Day 2 – Tunnel Vision

This morning it was just the two of us. Sarah took the helm as we left Buckby locks behind us and headed for Braunston tunnel.

We only passed one boat inside, and just before the end too! The Braunston flight then awaited us. We started off on our own, but soon caught up with a lovely gentleman going through single-handed, so we paired up with him for the rest of the flight. With plenty of other boats going up and down there was no shortage of people about.

We turned right onto the North Oxford canal after the locks, and into more beautiful and peaceful countryside. We had a brief interlude to remove some plastic sheeting that had got caught up by the prop…

… and kept a close eye on what was going on around us.

We found a nice peaceful mooring in the countryside for the night.

Sarah made some smoked mackerel pate ready for tomorrow’s lunch

We phoned Meriel to wish her happy birthday, the cake sounded fab. Showers, log book and then probably bed before it’s even dark.

Day 1 – One Helm of a Day

The day started off with beautiful sunshine, perfect for us to say farewell to Heyford Fields marina for the next four months as our Grand Tour begins. It felt strange leaving behind work, home and the marina, knowing we won’t be back for so long.

We were joined for the day by the Haighs – Simon, Anne-Marie, Esmee and Joel, and Esmee’s boyfriend Lewis. Combined with all the food we have packed on board, I’m sure Oliver was a few inches lower in the water than usual.

People took turns helming and everyone mucked in for the locks, making the Buckby flight much easier going than it normally is.

We had a wonderful spread for lunch, though it was a bit of a squeeze around the table.

It’s Joel’s birthday tomorrow, so we celebrated a day early with some birthday cake, along with some rhubarb curd, custard and meringues, all home made by Esmee – yum!

Happy Birthday to Joel

After saying farewell to our friends, we settled in for the evening ready for an early night.

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