Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Out on the Cherwell on yellow boards

Since our last posting we have enjoyed a lovely weekend with friends down in Bristol having left Leo at Aynho Boatyard on the Oxford Canal South of Banbury.  We returned on Monday evening with our friends Maurice and Carolyn who had been kind enough to give us a lift to Bristol and back.  The weather over the Bank Holiday weekend was lovely so it was a shame to return to rain on Tuesday.  However we ought to pick up the tale where we left off and explain that we moored in the centre of Banbury on Thursday evening.  We had visited Banbury for a couple of days last year so it was good to return to somewhere we had been before.

This chap is called 'Spaghetti Limbed Pete' and stands by the canal

This of course is the Fine Lady upon a White Horse

And here is the Banbury Cross which had been cleaned and painted since last year

In the evening we had a good meal at Ye Olde Reindeer Inn which is probably the oldest building in Banbury being built in 1570.  It has a splendid panelled room at the back called the Globe Room which lost its panelling in the early 20th century.  The panelling turned up in a house in Islington in London and was put back in the pub in the 1960s.
Globe Room in Ye Olde Reindeer Inn
On Friday in strong wind and rain we cruised down to Aynho where we left Leo.  Stopped for lunch, we spotted a couple in difficulties with the wife having leapt onto the bank and fallen.  We hurried out and looked after the boat, Piper's Fancy, while Adrian looked after Sue.  We later discovered that Sue had broken her leg and they have had to curtail their trip.  Very sad and we wish them well.

After our weekend in Bristol we set off around midday on Tuesday and came down Somerton Deep Lock, at 12 feet the deepest on the Oxford Canal.
Clematis draping the bridge below Somerton Deep Lock
We moored after a very wet afternoon at Upper Heyford and when the rain later stopped we walked through that village and along the road to Lower Heyford before returning along the canal towpath.
Fine floral show in Lower Heyford
Today we cruised on down the Oxford Canal.  At Lower Heyford there is a lifting bridge.  Helen kindly let a lorry back over the bridge before trying to open it.  The bridge being just too heavy to lift, the lorry driver came back over the bridge on foot to help her.  One good turn deserves another!
Lorry backing over lift bridge at Lower Heyford
We stopped for lunch just before Baker's Lock which takes you down onto the River Cherwell.  As the river is known to rise rapidly after rain we walked down to look at the marker which shows green for normal, yellow for 'proceed with caution' and red for 'stay where you are and don't come onto the river'.  The board showed half way up the yellow, so after a fortifying lunch we carried onl
Indicator board - on  yellow just below red
Conditions out on the river were not too bad though running downstream did not require much effort from the engine.  After a mile on the river a curious diamond shaped lock leads you back to the safety of the canal.
Shipton Weir Lock
This lock has only a very small drop (around 2 feet) and is this curious shape to hold more water to fill the next few deeper locks.

We had planned to spend this evening in Thrupp which is a lovely canalside hamlet, but unfortunately all the visitor moorings were taken so we came a mile or so beyond to Kidlington where we are moored and from where we are sending you this message.
Cottages at Thrupp
Tomorrow we have the excitement of following the Duke's Cut onto the Thames.  Our aim is to do what we were prevented from doing last year by floods, which is to travel the Upper Thames above Oxford to Lechlade, the navigable limit of the river.  We are really looking forward to this part of our trip.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Now Really Heading South

Now we've joined the South Oxford Canal we really feel we are making progress in our aim to cruise South this  year.  Tonight we are moored between Claydon and Cropredy just over the border into Oxfordshire from Warwickshire.  For those not familiar with canal places we are a day's travel North of Banbury.

From Rugby we cruised down to Braunston going up the three Hillmorton Locks on the way:
Hillmorton Bottom Lock
 We moored at Braunston with fine views of the church and of some interesting neighbours!
View of Braunston Church from Leo

Some cygnets hitching a ride

Monday afternoon we didn't do any cruising but had a good look around Braunston which in many ways is the centre of England's canal system where the Grand Union and the Oxford Canals cross and share a single canal for 5 miles.  Two lovely iron bridges span the 'Y' shaped junction at Braunston and further down the Grand Union six wide locks lead up to the Braunston tunnel - over a mile long.
Braunston Junction - Oxford Canal goes under the bridges

Braunston Bottom Lock - we had ice creams from the shop on the right

 Yesterday morning it was back to narrowboating and we set off down the Oxford Canal route that is shared by the Grand Union.  When they were separate companies the Oxford Canal company levied swinging tolls on boats to make good their losses when the Grand Union put in a much shorter route from Birmingham to London.  Five miles down here you come to Wigram's Turn.  Here is the signpost:
Signpost at Wigram's Turn (Napton Junction) - we went right towards Oxford
A few miles beyond this junction you meet the 9 locks that take you up to the summit level of the Oxford Canal at around 375 feet above sea level.  Coming up the Napton Locks we passed our friends on NB Tacet.  We always seem to meet passing each other in lock flights.  Last year it was on the Cheshire Locks, this year on Napton.
Napton Bottom Lock

This windmill is a prominent landmark around here on the top of Napton Hill

 Last night we moored in a spot we found last year with only sheep for company near a village called Wormleighton.
Our neighbours last night
Today we've enjoyed cruising the rest of the eleven miles of the summit level and this afternoon after a walk to the village of Claydon we descended the five locks there to where I now sit watching the sun go down.
Fenny Compton 'Tunnel' or it used to be until the top was taken off in the nineteenth century

Our first lifting bridge of 2013, fortunately it had been left open

In the village of Claydon

Where I am as I type this

In the next few days we will be cruising down to Banbury and towards Oxford.  This weekend however we are having a few days away from the boat visiting friends in Bristol.  There will be a short break in blogs then until sometime next week.  Happy Bank Holiday.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Coventry and Heading South

Since our last post we reached the very end of the Ashby Canal and we've then retraced our route and followed the Coventry Canal into Coventry itself.

The Ashby Canal ends just beyond Snarestone, though it used to extend another 8 miles to the mines at Moira.  Snarestone is a village on top of the canal tunnel which is only 250 yards long but has a distinct kink in the middle.
Approaching Snarestone Tunnel

Last bridge on Ashby Canal in the evening sunlight

 We spent one night at the end of the canal and then set off to retrace the 22 lock free miles back to the Coventry Canal.  A young pup watched us as we went on our way:

 Soon after rejoining the Coventry Canal we came to Hawkesbury Junction where the Oxford Canal links with it.  This is a very difficult junction to turn with a long narrowboat and has a pub, the Greyhound right on the turn so that there are lots of spectators when you make a mess of it.
Engine House at Hawkesbury Junction - steam engine used to pump water from a deep well into the canal
This time we did not make the turn onto the Oxford Canal but covered the five miles into the centre of Coventry.  The canal basin in the city was attractive and we were also agreeably surprised that there was much more to see and enjoy than we had expected.
'Cash's Hundred Houses' - top story had steam driven weaving looms

Lych Gate Cottages

New Cathedral seen from the top of the tower of the old Cathedral

Fourteenth Century Houses by the Guildhall

After spending much of the day sightseeing we filled up with water and set off out of the city on Saturday afternoon.  We returned to Hawkesbury Junction and then turned onto the Oxford Canal.  We found it is much easier to make the turn from this direction.  At the junction there is a stop lock lifting Leo a mere 8 inches!  Stop Locks were common at Canal Junctions so that water was not lost from one canal company to another.

After staying last night just after the junction we have continued down the Oxford Canal today in remarkably warm and sunny weather.  Long may it continue.  This part of the Oxford Canal was constructed in the late 18th century by James Brindley who was famous for building canals which followed the contours very closely.  As a result they tended to wind all over the countryside.  This part of the Canal used to be 36 miles long but was shortened in the 1830s by 14 miles, by putting in lots of straight embankments and cuttings.  Some of the old loops which were cut off remain as boatyards and moorings.  These often begin with splendid cast iron bridges like this one:

Towards the end of today's run we enjoyed the shade of the Newbold Tunnel, another short tunnel:
Newbold tunnel - pretty coloured lights
Tonight we are moored just outside Rugby with a field opposite occupied by some wonderful long horned cattle:
Curly horned Bull
A few boats are also moored here, including a second boat called 'Leo'.  The owner was engaging the services of a signwriter, Becky Roberts, and we admired her work on his boat.

In the next few days we will be passing through Braunston, probably the busiest place on the canal network and then joining the Southern part of the Oxford Canal towards Banbury and on to Oxford.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Moored on a Battlefield!

Wouldn't it be nice for the weather to be more like summer? This evening we are moored close to where the Battle of Bosworth was fought on the 22nd of August 1485. Richard III was killed and the Tudor dynasty began with Henry Tudor being crowned king as Henry VII later that evening in Stoke Golding nearby. We have just returned to Leo from a very wet walk around the Battlefield with information boards to tell you what went on.
Since the last Blog we've travelled down the Coventry Canal to Marston Junction and we are now more than half way up the navigable part of the Ashby Canal. On Saturday we continued up the valley of the River Tame to Fazeley Junction where the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal turns right into Birmingham.
Fazeley Junction looking towards Birmingham

Direction sign at Fazeley Junction

 We however went left to continue on the Coventry Canal round the outskirts of Tamworth and then a big loop back Northwards to cross from the valley of the Tame to the River Anker valley. We climbed the two pretty Glascote locks in the process.

Aqueduct taking the Canal over the River Tame

Approaching the upper lock at Glascote - Helen emptying the lock ready for Leo

That evening we moored near Polesworth and walked back into the village.  It has a splendid gatehouse to the old Abbey which is said to be 10th century:
Gatehouse at Polesworth

Sunday morning was our biggest set of locks so far going up to Atherstone. Eleven locks but grouped in twos or threes climbing through attractive rural scenery to rather more industrial buildings at the top of the flight.

Lock 5 of the Atherstone Flight

Top lock at Atherstone

We moored at the top opposite a derelict hat factory for a late lunch and cruised on into open country to moor for the night.
Monday we decided that we would visit a boatyard to have our poorly batteries checked. We had concluded the previous evening that we would probably have to bite the bullet and buy a new set of batteries if there was nothing else causing them to not take a full charge and then lose what they had overnight. So we came away much poorer but happier with new better batteries. Kevin at Springwood Haven Marina was very helpful and full of advice which made parting with several hundred pounds rather easier than it might have been.
Leo moored having new batteries fitted

Back on the cut towards lunch time we cruised round Nuneaton which had nothing much to recommend it and then reached Marston Junction where we began cruising up the Ashby Canal.
Marston Junction - turn left for Ashby Canal

The Ashby Canal was built in the 1790s to bring coal out of the mines nearer Ashby-de-la-Zouch. It is a 22 mile cul de sac with no locks. The canal today is quite remote passing near to a few villages and through pleasant rural scenery. Today we found a lovely farm shop by the canal and indulged in delicious pork pie for lunch and we are about to try the sausages this evening. Here are a few pictures of the Ashby so far:
Burton Hastings - view from Leo, we later walked to the church

Swan family

Old Cottages at Stoke Golding Wharf

A large duck family

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will have a look at Market Bosworth, a short cycle ride from the canal, and then travel on to the present terminus of the Ashby at Snarestone. From there we have no choice but to return the way we've come back to the Coventry Canal and perhaps we'll go right into the centre of that city next.

Friday, 10 May 2013

We are off on our travels

We set off as planned on Tuesday 8th but as we only started going around 5 pm it was just a short evening cruise out of the marina and along the Trent and Mersey Canal just outside Willington. It was nice to be on the move again after Leo has spent the winter in the Marina.

Backing off our mooring

Marina with Willington Power Station behind

Wednesday started with a flat set of batteries. Oh dear. This should not happen particularly as we have installed a solar panel and had a charger fitted (so the boat can plug into the mains and charge its batteries) over the winter. Anyway with no fridge going it was on with the engine and we set off fairly early. We met friends, Rowan and Martin near Burton on Trent and had a lovely day with them visiting a pub with Italian food for lunch and doing a walk round the lake at Branston Water Park. There was also some boating as we ascended the five locks round Burton. 

Approaching Dallow Lock, our first of 2013

Helen and Rowan working the lock at Branston

Once through Wychnor lock we were effectively on the River Trent for a short way and, as it was raining and past 6 o'clock we moored here for the night. After dinner on board we walked along the canal into Alrewas which we remembered from last Autumn. A pretty village with a couple of delightful thatched cottages. Not having brought a torch, we did not stop for a drink as we wanted to recross the muddy patches in the path while there was still some light in the sky.

On Thursday we didn't go far, just up one lock into Alrewas and then cycled to the National Memorial Arboretum. This was only created in 1997 on old gravel workings near Alrewas. It takes its inspiration from Arlington Cemetery in the US and has memorials for casualties in the armed forces as well as civilian casualties such as a memorial to lifeboatmen and policemen killed on duty. And lots of trees have been planted, most of which also commemorate individuals. One grove records children that have died. We also saw the Bevin memorial only unveiled by the Countess of Wessex only two days earlier. This commemorates the Bevin boys, the 1 in 10 conscripts to the armed forces who instead were required to go down the coal mines during the war. 

Weir on the River Trent

Polar Bear Memorial

Memorial to Railway Workers

Bevin Memorial

In the afternoon the weather turned foul with gale force winds and rain. It was notable that only the hire boats moved during the afternoon and we also sat tight.

Friday we have been cruising during the morning, climbing up the Fradley Locks and then turning onto the Coventry Canal which is a new Canal for Leo. We had a pleasant afternoon after lunch at the Plough at Huddlesford, cycling into Lichfield. Lichfield Cathedral is unique in having three spires, two on the West front as well as one above the transept. For a relatively small city the cathedral is huge.

A lovely memorial in the Cathedral to two sisters who died young

Attractive old buildings in the Cathedral Close

West Front showing three spires

In the next few days we'll be working our way down to Nuneaton and then enjoying a few days exploring the Ashby Canal, which goes back North towards Ashby de la Zouch.