Moore 2 Life:Exploring the waterways

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Book:'LIFE WITH A NARROWBOAT' © Chas Moore

Chapter 7: Leicester Ring, 2001

A funeral

We left the boat at Braunston after Christmas. Chris and Tracy came up and helped drain the water out of the tank and pipes. It was snowing at the time and ice was forming on the canal. It is an unplanned departure due to the fact that my elderly father was in hospital and unlikely to survive. Luckily Braunston is quiet and secure. We had informed BW at their local office. Val on Water Avens was kind enough to keep an eye on MTL as she had a mooring nearby. We had managed to return a couple of times to reassure ourselves that the boat was OK.

Dad died in January. Apart from helping Mum sort out her affairs and getting used to her new status in life we had problems of our own. The manager of our letting agent left. At the same time our tenants gave a months notice to leave. However a phone call from the office reassured us that the agency will continue to look after us and has already found another tenant.

Chris and Tracy returned us to the boat in February, a week after the funeral. We lit the fire first, shut the animals in and we all got lunch at the local pub. Back at the boat we filled the tank with water and turned the pump on. Running water again and no leaks! Thanks to Chris who put the pipes back together before going home with Tracy.

Stocking up, Oxford canal pictures

We got some more coal from Ivor Bachelor on the local working boat Mountbatten at Braunston, then on round to the marina to pump out our loo tank. We needed to stock up with food at Tesco up the north Oxford Canal at Rugby. The local shop had milk and bread but we did not want to carry a full load all the way back to the boat.

We got as far as Barby Hill the first day. Only two hours into the middle of nowhere. The M45 crosses nearby and we can hear the traffic noise. Despite this we stayed a couple of days cleaning the boat inside and out and writing a few letters.

First engine service

The engine has nearly done 250 hours and is due for an oil change. Ann got a stew cooking on the stove as we made our way to Hillmorton Boat Services. Saw Barry Pemperton to arrange the engine service. "Come back next week and we will do it," he said. We wanted a Post Office to post our letters. Barry told us where to find the nearest one in a shop 20 minutes walk up the hill.

Terry and Myra paid us a visit the next day using their car and driving the ten miles from their boat. They were surprised how rural the canal was so close to Rugby. We continued on down three locks and filled our water tank. The narrow locks here are unusual in that they come in pairs. As one boat goes down in one, another can come up in the other. Having got to Brownsover and done our shopping we turned to return. But not before reading on an information board that Frank Whittle invented the jet engine here. Once back at Hillmorton we stayed for two nights while the engine and gearbox got the oil changed by Paul. The old buildings here used to house the steam pumps that pumped canal water back up to the top lock thus saving water. Electric pumps do that job now.

Got some more coal from John Chard on Stokie, the working supply boat. John has been in the local news about his Web site. I noticed a tiny aerial and wondered what it was for. With that John invited me on board. His engine is in the galley! The galley sink is next to the engine! Or is the galley in the engine room? Part of the cargo hold has been converted into a computer room. He has a full size powerful computer complete with scanner, printer, digital camera and mobile phone all connected using BT Internet and an Orange 'Every day 50 account'. The software cost more than the Nokia phone. John was very keen to show me the new Web Site he was designing and many pictures he had taken. I almost forgot where I was and got out just as Ann came looking for me.

Mark and Margaret on Knot Normal have returned from their holiday in Spain. We met them at Brownsover and they invited us on board after our cold trip through a snowstorm. Mark told me "a bad day on your boat is still better than a good day at work." He then spent an industrious three days making a cabin door and various panels for our boat while we painted and varnished. The new door makes it much warmer in the cabin.

Foot and Mouth

On our return from Rugby we came crunching through ice on the canal in March. Got water at Hillmorton then up through the lock. John Chard on Stokie told us that the canal towpaths have been closed by British Waterways. We were already aware of the Foot and Mouth out breaks but had not realised the implications. The Navigation could even be closed soon. So we have been advised to make our way back to Braunston with out delay.

Got to Braunston through more ice and into the first available space and went to collect our post and send our newsletter. This done we returned to the boat and proceeded to walk down the towpath to see how many boats were here and saw Mark and Margaret on Not Normal. They have permission to work on boats outside the marina and has gathered about six boats to work on and suggested that we move to join them. On our way we got more coal from Ivor.

Confusion

Ice forms during the evening in early March this year and remains till mid morning. It is a strange site seeing all the ducks standing round in groups on the ice. Many hired boats are still moving about breaking the ice, as they have to be returned during the weekend. The Navigation has now been officially closed. Some people had only just got away on their holiday and had to return. During the weekend many walkers were seen still using the closed footpaths through a field of sheep up to the village. One road down to the locks has a restriction sign at one end only, which caused some confusion. Cars and lorries still used it! Two weeks later a straw mat was put down at each end.

Working on boats

Many boat owners have started working on their boats. Painting outside when it is dry and improving inside when wet. Mark is helping us with the woodwork while I have put up a few more shelves and put down some flooring. We have been advised to get our boat Blacked. That is painted with pitch below the waterline. Now is a good time because some boaters have cancelled due to not being able move their boats and the yards are looking for work. Our boat, being new, will only have had the one coat. I went down to the Braunston Boat Haven yard to have a look at a boat being painted and was due to go back in the water the next day.

Blacking

We got booked in two days later. Just time to fill with water and pump out the loo tank because we would be there for three days. We arrived at eight o'clock on a cool misty morning only 10 minutes from our mooring. Lined the boat up with the double trolley and were told to jump off the boat. The tractor pulled the boat up out of the water and it looked strange high up on the trolley. We were provided with a landing stage to get on and off. Allie was OK but the cat was eventually found under the bedclothes! The sides were pressure washed. This revealed many bare patches of steel. By the end of the afternoon it had started to rain and the boat was pulled into the shed to dry off. We got two coats of paint, each left to dry over night. It had been strange living on board a boat that did not move. We cannot let water out of the sink. All our wastewater had to be carried away. TV reception was poor and we could not light the fire while in the shed so used the boiler to keep warm. Got plugged into the mains power to keep the batteries charged because we could not run the engine while out of the water. Eventually we were pushed back in to the water and I was pleased that the engine started when the boat floated off.

Birds and woodwork

Back at our mooring we, and the cat, observed several Gold Finches pecking the ground outside the galley window. They are very colourful.

We have asked Mark to make two boxes to keep the bikes on the roof. They are taking up too much room in the front at the moment and it would be nice to sit out there when it is sunny. Mark came round to discuss our requirements and suggested making a table as well. He needs to order more wood for other boats as well. Got my work cut out painting and varnishing when they were delivered.

Mel and Ivor on Mountbatten are delivering coal and diesel by moving up and down the canal during the Foot and Mouth restrictions. We got filled up early one Saturday morning. Later Chris and Tracy bought Mum up to see us on the boat and after a coffee we went up to The Mill House for lunch. It was a dull day and we were still not allowed to move the boat. Despite this it was good to see the family again and catch up with family news.

Movment with conditions

British Waterways later decided to re open the navigation but with conditions. All boats must follow disinfectant procedures. We have a washing up bowl with a sponge mat in it and have been given ten free sterile tablets, one to be dissolved in a litre of water. This is for stepping into when getting on or off the boat. BW manned some locks so you did not have to get off. Much of the canal passes through farmland and we are not permitted to moor there. Many boats have already moved and some hire boats have been seen out and about. Some BW facilities now have disinfectant trays to walk through. We are very much looking forward to moving off soon. Mary and Ray came up and stayed in their campervan in the marina and Terry and Myra came over by car from their boat at Ventnor Farm and we all went to the pub for Sunday lunch.

We have to finish painting those boxes! Oh those April Showers! Must get the painting done in the sunshine before we can go. Got the boxes on the roof with bikes in them with temporary covers tied on with rope. Got an aerial for our mobile phone from the chap in the caravan in the marina. The aerial sits on the roof and makes the signal much stronger. Got some more coal from Ivor when he came by on Mountbatten. Went to the shops and collected the post.

Electric fishing

A dingy came by electrocuting the fishes in the canal. "That is cheating," I said. But they are only pulling out unwanted (zenda?) fish. George from Bramble gutted them and we ate one for tea. Tara the cat got some as well. Many of our friends are moving away now and Braunston is getting empty. The BW man came by the weekend and suggested we should leave on Monday.

Went to Calcutt and met Terry and Myra. Stayed a couple of nights near the top lock. While we waited, Raymond went by being towed to Braunston. Raymond is an old butty being restored to its former glory. A butty is a working narrow boat normally towed by a horse or a boat, with an engine, called a motor. Raymond was the last working butty to be built at Braunston. Due to the restrictions we could not walk round the reservoir at Calcutt. Then our friends arrived on Butty Lark and we returned to Braunston.

Pub lunch

We all had lunch at The Plough where we made some plans about where to go. Then picked up yet more post and some photographs. Met Val from Water Avens and said good by as she is leaving. That evening we played our favourite game of Mah-Jongg. Next day we both moved back up the Oxford canal to the locks at Hillmorton. On the way we passed some sections of canal where we could not stop. The locks were cordoned off and we were not allowed through as pedestrians. After lunch we walked round to find the shops by road at the bridge. Despite the restrictions some people are still walking and cycling with their dogs on the towpath. There are signs and tape at the bridges which are being ignored. Lots of hire boats are now out for the Easter week.

Easter, Oxford canal pictures

It is Good Friday and we have our hot cross buns. On Saturday we watched the F1 practice on TV. On Sunday we had boiled eggs with painted faces. Then we moved down through the locks and on to Clifton near Rugby. Got water at the boatyard and a map to cover the canals we intend to travel on this year. Terry got a pumpout and some diesel for his boat. Went on to Brownsover where we could go to Tesco and the out of town shopping centre. Good moorings here both sides of the canal and clear of restrictions. Halfords had some trailer covers that were just right for our new boxes on the roof.

After one night we moved on a short hop to Newbold just north of Rugby. A small village with shop, Post Office, butcher, hairdresser a pub and water tap by the canal. Collected some post from the Post Office. We know what is ahead here but our travelling companions do not. So they hop on their bikes and ride on ahead while Ann cooks some nice rock cakes and I printed some info for Terry and looked up some pictures of the canals we plan to go on.

We have decided to head for Coventry. We tend to travel about three hours, stop somewhere and explore. We stopped at All Oaks Wood for a couple of nights. Lots of birds are seen here and some body had nailed a birdseed tray on one of the trees. Actually saw a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, some Thrushes, Tree Creepers and Squirrels. From now on we are all on a voyage of discovery because we have not been this way before.

Coventry canal, Coventry canal pictures

The Oxford Canal ends at Hawkesbury Junction where it joins the Coventry Canal. We are able to stay here and had lunch in the Greyhound. The canal into Coventry is clear of restrictions. An art trail is very inviting and we know that much work has been carried out to improve the canal that ends at the basin in the middle of Coventry. So we turned left on to the Coventry that is another narrow canal. It is five and a half miles to Coventry Basin.

At first it was pretty but then we saw diggers and bulldozers clearing a derelict site of rubble. Then we saw so much floating rubbish in the water we slowed to a crawl. Then a new out of town shopping centre but we did not stop. Then under several low pipe bridges until we reached Bridge No. 1 which was so low we only just got under it. There before us was the new basin where several other narrow boats were moored. Well worth the trip, very secure and within sight of the Cathedral.

We are allowed to stay two nights. There is an office where we reported our arrival and got a visitors pack of information. Then went sight seeing. Saw the Cathedral and Lady Godiva. Nice horse! Then we went to look round the free car museum. Coventry is famed for building cars. Did some shopping in Sainsbury's before leaving.

So after visiting Coventry we moved up north on the Coventry Canal continuing in our discovery mode. In other words got no idea what it is really like round the next corner or through the next bridge. On our way out we picked up two plastic toy cars that were floating amongst the large lumps of wood. We threw them in the skip at Hawkesbury. Terry and Myra fished out a practically new baby buggy that they cleaned up for their grandson when they go back home.

The canal is level for many miles heading north and passes Bedworth and Nuneaton where we stopped to purchase supplies. It is a large town with a good shopping centre some way from the canal. Post Offices on the way to the centre were boarded up and appeared closed. We arrived on Saturday and heard the cheers from the football stadium as goals were scored.

A new marina

As we go we make notes about the towpath edges. Many have steel edges and usually indicate good moorings while other edges are rocky or concrete which are to be avoided. Soft edges are worth trying but either you cannot get close and need a plank or you run aground. Another boat near by is not a reliable indicator. Good places to stop and village facilities have been noted in our map books. Found a new boat marina out of town and picked up diesel and water and had the loo tank pumped out. They operate Valley Cruisers hire boats and have long-term moorings at which we could leave the boat in July. Hope to hire a car and go home to visit our family.

Books and maps

We have a set of canal maps which show where British Waterways provide water, refuse and loo facilities. Also have a set of booklets collated by a boater. These show where to find Post Offices, shops, surgeries etc. all within walking distance from a bridge over the canal. The only problem is that they were researched several years ago and sometimes the Post Office store no longer exists. We are filling in missing info. like addresses and phone numbers. We have had to ring one to ask them to forward our mail to another which was done willingly at no extra cost.

Trent and Mersey, Trent and Mersey canal pictures

The northern end of the Coventry canal joins the Trent and Mersey at Fradley. The Trent and Mersey canal follows the contours and usually passes behind the towns and villages. We have passed by many well kept back gardens that are a joy to see. Then at Armitage the canal was very narrow as it was originally a tunnel. Tall brick buildings with dirty windows lined the canal. Then we saw a yard full of toilets, baths and basins. Yes, this is the famous Armitage Shanks pottery works. James Brindley and Josia Wedgwood had the canal built to transport crockery. "You can imagine how much smoother the water transport was compared with the old roads and pack horses. So many breakages!" The canal goes through Stoke on Trent and Burton on Trent and was also used to transport beer.

Shropshire Union, Shropshire Union canal pictures

The Shroppie canal is quite different to others as it is straight and was surveyed by Thomas Telford. It does not follow the contours of the land like the Oxford canal does. There are deep cuttings through rock and long high embankments. The Shellmore embankment caused a delay to the opening due to slippage. It is now lined with concrete. A few short tunnels have been opened to the sky due to problems with subsidence. The cuttings are very narrow with passing points. Many trees are clinging to the rocky sides. Some cuttings are wider with many trees growing on the slopes. Recent rain has caused mudslides and some trees and bushes have slipped down into the water. Despite this we managed to get through. BW has their work cut out keeping the canal clear. I marvelled at the work that had created this canal by hand hundreds of years ago.

We got as far north as Market Drayton, which is half way between Birmingham and Liverpool. We visited many towns and villages on the way such as Nuneaton, Polesworth, Rugeley, Penkridge, Brewood and Gnosall. You have to be careful how you pronounce these names. Brewood is Brood, originally meaning wood on a hill. "Market Drayton is famed for Ginger Bread and very nice it is too," I can tell you because I got some.

Turn south

We let our fire go out a few times during the day and finally we stopped re lighting it. We used the diesel boiler a few times to heat the radiators when it was cold in the mornings. Now it is used for hot water when we have not run the engine. There is always a list of jobs to do. Shelves inside and outside cupboards. The computer is now installed inside the cabinet having removed the heavy drop down table and rearranged the shelves.

Some friends we made at Braunston have been seen elsewhere. We saw George and Magie on Bramble at Market Drayton, Ian and Margery on Water Mouse at Gailey and Dave and Georgina on Willow Dreamer at Gnosal. Also Ivor Batchellor and Mel with their Boat and Butty selling coal and diesel were seen going north at Acton Trussel.

We are travelling in the same direction as Terry and Myra who are either in front or behind. Sometimes we want to do our own thing and arrange to meet up again some way ahead. An old railway crosses the canal near Gnosall and we all walked along it with Allie our dog. The thought occurred to me that here is an unused railway that is younger than the canal.

Weekends tend to be busy with lots of boats out and about. We were about to set off after breakfast down the locks at Great Haywood and found five boats in front. We joined the queue as one boat at a time is going through, the crew of each boat working the lock. One fellow behind us went to help. He told us that, "Years ago crews from other boats helped each other." "Why don't they help each other, it would be so much easier and quicker?" One problem is that some people open the paddles too quickly causing the boat to lurch about with the water rushing in too fast.

All clear

The Foot and Mouth situation has improved on the canals. Now there are no restrictions as to where we can moor. We still have to use the disinfectant procedures when we get on and off the boat as do the public when they walk on the towpath. All dogs should be on leads! Many of the shops and stores had suffered a drop in sales due to less boat traffic. The locals tend to go to town in their cars rather than shop in their own villages.

Exploring

Having turned round at Market Drayton during May we are now exploring. It is chance to move to our favourite spots and stay longer on the way back. At the start of June we were on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal at Gailey. An engineer here carried out the 500 hour service on the engine. Ian and Margery on Watermouse were nearby so we collected the knitted Postman Pat that Myra had ordered. We were on our way again after a few hours continuing to Penkridge. Constable had a house here. It is market day so we walk in to shop. Many shops are quite distinctive with whitewashed walls and woodwork painted black.

Wind and water

Back on board we continued to Great Haywood Junction where the canal meets the Trent and Mersey. It was a bit windy and we managed to pull in to the side at the boat yard for water. Having tied up we were told that the British Waterways tap was round the corner. But under the circumstances we were allowed to take their water. Next day we proceeded down the locks on the Trent and Mersey to Rugeley. This is a largish town all within walking distance of the canal so we stayed several days here. Cars were kept away from the centre where there were a number of well-known shops. We were kept occupied doing the accounts, newsletters and putting up shelves. Boots developed and printed our photos in an hour and we collected some post.

On our way up we had passed through Fradley Junction with its famous Swan pub known as the Mucky Duck! This is where the Coventry canal joins the Trent and Mersey and once was a long established canal centre concerned solely with the life and trade of the canals. We stopped at the top lock and walked down to the pub for a meal. Next day we turned right to join the Coventry again.

Democracy

The General Election took place at this time but all we could do was watch and listen. We had no vote because we were not registered at a recognised address. We were able to resolve the situation by applying for a postal vote using our postal address. We have always done our bit and voted in the past. It was disappointing to see that many people failed to use their democratic right to vote for the government of their choice. So look out the Euro is coming. It is worth 61 pence and the Queens head will not be on that currency.

Collect the post

In the space of a couple of days and about eight hours travelling we passed through Whittington, Hopwas and Tamworth with its well kept back gardens and arrived at Polesworth. A village with all you need rather than want. We walked to the Post Office for our letters that Chris had sent earlier. Not often do I get a paper. The election results were of interest this time. Most of the newspaper gets used for cleaning paintbrushes!

We had moored up by the sports field and on Sunday we walked round while the kids were playing football in a major tournament. The younger ones had a small pitch to play on. The River Anker passes between the canal and the town. Several footbridges get you over into town so you don't get your feet wet! Some paths were littered with rubbish that spoilt the view.

Wild life

We often see ducks with their chicks, mum all proud and protective. An unusual group of about five Herons in the field were seen next to the canal. They were stood in a circle as if holding a meeting. Mr and Mrs Swan paid us a visit with their family. They often came knocking on the boat asking for their tea. Once we thought we saw an Otter in the canal but it may have been a Black Mink. One of those unwanted animals like the grey squirrel.

Atherstone

The Coventry canal has many bends and follows the contour of the land without many locks. Occasionally several locks bring it up to another level. There are eleven locks over about a mile that gets the canal up to Atherstone. Setting off in the morning we arrived at the top and had a late lunch. Then went shopping. There are old empty factories where they used to make hats. The town has many shops and cafes within walking distance of the canal.

The next day we walked half way down the locks to help Terry and Myra bring their boat up. Several other boats were on their way up as well. Then we all continued on to Hearts Hill. A pub called The Malt and Shovel at the top of the hill provided a cheerful atmosphere and very good food at reasonable cost. Also good for the heart and circulation, made our fingers tingle getting up there.

The Ashby Canal, Ashby canal pictures

An invitation to a birthday party requires us to find a marina for the boat and a car to get us to the south coast. The marina and car hire we found are both near Nuneaton. We were very lucky to find them so close together. When we called in to the marina they told us that the hire firm was just off at the next bridge. While we were sorting out the bookings for the car Terry and Myra had gone on to the Ashby canal.

The Ashby Canal follows the 300 foot contour and we are back in discovery mode as we turn onto it. There are plans to restore the total length back to 30 miles but it never got to Ashby. Another eight miles at the end have been lost to mining subsidence. It proved to be very shallow and we could only go 2 miles an hour. If you try and go faster the prop just sucks water from under the boat and it runs aground. There are two places to stock up. Stoke Golding and Market Bosworth.

Battle field

A famous battle occurred in the field near Bosworth that ended the war of the roses. King Richard the third was killed and King Henry the seventh was crowned. It was the last time in England that such a battle was fought and was the start of the Tudor Dynasty.

Terry and Myra had turned round at Market Bosworth so we invited them on board with their bikes and took them to the end. Then they rode back to their boat, as they needed to get home before us. On our return we stopped at Stoke Golding where we stayed to visit the local school fete. Well attended with a marching band.

Birthday party back home

Eventually we were back on the Coventry canal, got to the marina, walked to the garage, got the car, packed and drove down south with our cat and dog! It was a fast and noisy three hour trip on the roads and such a contrast to the life we now enjoy so much on the waterways.

Having gone to the party and seen the family we returned. Unpacked, returned the car and walked back to the boat. Checked the batteries. They held the charge for eight days, and so they should. The gas ran out the day we left so got another bottle. The last one lasted three months.

Grand Union, Grand Union canal pictures

We decided to move south to Braunston again in the hope that we get some visitors. The North Oxford canal is still full of Duck Weed like a green carpet on the water. Nobody came so we went up the locks at Braunston and through the tunnel on the Grand Union Canal heading for Crick nine miles and thirteen locks away. The locks are twice the width of our boat so we went up with another side by side. Then we turned left at Norton Junction to get on the Leicester section. It is the first time here so we are in discovery mode again. Many trees provide cool shade now that the summer is warming up. Then we get to the Watford Locks that are near the Watford Gap service station on the M1 motorway. Having got up the locks there is another tunnel before getting to Crick.

Tunnels

The tunnel at Braunston has bends in it caused by a mistake in direction when digging it through. It is just over a mile long and was opened in 1796. It is wide enough for boats to pass sometimes with difficulty if you happen to be on a bend. Lights on the front of each boat show the way in the darkness. We had nearly stopped to let a boat get by but his bow glanced off ours and hit the side of the tunnel! He had several lights and complained that our one was too bright! On our return we passed four boats with no problems. The Crick Tunnel was opened in 1814, is dead straight and just less than a mile long. Both tunnels were difficult to dig due to quicksand.

Staircase locks

The seven Watford Locks are narrow and rise up 52 feet 6 inches to reach 412 feet above sea level. We are required to find the lock keeper before proceeding because four locks form a staircase and is very steep. Once a boat is in it has to go through first before another can enter from the other direction. Good job there is a lock keeper to control the boaters! Each lock shares a gate with the next. The boat moves from one lock directly into the next. There are side pounds into which water from the higher lock is stored for the lower lock. An extra side paddle, painted red, is opened first to feed water from the side pound into the lower lock. Then you open the white side paddle to empty the lock into the side pound. Well that is how I understood it. The phrase "RED before WHITE and you'll be all right" helps with the operation. It is just as well the resident lock keeper is on hand for advice!

Crick visitor moorings?

At Crick the new visitor moorings were inviting but there are many rocks lurking under water preventing boats getting near the edge. The local marina holds an annual boat show but the facilities are private the rest of the year. The village has a shop and a Post Office. We stayed the night, turned and returned to Braunston where we were lucky to find a space. After shopping I set about painting the side of the boat below the gunwale. You need a spell of dry weather, a hard edge without weeds and get a 'round toit' to do the job.

Ridge fields

The ridge fields near Braunston are an ancient landscape; medieval ridge and furrow field patterns are in evidence. These were created as villagers cleared forested land and each ploughed strips throwing soil towards the centre. Gradually a collection of strips, all running parallel to each other, made up a furlong or cultura that was then enclosed by a low bank. Fields, consisting of dozens of furlongs, were then fenced. I find it incredible that these fields can still be seen.

Medication required

Ann has been suffering from large blisters that started as an itchy rash and rang the NHS help line on Sunday. "May be a reaction from leather shoes worn without socks," we were told. Went to see the nurse at Daventry and got some pills and a foot wash which seems to be clearing it up after a week.

Blackbury and apple, Coventry canal pictures

Have now started picking blackberries but have not found an apple tree yet. We head north again from Braunston to Nuneaton for we have another invitation, this time to a Golden Wedding Anniversary. On the way we stop at our favourite places. Got to Rugby to shop in Tesco. Went for a walk near All Oaks Wood. We saw lots of wild flowers about by the towpath. Tried to identify some purple flowers which maybe Tufted Vetch and Wood Bitter Vetch. Whatever they are it was good for Ann to be able to walk with shoes again. On to the Coventry Canal and calling in to shop at Nuneaton before stopping near Springwood Haven. We are three days early but it was an enjoyable trip in sunshine. It is noticeable how busy the canal is this month with school holidays and many more families out and about. Duckweed is again covering the canal with a green carpet. All the way from Stretton Stop on the Oxford canal to Nuneaton on the Coventry canal. At least 10 miles of it looking like mushy pea soup in places.

Passing friends

Militza came by on her bike. She and John live on At Last in Springwood Haven Marina. We invited her in for a chat and a drink. They are working in Nuneaton, enjoy cycling and are looking forward to a holiday on their boat. They are happy to look after the flowerpots on our roof as they did the last time we stayed. So we moved the boat into the Marina, collected the car, packed clothes, cat and dog into car, left the boat and headed for Winchester for a few days and went to the Anniversary party.

Family visits

We returned with Mum and took her to Atherstone where she stayed in the Red Lion Hotel. Brod and Donat joined her later that evening while we returned to the boat. Unpacked clothes cat and dog and repacked the fridge with food. Next day we returned the car, went shopping and walked back to the boat along the canal. The contrast between noisy busy roads and quiet canal reminded us once again why we are so happy living on our boat.

Moved the boat up to Atherstone to pick up family waiting by the locks. Donat was picked up earlier as he had walked some way down the canal towards us. Once all aboard we turned round to proceed to Nuneaton. Mum was looking forward to seeing the well kept gardens on the edge of the canal. Stopped at the marina to get more diesel before continuing. Having seen the gardens it took some time to get to the turning point some way from the edge of town and stopped for dinner on our return. It was a long day; we had done seven hours, returning in the dark!

After a second night in the hotel and a good cooked breakfast our guests got back to the boat for a trip down the locks. Brod took a bike in the car down to Bradley Green. Several boats were waiting to go down the locks. We had got down to Lock 4 when Brod rode up. Seven more locks to go. Then we had lunch. Walked down to the bridge to find the car and said good by to them all.

To Willington, Trent and Mersey canal pictures

Then Ann C. rang. They can visit us at Willington at the end of the week! We get our skates on to get there in three days, moving 5 hours each day. We normally move 2 or 3. Willington is on the Trent and Mersey, turn right at Fradley Junction and on to new territory for us passing Burton on Trent with its lovely smelly breweries. Found a space to stop by the bridge. There is a handy car park to leave the van. It did not take them long to find us from near Ashbourne where they were camping. Ann, George, Pete and Joy got on board and we turned round to travel back to Burton where The Mill House provided lunch. It was a sunny day to start with but after lunch there was a thunder storm and we sheltered under a bridge for ten minutes on our way back. Luckily finding our space again by the bridge. After tea and cake they returned to their campsite.

Erewash canal

A more leisurely pace gets us to the end of the Trent and Mersey at Shardlow where the River Derwent joins the River Trent. Lots of calm water takes us to Trent Lock and up to the Erewash Canal. We found that the water was a bit low above the next lock so we moored up at Long Eaton. Several boats passed by and were warned by us about the low water level but they continued anyway. Later several boats came back! Every time they used the lock it was getting worse. Some yobs had drained the canal further up despite the fact that the locks had tamper proof gear.

Some effort was being made to sort out the problem by the local British Waterway Lock Keeper. While we waited we arranged to meet our friends from back home who were on holiday near Barrow upon Soar. Terry and Myra drove up from their boat at Ventnor Farm the next day. They helped us up through the lock and back on an aborted attempt to proceed up the canal. Had to reverse back through the lock.

A turning point was three locks up and if the water level did not improve we were prepared to reverse half a mile to a turning point. A few days later the water was seen flowing past the lock having returned its normal level. So we took the boat up to Sandiacre Lock, turned and returned. Men fishing by the lock and yobs on the bridge made us feel unwelcome. Another boat came down with us that made us feel more secure. We stopped at Long Eaton again as we were waiting for some post.

River Trent

When we got our post we were off down to Trent Lock where several houseboats were moored nearby. A public park provided a good walk to see boats down on the Trent. A boat owner encouraged us to venture down the Trent towards Nottingham.

This we did next day. Everything is so much bigger. The locks are deep and the river is very wide. It was quite calm and after an hour we had had enough. There was a lot of rubbish hanging from the trees and bushes several feet above the water. This made us realize that the river could rise several feet if it rained. Nothing to see but lots of water and riverbanks and it was raining! Did see several Herons though. It took two hours to get back against the flow to below Trent Lock where we had lunch.

River Soar, Grand Union river Soar pictures

So we now go south on the River Soar. After a night at Kegworth we arrived at Loughbourgh where we found superb moorings. The river by passes the town so we are on a canal section between locks. This river is much smaller than the Trent with several places to moor. It is September now and suddenly it seems, there are fewer boats about. It is getting cooler and we have had the radiators on a few times. We cleaned the chimney and got the fire ready. It has been lit after an occasional damp day.

A tale of two cities

Loughborough: We found the visitor moorings with a park on one side and private gardens on the other. Well lit with plenty of grass and an excellent path. All clean and tidy. Trees and bushes hide low factory buildings. Many local people are walking by with their dogs, prams and babies. We had gone up through a lock that enabled us to join a canal section while the River Soar takes its own course. The canal re-joins the river at a lock on the other side of town. There were plenty of good shops and a Launderette, which we used. We also paid a visit to Taylor's Bell Foundry. They have been making bells for churches in the town since the 1850s. We were shown round on Sunday and saw how the castings were made and tuned. We would go again in the week in the hope to see molten metal being poured but we never did.

Leicester: The towpath telegraph had informed us about this town suggesting that we pass through without stopping. Many of the locks have tamper proof locks on them because some inhabitants try to open the locks and let the water out. The navigable river passes through the middle with many different bridges crossing it. The north side is quite rural with the River Soar spreading out. Then a lot of tall brick factories grow up from the very edge of the river. Leicester is known for its dye production and in the past the effluent went into the river making it black, passing through from south to north. Thankfully it is clean now but the town seems to have turned its back on the river. Much is fenced off with few places to stop. The canal and river navigation was rebuilt in the 19th Century as part of the flood prevention system. It took us nine hours to get from Birstall in the north to Kilby in the south, a distance of 13 miles with 16 locks that we managed in one hard day without stopping.

Professional boaters

Brenda and Ron on their boat Duke joined us near Kilby. Ron is a retired British Waterways man and knows all the canals like the back of his hand. It is a revelation to watch them handle the boat through locks and we saw many tricks of the trade.

Walked across a ridge field to Fleckney to find a Post Office and Co-op. Then we got to Foxton Junction. Here an arm takes the canal off to Market Harborough while a flight of narrow locks takes the canal south to join the Grand Union Main Line. There is a boat yard here and as the engine was due for a service I made enquiries. "Come back tomorrow at nine," they said. Next day the engine got its oil changed at exactly 750 hours! Also got more diesel as the tank was half full.

Had a bacon butty in the local pub before exploring the site of the Foxton Inclined Plane. This was built in 1900 to enable wide barges to bypass the narrow locks. It was capable of raising two narrowboats to the top in about 12 minutes while one boat took 45 minutes to go up through the locks. It remained viable for only ten years. Plans to widen the locks at Watford never materialised because the expected increase in traffic to the wide Grand Union did not happen.

'Nine Eleven'

We moved on down the canal and stopped by a bridge. Some Americans, who had just hired a boat from Market Harborough, moored nearby. It was about three o'clock and I went inside to turn on the radio and heard the horrible unbelievable news. The rest of the day was spent watching events on television. Just could not tell the Americans. The world may not be the same again. Several aircraft had been deliberately flown into both international trade buildings in New York. Both buildings collapsed with massive loss of life.

Leicester ring

The next day we moved the boat on down to Market Harborough. There is a private marina at the end. There was only enough room to turn round so we moored back on the narrow canal. BW are rebuilding the visitor moorings but were found to be a bit shallow. The town itself was well worth staying for.

Return to Foxton, turn left and go up the locks taking an hour to the summit level of 412 ft. The canal remains level for 20 miles before reaching Watford. There are two tunnels, one at Husbands Bosworth and one at Crick. Between the two an arm goes off to Welford that has a reservoir that stores water for the canal. Of course we went down to Welford where there was a boat yard with useful facilities. The village was small and we walked round the huge reservoir.

When we arrived at Crick near the end of the month we had completed the Leicester ring. That is a circle of several interconnecting canals covering counties such as Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. We have travelled on the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Trent and Mersey canals as well as on the River Trent and River Soar.

Moving with friends

Our friends met us at Crick in their boat Butty Lark, stayed a night and went on to Welford. We stayed 5 nights, picked up our post and got some more coal from a passing working boat and butty. We all moved south from Crick to Norton Junction and joined the Grand Union - Main Line. Myra cut my hair with her electric trimmer. Then we went to a pub for a meal. Next day we took the boats down through several wide locks past Buckby and went on to Weedon. The canal here is quite high and the road passes under it! We look over the top of the local church sandwiched between the canal and the railway that is just as high as we are. The bell ringers provided a loud musical interlude in the afternoon.

Proceeded to Bugbrooke for our planned visit by Pete and Deanna at the weekend. Arranged for our post to be sent to the post office and went up to the Surgery for medical requirements. Ann got a flue jab. This village is well spread out with no real centre but one to go back to for good walks.

Pete and Deanna arrived Saturday lunchtime and we travelled back the way we came. Stopped for a walk round Weedon, before proceeding further to moor up for the night. Deanna provided the dinner in our galley. The following day we continued to Whilton. Had to go up through one lock where the boat can be turned round. "Found me self on me own!" For every body else had abandoned ship, including the dog! The turn was between two locks on a short pound and it proved to be difficult as it was very shallow. Needed to get back to Bugbrooke for lunch at the pub but the fishermen conspired to slow us down. Luckily there was more than one pub to choose from, as the first was full. After the meal they went home.

Grand Union canal, Grand Union canal pictures

From Bugbrooke we travelled south with Terry and Myra on the Grand Union Canal in October. Passing through the long tunnel at Blisworth to Stoke Bruerne. The tunnel is nearly two miles long and took 40 minutes to get through. Then down several wide locks. The canal then passes over the Great Ouse River between Cosgrove and Old Woolverton.

We approach Milton Keynes from the north and turn east to go round it. There is an old windmill on the hill and the view from there looking down towards Milton Keynes shows only trees. We stopped for supplies at Woolverton, an old railway town on the edge of Milton Keynes. We moved on a short distance to get away from the noisy railway for the night at Stone Bridge. The clean canal and the fact that it is so rural impress us all. The planners of this new city have shown great respect for the old canal. The next day got us to Linford Wharf. Here we get fresh water and dump our rubbish. In the past many boats loaded and unloaded cargo for Newport Pagnell. The branch of canal has long since gone.

Willen lakes

The canal turns south still lined by trees and open parkland. The original old brick bridges remain numbered from 68 to 99 and covering a distance 11 miles. Many new bridges have been built, some for roads and some for paths numbered 79A, 79B etc. The roads of Milton Keynes form a grid about 1/2 a mile apart. Some land between the roads contains woodland and lakes. Bridge 88 caries a Bridle way and cycle track that goes over and under roads providing a safe walkway. We stopped at Bridge 88A to find a path to Willen Lake 15 minutes walk from the canal. The lake was created to prevent flooding in Milton Keynes. The lake is huge, surrounded by paths and landscaped with grass, bushes and trees. A good place to relax, have a picnic and watch the ducks, swans and geese.

We continued our travels through Bletchley, Fenny Stratford and stopped at Leighton Buzzard where we celebrated our friends wedding anniversary at a pub there. The town held an historical event at the weekend. People were dressed in Victorian clothes and a steam engine was driving an old fairground organ playing music. The mayor and town crier were telling us about the history of the town. We got provisions at the Farmers Market and flowers for our roof pots from the market stall.

The canal continues south passing Marsworth, Hemel Hempstead and Watford on the way to London. We will continue that way another time but for now we turn to return. November is the start of British Waterway's winter maintenance programme. Many locks and parts of the canal system will be closed to navigation. So we head back to Braunston on our own as our friends had left the previous day.

Working boats

We have got some more coal from a boat. It is surprising how many original working boats there are from the 1930s. With their iron sides, elm bottoms and reconditioned diesel engines. Some are privately owned while some belong to narrow boat trusts. Painted on their sides are the names of the original carriers like Fellows, Morton and Clayton and Grand Union Canal Carrier Co. They are still being used to transport coal, wood, diesel, recycled material, aggregates and even new lock gates.

Stoke Bruerne

Half term week saw more activity on the canal even in October. At Stoke Bruerne a trip boat moved up and down many times between the tunnel and the lock and the museum had many visitors. Stayed there for the night before passing through the tunnel next day then a few days at Bugbrooke . There are several paths to the village. One passes through a community garden where you can sit and enjoy the good weather.

We were with Butty Lark as we go up the Buckby flight of locks and were leaving a lock when we noticed that the next lock was being emptied. A bridge obscured our view and all we could see was the gates opening slowly but no boats come out! Once under the bridge with the boat nearly in the lock we saw the green BW men. "Did a couple of ghost boats come out?" we asked, as it was Halloween.

Ann had made a Christmas pudding for us. Then the gas ran out so we changed over to the other bottle. Got another bottle later at Whilton marina before going up the Buckby flight of locks to Norton Junction. Purchased some more coal off Ivor Batchellor on his boat Mountbatten. He and wife Mel were here waiting for another delivery of coal from his supply lorry. We have enjoyed a warm October with more sunny days than rainy ones but it is getting cooler at night so we try to keep the fire going in the evenings.

Winter shutdown

For British Waterways, November is the start of five months repair and maintenance work. We have a long list of stoppages so we can avoid the closures with careful planning to keep moving. A lot of work has been carried over from last year when the Foot n Mouth outbreak stopped it all. At Braunston a section of canal between two bridges was drained of water so we are unable to go down the south Oxford canal. The canal passes over a small river and the weir and floodgates have been leaking for some time. A dam was constructed at each bridge using planks of wood pushed down into the water and held in slots. It was strange to see the empty canal. I say empty meaning no water but it is amazing how much rubbish is stuck in the mud. Old tyres, batteries, spades, buckets, scrap metal and old fence posts.

Braunston visitors

Several old boats had to move into Braunston before the canal was drained. While we were there one pulled up in front of us and stayed the night. Two men and a young boy lived on board together with a dog. One man was seen walking off with a spade and returning ten minutes later! While the young boy watered the canal! Their breakfast consisted of burnt toast most of which was fed to the ducks. The engine was started with a handle, grey smoke issued from the exhaust and they were away.

Winter months

We have spent much of November travelling between Braunston and Rugby and went down to Napton to see the fireworks with Terry and Myra. We left them at Calcutt and went our separate ways. Back up at Rugby we stopped at different places and discovered new walks into town where we did the Christmas shopping. Got one of those energy saving light bulbs. It gives out 60 watts of white light for only 11 watts in. So we can see better colours on the jig saw puzzles! We have a wind up radio in the cabin tuned to Classic FM. Don't have to turn it off at night because it just runs out of power.

We have settled down into the winter months, which are testing our resolve. The last couple of months have presented us with some potential financial problems to sort out as our letting agent ceased trading. It is a bit much getting caught up with yet another company which was not viable. Good will and trust appear on the surface and all the protection seems to be for the provider. So we have decided to employ another agent. Our tenant is happy with this and we have been able to replace the oven in the bungalow. So at least we can continue with this way of life.

Pre Christmas

Left the boat in Braunston Marina for a week and Pete and Deanna came to fetch us. It was good to see the family again, all together at a pre Christmas party. An opportunity to exchange cards and presents. We stayed with George and Ann who gave us room, board and transport. We were able to see our new agent who was very pleasant and happy to look after our interests.

When Chris and Tracy returned us to the boat we found ice on the cut. The boat was cold inside as you can imagine so we set about lighting the fire, opening windows and cupboards. We have been advised to leave a couple of windows open next time. We have since noticed that the hire boats are left with windows open. Then we got invited into a boat nearby in the marina. Bob and Jane on Hobo gave us a cup of tea while we chatted. Their boat was the first new one to be launched on to the Kennet and Avon since that canal was opened in 1990.

We then moved out of the marina, got more coal and water and found a space near The Mill House where we stayed to the end of the year! The ice on the canal usually clears by mid morning after several boats have gone by breaking it up. It is quite noisy against the side of the boat. The broken sheets move over each other and make loud crunching noises. The weekend before Christmas saw several hire boats moving about. Most routes from Braunston are open to a limited extent. It is possible to go south to Napton where the locks will be closed during January and February.

The North Oxford is clear all the way to the Coventry canal and Polesworth. While the route north to Leicester and south to Bugbrooke on the Grand Union is closed. We had hoped to go south to make it easier for visitors but it would be March before we could start. We have been advised to go north early in order to miss the crowds on the Llangollen Canal.

Christmas on board

Either side of Christmas saw our boat in ice again. The ducks slide about on the flat slippery surface. We woke and put the radiators on and stoked up the fire. Christmas day was warmer and bright. Several boats were out and about. We opened our presents and had a traditional lunch. Went for a walk in the afternoon in bright sunshine. Then watched the Queen on TV.

It was very windy a few days later so we saw the water change from flat smooth ice to six inch waves in a few days. Charles was 60 on the 30th Mum, Chris and Tracy came up to celebrate in The Mill House where they stayed the night. The last day of the year found us iced in again. The temperature went down to minus 7c. We were invited onto Bramble. Our hosts George and Maggie provided drinks and food through to the New Year. Some fire works were let off in the field on the other side of the canal while the church bells rang in the New Year'

Boat names

"What's in a Name", from a leaflet published by Braunston marina.

Choosing a name is clearly a NECESSITY and for some its NO PROBLEM but for others it results in a lot of ARGY-BARGY which can lead to DIRE STRAITS. The choice MEANDER makes it pretty clear that they are sharing, while OURS leaves no room for doubt. Some don't worry about choosing a name at all, saying that there is MOORE TO LIFE. But clearly, for most people, choosing the right name gives great SATISFACTION and in every case the boat is PRICELESS and certainly NOT FOR SALE.

Currency

The EURO has arrived. The big EE. How long will it be before we forget those 12 old currencies like the Frank, Mark, Punt, Lira, Guilder, Escudo etc. and which country used them? At the start of 2002 the E is worth 62p. Or to put it another way, the is worth E1.61. Back in the 15th century the use of European coinage was popular on the south coast of England because it was considered better value! We were arguing about the colour of roses at the time, if you know what I mean!

Thank you for reading Chapter 7. Return to Book.