Day 119 – All Good Things Must Come To An End

Today was our final run in to the marina, we both felt quite sad and motored on tickover for most of it, neither of us wanted our adventure to end. It was a short cruise, stopping at Rugby Boats for fuel, pump out and a gas bottle. Toby asked if I’d (OK, gave me the eyes and almost begged me!) steer us in to the marina, it was on one condition and we go in bow first! Lucky for me, Robin and Jan on nb Sweet Thyme have moved, so I had a double pontoon to aim for!

It was a sad moment on exactly 1050 engine hours we pushed the stop button for the last time on this trip.

We’ve had such a wonderful adventure, made possible by so many people supporting us, from our employers, to family and friends. Regrets? Only one, we didn’t do a celebratory donut goodbye at Salthouse Docks. We’ve often talked about our top three highlights, in no order they are 1) The Ribble Link, 2) Mooring in Liverpool and 3) Making new friends which we hope will be lifelong friends.

With a few tears, it’s time to say goodbye. It’s our second wedding anniversary on Monday, we’ll leave you with the song we walked out to – not everyone’s cup of tea, but we love it, it makes us smile every time we hear it.

Day 118 – Homeward Bound

In the morning we met up with Nick from Weltonfield Narrowboats, where Oliver was born back in 2004. He still remembered a remarkable amount about how Oliver was built; we’re hoping they can help restore the window frames to their original glory, after some damage from damp over the years.

We were amused to hear a couple of stories about the original owners. In their first week out on the boat, the water stopped working although the pump was still going OK. They phoned up the marina…who eventually realised they’d never refilled the water tank so it had just run dry! The next week, the inverter “broke down”. Turned out that running a hairdryer, washing machine and dishwasher simultaneously along with goodness knows what else had blown the 12V 500A fuse!

After meeting with Nick and having a good look at the window frames, we set off, well togged up in winter gear as the wind was decidedly chilly and the sun wasn’t coming out to play either.

What a cool name for a boat!

We met up with Mickey at the top of the Buckby flight. He’s doing a boat delivery with his partner, and clearly knew what he was doing steering the boat and doing the locks. We stormed through them in double-quick time, despite having to fill every lock following a boat in front of us. When he’s not delivering narrowboats, he’s the main man in his rock band Sonic Gypsy.

Sarah steered like a pro; not often she’ll do double locks with another boat, but I think the thought of pushing open those Buckby lock gates was enough to decide her.

We moored up after the locks to have a mosey around the Heart of the Shires shopping village. We were both appalled to walk into one store and hear Christmas carols playing, and a large selection of Christmas goodies on sale already. Outrageous!

We walked back to Oliver for some bread and soup for lunch, and then moored up a little further up the cut, away from the M1. Sarah was feeling a bit chilly so we put the stove on for the first time since springtime, and now the boat is lovely and toasty! Please ignore the dust circle, Oliver will get a deep clean back at the marina.

Tomorrow Oliver will have to settle down at the marina, and it will be the end of us moving on each day. It brings to mind one of Sarah’s childhood memories of watching The Littlest Hobo.

Day 117 – Light At The End Of The Tunnel

It feels like Autumn is just around the corner, I’m back to my winter PJs and a night time hot water bottle (I know, I’m a softy southerner!). Only an hour’s cruising this morning, as we wanted to moor at Braunston, it was a lovely morning although always a bit sad to see some unloved boats.

Braunston is only a small village, but quite big in the canal world with a lovely junction and bridges. A right turn for us and then our first fat boat (widebeam) on the move, luckily there was space to pull in among the moored boats.

We walked up the hill to the shops, and an excellent butchers. Meal plans went out the window with Toby having a pork pie for lunch and a beef and onion pie for tea.

We walked around Braunston marina and had a good look in tradline fenders, we purchased four clam cleats for the side fat fenders, as we often need to change the length of the rope, depending on the height of the bank.

Lunch on board and we cast off for the five locks ahead. We were lucky enough to share the locks with another boat who had four people on board, so all I had to do was open the already empty lock gates ahead. Sadly there aren’t many photos as Toby didn’t take many, I asked him at the top lock if he’d taken any photos, and out came the camera for a hasty shot!

Soon after was Braunston tunnel, and I offered to steer, I’m not sure was more scared, me or Toby. We met one boat coming the other way, and typically on a bendy bit so we both rubbed the sides.

The brickwork and changing heights is quite impressive. The small dot of light at the other end gradually gets bigger. Is it just me, or is there a face looking back in the light?

At Norton junction we would usually turn right and back to base, we turned left on to the Leicester arm of the Grand Union Canal.

We moored up as agreed at Weltonfield marina, where Oliver was built back in 2004. The internal window frames have got some water damage, and despite our best efforts, they require a professional to repair them, and probably the windows being removed. The carpenter who originally fitted out Oliver still works here, so we’re hopeful of matching the wood (American Maple) and design.

Day 116 – Make Hay While The Sun Shines

Sarah promised a lie in this morning, and so we had a nice leisurely start to the day with tea and coffee in bed. It was a lovely sunny day, but a little chilly in the wind.

Sarah helmed us all the way through the Stockton flight, she’s got it down to a fine art now. I only opened one paddle, so the water flow keeps Oliver nicely tucked into the side – and it makes my life a lot easier!

Sarah liked that you can see the paddle behind the grill; normally they’re below the water line and out of sight.

I took over helming duties for the last three locks at Calcutt, glad of a rest after working the locks for the previous 10. Sarah was glad we switched over when we had 4 boats in the pound waiting to go down as we came up. The second pair should have left the lock for us to come up first, but were clearly too impatient, so I had fun manoeuvring in the strong winds.

The wind was making it feel decidedly chilly in the afternoon, especially when the sun went behind the clouds; Sarah had to resort to both hoodie and bodywarmer to keep warm.

We moored up a bit before bridge 100, opposite a farmer’s field where he was busy collecting the hay.

Sarah cooked dinner, and I fixed a broken fastener on the cratch cover. I retreated to the roof as the swans were surrounding the bow looking for food!

Day 115 – I can Hear Clearly Now…..

….the wax has gone! Yey, all the fizzing in my ear from the drops worked, this morning I felt a pop and then I heard all this background noise that has passed me by for the last couple of days .

We paid our overnight mooring fees (£6 per night) and a pump out (£15). I was chatting to Ian who runs the place on a day to day basis, sadly his wife has just been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. I think he was quite taken a back when I said I’ve got it too, I hope it gave him and his wife some hope that four years later, I’m still going strong and as grumpy as ever!

We said goodbye to Saltisford Arm, we were both quite surprised by the blue skies and how warm it was.

Toby wanted to do the locks, so I agreed to steer. I don’t think Toby realised they were the Hatton style with the paddles that seem to go on forever.

We passed through Leamington Spa which is never the most attractive canal town, we were both impressed with the mural. The green sign is for the Christian Bookshop, I can’t imagine anyone would deface it!

We nailed 12 locks today, I steered and Toby operated them – Toby does faff about though, and seems to take ages walking to the lock while I’m trying to keep the boat in a good position and not right across the canal.

We saw lots of boats going the other way, which worked to our advantage as all 12 locks were set in our favour. It seems to be the silver surfer retired folk, who are all leaving their base now the schools are back and heading up north – long may it continue!

The final two locks were a staircase pair, with the middle gates being quite leaky.

We reached the top and Toby had a celebratory Snickers ice cream. We soon moored up, although it took us a few attempts to get in, we knew it could be done as a boat ahead was snuggly tied on the bank. Third attempt, and after going past the moored boat, we managed to get in.

Day 114 – My Cup Runneth Over

River and Canal Rescue sent Jake and his apprentice Ben around this morning to look into our rudder problems. Ben got into his dry suit and into the canal, whilst Jake stood on deck to direct affairs and lift the whole tiller and rudder assembly up. After unscrewing a few bolts, they lifted the rudder post out of the cup that it normally sits in, wiggled it around the plate it was stuck on, and back into place again. Job done! It was probably less than half an hour from start to finish.

By the time they were gone, it was a little after 11am and we were both a bit tired from the previous few days. Sarah’s a bit achy and her ears are a bit blocked up with wax which isn’t very nice, so we decided to stay put and do a few little odd jobs rather than go exploring Warwick.

The ear wax removal drops we’re using seem to be quite effective, but they fizz a bit and Sarah says they sound a bit like popping candy, but right in your ear rather than in your mouth!

I put a fresh lick of paint on the guttering at the back, it looks heaps better than it used to!

We end with a little song, to celebrate the rudder fitting back snugly in its cup again.

Day 113 – Hatton’s Little Helpers

We had an offer from three friends to come and help with Hatton, how could we refuse….I’m not sure they really knew what they were letting themselves in for! We cast off at 8am, and only a couple of boats on the move, and where do we meet one, in the tunnel of course – I was glad Toby was steering. We were moored at the top of the flight in good time for the arrival of Chris, Anne-Marie and Simon.

A cup of tea, and some delicious homemade cake, and we were on our way. We worked the first three locks with another boat, the paddles just seem to go on and on and on!

We crossed paths with another boat coming up and got chatting to the lady who was from New Zealand, I thought I recognised her from somewhere. Then it clicked, they were moored in Stratford Basin last year when I fell in and they helped to pull me out. It was nice to meet them again on dry land.

Anne-Marie did a great job making sure we were fed and watered, we even had a choice of sandwich fillings which is novel, here is Anne-Marie relaying the menu.

We managed to moor up at the half way point, it took quite a bit of effort banging those pins in, we were determined and they were going in.

Chris had a go at helming, Toby said she’s the best student so far and picked it up far quicker than anyone else – we all held our heads in disappointment.

We decided to moor on the Saltisford Arm, we needed a pumpout and the nearest place on the main line is closed on a Monday, but Saltisford is open. I phoned ahead and they had space, we were to come down, wind and then reverse on to the mooring. We felt a bump and Oliver rocked as the stern was close to the offside as we came in. I pulled Oliver in and and we moored up in a lovely spot.

Maybe we should have called today ‘unlucky for some’ as it’s day 113. As we were reversing, we went into some tree roots which has pushed the rudder too far over and beyond the plate you can see in the picture, no amount of pulling on a rope would budge it, and the rudder is stuck. So it was another call to River Canal Rescue (RCR), nobody was free this evening, and they need someone with a dry suit as they’ll need to get in the canal so it will be tomorrow morning at the earliest. This is the second call out, the first thing they asked is if we wanted to upgrade our membership!

We all had dinner (and more delicious cake), Simon gave us a new windlass to replace Toby’s favourite windlass that I had left at the top of Wolverhampton flight. So we sign off in the hope that Oliver can be fixed tomorrow, I don’t think we’ll sleep well until it’s sorted.

Day 112 – Lapworth-it

A very short journey for us this morning, through the final 6 locks of the Lapworth flight and onto the Grand Union, but it’s all of a 15 minute walk from where we started to where we finished!

We filled up with water, and got rid of some rubbish. We know boaters tend to like their booze, but the number of bottles at the bins was still quite impressive!

The barrel-roofed cottages are a common theme on the Stratford canal – the builders knew how to do bridge arches, so used the same skills do make the roofs too.

We initially moored up on the arm linking the Stratford and Grand Union canals, but then reversed up around the bend of the Grand Union to get away from the train line and a yapping dog, onto a much quieter mooring.

Donald and Beth met up with us in the afternoon to take Eira back home. We miss her already, and Sarah’s said a couple of times she’s looked around expecting to see her there but she isn’t! Donald and Beth very kindly brought us some goodies, including some lovely cheese presented on a beautiful Walnut board – hand made by Donald from a tree at Beth’s school.

I tucked into some Toblerone for smoko, which I’d been saving for a rainy day. Well it rained for a brief while, that counts doesn’t it? We also opened a little gift from Barry and Rosemary, which we’ll save for a nice meal out somewhere.

In the evening Richard and Jane from nb Casual Water came up to meet us. Jane had baked us a scrummy looking fruitcake; the no-longer-secret ingredient is crushed pineapple; we’ll tell you how it is tomorrow! We then had a great meal at The Boot Inn – the fourth time we’ve been there now I think, and every time it’s not disappointed.

A shout out to Richard who came up with today’s title, we were struggling a bit!

Day 111 – Winter Is Coming

Leg cramps in the night, a mozzie bite on by bum (and yes I was wearing PJs) and a blocked ear despite what feels like enough oil drops in my ear to fry my own fish and chips! I was not on full form this morning, and certainly not looking forward to the 13 locks ahead of us.

A breezy morning, a fellow boater felt it cold enough to put the fire on, and we passed fields full of (dare I say the word) Christmas trees.

I offered Toby the chance to operate the first locks, they were quite far spaced out, so I could go slowly if any of them needed filling – and it keeps Toby off my back about steering. Toby has mastered the trick of pushing the open gate with one leg, I think I need a bit more practice.

13 locks done in super fast time, and we were moored by 12.30. Lunch of freshly baked sourdough bread (it’s a tough life) and cheese. Toby painted a coat of primer on the newly filled guttering.

We agreed that Oliver needed a bit of a clean, so we washed, rinsed, and dried the roof and one side. We noticed some light scratches on the side, probably from branches sticking out at bridge holes (and probably me steering), we can’t blame Romy or Peter for those ones! The scratches polished out nicely, and Oliver looks like a shiny new penny. Our reward – a smooze ice pop for me, and the rest of the chocolate fudge Ben and Jerrys tub of ice cream for Toby – yum!

Day 110 – Apple Bobbing In The Canal!?

What were all these apples doing in the canal today? We couldn’t see any nearby apple trees, so I think they must be leftovers from a massive apple bobbing competition. Or perhaps it solves the mystery of where Tim and Sam’s apples went to after they were stolen from the stern of their boat overnight. Who knows?

I’m getting ahead of myself though. After meeting Tim and Sam on nb Plan B at the Dudley BCLM moorings, we saw their boat again in Birmingham. We texted to say hello, and they invited us round for bacon sarnies in the morning – delicious! We’re headed separate ways today, so said our farewells but hope we’ll meet again somewhere sooner or later.

We turned right at Old Turn Junction, and under the newly named Black Sabbath Bridge. The local water taxi was waiting to depart, but kindly waited for us to go past first.

Sarah waved hello to “The Mailbox” as went by – ex Royal Mail offices now converted to shops and apartments. It’s changed a bit since back then!

I nearly shed a tear for the poor little teddy left behind, outside the new uni student flats 🙁

We had hoped to moor opposite Bourneville, but had been forewarned that the moorings were filled with “gypsy boaters”, and indeed there were. Four boats there that didn’t look to have any intention of honouring the 48hr stay signs, so we pressed on.

Fortified by some crumble for lunch (me, not Sarah!), we turned on to the Stratford canal at King’s Norton junction and through the disused guillotine lock.

The general advice is not to moor between the junction and the lift bridge at Shirley; we went a little further and moored up in the same spot as the last time we came this way, just after bridge 14 past Dickens Heath. Funnily enough nb “Autumn Years” is here too; they were moored just behind us in Birmingham, so we said hello again!