Onto The Windy Oxford, And Visiting Wigram Marina At Napton Junction

It was an early start on Sunday (for us), first duty was to visit the services at Hawkesbury Junction, for rubbish and Elsan chores. We passed through Sutton stop lock, onto the  Oxford Canal from the Coventry just before 9 o/clock. We were on our way to Napton Junction, staying from Monday, 23rd October for a week in Wigram Marina.

There was a fair amount of hire boats on the canal thanks to half-term holidays. Patience was needed in the high winds, and not many hire boat ‘captains’ realised that the slower the boat travelled, the more the wind would take ‘control’ of their boat. It’s the engine that needs to be the controlling power, which obviously works best when worked by a confident hand on the tiller.

Leaving Ansty we met a boat coming towards us, and I’m afraid it stopped my brain dead. I knew the boat… then it dawned, it was NB FreeSpirit. I normally follow their excellent blog everyday, except over the past few weeks I’d been out of ‘the groove’ and hadn’t kept up with the many blogs I normally follow. It was great to meet FreeSpirit on the canal, except I didn’t react until they’d passed!

Bother! I do hope our ‘bow waves’ meet again, and I can thank them for their brilliant blog, which has some amazing pictures of wildlife and fauna along the canal. It’s impressive how Irene can spot the creatures, let alone take lovely pictures.

There was a 3 boat queue to climb the three Hilmorton Locks, and all three locks next to the tow path were sealed off, not in use.

Eventually we arrived in the Marina. There’s a field where dogs can be let off their leads for a run about. On the gate there’s a warning notice saying “Un-leashed dogs” for those who have nervous dogs (or is it nervous dog owners?)

On Wednesday we had a fabulous day with Mairi and Brian, and they came bearing scrumptious gifts from their allotment. It was great to have a good old chinwag and catch up. Thank you both for taking the time out to visit us on Cyan.

Each evening in Wigram Marina we had a super treat. A spectacular display of a murmuration of starlings against a peach coloured sunset. We’ve not seen such a display for years, and I can’t remember when I last saw such a spectacle. Just wish we had a better camera. Must write a’ begging’ note to Santa, it’s not that long now till Christmas! (Only about 6-7 weeks.)

Returning To Cyan

On Monday, 16th October, we returned to Cyan in Springwood Haven Marina where Steve had done a cracking job of ripping out our old galley, and replacing the kitchen with a completely different layout. Having removed the old, full-sized, and very heavy Belfast sink, Cyan now sits much better in the water. The weight inside our boat now appears to be better balanced.

We’re that delighted with Steve’s work! Literally his work is flawless, and his finishing touches perfectly shows his expertise. We’re over the moon!

To cut costs down, we tiled behind the sink and cooker, we added the handles, and we’ll be putting in the plinths. We’ve found some drawers where you kick the plinth, a drawer springs out. Perfect for stashing bottles of wine.

The beauty of working with Steve is that we can do some of the easier work ourselves, resulting in keeping down down costs. Though we’re quite handy, we know our limitations when it comes to carpentry, we lack the expertise which make renovations look professional.

The kitchen still isn’t completely finished; where space is tight, as in a boat, there’s a lot of ‘suck it an see’ going on. It’s now become clear we can have two corner cupboards either side of a 1000mm base unit under the hatch, making the most of the space available. Steve will be fitting these in a week or two when we return to Springwood Haven Marina.

Anyone who’s experienced having a kitchen ripped out and replaced in their house, will understand the trauma. Now multiply this trauma several times to have an inkling of what it’s like in a boat!

Once outside Springwood Haven Marina, we moored up for a couple of days while ‘Storm Brian’ did it’s worse, using the time to tile the galley.

We’ve booked into Wigrams Marina (Napton Junction) for Monday, 23rd October, for several reasons. The first reason was because our feet were getting itchy; we needed to get back in the ‘groove’ of cruising with the rhythm of living afloat.

The second reason is that we liked Wigrams and its laundry facilities. We needed somewhere to get our laundry dry as it had built up to an alarmingly huge mountain.

Thirdly it would give us to time to organise the kitchen, and to get Cyan ship shape before Wednesday. On Wednesday we’d arranged to meet up with friends, Mairi and Brian, who were passing through the Midlands on their way from Kent to Scotland.

Despite the wind, and intermittent sun and rain, on Saturday 21st October, we left our mooring near Springwood Haven Marina, stopping to moor by Hawkesbury Junction for the night.

Taking Time Out From The Canal System

We have had a week in the Forest of Dean while Cyan had her kitchen revamped.

The Forest of Dean was brilliant, despite the rain, and moi being held up for 24 hours with a tummy upset!

We met up with friends we hadn’t seen for a while, Barry and Val who are lucky enough to live in the area. Thank you both for a gorgeous lunch, great company, and putting up with our hairy monster, Rusty. It was a real treat to see you again.

We visited Tintern Abbey (for me) in the rain,

and we had a trip on a Wye Valley steam train (for John).

We were rather disappointed we didn’t get to see the Severn Bore due to the tide not being high enough, and that was despite renting a holiday cottage just across the way from the part of the Severn where the bore manifests. Think we missed the phenomenon by two days.

We also manged to get our lock ‘fix’ (as we were feeling a little ‘home sick’) at the historical Lyndey Harbour, which has it’s roots from Roman times.

The countryside verges looked rather messy (we thought), until we were told the verges had been ‘turned over’ by the snouts of feral wild boar in their hunt for food. Glad we don’t have to contend with wild boar on the towpaths (yet!). What should you do if you come face to face with a 20 stone beast? Answer: back away from it. Apparently boar have pretty bad eyesight, though they can ‘feel’ vibrations in the ground on what’s approaching them, or what is moving away.

Galley Planning and Treading Water

We’ve not travelled far over the past week; we’ve merely cruised up and down the Coventry Canal. Cruising between the two CRT Service Points at Atherstone Top Lock, and Hawkesbury Junction.

We’re ‘hanging around’ to get our galley upgraded. Recently we’ve been shocked by a quote, which we thought was OTT. The value of the quote was nearly 11k, for what basically is a very small fitted kitchen. We’ve spent time chatting with two very good narrowboat joiners, and we listened intently to their advice. It was tough choosing between them, but we had to choose one of them to refurbish our galley.

We’ve sourced the base units, sink, taps, cupboard doors, door handles, worktop, and flooring; arranging for it all to be delivered to the boatyard who’s doing the work. The boatyard will be buying the cooker/hob as they get a good trade price through Midland Chandlers. The ‘original’ fridge/freezer we’ll be keeping.

Work starts on Monday 9th October, and will take around a week. For the duration we’ve booked ‘a break’ at a ‘holiday cottage’ in the Forest of Dean.  Already I can’t wait to be back on Cyan and her brand new kitchen!

Meanwhile, this morning we left our overnight mooring when the sun was shining.

Cruising towards the services at Hawkesbury Junction.

We were about to cast off when a vintage, and beautifully looked-after, working boat passed us. The boat was carrying a load of logs.

Volunteers were busy along the towpath filling-in holes. CRT volunteers/workers must have been clearing the canal through Nuneaton, because when we passed yesterday we saw around 15-20 rusty bikes on the towpath, obviously fished out of the canal, and ready for collection by CRT. Hope they hurry up and collect them before some little tykes kick them back in the canal.

It’s always a magical moment when a ‘Red Admiral’ pays a visit. This one was warming its wings by the sun on our folded canopy,

John and Cyan doing a ‘little dance’ to avoid bumping into other boats at the busy Hawkesbury Junction.

With rubbish and Elsan services carried out, including adding a newly ‘fished-out-of-the-canal’ traffic cone, to the family of cones by the services, John reversed Cyan into the entrance to Hawkesbury basin, doing a 180 deg wind/turn to temporarily moor up on the water point just beyond the bridge, filling up our water tank.

At the junction sits one of Britain’s smallest police stations.

Our Present Journey’s End

Eleven Atherstone Locks before breakfast!

We thought we’d be ‘out of the traps’ early this morning to climb the 11 Atherstone Locks. Everywhere’s saturated after last night’s heavy rain, and despite the morning’s drizzly rain, we focused on the locks; forgoing breakfast for a late brunch when we eventually moor.

The first lock was the only one we had to empty, we were lucky as there were three/four times more boats going down the locks as were going up, which meant several lock gates were left open for Cyan to sail straight in. Think we transited the last/top lock 2.5 hours later.

We were also fortunate the top lock services were empty, after topping up with water, dumping the rubbish, and using the Elsan service; we relaxed!

With the ‘heavy work’ and chores done, we had a lovely cruise to our planned mooring, supping coffee, with a couple of yesterday’s Co Op custard doughnuts, knowing we were at our ‘100 mile/61 lock/11 days’ (Middlewich to Coventry) journey’s end!

On the whole the weather was very pleasant.

We’ve noticed on the wall of the bridges there’s a blob of florescent yellow paint. John says it’s a surveyor’s mark, marking the bridge has been inspected. I think it’s reflective paint, so cyclists don’t bump into the bridge at night. Wonder if anyone knows?

Wonder what these two are gossiping about?

There’s always one!

We’re now concentrating on getting sensible quotes for our new galley refurb, so we intend to hover around the Coventry, Ashby, Oxford Canals for a couple of months. But then again… we might have other ideas.

Today we’ve travelled 3 miles, and 11 locks. WiFi is amazing! Digital TV is great.

Shouldn’t Have Prejudged The Situation!

We left our mooring at Fazeley, just after the rain stopped.

After turning left at the Junction, we noticed a smallish narrowboat coming towards us, and it seemed to be skipping about over the canal. As it passed we noticed it was the Boaters’ Christian Fellowship, and recognised the helmsman. He’s a friendly face, whom we remembered from February/March time when we moored in different places above Glascote Locks, waiting for the Lock’s ‘winter stoppage’ to finish. The man appeared to make it his duty to say ‘hello’ to boaters on ‘his patch’ of the canal, making sure, at a very cold and lonely time of the year, that no boater was left in dire straights. I’m sure what he does is extremely worthwhile. As he passed I think he recognised us, shouting out “Hello, welcome back!”. It was a lovely to be welcomed back! The reason he appeared to be skipping about the canal (we think) was because he had an out-board motor on his little narrowboat.

As we entered the Tame Aqueduct, we passed a WW2 pillbox, which must have guarded the River Tame and the Coventry Canal during the war. The Coventry Canal was extremely important to the ‘war effort’, and it’s easy to imagine the chaos if this aqueduct was blown up by the enemy.

We cruised over a very ‘tame’ River Tame.

It wasn’t long before we were cruising towards Glascote Bottom Lock. We could see there was a boat descending, and there was a boat on the lock landing waiting to ascend. When the lock’s gates opened, and the boat inside had left, the boat in front of us didn’t move, the man at the helm didn’t cast off his boat. His boat was tied to a bollard by it’s centre line and he made no effort to get into the lock. Windlass in hand to help, I walked towards him, asking what was the matter. He said his engine gave way in Birmingham and he was on the way to Rugby. There was a boat in front going up the locks with a crew, who’s towing him to Rugby, and who’ll come back to pull his boat into the lock. I was confused, I didn’t ‘get’ what he was on about. So I returned to Cyan, trying to explain the situation to John. Another boat pulled up behind, and wanted to know the situation. It was daft having a lock open, set ready, while there were now three boats waiting to ascend.

The man in the boat behind us marched towards the first boat, I followed hoping there wasn’t going to be any conflict, though I was now getting very annoyed myself.

Long story short, the man had recently had a stroke, leaving him with legs that don’t work (his words) and that the crew from the boat towing him, was coming to pull him and his boat into the lock. The man from the boat behind us said, well I’ve only got one leg, but I’m sure we can at least pull you in the lock and make a start. So we did just that! His ‘crew’ did appear soon after we’d pulled him into the lock, they’d had trouble finding a place to moor . The man and his wife (who appeared with the ‘crew’) was so grateful for our help. Imagine what a mess they were in, he was made incapacitated through illness, their boat’s engine had failed, and their home/boat was in the wrong place. What a terrible situation for them. I was ashamed I’d prejudged.

At the top lock, I took a pic of a plaque that was on the fence. Another reminder!

The Tale of Leaky Lock

Just a note, to let you know, that this here Lock, is very slow.
So take a breath, relax and smile, (you might be waiting here a while.)

The problem is, (or so we’re told) is Lock Thirteen is very old.
Her paddles shot, through wear and tear, the water pours out here and there.

We’ve had them fixed, then fixed again, by some of Waterways finest men.
And for a while, the Lock works well, until again they leak like hell.

I pray this pause in your sojourn, has made you stop, to think and learn.
That on the ‘cut’ there is a pace, that’s not for those who want to race.

So if you’re rushing, running late, this tale of Leaky Lock you’ll hate.
If you’ve no time to gently float, then why a bloody Narrow Boat?

The Bard of Glascote

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At the top of Glascote Lock we moored while I visited the Co Op shop by the bridge. Filling my new ‘old lady’s’ shopping trolley with fruit, veg, milk, bread etc. – but I forgot the sugar! (BTW I’m amazed how long Hovis 5 Seed bread stays fresh!)

We’ve been looking for crab apples to make ‘crab apple jelly’ while cruising. Crab apple jelly is glorious on roast pork and crackling! Today, very near to Polesworth, we found a tree with crab apples on it. The tree was on the edge of a wood, next to the towpath, but the apples were high up. John managed, with the help of the extending boat hook, to lob enough apples down. He’s been keen on ‘natures bounty’ since he brought damsons back from a walk, and I made jam with them. He’s been going on about a ‘jilly piece’, aka as a jam sandwich all week!

Now I’ve a problem with having no sugar! We decided to moor at Polesworth, while I scooted down the hill to the Spar shop to buy some for the jelly.

The weather once again, threatened us for most of the day.

The geese are getting fat!

We just loved these baby alpacas with their mums, I didn’t realise how playful these little chaps are. They were having a great time chasing each other, and skipping about, they must have a great sense of humour. (A baby alpaca is called a “cria”, a female’s a “hembra” and a male’s a “macho”.)

Nature’s takes over the remains of a bridge.

Despite the day’s interruptions, we’d planned to climb the first six locks of the Atherstone flight, but it started to rain quite hard, so we decided to call it a day! We’re moored for the night at the bottom of the flight, ready for a good start up the flight tomorrow.

Today we’ve cruised over 9 miles, and 2 locks. WiFi is 30+ Mg, digital TV signal is great.

Moored By Fazeley Junction

Under 3 miles from our overnight mooring by ‘The Crown Inn’, we came across our first of three locks of the day.

Sailing through the 3 miles was very pleasant.

We were lucky at our first lock ‘Wood End Lock’ (# 20) as a boat had just ascended, and it didn’t take long before Cyan was descending in the lock, helped in part by a C&RT lady who logged our licence. Cyan’s licence is up at the end of this month; it was only this morning John made the comment that we should pay for the new licence this weekend, taking advantage of the early payment discount. John’s quip to her, ‘the cheque’s in the post’ was ‘almost’ right!

At the next 2 locks, ‘Shade House Lock’ (# 19), and ‘Fradley Middle Lock’ (# 18), there were two very pleasant and chatty lockies on duty. At the last lock the Lockie said he wouldn’t mind if I started walking towards Fradley Junction to set the swing gate for Cyan to enter the Coventry Canal, while he ‘locked’ Cyan down.

The Junction looked like chaos, with 4 narrowboats, including Cyan, doing a little ‘dance’ at the junction as each one manoeuvred. Cyan ‘treaded water’ while a boat left lock #17 sailing straight ahead towards lock #18, another boat sailed into lock #17 to go down, and a boat left the Coventry queuing to go down lock #17, eventually it was Cyan’s turn to turn 90 degs to the right, and sail through the swing bridge to enter the Coventry. (Phew that was difficult to write, let alone ‘live it’).

We’re once again on the Coventry, familiar territory for us. Every canal we’ve been on appears to have it’s own mood and character.

We’re back to where bridges contain little cubby holes, believed to have been where messages, food and drink, were left for the bargees of old. These cubby holes did the work of mobile phones, Tesco deliveries, and no doubt were the same ‘lifelines’. So far, the only other bridges we’ve seen with these little cubby holes was on the Llangollen – there could easily be others.

Approaching Streethay Wharf…

… where a boat was about to be lowered into the water by a huge crane.

The wind has been quite gusty at times, with the threat of squally showers despite the bright sunshine. I’m sure the weather has caused many boats to be moored up.

We did encounter a ‘Mr Angry’ who was moored on the Coventry. We always take it slow going past moored boats, but sometimes, like when it’s windy, passing at tickover is impossible. It’s easy to lose control of steering to the wind. Another boat was also coming towards us at that crucial ‘passing’ point. Mr Angry stuck his head out of his hatch saying “We are moored up you know!” The burly Welshman who was in the approaching boat gave Mr Angry a mouthful! Sometimes when we meet a Mr Angry, I’m very tempted to offer a lesson on how to moor up, securing their boat properly, especially when they’re on loose lines.

Within half an hour we met another boat that was about to cast off from its mooring, the lady boater was holding tight to the centre line, so we took it slow. The lady boater shouted out “Hurry Up!” We just laughed, and shared the ‘joke’ with the lady boater who (luckily) also laughed, saying “You just can’t please everyone!”

We’ve moored just before Fazeley Junction Visitors Mooring. On approaching the moorings they looked like they could be full, so we picked a spot where we’d moored before, just before the ‘official’ moorings.

We’d hoped we could moor at one of our favourite moorings, between ‘The Tame Otter’ and ‘The Red Lion’ public houses at Hopwas. Unfortunately there were no spaces left for us.

Today we’ve travelled 14.25 miles, through 3 locks. WiFi is 30+Mg, our digital TV signal is poor.

Dodging Storms, And Cruising On

We were lucky to miss the storm that was promised, though sadly we hear towns further North didn’t fair so well. ‘Sod’s Law’ would dictate that if we hadn’t prepared for a storm, we’d have taken a hit.

Our first lock of the day, was Deptmore Lock (#42). Picture below shows us cruising towards the lock…

… and this pic below shows us sailing away from the lock.

The weather threatened us most of the day, though we were lucky to only have got ‘dampened’ twice.

Fabulous bridges, such as ‘Milford Bridge’ (#105) which is a turnover bridge (swapping towpaths).

Eight beautiful cygnets, well done Mr & Mrs Swan!

River Sow Aqueduct below. We approached the Aqueduct on a blind and very windy bend, making it difficult to line Cyan up for the narrow channel.

Just after the Aqueduct, is Tixall Lock, leading us to Tixall Wide.

We were soon back on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood Junction, turning right towards Haywood Lock (#22).

I have nightmares about this lock resulting from a bad experience when we were no more then novices. The lock doesn’t have a bridge to get to the other side, and being height challenged (little legs), stepping onto the ‘runner’ on the top gate is impossible because of the large gap, the gap is far to ‘big’ for little legs to jump/step over confidently. As for the double gates, they are far too wobbly to walk over when there’s no water in the lock.

The problem we had with this lock no longer exist because I can now take the helm, leaving John to work the lock. ‘Devil’s Lock’ is our name for this lock. The picture below was taken as we sailed away from Devil’s Lock.

The Trent & Mersey Canal is now side-by-side, for part of the way, with the River Trent…

… as does the Trent Valley Line, part of the West Coast Main Line System.

Another sign of Autumn, ‘Virginia Creepers’ are turning into beautiful shades of russet red.

‘Wee Willie Winkie’ is what we call this chappie, we pass him just as we venture into the ‘open topped’ Armitage Tunnel, travelling towards ‘The Plum Pudding’ public house. He looks to have been spruced up since we last saw him.

The magnificent bridge near Armitage Shanks Factory, and other pictures taken today.

 

 

Cruising along we were fascinated by the antics of this bird of prey, think we’ve identified it as a buzzard. Just wish, for the umpteenth time, we had a better camera.

We are now moored outside ‘The Crown Inn’, just after ‘Handsacre Crown Bridge’ (#58). Next door to the pub is a fabulous Cypriot ‘Fish ‘n’ Chip’ shop (which provided our supper). In the picture below of the pub, the white dog in the window is real! I’ve seen cats sitting on window cills, but never a dog. I think the dog is a boxer dog, with a ‘black patch’ over half of it’s face.

Today we’ve cruised 14 miles, and 4 locks. WiFi is 40 Mg, and digital TV is good.

Huddled Up And Storm Ready!

We’ve got an amber weather alert for the area we’re cruising day. So rather than cruising on to Tixall Wide as planned, we thought we’d best choose a place to moor where we can snuggle by a tall hedge to buffer us from predicted 65+ mph west winds due to hit us around midnight tonight. We’ll also need to moor where there are no trees near in case they cause damage. We think we’ve found the perfect spot!

We were up early this morning to a glorious sunny day! Cruising past the chemical works above Gailey. The two ‘chimneys’ were lit up last night, probably to alert aircraft? Wonder what the grass on the roof is about? If it’s camouflage, then it doesn’t appear to be working.

We’ve manoeuvred through 10 locks today, starting at Gailey Lock where we filled with water, dumped our rubbish, and used the Elsan Services before descending the lock. The lock in the picture below is ‘Brick Kiln Lock’ (#33).

The locks today were brilliant, they weren’t that deep, and they emptied and filled quite quickly.

Some of the bridge architecture was interesting. At one of the bridges, the ‘helmsman’, who was in the bridge hole before us took their boat wide, pushing us into silt, and causing us a 10 minute problem (grrrr).

Though it’s not obvious, this old bridge isn’t supporting heavy traffic. Beyond is a new bridge that’s more than able to take heavy lorries.

While the sun was shining, the scenery was glorious. The scene takes on a different ‘mood’ when the sun retreats.

These are our neighbours for the night! We are moored just before Roseford Bridge (#94), 2 locks and less than 5 miles from today’s target (at Tixall Wide). We’re not worried, our mooring is perfectly safe from any torment that Storm Aileen can throw at us.

Today we’ve travelled 8 miles, and 10 locks. WiFi is 10 Mg, and digital TV is not much good.

 

Bright, Breezy, And Wet!

We were in two minds whether to sit the day out on our mooring, or brave the windy/wet/bright day! Eventually we decided to aim for ‘Long Molls Bridge’ (#76), just over 4 miles away.  We were encouraged by other ‘brave’ boaters passing us by.

We’ve had bright sunshine, heavy squally showers, and gusts of wind. The wind made cruising this winding stretch interesting to say the least. We also couldn’t fathom what weather was in front of us, a blue sky, or a threatening cloud due to us continually changing directions.

Cruising along we could see there were lots of signs that Autumn was now upon us.

  

The locals appear to be a ‘friendly’ lot. “PLEASE PASS AT TICK OVER OR MY WIFE WILL TURN YOU INTO A FROG”!

Tomorrow, as far as the forecasters can tell, looks to be a good day. We’ve a plan to start our day early, going through 12 locks, starting with Gailey Top Lock, and ending with Tixell Lock, mooring at Tixell Wide, some 13.5 miles! If we don’t make our target, no problem, but it might be fun trying!

Today we’ve travelled 4 miles, no locks, WiFi is over 30 Mg, digital TV is good. Our postcode is WV10 7DU.