Tag Archives: The Grand Union Canal

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.