were told it was unlikely that we’d get through – he had a longer queue at the bottom so he was letting them up first and unless we got into the flight by 4pm (and not a minute past) then we’d be stuck at the top for the night. I found the lockie to be rather officious, but I strained to be charming as our fate was entirely in his hands. Richard went to help at the locks but the upcoming boats were slow and though the first boat in the ‘down’ queue went through, we didn’t, neither did the boat in front who’d arrived at 2.50pm. We gloomily watched the boats coming up – the first ones we met had been queuing at the bottom since 10.30am – the final ones had booked in at 1pm…..

I had a wry chat with the lady of the boat in front – she was emphatically blaming her husband for their not making the flight today – they’ve been this way many times and he had resolved to stop and walk up Crack Hill, delaying them by an hour. I had to tell her that I was joining her husband in the dog-house as Richard similarly blamed my slow driving for our not making the locks…..

Once we realised that we weren’t going anywhere, I tied the boat up properly while Richard checked the car – he wasn’t sure whether the lane at the bottom was secure, but he found that there wasn’t anywhere else (and it proved to be fine). There is a good service point at top lock – we got rid of the rubbish and filled our drinking water bottles. There are no pubs nearby though there is a Thai restaurant at the bottom of the flight. We opted to eat on board, giving me the opportunity to take the dogs for a long walk around the adjacent field. It’s well-fenced but there was a enough slack to let the greyhounds in (it is a marked footpath so we weren’t trespassing). The field adjacent was empty, but there were signs that it is sometimes used by livestock – Lynx managed to avoid the cow pats this time but still managed to acquire a pleasingly (to him!) rural odour.

The moorings above Watford locks would be very pleasant apart from one thing – they’re right under the M1 and the loud incessant noise was appalling. We did get a night’s sleep – you can tune it out provided that lorry drivers don’t beep their horns (they can’t help themselves). The odd overnight lull in the traffic noise was obligingly filled by train noise from the mainline below the locks.

We settled down to watch the Kings Speech on DVD -we’ve not seen it before as we’re fans of sci-fi/fantasy and it never occurred to us that we might enjoy it! But we were gobsmacked – what a fantastic film – it made up for some of the annoyance of our situation…

We were disturbed at 2.50am when the gas alarm went off – I got up, opened a few hatches and checked everything. There was no obvious source or smell of LPG (I sniffed at floor level). The boat wasn’t on fire and we didn’t have anything on that could produce carbon monoxide (engine or Webasto), but as its a colourless/odourless gas I checked the dogs – they’re more susceptible to CO poisoning than humans and are likely to show symptoms first. They seemed fine i.e. no less alert than usual (hard to tell with such idle hounds) – I did check for bright red mucous membranes (arguably a potential sign) – theirs looked normal. I went back to bed – 15 minutes later the alarm went off again. We did another audit – no obvious cause inside but we did speculate whether the super-sensitive sensors were picking up fumes from the busy motorway above. So there’s a dilemma – if the fumes are coming from outside then maybe we should shut the hatches/windows. It was 3am – that was too intellectual a dilemma for us so we just turned the gas off at the cylinder, opened the windows and turned the alarm off………

Note: do not ignore your gas alarm and do not turn it off until you are absolutely sure there’s nothing amiss. What, you don’t have a gas alarm? Get one installed straight away….

Photoblog:

I loved this undulating scenery...

Lush.....

Another one of Richard's inexplicable photos!

The towpath past Husband's Bosworth tunnel is in very poor condition...

Looking down at the tunnel portal...

The Welford Arm looked very inviting....

The main canal looks pretty good too....

Living milestone - dated 1983 - anyone know about this?

The busy road looked very out of place in this pastoral landscape...

That's bad - it's a day boat and surely you wouldn't need an instruction manual to tell you not to string you mooring ropes at decapitating height for a cyclist.....

We're not sure how this boat got to that spot - there's no channel or slipway and no road access for a crane - it's set neatly on blocks though so it wasn't carried by a flood....

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