Moore 2 Life:Exploring the waterways

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Book:'LIFE WITH A NARROWBOAT' © Chas Moore

Chapter 13: Drifting, 2007

Reflection on the waters

We both still enjoy life on the waterways and cannot see ourselves going back to dry land. The freedom, lifestyle, peace, countryside, wildlife and exploration is possible on the boat. We feel that the waterways are still our home for now.

At 65 I need time to explore in other directions, watching DVD's, maybe write about my working life, listen to music as always, keep the blog going, learn more tricks with those web pages. Should also get out for a walk with Ann and Molly. Moving the boat to discover and explore provides the incentive to continue writiing.

Helping friends, Kennet & Avon canal pictures

For the next few months we will be staying on the Kennet and Avon near Devizes. Our time will be spent helping our friends fit out their new boat No Problem. Sue and Vic had been looking for a longer boat for some time and found one near Devizes. A major refit is now underway.

Vic has been very busy building a dinette. The seats are high up so you can see out easily. There is plenty of storage space for Sue's computer, printer and scanner. Two large drawers will contain the grandchildren's toys! And the bedding can also be packed away. The dinette can be converted into a double bed. I was busy helping with the electrical wiring.

A green boat

We use about one unit of electricity a day. That is a Kilowatt-hour. Our engine and batteries provide just enough power to run all our electrical equipment. Each day the engine is run mainly to charge up the batteries for between one and two hours. During the day our solar panels keep the batteries topped up when the sun is out.

When purchasing new electrical equipment we have to consider its power requirement. Our TV is only 40 watts and the computer is 100 watts. We are considering replacing our lighting to the more efficient LED's. I do wish more could be done to encourage us all to consider the amount of power our equipment uses.

When power costs money and its generation damages the environment we should know how much power our equipment is consuming. Look for the information on the back of equipment before you buy.

System failures

We seem to be OK on the Kennet and Avon canal for the moment but it is closed near Reading. Private property near the canal has the river Kennet passing over a weir that collapsed in December. It will apparently cost 100,000 to repair. British Waterways have not been maintaining the weir because it is on private land. Its collapse caused a rush of water that sank a boat and now a section of canal is empty! In fact BW should have been maintaining it and are now obliged to repair it.

There has been so much rain that the Thames is in flood and during a very windy day a lot of trees were blown down. Many have blocked the canals all over the country. BW has advised all boaters to check with them before setting off on a trip! They will have a lot of work to do to clear the trees and continue the planned winter maintenance as well.

The winter months

Not really much to report, it is the winter months and we are not moving about exploring or discovering. Just keeping going, ticking over, on the Kennet and Avon canal near Devizes. Been expecting it, ice on the cut after several days of frost in the morning making the surface all flat and hard. The sun is out so it won't last long. Got more diesel at 60 pence a litre and a gas bottle for 20 thankfully before the ice arrived. We are moored on the opposite bank and just have to back up about 100 yards to the pump and water supply.

Been busy reading Terry Wogan's 'Mustn't Grumble' book. Worth a read if you want to know his truth about the 'Eurovision Song Contest', 'Children In Need' and other things he is involved in. It is a good laugh in places. Some of those 'Janet and John' stories are printed within. Have been helping our friends refitting the new No Problem and writing about my working life and technology experiences.

A closed canal

The Kennet and Avon is still closed near Reading and will be until further notice. Several boaters have been considering having their boats craned out and transported to another canal. We moved down to Devizes through slushy ice and a snowstorm to collect a Tesco order and get water. There on the wharf was a boat on a lorry and the crane just leaving. 'Heading for the midlands' they said. The closure caused by a broken weir on private land could have happened at any time so we are thankful it occurred after we had got off the Thames which has been in flood ever since.

Family visit

Chris, Tracy and the boys, Josh and Ben arrived for a weekend stay. We moved the boat back over to the marina to pick them up in the dark! Once back at our mooring there was just time for a meal before we bathed the boys and put them to bed. Next day we all travelled down to Devizes and back. No room to park for a look round so returned. But it is always better to move the boat while they are aboard. Spent the afternoon watching a DVD about Cars. Then after a meal we returned them to their car.

A new dinette

We have moved into the marina to have a dinette built. Spent many hours thinking about the design and making drawings. The design had to consider how to make the dinette with a table to be converted to a double bed and incorporate a bookcase! It had to be able to store many items out of sight. My first job was to remove the existing table and bench seat that I built two years ago. Its conversion to a bed was never very successful. Hopefully the new design will be easier.

Changes are being made and our normal routine has been disrupted. We miss our friends who are almost out of reach on the other side of the canal. They have started to operate a ferry service as and when required. We also miss the freedom of just walking along the towpath and watching the wild birds eating from our feeders hung on the hedgerow. On the plus side we do have access to mains electricity so do not have to run the engine but our boat is surrounded by other boats so the view from the windows is just another boat!

Life in a marina

Richard is doing a marvellous job for us. The Dinette is coming together as planned. The quality of workmanship cannot be faulted. I have done my bit by applying the varnish. Although we have been in for two weeks so far we knew that Richard could not spend every day on our project alone.

While living on board in the marina we had an alternative source of power. Normally we rely on the engine for electricity and hot water, but here we have a landline. That is mains electric. The power point has a meter that enabled me to keep a record of power used. So far it works out at about 2 KWh a day. We were able to use the washing machine several times and heat the water using our immersion heater. Diesel is still being burnt to keep our fire going for space heating.

Save our waterways

We are at Devizes for the weekend with a gathering of boaters, fishermen, canoeists and other waterway users to protest about the swinging cuts in Government funds. DEFRA's poor management of EU subsidies has resulted in the EU imposing heavy fines. A disgraceful situation after so much effort has been made in the past to restore the waterway system by volunteers and local authorities.

Moving down the Caen Hill locks

We had gone down a few locks from Devizes the day before. After such a long time in one place it was a real treat to move again. The sunshine and warm spring like day made for an enjoyable trip. Paul came at 10 o'clock to help. Vic, Paul and Ann set up the locks in front as we progressed down the hill through nineteen wide locks. Tara and Moore 2 Life were driven together into each lock all the way down. It is a matter of pride to guide both into the lock with only a few inches clearance without hitting the sides. Sue had previously made some tomato soup, which we all consumed, once safely moored below the flight at one thirty.

Out and about in the sunshine

We have been moving slowly west and stopped near Seend. The canal is a bit exposed to the wind because there are few trees. There are some swing bridges to operate that are for farmers and walkers so it is very rural here. Walked up to Seend where the Post Office had our post. It was a lovely sunny day so we took a picnic with us. Found a spot in a field and sat on a fallen Horse Chestnut (conker) tree trunk. Studied the view across a clear valley in the sunshine. Sue was searching for a few of those 'Geo-Cache' boxes. Took a while to find one tucked out of sight in a hedgerow. Wrote in its logbook to register the fact that the 'Narrowboaters' had found it. A number of hints are found on the Internet to give a location and a GPS points the way to the hiding place.

Wandering up and down

Ann and Sue are enjoying their walks with the dogs, now that Sue has recovered from a virus infection. The canal between Seend and Semington offers many interesting tracks and paths. Ann has a map printed off the computer, while Sue has her magic GPS. Following the public foot paths round farm buildings can be difficult where mud and fences force detours.

We had stopped at the visitor moorings near Seend bottom lock. A boat there had been left for some time for it had a 'parking ticket' stuck to its window and it was empty. A passing boat caused a mooring pin to come loose by going too fast causing the boat to drift across the canal. As it was late in the evening we decided to leave it there. Next day another boat wanted to get by so they, with our help, managed to pull the abandoned boat back to its mooring.

Swing bridges and an aqueduct

Continuing to Semington we had to operate no less than three swing bridges within a mile of each other. Sue and Vic was in front and so they opened the first and we went on to the next. We opened that and they the next! Then we opened the next lock and both went in. Just before that lock the canal went over an aqueduct. It was back in 2004 that we both came this way when the aqueduct was being built. A road now passes under the canal.

Visitors

Chris came up on his motorbike to see us. Just over an hour was enough for him. Always a worry for us but it was good to see him. And he got home safe. Next weekend our friends Mary and Ray came. They were camping at Sells Green not far away. As it was a nice day we took them through a swing bridge to the winding hole, turned and returned. Ann had made soup that we all enjoyed.

Bradford on Avon

The Kennet and Avon remains a very quiet pretty canal. It is a dead end at Bath unless you choose to go down on the river and out on the Bristol Channel. As we progressed westwards the number of old wrecks, floating sheds and rows of boats taking most of the available moorings has increased since we were here in 2004. The hirers of narrowboats must be put off by this lack of space, especially at Bradford on Avon, which is a lovely place to explore. It reminds me of Hebden Bridge with stone buildings, the river, road, rail and canal passing through the valley. We all enjoyed sitting in a cafe eating, drinking and watching the world and its traffic go by.

A greater threat

We have been protesting about the government's failure to maintain investment in our waterways. The infrastructure needs regular maintenance to keep the system open. Canals and rivers could become unnavigable which would be a disgrace after all the effort made to restore navigation. The waterways provide a wonderful natural environment for relaxation and holidays.

But it seems that there is an even greater threat to the well being of our navigations. In 'the small print' of the last budget by Mr. Brown, was the confirmation that our diesel fuel is to be taxed at a higher rate. Thankfully we will have a few years before the government get their act together.

Caen Hill

We arrived to find the bottom pound full of boats waiting to go on down to Foxhangers but they were having their lunch. The lock keeper arrived to inform us that he was lowering the water level to investigate a leak. When the other boats moved on we tied up at the visitor mooring with slack ropes. Went down at least a foot over night but it was still deep enough to be floating!

Next day started misty which cleared as the sun came up. Set off together at about ten, Ann and Vic having got the first lock ready. Paul Balmer of Waterway Routes was seen walking down the flight to help. Another glorious day for travelling up through this famous flight of sixteen closely spaced locks. Surprising being Easter that no other boats were passed on the way up and not many people watching our progress.

It was when we were at the top that the first pair of boats was seen coming out of a lock in front. We passed and watched them struggling to get in the lock almost one behind the other, far easier to go in as a pair together. We had taken just over two hours from bottom to top of the flight. Stopped after doing a few more locks and thanked Paul for his help. Then we all enjoyed home made vegetable soup that Ann had made earlier.

Another family visit

We are back near Devizes Marina so the family can leave their car in the car park safely. Took the boat over to pick them up and after loading their kit and refreshments we set off east. Originally intending to get to Honey Street to turn. But it was slow going and decided to turn at Allington. We had spotted an open field at Bishops Cannings so headed back there for the night stop. Next morning the young boys had a good run about with the dogs and a ball. They enjoyed being able to help operate the swing bridge when it was time to continue moving the boat. A nearby boat was flying a black flag with a scull and cross bones. 'Oh look, a pirate ship' they cried and were glad to move away!

Old memories

We are back at our bungalow not occupied by us since 2000. A gap in the tenancy allowed us to revisit and redecorate. Our agent suggested that it is easier to re let unfurnished. Packed most of our furniture in our hired White Van and took it all to the local council recycling tip. Some help offered to lift it all into the huge bins. "Household over there, wood there and metal in that one," the man told us. Some of our furniture was taken for sale while most was just wood.

We have set ourselves a target to strip wallpaper, clean and paint the entire bungalow in about four weeks. Weary after only two days having already removed more furniture outside under the carport. The shed and attic had even more stuff for disposal. Our neighbour paid us for a settee and the sideboard with glazed top but a 'yard sale' notice did not attract many callers so another trip in the van with even more stuff to clear the yard. We returned the van to 'Enterprise' in Southampton. Then they took us home. All we have left now is a bed, a small settee and a rocking chair! We also want to tidy up the garden if we have time.

It does seem strange living in our old home that we lived in for about two years before moving on to our boat. Our friends Terry and Myra happened to be off their boat and paid us a visit. They helped with the painting and took us to the shops where we ordered carpets and got some food. Been a bit hasty clearing out the place because we had thrown all the baking trays and a measuring jug. Next day our cupboards were restocked from Tesco who delivered to our door.

After the first week we have managed to finish two rooms with work in progress in the other four. The carpet man came to see us and remarked that he thought he would never see another foam back carpet! "Mind you most of the foam had turned to dust". Took some time out to walk round the local woods that we discovered all those years ago.

On a mission

We arrived at Devizes Marina to find Moore 2 Life out of the water, blacked and about to be re launched. Brod saw it all happen, as it was he who provided the transport. Once on board all the boat systems were re activated so we could make a cup of tea after loading all our stuff. The boiler was switched on to warm up the boat as it had just started to rain.

So back on our boat and moving east on the Kennet and Avon canal with a desire to catch up with our friends Sue and Vic on No Problem. They are also moving their old boat renamed Tara now up for sale on the Internet.

We are a week away from Reading if we move every day. Ten to twenty lock miles a day is our intention. Travelling with another boat, Slicer, to Great Bedwyn. I have a strange fascination seeing the trains arriving at Great Bedwyn station. They stop here, move over to the other track and return to Reading. Used to look like green caterpillars, but now they are blue. Somehow getting off the main line to let the First Great Western express through. After three days we arrived at Hungerford to stock up. Passing that pirate ship on the way.

Some days seem harder than others. More locks per mile? Or was it waiting for two boats at Coblers Lock? It was empty like all the others on the way down and we had to fill them all to get down. But here a boat was waiting to come up. We had to tell them it was their lock. They both got on the boat and drove in and waited for another boat. Eventually it arrived and also drove in. Ann shut the gate for them and I opened the paddle. I told them "If you open the other paddle on your side it will rise quicker." We walked away and left them to get off their boats.

Two days on the Thames, River Thames pictures

Day one. Left Reading at nine to go through Blakes Lock which has no lock keeper. So we let ourselves down on to the river with Jan and Roy on Slicer. What a lovely hot sunshine day to enjoy the wonderful Thames. Much calmer now compared to our trip down in October. Already seeing river birds like grebe and cormorants. We plan to make for Days Lock, which is about half way to Oxford.

On the way to Goring at lunchtime a cruiser passed us by to get into the lock first. We both entered behind. The lock keeper was away for his lunch and the crew of the cruiser was about to have theirs! "Not in the lock, please," we said and proceeded to operate the lock. Thankfully Cleve Lock was not far away so we all stopped on the riverbank for our lunch. Sad to see that this particular lock is now unmanned and some boaters are struggling to operate the locks correctly. Then we travelled ten more miles passing Wallingford, through Benson Lock and on to Days. It seemed ages in the afternoon sun hoping to find somewhere to stop before the lock. But we knew there was a place just after the lock. During the day we observed that twelve narrowboats and twenty cruisers were on the move.

Day two. It is another hot sunny day on the river. Didcot power station was busy creating clouds. The boat is covered in little dead white flies. Set off at nine again, four miles to the next lock seems like forever. Once again being passed by that same cruiser wanting to get in front. As we approached the lock it looked like one boat was moored well back so we went in front. "Wot do you think I'm 'ere for, me health?" said Mr Angry. He went to open the lock as the keeper was having his lunch. Then moved in and stopped half way, so we went in on the other side one behind the other as the keeper arrived.

Later we all entered Iffley Lock and were told about the Oxford Regatta. "Wait here till the race is over then you can proceed slowly down the centre." As we went through several eights were passing us on both sides and in both directions, practicing for the next race. As we passed the rowing clubhouses they were crossing in front. It was a seemly chaotic scene on the Thames in Oxford.

Osney Lock let us in but there was no room for our friends on Slicer. We left first with Mr Angry following and he turned off on to the Oxford canal at Isis Lock. Then we slowed down to let Slicer catch up. By the time we had reached the next lock it was not long before they joined us. Two more locks on the Thames were far better than going up the dead end bit of the Oxford Canal. Turned off along Dukes Cut to join the canal then on passed all those rubbish boats moored for about a mile or so. Eventually finding somewhere pleasant to stop for the night. During our second day on the Thames we observed that fourteen narrowboats and eleven cruisers were on the move. We had been moving for over seven hours on each of those days.

Vegitation cut backs, Oxford canal pictures

We are moving north on the Oxford Canal. Sunshine and showers are encouraging the rapid growth of vegetation. Trying to moor up is difficult and can be dangerous where the firm edge cannot be seen. Trees have fallen down and some are in the canal but not blocking our path yet. A tree behind us between bridge 207 and 208 will close the navigation when it does fall. Sadly it is one of many trying to stay up with the weight of ivy crawling all over it.

There has been some attempt by BW to cut back the vegetation along the towpath. But we fear that the financial cut backs will reduce the amount of vegetation cut backs.

Moving three boats

Seems we have a reputation. Our Blogging friends on the Internet have been making comments about seeing these two boats together, Moore 2 Life and No Problem. Currently joined by Tara, the new name for Sue and Vic's first boat. Each lock takes about an hour to get them all through one at a time, helped occasionally by the crew of other boats going in the opposite direction. Despite this delay at locks we seem to make up time between them.

Wooden floor

We want a wooden floor rather than carpet. Our two animals produce a lot of loose fur and inevitably the towpath grit and dirt get in the boat so the carpet tiles have suffered. Despite a good hard brushing they still looked grubby. All the carpet tiles have gone exposing the wooden floor beneath. "That is not good enough," says Ann, "I want a real floor made from oak planks." We got some at B and Q in Banbury. The store was near the canal so we were able to deliver it ourselves, door to boat, with the help of our friend Vic. We now have a large quantity of heavy planks to be spread around the boat preventing it from leaning over. Now it has become an obstacle course inside the boat. Spent a productive few days laying and gluing them together from one end of the boat to the other. Then there's the edging to do. This will be work in progress for a while yet.

The summer rush

It is now midsummer - the longest day. Boaters, holiday hirers and owners alike are moving their boats about on the canals. They seem to get away early and stop late. Just wish they could slow down to tick over when passing moored boats. We have given up shouting "slow down please." We just thank those that that do go slowly by, respecting the canal and not making a wash.

New boats and places to go

Despite all the problems going on in canal politics there does seem to be a popular demand for new boats on the waterways. When you look in the canal magazines there is always a new boat described with quality features. There are many more marinas being planned and built.

Being back on the Oxford Canal we have seen much more activity with boaters moving up and down. Even the occasional work boat with diesel and coal for sale. On up the Claydon flight to the summit pound. Join the queue at the bottom lock with three in front and others arriving behind. There is much talk about being on a canal and thankful that we don't need to travel on a river, because they are all in extreme flood conditions now. Several boats were coming down through the locks so it was good to pass each other leaving and entering.

Finally reached the top but finding it very shallow despite there being plenty of water. It is brown with churned up sediment and in dire need of a good dredging. Fifteen miles of lock free canal to Marston Doles and the Napton locks. Slow going with the boat dragging along the bottom especially on the many bends. We stopped for the night three miles past Fenny Compton where we found the first firm deep edge to moor up to. Sadly the towpath is in a sorry state. Not really walk able with so much uncut vegetation. I got the shears out and cut down the tall grass and nettles to establish a clear patch where we can get on and off the boat.

A carp story

Back down at Cropredy Ann and Sue went fishing. The water was alive with big fish as pieces of bread were thrown in. Just fine lines, small barb less hooks and bread did the trick. Within minutes after some fish exercise caught with that hook and line in its mouth, it was netted. And what a huge mouth it was, big enough for several fingers! First Sue got one then it was Ann's turn.

Braunston boats

We approached Braunston from the south past those old workboats near the Puddle banks. Some looking like floating sheds and some burnt out and sunk. At that distinctive double bridge we turned right just as several other boats were negotiating this junction. Mo and Vanessa on Balmaha had told us there was some space and were waiting to catch our ropes. No Problem arrived soon after and we all enjoyed a blogger gathering. Not seen Mo and Vanessa since last year. We celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary with Sue and Vic up at The Old Plough. It was very popular and were pleased that Sue had booked a table for us. A good menu was slightly spoilt by some lack of food.

Many working boats, gathered the previous weekend, were still in Braunston. There were over seventy according to Tim Coglan who organises the event every year. This time it was featured on Country File, BBC1 Sunday. It is so good to see them restored and actually transporting goods and providing services on the waterways.

Green transport

A government statistic states that Transportation of goods on the roads is responsible for 24% of CO2 emissions. These are rising by 10% a year and the UK may fail to meet its 2010 target for reduction. The Commercial Boat Operators Association has provided some evidence. Apparently a 500 Tonne barge emits 80% less CO2 than road haulage vehicles.

To make the maths easy, say a barge carries 300 Tonnes at three miles an hour. One lorry carrying thirty Tonnes would have to make ten journeys there and ten back while empty, and would have to travel twenty times faster than the barge to keep up, that is sixty miles an hour! The use of two lorries would reduce that average speed to thirty miles an hour.

So it would seem that commercial traffic should be encouraged on the navigable waterways in order to reduce our CO2 emissions. BUT since commercial traffic first moved to the railway and then to the roads the navigable waterways were abandoned.

These waterways were then privately restored and are maintained by British Waterways and the Environment Agency. The waterways are now primarily used for pleasure. Government investment has declined so much that even that use by boaters is becoming difficult. The navigable waterways have become shallow and narrow in many places. BW has in fact closed their central freight department, which was trying to reintroduce freight on London canals.

A huge increase in investment and change in attitude would be needed to enable commercial traffic to operate on the navigable waterways. But this may well spoil the peace and tranquillity found on our waterways, which are enjoyed by so many.

Friends come and go

Laying the new floor using those oak planks from B and Q is a job well done. Now we have a couple of colourful mats. A very welcome break from those proceedings is meeting up with Terry and Myra. They had got through Braunston tunnel and found us up the north Oxford canal. We have known them since life began for us on the canals having shared ownership of our first narrowboat Nomad of Erehwon on the Kennet and Avon canal.

While travelling with No Problem we once again enjoyed a Sunday lunch at the Bistro, this time with Sue, Vic and John. If ever you are ever near or passing the Hillmorton Locks do have lunch at the Bistro. Continued on to Rugby and stopped at Brownsover where out of town shopping is nearby. Unfortunately we part company here with Sue and Vic. Dental appointments back at Daventry for us while our friends continue north.

Passing friends

Phil and Deborah on 4 Miles On have come up from the Kennet and Avon. Just got off the Thames as the red boards, indicating no boat movement due to high water flow, were put up. Phil and Deborah are friends made when we were boating on the K and A many years ago. It is a very rare occasion to see them out and about on their boat. Pleased for them being able to have a few weeks up north.

BW moorings

We do feel sorry for many boaters looking for a mooring. Just like housing the lack of supply and high demand is pushing up prices. BW is not helping the situation. They have cancelled the waiting list in favour of an auction for the available moorings. That means boaters expecting to get a mooring will now have to bid for it. The highest bidder will get the mooring. These permit holder moorings are not much to write home about, just a firm edge and no other facilities. There are better facilities in a marina but likely to be even more expensive. There was a move to reduce moorings on the cut but this method is just upsetting BW customers.

Rain, rain, rain

These last few months of June and July have just been WET. Sadly many places near rivers have been flooded many times as the rivers burst over their banks. You may remember our protests, as boaters, over the swinging cuts in government finance to British Waterways. The same financial cuts have also affected the Environment Agency. Now they are responsible for the environment and flood defences! With the change of Prime Minister heads have rolled but it is too late to save those flooded houses. Why do they allow houses to be built on flood plains?

Canals are relatively safe with weirs and locks to control the water level. Some water comes from lakes and reservoirs but also from rivers fed directly into the canal. After a particularly very heavy down pour all day we found our ropes had got tight. The water level went up by eleven inches by the end of the afternoon. We had to slacken the ropes as the boat started leaning over! British Waterways have actually issued flood notices.

They closed Braunston Tunnel. So much water rushed down off the bank into the tunnel that it took in a lot of silt, rubble and debris with it. Some say that it may have to be dredged out and the tunnel inspected before opening it to navigation. Also the canal is closed going south from Napton to Oxford! But by the next day it was open down to Banbury but not beyond where the river Cherwell joins the canal. Banbury bus station was flooded below the lock and the towpath was under water. All the boaters were advised to move up through the lock to relative safety. Phill and Deborah had to leave their boat 4 Miles On at Thrupp and get home by car.

Have just seen a picture of a lock at Stourport that is under water. The Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal joins the river Severn here. It was back in 2003 that we came this way in our boat. I cannot imagine what it must be like going down that swollen river past Worcester and off at Tewkesbury where the lower Avon joins the Severn. Tewkesbury has been turned into an island!

Flooding rivers

We are looking at reports on the TV news. The Thames through Oxford near Osney lock almost burst its banks. The water level is so high that boats cannot get under the low A420 Bridge. That road became flooded in places. We came down this way in October 2006, describing the river as being restricted with a lot of water flowing over the weir. To the west of the navigation the Thames and various other streams are expected to pass the built up areas of Botley and Osney. Many boats and boaters were unable to move for several weeks. Further down, the river Cherwell joins the Thames having come down the east side of Oxford past the colleges. It is just like Tewkesbury with its two rivers either side. That town was turned into an island for a while!

The rivers Nene and Ouse in East Anglia are also in flood. The Environment Agency has reversed many locks. This procedure opens the lock at both ends, which allows the water to flow through. Obviously no navigation by boat is possible under these conditions. These conditions are expected in the winter months so it is quite unusual to find so many flood restrictions now.

Some are blaming global warming and a shift south of the jet stream. Whatever the cause we are suffering from more extreme weather conditions. This is a wakeup call for our government to seriously consider the country's infrastructure. Water and electricity supplies have been compromised where flooding has occurred. Drainage systems must be improved and maintained. It is no good treating them as rubbish dumps and then wondering why the water level rises so quickly. We have seen shopping trolleys thrown into streams. These are very effective at building up a dam.

Braunston

We moved back in and found a space vacated by a long-term moorer, their notice inviting others to use the space till August. Thank you Calipso Rose. Other boaters are not so welcoming. Several have been here occupying the 48hour moorings for much longer than that. We know this because each time we come back in we see the same boats in the same place. Terry and Myra met us up at the Admiral Nelson for lunch. They had been able, earlier; to get their boat through the tunnel when it reopened after a landslide had closed it. We are drifting about slowly on the Oxford canal in and out of Braunston. An unexpected sunny weekend spent near Flecknoe on a grass-covered towpath. So overgrown that passing walkers or cyclists do not disturb us. While sitting out we watch the boats go by and wave to those we know. We are staying south waiting for a family visit.

Drifting to Calcutt

Moved out just for a change of scenery. Met Snecklifter as we turned a corner so stopped for a chat with Mike and Liz. Not seen them since this time two years ago. We knew they were near because we occasionally read their blog. Continued on to Calcutt locks and found a space for us among the other boats. Best to get here early due to its popularity. Not a place for peace and tranquillity but good for watching boats on the move.

On a sunny day we both walked down past the locks. Watching several boats going up and down one at a time through these double locks. Such is the independent attitude of summer boaters. Carried on walking along this recently cut towpath. There are several marinas here and two of them below the locks have expanded and are already filling with boats. Then we saw Liberty Belle. Angela was about to write her blog after being away for a while.

Back to Braunston

Found a space near the Stop House. Braunston was almost full of boats but spaced out due mainly to lack of mooring rings. This is a throw back to the working boat days. They were all 70 feet long and the rings were ok for them. A concrete edge prevents steaks being hammered in! Now most boats are shorter so extra rings would be handy. The hire boaters are all coming and going at the weekend. Then there are the boaters coming out of the marina or going in for the facilities.

Family visit

They arrived on Saturday and left the car in the marina. Our plan is to travel down to Calcutt and back the next day, just a couple of hours travelling in the afternoon after refreshments. No locks but plenty of boat activity on the way through open countryside. The grand children are sitting on the roof up front with parents, all trying to touch the bridges as we passed under. Met boats at almost every one so usually stopped to let them through. Overgrown bushes often narrow the bridge holes.

Napton Junction is where the southern section of the Oxford canal joins the Grand Union. Now referred to as Wigrams Turn Marina. It is a cross roads where we turned right under the bridge. A short while later we were lucky to find a space near the locks. Josh called them water gates. We have a hard edge to safely step off on to and a wide cut grass patch to sit out on. Bright hot sunny days encouraging the BBQ use. Chris made beef burgers from minced beef and an egg. Back inside we watched Chicken Run on a DVD before bath and bed for the boys.

Next day grand parents entertained their grand children to allow parents a moment of peace. Ann and Tracy went off to the shop to get delicious ice creams. Then we set off back stopping short of Braunston to consume the pork casserole, which Ann had made earlier. Back past those old boats on the way into Braunston, turning right at the two bridges and slowly on to the water point near the marina. Good-bye to family till next time as they packed the car and left, while we refilled our water tank.

Moving on, Oxford canal pictures

It was in 2006 that we last ventured north of Rugby. Almost forgotten what the north Oxford canal was like. In fact we hardly recognised it with all that vegetation growing out of its sides and threatening our paintwork. A product of all that rain and perhaps the fact that previously we passed this way in the spring. The towpaths are just as bad here as on the southern section. No point getting off the boat to walk with Molly. British Waterways and it's contractors would have a hard job themselves getting to it without a boat if only they had the money to get on with it. The occasional walker seen stuck between bridges unable to proceed without the use of a hedge trimmer! Found a space at Brownsover near Rugby with boats moored both sides of the canal.

A new modem

Our internet system with Orange, an Office Card, was designed to use GPRS or 3G and was becoming unreliable, their latest magazine not even featuring the system. Sue on No Problem had been using the T-Mobile data card and reported that the connection was good, fast and reliable. Mike on Snecklifter showed me his T-Mobile USB modem telling me that it was free on a monthly contract. It even worked well in Braunston a known mobile black spot. So that is what we got in Rugby. Could not have been easier. Back at the boat the modem loaded it's software and we were on line with a similar speed to broadband and almost unlimited data.

Coventry canal, Coventry canal pictures

As we approached Newbold there was Valerie. Les was enjoying the sunshine with friends as we passed and exchanged greetings. Was not expecting to see him there. We bloggers tend not to disclose our whereabouts on the same day. We passed on through the illuminated tunnel with the pretty coloured lights. It was a seemingly long journey north to stop near Hawkesbury Junction with the towpath still in very poor shape. Within a mile of the Coventry canal we found a mooring with cut grass.

Next day we got water at the junction with the Coventry canal. Of the two water taps one was damaged and unusable and the other was OK but with a permanent pipe attached to supply water to the permanent moorings. Had to turn off their supply in order to get our tank filled. At least the grass was cut along this canal so it made a change to be able to walk some of the ten lock free miles to Atherstone. The Coventry canal remains our most favourite of all with plenty of open countryside to explore with some towns and villages to travel through and the towpath still in excellent condition. There are enough facilities to keep you comfortable.

August is a busy time for the canal system. Several boats coming up the Atherstone flight of locks were running aground even in the locks because they were all coming up to the same lock and taking the water! The system is self-regulating with the water supply determining the speed at which you can go. Once down those locks you have seven lock free miles to just two locks at Tamworth then twenty-two miles to Fradley junction with the Trent and Mersey canal.

Rugeley and Cannock Chase, Trent & Mersey canal pictures

We get here almost every year. It seems ages because we went to East Anglia last year. Turned left on to the Trent and Mersey canal and joined a queue of six boats waiting just over an hour to go up the locks. Up past Fradley and Ravenshaw woods, through the narrows of Armitage and eventually stopping at Rugeley. Its claim to fame, apparently, is the Donkey Jacket. Anyway a little town with all you need. Some well kept gardens to be seen on the way through. I sat on a bench with Molly after getting some lovely veg on Sunday. While Ann shopped in the supermarket I watched people and cars pass by. Seems quite affluent here with their expensive foreign cars. We are of course just north of Birmingham, the engineering capital of England, but should I be sad not to see an English car?

After our usual one night stay we continued on past more of those canal side gardens before turning to cross over the river Trent that was calmer than expected. Approached Colwich lock and joined a queue of three boats. Then stopped for lunch surrounded by trees just before Haywood lock. Not so many boats here as in previous visits in the summer. Up through the gongoozled lock at Great Haywood. People are watching your every move and taking pictures of the boat. It is a popular place with Shugborough Hall and park nearby.

We turned left off the Trent and Mersey on to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal under the towpath bridge. Wanting to get on a bit we passed through Tixall Wide and Tixall lock eventually stopping past Tixall Bridge 106. The high hedges here protect us from the expected wind and rain. It was not that bad next day so we moved on a few miles to near Stafford and stopped. It had been raining off and on but turned into that fine stuff that just gets you damp. Nothing like the storm we were expecting.

A new front canopy

We arranged to meet Tim and Lisa at Worsley Bridge on the Trent and Mersey Canal just north of Rugeley. They are 'Staffordshire Canopies' and came to do a survey. Luckily the sun was shining and it was not too windy. They set about measuring the boat and making patterns using brown paper and sticky tape. It was a work of art with a red marker pen used to draw where the zips and windows are to go. Clouds appeared and started sprinkling the damp stuff. The paper patterns were quickly removed and rolled up. As they rushed off we were told that the canopy would be ready in a couple of weeks. Tim came to fit it at Gnosall when we had turned on to the Shropshire Union.

Bloggers ahead

A number of days later we turned right on the Shropshire Union. This canal is quite different to most in that it does not follow the contours. It digs deep into cuttings then high on embankments. A Thomas Telford canal, much of it through open countryside and small villages. It managed to stay level for eight miles where one lock dropped seven feet. We had already got a Tesco delivery and eventually found Sue and Vic near Gnosall Heath and stopped. Rugby and the Oxford Canal now a very long way back where we last saw them five weeks ago. "Yes we have been separated for that long!"

Vic had got the kettle on and we all had a cup of tea together again. Sue and Ann then went off on a walk with all four dogs, which included the two belonging to Wendy. They got back just in time before the heavens opened again with more heavy rain. Now feeling cosy inside the boat fully stocked with food and looking forward to a few days in one place for a change.

One boat went by and the owners called out that they read the blog. Then Bendigedig with Elsie and Eric stopped for a chat. We had been looking at their blog and realised that they were not far away. We all enjoyed a long chat on board No Problem over a cup of tea once again made by Vic. We had often wondered how to pronounce Bendigedig. Elsie said it like this - Bendi ged ig, in a lovely soft welsh voice. It means wonderful. There is usually a story behind many boat names.

Harry Potter

"Yes I got the last book written by J K Rowling, 'The Deathly Hallows'." I had read most of the previous stories. It has proved once again to be a book that I had to keep on reading to the end. I felt that I had been possessed by the story - nothing else mattered. A book of fiction, yet I, a factual person, have read it! But I have always been interested in 'Science Fiction' or fantasy, concepts and ideas that in time could affect our daily lives. Think of many inventions around today that may have been conceived in fiction. The laser beam has found many helpful uses since it was discovered. Used in hospitals and nightclubs. It is the 'ray' gun in fictional stories. To me it seems magical that a device can point a beam at an engine and measure its temperature, or a distant object and measure how far away it is. No doubt it can be a weapon of destruction as well. Just like the wand in those magical stories.

Serendipity

It was unplanned. We were in the right place at the right time to see the Mikron Theatre. Made our way north and reached Norbury Junction and were told that the performance was tonight at The Anchor about two miles further on. During a cool dry evening we watched the play outside in the pub garden. A story about Thomas Telford, son of a Scottish Shepard who became a Civil Engineer and designed many roads, bridges and canals. It was he who surveyed the very canal we are travelling on! The point was made that he was a well-known and respected Engineer at that time.

An electric boat

We were privileged to ride on Waterway Routes with Paul and Christine. It is a very unusual narrowboat because it has an electric drive. It is a pleasure to be able to talk to any body on or off the boat while driving. It is whisper quiet. Heads turn saying, "Where did you come from." Fishermen need to be asked to move their lines as we approach. Many seem to smile as we passed indicating their surprise or perhaps approval at the quietness. We can hear the birds singing in the trees as we go along.

High capacity traction batteries provide controlled power to an electric motor normally used in modern milk floats! The batteries have been placed on the floor both sides of the boat. The actual power required to push the boat at cruising speed is about one to three Kilo Watts. About the same power that a washing machine needs when heating the water. An Amp meter serves as a speed indicator. Compare this to a typical diesel engine of 40 BHP. Equivalent to about 30 Kilo Watts, ten times that needed to push the boat along. But this inefficiency produces some useful heat for the domestic water supply.

Normally a diesel engine would be running continuously during a cruise even when stopping to go through locks. The beauty of an electric drive is that it is not consuming any power when the boat is stopped! On this boat a normal diesel engine is available as a backup drive. If just for charging batteries it could well be less powerful.

Poste Restante

The closing of some Post Offices has caught us out recently. Should have checked that it was still open before having our post sent on. Usually I like to get there to check first. Best idea is to ring the post office and ask them to accept your 'Poste Restante', which they will keep till you collect. In this case another Post Office was operating a mile away so the one we had posted to was closed. Hopefully our post should be returned to sender eventually.

It is possible to search on the Internet for Post Office addresses and phone numbers but some sites are not up to date. We have compiled our own list of Post Offices that we have found near the canals. Our thanks to Carole Sampson for her excellent booklets 'The First Mate Guide'. A lot of exploring on many canals done to compile all that data which includes maps, shops, bus stops and medical facilities.

Keeping warm safely

Burning wood, coal, gas or diesel keeps the boat dry warm and cosy in the cool winter months. But a fire can be unhealthy or downright dangerous. All these carbon fuels produce carbon monoxide if there is not enough air or oxygen getting to the fire. Even cooking can be hazardous if the boat is not ventilated.

Sadly there have been several deaths already this year caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. Caused variously by unventilated boats with windows shut or fire doors actually open. In one case a burning pan was left on the cooker. One victim was found to have alcohol above the legal limit and was incapable of escaping. It is not the fire or flames that kill, it is the unseen gas carbon monoxide that is the killer. The boats were not fitted with smoke detectors and fire investigators are urging all boaters to fit one. We do have one that can even warn us when the toast is over done!

While at Norbury Junction we asked the boat yard to check over our diesel fire now approaching our fourth winter. Mick came and took the unit apart expertly and gave it a thorough de coke. Checked the oil filter and flow control system finding them clean and in good order. When the fire was lit we were reassured that it was ok.

Future government support

The government now realises that the inland waterways need looking after as an environmental heritage. A Commons Committee of MP's had to call in the National Audit Office to understand the true state of British Waterways finances. The canals are already suffering from lack of investment and maintenance due to DEFRA's lack of interest.

It is clear now that there are many other groups, as well as boaters, that benefit from the waterways. The majority of users are in fact local people walking or jogging along the towpath, fishermen and cyclists a fact not recognised in BW funding. BW cannot achieve self-sufficiency by charging boaters, running pubs and marinas. The cost to boaters for moorings and licences would become prohibitive.

It has been suggested that other departments should provide support. The department of Culture should consider free entry to the few Museums that BW struggle to keep open. There may be some benefit in getting the Transport department involved to encourage greener freight movement on the waterways. I wonder which department would help with the cutting back of all the large bushes and trees that are reducing the width of navigation. Then there is the lack of depth. Originally the canals were four feet deep, now only two or three feet in many places. Mean while the waterways are being used more than ever now by holidaymakers and explorers enjoying the countryside, and may it continue.

Through the cuttings

Filled up with diesel at Norbury Wharf and continued our journey along the Shroppy. Going through Grub Street Cutting, past the Anchor and along the Shebdon Embankment. This is how the canal is, cuttings and embankments with no locks for mile upon mile. Passing Knighton where Cadbury's once produced chocolate and transported it to Bournville by canal, then through Woodseaves Cutting before stopping at Tyrley Wharf. Woodseaves is very narrow and passing is difficult with so much vegetation leaning out to scratch the paint if it could.

Ahead are five locks, which bring the canal down to Market Drayton. Down through another sand stone cutting covered with trees that somehow cling to the steep sides, their old roots now exposed. Makes you think about all the hard manual labour required digging it all out. Went down with a boat coming up at each lock making it an easy trip for us. Sue and Vic on No Problem followed behind and Ann went back to help them down. We eventually stopped after filling with water opposite the new 'Challenger' share boat centre.

Market Drayton

Just past Betton Bridge the visitor moorings are opposite a range of new houses with brightly coloured doors. The owners with their boats by the front door! On our own again, Sue and Vic moved on to Nantwich, as our friends John and Sue came to visit. Ann baked a cake and we chatted over a cup of tea. We have known them since owning a boat back at Newbury many years ago. They have recently got back from a trip on their boat down to London.

Very much now enjoying the September sunshine and quieter times on the canal. August is definitely the holiday month. Now moved on down more locks at Adderly in open countryside with those black and white cows in green fields. Once out away from the towns there are also fields of corn soaking up the sunshine.

Salt towns

From Market Drayton we dropped down through a group of locks at Adderley and two at the flight down to Audlem where we stopped. Mo and Vanessa on Balmaha came by and stopped for a drink and chat. Last seen back at Braunston, they were returning from Bugsworth. Next day we continued on down to Hack Green. It was here that we caught up with No Problem and arranged a Supermarket delivery using the Internet.

The stretch of canal between Audlem and Nantwich is mainly through open countryside with undulating hills. The canal is staying level on concrete lined embankments flying across the lower levels. The water was quite shallow forcing us to travel in the centre, passing boats made difficult by running aground and being exposed to the wind. No Problem and Moore 2 Life are once again travelling together and arriving at Nantwich. Here the first available space being just past the aqueduct after passing a mile of moored boats. Telford, the Engineer, was forced to build the canal round Dorfold Park, preferring to follow the high ground and join up with the existing Chester Canal. This was not to be and the resulting long curved embankment and iron aqueduct proved difficult and expensive to build.

'A fine old town, prosperous since Roman times because of its salt springs, which made it the countries main salt mining centre until the 19th century. The town was devastated by fire in 1583 but rebuilt in fine Tudor style'.

There are many buildings with their chunky black wood structure to be seen, distorted by subsidence but still standing. We enjoyed sitting out in sunshine to drink, eat and admire the view. Northwich, Nantwich and Middlewich are all salt towns in this Cheshire cat County and all have canals passing by them.

Llangollen canal, Llangollen canal pictures

The Llangollen canal is in fact the Shropshire Union, Llangollen branch. Originally the Ellesmere and Llangollen canals. Our first time here was back in May 2003 when we spent three weeks getting to Llangollen and back that included exploring the Montgomery as well. At the Hurleston locks there were more boats coming down than up so the canal is becoming less crowded. The lock keeper told us that two thousand boats have visited this canal so far this year! He is there to help and advise but nobody from the waiting boats came to operate the locks themselves. The canal is now feeding water from the river Dee at Llangollen to keep the Hurleston reservoir full. That is over forty miles of canal and the significant flow is evident at each lock as the water passes through the by weir.

Ellesmere

This is where the Llangollen canal heads into Wales. Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company, General carriers to Chester, Liverpool, Manchester, North and South Staffordshire and North Wales, operated the Ellesmere and Llangollen canals. It's building here now left derelict.

Meanwhile our friends have moved to Chirk on the boarder of Wales. We set off next day to cover the twelve miles and up two locks. The canal is quite shallow near the edges and we often ran aground when passing boats. Passed two marinas full of boats before travelling along a narrow concrete channel on the approach to Chirk. At one point we looked across the valley over the tops of houses. Then suddenly turned right to cross the valley, which was spectacular with the railway viaduct alongside the canal aqueduct both made entirely of stone. Then through Chirk tunnel, crossing into Wales and eventually stopped opposite yet another marina having caught up with No Problem.

It seems that the canal is suffering badly from its popularity. There have been major breaches in 2004 and 2006 and it was sad to see several damaged bridges where they have been hit by boats. At one visitor mooring a concrete edge has fallen in making it unusable.

Among the mountains of Wales

The final six or seven miles of the Llangollen are among the mountains of north Wales. A sharp left turn at Irish Bridge and we travel in a concrete channel along the edge of the Dee valley, but cannot see across because of the abundant trees. Passing the village of Froncysyllte and the lift bridge. A glimpse of the amazing structure can be seen through a gap in the trees but it is still in the distance. The canal turns right to approach the aqueduct along a finger of land. The going slows as the canal gets narrower and the boat is pushing against the flow. Then suddenly the land drops away as the boat enters the iron aqueduct. On the left there is nothing but a thin iron wall and the view down is above the trees and a football field far below. I prefer to look the other way at the towpath and railings for a feeling of security. Ann is walking on across to take a few pictures of the boat and river Dee flowing along its rocky path below. As we approach the Trevor end a boat is coming out from the Llangollen channel crossing in front and waiting for No Problem and us to clear the Aqueduct.

The channel to Llangollen was only built as a narrow but navigable concrete course to fetch water from the river Dee. Originally the Ellesmere canal was intended to continue north to Chester. It is however one of the most scenic and beautiful sections of waterway to be seen anywhere in the UK. Cut into the rocky sides of the Dee valley with grand views of the Ruabon Mountain above and the river below. Ann and Sue walked ahead with a walky talky to check if the way was clear as we waited before the narrow section. Both Moore 2 Life and No Problem then continued slowly round the mountainside once we knew the way was clear.

BW has now built a marina for about forty boats, which was about half full when we arrived. For 10 we could stay for two nights and use an electric landline. So no need to use the engine while we were there. Next day we all walked along to Horseshoe Falls where the river feeds into the canal. Then got the train at Berwyn to Carrog and back to Llangollen, a chance to travel a bit further into Wales.

Back to Ellesmere

We all travelled back to Trevor and filled our tanks with diesel while watching the boat traffic coming across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. When it was our turn both boats went one behind the other across the Dee valley. It was when we got to the other side that we parted company with our friends on No Problem.

The mooring spaces down the Ellesmere arm filled up during the afternoon. We took our cat to the Vet where, sadly, it was confirmed that Tara is suffering from an overactive thyroid. A small community of boaters were showing their concern about our cat. She now has to take two pills a day. Crushed up in a delicious jellied chicken, which goes down well.

We left the next day following a hire boat that was in no hurry to get back to Whitchurch. So after an hour we stopped for lunch near Wixhall. The canal is very shallow on the bends and edges and every boat that passed put us on a sand bank! Much of the canal banks are badly eroded making the waterway look much wider than it is for clear navigation. It is surprising that the landowners are happy to loose five or ten feet to the canal along its length. Despite the canals popularity regular maintenance is not happening. There are still many boats on the move in October due to the warm dry days. The lock keepers at Grindly Brook will remain on duty all this month at least.

Heading south, Oxford canal pictures

The 'Shroppie' is like a motorway being wide and straight but with less traffic than seen on the Llangollen. The lock at Hawkesbury, down near Coventry, will be closed as the gates are being replaced and we need to get through before that. Our plan is to go south for Christmas. We are moving after breakfast, stopping for a rest and a bite to eat at midday, and then moving on some more in the afternoons. Ten lock miles a day will be our average trip.

We got Tesco to deliver goodies when we got to Audlem. Once again placing our order on the Internet the day before. Then moved on doing a lot of locks to get up to Market Drayton. There are eleven at Audlem and another group of five at Adderley. That is our quota for the day but with some help with boats coming down we made good progress.

Met John and Sue at Market Drayton who kindly offered to take us to the shops in their car, all the way across country towards Shrewsbury stopping short at the out of town centre.

Got water and used the facilities at Market Drayton then proceeded up the locks at Tyrley. At the top we saw a cheap paper notice from BW telling us that the facilities at Tyrley and Wheaton Aston were out of order. We do hope that these facilities are not suffering from the lack of maintenance due to shortage of funds.

While proceeding up the five locks we were lucky to have five boats coming down so that the next lock was ready for us. Stopped for lunch near the old Cadbury's milk works at Knighton before continuing on to Anchor Bridge. On the way we passed Shebdon Embankment. About a mile of raised canal above the surrounding land hidden by trees. BW is in fact spending some money here reinforcing the bank with long steel piling using two floating pontoons to carry all the heavy equipment. There is just enough room to get by.

Nature is encroaching

We have travelled on many canals this year. Our overriding impression is that the canals are becoming restricted by nature. The canals have two sides, but British Waterways only own one side! The result is that nature is reaching out to restrict the width and the ground is falling in to reduce the depth. We have seen many large trees that are leaning over the canal ready to fall in. Just waiting for an excuse to close the navigation. It is surprising how much farmland is has been lost to the canal. When the canal is above the surrounding ground level it is increasingly in danger of breaching. This not only causes an instant closure of navigation but also floods the land and property, causing discontent among the local community. There is also discontent amongst the boaters. The waterways do not need discontent, they need public and government support to survive.

Pooley Fields, Coventry canal pictures

We are now travelling on the Coventry canal, thirty-six miles from Fradley in the north to Coventry in the south. It is half term and many boats are still out and about in November. So we decided to rush through Tamworth. In the event there were no problems, passing many colourful canal side gardens. Eventually we stopped at Pooley Fields past Alvecote marina. Alvecote Pools and Pooley Fields contain many lakes surrounded by trees and laid out with paths to walk round.

Back in the 1960s Alvercote and Pooley collieries were very busy digging out tons of coal every day from below the surface. The only evidence of the mining activity is the pools and lakes caused by subsidence. There is a Heritage Centre built by one of the pitheads by the canal with some new moorings. Worth a visit for it houses a mining museum upstairs. Both Alvecote and Pooley Collieries were built near the canal so that boats could transport the coal to Birmingham.

'The shafts of Alvecote Colliery, which was first mined in 1848, were relatively shallow and beset with problems of water seepage from the river Anker. Mining stopped in 1965 when it became uneconomical to keep pumping the water out.'

Atherstone locks

After our visit we moved up two locks of the Atherstone flight of locks and stopped for the weekend, not normally recommended because the water level goes up and down as boats go through the locks. In the evening a boat came up in the dark. Next day the lock keeper found that the gates and paddles had all been left open. All the water had drained out over night. Luckily we were OK being near the bottom lock. In the morning the lock keeper reset the paddles and shut the gates so it was not long before the entire flight was navigable again. We eventually got to the top ourselves where the keeper lives in the lock cottage.

He is a real asset to the system making sure that the flight of eleven locks is kept in working order. He also cuts the grass and keeps the flight neat and tidy. The top lock is treated as an extension to his garden with flowerbeds and boxes making a pleasant sight even at this time of year. He has a sense of humour, as there is a wellhead in the corner with what appears to be people looking in and climbing out! It must be said that the canal system would benefit greatly if there were more lock keepers and length men employed. They would be able to spot potential problems before becoming dangerous and threaten the navigation.

Going south on the Oxford, Oxford canal pictures

Now we progress slowly south now on the Oxford canal. We stopped at Ansty where Ann got public transport to get to Gnosall. She got there and back in one day with time to enjoy the visit. Just had to go back to see No Problem's latest crewmember, namely a puppy called Meg, also of course to say hello to Sue, Vic and Lucy.

The next day we moved the boat on down to Clifton. When passing through All Oaks Wood we recognised the name painted on the bow of Khayamanzi and exchanged greetings with Andy as we passed. We noticed that T. F. Yates was closed; the loss of a diesel supply would not be welcome by boaters. Stopped at Brownsover near Rugby where only one other boat was moored. Usually many boats occupy both sides of the canal here. Went to Tesco to stock up. It was very busy on a Saturday afternoon and a bit of a culture shock with so many people about.

Continuing south Clifton Cruisers was open for business but on enquiry not Sundays over the winter months. Our navigation is limited now that Hawkesbury Lock is closed in the north and the canal is drained down at Lower Shuckburgh. We got filled up with diesel from Gosty Hill, a supply boat operating on the Ashby, Coventry and Oxford canals. Iain and Alison have been operating for a few years and have now painted their boat. They loaded up at Hawkesbury with the diesel and coal and found it slow going in the shallow canal. So we were pleased to see them, as our tank was getting quite empty. We always try to use the supply boats if we can. They won't be back for three weeks so expect to fill up from one of the boat yards, marinas or hire fleet operators. The diesel price is going up due to the extra duty.

Events between Braunston and Rugby

Down at Barby we met up with Terry and Myra on Juno and spent a few days in their company walking up to Barby and back on a warm sunny morning.

We are now limited by winter stoppages British Waterways planned maintenance. Down at Braunston we got the bus to Daventry. Nearly missed it because Geoff Amos had changed the timetable. Just happened to be market day so we got some fresh veg. and tried to get our flu jabs at the medical centre but they could not give us an appointment yet. Did some Christmas shopping though.

Then the family came up to see us, wonderful to see our grand children and their parents on the boat again. Felt the need to get out of Braunston but the only way was north with the nearest turning point proving to be a long five miles distant. Stopped a mile out for an enjoyable meal together. Then on a few miles more till it was getting cold. Josh and Ben are growing up fast as expected. We played football outside for a while then with their toys inside. They both drew some pictures for us before we put them to bed. Next day we had to travel up to the turn and back to a few miles out of Braunston for lunch. It was a horrible cold damp day. With the benefit of hindsight it would have been better to stay in Braunston. Never mind, the family enjoyed the trip on board.

For us now, a return to Rugby next day stopping on the way at Hillmorton to see Reg and Elaine on Relaine who provided tea and chat. Got gas for 18 and diesel for 60p a litre at Clifton before stopping at the almost empty Brownsover moorings. Yobs were seen chucking a shopping trolley into the canal. A fellow boater and Ann managed to return it to Tesco. Felt happier to move over to the other side for the night but still got a tap on the roof as people passed by. Perhaps that is a reason for the lack of boats here this winter. Another is the closure of damaged facilities.

Next day Tim and Lisa came to fit our new folding Bimini cover. That is what Tim called it. The frame had been fitted a few weeks earlier. It was quite a challenge for them but the result was fine. Now we can travel about in the winter without getting cold and wet.

Waterway decline

The government is reducing financial support. Vital repair and maintenance is being reduced and allowing the system to collapse. Many old brick built bridges are cracked and damaged. Already the Monmouth and Brecon Canal in Wales has suffered a catastrophic collapse. It was cut in half when the bank gave way at Gilwern. That canal may remain closed next year. Many hire boat companies and businesses will suffer. British Waterways want to increase the boat licence above inflation in an attempt to gain extra income from boaters. But we are not the only users of the waterways. Walkers, fishermen and even cyclists can come and enjoy the natural world of the waterways. It is a haven for wild life. But the Oxford Canal Walk, forty-eight miles between Coventry and Oxford, has become impossible to walk as in many places it is overgrown or has collapsed into the canal as at All Oak Wood for example. Half a mile of repair work has been carried out near Ansty, which is a start and shows what the path could be like.

Icy days of winter

Ice formed on the cut over night as the temperature dropped below freezing for a couple of nights. During breakfast a few swans were breaking the ice by trying to walk up on to it. We threw out some bread to encourage them. Then later a couple of boats came crunching by. We set off following the path of broken ice. Eventually the warm sunshine dispersed the majority of the ice sheets. Managed to get to our intended destination before the short day became cold again as the sun went down by mid afternoon. It is very important, in these uncertain conditions, to keep the water tank topped up. Had to pour warm water over the tap to unfreeze the pipes.

On our way under similar conditions next day we stopped to fill up with diesel at T. F. Yates, open again after we past earlier. He was charging 63p a litre, which is less than Rose Narrowboats, but more than the supply boat Gosty Hill. Seems that if you can get it for less than 60p you are lucky these days. Mr Yates was thinking about packing up next year when diesel is set to jump up to road prices. Claiming that many boaters will get their fuel from the likes of Tesco in containers and pour it into their tanks. I do not want to think about the environmental damage that could occur when it spills into the waterways. We stopped at Newbold, just north of Rugby where it was sheltered and free of ice. Then moved on a bit more next day through more slushy ice to Brownsover for a quick shop stop. The local council has trimmed back three large willow trees. They were a grand sight in the spring when the daffodils were out but had leaned over the canal.

Moved on to the locks at Hillmorton. Luckily they were not frozen or covered in ice so we got up to the top and decided that was far enough as the light faded. Managed to get Molly to the local vet for her annual vaccinations. Very important to keep her protected from various ailments especially veils disease, which may be in the canal water. The ice came and went over the weekend so we stayed. But it was back on Monday when we needed to get on to Braunston. So we crunched ice all the way. We had some time ago arranged to leave the boat at Calcutt over Christmas but the canal has been closed for repair.

Going home for Christmas

Last minute changes to our plans are required. The hire car company is closed before the canal opens so we asked them to fetch us from Braunston. We had asked about getting a mooring in the marina earlier. As it happened a boat was to leave so we were able to take the space. So after all the uncertainties we have our Christmas present and can go home to play with our grand children.

We set about packing and shutting down the boat systems. Defrost the fridge, pump the water out of the pipes, shut down the fire and clean it out, turn off the gas and isolate the batteries before leaving. With the cat in a cage, our luggage loaded and the dog on the back seat we were off. A two-hour drive home down south reminded us that the waterway system was indeed quiet and peaceful compared to the speed and noise on the roads.

We stayed with Chris and Tracy so that we could enjoy watching the boys open their presents on Christmas morning. Thankfully they did not wake too early. Then we all had lunch together and poured hot burning brandy on the pudding that Ann had made a few months earlier. At teatime we even had some of Ann's Christmas cake! A few days later we moved up to stay with Mum to celebrate my birthday and the New Year.

Our lives went up a few gears but we did enjoy being back with the family. We managed to visit several other family members and friends. Also got to see our Doctor for that medical review which is required once a year.

A sorry state of affairs

We are afraid that we are witnessing the demise of the waterway system. The government has failed to look after it. The Monmouthshire and Brecon canal in Wales has been broken in half due to a massive breach. So expensive to repair that it may well remain closed. We have seen many damaged bridges that are not being mended. More and more boaters seem to be buying new boats and just keeping them in marinas. Not even wishing, if they could, to go out and explore. Soon there will not be a system to explore!

We have had a response from our MP who sent us a thick copy of Hansard to read. That is a written record of what is said in the House of Commons. A small portion was about the waterway system. Generally, our parliament is very much in support of the waterway system but it seems there is a lack of money or will to prevent its decay.

Michael Fabricant MP called for a debate on the inland waterways and the new Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw) was there on the 11 December 2007. Michael Fabricant referred to Barry Gardener, the previous Minister as being a 'nincompoop of the first order'. Michael welcomed the new minister to his first debate on canals and waterways and hoped that he would be more supportive of the waterways than his predecessor.

Thank you for reading Chapter 13. Return to Book.