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A two week cruise to the Ashby canal – Day Eight: Congerstone To Gopsall Woods

We’re still having problems with excess water in the engine room. With the bilge pump not working, we’re having to bail it out with a measuring jug and a bucket. Yesterday we removed eight bucketfulls before we set off and then a further four when we stopped for the night. I think I know where it’s coming from.

James’ engine in raw water cooled which means that water is drawn in from the canal to help cool the engine. The water passes through a mud trap before it reaches the engine. The mud trap has to be taken apart regularly so that the debris it’s collected can be emptied out. There’s a valve on the trap which has to be opened after the mud trap lid has been replaced to bleed any air from the trap. Yesterday, I noticed a trickle of water from the valve outlet pipe just before I turned the engine off. I suspect that, even though the valve is fully closed, water is escaping through it when the engine is running. I’ll point it out to one of the engineers when I get back to the marina. In the meantime, Sally and I will be keeping a close eye on the bilge water level and we’ll be bailing the excess out daily.

We reached the far point of our cruise yesterday. The Ashby canal terminus. Some purists will argue that we haven’t fully cruised the canal, but I’m not a purist and as far as I’m concerned, we’ve done it.

We cruised gently from our overnight mooring at Congerstone and past the village of Shackerstone. There are some beautiful private moorings on the offside between bridges 52 and 53. They overlook a meadow, almost a village green, complete with a small lake sheltered by weeping willows. Sally and I really liked the look of them but decided that the daily commute to Calcutt for work every day would be a bit too much.

The winding hole after bridge 53 marks the start of the SSSI designated Gopsall wood. The wood stretches for two miles on either side of the canal. It’s a beautiful but rather shallow cruise as I found to my dismay when I ran aground when moving off the main channel to allow an oncoming boat to pass. The beauty of the Ashby canal is that you don’t pass many moving boats so I only ran aground in the woods once.

Cruising through Gopsall wood on the Ashby canal

As the wood peters out, there another mile of beautiful countryside before a sign for the Globe pub and the start of the 250m Snarestone tunnel. This was our first tunnel since Newbold on the outskirts of Rugby. I forgot to mention that when we navigated the Newbold tunnel I bounced off the wall a couple of times because of two schoolboy errors.

The boat’s headlight is fine for illuminating the section of tunnel in front of the boat but doesn’t help me to see the tunnel walls either side of the boat for the fifty feet section between the headlight and the back deck. The simple solution is to turn all of the boat’s internal lights on and make sure that the curtains are open. I forgot to ask Sally to turn the lights on.

The second and absolutely unforgivable mistake I made – please don’t think any less of me if I tell you – was to leave my sunglasses on. We were three quarters of the way through the tunnel when I complained to Sally that the boat’s headlight wasn’t very bright. “You’ve got something in common with the headlight then, haven’t you?” she said as she pulled my sunglasses off. It’s going to be a while before she’ll let me forget that one!

The Snarestone tunnel, with internal lights on and sunglasses off, was a breeze. Another half a mile, two more bridges and we reached then end of the Ashby, or as close to the end of the Ashby as I could be bothered travelling.

There’s a 70′ winding hole just before the water and Elsan point, and then a new swing bridge followed by a 100m stretch of canal which was opened three years ago. The purists will suggest that, if you want to claim that you have cruised to the end of the Ashby, you need to open the swing bridge, cruise to the end of the new section, reverse back  through the swing bridge, past the water and Elsan point and turn in the winding hole.

Paul Smith with narrowboat James at the end of the Ashby canal

On a windy day and for the sake of 100m and probably 20 minutes faffing about, I just couldn’t be bothered.You can see the end of the canal in the photo above and the swing bridge just behind the boat.

The Elsan point, the brick building on the left hand side of the photo above, was the first BW facility we’ve used in the last week which has needed a key to unlock it. I had to spend 10 minutes searching for a BW key before I could empty our cassette even though I’m sure there are half a dozen on the boat.

Once we’d had a quick walk to the end and a quick browse through the books for sale in the unattended Ashby Canal Association hut, there wasn’t much else to do. We went back through the tunnel, stopped very quickly at the Globe for a toilet break before stopping for the night at yet another beautiful spot by the western edge of Gopsall wood.

We had the tranquil mooring to ourselves for about ten minutes before we were joined by two other boats. Three pairs of insular boaters made sure that there was sufficient space between moorings, set up camp chairs in the sun and quietly eat, drank and read until the sun went down.

Another day in heaven.

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A two week cruise to the Ashby canal – Day Seven: Sutton Wharf To Congerstone

After a very relaxing two days at Sutton Wharf we resumed our snail’s pace cruise yesterday.

We moored at the closest point to the town centre, on the visitor moorings just after bridge 42. Station Road is one of the main roads running into Market Bosworth so there was a fair amount of traffic thundering over the bridge. I made sure that we were far enough away from the bridge to deter the dogs from running onto the road when they jumped off the boat. Daisy is a nightmare. She’ll run for half a mile in any direction when she first gets off the boat so if we’re anywhere near a road bridge we make sure we put her on a lead before she gets off. Charlie (being a man and able to exercise a little more self control) runs around like a lunatic but never more than a boat length away… until yesterday.

Sally let the dogs off the boat while I shut the engine down. Within seconds Sally was hammering frantically on the side of the boat. Charlie had jumped off the boat and sprinted 400m to the road bridge. She knew that he was on the road because she could see that the traffic had come to a standstill.

I sprinted after him and found him shivering with terror but otherwise unharmed in the middle of the road. The drivers of two articulated lorries shouted pleasantries at me as I pulled him off the road and took him back to the boat. Charlie is such a loyal and loving spaniel. I couldn’t bear the look of confusion on his face as both Sally and I shouted at him. I didn’t enjoy being shouted at by the lorry drivers but I will be forever grateful that they were both vigilant enough to stop before they hit him.

Before we set off for Market Bosworth town centre, we chatted to the lady on the boat in front of us.

Her: “It’s a long way to the town centre. You’ll need to get a taxi.
Me: “Where can we get a taxi from?
Her: “You can’t. There aren’t any.
Me: “We’ll have to walk then.
Her: “It’s too far. Why don’t you try the farm shop at Congerstone?
Me: “We might try it. If the shop at Congerstone is as good as the farm shop next to the Ashby Canal Centre, it’s certainly worth a visit.
Her: “I’ve always wanted to visit the Ashby canal. I’ve heard it’s very pretty.
Me: “We’re on the Ashby canal.”
Her: “No dear. We’re on the Coventry canal. The Ashby canal is much further on. You really must use a map if you don’t know where you are.

Thistle Cottage Tea Rooms in Market Bosworth

After the trauma of Charlie running onto the road, the conversation was too much for me. We left for the twenty minute pleasant uphill walk to the town centre.

I thought, wrongly, that there was decent size supermarket at Market Bosworth. There isn’t. They have a reasonably stocked Co-op store, a butcher, a greengrocer and chemist a couple of cafes, a restaurant (Sofleys, offering afternoon cream teas for £21 a head – No thank you) and very little else.

The weather yesterday was pleasant enough with no rain, but not quite warm enough to sit at leisure and watch the world go by. We sat in the the Thistle Cottage tea room in the market square for a coffee and a piece of carrot cake before the long trudge downhill back to the boat.

Market-Bosworth-Scarecrows

I don’t know what it was about the inhabitants of Market Bosworth, but there seemed to be something not quite right about them. They were a colourful multi cultural lot, but they didn’t have much to say for themselves.

The visitor moorings at Bosworth Wharf aren’t our cup of tea. They’re far too close to a busy main road. We bypassed the congested visitor moorings just after bridge 44 and stopped at a perfect secluded spot just after bridge 46. The north easterly breeze made outdoor relaxing reading a little too unpleasant so we relaxed inside instead before the 7.30pm start of the Britain’s Got Talent final.

As a rule, I try to steer clear of television as much as possible. I would rather read but Sally isn’t quite as keen as I am, and she’s between books at the moment. However, I thoroughly enjoy Britain’s Got Talent (especially the egg throwing antics from one of the orchestra players). We settled down for the evening, me with a bottle of Old Peculiar, Sally with a glass of red, before an early bed and an early rise this morning.

It was a decidedly chilly start to the day. I lit the stove just to take the chill off before the sun comes out later this morning. The boat immediately filled with smoke indicating that the chimney was blocked. This is one of the maintenance jobs which probably needs doing more frequently if the boat is moved on a regular basis. The constant shaking, moving and banging had caused some of the crud which build up on the inside of the flue to shake free and partially block it.

I have a reel of parachute cord in the engine room. It comes in handy for all kinds of tasks on the boat. It was perfect for cleaning the chimney. I found a spare length of fender chain, tied it to the parachute cord and dropped it down the flu from the boat roof. Half a dozen passes up and down cleared the blockage and the smoke from the boat.

We’ve just enjoyed our Sunday morning treat, a full English breakfast. Within the next hour we’ll be off again. We’re only four miles from Snarestone and the end of the Ashby (or the Coventry, as one daft old bat likes to call it). The weather forecast isn’t looking very good for the middle of next week. I think we’ll get a bit closer to Calcutt before we have any particularly rainy days so that we can moor up if the weather is particulalrly unpleasant.

I’m not complaining about the weather. Quite the reverse. We have been extremely lucky. Up until the day we left last Sunday, we had rain nearly every day. Not a drop has fallen on us over the last week and I couldn’t be happier.

I must go now. Four miles to go to Snarestone and the Globe pub. I wonder if Sally fancies a night out?

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A two week cruise to the Ashby canal – Day Six: A Lazy Day At Sutton Cheyney Wharf

We’re not playing this cruising game very well at all. We didn’t move at all yesterday.

I felt a little guilty for a while. How could we achieve the goals we had set for ourselves by moving just a couple of miles a day or, like yesterday, not moving at all? We want to tick the Ashby canal off our list and this involves exploring every inch of it, reaching the northern terminus and pushing the bow into the furthest point. Or do we?

I need to keep reminding myself that living on a narrowboat and cruising the network is all about enjoying the journey, not the destination. Yesterday we were still on the 48 hour visitor moorings at Sutton Cheyney Wharf. We loved the mooring, the location, the nearby facilities and the walk through Bosworth Battlefield Country Park so we decided to stay another day.

We had just about run out of food. We didn’t have anything to eat on board apart from our emergency tinned and packet foods but that problem was easy enough to deal with. We had lunch at Sutton Wharf cafe again.

The cafe doesn’t offer fancy home cooked food but on a beautiful, warm and sunny day like yesterday, scampi, chips and peas and a delicious cappuccino was more than acceptable. We sat at a table next to the water for nearly two hours eating, drinking and feeding the ducks (They quite like scampi batter, aren’t keen on peas, and positively dislike lemon).

We spent the afternoon and early evening walking the dogs around the park and sitting by the side of the boat in the sun reading. Sorry, I sat by the side of the boat reading. Sally decided that Daisy needed her coat cutting. It’s a big job for a hot summer’s day with a hyper active spaniel so Sally set up a tent between the boat and the pontoon hand rail to keep the sun off both her and Daisy for the two hours it took to cut her coat. I joined in for the last half hour to keep a rather fed up little dog still enough to work on.

Sally and Daisy in the new mobile dog grooming parlour

We’re going to move on today. The plan is to get somewhere near to Market Bosworth so we can walk to the shops and stock up on food and drink. Whatever we end up doing, we’ll do it slowly and in a very relaxed fashion.

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A two week cruise to the Ashby canal – Day Five: Stoke Golding To Sutton Cheyney Wharf

Oh dear! We’re not making very much progress. We managed a rather underwhelming two miles yesterday, but we had a great time.

The early morning was overcast and quite chilly so I lit the fire. By 11.00 the sun came out and rapidly heated the boat, in addition to the heat to the stove which also rapidly heated the boat. By early afternoon we were considering shaving both dogs to keep them cool.

A tranquil mooring at Stoke Golding

Our (loose) plan for the day was to get somewhere near Market Bosworth so that we could restock with food. Before we left Stoke Golding we visited the farm shop about 200m from bridge 25. We bought a couple of steaks, a loaf of fresh baked bread, a few slices of local ham and a tub of Gospall Farmhouse raspberry pavlova ice cream.

Our fridge’s tiny freezer compartment door is broken so we couldn’t keep the ice cream for long. For lunch we had the ham, smeared with English mustard between thick slices of crusty fresh bread and a bowl of ice cream each. Marvellous. With the steaks in reserve for the evening there was no rush to get to Market Bosworth but we needed to get to Sutton Cheyney Wharf for the water point.

Before we left we needed to remove some water from the engine room. The bilge pump has stopped working. It’s badly positioned anyway. Water tends to pool towards the front of the engine rather than were the pump is at the back of the engine. For now, we have to make do with using a litre measuring jug to scoop the water into a bucket.

We removed eight bucketfuls of water. I don’t know where it’s coming from but it’s not filling the engine bay at too worrying a rate. The water we removed has been building up over the last five days. Repositioning the bilge pump is another job for when we get back.

Sutton Cheyney Wharf is certainly worth a visit. There are two water points just past the cafe, rubbish disposal, an Elsan point and, for those of us with cassette toilets and a tendency to use public conveniences as much as possible, a very clean and pleasant toilet block attached to the cafe. There are also some very pleasant 48 hour moorings next to the wharf backing onto Bosworth Battlefield country park.

We moved James from the water point to the 48 hour moorings and took the dogs for a very pleasant walk through Ambion wood to the Bosworth Battlefield Centre, back through the woods on a different path to bridge 34A and then along the towpath back to Sutton Cheyney Wharf and the boat. It’s a beautiful walk through ancient woodland and an important historic site.

There are plaques along the footpath telling visitors about the battle which took place over 500 years ago. There’s an open view next to one of the plaques which describes the movement of the armies during the battle. I tried to imagine thousands of frightened men hacking each other to death, the animal roars and the screams of the dying. I tried to picture open farmland strewn with over 1,000 maimed and bleeding bodies.

I’m afraid the task was beyond me. All I could see was stunning and tranquil English countryside on a perfect summer’s day.

The cafe at Sutton Cheyney wharf

I finished off the perfect summer’s day with a bottle of Ruddles County and a steak enjoyed al fresco next to the tranquil canal.

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A two week cruise to the Ashby canal – Day Four: Burton Hastings To Stoke Golding

What a difference a day makes. The English summer has reverted to normal; a leaden sky and a bit of a nip in the air.

As usual, I was up at the crack of dawn but unlike the previous three days, the boat was cold enough to warrant lighting the fire. Oh, for the convenience of central heating! The stove takes a good hour before it’s producing a meaningful amount of heat. By then it’s often warm enough in the boat anyway if the sun is shining. Today was cool enough to justify keeping it going until late morning.

For the first four miles, the narrow canal winds through pleasant fields and woodlands. The shallow water makes mooring difficult but there are enough sections where the banks have been piled to allow the few boats on the canal tranquil and quite private resting spots.

The peace and quiet was shattered when we came to the busy A5 at Lime Kilns followed very shortly afterwards by Hinckley. I didn’t like Hinckley.

We pulled over, eventually, on the towpath just past Trinity marina. I couldn’t get close to the bank on the first couple of attempts because of the shallow water. Third time lucky, even if my backside was sticking out a little (I must cut down on the cakes.)

We stopped near Trinity marina so that we could have lunch at the Brewers Fayre. That’s two successive days we’ve eaten out now. It’s so much cheaper to eat on the boat, but so much more convenient to eat out. We decided to make our lunch the only meal of the day and had an acceptable mixed grill each, served by a very pleasant waitress with the loudest voice in the world. The restaurant was filled with mainly retired diners. The muted conversation was punctuated by our friendly food carrying foghorn.

We needed to stock up on a few provisions. I asked Miss Foghorn where the nearest supermarket was. “There’s a Tesco just around the corner. It’s about a five minute walk away. Take a left, then a right. You’ll see it just after Lidl.”

I’m now convinced that she was only vaguely acquainted with the concept of walking. Tesco was just around the corner from the Brewers Fayre in the same way that Penzance is just around the corner from London. After a quarter of an hour’s walk there was still not sign of either Lidl or Tesco, but we did see a Londis store. Unfortunately we needed salad and their display of a single soft tomato and two wilted spring onions didn’t inspire us so we pressed on.

After half an hour’s walk we came to Lidl. I haven’t shopped before at Lidl. I won’t be trying it again unless I develop a fondness for bumper packs of sweets I’ve never heard of before, or for people who twitch a lot and carry their teeth in a handbag.

From Lidl we could just about see the Tesco store in the far distance. It was at least another fifteen minute’s walk away. We gave up.

After an hour and a four mile round trip, we were back on the boat and heading north again. We needed to reach Sutton Cheyney wharf as it has the only Elsan point on the Ashby canal. Our Porta Potti cassette only had enough space left in it for one half hearted wee.

As we passed the Ashby Boat Co I asked if they had an Elsan point. They did and they were more than happy for me to use it. With the toilet emergency overcome, there was no rush to get to Sutton Cheyney. We stopped just a couple of hundred metres further on just after the entrance to Ashby Canal Centre at bridge 26.

Is Sally enjoying this holiday too much?

That’s where we are now. It’s 8.30 Thursday morning. The sun has yet to make an appearance and the stove is on again. We watched the weather forecast on television while we had breakfast. Weather forecasters everywhere were standing in their T shirts under cloudless skies. I’m hoping that we will join them shortly.

While I’m updating the blog, Sally’s washing some clothes. We don’t have a washing machine fitted yet, or any means of powering it away from a shore line. Sally has been hinting more and more strongly recently that we need to be self sufficient in the clothes washing department. I’ve looked for a laundrette nearly but the only one accessible from the Ashby appears to be back at Trinity marina. Neither of us want to go back there.

For this trip, Sally is going to have to carry on washing clothes by hand. When we get back we’re going to have to bite the bullet and get a washing machine fitted. Sally isn’t happy with the machines at the marina. They’re token operated. Each token cost £1 and lasts 45 minutes. Some users limit their washing machine expenditure to just a couple of tokens rather than using enough tokens to complete the cycle. Consequently Sally is often faced with an empty washing machine half filled with dirty water. We have to use our own tokens to finish off the cycle before Sally can start her wash. She, understandably, isn’t too happy when she goes back to the washing machine sometimes to find that another user has taken the washing, including her underwear, out of the machine if the cycle has finished and left it in a pile on the work top for all to see.

Having a washing machine on board will be a far more convenient way of washing our clothes than either hand washing or relying on laundrettes. There’s a convenient spot to fit the machine under my office “desk”. Getting it working will involve running clean water to it, and grey water away from it. There’s a 230v socket nearby so access to the ring main won’t be a problem. Getting enough power to the socket for the washing machine will be a problem.

My inverter is 1.6KW. It’s not powerful enough to run the washing machine. On the mooring, running the washing machine won’t be a problem as we’ll be plugged in to the shore line. When we’re cruising though we won’t be able to use it unless we have a more powerful inverter – and maybe a bigger bank of batteries – or a generator. We’re considering buying a generator.

There are some adequate generators available for not a lot of money but they’re often large, noisy and very heavy. Popular opinion has it (confirmed by a review in Waterways World) that the Honda suitcase generator is the best you can buy.  We’re considering this 2KW version.

In fact, I think there’s very little doubt we’ll be buying a generator and installing the washing machine as soon as we get back. As I’ve been writing Sally has been constantly scrubbing dirty clothes in the shower tray. She’s supposed to be relaxing on holiday. It’s not fair.

Charlie enjoys himself at Stoke Golding

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Brinklow marina to Burton Hastings

I woke up this moring to the sound of birds twittering in the trees on the far bank, fish splashing in the water… and the rumble of trains passing on the West Coast Main Line. The trains aren’t close enough to bother us but they do remind us that there’s a real world out there with people enduring the stresses and strains of a normal mid week working day.

The most stress we faced this morning was whether to have toast smeared with honey or free range eggs bought from a farm shop near the marina just before we set sail.

After toast – we eat too many eggs – a couple of cups of coffee and an hour or so working on the site, we set off on the next leg of the journey.

Talking about working on the site, connecting to t’internet has been surprisingly easy so far. A couple of weeks ago I managed to rip my dongle pole off its roof bracket with the centre rope. The dongle is currently wedged in the outside of a roof vent protected from the elements by a surgical glove. It’s not very elegant but I’m going to replace the WiFi setup soon so that I can use a magnetic aerial on the roof. It might not be elegant, but it’s effective. I haven’t yet failed to get a signal where we’ve moored. Maybe that will change but, for now, I’m pleasantly surprised.

We cruised through some beautiful wooded areas just before Brinklow Arches. We passed two giant oaks on opposite sides of the canal. Both had been uprooted and had fallen across th canal. The blockage had been cleared but I wouldn’t have liked being anywhere near them when they came down.

At Rose Narrowboats, just after the swing bridge connecting their two work areas, we stopped to fill up with water, give the two lunatic dogs a run and a toilet break and to enjoy a cup of coffee in the sunshine.

Rose Narrowboats is just feet from the West Coast Main Line yet the canal bank adjacent to to the railway was packed with long term moorers. Why would anyone want to moor there? There are so many beautiful spots to choose from, why moor close enough to a high speed railway line to almost touch the passing trains?

There were more long term moorings just north of Rose Narrowboats. The boat owners here seemed to enjoy noise even more than those at Rose Narrowboats. Not only did they have the very busy railway line to contend with, they also had the constant roar of traffic, day and night, on the nearby M6. What a nightmare!

Maybe it’s just me. I’m very sensitive to artificial noise of any type. Even on my idyllic mooring at Calcutt I can always hear the background noise from the Southam to Daventry road a mile away. That, and the frequent planes and helicopters overhead. One of the few places I’ve ever been able to enjoy 100% natural sounds is backpacking in the Scottish Highlands. Sadly, I can’t take James there so I’ll just try to find the most rural moorings possible.

The Greyhound Pub At Hawkesbury Junction

At Hawkesbury Junction we stopped at the visitor moorings just before the stop lock so that we could have lunch at the Greyhound (and see how other boats negotiated the U turn needed to turn north on the Coventry canal.

What a wonderful place to stop for lunch, and what a delicious lunch. We both had beef and horseradish sandwiches with a side salad and a bowl of chips. The food was exquisite, the weather wonderful and the view fascinating (and I was able to watch half a dozen boats make the turn, some successfully, some not.)

We made the turn successfully, gracefully and, I have to say, with a certain amount of style before heading north towards the entrance to the Ashby canal at Marston junction. I didn’t make the turn into the Ashby canal quite so gracefully. The turn is another acute angle, the entrance to the canal is a narrow bridge hole and the wind was against me. I struggled for a minute or two before I could get the boat’s nose in.

I probably wasn’t quite as proficient as I should have been because I was still throughly confused after passing the ever so eccentric Charity Dock and its collection of mannequins and derelict boats. I should have had my camera with me. I will on the way back.

We stopped after about an hour on the Ashby canal at a pleasant spot near Burton Hastings. We only stopped for two or three minutes. The mooring was exposed and the wind was blowing us off the bank. Just 200m further on though we found a sheltered mooring. It was a suntrap and the perfect place to spend the late afternoon and early evening reading. Our meal was an alfresco platter of garlic stuffed olives, cream cheese filled red peppers, vine ripened tomatoes and thick chunks of whole grain bread and, of course, a bottle of Theakston’s Old Peculiar for me and a bottle of cider for Sally.

Sally indulges in a little theraputic cleaning in the sun

Another day in heaven.

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Braunston to Brinklow marina

We had another slow start to the day. Sally and I left the dogs on the boat and walked back to Braunston Junction just after Midland Chandlers opened at 9am. We didn’t really need to go but we’re both addicted to making improvements to James. Sally wanted to get a couple of adhesive pads for the back deck. For some strange reason she objected to nearly falling in the canal when she slipped on water covered paintwork last week. She didn’t actually fall in, so I don’t know what all the fuss was about. Anyway, we bought  couple of pads and stuck them on when we got back to the boat.

Our plan for today was to get through Rugby and back to the peace and quiet of the open countryside once more. Our journey was delayed for a while because of a hire boat. I’m afraid to say, it came from Calcutt.

We look after four narrowboats for the Royal Navy; Emma, Lafter, The Andrew and, launched this year, Trafalgar. These boats are available to hire at a discounted rate to any Royal Navy staff. The boat we followed for half an hour at just over tickover was Emma.

There were at least half a dozen crew on board. None of them appeared to have mastered the knack of steering. The boat bounced erratically from bank to bank as it cruised at a snail’s pace past the entrance to Barby Moorings.

The crew, as is usual for Royal Navy narrowboat hirers, were considerate and well mannered. They just couldn’t steer the boat. After half an hour and several near misses with oncoming boats they pulled over to allow us to pass.

Hillmorton was Sally’s first opportunity to work a lock other than those at Calcutt. I had been told that the paddles at Hillmorton were a little stiff. I offered to wind the paddles for Sally.

“I need the exercise. I’ll do it.”
“Do you want me to start them off for you?”
“Don’t you think I’m capable? I’ll do it.”
“I’m only trying to help”
“You’re always trying to help. I need to do this myself.”
A brief silence, punctuated by grunts, groans and curses as Sally applied what little weight she has to the paddle.
“This one’s broken. It won’t go round.”
“It’s not broken. It’s just stiff. Let me do it.”
“I can’t turn it at all. It must be broken!”

Sally eventually reluctantly allowed me to help. I have to admit, the paddle was quite difficult to raise.

Sally at Hillmorton Top Lock

At the bottom lock I left James in the capable hands of the volunteer lock keeper and Sally and raced back to the cafe for ice creams. Five ice creams; one for Sally and I, one for the lock keeper, and one each for the children, Daisy and Charlie.

In Rugby we stopped just after bridge 58 and popped into the the big Tesco store a stone’s throw away from the canal. Sally needed to buy a hat to keep the sun out of her eyes and I needed to stock on on Theakston’s Old Peculiar.

By late afternoon Rugby was behind us. On the map I had identified a likely looking mooring near to Brinklow marina. We stopped just after bridge 38. The location was perfect. We set up our posh folding table and chairs on the sun kissed towpath without another boat or person in sight. It was wonderful.

Even more wonderful was Sally not allowing me to move a muscle after driving all day. She brought me a beer and a plateful of spicy corned beef hash. In the two hours we sat and relaxed on the canal bank just one boat and one cylcist past us. The only distraction was the frequent clatter of trains on the West Coast Main Line about half a mile away.

We took the dogs for a walk before we retired to the boat for the evening. We strolled back up the canal to where Brinklow marina have used the old Fennis Field Arm of the Oxford canal as an entrance to their business. As we passed the marina entrance in the boat I had noticed a sign offering free overnight moorings for none residents so we walked around the marina to see what they had to offer.

Relaxing with a beer near Brinklow marina entrance

The marina is a single basin offering finger pontoons for multiple boats. I don’t know how long the marina has been open, but it looks very new. At the far end from the entrance there’s a huge mound of aggregate which has been used for topping the marina road plus half a dozen countainers and spare pontoons. They don’t have any permanent buildings from which to service moorers. There appear to be no facilities other than a cage containing gas and coal.

There’s an attractive far reaching view over the fields surrounding the basin and a small lake set in a large area of cut grass studded with picnic benches. The mooring rates are not much cheaper than they are at Calcutt. Given that Calcutt has ten full time staff on site at all times, offers everything from engine repairs to complete boat painting and a landscape which has been maturing for the last twenty years, I know where I would rather moor. Even though Brinklow offer free overnight moorings, I don’t think I would be tempted to stay there. The canal offers places to stay which are far more scenic.

The walk was the perfect end to the perfect day.

If you’re reading this post in the blog section of the forum, you may not be able to see some of the pictures or may only see them as thumbnails. Click on the link below to see the photo’s on the original blog post.

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Calcutt to Braunston

We started the trip the way we intend to continue. SLOWLY.

As an instructor for the Calcutt hire fleet, I see dozens of professional types with their strict schedules and to do lists. The hassled hirers invariably arrive at Calcutt late because of last minute work obligations. They want to get the holiday started as quickly as possible so that they can achieve the goals they’ve set for the first day. Consequently, a relaxing narrowboat holiday becomes just another set of hurdles to overcome, deadlines to meet and problems to solve.

Sally and I decided that we were on holiday and that there was absolutely no rush.

Sally dog walkingWe didn’t get out of bed until 7.30. I’m normally up at 5.00am and Sally at 6.00am so our late start was a welcome change. We enjoyed our normal Sunday treat; eggs, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes with honey smothered toast and a coffee or two. After breakfast we took Charlie and Daisy for a long walk via Calcutt’s wharf and the new decking area.

The marina office and adjoining lock cottage backs onto Calcutt Top lock. Between the cottage and the lock there’s a small lawn. Last winter we problem with water from the canal pouring in to the cottage kitchen. As part of the investigation to discover the leak, we had to use the site excavator to dig up the lawn. The work ruined the lawn so rather than seed or turf the area again, the company decided to install decking where both visitors and moorers could sit and watch the world go by. Sally and I love it there. We have two busy narrowboat hire companies half a mile away and Wigram’s Turn and Napton marinas. Calcutt Top lock is the first lock the hirers face if they’re heading towards Birmingham. The entertainment is first class!

We were finally ready to set up at 1pm. I realised that there were a few things I still needed for the trip so we pulled onto the wharf. Even though my (rather large) diesel tank was almost full I wanted to top it up completely so that I can work out how much Mercedes engine uses. I’ll top up again at the end of the trip in order to make the calculation.

In addition to the diesel I bought a plank and a second centre rope. With so many obstacles to snag a single rope if I try to flick it from one side to the other, it’s far easier to have a rope down each side. I also bought some oil, a new tin of grease and two bags of coal and a pack of heat logs. We don’t have central heating on James so, even though the forecast for the next week or so is clear skies and sunshine, the early mornings are still going to be very chilly.

While we were on the wharf, I used our house sized wet vacuum cleaner to suck out the water in the engine bay. I can’t work out where it’s coming from. I don’t think it originates in the engine bay. I think it’s running under the floor from the front of the boat. The water tank is under the front deck. There’s a 9″ length of hose between the filler cap and the tank. It has a split in it. The hose needs replacing but in order to reach it, the copper piping coming from the tank will have to be removed. It’s quite a big job and likely to be quite expensive. There are plenty of other, more important, things to spend our hard earned money on so it will have to wait. In the meantime we have to be very careful when we fill the tank that we don’t overfill it and fill up the boat instead. I suspect that the water in the engine room is a result in one or both of us not being as careful as we should.

I realised that I had another problem when we left the mooring. My new starter battery was flat. Starting the engine wasn’t an

Sally relaxing just outside Braunston

Sally relaxing just outside Braunston

issue. I simply jump started the boat from the leisure batteries. It’s a handy temporary fix but a dangerous method of starting the boat to rely on. Boats have a seperate starter battery for a very good reason. If the charge in the domestic batteries are depleted, then at lest the seperate starter battery can start the boat and then use the engine to recharge the leisure batteries. If both the starter and the leisure batteries are flat, the boat can’t be started at all.

I know nothing about electrics, so I asked the guys on the wharf to have a look at my setup for me. Diagnostics wasn’t easy. The alternator should charge the starter battery then, once the starter battery is full, charge the leisure batteries. Because I have solar panels also charging the batteries, without some proper investigation it wasn’t possible to determine whether the alternator was working at all or whether it was just charging the domestic bank.

The temporary solution is effective but needs careful management. I jump start the engine from the leisure battery bank then leave the jump leads connected while I’m cruising. The starter battery will then be charged by the leisure batteries. I will have to remember to remove the jump leads when we moor for the day though because if I drain the leisure batteries I will also drain the starter battery. I’ll have to get the wiring sorted out when we get back.

The cruise to Braunston was an absolute delight. Most of us in the UK talk constantly about the poor weather; overcast skies, drizzle, showers, heavy rain, hail, snow and strong winds. Even though we don’t have the same weather extremes eddured in other parts of the world, the regular dreary weather is very depressing. On the days when sun shines on the Engish countryside though, there are few better places on Earth. Sunday was one of those. Sunday was one of those days.

We reached Braunston just after 6pm. We needed to empty the Porta Potti so, as the water point was occupied, we pulled onto Midland Chandlers’ visitors mooring next door. The evening was beautiful so we took the opportunity to use Midland Chandlers’ picnic benches to wolf down a couple of platefuls of Sally’s delicious spicy Thai curry.

A beautiful spot to sit and relax

A beautiful spot to sit and relax

We decided not to stop there for the night. Daisy, the cocker spaniel, is a nightmare to control off the lead (and a nightmare to control on the lead too). Midland Chandlers is very close to the busy A45. We couldn’t take the risk of her running onto the road.

We left Braunston and found an idylic mooring within fifteen minutes. There were a few boats moored nearby but no signs of life. We had the towpath to ourselves. Just us, our new “garden” furniture, a bottle of the exquisite Theakston’s Old Peculiar for me and a bottle of cider for Sally, and an expansive view over sun kissed sheep studded fields. Who could ask for more?

 

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A Day Trip To Braunston

I don’t get out much. Sorry; on reflection I should say, I don’t go out cruising on James much. On further reflection, I’ll revert to I don’t get out much. Whatever the case, I’ve decided to do much, much more cruising in the future.

The main problem has been my lack of confidence in the engine. As you’ll know if you’ve been visiting the site on a regular basis, James was in a sorry state when I moved on board. Because I viewed James as a place to live rather than a vehicle to explore the canal and river network with, I spent all of my time, energy and money on making my accommodation watertight, functional and comfortable.

I’ve had a steel cabin fitted over the original 36 year old ply cabin and sandwiched an additional layer of insulation between the two. Then I spent three weeks painting the new cabin and blacking the hull. I’ve had a new cratch cover fitted to create an extra “room” on the front deck. The soft furnishings have been reupholstered, the curtains have been replaced, new oak effect laminate flooring has been fitted to replace the tired and very old beige wafer thin carpet.

I’ve upgraded the electrics. I’ve doubled the battery bank from two to four 135ah batteries and replaced the 110ah starter battery. I’ve added a charger which keeps the batteries topped up when the boat’s plugged in to a land line. I’ve had a 2.1KW Sterling pure sine inverter so that we have 230v power when we’re cruising.

A few weeks ago I finally reached the back of the boat and the engine room. I’ve been told repeatedly that James has a good engine. A very good engine. It’s a 38HP Mercedes OM 636. The trouble is, I haven’t been able to believe these reassurances on the few occasions I’ve taken James out.

Sally and I took Sally’s two grown children, Maricar and Michael, for a cruise to Braunston last Christmas. We enjoyed a bracing cruise to Braunston, moored up, had lunch at the Boat House pub (Two meals for the price of one) and returned to the boat for the journey home. The engine coughed and spluttered into life and then, after a mile, died completely.

I couldn’t get the engine started again so had to walk six miles back to Calcutt to collect my car to bring everyone back to Sally’s house in nearby Woodford Halse. James had to be towed back to Calcutt where my guardian angel, Russ, spent most of the day identifying and fixing the problem.

The problem turned out to be minor. The fuel filter was blocked. Unfortunately, the engine has been installed very close to the bulkhead between the engine room and the bedroom so the fuel filter was very difficult to get to. Fitting a pre-filter is another job to be done.

I was very nervous when I took James out for a while after that, and then I had another problem. The engine wouldn’t stay in gear. I managed to limp back to the mooring with the engine dropping in and out of drive. The problem had been the result of very little oil in the gearbox. One of our engineers topped the oil up for me. The next time I took James out, I had the same problem.

I decided to ask River Canal Rescue to service and assess my engine. They visited me a couple of weeks ago. An expected one hour service took three and a half but, by the end of it, I had far more confidence in the engine and a list of things to put right. One of the items on the list was to replace the perished leads off the gearbox. I had that done a few days later. The lead replacement cured the engine drive problem immediately.

So, with much of the boat renewed, replaced or refurbished, I thought it was high time to get out on the cut again.

On Thursday night as soon as I finished work and a plateful of Sally’s delicious spicy spare ribs (tenderised in the pressure cooker and then finished off in the oven), we set sail.

Sally hasn’t worked a lock before. At 5′ tall and slim, there’s not a lot to her but she was determined that the locks weren’t going to defeat her. After half an hour and much huffing and puffing we surged through the Calcutt flight of three locks, arrived at Napton juntion, turned left towards Braunston and then, because of the late hour, decided to moor almost immediately.

Mooring at Napton JunctionI spent five minutes looking at the damage done in Calcutt Bottom Lock to my broadband dongle roof pole. I had fixed the pole to the roof in order to raise the height of my broadband dongle to help get a better signal. Of course I had forgotten to consider boat handling needs when fitting it. I don’t have fairleads fitted to the boat near where the centre line is fixed to the boat so when attached to a bollard the taught centre rope swept the pole off its fixings. Another expensive lesson learned. I’ll fit fairleads next week. I’ll also have to fit a new dongle pole or invest in a dedicated aerial for my WiFi setup.

It’s wonderful just to be out and about. One of the many marvellous aspects of living on a narrowboat is your ability to change the view from your house windows whenever you please. The view we chose on Thursday evening was of a tranquil canal complete with overhanging trees and a mallard with five brand new chicks. We lit the fire, opened a bottle of red and sat down for an evening of peace and quiet.

On Friday morning we ambled along to Braunston junction. Sally walked part of the way with the dogs. Daisy, our terminally stupid cocker spaniel, only fell into the water once. I don’t know how she does it, but she ends up in the canal at least once a week, and looks shocked every time she does it.

A very busy Braunston junctionBraunston was very busy. We hadn’t been able to find a place to moor by the time we reached the junction and Midland Chandlers. Their customer mooring was free so we stopped to buy some bits for the boat. They were closed for stock taking. Every cloud has a silver lining though. One of the staff said that, as they were closed, we could stay on their mooring for as long as we pleased.

We popped next door to the Boat House for a slap up lunch. We had a drink, a main course and a sweet each for just under £20. The pub is great value for money and a great spot for sitting with a drink watching boats drift by.

We stayed on Midland Chandler’s mooring for a couple of hours sitting in the sun on the front deck watching the boats go by. We felt as though we were on holiday but we were still at home on our lovely boat.

Unfortunately I had to be back at work on Saturday so the holiday was brief. We set off at 4.30pm for the cruise back to Calcutt and spent the next two and a half hours alternately basking in the sunshine and dodging heavy showers, and allowing for the stiff breeze which plays havoc with a narrowboat’s steering.

We tied up on our mooring at 7pm. The cruise was so different from the previous trips I’ve had out on James. I’ve not had much faith in the engine after a breakdown and an intermittent gear box problem. All of that could have been cured with some fairly simple maintenance. I’ve never been very good with engines which is why I now value RCR’s service so highly. RCR membership and regular servicing is now written in my budget. All my boat needed was a little tender loving care. As Roger Preen – Calcutt Boats owner and James’ previous owner –  said to me, “Do you know, I expect that engine will outlive you!”. I hope he’s right, but I also hope that it’s many years before I find out.

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The Rolls Royce Of Narrowboats

Last Sunday (22nd July 2012) I drove up to Glascote Basin in Tamworth with Sally and the dogs to do a bit of boaty window shopping. I love my boat James. Although it’s 35 years old it’s in pretty good condition. The hull is sound and, now that I’ve had the cabin overplated, the top half is good for years to come. It’s a great liveaboard boat with acres of storage space and plenty of room for two people and two dogs. James has a good solid fuel stove with a back boiler feeding radiators down the starboard side so even on the coldest evening the boat is toasty warm (at the front).

James is a good boat but it’s not a Hudson.

One of the many beautiful Hudson boats at Glascote basin

One of the many beautiful Hudson boats at Glascote basin

There’s not a huge amount of space in Glascote Basin, but every bit of it was filled with Hudson boats and their proud owners. The annual open weekend has been running for years. It’s an opportunity for both owners and Steve Hudson to show off their boats. And what fine boats they are.

Steve Hudson builds traditional narrowboats. They are all Josher style with either well or tug deck. He favours engine rooms with boatman’s cabins behind but he also builds the more usually seen traditional narrowboats with the engine room at the rear. You can choose either their “B” or “C” specification and then you can add extras on top.

Left: A Hudson replica of a working narrowboat

Left: A Hudson replica of a working narrowboat

The liveaboard boat I looked at was 62′ with a well deck, engine room and boatman’s cabin built to their higher “C” specification. The enhancements included a generator and a jacuzzi bath. I wasn’t over impressed with the jacuzzi but I loved the rest of the boat. I love to cook so I’m quite frustrated with James’ typical narrowboat size oven. One of the enhancements with this Hudson boat was a full size oven. Perfect for a Sunday roast on a crisp winter’s day on the cut.

All of the woodwork inside the cabin was solid English oak. There were shelves and cupboards galore. In fact, owner Jeanne said that there are cupboards on the boat that she hasn’t used yet. You don’t often hear that about a residential boat.

There were plenty of heating options on the boat. There was a Squirrel stove at the front, a boatman’s range in the cabin at the rear and radiators throughout fed by a Mikuni heater. All Hudson boats have spray foam insulation so with the on board heating options and effective insulation there’s no problem keeping warm even on the coldest winter days.

I came away from the open day thinking that I really should start saving up. I calculated that, if I cut down on my evening tipple and don’t buy steak quite so often, I should be able to afford one of the higher specification Hudson boats in 2042!

Prices start at ?67,450 for a 50′ Tame class narrowboat to ?135,000 for a 70′ narrowboat built to their “C” specification and with an engine room and boatman’s cabin.

 

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