All posts by Ramblingsheep

A Fond Farewell

Our last evening and our first sight of rain that was hard enough to cause droplets on the cratch cover.  It is such a shame that it was dust laden rain so when we awoke we found Oliver covered in a sandy coating.

What’s That?

We washed it off rather cursorily, with canal water, so as to not present too shabby a picture when today’s crew arrived.

Peter and Romy were joined by Barrie and Rosemary from just above Norton Junction all the way back to the Heyford Fields and it was lovely to have some company and some help with the locks.  Thanks to Sarah for acting as chauffeuse.

Cheer up! Heads up! It can’t be that bad!

It was the first day of the school holidays and clearly amateurs day on the cut!  At Buckby Top Lock we met three newbies.  We were invited to go down with the second boat and to overtake them if we wanted to.  At first we declined but after a few minutes changed our mind.  The first pair of boats asked me why the lock was filling so slowly.  I took a look and suggested it might be because one of the bottom paddles was still partly open – problem solved.  Then they couldn’t get through the bridge below the lock because another newbie, trying to come up the locks, was stuck at 45° across the exit tunnel.  I went to help him and by the time I got back they had nearly refilled the lock not realising they should wait for the boat coming up!  This convinced us “yes please we would like to go ahead of you”.  Unfortunately their third boat then decided to stick with us for the rest of the flight.  We saw seven or eight year old children left to wind paddles on their own without supervision, playing on the roof and jumping from the lock side onto the roof.  It was scary.

Everyone has their place
And there is a place for everything – though not everyone seems to know this!
Rosemary still hard at work

Toby, Sarah and Eira met us at Rugby Boats where we stopped to fill up and empty out.  It was a cunning move on their part to choose a place that ensured there were no more locks 😂.  Rosemary kindly bought us all ice creams which were very welcome as the day had certainly heated up considerably.

We mad a very slow approach to the Marina as we followed a boat that seemed to have a one horsepower engine.  Just to slow us down further he decided to use the marina entrance as a winding hole.

Peter managed to reverse onto Oliver’s mooring at the second attempt having been hampered by a force 8 gale roaring down the marina.  OK so that’s an exaggeration but I need some sort of excuse!

We then sat down to another excellent BBQ prepared by Sarah, with assistance from Waitrose.  Sarah did however do all the cooking on her own.

Toby, Sarah, Barrie and Rosemary then headed home.

Peter and Romy spent the rest of the night and following morning making sure Oliver was as clean as a whistle and ready for his next voyage.  Another exaggeration? – Maybe!

The sun sets at the end of another memorable voyage

We stopped to drop off a couple of things and for lunch with Toby and Sarah on our way home and that provided a pleasant break on our journey.  As we drove home we thought how lucky we were driving towards Poole rather than in the opposite direction.

We had a really lovely 24 nights on Oliver.  We travelled some 152 miles and through 200 (or was it only 199?) locks, through 10 moveable bridges, across 13 small aqueducts and through 9 tunnels.

We spent our time on narrow canals, broad canals, small rivers and large rivers.  We visited several interesting towns and cities, a few churches and a number of National Trust properties.  In summary we had a holiday with a great variety of experiences that made every day different and enjoyable.  We were never far apart, particularly when aboard so it’s a good job we still enjoy each other’s company too.

Many, many thanks to Toby and Sarah for lending Oliver to us once again – sorry about the scratches be they small or not so small.

There’s A Light At The End Of The Tunnel

It was a bit warm walking to the Old Olive Bush at Fleknoe but very pleasant walking back when it was cooler and down hill.

An evening stroll

The pub was OK but not as special as some of the reviews seem to imply.  Peter had a steak which was very good but Romy’s turkey and mushroom pie, a stew with a short crust pastry top was as advertised on the menu but a bit disappointing.

A very early start today.  We were awake at 6am and weren’t going to sleep again so we set off at 7:30.  Amazingly we met four boats coming towards us in the first 15 minutes.  Braunston Junction always looks most attractive with its lovely cast iron bridges and especially so early, 8:15, on a bright summers day.  It was however extremely crowded and we could not spot a single free place for anyone to moor.

Bridges Old and New, Braunston Junction

At the bottom of the first lock we met an Aussie who was single handed and very pleased to have company.  I don’t know if it’s my age or that of the lock gates but they seem to be getting heavier and Braunston was no exception.  Our Aussie friend, on “Spirit of Freedom” had very little experience and had never been through a tunnel before so he asked if he could follow us.  We met four boats coming in the other direction so this, coupled with a tunnel with two S bends, was a good introduction for him.

We moored between bridges 8 and 9 after a bit of a struggle to find a spot with deep enough water.  This is the first mooring of the holiday where we have used stakes and had to deploy the wheelbarrow tyres!

Yellow paint shows up well
A wheely good solution

A walk to the junction persuaded us that we were better off where we were, but the beer was good.

Norton Junction, crowded and dusty.

From Town To Country

Our mooring in Leamington Spa was in the industrial area by Rangemaster and as there was an outcry yesterday about the absence of pictures here is one of the mooring.  This can be compared with the place we moved to in the evening, just before Wood Lock.

Leamington Spa
Moored Before Wood Lock

We departed at 07:30 this morning and had the locks all to ourselves, no surprise there, and nearly all were set perfectly for us.  We reached the top of Bascote in good time using one gate and one ground paddle and continued in this manner through Stockton and Calcutt.  The locks on this stretch may have some heavy gates but they are all very well behaved when treated properly.

Going Up Under Perfect Control
Another Perfect Lock Entry
Leaky Locks

We met another small boat going up at Itchington and they stayed with us for just the two locks.  Half way up Stockton Locks we met one other boat coming down.  Then at Calcutt two lots of two boats were coming down out of locks 1 and 2 making our passage very easy.

We turned left at Napton and started to pass a few more boats.  The scenery opened up to the left and right and in places we could see for several mile across the countryside.

On one of the boats the owners were jumping up and down with glee and pointing at us.  We wondered what was going on then they pointed at their dog and said he’s called “Oliver”.  Boats then started coming thick and fast, including a fuel barge, the first we have seen this trip.  As we got close to bridge 102 where we had planned to moor the banks started to become crowded and we decided to stop well short of the bridge.  This was a decidedly good move.  When we peeped around the corner there were boats lined up all the way to the bridge.  We chose this spot especially so we could walk to the “Olive Bush”, at Flecknoe, for our evening meal.  The online reports all look excellent.  We’ll add our review to the blog tomorrow as obviously we’ll be too tired tonight as it’s about a mile and a quarter walk each way and we’ve already gone up 17 locks today.

Captivating Countryside

While we sat and had lunch – smoked salmon sandwiches, glass of white wine, strawberries, meringue and cream – we saw more and more boats going past in both directions.  We reckon we have seen more boats on the move between 10am and 4pm today than we have seen in the whole of the rest of the holiday!

Our Lunchtime View

At Leisure in Leamington

We had a special treat today meeting Ros and Robin Aston in Leamington Spa.  Although we have kept in touch at Christmas we hadn’t seen Ros since our time in Miri nearly 30 years ago and Robin a little more recently when we lived in Prestbury between 1990 and 1993.  My goodness how the last thirty years have flown by!  It was lovely to see them again and enjoy a very pleasant lunch at Rosie’s Tea Rooms.

We walked back to Oliver after replenishing our victuals and decided to move out into the countryside for the evening.  After the somewhat poorly maintained locks at Radford and Fosse we moored a little way before Wood Lock on our second attempt.  On our first try we found very shallow water close to the towpath but after a few hundred yards we found an ideal spot.

Your special treat is the absence of photos!

Fortune Favours The Brave

We started today at 7:45 with the intention of stopping at the top of the Hatton Flight.  We got there at about 11:50 having stopped at Shrewley to visit the post office store for some milk.  So we decided that if there was another boat going down and some volunteers present we would tackle the flight today and moor somewhere near the bottom.  This turned out to be an excellent decision as a boat in front of us had decided to wait to see if we wanted to join them and there were four volunteers on duty.  We later learned that there were no volunteers on tomorrows roster!  We reached the bottom of the flight at 14:20.  Romy steered all the way gliding into most of the locks in tandem with Brian on one of Kate’s Boats, called Rebecca.  He and his wife have been hiring boats for thirty years so it was all old hat for him but a new experience for Romy.

Two by Two
All in a day’s work

Earlier we had passed through the remaining Lapworth Locks and the picturesque Kingswood Junction.  It seems a very tight turn for a 60 foot boat after lock 20 so we were glad not to be 70 foot.

Kingswood Junction

We also spotted an interesting plant in one of the side ponds that we have so far failed to identify.  Any suggestions will be welcome.

Whatsit?

We were chased down the locks for some time by a large black mass of cloud which looked quite dramatic and very threatening but it never came to anything.

Things are looking black

We are undeniably a bit particular about where we moor and couldn’t find anything to our liking near or even remotely near the bottom of Hatton so we pressed on and on and….Eventually we stopped in Leamington Spa just after bridge 42 but it was next to the main road and very noisy.  The bike came out again and a quick recce indicated that there was a much better place after bridge 40 so we decided to move there.  Rebecca followed us.  So here we are moored outside what I thought was an office block but turns out to be student accommodation.

Also seen en route:

‘Til death us do part
Concrete Evidence

Labouring at Lapworth

As we chugged along after leaving our mooring at 07:50 we realised what a good spot we had chosen for our overnight stop.  After bridge 15 the moorings became a lot more undesirable.  Around Lady Lane Wharf we found row upon row of terraced permies and this more or less continued through Warings Green.  There were a few spots with detached permies scattered here and there but it was not until we passed bridge 21 that we found other potential places that we would have chosen.

We started down the Lapworth Flight at 10:07 and were moored up in prime position for the Boot Inn at 12:16 so we had taken approximately 14 minutes per lock on this flight.  We thought that this was pretty good given that several of the gates were far harder than any we met at Tardebigge.  The boat following us said he would rather tackle Tardebigge any day rather than Lapworth!

After a snack lunch we walked back to bridge 31 and on to Packwood House.  We had a great afternoon there in an NT property that was really unusual having been remodelled to represent a Tudor House.

Packwood House
The Topiary Garden
One of the rooms showing a few of the many tapestries collected by Graham Baron Ash

On our walk we spotted a small plaque explaining the cotton reel (more like a bobbin) on the top of the bridge (bridge 32 lock 7).

Ah hah!

We also spotted a lovely water plant which we had seen in one or two of the earlier side ponds on the flight but had never seen anywhere else.  We later learned that this is Butomus Umbellatus, or Flowering Rush.

Flowering Rush

We returned to The Boot Inn for dinner which was excellent but we won’t be able to afford any more food this holiday.

As we walked back to Oliver there was a very short and not too heavy shower.  

Tunnel Vision

Another 8am start but today we were ready with Paramos and life jackets.  We weren’t expecting rain but several drippy tunnels.

Our first task was to rise up the last of the Tardebigge Locks and it was a deep one.  At the top we stopped for about 25 minutes to top up the water tank.  Not vital but we now know we have enough to see us home.

We very much enjoyed the scenery as far as bridge 68, just past Hopwood, but after that it became rather less attractive and somewhat industrial in places.

Our industrial heritage!

After the fairly short Tardebigge and Shortwood Tunnels we had to travel through the longest tunnel on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, Wasthill Tunnel, which is 2762 yards (just over 1.5 miles) and this took us 34 minutes.  We were very surprised to find that we could see all the way through to the far end until a boat came in the opposite direction.  Happily we passed without incident.

The now defunct guillotine stop lock just after Kings Norton Junction is an interesting sight but somewhat spoiled by the graffiti.

Guillotine Stop Lock (disused)

We had read of others having problems at Brandwood Tunnel so we took careful note of the sign at the entrance.  In this short (275 yard) tunnel we did meet another boat coming the other way and playing quite loud folk music.  Thinking the worst we proceeded cautiously but all was well and they were as careful as we were.

We were please we had power!

We carried on, as advised, past the electrically operated bridge 8, which was very kindly opened by a retired lock keeper who was there to show his grandchildren how it worked.

We moored at 14:40 between bridges 14 and 15, probably in the same spot that Toby and Sarah had moored.  This gave Peter time to check that there were no better spots round the corner and then to set up the aerial for the final of the world cup, a great plus for this mooring being the very good TV reception.

He also had time to remove some quite tough plastic coated cable and a few bits of thin rope from the propeller.

Anyone recognise this spot?
The best Purple Loosestrife to date

Tip Top

Our first misty morning and we could hardly see the lock although we were only around 50 yards away.

Misty Morning

We were joined on Oliver at about 11:30 by Toby, Sarah, Simon, Anne-Marie and Joel and at 12:00 we set off up the Tardebigge Flight.  With such a numerous and skillful crew we made cracking good progress.

Simon gets us going

We met one other boat that also had a crew of 7 so we had the unusual sight of fourteen people crossing at one lock.

What a crowd

We stopped for lunch in Lock 41 where there was a nice shady area for us to sit and enjoy a lovely  leisurely picnic all prepared by Sarah.

Beside Lock 41

 

We had a good system that meant that as soon as Oliver had cleared one lock the next one was ready and waiting, while we made sure that no water was wasted down the side channels and we only had to stroll slowly between the locks.

Taking it easy
Taking it even more easily

It wasn’t until we were close to the top that we met any other boats and then there were three all coming down at the same lock – one of them refusing to co-operate and filling an empty lock rather than waiting for us to go up.

Joel takes the helm

We stopped at the visitor moorings below the top lock and had an excellent BBQ, beautifully prepared once more by Sarah with Toby acting as assistant cook.

The dining line

Joel had enough energy to try his hand at fishing while the rest of us just sat.  Perhaps this was a result of his short snooze on the lock arm?

If we ignore the 1 hour and twenty minutes we sat by Lock 41 for our lunch the 29 locks took us almost exactly 3 hours and 30 minutes.  This is as impressive average of only just over 7 minutes per lock.

After doing stalwart work on the washing up our visitors all departed and we were once again left to tackle tomorrow’s one and only lock all by ourselves.

A good crew
A keen driver

Today’s wildlife.

We only saw one heron today and that was after we had moored.  He obligingly caught a fish (more than Joel did) while he allowed me to get quite close.

Gottcha
That was good!
A brightly coloured moorhen

Avoncroft

We did a bit of cleaning this morning so as to impress Oliver’s owners who arrive for an inspection tomorrow.  The Avoncroft museum which we planned to visit didn’t open until 10:00 anyway.  So today’s blog has nothing much to do with the canals.

One of the first things we saw was a police box.  Younger readers may think it is a Tardis but no, it is a police box.  They were a bit frightening for many of the population when they were introduced.  If unmanned the door in the side could be opened and one could speak into the round grill and a policeman would then reply.  This was the height of technology at the time.

The Police Box
What? Talk to that?

We then toured the grounds looking at the reconstructed buildings from several different eras.

Pre-fabs were introduced after the war to meet the increasing need for new housing after so many properties had been destroyed.  There was big shortage of wood and the exterior was asbestos and the window frames metal.  They had a kitchen, sitting room, two bedrooms and the luxury of inside bathroom and toilet, small gardens and a coal shed.

Pre-fab
Well equipped kitchen

The showman wagon, which cost £1,000 in 1910 was drawn by a traction engine which cost £3,500 so this was far from a poor man’s home.  It even had electric light supplied via batteries when most homes still had no electricity.

Luxurious living in the showman wagon

The town house dates from medieval times but has been modified later.  Romy found the warmest spot to sit by the fire with its enormous chimney.

Town House
A warm spot

Just close by she greatly admired the construction of the truck-framed barn dating from the 16 century.

Cruck-framed barn used for threshing when it was all done by hand

After a sandwich lunch we visited the local supermarkets and then headed back to Oliver to sit out the expected evening rain that has just started at 18:00.  It has has also become quite a lot cooler and there is a fresh breeze.

We are looking forward to seeing our extended crew for tomorrow’s climb to the top of Tardebigge.

Flying Tonight

We started up the Astwood locks just after 8:00 and stopped just past bridge 41 at 9:30.  We wanted to check to see if there were spaces available at The Queens Head moorings and if we could stay there for 48 hours.  Yes to both and only two boats had passed us both aiming for the Tardebigge Top Lock.  We started up the Stoke locks at 10:30 and after the first two met up with three volunteers who helped us up the remainder.  By 12:15 we were moored just before the Bottom Lock of the Tardebigge Flight.

Beautifully Poised

We enjoyed the two for one Pizza offer of at the Queens Head and had a nice relaxing lunch.

We had a gentle stroll along the tow path and were surprised to find all the locks empty.  Two more boats came down later but we only saw one go up and that was around 17:00.  Lucky chap.

During our walk we took a detour from the tow path and met up with a local farmer who kindly gave Peter permission to  use his field, marked with a “NO PUBLIC ACCESS” sign as a drone-adrome.  It just goes to show if you’re polite, friendly and a bit cheeky people are often very accommodating.  The farmer also pointed out that he had smeared the top two rails of his gates with grease to stop intruders.  Newspaper wrapping worked well as an antidote.

Peter walked back to the “flying field” at about 18:00 and took a few aerial pictures of the canal.  Warnings of high levels of radio interference, from the drone software were not too unexpected given the array of large masts in the area.

Not the most spectacular pictures and the sky was a dull grey but with tomorrow promising rain they’ll have to do for now.

Lock 35
Lock 34
Going Up
Drone Selfie