Saturday, 28 March 2020

Boating Plans all changed

Well, after publishing our plans for boating this year that has now all been blown out of the water!

We  visited Leo on 13th March to finish the winter jobs and now just 2 weeks later we are holed up in Yorkshire under Government restrictions during the coronavirus scourge.

We did discuss weathering the coronavirus problem on the boat but finally decided that we would be better placed remaining on land in Yorkshire which is so far not as badly afflicted as other parts of the country, especially London.  Given that Canal and Rivers Trust have now decreed that non-essential movement of leisure boats is forbidden, that was clearly the right decision.

So at the moment we don't know when (or even if) we'll be boating this year.  It's back to doing a list of DIY jobs, so at the moment Ian is painting the railings in the garden and Helen was last seen spring cleaning.  And Spring is certainly here.  We are just back from our daily exercise walk and have seen lesser celandine, forget-me-not, white violets, borage all in flower.  We've even had some small tortoiseshell butterflies in the garden in the last few days.

So be careful, stay healthy and we'll be back on the waterways when we can.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Canal cruising plans for 2020

We're now into March and thinking of spring and summer after a month of lots of rain and even more wind.

Our plans were to set off about mid April and aim first for the Basingstoke Canal which so far we've not managed to get to the end of with Leo.  This is due to its persistent lack of water in the summer.  I say "our plans were" because that aim may be frustrated by the need to get some outside jobs done on the house all of which need warm and dry weather.  At present we are at the stage of getting estimates and dates for these jobs but it may be that one or more of these jobs might frustrate our plans.  We have to make a decision on this by the end of this month when our present mooring contract ends. 

Assuming we get down the Grand Union and up the Basingstoke we will still be having a rest from boating in early June for a couple of weeks when Helen's brother arrives from overseas to spend some time with us, but not on the boat.

So we'll see what happens but there will be entries on this blog sometime this year, so keep an eye open for this.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

End of Canal Cruising for 2019

Sadly this is the last posting we will make for this year covering the final few days to mid October. We have now left Leo down south and I am typing this update from home in Yorkshire. The last blog update took us through Braunston and up the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union to Yelvertoft. This one continues from there:

I think we've mentioned before how abundant the tree fruit is this year. This crab apple tree is a good example.
We decided on Sunday (13th October) to go up the short Welford Arm to get ourselves a Sunday roast lunch at the Wharf Inn. Sunday started off very wet, so we said our goodbyes to our friend Maurice who had been visiting us and then waited for the rain to stop before setting off.  We finally left about 11.30 and this photo shows the mile post where the Welford Arm branches off right. The arm functions as a feeder for water from three reservoirs to the summit level of the Leicester Arm.

And the Welford Arm has a lock, albeit only rising about three feet six inches.  Above the lock there was a fallen tree but we were lucky that another boat went up the lock before us and we arrived at the fallen tree to find the boat owner cutting away the final branch to let us both through the gap.

After a very good meal we walked into Welford which is an attractive village.  The view down this road shows a line of thatched cottages, the last three of which are fairly newly built but are still thatched.

On Monday the forecast was for rain later so we returned down the Welford Arm in the morning and turned right towards Foxton. This picture shows the first bridge after rejoining the main line of the canal.

The forecast was right. We came through Husband's Bosworth Tunnel and moored before we got to Foxton. The rain came on and then slacked off but we decided not to go for a walk and what a good decision that was. The heavens opened so we played Bananagrams and Ian lost twice! The picture was taken the following morning as we prepared to leave and Helen is holding up a new mooring pin which she had carefully cleaned making it 'as clean as a new pin'.

On Tuesday morning we soon came to the top of the Foxton Locks. Here 10 narrow locks arranged as two staircases of five locks take the canal down about 75 feet. The picture is taken from the top of the locks.

There are lock keepers at Foxton so you need to book in and then they help you down. The flight has side ponds which are in use. You can see a side pond here. Each lock has a red paddle and a white paddle and you first open the red which connects the side pound with the lock below and then you open the white which connects the lock you are in with the side pound, so water pours sideways out of your lock into the side pound to drop the boat down.  The rhyme to remember is "red before white, you'll be alright", "white before red, you'll wish you were dead!"  It is also 'red before white' going up the flight.

Here is Leo in the bottom lock of the top staircase. Below this is a pound where you can pass an ascending boat. Curiously this pound has a circular water current which can cause problems. The lock keeper gave careful instructions on what to expect and rated Ian's crossing of this pound as 9.5 out of 10.

Below the flight is a junction where boats can turn right for five and a half miles along a twisty canal arm to Market Harborough, as shown on the sign above.  We turned left and carried on towards Leicester, though not without stopping for a coffee while Ian took the toilet cassette to empty at the nearby services.

This boat moored opposite to Leo by the pub took our attention. We follow Neil and Karen's blog about life on their boat called Chalkhill Blue II. They previously owned Chalkhill Blue but this was another one  - and without the pretty butterfly painted on the side

Here is a zoomed photo showing the name.

And here for the last blogging photo this year is one of a swan family north of Foxton with the autumn colours becoming apparent. Time to pack up boating and head home to hibernate for the winter. So to the statistics - we have cruised 1,012 miles and passed through 444 locks this year. This represents more miles than we have done for several years but a lower lock total, a feature of the flat lands of the north east waterways where we spent a lot of time early in the year.
So what are we planning for next year? There's plenty of time to think about it but we shall  probably be heading south. We have still not managed to explore all of the Basinstoke Canal because of shortage of water so we would like to give that another try. Thank you to all those who read our blog and we wish you a happy winter.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Braunston - centre of the canals

It is another wet day so we are waiting for the rain to stop and it is time to tell you where we have got to. The last blog update was from the top end of the Ashby Canal so this narrative starts from there.
Having visited the Battle of Bosworth site we were keen to visit Dadlington Church where a plaque in the graveyard records the fact that many of the dead from the battle were buried here.

Stoke Golding nearby is clearly very proud of being part of the Bosworth story.

The village sign recognises the story of how, after the battle, Henry Tudor was crowned King of England. This apparently took place at Stoke Golding on a rise still known as Crown Hill. The banners of Henry (top) and Richard (upside down below) also feature on the sign.

The curious marks in the windowsills of Stoke Golding Church are said to be where soldiers sharpened their weapons before the battle.

At the Bosworth Visitor Centre we bought a Yorkshire flag and now proudly display this on Leo. Yes I know we've picked the losing side, but we do live in Yorkshire.

Having come back down the Ashby Canal in a couple of days we reached Hawkesbury Junction where the Oxford Canal meets the Coventry. The engine house is a well known landmark, as is the Greyhound pub at the junction where we had a lovely evening meal.

And here we are last Wednesday about to make the turn onto the Oxford Canal. You can just see where we need to turn under the bridge on the left. It is best done slowly as it involves a 90 degrees turn under the bridge and then immediately 90 degrees left again to enter the stop lock at the start of the Oxford Canal.

Here is the sign at the junction. We  had come from Atherstone and were heading to Rugby. The arm to Coventry is a dead end but there are good moorings in the basin from which to visit the city.

Here is the view round the corner to 'Sutton's stop' with the stop lock to the left of the white house where the lock keeper used to live.

And here is the view looking back towards the Coventry Canal as we are making the turn.

Perhaps it is because of all the rain recently but we've noticed that tree fruit is abundant this year. This is a hawthorn bush covered in berries and there are loads of crab apples, conkers, sweet chestnuts, sloes, holly berries and rose hips.

At Stretton Stop is a narrows, a boat hire firm and a small swing bridge.  With boats moored both sides there is not much room to pass oncoming boats.

An interesting feature of the North Oxford Canal is that it was dramatically shortened in the 1820s. 14 miles were removed of the original 36 miles by installing cuttings and embankments to straighten its course. A number of dead ends remain where the canal used to go. This one at Brinklow is spanned by one of the shapely iron bridges from Horseley Iron Works.

We liked this weathercock on top of the church tower at Newbold, where we spent the night on Wednesday. Appropriately it shows a pilgrim leading a donkey.

Right next to the churchyard at Newbold you can find the old route of the canal and the portal of the previous tunnel. The new route required the digging of the current tunnel, which is not very long at 250 yards.

We had a very pleasant walk from our mooring at Newbold. This bridge crosses the Warwickshire River Avon. Not surprisingly it had plenty of water in it.

On Thursday we pressed on round Rugby. As we approached bridge 59 a lady on the towpath warned us that a car had gone into the canal and no boats were being allowed through. We stopped behind two other boats and walked up to see what was going on. Two lorries had turned up to lift and drag the car out of the canal but had both got bogged down in the mud. However they had managed to get the car, an Audi A3, to the side of the canal and we were allowed to go through.

Not far away we came to the bottom of the three Hillmorton Locks. Here Leo is coming up in the bottom lock. In fact there are six locks in three pairs of two locks built side by side. However at each location one lock was out of action and the ones that were working seemed in a poor state of repair. Let's hope CRT mend this flight during the winter.

We moored overnight near Willoughby and walked in to this charming village.  On Friday we went through Braunston. In this picture approaching Braunston you can see the church in the distance. In many ways Braunston is the middle of the canal network with two junctions so that you can travel from here to Oxford, Birmingham, Leicester and London.

This is the first junction known as Braunston Turn. The two Horseley Iron Works bridges form a triangular junction which makes the turn easier from either direction. Turning right here takes you to Oxford or Birmingham.

Here is the sign at the junction.  We had come from the direction of Coventry and were heading for a few miles towards London.

We are now on the Grand Union so meeting broad beam boats should not come as a surprise. Look how tight is the fit for this hotel boat through one of the bridges at Braunston.

Being the centre of the canal system there are always loads of boats at Braunston and it can be quite chaotic. Under the bridge ahead in the picture is the first of the six Braunston Locks but we can't get there to join another boat in the wide lock because a boat ahead has decided to turn round in the boatyard.  No, it is not a winding hole but that didn't stop him holding up traffic while he turned there!

We went up a couple of locks and then moored to go shopping in the village, mostly in the excellent butcher's which stocks much more than just meat. We discovered that we had moored right behind Ryan's Lass whose owners Eric and Brenda we know from volunteering at Naburn Lock during the winter. After lunch onboard Leo we carried on up the locks sharing with Jono on Alice.  Jono publishes a vlog called 'Journey with Jono' ( so you may find pictures of Leo there as well.  The picture shows Leo and Alice in the top lock at Braunston.

Soon after the locks we came to Braunston Tunnel which is just short of a mile long.  We liked this plaque at the entrance with its quotation about the 1796 opening.

It had been raining as we came up the locks and we hoped that it might have stopped by the time we came out of the tunnel.  It hadn't and it soon came down even harder, hence the raindrops on the camera lens in this photo. A few miles beyond the tunnel lies Norton Junction and Ian is turning Leo round this very tight corner onto the Leicester Branch of the Grand Union which goes north here leaving the main line to carry on south towards London.

On Friday afternoon we moored just round the corner from Norton Junction and waited for our friend Maurice, seen next to Helen in this photo. We enjoyed catching up during the evening and ate at the New Inn nearby at the top of the Buckby Locks towards London. On Saturday we carried on to the bottom of the Watford flight of locks seen here. At the Watford flight we were back to narrow locks. There are two single locks, then a staircase of four locks and finally a single top lock, making seven in all. There are lock keepers on duty to see boats safely through the flight. The bottom lock looks a bit like an Inca temple.

This view is taken looking back from the second lock towards the bottom lock with its attractive lock keeper's cottage, now in private ownership. I should also mention that the flight is right beside Watford Gap Services on the M1 and the canal goes under the motorway at the top of the flight.

Here Leo is in the staircase of locks. Helen has just alerted Maurice to the fact that she is taking the picture while Ian is talking to the lock keeper.

The attractive small building at the top of the locks serves to shelter the lock keeper and volunteers as well as being services for boaters. The flowers are a feature of this lock flight. Rather surprisingly we were the first boat up the locks on Saturday morning and we didn't reach them until about 10.30.

We cruised on through Crick Tunnel and stopped a few miles further on at Yelvertoft. In the afternoon we had a longer walk with Maurice than we are accustomed to and found some more sloes for sloe gin and then spent a lovely evening onboard.
It was good to see Maurice again and today we said our goodbyes and carried on to Welford, but not beforer the rain had stopped. We now have only a few days cruising left this year so will do a final posting when we're back home.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Ashby Canal - New Technology and Old Battle

Leo is now moored at the very end of the navigable part of the Ashby Canal about a third of a mile beyond where we were able to reach last time we came here in 2013. This is the story of our cruise up the Ashby but first we can proudly display our new solar panels. So here goes:
About a month ago when we were at Llangollen we booked to have two solar panels installed at Springwood Haven Marina near Nuneaton. Well we made it in time and here is a picture of the marina. We arrived on Wednesday (2nd October) and were asked to just back Leo into the first of the two polytunnels you can see in the picture. That manouevre went surprisingly well.

Here we are in the polytunnel making use of the access to both sides of the boat to do a bit of cleaning and even some paint touching up.

Helen walked round the marina and took this photo showing Leo just peeping out of the right hand polytunnel.

Kevin worked hard for much of the day and here you can see the fruits of his labour. We now have 230 watts of solar power on Leo which means we don't have to run the engine to top up the batteries on days where we are not cruising.

Having paid our bill we left Springwood Haven just before 5 pm and had a lovely evening cruise to just south of Nuneaton and moored in this sunlit spot.

On Thursday we carried on for a mile to Marston Junction which is the start of the Ashby Canal. We have decided to have one last diversion before we set our bow in the direction of our winter mooring on the Leicester Branch of the Grand Union. The Ashby is about 22 miles long and does not have a single lock and is pleasantly rural throughout its length. We had not expected to meet many boats here but in fact it has been fairly busy. This is the sign at the junction - looks as if it needs a clean.

The bottom end of the Ashby has fine stone bridges like this one. Further up the bridges are mostly of brick. Presumably this was due to the materials available.  And notice in this picture our new solar panels.

This bridge has been repaired with brick where it was presumably worn away by the ropes used when horses pulled the boats.

We liked this woolly cow which seemed very interested in the boat passing.

This is Stoke Golding Wharf where there is a hire boat base.

More steam trains! We timed our arrival at Shackerstone near the end of the canal for a weekend so that we could catch a steam train back to Shenton Station and visit the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre. So on Saturday we watched this engine being linked to our train at Shackerstone.

This line used to be part of the Midland Railway and we loved this relief on the footbridge which has been lovingly painted probably by a volunteer.

From Shenton Station at the other end of the line it was a 10-15 minute walk up a fairly steep hill to the Heritage Centre.  We passed these pennants at the top of the hill.  The left one is for Richard III with a white boar on it and the right hand one is for Henry Tudor with a Welsh Dragon.  Lest you have forgotten the battle was won by Henry who thus started the Tudor dynasty and Richard was slain, finishing up under a car park in Leicester!  We enjoyed our visit to the Centre and learned a lot about the battle particularly from the guided walk around the site with Liz.  It is a shame in some ways that they have built the Heritage Centre here because since then new discoveries have put the site of the battle about 3 miles further west.  But at least you can see the real battle site from the hill by the Centre.
On Friday evening we had a good meal at the Rising Sun pub in the village after walking over some rather wet paths to a village with the intriguing name of 'Barton in the Beans'. The pub was full of people from that village (which does not have a pub) so we asked about the name. Apparently a lot of land round here belongs to the Crown Estate and they used to grow beans here for the Royal Family. So there you are. 
Leaving Shackerstone today we spotted the motte from the castle that used to be here.

Today (6th October) we came the last few miles to the end of the Ashby Canal.  In this photo we are about to enter the Snarestone Tunnel which is 250 yards long and quite crooked.

Here is an action picture which makes it look as if we are really wizzing through.

About half a mile  beyond the tunnel we came to Snarestone Wharf. When we came here in 2013 this was the end of the navigation. The restoration has now taken the canal a further third of a mile towards its original terminus at Moira.  The only snag is that the new winding hole at the end is only big enough for 52 foot boats and Leo is 57 foot long.

Not to be thwarted, this is us backing through the swing bridge at the Wharf heading for the very end.

It has been a windy day today and reversing was not easy especially round a bend with a boat moored opposite. So we resorted to towing Leo backwards!  It wasn't really too hard and we reckoned we were going about 1 mile an hour.

The Ashby Canal volunteers at the Wharf referred to this bridge as the 'Motorway bridge'. It has been built as part of the restoration and its design was largely in the hands of the County Council. It is only for use of a farmer and the footpath which crosses the canal here but it is ridiculously wide and solid looking without the arch that would be correct and consistent for the canal. What a waste of money and why oh why didn't they put a towpath through the bridge?

Here is a picture of Leo taken from the bridge with the small winding hole beyond us.

Here is the last milepost showing there is another 8 miles to go to reach Moira.  You might just be able to see Leo in the background.

Here for comparison is the last proper bridge before Snarestone Wharf, the old terminus.

After a good roast lunch at the Globe Inn at Snarestone we went for a walk to see bits of the canal beyond the present navigable limit. We came across this marker showing the coal mines beneath us.  Mining subsidence was one of the reasons this part of the canal was abandoned.

And here to finish with is the view of the canal beyond the winding hole. We understand that work is to start at the end of this year on building an aqueduct over a small river just beyond the house in the distance. So perhaps next time we come to the Ashby we shall be able to go a bit further still. Tomorrow we shall begin our journey back down the Ashby before we head for Braunston and then the Leicester Branch of the Grand Union. We will have about another couple of weeks of cruising before the winter sees us back on land.