Friday, 21 September 2018

Hillmorton

Today's Canals - Leicester Arm, Grand Union Main Line, Oxford Canal

We drove back to the boat from home yesterday. Almost all of the way we had thin rain or mist and often quite mucky conditions. However, apart from a couple of occasions where there were traffic delays (in one case because of problems on the road just off the motorway which caused traffic to backup down the exit slip road) we had a straightforward run, arriving at Weltonfield just after 2 o'clock.

We found that our boat had been moved to a different location from where we had left it - in between two boats on pontoons but we were not -  and initially we had to climb over another boat to get onto Alchemy. However, we soon deployed the ladder/gangplank to make it easier.

Whilst Mike unloaded the car - we did not have a lot to bring this time as we plan a food shop in Rugby and we are only out for a week - Christine went to the marina office to settle our account for the mooring and the engine service (which was the main reason why we were here).

We had brought our evening meal with us so we had a reasonably relaxed evening. However, the remnants of Storm Ali were still making the presence known with high winds so we did not feel we could put up the satellite dish in case it suffered in the process. Because we could not be moored very firmly in the intermediate position - and were dependent on an adjacent boat, we did bump around a bit but fortunately it did not disturb us too much overnight.



We woke today to find that the winds were still with us but otherwise it was a day with plenty of sunny spells, even if we did quickly discover that extra layers of clothing were called for! As we did not have any servicing to do for the boat this morning (apart from moving the car to the back of the car park) we were able to make a prompt start.


The  marina is only a short distance from Norton Junction, where we turned right onto the main line towards Braunston.


We reported on the repairs to the towpath that are just after the junction. Soon after we returned home after the last trip we heard that a boater had been allowed to use the first section - it is clearly going to be a popular place to stay.


The piling is now complete and the gang are finishing off the back fill and reinstatement of the path.

As we neared the tunnel entrance we could see a boat ahead of just entering. It was immediately obvious that they were travelling quite slowly and for much of the time we had to drift in neutral to avoid running into their stern. It took nearly twice as long as usual but not as bad as the hour that someone recently reported on their blog!


When we were about a third of the way through another boat came behind and caught up with us before we eventually emerged back into day light. It turned out to be a fuel boat so we were able to obtain a bag of solid fuel in case we need to light the stove this trip - we did bring a couple of nets of logs with us from home.

Going down the six Braunston locks with the boat we had followed through the tunnel we soon discovered that it was a couple who had just bought the boat yesterday at Wilton. They have a mooring at Clifton, on the outskirts of Rugby, and plan to live on the boat instead of the small flat that they have previously used. The marina had helped them steer out onto the canal but left them, to suss out for themselves how to use the locks which immediately followed! Their only previous expedience was some time ago and a week on the Ashby - which has no locks! However, they were quick learners, just as well as the flight was rather busy today.

Once down the locks we moored as we planned to walk up to the village but first, it was time for lunch. The main aim was to pick up a paper from the village shop and a pork pie from the butcher opposite. However, we spotted that they still had Victoria plums so bought a kilo of those as well!

Back to the boat and we immediately set off - we were allowing plenty of time in case the wind picked up too much and we had to moor up in a hurry. (Our schedule for the week is quite slack anyway so no real concern unless prolonged forced stops are required)


An unusual number of traditional boats passed us to day - here is a pair just mooring up at Braunston. Perhaps they are all on their way back from a gathering of historic boats at Bumblehole last weekend, but we did not get a chance to ask any of them.


The fuel boat that followed us down the locks was also now tied up for a break.

The route from Braunston is up the Oxford to Hawkesbury but we only planned to get just before Hillmorton today - we think that those locks are still being closed at 4.30 as a water saving measure.



Just after the junction, at the spot where we moored last time to visit the church, a soft bank repair is underway to a shirt section (don't expect a properly posed photo taken whilst on the move!)


In between a couple of showers and some black clouds, much of the afternoon was very pleasant - at least to look at! It was till very windy, especially when there were no trees or hedges along the bank to protect us.


Another section of piling that was only just being worked on last time has now attracted a number of longer stay visitors, some of whom have already started to off load their belongings onto the towpath - presumably not just staying overnight!


This end of garden mooring must surely take the prize for the one that stakes up the most room but is unlikely to win any for good looks.

We have purchased a copy of all of Waterway Routes maps (just printing out the few pages we need for this trip). These maps, unlike Nicholsons, show the original route of the Oxford as well as its present form. The canal was initially built very much as a contour canal but a century later the northern half was very much improved, cutting a considerable amount of mileage from the trip.

In some places, as we have shown before, the disused arms are marked by distinctive towpath bridges but there are none of those on today's section. The map did mean that there was more to look out for even though we came this way only a couple of weeks ago.


However, nature has frequently reclaimed the abandoned routes and only on some occasions was it possible to make out any indentation in the ground, even with the guidance of the map. The line in this photo in front of the ridged area is one former section of canal.


It is much easier to spot the straightened sections, even if one of the features is the sloping slab stones that line the towpath. Although some have fallen in, they have lasted well. When first installed, working boats rarely needed to stop en route - their schedules worked around common stopping places where pubs and other facilities enabled boaters and their families to keep in touch - it was often the only way in which young people managed to find their life partners!


Here, the canal once followed along the edge of the trees on the right.

But the sloping sides do make it much harder to find casual moorings - our first attempt just after Barby Moorings failed but fortunately there was a short stretch of piling at the place where we had hoped to stop and where there was enough width for other boast then to pass.

10.2 Miles - 6 Locks

Monday, 3 September 2018

Welton Hythe Marina

Today's Canals - Grand Union, Main Line, Leicester Line

We only had just under two miles to the marina where we will leave the boat for the next three weeks whilst we return home. We have also booked an engine service and it may just possibly be an opportunity for solar panels but that has had a slight delay.

Although Gayton Marina where the car was parked is only just over 10 miles as the crow flies, it is a very long and complex trip by public transport. As a result we gave in and Christine booked a taxi for 11:30. Since they quoted £30 we thought that was reasonable to avoid a four+ hour journey.

This gave Mike time to make a prompt start on cleaning the boat roof. It really needs several 'goes' with mop, brush and sponge as well as a final thorough rinse to get it anywhere near looking clean. The frustration is then that as soon as we move off and use the centre lines then marks quickly reappear!


Around 10:15 we pulled pins and set off for the marina. Shortly before the junction we had a good look at the piling work which is still on-going. The first stage - seemingly the only one being worked on and just by one person who was setting piling sheets into an already set out frame before they are hammered into the ground.


The next section is when the horizontal tie bars are added.


The space behind the piling is back-filled and the towpath re-instated.


Finally, the first part that had been done, was topped off with soil and grass seed which was already showing a tinge of green.


That brought us to the  junction where we turned onto the Leicester Line and ten minutes later we were into the marina entrance and finding out which pontoon we had to negotiate our way towards.

Mike made a quick change from his rather soggy clothes (cleaning the roof always entails this as it cannot effectively be tackled a bank or pontoon) and was just in time to meet the taxi which was very prompt, even though the driver had a problem because the postcode for the marina leads on sat nav to a farm some distance away! Fortunately the marina's website has the correct physical location - Mike discovered exactly the same problem when he came back with our car - not that he realised it at the time.

After lunch, we then set-to once more with more cleaning. Christine, as usual, cleaned right through inside at the same time as packing ready for tomorrow's homeward journey. Having a marina hook-up means that we can run the washing machine thus avoiding much of the laundry that otherwise has to go home and back again.

Mike washed and polished the cabin sides. In order to do both sides we had to move the boat across to the next pontoon - which was unoccupied - and later back again. The front well deck and stern deck also needed a through clean as well as making sure that the deck drain channels were clear of leaves and other rubbish. Just to complete the checks, it was down the weed hatch where a small amount of plastic was found around the prop.

When everything was eventually completed we drove over to Braunston to pick up a newspaper! Again, a surprisingly complex route for such a short crow fly.

1.6 Miles - 0 Locks

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Welton Wharf

Today's Canals - Oxford, Grand Union

Weatherwise, the best day for this trip - bright, sunny, warm with a slight breeze in the air to avoid being too stifling.




After a very slow start to the day we walked up the hill to the church for the morning service at 11.15, conducted by the quite new parish priest. Although the church is somewhat conventional - old style hymn book, robed choir etc etc, she is obviously intent on livening up the place and, especially, looking to continue a very inclusive atmosphere. There were around 60 people including a small group of young children and a dozen-strong choir.


Opposite the church is Merryhill House. The same information board that old us about the windmill tower, also has this to say about the house. "This imposing house was built by the Reverend Clough in 1840 for his bride Sarah Lamb who was the daughter of the squire at Bragborough Hall, Sarah was much younger than Reverend Clough, who promised her a house similar in style to her previous abode. Now no longer the rectory it has imposing views toward the canal"


As we returned to the boat the canal view could not have been bettered!

We urgently needed a water point - the nearest was just around the corner which does have the full range. A bit further on and there are separate points for water, elsan and rubbish.

We were a bit concerned about a possible delay at Braunston locks so we pressed on, getting lunch on the go. As it happened, although one boat had gone up a few minutes earlier, there was no queue and we only had to wait for boats already working their way down the bottom lock.

After that kit was a bit more manic with a long procession of boats coming down, including a pair of fuel boats. (We would have fulled up with diesel from them but they nor we wanted to hold up the queue behind) alas, most of the boats were hire boats whose four days of cruising seemed to make them think that they knew everything there is to know about working locks and proceeded to wind up paddles without checking whether it was safe to do so. One of these was a gate paddle above an unsecured boat in an empty lock! Fortunately no harm was done except to hone our reputation as grumpy old gits (or one at least!)


All this meant that we only managed to take a couple of photos in the entire flight as we were too busy.

At the top we were then straight into Braunston Tunnel. We could see a boat not too far into the tunnel coming towards us and we safely passed each other after about five minutes. There was also anther boat going in the same direction as ourselves, already about half way, but going extremely slowly. We caught up with it just as we emerged back into the sunshine. Judging distances away from another boat inside a tunnel is not easy even though the tunnel bands (the red and cream on the stern) do help. Care is needed to avoid running into the back of a boat running at a slower pace.

We were keen to make sure that we could moor with a tv signal - the next episode of Bodyguard is on tonight - and we took the first opportunity after Welton Wharf and coming out of the tree lined cutting on the tunnel approach.

4.2 Miles - 6 Locks

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Braunston

Today's Canal - Oxford

We we started to get up this morning the canal was covered by a light mist - just a reminder (as September begins) that autumn is fast approaching.



As we set off the earth movers had already started their day's work on the development opposite were we moored. They really shift large amounts at a time.


We only had a short distance to travel to the bottom of the Hilmorton Locks - a boat came the other way so that we knew that the locks, closed overnight to save water, were already open for business, First, however, paused at the water point to top - the taps here are notoriously slow so we took on enough to compensate for a washing machine load, knowing that we can take on more at Braunston.

There was just one volunteer lock keeper on duty today, looking after the bottom lock mainly. At this stage in the day the traffic was not creating a backlog but the locks were on continuous operation, one up, one down.


At the top lock the original extra paddles to link the two adjacent locks together is still in place even if at the present its only use (apart from historical decorative) is to be a place to hang the obscurity chains for overnight closures! When operational they act as a kind of side pond especially at times when there are more boats in one direction than the other.


Forty minutes after entering the bottom lock we said goodbye to the top lock.


Not only was it bright and sunny today but also much warmer than of late. There was not much to report of the first half that we did not include last week. However, Mike took advantage of the blue sky to see if he could improve on some of his canal features library. It was not until later when reviewing today's pictures that he realised that he had caught  this bird in mid flight. Now if we had tried to do this . . .


Christine took over the navigation as we came through Barby - the quick succession of boats coming towards us suggests that, unless some of them stop off before getting there, a queue will have develop at Hilmorton Top Lock. With only one lock in use there is around a 12 minute cycle time, even if boat crews know what they are doing.


There were even  more of these coir roll patched that when we came up. At Hawkesbury we saw a notice that said that these rolls make life easier for water voles - which are currently in need of a bit of help to survive in good numbers. Lets just hope that the voles can read!


We were a bit surprised to see this wide beam boat shortly before Dunchurch Pools Marina. This is a narrow canal - at least the locks at Hilmorton can only pass narrow boats. However, as an early example of future-proofing, the bridges were built much wider. On the other hand, the standard for the maintenance of this canal assumes narrow boats and even then there are plenty of places where two boats struggle to pass, let alone beside a moored boat. There is some debate around this situation, especially when the recent licensing review took place, and there are those who want canals to be designated to have a maximum size boat that is permitted. On the other hand, our crossing of the Pennines last year  was on the basis that we are longer than the official dimensions and can only pass the locks with care and one at a time.


This piling crew are gradually making their way along and have started another short section.


nb Derwent6 is on our blog list to the right of this page. They were busy avoiding various obstacles and missed us waving at them! Earlier a regular contributor to the Canal World Forum debates did spt us before we spotted them.

We managed to find a mooring just before the accommodation bridge before the start of Braunston proper. Christine had spotted that a footpath leads up the hill directly to the church and is one of the shorter routes to the shops and for tomorrow morning. As with a lot of the non-piled banks along here, it is not easy to find a way of putting in pins that hold when somewhat speedy boats came by. We had to re-do ours later in the evening when a passer by alerted us to the fact that our stern rope was dangling in the water.


After lunch we walked up this path and could see, looking back down, the patterns made by the ancient strip cultivation. It seems that there are quite a few fields around here where this can be seen.


In the wall outside the church we spotted this feature. We suppose that it was once a well for the villagers but there was no indication and the internet has not yet revealed anything.


We make no excuse for including another photo of the old windmill tower which was also showed back in May on our way to the Fens. However, this time we also saw an information board that records that "the windmill was the scene of a tragic accident when the wind turned the sails on which a workman who was carrying out repairs and he fell to his death".

We continued to thew shop where we picked up milk and a newspaper as well as a pork pie from the well-know butcher across the road. We came back via Midland Chandlers so that we could replenish our stock of Elsan Blue and a spare fender hanger to replace the one that broke as we came through Braunston Tunnel last week. The rest of the afternoon disappeared into idleness!

6.9 Miles - 3 Locks

Friday, 31 August 2018

Hilmorton

Today's Canal - Oxford

It really was a bright and beautiful morning as we awoke and when we set off.


A few fluffy clouds appeared at time during the day but they did little to dent the the feeling that this was the last throe of this year's summer - perhaps autumn will begin tomorrow!


Whilst many of the farm accommodation and road bridges remain (albeit in many places extended to cope with modern needs) some have been demolished with little evidence of their past. It is a teeny bit satisfying to see the buried remains of a former railway - the railway having been closed whilst the canal remains!


Through the trees we could just make out Ansty Hall. Built in 1678 as the manor house, it is now 62 bedroom four star hotel, wedding and conference centre.


The very high span of Nettle Hill Bridge is a reminder of how the improved sections of the north Oxford Canal adopted the deep cuttings that others had found necessary in order to shorten journey lengths and hence improve delivery times and reduce operating costs.

The track which the bridge carries leads to Mobbs Wood Farm which has provided facilities for several business ventures. At one time there was a paintball centre here and a recording studio still operates here.


Another of the elegant cast iron bridges over the junction with former arms which became redundant after the straightening.

A few days ago we included a photo of a bat box - something we had not spotted before. Of course, once you have seen one, others start to appear! This bridge had one on either face.


This could be a typical rural scene from any time over the past couple of centuries - the white picket fence is the front of a set of cottages once a local pub. It is unclear how it attracted sufficient customers as there are only a few farms in the immediate vicinity.


The relatively modern wooden footbridge is an indicator that we are about to reach the moorings close to Tesco in Rugby, always a popular stopping point for boaters to catch up on shopping - not too many opportunities for filling larders along the north Oxford. We too went to fill a trolley but only after a  lengthy lunch break. When we talked to the boater who had just moored behind us - turned out to be a boat that moors at Droitwich Marina.

The stretch immediately before this also used to be a well used mooring but that is not allowed at present. Whether this is permanent (and why?) or just until new edging has had a chance to mature er don't know but at least the towpath on the other side of the bridge has had extensive new mooring rings added.

We opted to move on a short distance out into the countryside but aware that we needed to keep a careful lookout for a suitable place to moor so as not to end up in the queue at the bottom of Hilmorton Locks.


Most of the moorings at Clifton Cruisers are down an arm, one end of quite a long bypassed stretch.


Shortly afterwards we again passed the construction site for the new access road - work seems to be continuing both with the reparation of the concrete reinforcing but also in extensive earth moving works across the whole site.

As hoped, we found a suitable spot for the night, surprisingly with a tv signal, just short of the locks.

12.9 Miles - 0 Locks