Category Archives: Marinas

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 5 & 6

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On our way Day 5

This was to be the last day of our trip from Apsley to Droitwich, but a body found in the canal ahead delayed the arrival at Droitwich Spa Marina. No one was sure where the incident occurred. There were varying accounts. And no one was sure if the canal was open yet. When our friends Tony and Deb showed up late the next morning, we decided to push on anyway. It was another great weather day. We were under way by 11am, not our usual 5:30am start, which meant when we did 10 hours on Day 5, we only would have 4 hours left the following day, adding up to the normal 14 hour day we had done up until now. You do the math.

Tony headed back home. He would meet us later at the next flight of locks….The Tardebigge locks, 30 in all, 2.25 miles long and descending 220 feet. The only reason The Hatton Flight is more famous is because more people use it. The Tardebigge Flight is on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, while the Hatton Flight is on the Grand Union Canal. The latter also has double locks while the former is all single locks.

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Solihull

The Tardebigge flight was designed by one man. The Lapworth Flight that we had just completed were all independent designs. The designers put out a tender to many companies to construct one lock on the flight, hence the different shaped locks (all still single) and a mix of lock gates and paddle lifts. One was eventually chosen and so there is a semblance of cohesion along the way. At the time of day we had completed the Lapworth Flight, I was so tired they all looked the same to me. Stone, wood and water. Start low, end high.

And now another new day. On to the Tardebigge flight, through Solihull, a southern district of Birmingham, along the North Stratford Canal, through the Brandwood Tunnel (352 yards long, 0.2 miles….not very long), up to a left turn at King’s Norton Junction on to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, through 2 more tunnels and down to the Tardebigge Flight. From the top of the Lapworth Flight to Tardebigge, we had to travel north, then west and finally south. Nothing on the Cut is straight forward. You go where the canals were cut to get to your destination. Sometimes you even loop back on yourself. We have those farmers and landowners from the 1700s and 1800s to thank for the shape of the Cut.

This day’s trip was going to take us 10 hours. Ought to have been 13 and a half, but we did Tardebigge in 1/3 the time (a record time apparently…ought to be 6 and a half hours and we did it in 2hrs 15 mins) required because it was late, just after 6:30pm when we arrived at the first lock and nearly 9pm when we got to the bottom. It was another hot day and there were 21 miles to cover and those 30 locks at the end of the journey. Would we just moor up before tackling the Tardebigge Flight or go for it? Tony made up our minds. He’d be there waiting. We were going for it.

Clear cruising on Day 5. We passed the place where the body had been found. We learned later that it had been a young woman with epilepsy who must have had a seizure and fallen in the canal off a bridge. Very sad. It took place in Solihull, the south end of Birmingham. Lots of hired boats on the Cut this day, some seasoned and more than a few who had no idea how to handle a boat.

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Approaching the Guillotine lock.

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Leaving the Guillotine Lock

We were following one hire boat for a while. It would slow to a crawl then suddenly accelerate and take off like a bat-out-of-hell (as much as a boat could fly), slowing to a crawl again and so on. Very frustrating. Playing silly buggers. We came to a sharp bend that turned right, into a narrow because trees hung out over the canal on the left. Then the canal cut to the left just as sharply on a bend past the hanging trees.

There was a pub on the right, on the bend. It looked for a moment like the hired boat was going to moor alongside the pub. I thought, great, I’ll just slip by him. He changed his mind and started pulling out, forcing me to veer left, just as a boat rounded the bend coming toward us. Don’t ask me how I threaded the needle, but with help from navigator Deb and best friend support, we avoided disaster. When the water cleared, we were back behind the hire boat that decided to moor up on the next stretch. We were glad to be on our own again.

Lots of pubs along this route. But the one we were interested in was waiting at the bottom of the Tardebigge Flight. We passed through the Brandwood Tunnel, all the while remaining on the North Stratford canal. Eventually, we arrived at the King’s Norton Junction where the North Stratford meets the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. We were finally heading south. Little did I know that there were still 2 tunnels before the Tardebigge locks.

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Entering the Brandwood Tunnel

The first one, well let’s just say it was like walking under a waterfall. A cold shower like none of the other tunnels we encountered. I was soaked at the end of it. And this, the Shortwood Tunnel, was 610 yards long. That’s over a 3rd of a mile of water pouring down on me. And no soap. The second tunnel was the Tardebigge, because it comes just before the locks. It is 580 yards long and is relatively dry….relatively.

The big test came at the end of the day. So many locks and daylight waned. Tony was there and organised the ladies, the three working as a well-oiled machine, lock after lock. We sneaked by one chap who we thought might hold us up, but for some reason, between locks, he had tied up his boat and gone off somewhere. We dodged ahead of him and never looked back, except to take photos. We reached the bottom lock, moored for the night, exhausted after the hot and long day, even though it was only 10 hours….only?

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One of the Tardebigge locks

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On our way down the Tardebigge locks

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Tony and Bestie operate one of the Tardebigge locks.

On the other side of the towpath was the sister pub to the one we had gone to the night before. This one was the Queen’s Head pub.The problem? We were too late for food. It was Sunday and they stopped serving food at 7:30. What did that matter really? The beer was flowing and the crisps and peanuts were plentiful. And guess who we ran into? The guys who had turned back at the Lapworth Flight to take the Birmingham route. They had arrived only and hour before us. It was much further the route they had taken. We all laughed. And we drank. Only 4 hours to Droitwich, so we relaxed and staggered back to the boat.

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Moored beside The Queen’s Head at the bottom of the Tardebigge locks

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Moored at the bottom of the Tardebigge locks.

The next morning we set off, but a little later than usual. We had to cover 4 miles and negotiate 15 more locks, turning off the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to the rather short Droitwich spur which had 3 of the strangest locks we had encountered. After all those very long days, this one seemed like a doddle. So much so that we had 2 chaps work those last 3 locks for us. They had to fill some pound off to the right of the lock, then empty it so the next lock would have plenty of water. 2 volunteers are here every day in the summer from 11am to 4pm, helping boaters through these locks.

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Deb and Bestie working one of the last few locks.

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Going down in one of the locks just before the marina with help from 2 chaps.

It was the only time my best friend allowed me to get off the boat, to watch the proceedings. Quite an impressive way to save water. It takes longer to get through a lock, but we didn’t mind. The marina was in sight and our journey to an end. Out of the last lock, ahead a short distance, turn right through a narrow gap and into our new marina.

I moored alongside a cement dock to fill the thirsty boat with diesel and we went into the marina office to sign in and get our place. I went back to the boat, untied and headed to our new berth, on the north side of the marina. Back in, tie up, engine off. Home.

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Our new home at Droitwich Spa Marina in Worcestershire (like the sauce).

 

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 4

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Heading out at last on Day 4.

You know the routine by now….all the engine checks etc., and off we go. Except this morning, in the mist when we went to push-off, we were going nowhere. Stuck in the reeds on a shallow bank. Didn’t matter how much power I gave to the prop, forwards or reverse, we didn’t move.

The Cut is just that, land cut into a trough a few centuries ago with a deeper middle and shallower sides. Like a giant, wide V shape. The bottom is mostly very soft silt, dredged infrequently and sporadically, building up at the sides as props churn up the silt, pushing it outwards. Eventually, even the middle silt builds until you have a quagmire of thick, silt soup. Very often, the bottom of my boat drags along silt, pushed through by the prop. If you look behind as you go, clouds of silt bubble up to the surface as you go.

Stuck, but drifting ever closer to that big patch of reeds behind us, Deb has the solution. She’s the old salt on this voyage. “Right,” she announces when all other methods have failed to release us, ” Everyone to the Port side.” Deb and Bestie move along the Port (left) side gunwales and I helm, standing as far left as possible. Deb orders, “Right, now rock the boat and ease the engine forward.” I start singing (quietly) the tune ‘Rock the Boat’ by the Hues Corporation as the craft gently eases out to the middle and off we go….5:40am. Must make up some time.

First stop, a rubbish bin just past one of the Fosse locks, first of the day. Just off to the left is a mysterious looking boat that looks rather sinister. Pirates? Then, just before the bridge, two figures that aren’t exactly pirates loom ominously by the way. On we go. Through Royal Leamington Spa.

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First locks of the day – the Fosse Locks. Candle-shaped lock releases.

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My best friend disposing of the rubbish.

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The mysterious boat

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Strange creatures by the bridge. What did he say?

The city of Leamington Spa was given its Royal status by Queen Victoria for the popularity of the salt spa which is no longer there. The baths are now an art gallery and museum. Leamington became a retirement location. The canal runs through the south of the town and on to next door Warwick. I was disappointed in the lack of development along the canal. So much more could be done. It’s as if there were no canal at all, just a rubbish pit. That part has been cleaned up, but the potential for canalside recreation and business does not seem to have been a priority. It doesn’t appear to be visible at all.

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Royal Leamington Spa

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More Royal Leamington Spa. Garden by the Canal.

Moving on along the canal, we finally reach the Hatton flight of locks, a challenge and a wonder to behold. Fortunately, Deb’s husband Tony joined us to help get us through these 2 miles of 21 locks in a row, which rise (we were going up) 148 feet (45 metres). The locks were widened in the 1930s to accommodate wide working boats or 2 narrowboats. The locks were dubbed ‘The Stairway to Heaven’ by those who worked on the them because by the time they got to the top, their pay awaited just a little further along the canal.

So….up we went, one lock at a time. It was a hot day by now. Half way up the locks we were joined by a family on their boat who had moored along one of the water compounds between the locks. It had been late in the day when they began up the flight and they decided to moor and finish the next day. Lots to see and do on the way up and down….pubs, parks, children’s’ playgrounds, picnic areas, tourist information, cafes and a CRT (Canal and River Trust) hut where Tony stopped on his bike to give the volunteer workers a piece of his mind.

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Beginning of the Hatton Flight of Locks. 21 locks rising 148 feet.

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Moving up the Hatton Flight.

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Looking back at the Hatton Flight. Still some to go.

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Tied to another boat half way up the Hatton Flight.

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Tony giving CRT crew a grilling at the Hatton Flight.

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Nearing the top of the Hatton Flight with a park on the left. Plenty of Gongoozlers (narrowboat watchers).

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One last look back from the top of the Hatton Flight. 21 locks and 148 feet later.

The CRT run the canals, or are supposed to, and have failed to look after the system to make it better for boaters. They have left maintenance of old locks too late, not dredged nearly enough to make the Cut passable, failed to cut foliage and growth along the banks of the Cut, allowing overgrowth to virtually cut the Cut in two in many places. And…the whole organisation is basically mismanaged. They have tried to rebrand themselves and change personnel, but nothing changes. There are lots more gripes, but I have bored you enough.

Tony says if they spent more of their time and our money on the system, rather than on, as he says, voles, moles, water fowl and fish, leaving them to interest groups (there are many), we might have a viable network of usable canals after all. The CRT workers listened politely and even agreed with Tony on many points (Tony does his homework), but said they were powerless to effect change. The 2 bullies at the top of the chain see to that. Their solution? Raise our license fees x4 (already nearly £1000 annually) to get the work done.

OK, now that’s enough of that. Back to the Hatton Flight. The family who joined us half way up the flight, consisted of a man, a woman and their daughter, a precocious 10-year-old who loved to jump all over the place. The husband worked the locks (thus freeing Tony to pontificate) and the wife steered the boat. I tried to get her to follow me closely into the next lock, but she she was too busy trying to control her craft and keep her daughter in check.

We did the next best thing. We tied the front and back of the boats together and I drove both of us from lock to lock. Hard on my engine, but better than the alternative. Up we went until finally we reached heaven. And lovely it was too, to be free again. The engine thanked me for cutting us loose and off we went.

Tony went home. We left him still having his say. More beautiful countryside and then another 90 degree turn on to the Stratford-Upon-Avon Canal. But it was tricky because there was another boat in front of us, taking its time on the turn and then mooring up just under the bridge at the entrance to this arm of the canal.

By now we were extremely tired but decided to push on and do the Lapworth Flight of locks….all single locks and my first. Another climb to the top, 16 locks and then we would push on for another hour. We had earlier decided to moor up before the Lapworth Flight, but Tony called and said we had better continue. He joined us again and off we went, a climb of over 100 feet. Because of the time of day, we were nearly the only boat on the system, everyone else having the good sense to moor up for the night.

We were nearly to the top when another boat approached, coming down the flight. Four men were on board, apparently on their annual boys trip they had been taking for years together. They seemed to be in a bit of a flap. Tony asks, “You’re late coming on the this flight. Where’re you off to?” “We were at the top and heard they found a body in the canal ahead and the police shut down the system” said one of the crew, “so we’re going back down and taking the canal through Birmingham. We have to get this rental boat back.”

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The narrow single locks on the Lapworth Flight of Locks on the Stratford Canal.

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Looking up the Lapworth Flight.

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Looking back on the Lapworth Flight.

Shock. A dead body in the canal? It could take days for the police to sort it out. What to do? Go back too? What if it was open tomorrow? We decided to moor up after the top lock and wait the night. Lovely spot that was known as the Lily Pad. Tony took Deb home for the night so she could have a proper shower and see her children (3 Springer Spaniels). They would return late morning the next day after assessing the situation ahead.

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Another look back on the Lapworth Flight. Nearly at the top.

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Last lock of the day on Lapworth Flight Locks.

Reprieve! We could sleep in. Tony and Deb headed off. Me and my best friend walked back down the lock flight on the towpath to a pub we had heard about to have a meal. It was Saturday evening and a big screen TV in the alfresco setting was showing the FA Cup football (soccer) match between Manchester United and Chelsea FC. It had also been the day Prince Harry and Meghan were married. Big day and all we could think of was food (not really that unusual for me).

Back to the boat after the meal and 2 pints, some down-time and sleep, a nice long one. It was nearly 11am when Tony brought Deb back. No info on whether the canal ahead was open and what had actually happened, except that it was a woman’s body they found. Poor thing. We decided to go ahead. This was supposed to be the last day push to Droitwich Spa Marina. Day 5. The delay was unavoidable. We only hoped the way ahead was clear.

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Moored for the night above the Lapworth Flight.

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Why it’s called the Lily Pad Pond.

 

 

 

 

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 3

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Another early morning, misty start to the day. Creeping by sleeping boats.

More mist and more cold to begin Day 3. Everything checked as usual, untied and on our way at 5:30am. Today’s target? Get near the Hatton flight of locks. 21 locks, one after the other. Today we encounter 31 locks (mostly in groups) including the Stockton flight of 8 locks (really 10 if you count the 2 nearby). And….another tunnel. The Braunston Tunnel, 2,042 yards (1.16 miles) long with a bend. One other innovation, 90 degree turns on to other branches of the canal system.

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Wisteria on homes early on Day 3.

We have a way to go before the first locks, so coffee is in order. Good news. It’s getting warmer more quickly this morning with the promise of hot weather by the afternoon. Just like yesterday, but we wouldn’t have to wait as long. The Buckby locks are near to the Whilton marina. Just ahead of one of the locks is a house that is also a shop. All kinds of narrowboat art and trinkets are available here. We had heard it was closed, but there was the same woman getting the place ready for the day’s business. Good to see. On to Buckby Locks.

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Looking back from a Buckby lock to Whilton Marina (right). Going uphill.

Buckby Locks. 7 of them. Great pub there, The New Inn….not so new anymore, but great atmosphere and food. We moored here 3 years ago on our way down to Apsley. Met some great people who moored in front and behind us. They have become good friends, Linda and Keith (back in Oz) and Sharon and Lou. We’ve kept in touch. Boaters are a special group. No stopping this time. Maybe another day.

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CRT (Canal & River Trust) workers putting water back into a Buckby Lock. It had drained too much.

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Sharing a lock with a man, his dog and his boat on Day 3. Saves water. His boat has a cruiser stern. Mine is a semi-trad.

We arrive at a fork in the canal. Right takes us to Crick, where we bought our boat and took it to Apsley. Turn left and we head to new territory, new adventures and more beautiful scenery. We are on our way to Braunston and its tunnel of 2042 yards or 1.16 miles….with that dreaded bend. But first, let me say something about locks. Please stay with me.

The locks on the Grand Union Canal are double locks. They can fit 2 narrowboats or 1 widebeam. If you have a narrowboat, it’s better to share the lock if possible to conserve water. We shared a couple of locks on this day. That’s probably because we left so early in the morning and no one else is around. Locks go up and they go down, depending on the lay of the land. Like climbing steps up or down a hill.

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A double lock. Room for one more, but not on this occasion. The boat is being raised here….going uphill.

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Single Lock. The boat is being raised. No room to move here.

I prefer going up hill. You don’t have to worry about the cill. The dreaded cill. It has sunk more boats in locks that you can imagine. The cill (ledge) is at the bottom of the lock on the high end. It’s like a foundation for the high gates and a pressure point so the lock gates don’t push in the wrong way from the force of water pushing in to fill a lock. When a boat is coming in the high side, the lock is full of water and you can’t see the cill. As the water is drained from the lock, the boat has to be ahead of the cill. If the boat’s back-end gets caught on the cill because it isn’t forward enough….disaster. I’ve seen it happen (wrote about it in an earlier Blog, ‘Narrowboat Down’ from 1 May, 2016). The longer the boat, the more wary the boater. 72 feet is the absolute maximum allowed. The cill is marked with 2 white stripes on the edge of the lock wall. Always stay ahead of them.

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The dreaded cill. OK for going up in the lock but look out when going down.

At one point, someone had forgotten to lower the paddles after exiting the lock and too much water drained. The lock pound was too low. We had to wait until CRT technicians filled it back up. This was a double lock. Once we got on to the Stratford Canal, the locks were all single. One boat at a time. Quite different. And the paddle gear was different too. An odd shape that resembles more a white tube.

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Permanent moorings along the Oxford Canal

Enough about locks. On to Braunston. The hub of many waterways and a hive of activity. A marina, a chandlery (shop that sells boat equipment), boat works yard, pubs, converging waterways and that blasted tunnel with the bend. And, as fate would dictate, another boat is coming the other way just as I reach the bend. I hug the right and ease my way through. No problem. What was I so worried about? 6 more locks just after the tunnel and then a left turn on to the Oxford Canal under a bridge and through a very narrow passage, slowly now….ease it again to the left, nudge the far bank, back up a bit, try again and….there we go.

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Braunston Marina

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Church spire in Braunston. View from the canal as we pass.

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Tricky turn to the left at Braunston. On to the Oxford Canal.

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Back on track at the beginning of the Oxford Canal.

On we go along a very narrow bit of the canal, past moored boats, some of which are long termers and, along to the Napton Junction Bridge opposite Wigrams Turn Marina, where we do another 90 degree right turn back on to the Grand Union Canal, past the Napton Reservoir and then a series of marinas and such on both sides of the canal….Calcutt Boats Ltd. Plus 3 locks.

 

Going past one of the entrances to the right, some guy decides to bring his boat out without sounding his horn or checking if anyone is coming. Another Murphy’s Law moment. I had to quickly put our boat in neutral and then in reverse. That’s not easy when I’m already going at speed. Just missed the Numpty. Not even an apology. Fortunately, I did not engage in Cut Rage. If I did, it would only be water pistols at close range.

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Turning right, off the Oxford and back on to The Grand Union.

After the Calcutt locks we hit the Stockton flight, 8 locks in a row and 2 more a short distance after. That would leave 6 more. We can do this. We have to be ready to take on the famous Hatton flight tomorrow. By now, the countryside, though stunning, is a bit of a blur. It has been a hot day and I’m feeling it. Yes, I did wear a hat, but at the helm, I’m exposed to the elements all day. I look as if I’ve been on vacation in the sun.

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The Stockton Flight. One lock after the other. The next one just ahead.

We reach Wood lock, go through and moor up along the way. Not easy to find a place as the reeds here are thick even on the mooring side. We find a spot just ahead of a thick bunch of water foliage. Tie up, engine off, tiller arm removed and stored. Pram cover lifted. Got to wait for the engine to cool to check the stern tube. This trip is supposed to take 12 hours and 40 minutes. We eliminated the 40 minutes. 12 hours. The engine is very hot. Time for SADS (Safe Arrival DrinkS), eats and bed. Day 4 coming up. It will be the longest yet.

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Moored below Wood Lock.

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Looking back the next morning from our mooring below Wood Lock. Morning mist and the reed patch.

 

 

 

 

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 2

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Day 2. Heading off into the mist.

Up at 4:45 am. Check the engine (oil, water, stern tube and weed hatch). All good. Start the engine by 5am. Have coffee. Untie and go. It’s a very cold start this morning….3 Degrees Celsius. Heavy mist on the water, the sun is low in the east, just rising. My hand is frozen to the tiller. And so begins Day 2.

We make our way through a very thick mist to the next set of locks. Winding past moored boats on tickover. Don’t want to disturb boaters at this time of day. The going is slow. Tickover is the slowest our boats can go and you hear the engine actually ticking over. How ’bout that.

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Under Bridge 107 and into one of the Soulbury locks.

We head toward Milton Keynes. They feature part of this artificial city in the Harry Potter films where Harry is living with the Dursleys.

Milton Keynes was built in the 1960s to alleviate London sprawl. The government back then basically said, ‘Here’s some land. Build a city.’ And they did. I’ve heard the word sterile used to describe it. But going through on a narrowboat, you’d never know you were in an urban centre. We wind through parkland, a few houses and fields. This early in the morning only a couple of joggers are about, one dog walker and a few cyclists. Always cyclists.

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Houses along the way on the canal with private moorings.

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Ready to lower the boat in a lock.

And it’s warming up thank goodness. My best friend puts on more coffee and I begin to thaw. We can use all electrics on the go. We have a Dometic Travel pack that allows us to use 240 volts on the move. Brilliant piece of kit, already on the boat when we bought it. We can use all appliances, sparingly, and our coffee maker gets a lot of use.

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CRT dredging part of the canal. Day 2

Today we’re heading for the Buckby locks. If that proves a little too ambitious, we’ll moor up a little sooner opposite Rugby Boat sales. On the hill next to the canal is a great pub and Inn, The Narrowboat. I vote for an earlier mooring even though it is still a 12 hour day, 35 miles and only 13 locks. That’s a lot of non-stop helming.

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Best friend at the helm with Deb looking on. I’m walking along the towpath for some exercise.

We also have to go through the locks at Stoke Bruerne, where most of the day’s locks reside and the Blisworth tunnel of nearly 2 miles. Of all the things to get through on the Cut, tunnels are my least favourite, especially when boats are coming the other way. I get my first and only injury at Stoke Bruerne too. I hardly notice the great pubs along the top lock as we pass. 3 years ago, when we came down this way to Apsley from Crick marina, we stopped to eat at the Indian restaurant canalside. Best one ever.

Ah, the injury. I was told to stay on the boat. My best friend and Deb feared for my life if I got off. You see, I am a bit of a klutz (clumsy) at times and boats are a challenge. My fellow travellers said, ‘Stay on the boat. If you get into trouble, honk the horn.’ The horn….that’s another story. Anyway, we got to one of the Stoke Bruerne locks and the wind got hold of the boat as I tried to keep it steady and ready to go into the lock once the gates were opened. The boat got blown to the side, so I stepped off (naughty boy), grabbed the rope and held the boat along the edge.

When it was time to go into the lock, I put the rope back and grabbed the boat ledge on the roof to get back on. Well….there was a chunk of cement broken off the side of the canal wall where I stood and some clown had filled the breach with loose gravel and not cemented it in. My right foot slipped on the loose gravel, went between boat and cement wall into the canal, scraping it badly along the side and my left knee smashed down hard on the gravel. I pulled myself up and got on the boat.

My left knee was bleeding badly, my right foot was soaked and my lower leg was torn and cut. No time to whimper. Get into that lock. Secured. Gates close behind me. A shadow looms overhead. My best friend. “I saw the whole thing. You idiot. All you had to do was stay on the boat.” “Yeah, but the wind and the gravel….” There were no excuses I could give that were good enough to save me. “I don’t care,” said my best friend. “Just look at the state of you. Can’t do anything about it now. Wait until we get through the tunnel.” I poured a bottle of water over the affected area and drove on, bleeding all over my shoes and the deck.

The tunnels are dark, cold and wet. Sometimes, the water pours from pores in the ceiling and rains all over me. The other 2 hide inside the boat. I have a front floodlight to light the way ahead and warn other boaters coming toward me that I’m present. All the lights have to be put on inside the boat (a regulation) and I close the doors behind me as a safety precaution. Some days are wetter than others. This was a bad one. I was soaked by the time we exited, nearly 2 miles later. But I had the whole tunnel to myself this day.

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Mum duck and ducklings.

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Canada Goose and gosling.

On we go, past some of the most beautiful countryside England has to offer….and, yes, more great pubs that tantalize but are verboten because of our deadline. Besides, we were heading for the Narrowboat Inn. I was determined. The most fascinating thing about Day 2 has been the number of families of ducks, geese and swans all along the Cut, as well as Herons. No families of those, but so many eyeing the families of others. Herons will eat anything small and furry , even small rabbits.

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The English countryside. Day 2.

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More fields of gold (rapeseed).

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Ubiquitous Hawthorne trees along the route.

We have crossed over 2 aqueducts today too. Narrow pans of water high over the land or a train network or even a river. These aren’t that high and have railed fencing on either side for safety. But they afford good views of the land about. Never a dull moment on the Cut.

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Aqueduct No. 1

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Aqueduct No. 2

We gradually wind our way to Stowe Hill Wharf where we find Rugby Boat Sales and, as ever, The Narrowboat Inn on the hill. We moor along the bank just before a bridge. At this time of the day, moorings are hard to come by and we are a little too close to the bridge. But chances are, no one else is coming through tonight and we are starting again very early the next day.

The Narrowboat Inn. Tired as we are, the hill climb is worth every step. I have a cheeseburger with the works….a gourmet burger at that….and 2 pints of Pale Ale. Back to the boat and straight to bed. Day 3 is not far off.

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Morning mist at our mooring at Stowe Hill Wharf. Getting ready to go.

 

 

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 1

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Das Boat ready to leave the lock.

And so it began. 5am on Wednesday on a rather cool day in May. We headed out of Apsley Marina, our home for 3 years, and headed north to our new home at Droitwich Spa Marina, near Worcester. A new chapter in our lives. A change of scenery and a challenge to get there. The trip ought to take 11 days. We did it in 5. Madness.

It would not have been possible without the help of our boating friends Deb and Tony. Deb travelled with us the whole way. Tony joined us when we did flights of locks where 20 or more in a row were involved. The plan was to travel 12-14 hour days, moor up, eat, sleep, get up and go. And so long as the boat held together and the engine didn’t  seize or blow up, we would reach Droitwich within 5 days.

The plan for Day 1 was to get to Leighton Buzzard (nothing to do with the winged foul) . And to start us off, there was our good friend and boat neighbour, Eddie, emerging from his boat at 5am to see us off. It was Eddie who greeted us and helped us moor up when we arrived at Apsley Marina 3 years before.

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On our way to Droitwich. Deb and Best Friend pushing the heavy gate open.

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Lock and bridge at Cowroast (not a BBQ).

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Cowroast info board.

Eddie was still in his PJs, not unusual. “Couldn’t sleep,” he said. “Been up since 3am. Thought I’d come and say goodbye.” So, we untied and Eddie opened the lift gate bridge at the entrance of the marina and out I cruised, turning right with the first lock of the day just ahead. Eddie helped with that one too….still in his PJs and bare feet. As I cruised out of the lock, we said our goodbyes, Eddie heading back to his boat in the marina and me heading north.

The route for most of the way on the first day was very familiar. We had travelled it a number of times over the last 2 years, helping other boaters from the marina move their boats to have the bottom blacked (to preserve the hull) or have a new paint job. Apsley has no facilities for such work. You have to go north to Winkwell (nothing to do with ink) or Cowroast (nothing to do with roasting cows) to get work done. My best friend and I usually helped with the locks. On one trip we had walked the entire 8 miles. We can walk more quickly than the boats can travel.

Through Hemel Hempstead, a place we had walked into a number of times to shop, through the swing bridge at Winkwell where you get to stop traffic as your boat passes through. And there’s that lovely pub on the right, the Three Horseshoes, just past the bridge. But, no stopping. On to Berkhamsted with 2 great pubs in a row, The Rising Sun and The Boat (couldn’t get any more obvious) and still no stop. Through Northchurch (can’t tell it from Berkhamsted) and on to Cowroast.

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Open countryside along the way on Day 1.

We finally get to Cowroast, past the marina and on to the Tring Summit, a beautifully wooded stretch of canal with no locks and no pubs until we get to the end of the summit at Tring. The place is actually known as Bulbourne and the pub is The Grand Junction Arms….not an appealing name, but the food is supposed to be good. No time for that. The Anglers Retreat comes next. Not quite canal side, but a short walk. No walking anywhere today.

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Through the heavily wooded Tring Summit.

Too many locks to negotiate, the Marsworth Locks, 6 in a row. We pass 2 branches coming off the Grand Union Canal, The Wendover Arm and the Aylesbury Arm, past another pub, the Red Lion, a stone’s throw from the canal. There are over 600 pubs in England named the Red Lion. You can’t miss them. Through more locks and a swing bridge, known as No. 125, which is an unusual configuration. You have to grab the end and push it along a track to open it.

Image result for swing bridge 125 grand union canal

Image result for swing bridge 125 grand union canal

Then we come to the Brownlow canal side pub and Inn. It sails by. We pass the Ivinghoe (no knight here) Locks and on to Leighton Buzzard.

The Buzzard part of Leighton has nothing to do with the bird. It’s just a person’s name changed over time, from de Busar to Buzzard….logical, don’t you think? I don’t know how that works, but then I’m not a local. The town also has the dubious distinction of hosting The Great Train Robbery of 1963 just outside of Leighton Buzzard at Bridego Bridge.

And, of course, we pass another pub as we approach the town, The Grove Lock pub. Now it’s becoming a tease. Nothing really memorable as we go through Leighton Buzzard (given the second name to distinguish it from the next door Leighton Bromswold) except maybe a boat yard that offers holiday boats for those who think narrowboating is a jolly.

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Approaching a lock and one of those canal side pubs

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Sharing a lock with another boat. Not a newbie. Saves water.

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Approaching a lock on Day 1.

We ran across a few over the days who thought differently. There are experienced holiday boaters and newbies. The latter are the ones to look out for if we only knew who they were. I think newbies ought to have a marker or flag on the boat letting the rest of us know they are inexperienced. My best friend and I took a 2 full days course to get our helmsman’s licence. First-time renters are given a half hour if that and off they go. Scary thought.

I’m sure there is much to see and do in the Buzzard. I read they have a narrow gauge heritage railway. Being a lover of the old trains, I would want to see that. One day, I guess, when I’m not in a rush. Plus the fact that after being on the go since 5am and it was now nearly 7pm, I really couldn’t have given a %*&@ if the Queen had been canal side waving to us. Better still, someone who mattered to me like Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page.

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The 39th lock of the day.

We moored up just past the town after the Leighton Lock, a lovely countryside spot and not far from the Globe pub. We were too tired to walk there. We had travelled 20 miles, done 39 locks and completed the voyage 2 hours sooner than the trip book says it takes. We had a bite to eat and fell into bed. 5am comes early on the Cut.

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Best friend tying the boat to mooring pin. End of Day 1.

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View across the canal from where we moored at the end of Day 1.

On The Move

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The Tring Summit on the Grand Union Canal.

I got what I needed. My best friend was away for a few days and I had come out to shop for survival purposes. I tend to buy things I like the most and a couple of sweet things I ought not have. It’s the rebel in me. I also bought some fruit and salady bits to feel healthy. Time to return to the boat.

I thought no one would be on the puddlepath on the way back. And I was right for most of the way. Then, up ahead, I a saw an elderly gentleman slowly making his way toward me. He looked fed up. Bummed-out for the more erudite among you. As we passed, he looked at me, then down at my boots. His shoes were soaked and caked with mud. “Fucking rain. Should’a wore my wellies” was all he said and on he trudged. Typical English understatement.

 

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My best friend happy in her work at the locks.

I took photos with my trusty LG Mobile (Cell) phone to give you an idea about everything along the route. I could have taken pics every couple of minutes, there was so much to see. But my poor old phone kept telling me I had no more space. And if you know me, 1 photo of an object is never enough. Because I helmed (drove the boat) the whole way….spelled off occasionally by a good friend who came with us to help with locks….it was difficult to snap and steer.

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The rolling countryside around the canal.

So difficult, in fact, my best friend laid down the 2 second rule. You see, I have a bit of a focus issue. I am like a goldfish. I can concentrate on one thing at a time for a very short moment. If I am helming, all my energy and attention has to be on the driving. If a duck with a new batch of cute, fluffy little ducklings goes by, I watch them until the boat is ready to smash into the canal side. Hence, the 2 second rule. Ducklings for 2 seconds, drive. Lovely house with gardens by the canal, 2 seconds, drive. Inviting pub, drive. Remembering the rule is another thing. Swan with cygnets….best friend, “2 second rule!!!”, drive.

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The 2 second rule in play here. Duck on the ledge of an aquaduct.

When we passed a particularly lovely spot, the friend helping us offered to take the helm while I took photos. She was a great help the whole trip. She is an experienced boater and talked me through numerous tricky situations. “The boat has 3 gears,” she says, “Forward, neutral and reverse. Use them all in a pickle, but use them slowly. You can’t rush your way out of a difficult situation.” “Yes ma’am.” I tend to ram the thing into reverse , then ram it into forward when I sense trouble or become stuck on the bottom. That can be a tad scary on a 20 ton, 60 foot boat on a narrow canal.

Which reminds me. A little info is called for here. The canals do not have an endless supply of water. Apparently, and don’t take my recollections as gospel….my best friend doesn’t….the ground in this country doesn’t drain very well. Though we get our fair share of rain, most of it evaporates before it seeps into the ground. If we have a dry spell of only a week or 2, water reserves dry up and hose pipe bans are put in place.

The CRT (Canal and River Trust) tells us that canal water levels have been going down over the last years due to all kinds of reasons. More boats on the Cut, boaters leaving gate paddles open thus draining water pounds, old locks leaking too much and a lack of rain. They say that within 5 short years unless there is a concerted effort to reverse the trend, there won’t be enough water for travel. That would be disastrous for us boaters to say the least. 15,000 marooned boats.

But now to the brighter side. You could not have picked better weather in May for this move. The 1st day was a little chilly and overcast but stayed dry. Then the sun came out and the rest of the trip was glorious. The best of England spread before us. Some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere on earth and at only 4 mph, it goes by slowly enough to allow us to appreciate it.

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Das Boat heading toward a lock. is there enough water in the pound? This time there was.

And now for the trip itself….each day’s journey with commentary and photos. 5 days of the best this country can offer. Come on along. You won’t be disappointed and you may even find yourself booking a holiday on a canal boat to see it all. But hurry, you never know when the well will dry up.

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At the helm on the cold 1st day. My best friend and Deb the helper in the background.

 

 

Puddlepath

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That ought to read Towpath, but around here, our towpath turns into a series of puddles when it rains. It is a well-travelled path. Walkers, joggers, dogs, families, cyclists and me….so much activity churning up a path that was never made for this much traffic. Some sections have been resurfaced over time, but not our section. It just gets more and more chewed up. One day it will turn into a lake.

Towpaths follow the whole canal system. Horses used them up until the 1920s, pulling the narrowboats (barges) along the canals loaded with coal, wood and other goods for factories along the system. Today there are a few places that use horses to pull a boat for tourism and nostalgic re-creations of days gone by. Horses are replaced now by cyclists, some are polite while others do their best to run over the walkers.

Along with the puddles, comes the mud. Cyclists churn up the paths, leaving in their wake a quagmire. Then you have to watch for dog poop. Some dog owners refuse to scoop even when the aforementioned substance is left in the middle of the path. A lovely Sunday stroll along the towpaths can become a nightmare when you have to dance and sidestep your way along. It ain’t no happy singin’ in the rain dance either, believe me.

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Puddlepath on the way to Sainsbury’s

This is where your wellies come into play. We called them rubber boots back in Canada. The proper name is Wellingtons. Named after the Duke of Wellington who had the Hessian boot modified for riding  and battle purposes. They were worn by the British aristocracy back in the 19th century, where all fashion begins, but became popular all over the world after the Second World War. The slip-on wellies that go over the shoes in Canada are known as galoshes….from the French, naturally.

I have had wellies (rubber boots) most of my life on and off. The pair I have at the moment are the best I’ve ever worn. They are made by Barbour (not an advert) who have been around since the end of the 19th century. They supply the Royal family with waterproof wear. Snobbish eh? I purchased mine in York (England) back when York was flooded late in 2015. They came in handy. We were there to see an uncle of my best friend who was going through a rough patch. There was water everywhere.

Every time I put on my Barbour wellies (not an advert) I find myself singing a song I heard way back in the 70s by Billy Connolly, ‘If it wasnae (wasn’t) for your wellies, where would you be? You’d be in the hospital or infirmary….’ and that’s as far as I get. I looked up the rest of the words online while writing this….very amusing.

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The Barbour Specials in a puddle.

Anyway, back to the puddlepath near us. The rain had poured on and off for several days recently and the towpath was awash in water and mud. I had to go to the local Sainsbury’s (read Loblaws in Canada) and I don’t drive over here in England. I’d tell you why I don’t, but it would bore you. I knew the towpath would be a mess, so I went up on deck under the protection of our pram cover as the rain poured down, sought out my wellies and put them on.

This putting on of wellies is no simple or easy feat. The trousers (pants) have to fit inside and as I wear jeans, most of the time, the struggle is nigh on brutal. Twisting the material around your ankle while trying to get the leg into the narrow opening of the wellie and down to the place where the foot fits in requires a dexterity I do not possess. Getting them off is a little easier. Barbour wellies come complete with a bit of protruding rubber just above the heel that allows me to hold one boot with the other and slip each boot off with the other foot. Got it? It’s a feature that is not found on every Wellington. And I paid for it. The most expensive rubber boots ever.

And again back to the puddlepath. Out I went, ready for all that water. I wasn’t disappointed. Puddles galore. A kid’s fantasy. I waded through them in my Barbours like they weren’t there. And I was the only one on the path as it was still raining. Had my raincoat on too. All the way to Sainsbury’s without meeting a soul. At the bridge that crosses the canal, leading to Sainsbury’s, the lock was being repaired. But that’s for the next Blog.

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Repairing the Lock.

I got what I needed. My best friend was away for a few days and I had come out to shop for survival purposes. I tend to buy things I like the most and a couple of sweet things I ought not have. It’s the rebel in me. I also bought some fruit and salady bits to feel healthy. Time to return to the boat.

I thought no one would be on the puddlepath on the way back. And I was right for most of the way. Then, up ahead, I a saw an elderly gentleman slowly making his way toward me. He looked fed up. Bummed-out for the more erudite among you. As we passed, he looked at me, then down at my boots. His shoes were soaked and caked with mud. “Fucking rain. Should’a wore my wellies” was all he said and on he trudged. Typical English understatement.

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Puddles all the way along to the bridge.