We’re Weekending In One Of The Best Places Yet!

Waking up for a call of nature at 2:00 am, and looking out the window; what a wonderful sight! The stars were so bright, they looked like Christmas baubles hanging on the bare trees. Even though it was a clear night, we were still surprised when we woke to find the canal was covered with a frozen layer.

There was a heavy frost over the fields.

On John’s return from taking Rusty for his morning walk, he said just round the corner was a fabulous place to stay. It’s right next to ‘Grafton Regis Meadow Nature Reserve’, and the River Tove.

So today, we’ve basically travelled 200 yards, and what a spot to moor!

Just as we moored a red kite hovered overhead, and we watched this magnificent bird soar and fly around until it dropped down in a field across the canal.

At breakfast we watched two green woodpeckers climb spirally up and down a tree opposite. We’ve watched a pair of swans roam over three fields, swim on the River Tove, then onto the canal, and eventually taking flight.

We’ve watched geese pairing up, and with males squaring up against each other, and seeing off rivals.

We’ve been spied on, and studied by a flock of sheep; and we’ve laughed with a boat full of kids as they passed – the boat was a day-tripper called Barney > Barney Rubble, full of trouble!

At one point a man walked past with a Border Collie dog and two Jack Russells. Rusty gave his normal warning bark, which made the man spin around and walk toward our boat. I was surprised as normally a German Shepherd barking makes people march on.  The man came back to the boat and asked if that was a German Shepherd he’d heard. Yes it was, and Rusty was introduced to him. The man put out the back of his hand to say ‘hello’ to Rusty, he was obviously used to dogs. He told his story that he was head of a breeding programme of German Shepherds in South Africa, tasked with training them for sniffing out explosives. We had quite a chat about the breed. It’s always a surprise what people we meet on the canals.

Shortly afterwards a nice young chap stopped to chat, he was on his way to the local shop to buy some ale to go with a pot of curry he’d prepared (he was obviously from a boat behind us). He kindly asked if we wanted anything from the shop. How nice of him! We told him we’d just had a visit from Mr Tesco. It turns out this young man WAS a Mr Tesco, and we spend quite a while hearing tales about his deliveries to canal boats.

The field is flooded, obviously a flood plain for the river.

The word that come to mind is ‘IDYLLIC’!

Between talking to people, we cleaned out the cratch; picked up the decking, and throwing it on the towpath. We gave the area a clean before laying the decking again. We took advantage that there’s just one bag of coal in the cratch, until we get more coal delivered. We’ve also cleaned the windows on the towpath side (of course), cleaning out the channels, and the ‘hopper frames’.

We made a telephone call to Jules Fuels; they will be with us sometime on Sunday. They’ve been slowed a bit because of the ice.

We’re staying put in this fabulous place for the weekend.

Seven Stoke Bruerne Locks Completed!

By 10:00 am we’d slipped Cyan’s moorings, and were on our way to the first of our five locks for the day. Yesterday we gave up after the first two Stoke Bruerne locks because of a strong wind, and rain.

Today’s a glorious day, though there is a ‘cheeky’ wind, which didn’t help controlling Cyan in lock pounds, while locks are set.

At the first lock of the day, John was about to close the gates when another boater appeared round the corner. Obviously we shared the locks. The boater was single handed, and jumped on and off his boat helping to work the locks.

We were soon cruising out of the 7th lock, and calling in at the sanny station.

After helpful comments from Pip and Marty about picking up bags of coal, we called Jules Fuels on Fuelboat Towcaster. Jules answered saying they were on their way back to Stoke Bruerne; presently they are at Leighton Buzzard. We’ll keep an eye out for Towcaster so we can buy some coal from them, but meanwhile we’ll pick up a couple of bags from Kingfisher Marina, which is just a mile away. (Thanks again Pip and Marty!)

We also made a phone call to Willowbridge Marina some 20 miles down the canal as they have a chandlery. A couple of days ago I carried John’s blue lifejacket which he uses at locks (at my request 😉 ), downstairs; on my way down the steps I managed to trap the toggle under the door, and the jacket inflated! Willowbridge confirmed they have ‘re-arm’ kits, and suggested we pop in with the inflated jacket to make sure we buy the correct kit. While John was doing the locks today, he looked very fetching in my shocking pink lifejacket!

Today we’ve cruised 2.5 miles, and ‘dropped down’ five locks.

We’re now 23 miles away from Braunston; and it’s only taken us 10 days!

Only Managed Two Out Of Seven

Watching the weather forecast for yesterday we knew we wouldn’t be moving, meaning this would be a great opportunity for a liaison with Mr Tesco. For a few moments the Tesco van had parked in the museum’s ‘Pay & Display’ car park while the driver delivered our order. As the car park was practically empty, I didn’t feel a bit guilty for not paying the £2.50 car park fee.

There’s a lot of work happening at Stoke Bruerne, mainly by voluteers with C&RT employees managing the work. They hope to meet their target for all works to be finished before the end of March.

Along from the tunnel to the Museum 50 ‘square’ holes have been dug, lined with bricks, filled with concrete, and with a mooring ring set in the concrete. Though moorings over the winter are 14 days max, officially there are 14 days, 7 days, and 48 hours (depending how far away you’re moored from the museum). Overstayers will incur a charge of £25 per night!

Our aim today was to drop down the seven Stoke Bruerne flight of locks, visit the sanny station at the bottom locks before mooring up.  That didn’t happen though… John did the locks, and when he started pushing the gate open, I slipped Cyan’s mooring and slowly made our way to the locks. Just as we started moving the wind came from nowhere, with strong gusts that made the short journey a challenge – “Hurry up John, open the flippin’ gates!”

The gate wouldn’t open for John – it was with mixed thoughts for John to quickly open the gate, but please don’t let him strain too much with his athritic knees!  Cyan was getting blown about the pound, I tried to aim for the lock landing and failed due to the gusts of wind.  Eventually it was realised that the paddle on a lower gate was left slightly open, causing the lock to not completely fill; keeping the pressure against the top gate, and stopping it from opening.

Sailing out of the lock, Cyan was held back in the ‘throat of the bridge’ for shelter from the wind, while John set the next lock. Cyan poked out from under the bridge just enough to clear the chimney, I didn’t want the arch of the bridge to squash the chimney.

While we were in the lock the rain started! Enough!

It was a challenge due to the strong wind, but we managed to moor just after the second lock. Thank goodness my splicing on the new centre line, securing it to the boat, passed the ‘strength’ test as it took both of us to hold onto the centre line pulling/holding Cyan back against the towpath for us to moor.

Before we left we snapped a few photos of the lovely woodland walk.

The weather looks like it’s going to be a very welcome sunny day tomorrow! We hope to drop down the five locks, visit the sanny, and probably moor up. We’ll be opening our last bag of coal tomorrow, which means we’ve a day or so to find a marina for supplies – I believe Kingfisher Marina is just over three miles from the bottom lock.

Ignoring the Blisworth Tunnel Ghost!

This morning we left our mooring of 3 days, where we’ve been nestled against the wind, sleet, snow, rain, and glorious sunshine!

From daybreak, the day’s weather has been beautiful.

After Marmite and toast for breakfast, we made our way to the services at Gayton Junction.

Since the water gauge broke, it’s been difficult to fathom how much water’s in the ‘tank’. We thought we were very low on water as Cyan rocked whenever one of us moved. Walking up and down the boat with the gait of someone who’s had a few drinks; we now know is a strong ‘signal’ we need to top up with water fast!

Despite the sunshine, there’s lots of evidence it’s been a cold night!

John saw a plaque on the towpath when he walked Rusty, and he wanted to take a picture of it.

The plaque commemorates ‘Thomas B Faulkner’, (born 1883 passed way 1984…….101 years young!) who worked on Banbury Lane area of the Grand Union Canal for 48 years. He started work on the Grand Union at the age of 20 until he was 68 years old. Did he fight in WW1? He must have seen the ‘posh’ ladies that worked the barges during WW2 – wonder what he thought of them? He also must have seen the ‘demise’ of the canals from an important artery for moving goods around. So many questions – wouldn’t it be wonderful to chat with him over a drink. Just that little plaque of his has brought history to life. “Thomas; we doff our caps to you Sir!”

John jumped off Cyan to take the picture on a bend, in windy weather, near a bridge, and leaving me to take ‘battle’ with her.

With rubbish dumped, Elsan service done, and water tank topped up, we set off for the Blisworth Tunnel.

We passed two old ‘work horses’, Bordesley and Greenock – Greenock is nearest to the camera.

Here’s an old picture of Greenock, courtesy of this website.

Ever wondered what you’d get if you ‘mated’ a old British Waterway’s work boat with a container?

It wasn’t long till we were passing Blisworth Marina. Can’t find out what this huge, old, building was. Was it a mill, a warehouse, factory? Whatever it was, it is now a block of lovely apartments.

(Editted to say, thanks to ‘Mike’ sending us this link, we now know it was a mill, warehouse, spice importer, etc.)

Just love old nooks and crannies. (Bottom of the apartments).

Entrance to the Blisworth Tunnel. At 3,076 yards (2,813m) long it is the third-longest navigable canal tunnel on the UK canal network after Standedge Tunnel and Dudley Tunnel (and the ninth-longest canal tunnel in the world). At its deepest point it is 143 feet (43m) below ground level. We’ve done Standedge, but not Dudley (yet!).

Work began on the tunnel in 1793, but sadly 3 years into the work the tunnel collapsed killing 14 navvies. I’ve not read too much about the tunnel due to the constant mention of the Blisworth Ghost or Ghosts. When you’ve an imagination like mine, it doesn’t do to ‘feed’ it! 😉

It was a relief to leave the tunnel, leaving behind the ghosts (of the killed navvies) who reputedly light up a ghostly tunnel with candles, enticing you to steer your boat into their tunnel!

Just outside of the tunnel there’s a pre-cast concrete ring on display. Major rebuilding of the tunnel was undertaken in the 1980s, with sections lined with these pre-cast concrete rings. It was also used to test out the materials that were later used on the Channel Tunnel.

Busy CRT men at work, cutting back the vegetation at an over-grown winding hole. We were to meet these men later.               

Eventually we moored at Stoke Bruerne, but we weren’t moored long when there was a tap on the side of Cyan. It was the workmen asking if we’d move along as they needed that spot to unload the vegetation from their work boat (there were no signs or notices telling us not to moor at this spot which was within the ‘mooring arrows’). Trouble was there wasn’t anywhere for us to move to, except on the disabled mooring, or the ‘special’ mooring by the historic boat and the tunnel trip boat outside the museum. The latter mooring is for ‘authorised’ boats.

We tried to be obliging, and it worked! Christina the CRT employee tasked with looking after this area gave us authority to moor on the ‘special’ mooring for a couple of days (doubt we’ll be moving tomorrow due to bad weather). Christina was very nice, though she did enlighten us to how rude a lot of boaters were/are to her.

Seeing that the weather was nice and calm, John fixed the bow button back on after I’d knocked it off entering Braunston lock. While he was in the middle of fixing it, one of the CRT men brought us a sack of kindling for our stove! Just goes to show how a bit of ‘give and take’ can be so successful.

Hopefully while we’re here, Mr Tesco will be able to bring us goodies to restock our cupboards.

Today we’ve cruised almost 6 miles, and through one enormous tunnel!

Today’s Three Mile Cruise

Wasn’t too sure whether we’d leave our ‘spot’ today. The weather doesn’t appear settled, but as we felt in a rather ‘exposed’ mooring, we took a chance during an anticipated sunny hour to move further down the Grand Union.

We’ve now moored just 3 miles away. We’re nicely nestled under a hedge, with the 3 solar panels fully exposed, and ready to catch any solar rays.

Running practically parallel to the Grand Union is the railway line. The noise of the train doesn’t really bother us when we’re tucked up inside Cyan, we can hardly hear trains whizz by. One of the advantages of being near a railway line is the WiFi – there’s nearly always a good WiFi signal.

In the picture below, spot the ‘camouflaged’ WiFi tower.

By the area where we were moored last night is a magnificent badger set. Considering the interest Rusty paid, I’d say the set’s occupied. He was only allowed a quick ‘sniff’, I would expect a large bill from a vet to treat Rusty, should Mr Brock take offence!

We cruised past two marinas; Heyford Fields, and Bugbrooke.

We’re now moored by Banbury Lane Bridge #43. We could be here for the weekend, depending on the weather of course.

Today we’ve cruised 3 miles in cold windy weather.

Brass Monkeys

Where we moored last night near to ‘The Narrow Boat PH’, we had no digital TV signal at all. Still the WiFi was good thank goodness.

This morning the boat moored next to us (bow to bow) was reversed a few yards, then it moored up again. We couldn’t help but think, “What have we said?” Around 11:00 am we untied Cyan’s bright red mooring ropes, and pushed off. The boater who moved his boat was standing on the towpath next to his boat; we had to ask the question why he moved. He replied saying where he was moored he couldn’t get any digital TV, but with moving the boat back a few yards, he now gets over 130 channels! We live and learn 🙂

The main reason we moved today was because we couldn’t pick up any TV channels.

The night appeared to be cold, and this morning the canal had a layer of ice in areas but we hardly noticed. That was until we started cruising. Gosh it was cold, the breeze was perishing!  We’ve not travelled far today, only a mere 2 miles, cruising was slow going because of moored boats, and ice. Our cruise was just about long enough for a wash cycle on the washing machine to run.

One ‘brave’ daffodil! Think this is the first one this year we’ve seen in a garden setting.

We passed some ‘interesting’ and ‘fun’ boats.

Side note… I did wonder if the ‘Brass Monkeys’, the title of this post, had rude connotations. Googling it comes up with many explanations and meanings, and some are rude. But I like this one, though it’s scientifically inaccurate!

“The story goes that cannonballs used to be stored aboard ship in piles, on a brass frame or tray called a ‘monkey’. In very cold weather the brass would contract, spilling the cannonballs: hence very cold weather is ‘cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’.”

Today we’ve travelled just two miles.


The Weather’s A Gift Today

What a glorious day it’s been today weather wise, and also cruising wise. The towpath was frozen when we started off, though there didn’t appear to be signs of any frost, or ice on the canal.

A share-boat had moored next to us yesterday afternoon for the night, and as ‘the cosmic joker’ would have it, we were both ready at the same time this morning to descend the remaining 6 Buckby Locks. The timing couldn’t have been planned better. It’s so much easier to double up in the locks, to share the ‘work’. The gates on the Grand Union are very heavy. Sue and Keith couldn’t have been better company. With teamwork, we were all soon at the bottom of the flight. Due to us being busy, we never had the time for taking photos going through the locks; not until we reached the bottom lock.

We wished our fellow travellers a pleasant journey, and good luck, as we pulled onto the wharf at Wilton Marina. John wanted to top up with diesel thinking we’d need about 75 litres. He was pleasantly surprised when the tank was brimmed with only 28 litres. It’s been very cold, and we’d used the diesel boiler (for the central heating) quite a bit since we topped up at Wigrams.

The tree behind us looks like it’s getting ready to blossom! 🙂

Some very clever and kind person has made a lovely floating duck island. The ‘island’ is tethered onto the armco.

From leaving Wilton Marina’s wharf, we journeyed through some lovely areas. Despite the full sunshine, it was really cold cruising alongside the woods (the pictures below are not in any order).

The canal is in the middle between the ‘London Midland Train Line’, and…

…the ‘M1 Motorway’.

There’s a huge bridge (A45 link road rail and canal bridge crossing) in the process of being built at Weedon Bec. The canal is closed for work to be done on the bridge during the night so canal navigation during the day isn’t stopped – see more information.

For anyone that’s interested, here’s youtube from drone footage of the works:

We passed some really interesting boats today. It’s also nice to see more boaters pootling about.

Some ‘strange characters’ in these parts! This one gave us a fright just as we ‘came out’ from under a bridge. This poor chap’s hugging his little white dog, he’s got a bottle of ‘pop’ on the bench next to him, and he looks like he’s taking a rest from chopping wood. Whatever he’s drinking; it’s not doing him any good at all!

Can’t help but wonder if this old, yet well built farm building, once sheltered the hardworking barge horses.

Eventually we managed to moor by Stowe Hill Bridge #26.

Today we’ve travelled through 6 locks, and just over 5 miles.

Does It Get Any Better Than This?

Yesterday morning before we set off from Braunston, we emptied the ash in the stove. It was then we noticed the baffle (lid inside the stove) had fallen down again! This has happened several times now since we bought Cyan.

After letting the fire go out while we cruised to Norton, the grate was only just cool enough to fix it when we moored. The stove was cleared of cinders and ash, the firebricks removed, and the baffle taken out (the firebricks had to be removed before the baffle could be moved). After looking inside the stove, full length on our tums with a torch, looking up inside the stove trying to find what the problem was – we thought it was time to read the on-line instructions!

How stupid are we…. embarrassed to say we’ve been trying to fit the baffle upside down, and back-to-front! We couldn’t believe it! The stove was ‘correctly’ and easily reassembled, and a fire was lit. The fire ‘roared’! We’ve never had it roaring before! Plus the fire is now responsive to the air inlet, it looks like we can turn the fire up and down to control the temperature, instead of having the air inlet at max most of the time. Plus there’s a lot more heat being generated from the fire into the boat; probably heat was previously going up through the chimney.

With mixed emotions of feeling stupid, and feeling happy that it looks like we’ve ‘cracked’ our problem, it was a relief to have the fire roaring away on such a cold night as last night.

At 8:00 am this morning, the canal was frozen, there was a white frost over cars, boats, houses, and snow was falling, settling on the layer of ice on the water. We weren’t moored in an ideal place, but we resigned ourselves after listening to the weather forecast, to spending the day at the top of Buckby Locks, huddled by our ‘more efficient’ fire.

What a difference half an hour makes; just after we had a full-English breakfast, two boats passed us to go down the locks, breaking up the ice. It had stopped snowing, and the frost had cleared. We decided to move to a better mooring, just down the lock. Before we left John visited the Elsan point, returning for a bucket of hot water to unfreeze the frozen tap. While he was busy, I prepared Cyan for cruising.

While John prepared the lock; at the right moment I untied Cyan, and sailed her into the lock.

But not before I snapped the picture below of old lock beams; rotting by the hedge. It’s a home for lots of insects. There were many birds hopping over the beams and nearby bushes, obviously enjoying the bird’s ‘natural’ feeding area.

From the lock Cyan sailed under the A5 (Watling Street).

Near the lock was this chappie, we had to do a double-take – it looks rather realistic. Guessing Buckby Locks are named because of an abundance of deer in this area, obviously a long time ago.

We moored just beyond the next bridge.

Does life get any better than this? Total peace!

Despite the sunshine, ice was still on the water. Yet the strong sun had put our batteries on ‘float’ for a couple of hours via the solar panels.

John took Rusty for a short walk to the next lock, here he snapped a train…

… and lorries on the road. All forms of ‘transport’ merge here, from an old Roman road, to trains, boats and lorries.

‘Anchor Cottage Gift Shop’ sits by the lock – it was closed today, though John did return with February’s edition of Towpath Talk.

1 lock, and a hop skip and jump (half a mile)!

Braunston: Six Locks And A Tunnel

We should have gone to Tradline to buy a pair of centre line ropes on Saturday, but the weather was so horrible, we stayed put. Yesterday (Sunday) the weather was beautiful, and it would have been lovely to move on, but seeing that Tradline are closed on Sundays we were sorry we never braved the rain to visit their shop on Saturday. Still it did give John the opportunity to watch 3 rugby matches, and (I kid you not!) several footie matches (yawn…).

The weather was glorious this morning, though there were ice on the canal, it wasn’t thick, but it was there. We traipsed to Tradline, picking our way through a partly frozen ‘towpath’ mud. The shop is fantastic, and the lady who served us couldn’t be more helpful or nice.  We left with a pair of lovely blue centre lines, and a couple of shiny shackles to go with them. We also bought two bright red, braid on braid, mooring ropes. We didn’t intend to buy the mooring ropes, but seeing we had the opportunity, and our plans are to sail on the Thames, we ought to make sure our equipment is tip-top. Cyan is going to look really smart with her bright red mooring ropes, and her blue centre lines.

We swapped our ‘old’ centre lines for our ‘new’ ones before we left our mooring. The morning sun had now decided to ‘hide’, but at least the sun had melted the ice before the sun disappeared.

Passing the ‘Gongoozler Cafe’,

… passing Braunston Marina,

and passing Braunston Pump House.

Then we came to Braunston Bottom Lock…. and a bit of a disaster.

John was doing the locking today, and of course I’d volunteered to be the ‘skipper’ (we both needed to brush up on our chosen/swapped ‘job’ for the day).

At the bottom lock, space was rather tight due to a busy boatyard, and moored hired boats. John jumped off Cyan with his windlass, and I thinking it was a ‘good idea’; took Cyan into the ‘mouth entrance’ of the lock gates. The lock was full of water, so John raised the paddles to empty the lock. Something ‘weird’ goes on when water gushes out in front of a boat, like in a lock. The water somehow travels under the boat and pushes the boat forward and not as we’d think; backwards (no doubt a physics theory can explain this). I quickly put Cyan in reverse to stop her moving forward, but this exasperated the situation, and she crashed forwards into the lock gates. I felt sick!

John Glared! 🙁 Luckily the locks were okay, but not our button fender on the bow. The button is fastened on with chains, but one of the links is a plastic cable tie. It’s a weak link just in case the button gets trapped in a lock gate or something. The weak link broke, and the button hung off Cyan, and was under the water. Once out of the lock, John fished out the button, and has left it to drain on the bow; at a convenient time when the weight of the water has drained, the button will be fixed again.

The weather was now starting to get very cold. We even had some snow flurries. (Please notice the ‘pristine’ centre lines 🙂 )

After we’d climbed the six Braunston Locks, we had a short cruise towards Braunston Tunnel. The tunnel is 2042 yards, and it has an S bend in the middle. Reason was because ‘both ends’ of the tunnel were excavated at the same time, but when the work reached the middle of the tunnel, the ‘ends’ were slightly out. Amazing that this tunnel was opened in 1796 – before the Napoleonic Wars!

I’d rather not do tunnels, I wish we didn’t have to go through them, but needs must. My job when going through the tunnel was to hold Rusty tight to try and reassure him, and also to try and stop him shaking!

Relief all round when we sailed out of the tunnel.

Almost a ‘blanket’ of snowdrops.

We’d set off thinking we’d moor just after the 2nd lock, by the Admiral Nelson PH, but at the last minute we thought we’d press on through the tunnel. This meant we didn’t have a mooring plan, and we were getting rather cold.

A quick look at our map told us there were visitor moorings just after Norton Junction. We’ve not been through this way before; for us we’re on ‘uncharted’ grounds

Unfortunately at Norton Junction, we couldn’t get to moor. There were spaces, or there would have been if other boaters had moored up next to each other. The available spaces weren’t big enough for Cyan.

There’s no way I felt we could have gone down Buckby Top Lock No 7. The time was 4:30 pm, and our fingers and knees were frozen. It’s not ‘good form’ we know, but we’ve moored just after the waterpoint, and before the lock landing. We’re not stopping anyone from topping up with water, and we’re not stopping anyone from jumping from their boat to set the lock. Think we’ll be setting off early tomorrow just in case we annoy anyone.

Today we’ve climbed 6 locks, through one long tunnel, and cruised 4 miles.