Moore 2 Life:Exploring the waterways

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Book:'LIFE WITH A NARROWBOAT' © Chas Moore

Chapter 15 : Staying on Canals, 2009

Frozen in the New Year

It had got quite cold the day we returned to the boat. The train was on time and we got the full first class service so by the time we arrived at the boat we were fed and watered. On the way we saw that the canals and rivers were frozen. So finding the boat stuck in ice was not an unexpected sight. We had of course put the boat to sleep before we left. Everything off and water pumped out of the pipes. First on with the power, boiler on and fire lit and water pumped back into the pipes. The engine was started to charge the batteries after their rest. The solar panels had been left connected so the batteries were in fact full. Once the fire had got going we took our coats off and made a cup of tea. Then we filled a hot water bottle for the bed.

It looks like we may well have to stay in the marina for a while till it warms up so we purchased some electricity and plugged in the shoreline. The diesel we have will then be used to keep us warm rather than charging batteries. The ice had formed a week ago and is quite thick so it will take several warmer days to melt away. The village of Great Haywood has a farm shop, post office, Spar and Premier shops and a pharmacy. An hourly bus service can get us to Stafford and back so we could not be better placed for facilities.

A certain loss of freedom

We were unable to move out of Great Haywood Marina due to the thick ice and are feeling unhappy because we do not see birds in hedges and cannot hang up the feeders. All we see are the sides of boats either side. But we are getting to know a few boaters along our pontoon, like neighbours down the street. One kind couple has taken Ann and Molly to the vet at Rugeley. Now Molly is protected against Kennel Cough so we can meet Lucy and Meg later. We have not seen our friends on No Problem since October last year. Unable to make short term plans till the ice has gone.

It was cosy in the Marina but there were few places to walk. The landline saved running the engine and proved cheaper to charge the batteries and we were able to claim diesel use for heating only. But it was costing about 8 a night to stay in. One boater made a desperate attempt to escape by breaking up the two inch thick ice with his boat pole. It took him several hours to get away. We got away a few days later when the ice melted.

We got a free bus ride into Stafford to stock up during a mild sunny day. Wandering around the concrete jungle was not fun and we eventually found a supermarket near the edge of town. There were busses taking people here there and everywhere if only we knew where that was. Managed to get back to our bus stop and consumed a hot sausage roll while waiting for the hourly service back to the boat.

Visitors

It was quite strange once we had got moving after the Christmas and New Year break heading up the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. We got past Tixall Wide and stopped at Milford. Tim and Lisa of Staffordshire Canopies are here and we asked them to do some modifications on our back cover. While here we discovered Milford Common the other side of the railway line. A wooded hill which is looked after by the National Trust and part of Cannock Chase; a popular spot for public with car parks but sadly rubbish all over the place. "Why don't they take their rubbish home in their cars?" Strangely there are no bins for rubbish or dog bins for that matter.

We had been able to hang up our bird feeders on the hedge. At first there came a selection of birds to enjoy their winter feed, but then a squirrel came for a snack. Ann walked back to Tixall Wide to meet Geoff and Margaret on Seyella who had arrived there; they have been travelling with Sue and Vic on No Problem. Next day they stopped by for a drink and a chat.

Great Haywood, Trent & Mersey canal pictures

We are hanging around Great Haywood now for medical reasons. The National Trust is cutting down a lot of trees between the railway and the canal. Apparently many are unstable due to bank erosion. Their plan is to plant reed beds that will protect the bank from further erosion and provide habitat for nesting birds.

British Waterways are also cutting down trees on the towpath side. Many of the local boaters are chopping it up to burn on their fires. Good for them during this cold winter. The problem is that it is too green to burn. We think some of it is Elder that is quite red when first cut.

The river Trent, not far away, is flowing quite fast but not yet into its flood plain. James Brindley was appointed engineer in 1877 and had a flood ditch lined with brick or stone built beside the canal. This would prevent the Trent flooding into the canal, but the ditch has been filled in! No Problem and its crew are heading this way so we walked down to Colwich Lock to help them through.

I wish I could just.....!

Just look out of the window and enjoy the view without a care. But there is always something else to do. Ann took Tara the cat to the vet in Rugeley. A bus does not go to Rugeley so we asked Dave on a boat called Thea we knew in the Marina. Another helpful boater had taken Ann when Molly had to be taken to the vet. Unfortunately the vet was unable to take a blood sample so we just got some pills to keep Tara going. She has a thyroid problem. We spent a few days helping our friends with their wooding. It is all chopped up and stored on their boat No Problem.

We have been in Great Haywood for some time because I have been getting treatment for an infected cyst. It was a nasty red lump on my back, which after a few weeks is much better thanks to the excellent Nurses at the local Medical centre. I have been going every day for treatment but now have a week off! At last we can get away after getting Tesco to deliver the groceries. Not too far because the Nurse wants to see me again.

Winter wonderland, Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal pictures

We moved out to Tixall wide on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. It proved to be quite exposed and cold with that easterly wind. So the next day we moved on up one lock to Milford. Tim of Staffordshire Canopies came round to fit a number of brass items. Now we have hooks to hold the back doors open, eyes to hang fenders and folding steps to get on the roof. After that good mornings work we moved round the corner to gain shelter from the trees. The expected snow grey clouds were fast approaching on that easterly wind. But not much snow fell on us here, seems most of it went up the Thames valley. Next day was sunny but the snow was hard and crunchy.

We have of course hung out the bird feeders on the hedge and it was not long before we saw them gathering. A tree stump served as a bird table on which we put bread and seed. A robin arrived then black birds, tits and a jenny wren. We have now returned to Great Haywood to stock up again for more diesel from the marina and a walk to the shops.

We wanted to leave!

We did spend an afternoon searching for a few of those Geo Caches. Found two of them easily then collected clues for the third but ran out of time. Apparently J R R Tolkien once lived here in Great Haywood.

We got up early next day. After breakfast Bruce on Sanity came round the corner to the water point. We agreed to swop places later. Then Anglo Welsh started moving boats about with a huge crane so now the canal is blocked. We had time for a drink while taking on water and waiting for the navigation to open. Finally got away by late morning and covered thirteen lock miles to stop just short of Penkridge during a sunny but cold day. Woke up to find ice had formed over night. Some determination is required to continue on our travels for we need the services of a vet for the cat and a medical centre for me.

We were just getting ready to move when, would you believe it, a hire boat came by breaking up the ice. So we followed them all the way to Penkridge. It was there that we took Tara, our fifteen year old cat, to see a vet one more time. Tara had been suffering for some time from an overactive thyroid and had gone blind as well. The vet agreed to do the kindest thing. We could not stay in Penkridge after that so continued on our travels and stopped at Gailey. Several other boats were on the move so we found the ice all broken up.

Moving on Sunday

After a restless night we both got up late for breakfast and later watched Country File as we do most Sundays. Then set off up the lock at Gailey, took on water and used the facilities. After that it was not long before we turned a corner to see the two dogs, Lucy and Meg, on the towpath and Molly went mad with excitement. There in front of course was No Problem and no sooner tied up than we were invited on board for tea and a chat.

Shropshire Union canal pictures

Next day we took off heading south through ice with No Problem in front. Arrived at Autherly Junction to find it blocked by all those hire boats. Someone was attempting to move the boats to make just enough room to get by. At least four boats moved through the lock while we were there, such is the number of boats on the move.

We left Sue and Vic and continued on our way to Brewood now heading north on the Shropshire Union Canal. An appointment to see a nurse had been made for the morning. We walked to the Medical Centre to sign on then looked round the shops.

Walk abouts

We were moored at Little Onn Bridge where the road headed north to Church Eaton. It was a bright sunny morning that encouraged us out. Ann had worked out the route across the fields on the Geo Map, which we managed to follow. As expected the fields were quite muddy and the route was not well marked so we returned down the road.

After lunch we made our way to Gnosall Heath while it rained. The little town of Gnosall is actually a mile away from the canal and this is where the Post Office, shops and medical centre are to be found. Another walk got us to the medical centre so I could sign in. I am obliged to see a nurse for a fresh dressing on my back about every four or five days. It has been quite a challenge trying to keep moving the boat and finding medical centres on the way.

Too and fro

While at Gnosall Ann got the bus and train back to Southampton to see the grand children over a long weekend which happened to be a half term holiday. There was plenty of food in the fridge and I managed to do some cooking. So I looked after Molly and myself and took her for walks twice a day while Ann was away. Sue and Vic arrived and invited me to join them on board No Problem for their, now famous, Sunday roast. Lovely.

Having seen the nurse again we have about a week to move away and back. "Yes, Ann did come back to me!" We followed No Problem up to Norbury where we all visited the local pub for a drink and chat. Our friends had arranged to go home while their boat was being blacked so we took them and the dogs back to Gnosall to catch the bus. In order to turn our boat round we needed to head down to Wheaton Aston. While there Ann took the bus and train to visit the National Boat, Caravan and Outdoor Show at Birmingham for the day. Once again I had time on my own so after walking the dog of course, I updated some information on our website.

Next day we took on water, turned and progressed back towards Gnosall. We found Geoff and Margaret on Seyella at Little Onn so we stopped there. They kindly invited us in for a drink and a chat. After a quick lunch we started our annual spring clean. Starting at the back we filled a black bag with stuff not used or wanted during the previous year. Only got half way through when we flaked out and had a cup of tea. "The bag was full anyway!"

We keep on heading north with our friends but also have a commitment down south at Braunston to have our own boat blacked. With ice forming and lasting so long this winter the boat needs that treatment every year now. Soon we will have to turn round. Hopefully family and friends from the south coast will then come up and visit us.

What plan has changed?

Circumstances, opportunities or position sometimes influence which way we go. It has been many years since we had a chance to head further north with company. A mad dash to Chester with Sue and Vic has presented itself. The last time was back in 2002 when we were with Terry and Myra and their boat Butty Lark. In those early years of our travels we covered a lot of canal ground each year. Our southern commitment can wait. Chester is one of our ancient cities created back in Roman times and still has a complete defensive wall round it.

While at Market Drayton I am trying to get my back redressed at the local medical centre but they are unable to take bookings because their computer is being upgraded! Thankfully after a few days the nurse got to see me. All was well and there was no real need to have it checked so often. Then we had lunch in a pub with our friends and walked round the town. We went to visit John and Sue who have a house by the canal with a mooring and boat outside their front door. It was way back in 1995 that we got to know them when we both had boats in Newbury on the Kennet and Avon canal.

Pushing north west

We have got past the Llangollen canal junction on the left, and the Middlewich branch on the right. Looking towards the west we can see the Welsh mountains. For some reason the locks are now wide and two narrowboats can go in together. At Bunbury two locks are joined together in a staircase. We went in together with No Problem. Normally it is two down and out before two can go up but this time one boat had entered the bottom lock. Instructions are now required to do the Bunbury Shuffle. We go down while the single boat comes up. Three boats passing each other in a lock only wide enough for two! We stopped by Beeston Castle. I joined Ann and Sue to walk up to the hill and returned while the girls and dogs continued to the top on a sunny afternoon.

Then it was off again next day to get to Chester. Going slowly past miles of moored boats seems to take ages. I do not suppose any of them will move into that new marina at Tattenhall. Five locks in two miles take the canal down to the City walls where we stop. After a quick refreshing cup of tea we did the walk round the Chester Wall. Built by the Romans and still existing after King Charles the first was defeated by Cromwell's army.

Cheshire Cat

Been moving every day this month of March and had not realised that Audlem is in Cheshire. It was only when we saw the cat on a pub sign near Chester that we knew it. Both boats Moore 2 Life and No Problem arrived at Ellesmere Port and after a Sunday roast on board No Problem we explored the Boat Museum. Much has changed since 2002 when we were here last. Many old boats, engines and workshops are still here. The Boat Museum Society realised back in the 1970s that canal use was changing and they were concerned that the old working craft of the inland waterways would be lost. Some are kept here in full working order. They need not worry because there are many old working boat Societies looking after them all over the waterway system. While we were looking round we saw a huge ship moving on the Manchester Ship Canal.

It is not possible to go any further north from Ellesmere Port unless you get permission to go down on to the Manchester Ship Canal. So we have turned round to head south. A long five hour cruise has got us back past Chester, the Cheshire Cat pub and eight locks. The first of which are those three huge staircase locks which are approached from under a railway bridge. An impressive set having been carved out of solid rock below the high Roman wall of Chester. During this trip we had passed many lines of old boats on the canal.

Retracing our steps

The canal north of Chester proved to be shallow in places and we found some of the visitor moorings were difficult to get into but it was quiet and peaceful. We had managed to place an order with Tesco to be delivered at Waverton, an ideal mooring with a car park just by the bridge. After the delivery we moved on to Beeston.

Next day we had the six locks up to Bunbury to negotiate. All wide enough for two narrow boats but remember that iron lock built in soft sand with the warning 'One at a time please'. The lock is narrower at the bottom! Anglo Welsh have a lot of boats just below the staircase locks at Bunbury. Wide beam boats just would not get past. We got our diesel here for 66p a litre, this time needing over half a tank full.

No boats were coming down so it was a matter getting up through the two joined locks so long as our paddle operators followed the rules. Boats go in the bottom lock with the top lock full. Then with the gates and paddles shut behind the top lock is emptied into the bottom one bringing the boats half way up. Move the boats forward and shut the huge middle gates behind. Then open the paddles to raise the boats to the top, simple! You just have to be there to fully understand what is going on.

Got on past Barbridge Junction where the canal branches off to Middlewich. It was of course the Romans who discovered salt between Northwich and Middlewich. We stopped near the Llangollen Junction to meet Geoff and Margaret on Seyella. "Thanks for the tea Margaret." Then we were off past the other salt town of Nantwich and up the locks at Hack Green stopping at Moss Hall below Audlem. The Audlem flight has fifteen locks in three miles and with No Problem going up in front it was all done in three hours while the sun shone. Some help was appreciated when the lock in front was emptied on our way up.

With the current financial situation British Waterways are creating a backlog of essential maintenance. One day we may have to make a choice. Which side of Braunston tunnel do you want to be? The two year old landslip can only get worse by filling in and blocking the navigation.

Parting of friends

From Norbury Junction on the Shropshire Union canal we continue our journey alone. Sue and Vic are taking a break from boating while their boat undergoes renovation. A sense of purpose for us is to plan trips and meet friends and family during the summer months. The sun burnt off the early mist and boaters moved their boats in the morning sunshine. Spring is on its way.

As we continued on our way it seemed that every other bridge had a boat coming through. One occasion required a quick reaction to engage reverse. In doing so the prop picked up some rope and rag that had been thrown into the canal. The prop had no effect and the boat continued to drift forward. Thankfully the other boat had stopped in the bridge hole. Somehow we got our boat to the towpath and struggled to clear the prop.

We stopped at a bridge in order to check up on one of Sue's Geo cache boxes. There before us was Valerie and Les called out a greeting. He had put the kettle on and stopped chopping up wood so we went on board for a chat. "Thanks for that Les." It had taken us ten days of moving to get from Ellesmere Port at the northern end to Autherley Junction at the southern end of the Shroppie. One of these days we will turn right onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal and go south.

We have only been that way once but this time we turn left again going through the narrow rock cutting, round bends and under many low bridges. We were forced to lower our back cover many times before finally removing it all together. Several local hire boat companies are getting their fleets ready for the Easter rush, the first major holiday of the year. Gailey was choc a block and as we crawled through a gap we passed Epiphany with John and Fiona on board. After a chat in the lock we continued to Penkridge.

Heading south on the Coventry, Coventry canal pictures

Norbury Junction is far behind us now. We have been moving every day except Sundays and are now on the Coventry canal. Most mornings were sunny so we got going early but usually found the day's contained cold winds and showers. Shopping at towns or walking in the woods took up part of the day. There are some good walks through the woods and round the ponds at Pooley Fields Nature Reserve, once a coal mining area that has collapsed causing the ponds to form.

Polesworth is one place we keep coming back to over the years so we see many changes. The sports pavilion is unused and boarded up now. Broken glass scattered over the grass where young children may go heading for the swings. What is left of the recycling bins is just melted plastic after being set alight. The moorings are quiet enough opposite the unused tennis courts. We have never had any problems staying overnight but today we move on, stopping just short of the Atherstone flight of locks.

Relaxing in the sunshine

We took on water at Bradley Green but found that the Elsan facility was blocked. We just moved up two locks to get the engine warm for an oil change at 4,250 hours, that much done since we got the boat in 2004. Then we went off to the shops in Atherstone. A busy town on the old Roman road called Watling Street with a good range of shops and Tuesday market.

While moving up through the locks a boater coming down told us that Gypsy Rover was at Hartshill. The towpath telegraph working well because when we got there, Dot and Derek were expecting us. With time to spare we all enjoyed a day off relaxing in the sunshine sitting out on the towpath. It is amazing what a difference it makes with the sun shining on the view making the colours stronger. Thankfully those grey winter months are now past.

On the move towards Nuneaton we also saw that settee seen by D and D. It had managed to drift all the way to Hartshill. Then we were obliged to pass two miles of utter rubbish all the way past that town of Nuneaton. Would you believe it there was yet another settee floating in the water together with all that scum, plastic bottles and bags. We have been travelling all the way from Chester and never saw so much rubbish scattered all over the place.

U turn at Hawkesbury, Oxford canal pictures

At last we turned off the Coventry and on to the Oxford canal. Messed that one up and landed on the rocks in the corner! Ann had to pull the bow round otherwise the boat would have gone into the pub! Done the business at the facility and went through the lock. While Ann and Molly walked on I took M2L slowly passed all those boats at the junction and stopped past bridge 4. Somewhere we were spotted by Pete from Pickles 2. "Sorry to have missed you but we did not see your boat."

A fast 3G connection on our T Mobile modem enabled us to place an order with Tesco. It is strange that sometimes the connection can be slow but may just be busy with all the kids off on their holidays. Next day we did fourteen miles, no less, and got all the way to Clifton, passing those willow trees at Brownsover. Last year they were severely cut back so were pleased to see them getting green again.

Sunday roast at Hillmorton

We had got to Hillmorton locks on the Saturday, went up one lock and waited for Tesco to arrive with our goodies. After the delivery we went up to the top in convoy with several other boats with lots of willing help. The famous BISTRO was open and we booked a table for Sunday Lunch. Always a good meal cooked by the family like being at home.

While the visitor moorings at the top were nearly full we noticed that the Permit Holder moorings were empty. A BW sign there was inviting applications for moorings. Perhaps they are asking too much for a mooring with no facilities, a case for BW to make them all moorings for visitors. There is plenty to see and do watching and helping at the locks.

The Oxford canal towpath looks like it has been trimmed. The hedges have been cut back and layered in places. Ann and Molly have been able to walk most of the way. We were surprised to see that the moorings between Barby and Willoughby were virtually deserted considering it was a week before Easter. We stopped just short of Braunston and got on with rubbing down and painting the boat black below the gunwales. The other side will have to wait till the towpath changes over or we turn round. Then wait for another dry sunny day by which time we would have recovered enough to get active again!

While we were moored up, several boats passed by. Richard and Sarah on Scarweather stopped and chatted over a cup of tea on board M2L. Good to catch up with their news since seeing them last year on the rivers of East Anglia. Then Rock n Roll passed us.

Spring watch

The field opposite is full of sheep and lambs, all with their heads down eating breakfast in the morning. Later the lambs were seen gathering together away from their mothers. Like they were going to school and getting to know each other in the playground, pushing, shoving and exploring the field. At one time they were all down at the edge of the canal getting a drink. "Oh, don't fall in please." Mothers and babies have numbers painted on their woolly coats so they know who belongs to whom! After their adventures in late afternoon all the lambs were running around bleating and looking for their mums. If they went to the wrong mum they were pushed away. Eventually they all settled down for the night together again as families.

Once the paint had dried and hardened we got itchy feet after two days so we moved on. Braunston is full right out to bridge 89. We got water at the turn and stopped at Wolfhamcote because it rained.

Easter

We only moved another three miles while it was dry on Good Friday after breakfast with hot cross buns. It was ever so busy with loads of boats on the move. The towpath between Braunston and Flecknoe is much improved in places. More hard edges to moor up to and despite the number of boats out and about there is plenty of space to stop. The shallow canal has turned a muddy brown.

Sunny Easter Monday was another busy day for boats and us. We rubbed down and painted the other lower side. The boats are going by in both directions two by two. Then we saw Derwent 6 go by. We have been tracking their movements by reading their Blog. They caught us sitting down enjoying the sunshine in between paintbrushes having a midday snack! "See you later in Braunston" we called out. The sun continued to shine and the paint dried and hardened while we recovered from all that effort. Then we saw Marie Jessie go by, another Blogger.

Been waiting for Gosty Hill to arrive and fill our tank with diesel at 61p a litre. Alison and Ian's last run till next winter because they plan some time off after all their hard work. We hope to see them again later in the year. By the end of the day we had got into Braunston ready to be dragged out of the water to have the lower sides cleaned, inspected and blacked.

Braunston gatherings

Moore 2 Life is back in the water having been blacked. While out of the water our friends took us to The Plough for lunch and to Daventry for our Dentist appointment. Terry and Myra then went off to return the hire car and get back to their boat at Crick. While walking round along the towpath and up to the village it is amazing how many people we met. For many of us boaters it seems that Braunston is a magnet and starting off point for the summer months. At least that is how it is for us. We have seen Derwent 6, Rock n Roll, Fair Fa, Hobo and many others. Braunston is full of boats either visiting or passing through. There is still a good mixture of permanent, long and short-term moorings available if you can find a space!

Our Grand children and their parents came up to visit us for the weekend. This time we agreed to go up the locks and through the tunnel. A good opportunity to rub off some of that paint! It was quite an event for the young boys who had their life jackets on and learnt a bit about operating the locks. They even enjoyed the twenty minute ride through the tunnel while two other boats passed us. We turned left at Norton Junction on to the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union canal and went a few miles to turn and moor up for the night. Next day we travelled back past the new towpath works and through the tunnel again. Then down through the locks accompanied by another boat after waiting in the queue at the top for a while. We were able to stop for lunch just past the Admiral Nelson and watched the Grand Prix racing from China. After that we had just enough time to go down two more locks and arrive at the water point before our young family returned home.

Hillmorton hatch

We moved down to Hillmorton to have our sliding hatch enlarged. Our previous boat was a semi trad that had a back deck with sides making it more open for crew and guests. This boat is a Trad, which only has room for the skipper at the back. The hatch was a bit small and difficult to get in and out.

The replacement procedure was a bit more than we had imagined and the boat yard seems to have taken on more than they could chew! The wooden roof lining and one side including engine controls were all removed. Otherwise it may have been set alight when the steel was cut to the larger size. It was quite upsetting to see it all ripped out. They say it had to get worse before it could get better. Metal Man arrived to do the cutting and construction. He was from a boat called Arc Angel so at least we are using boating business. By the end of his first day he had the new runners welded on, the hole enlarged and the new hatch from Reeves boat builders had arrived. He used a grinding wheel to cut out the metal and even that generated enough heat to burn the foam insulation. We had to abandon ship in case the arsenic fumes generated got into the boat. Once finished we were happy with the outcome. The hatch is much easier to move and we can stand upright when getting out.

Making good?

It is difficult to know how much requirement information you need to give in order to get what you want. The boat yard staff should offer information about what they can achieve. It seems that requirement and achievement often turns out to be different. "Oh yes we can do that for you" is reassuring at the start. Once work has started you are obliged to stay until requirement and achievement is acceptable. A boat yard can be a busy place and a quote for five days does not mean that you leave after that time. Boats are being moved in and out and they are also operating a hire fleet of about six boats. We must not lose sight of what we are able to do. Travelling about exploring and discovering the waterways is what we enjoy.

Tidy up

We are out of the yard after ten days with a larger hatch. The woodwork finally finished to our near satisfaction. Enough said. Having gone down one lock we set about getting everything back in place. It was necessary to lift the engine boards and clean out the bilge for that is where much debris had fallen to. Then varnish all new woodwork to protect it from the rain. Little jobs were created due to lack of detail attention like sweeping up the metal swarf after drilling that last hole and another list grows.

Our friends Terry and Myra rang to invite us to Rugby for a meal. "Boy, don't we just need to get off that boat." It was a real tonic to catch the bus into town and meet them by the clock tower. Crowds were gathering and traffic stopped. The army were back in England from Iraq and marched through the town with the crowd clapping in appreciation. We had done some shopping, said goodbye to our friends after lunch and returned to the boat. There was Meg running up to greet us from Seyella. We spent the rest of the afternoon sat out with Geoff and Margaret chatting about recent events over a cup of tea.

Boating can be a challenge

Perhaps it has been that last episode with a boat yard that has demoralised us. It is just the apparent lack of skill and care that has got to us. We simply have to learn our own skills, realise our ability and know our limitations. Geoff from Seyella helped me sort out the engine controls which were stiff and in need of adjustment as we were going too fast at tick over. There is nothing worse than a broken cable.

When we started off way back in 2000 our boat builder went bust but we had the mental strength then to overcome the problems and saw our new way of life blossom. It is a wonderful way of life we have on the waterways with so many boaters that we have got to know and love. We cannot yet contemplate living on shore and relying on a car to get there and back. Our home goes with us and has taken us to far more places than we could ever manage by car.

Oxford canal pictures

We have just moved the boat from Napton up the nine locks and along the long and winding section at the summit. Keep an eye on that TV mast first seen at Marston Doles for it will appear to move about on the horizon until you actually pass it when approaching Fenny Compton. Passing boats often ran aground on the bends as the shallow waters made the going very slow.

Claydon locks

When the sun shines and your boat is in the middle of nowhere it is good for the soul to get out and enjoy the fresh air. It helps to get back to reality and put things in proper perspective. Listening to the Sky Larks and watching the baby ducklings is a joy. We had decided to move, even on a Sunday, to get to Cropredy but only got as far as Claydon. The ten mile summit pound is very shallow in many places and several boats, including ours, had problems getting round those sharp bends without running aground! It got better past Fenny Compton where we were surprised to find the chandlery open and able to get our diesel at the declared rate, which worked out at 78p/l. We stopped just in time to watch the F1 racing from Spain, another British win. It may be a bit bad for the planet but it is at least a peaceful sport among many countries.

At Claydon there are eight locks in a couple of miles that get down to Cropredy. We set off in the morning with one boat in front and as we went down several were following. Most crewmembers helped with the locking and with the sunshine it was an enjoyable mornings activity. Luckily several boats were coming up as well, so we moved down into full locks.

We then stopped on a new length of mooring just before the new 24 hour stretch in front of the houses. After lunch we walked round the village and discovered that the Post Office has closed. Thankfully the Bridge Store will soon operate a Post Office service. Cropredy is a lovely village with well-kept gardens and thatched cottages.

A new cabinet

Are we just copying other boaters or following a trend? The old TV box had always been stuck in a corner because it was quite bulky. Now that technology has produced thin TVs we have noticed that many boat owners are putting them on one side.

We have taken delivery of a cabinet from Dave Bassett who is our adopted cabinetmaker for many additions and improvements. The previous additions were those galley cupboards. Much discussion about what we want and what he can do before he goes away and makes it all in his workshop after making templates. It amazes us that the unit is delivered and just gets screwed into place.

A few days varnishing make it look so much better. We use that water based varnish because the result is much lighter than using oil-based varnish first. Two coats are enough then the top surfaces got the oil-based varnish for a light hard finish. We then filled up the cupboards with our books, CDs, DVDs and folders. Some reorganisation of power sockets and signal cables then enabled the installation of the TV and DVD player.

With our two easy chairs now on one side and the new cabinet on the other there is more room to pass and is easier to watch TV. The corner cupboard top is now being used for various ornaments and picture frames.

Off the boat

Mum was 90 years old in May and plans were made to celebrate with a family gathering. We hired a car from Enterprise at Banbury who collect and deliver. As expected it was quite a culture shock getting in a car and travelling on those crowded roads again. Navigating out of town took some concentration. We headed down south and stayed with our grand children and their parents.

Many family members and friends gathered at an excellent venue that was just right for mum and her guests. An afternoon tea party with food laid out in the old kitchen. Thankfully it was a lovely warm sunny day so we could all eat and drink a toast in the courtyard. Tracy had made a cake using a very special recipe for Mum.

During our visit we had parked the car to go shopping. If you think twenty-four hours is too short to moor a boat in one place just think about thirty minutes free for parking a car to go shopping. A few minutes late and we were obliged to pay a hefty fine! Chris had to work over the weekend but we were able to see him at Swanwick on the river Hamble where the marina was open to the public. Princess Boats were on show and Chris was able to show us round the huge motorboats. The one we looked over was available if we wanted it. They even provided a generous BBQ meal for us all.

Back to the boat

We returned to the boat with our grandson to stay a few days. We walked up to see the fine lady on a horse by the cross. Josh was able to walk round the statute and read all the words of the famous nursery rhyme.

Ride a cockhorse To Banbury Cross. The Hobby Horses are gathering round that cross and the flowers are blooming around them. That fine lady on her white horse is looking on wondering what is going on. Perhaps she remembers that it happens every year. Prince Albert can see the horses but Queen Victoria cannot. They must all make sure that the hobbyhorses don't run away across the road.

We then returned to the boat and moved up through Banbury heading for Cropredy. Josh's parents came up to stay overnight and take Josh home. During a glorious sunny day we just sat out and enjoyed their company.

The bus from Banbury did not pick up at Cropredy so we had to take the boat back to Banbury. Only once we had seen a bus come over the bridge by the shop. We had asked in the shop where the bus stop was but they failed to say that the bus no longer comes into the village! It was a case of backing up through one lock rather than going forward through three and back. Passers by looked on and wondered what was going on. We turned at the water point by backing in with Ann pulling the bow round and then we were off back to Banbury. "Boy is it hot." Got the white sheets hanging out of the windows to reduce the radiation and a fan to give us a breeze.

A weekend

On Friday we moved south away from Banbury for a while. Only a few miles and locks to the turn at Nell Bridge where we discovered an enterprising farmer has created moorings. There is power and water with room for some four or more boats. Free-range eggs and pork sausages are also available. The river below the next lock often floods so while waiting, boaters may well take advantage of these moorings.

Knowing that the next day was going to be wet we got back to Kings Sutton in sunshine. Then the rains did come with a vengeance. How miserable it is to have a whole day and night of rain, especially after so much sunshine. Our radiators were on to take away the morning chill and later the fire was lit to dry off the washing.

Have to confess to eating our Sunday roast on lap trays while watching the F1 racing. After the race the sun came out as the cloud moved away and we went off for a walk with Molly along the towpath. Down past Kings Sutton lock and a few lift bridges and back was good going on the overgrown path. Molly enjoyed running up and down the path and swimming in the canal.

Going over the summit pound

We are heading north now over the summit stopping by that mast near Griffins Bridge. Next day the sunshine helped to make for a leisurely cruise across and down the Napton flight. It was so busy with many boats coming up as we went down. The back pumps must have been working hard because despite the amount of traffic there was plenty of water to get those boats up and down.

We stopped for a while before Nimrod Bridge and our friends Terry and Myra came to visit by car having seen Mike and Jo on Sarah Kate at Banbury. Mo and Vanessa on Balmaha were there as well and they are all heading this way.

Boats are gathering at Braunston

Braunston boat weekend is at the end of June. We have walked through the site and seen notices proclaiming that the visitor moorings near the marina will be suspended for a full fifteen days in all. Already some restored and freshly painted workboats have arrived. We saw Hadar pass through heading south on the Oxford while Saltair, Betelgeuice and Warbler are already here.

We have found that the Elsan facility near bridge 91 is blocked. In fact some silly boater has now made it overflow and it smells. A BW person happened to be passing and I asked when it would be fixed. "Not my department" he said and walked on by. The local BW office is now only open on a Friday so no doubt complaints will come flooding in. Almost every available space is occupied and boats are still arriving this weekend so we decided to move out for a few days having filled our water tank.

Friends and family

Carol and George on Rock n Roll were nearby and Ann met them on the towpath with their dog Molly. I was inside making a chicken sauce and waved through the window. Then Mo and Vanessa stopped by on their way north. Good to chat about their adventures on the Kennet and Avon canal. They had got all the way to Bristol and even passed under the Clifton suspension bridge! "A special trip down the channel and back while the tide was up."

Braunston is once again packed with boats and we have moved out going south just past the Puddle Banks. On our way out we saw a crane in the marina pulling an old boat out of the water. The boat was called Lucy and had occupied space just outside Braunston now taken away for restoration.

Ann's brother Pete and his wife Deanna arrived to see us on the boat. We took them down to Flecknoe Farm and had our Sunday roast. But before lunch we were obliged to move on past a few more boats because a swarm of bees came a bit close. The day is the longest of the year starting off more like October with dull grey skies but by the afternoon it was hot n sunny. Our guests went off with Ann for a walk while I volunteered to wash up. When they came back we returned to Braunston and said good-bye to our guests.

We were lucky to find a space by the turn having passed many spaces for half boats! Next day we placed an order with Tesco for more food to be delivered at Willoughby. Off we went in glorious sunshine to the turn at Tarry's bridge 74 and back, like going somewhere but getting nowhere.

Braunston preview

We walked round Braunston Marina to watch the historic boats arrive and assemble while the white and black paint dried on the bridges and buildings. The grass has been cut as tents and displays are erected. The boats are looking at their best again having been freshly painted and brass polished.

Historic boats, Work boat pictures

We walked down the canal towards Braunston to watch many boats manoeuvring at the turn. An official count indicated that at least 80 or more historic boats had assembled at Braunston for the weekend. There were also a few other boaters trying to get through because I suppose BW cannot actually close the navigation. Down by the Stop House where the canal narrows, the overhanging shrubbery threatened to scratch the freshly painted boats. It proved to be so shallow that Nutfield got stuck on the mud while towing Raymond. Some boats pushed by while the majority just waited. Then we saw the one and only steam powered boat President as she backed into the marina with Kildare, the butty, alongside. Some of the historic boats had several generations of boating families on board. Original and current owners keeping their pride and joy in very good working condition.

Moving with friends

We knew they were heading for Braunston and beyond so we were there to greet them. Molly got all excited again and ran off to see her friends Lucy and Meg. After shopping we moved up the flight together with No Problem. Going through that bent tunnel is always an event. This time it was passing five boats with various odd configurations of lighting. Boats should have one shining up on the roof to show the way and not to blind on coming boaters. One had two at the front shining either side while another had one at each end! "Made it difficult to judge if it was two or just one boat." At least one boat bounced off the corner of a bend forcing us to stop to avoid a collision in the darkness. The towpath between the tunnel and Norton Junction is much improved but proved to be shallow for some boats to moor. We stopped at the junction and got the BBQ out to cook beef burgers and sausages then enjoyed the meal inside No Problem with Sue and Vic and a bottle of wine. Then we went to the New Inn to celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary, enjoying the company of Sue and Vic outside in the evening coolness.

Parting of friends

Sue and Vic are going down to the river Nene but this year we are not. We need to return home for family reasons. We helped them by lock wheeling down to the M1 bridge, all twelve done in about an hour and a half. Setting off early we found most locks full with the top gates left wide open, a lazy boater this time making it easy for us. In past years a serious shortage of water down the flight has required BW to now lock some paddles. The top locks single useable paddle was found left up with the gate open. So we took it upon ourselves to close them.

Blog visits, Grand Union canal pictures

We only moved back to Bugbrooke to collect the post and purchase milk and bread at the shop. It was a pleasant walk across the fields and through their Millennium Garden. We just sat for a while to enjoy the peace and quiet by the stream. Molly had found a plastic bottle to crunch and have thrown to fetch. Sadly plastic items are not hard to find in the countryside and the bottle got put in the bin when Molly had finished with it.

Just as we left we spotted Windsong at Bugbrooke! Rog and Pip stopped by next day for a chat and we admired their smart new boat. Then Rock n Roll passed by. Later we walked past a few bridges looking for Geo Cache's and came across Rock n Roll again. George and Carol invited us in for a drink. It is a wonderful social atmosphere on the waterways. We had got to know them by following their adventures on their Blogs. We have also got to know many boaters over the years just by seeing them regularly.

A grand old lady

We are in another way of life for now looking after a grand old lady for a while. At the age of 90 my Mum is from a different way of life having lived through the Second World War with my father away on those big grey ships serving in the Navy. My parents raised three boys during the early years of peacetime, which they had fought for. They then spent many happy years together touring the countryside and the world.

Mum is on her own now with people coming to the door to help. We have been attempting to clear out much unwanted stuff in the house. After a week it does not seem to have made much difference! Some improvements to the house and its facilities are being considered.

We now have grand children of our own and they can enjoy the privilege of having a great grandmother to visit. While away from our own way of life on the boat we are able to keep tracks of waterway life by reading those boater blogs.

We had got the ball rolling on getting help at home and improving the household. We also travelled about locally visiting many of our friends and relations.

Return to our boat home

Gayton Marina had been good to us by offering a temporary mooring for an unspecified time. Brod offered to take us back to the marina, which took just over two hours.

After such a long spell of inactivity our two and a half year old batteries needed some TLC. The solar panels had kept them charged up but the capacity seemed reduced. After topping up some cells with water and charging for a couple of hours we hope they will recover.

We topped up our water tank and loaded food from the Tesco delivery before moving on to Blisworth. It was there that we came across Rose and Ray on Maddy Rose. Next day we travelled together through the tunnel, past Stoke Bruerne and down the locks. We stopped about a mile further on in sunshine and put out the deck chairs. As we sat there enjoying a chat over a cup of tea and a sandwich it started raining. Then it got dark so we went in the boat just before a thunderstorm.

A train town and lakes

During a sunny day we made our way across the Great Ouse aqueduct and stopped at Wolverton for the shops. Much has changed round here with new apartment blocks and visitor moorings but not a place to stay overnight. Wolverton's claim to fame was as a railway town and is celebrated by a white wall with a black picture of a train. Some time ago it was restored but now, sadly, it has been obliterated by graffiti. Such is the lack of respect shown by some locals.

Both M2L and Maddy Rose moored by Linford Lakes and we set up the table and chairs on the wide cut grass towpath. By the end of the day there were many more boaters here to enjoy the sunshine.

Ann and I with Molly set off next day on a two hour walk round the lakes passing the remains of St. Peters Church following the public foot paths as shown on our electronic map. Sometimes proving hard to follow due to fenced off fields of crops and wet muddy paths. We crossed the Great Ouse River, the same that our friends Sue and Vic are travelling on downstream of Bedford where it is navigable. The lakes here were inaccessible being a wild fowl centre with private signs at every turn towards them. We did see Egrets, Cormorants, Turns and Kestrels at a distance. Having got round the lakes we returned along the canal towpath.

Travelling with Maddy Rose

We moved off early and stopped at the Linford water point just as another boat was moving off. Enough room for one boat at a time here and the water supply was slow. Ann had time to nip off to the local shop for milk and bread. By the time the tank was full Maddy Rose and others were gathering in the queue. It proved difficult to get away due to the wind and passing all those boats! Next stop was at Campbell Park where luckily both our boats found a space.

Milton Keynes is a unique town in that it was designed and built from start to finish rather than developed and expanded like most of our towns and cities. Set out on a grid pattern with separate roads, cycle ways and paths. Campbell Park occupies a large square between the canal and the shopping centre. There is a large duck pond that is kept filled with water runoff from the town. On the other side of the canal are the two Willen Lakes where the floodwater is pumped back into the river Ousel. It was a sunny hot day when we walked round those lakes taking a picnic lunch with us.

When we returned Maddy Rose had left so we set off to catch them up eventually at Leighton Buzzard. Then we moved on to Marsworth. We had found many more good moorings since we came this way in 2005. Several new marinas are being dug out along the way but the linear moorings do not seem to have fewer boats! Many of the boats are for residential use and the local councils are threatening them with charging rates even if in a marina.

Breaking news is that Shebdon Embankment is dewatered between Bridges 44 and 48 to stop a leak so the Shropshire Union canal is closed. Tyrley Locks, Adderly Locks and Audlem Locks are closed until a water supply can be restored.

Marsworth

We stopped below Marsworth locks where Ray and Rose moved off with Maddy Rose the next day. It was here that we watched huge fish chomping at slices of bread. Our friends Terry and Myra arranged to come up to stay with us for a few days so we moved up the two locks with another boat. "Just amazed me how active the boater was jumping off his boat as it drifted into the lock." We met our friends at the White Lion pub having filled our tank with water. After a refreshing drink on board we all decided to have lunch at the pub and very reasonable it was too.

Then we moved the boat up the locks past the huge reservoirs, a popular place with many people here to enjoy the views and wild life on the water. The canal engineers created reservoirs to provide water at the summit of the Grand Union. A decision was made by us to travel along the Wendover arm so a sharp right turn under the bridge was required. The Wendover Arm Trust had restored it but it was not open when we last came this way. It is only navigable for about a mile to Bridge 3 where we could turn and stay a night. We walked over the hill to Bridge 4 that got us over the dry section and down to Wilstone reservoir. The Trust has plans to restore it all the way to Wilstone.

We returned to the main line the next day and turned into the lock where a boat was waiting for us. It is always easier and good for the system to go down the double locks with two boats. We stopped in the longest pound before the last lock by the Marsworth reservoirs. After lunch on board we all went for a walk round the huge man made lakes. The Red walk was supposed to be the shortest but we ended up on a long hike. On returning to the boat we found the water levels had gone down so had to put the wheels out to get us off the mud. "The wheels keep the boat away from the edge." Terry went to make sure the lock gates were properly shut. So many boats had gone down one by one that the water supply was not keeping up. It was no better the next day so we moved down early through the lock and said goodbye to our friends.

Hot days and cool evenings

We were not alone for long at our next mooring having gone down two more locks. Along came Rock n Roll with George and Carol on board and decided to stop. While Ann helped with the mooring I put the kettle on for a welcoming drink. We had been reading their blog and had wondered if they had passed us when down the Wendover Arm so were pleased they stopped. These things are not planned but we have had company since returning to our boat.

Table and chairs were put out on the towpath and we enjoyed catching up with their adventures since we last saw them. Next day was that very hot Wednesday so we stayed inside with the white sheets outside the windows and watched a DVD. Thankfully there was a strong breeze blowing through the boat. That evening the table and chairs came out again so we could enjoy the cool evening. We were entertained watching huge fish feeding on our unwanted bread.

We parted company heading north for facilities at Leighton Buzzard. We were lucky to be able to share the wide locks with another boat. The family of four were moving the boat for a friend and it was their first lock. They had no idea how to proceed so were happy to travel with us for a while. After a few locks they were able to do it for themselves.

As we approached the town we pulled into a space before the facilities. Our plan to shop at Tesco then top up with water was achieved in good time and we moved on. As usual the two-hour shopping moorings were all occupied as we passed. At the next lock we were joined by a hire boat just out from Wyvern Shipping Company with a pilot on board giving instructions. Only a mile further on, passing the busy Globe Inn, a quiet mooring was found for the weekend. The towpath was in good condition being one of those Cycle Ways. The hedges were well trimmed and grass cut so plenty of room for the table and chairs. "Just had to watch out for speeding cyclists!"

Starting over

We were reminded about how we started boating on the waterways when a friend came to visit. He had been encouraged by our adventures so he and family were looking for a boat. While doing some research on the Internet we discovered that our old boat Moore To Life was on the market again. It is quite amazing how much we have learnt and were very happy to offer advice during their visit. Hopefully we will keep in touch and follow their experiences as time goes by.

Losing a battle

British Waterways appears to be losing the battle to keep our waterways open. Cutting back on maintenance is going to be very costly in the future so will prove to be false economy as it has in the past. Water loss and emergency stoppages are now inconveniencing boaters. The Llangollen, a popular canal, nearly got closed due to another major leak, the Shropshire Union is closed for the same reason and electric back pumping on the Kennet and Avon canal failed. British Waterways were then obliged to ask the K and A Canal Trust to run their Crofton steam pump to keep the boats moving. Most canals have a Trust Organisation with a dedicated group of volunteers who are doing their best to look after and extend the waterways. Maybe British Waterways will be asking them for more help in the future.

A walk of discovery

At the end of August when everybody is supposed to have a long weekend off it proved to be a bit cool in the mornings. If it is cloudy and damp we may consider warming the radiators. Our fire and chimney has been cleaned out and should now be ready for the winter months.

We went shopping at Water Eaton after Les on Valerie told us about the huge out of town shopping centre there. Plenty of people are crawling around looking and presumably spending some money just like we did.

After lunch we set off on a walk not really knowing where the path would take us. Milton Keynes does it so well; the paths go under roads and heads into open parkland. We came across the river Ousel and a seat to relax and enjoy the view while Molly went in for a swim. Following the path took us to Caldecott Lake. We had gone round the back of the huge Tesco ware house and continued with faith that we should eventually get back to the canal. Going under a road with the river and there before us were the locks. Thankfully we got back to the boat before it rained.

Family visit

We were at Campbell Park, Milton Keynes on the Grand Union when they came. Just about two hours on the road for them. What a marvellous place to explore between the park and the lakes. "Bring the boys bikes," we told them. "The cycle ways are so safe away from the roads." We made a picnic and walked to Willen lakes.

There is an obstacle course made of rope and wires strung between several trees. Many children are able to safely climb, swing and jump while strapped to a safety harness. Josh was just tall enough to go on the junior route and we were so pleased that he managed to control his fear and get round without falling. There was always an adult on hand to help and encourage progress. After Josh had got back on the ground we found a seat without wasps and consumed our picnic. Then we found some funfair rides for Ben to enjoy. After that it was ice creams all round. Next day the bikes were out again to explore the park in the morning. We enjoyed their company while they were with us but they had to leave after lunch to get home.

The state of the waterways

As we travel around the system we are bound to see the deterioration. Soft edges, muddy waters, broken bridges, suspect structures. In many places the waterway is narrowed by excessive vegetation reaching out to scratch the boat. Been like it for many years with no real sign of maintenance. Some of the old brick arched bridges are in a near state of collapse.

This year several canals have been closed and some undergone emergency repair during their summer use. Even some of the facilities for boaters are threatened with closure. At one place near Milton Keynes the water was off for a while and the waste disposal suspended due to fly tipping. Some Elsan drains have been left blocked for some time. Since the end of August we have noticed more bags of rubbish dumped in the hedgerows.

So it seems there is plenty to do to keep our valuable waterways open, clean and tidy. But does our government have the will to do so? Their own laws and regulations say they should. What must our foreign tourists think of our dirty untidy countryside? Will they come again? Perhaps we should be encouraging those groups of people who do have the will to look after our waterways and countryside. Like the various trust organisations associated with the waterways and countryside.

Lock waiting

We set off two locks below Stoke Bruerne and found two boats about to go in the lock. So we tied up at the bollards and waited. The boats went up in the lock and waited for a boat coming down from the next lock before proceeding. A single boat swapped places in the lock and waited. We were told they were waiting for another single boat coming down. "Fair enough, better to carry on down two at a time." So the single boat that we were waiting for eventually came down. Then at last it was our turn to go up but despite all that waiting, no other boat came up with us. That is the way it is, sometimes it just takes twice as long to get through locks. Thankfully being September we were enjoying calm sunny weather as nature paused, waiting for autumn.

Moving with friends again

Ann had gone off on the bus to Cogenhoe to find Sue and Vic moored on the Nene. A few days later we were together, No Problem and Moore 2 Life. "I knew they were near when I heard dogs barking. Lucy, Meg and Molly rushed up and each gave me a lick!" It did not take long to move on past Nether Heyford and Weedon. The wide canal is weaving its way past the hills of Northamptonshire with a variety of open farmland and woods. Both boats called at Fred Tarry's for gas, coal and diesel before stopping past the noisy motorway. Next day we continued up the Buckby flight, across the summit, through the bent tunnel and all the way down to Braunston. We were pleased to see that at least some work has been done at the tunnel to prevent further land slippage.

Sue and Vic went on next day while we took the bus into Daventry. Why do they all come at the same time? This time there were no less than three of them, two for Rugby and one for Banbury. At least the bus companies are running a viable service. We had done a pre winter clear out and donated the majority of it to charity in town. It was an enjoyable outing in sunshine and we had a snack at the local cafe. When we returned we paid a visit to friends in Braunston Marina. There were many other boats gathered on the canal, which we passed on the way out next day. It was a very windy Saturday as we progressed north to the locks at Hillmorton where we caught up with our friends again.

Do we expect too much?

It was not that long ago when many canals were unnavigable. Way back when canals were created only horses were available to pull the boats through the water. When diesel engines were put in the boats they were pushed from the back, moved much faster and made waves. There are now more boats moving about the canals than ever before when they were operated commercially. At least the commercial operators showed respect and consideration.

It is perhaps not surprising that the system is suffering from the strain. Pumps now push the water back up the locks so there is enough to let the boats go down. We are lucky at times not to run aground more often. Even when we started fifteen years ago there were problems with the water supply. The use of some locks near summits were booked for use and limited to a few days a week. Many others were locked at night to save water. With limited money and maintenance effort we all may have to realise that limited use will return, if not by design then by failures of the system.

Parted company

We went home on a bus, taxi, train and car for a long weekend while our friends looked after Molly and the boat. On our return Sue and Vic gave us a refreshing cup of tea before setting off on their long journey north. We cannot thank them enough for their kindness and help over the years that we have known them. Then we stopped at Hawkesbury Junction to top up with water and use the facilities. We simply lost count of the number of boats moving up and down through that shallow lock in October.

Turning on to the Coventry canal we found ourselves following a slow boat to China and decided to stay on the Coventry if it turns on to the Ashby. It did, so we headed for Nuneaton but turned at the next winding point and stopped for the night. Next day we got on to the Ashby at a normal speed. Many of the visitor moorings were full so we stopped on a rough edge near Hinckley.

The Ashby Canal, Ashby canal pictures

Our next stop was at Stoke Golding. The visitor moorings were full as we passed so carried on round the bend and stopped next to a muddy bank. The canal has been recently dredged but not edge to edge. Only our front end got near while our deeper back end was stuck in mud! It was a bad end to a damp grey horrible day. To their credit the Ashby Canal Association has been getting a fair bit of dredging done. Unfortunately the mud has just been left to dry out as hard lumps of dirt on the towpath. We kept an eye on the boats at the mooring and when one moved off we reversed into the space and washed the mud off. We were then able to place an order to Tesco who delivered next day. When it was all packed away we walked up to the village shop during a bright sunny day that was so different to the previous one.

After the limited stay we moved off heading for the facilities at Sutton Wharf where we took on water after using the washing machine. There are many moorings on the way but most still have that muddy dredging lying on top of what was a grassy edge. Perhaps one day it will get spread out to make a dry path. We eventually stopped for the weekend at the Battlefield moorings, which was thankfully clear of mud.

It was here that the War of the Roses finally ended when Richard the Third's army was defeated and he was killed. Henry Tudor took the crown of England and became Henry the seventh. It is quite something to still be able to walk round the fields where the battle of Bosworth took place back in 1485, over 500 years ago!

Moore on the Ashby

We moved on a few miles to Market Bosworth visitor moorings and found them empty! On the way we passed a dredger with one operator getting mud from the canal and depositing it on the towpath. Another operator was using a large rake to spread the wet mud level. "It looked like hard work." After a sandwich we walked up the hill to the town in sunshine with the copper leaves blowing about in the gardens.

More boats had arrived when we returned to the moorings. At least most of them are moving most days and we see them returning later. It is certainly slow going on this canal as we have averaged only about two miles an hour! Any faster and the boat drags on the bottom or makes a wash despite that dredging! The canal gets better after Shackerstone where there are a couple of miles of woodland to travel through. "Just have to clear the leaves from prop every now and then."

Having heard that the canal trust had got their spades out of the shed we were disappointed to see what had been achieved. A side pond has been created for wild life between bridge 61 and the turn, but there was no progress north for boats. It is no longer possible to walk along the canal beyond the end of navigation. Having spent a packet on that side pond the trust is now waiting for yet more money to come their way.

Daylight / Nightlight

Before we left the Ashby canal we made contact with friends on At Last moored near Burton Hastings. We first met them when they stopped to say hello many years ago while on the Coventry canal between Nuneaton and Atherstone. It was good to see them again and have a good old chat on board. We do try to keep in touch with friends on the cut when we are nearby.

Changing those clocks and having to wake up an hour later takes a bit of getting used to. At the end of the day we now have the lights on for an extra hour. What was it called? Daylight Saving? Daylight is free but the nation is now paying for that extra hour of night-light. Might have been better to have fallen forward rather than back! Altering our time does not change the fact that as winter approaches the daylight time is getting shorter anyway.

Coventey canal pictures

We moved on to the Coventry canal and pushed through Nuneaton early. Stopped at bridge 23 to dump some rubbish and go to the shops. There is a recycling centre nearby. "Old clothes over there, just chuck that lot over there lov." Oh why did we bother to keep it all separate? Then we went the other way to find the butcher. Good quality at Frank Parker's no less. Moving on we got diesel at Springwood Haven, this time being able to make our own declaration before continuing to Hartshill.

Get a move on

Got to use those short daylight hours to get to where were going. Sue told us about an unexpected stoppage at Colwich Lock which we must get through before the 9th of November. No rush really. We are getting away early after breakfast and stopping for a rest and sandwiches midday. We have done all those locks at Atherstone and shopped at the Co-op, passed by Polesworth, down the two locks at Tamworth and even passed those lovely gardens in Whittington. We have been moving most days since turning at the end of the Ashby and now stopped for a weekend.

The Coventry still proves to be one of our favourite canals but there are so many other places, towns, villages and moorings which are spread all over the waterway system that we like so much.

I am imagining a utopia waterway with all our favourite places with all the nasty boring bits removed. It is something to ponder about during a few otherwise idle moments? No more than five locks in a few miles then a long stretch and no wide locks. It would have at least one tunnel that you can see through. Tow paths for walkers, not cyclists and wide enough in places to sit out under the shade of a tree in summer. I do not know whether to take what we have and remove the bad bits or to make a list of the good bits and paste them together on an interesting track.

By the time we had got to Kings Bromley we had met both Roger and Pip on Windsong and Derek and Dot on Gypsy Rover.

Places to go and things to do

We had time to stop at Rugeley, which is just as well because Ann had tooth ache. The local Dentist was able to take a look and provided antibiotics after some treatment. We walked round town doing some shopping but sadly found it lacking. Several shops had closed down including Woolworths, which is still empty. Banks, building societies, card shops and low cost stores are open. Morrisons and Wilkinson are quite busy. Charity shops are providing worthwhile goods for us. "In fact I have replaced my winter coat and disposed of our video recorder."

It was not far to Great Haywood, only seven lock miles but we had to get past Colwich Lock before it closed for maintenance. The lower gates were always hard to open or close because the balance beams are too short. In fact the locks up from Fradley were just as difficult for the same reason. Longer beams would provide better leverage. They all needed two people to operate them. It will be interesting to see what British Waterways can do about it because a bridge across the lock gets in the way of longer beams! We now have some time in one area to explore due to the stoppages. We are limited to about nine miles going north on the Trent and Mersey and three miles west on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire. Turning points mark the limit before the stoppage because we need to be able to return to Great Haywood. There are no turns south before that lock so cannot go that way. We are not too down hearted because boating facilities are available and the village has a Post Office, shops, butcher and even a medical centre within walking distance of the canal.

We got the hourly bus to Stafford. It took a bit longer than usual due to an accident that meant that the driver had to go a different way. We walked across town to the station and got all our advanced tickets for the train home at Christmas. After a bite to eat at a cafe and some shopping we returned to the boat just before it got dark. Shugborough Hall will be having a firework event over the weekend so we moved north to get away. Molly gets so upset with the bangs and whistles, even the TV had to be turned down or off when fireworks were on that as well!

Now we settle down to shop on line, write and post Christmas cards, wrap some gifts and play games! Ann so likes that Nindendo DS with those games and brain training that she could not wait to use it.

Winter blues

The lack of sunshine is SAD. It may be sunny now but the days are so short. Nothing to talk about but the weather! Thankfully we have not suffered like others near rivers reminding us about our adventures on the Nene. It must be real nasty to get flooded yet again. For us it is another sunny day and the solar panels are putting a little power in to the batteries. While we are hanging around it seems that engine charging for two hours midday and an hour in the evening keeps up with our demands.

Ann walked across from our Tixel Wide mooring and got the bus to Stafford, returning later with more goodies. The local butcher had some venison for sale so we made a stew, which cooked on the stove all day. It tasted so good, just pure red meat and very good value.

That lock between Rugeley and us should be open soon and many boats are gathering to get away. We keep getting stoppage messages and really wonder about the government's commitment to the waterways. There are too many failures of the system being reported lately. The winter months are when British Waterways have planned maintenance to carry out but that is not enough it seems. Our waterways need respect and support from all of us. When that major failure occurred on the Shropshire Union Canal this summer we were surprised how many towns and businesses suffered from the lack of boat traffic. Now we hear about a large hole in the Caldon Canal near Stoke on Trent and yet another failure on that popular Welsh canal. Some are putting the blame on Badgers making their sets in the bank!

Colwich lock?

The lock is open and boats have been through but those that have come up to Great Haywood report no improvement. The bottom gates still need two people to operate them. So I wonder what BW tried to do while it was closed to navigation.

Objections are being made about BW plans to close facilities at Marsworth on the Grand Union canal. Apparently the workshops and facilities are to be demolished and a number of houses built on site. What, I wonder, are boaters to do with the contents of their cassettes? We need to be able to top up with fresh water every now and then.

Drifting about

We are not moving very far these days, just a few miles towards Stone for a change of view. Five days later we were back in Great Haywood and found a space among the boats and got the bus to Stafford. The town was being decorated for the Christmas season and winter cheer.

A few medical issues were sorted out like getting flu jabs at the local surgery. A new bottle of gas was purchased at the junction while we topped up with water. Then Tesco arrived with another load of food and goodies. Then we set off to the Tixel wide moorings but they proved to be a bit exposed with that cold wind. Soon moved to the marina for diesel and found another space among those boats at the junction.

A few days later we were off again, this time going on through Tixel lock and moored at Milford for a few days. Back at Great Haywood we plucked up courage and found a Dentist. Ouch! Private treatment proves better value than the NHS. We both had a thorough examination and look forward to more visits later!

Looking after Molly

Ann spent many days down south with our grandchildren to see their school activities over the pre Christmas period.

I have to look after Molly while Ann is away. We go out for walks twice a day across that river Trent that happens to be high fast and brown with stirred up silt. That ancient Pack Horse Bridge is so well built it has remained intact for hundreds of years. Just as well because it is the only footbridge across the river to Shugborough Park. There is plenty of woodland to explore and sticks to throw for Molly to fetch back. So far I have not forgotten to feed Molly at breakfast and dinner. I have been filling my face OK and not all out of tins either. There are a few good food shops here to visit for fresh veg, bread and milk. I went to Stafford on the bus to fetch Ann back.

Power failure

After a walk together in the morning we uprooted the boat after a long stay and moved, backing up and turning at the junction to head for the marina. Then the beep beep warning started indicating charge failure. Thank goodness we were not far away from Great Haywood Marine Services! While diesel was filling our tank the alternator was being confirmed as being a failure. It is the third failure during the five years we have had the boat. We were told that an average of between one and two years is about right for an alternator being used every day charging five domestic batteries. If only we could tell when it is about to fail, it happens quite quickly without much warning. We have a temporary mooring with a mains connection while we wait for a replacement alternator to arrive.

Power on

The new alternator is fitted and working but the next day we could not move because of the ice. Another change of plan is required. We were going to Rugeley for Molly's boosters at the vet. Now it will be by taxi on Monday. Not allowed to move and break ice in the marina. Not allowed to run engines after six either! So we are back on mains for a while.

During a cold afternoon walk with Ann and Molly we spotted Matilda Rose. Jill and Graham kindly invited us on board and we all had a great chat about our adventures and plans over a cup of tea while it snowed outside. The ice on the canal is being broken up by moving boats but back in the marina the ice is still quite solid and may not melt for a while.

Get away

Leaving the boat safe is like leaving house with extras! Not only the gas and electric are turned off but also the water needs flushing from the pipes to prevent frost damage. My method is to turn off the tank tap, disconnect the feed to the pump and turn on the hot taps first. The pump pushes the water out by putting air in to the pipes. Once the hot water has gone then open the cold taps. So long as there is air in the system hopefully expanding ice can do no damage. The connection to the pump is remade and taps turned off ready for our return. The fridge has to be defrosted and emptied the day before leaving. The fire is out and cleaned ready for lighting on our return. The taxi arrived as we left the boat just before ten to take us to Stafford station. The train took us all the way to Winchester through a snowy white frosty countryside arriving at half past two. The train was packed with many standing.

During the twelve days away we managed to see our Doctor for the annual check up, family and friends. We stayed at three different locations looking after our grand children, celebrating Christmas, my birthday, the New Year and Grandchild Ben's birthday. It was all quite active and eventful.

Thank you for reading Chapter 15. Return to Book.