Saturday 19 April 2008
Just as we unlocked Harnser a boat that had been coming up the flight winded in the engine arm so I decided to follow him down. This meant we would have time to load the boat from the car while we waited to turn the lock. As we arrived it started to rain and it continued for the rest of the day. We had just finished loading and about to drop the lock when an Ownerships pulled up just below the lock so that was one we didn't need to close behind up. We moored between the bridge and the next lock to sort things out, light the back cabin fire and the stove etc. We set off after a short time and a couple of boats coming up. We arrived at the lock which was empty and there was a boat just entering the next lock down, so we opened the bottom gates and waited for them. They in turn left the next lock ready for us. However the boat behind them had other ideas. Their crew came up to the lock and merrily wound the bottom paddles up to empty the lock, with the top gates still wide open for us. When they realised that the lock wasn't emptying the walked up and shut the top gate. We locked down in the the lock we were in and left the gates open for them and Diana pointed out the other boat had left the lock for us and anyway, you should really make sure that the gates were closed before raising paddles. And no this was not a hire boat. As we approached the next lock a boat was just leaving and their crew went to a lot of trouble closing the gate behind them and in our face. Later we found out that they had also left their keys in the water point by the Folly. All the moorings were full by the Folly so we continued on to The Bridge which was surprisingly empty, so we moored in front of Emma, one of the Navy boats. It wasn't long before the rest of the spaces were full and as I write this the hire boat behind Emma still has their engine running so I am glad Emma was there or they might have been hard behind us on the trip boat mooring.
What a mucky day it was today weather wise, it was like all over low cloud with a very fine drizzle which didn't clear at all until lunch time and then it still remained dull. The Anglo Welch hire boat had his engine running again this morning when we got up, I don't think it was running all night and he left about the same time as us. We must have met 20 boats before we reached Braunston centre, several of them stacked into convoys of about 6, we met one right under bridge 107 at Lower Shuckburgh, plenty of room to pass so long as both boats have the confidence to keep going and hold the right line. Luckily this one did. It was just after this that I saw my first Swallow of the year, it proves the saying is correct. "One Swallow doesn't make a summer" it didn't even make spring today. Between bridges 107 and 108 BW have been protecting the offside bank with wooden stakes and fine plastic netting, I don't know whether the will back fill this afterwards or just wait until it fills naturally. We tucked in at Braunston and filled with water and then moved on to just by the marina entrance to moor for lunch. The Narrowboat Kyle now has a large notice on the front of the accommodation saying it has a Russell Newberry engine fuelled on filtered engine oil. I wonder what the situation will be on paying duty on this in the new year. When we set off again the weather had improved very slightly and we were all alone going up the Braunston flight but we did meet 4 boats coming down. One pair and two singles a lock apart which saved on our gate movements a bit. The towing path is in a right state just prior to the tunnel and the undergrowth has been cut back on the off side where the land slip occurred. I wonder if BW have ever considered extending the tunnel through this section, it could well be a cost effective repair using concrete rings similar to Blisworth. Once through the tunnel the towing path is still in a bad state with long lengths of bright orange pvc barrier mesh just lying on the path waiting to trip someone up. We moored for the night at Norton Junction between all the BW working boats.
I looked out a 9 am to see Emma and The Andrew working down through Buckby Top Lock so I decided to wait half an hour before following. I started the engine at 9-30 and went out to slip the ropes only to see an Viking Afloat working the lock, I waved frantically and set off as soon as possible to no avail, by the time we were at the head of the lock they were half way down. I had a word with them and they agreed to wait at the next lock, as they left the lock the chap on my side said "This is the way to Birmingham, isn't it" I told him no its the way to London and suggested they reversed back into the lock and then back to the junction to wind, so back in they came and up backwards which confused a boater who had just arrived at the bottom of the lock. Once they were out backwards we carried on down. We only met 2 boats in the rest of the flight. Whilton Marina were selling diesel at 79p/lt so at Nether Heyford we stopped at Fred Tarry's and topped up with 40 lt at 72p lt. Just prior to Fred's I watched a good sized grass snake swim across the canal and after some difficulty to climb up into the towing path and off into the undergrowth, I would have expected the water to have been far to
cold for him still. Since we were last this way a new marina has opened at Bugbrooke and another at Gayton Junction. At the junction we stopped to fill with water and have a cup of tea with Graham and Brenda who met us there by car. Blisworth tunnel was particularly wet and when we emerged it looked as if the roof had been hosed down as it was wet all over. We dropped through the first two locks at Stoke Bruerne and moored for the night
The first boat went down the flight at 8am and were soon followed by the Navy pair. We set off at 9am in pleasant weather. A thought BW were short of money, it's strange they can fit wooden steps and decking in one of the side ponds on the SB flight and move all the "No Fishing" signs from the front to the sides of the wooden posts by overhead electricity cables, I assume the side ponds will be another nature reserve. We didn't meet a single boat until after lunch and only 6 all day. As we cruised along we could hear the commentary at Towcester races. A little way north of bridge 58 there are two very large piles of rubbish on the towing path, it looks as if a couple of boats have had a good clear out before moving on. At bridge 63 the Northampton branch of IWA were hard at work painting the 25 miles from Braunston mile post. There is a large amount of redevelopment work going on at Wolverly on both sides of the canal. We were planning to moor for the night at Great Lindford park but it was rather early in the afternoon when we passed there. There were some spaces on the 24 hr moorings, but most of the park is now officially long term permitted mooring. Maybe a case if you can't beat them, charge them. We continued on in the sunshine to moor for the night at Fenny Stratford a short way before the lock/swing bridge.
We woke to steady rain and as we are in no hurry decided to wait until it stopped at 11am before setting off. The omens where good, at the first lock there was a boat just entering coming towards us and as we left a second turned up. As the day progressed the weather got steadily better ending with a lovely evening. Today I witnessed something I had never seen before. I saw two Herons fly from the bank, drop into the canal and catch a fish as they hit the water, the third was more impressive flying across the canal and catching a fish while on the wing, continuing over to the far bank before landing and eating it. In the past I have only seen them fishing while standing in the water or on the bank and thrusting only their heads down. We passed through a long fishing match which surprised me being mid week but they informed me it was an "old gits" match for the retired. At the Soulbury Three we caught up with a boat just as they were leaving the first lock, they kindly offered to wait in the second, by the time we had gone up the first the pound between the two locks was down by about 2 feet so I crossed very slowly and only dragged the bottom as I entered the second chamber. We carried on it the sun until we came across Fair-Fa moored in the middle of nowhere so we stopped for a couple of hours with Pat and Sheila catching up on what's happened since we last saw each other. After leaving them we were held up just above Linslade lock with a BW work boat at right angles across the cut, I poled it round against the towing path and moored it up for them. We saw a Moorhen nesting in a tyre fender on a boat moored outside Tesco in Linslade. I think Tesco must have a computer glitch as the magnet was not on and we sailed straight by. After this we did about another 3 miles and a lock before mooring up for the night by bridge 118 at Slapton.
We woke to bright sun but by 9am the rain had set in. We pushed off at quarter to ten just as it stopped but it was soon raining heavily again and even hailing. We met a couple of hire boats, one of them from Linslade had been out for 3 weeks and done the ring. We moored for lunch just before Seabrook Lock and didn't set off again until 3pm and yet again it rained and hailed. The new clubhouse at Dunstable Boat Club looks quite impressive. For some reason the bottom lock of the Marsworth pair has to be left empty and we found the top gates of the top lock wide open. When we left we found out why, they both swung open as we departed which was handy for the boat we met just round the bend. We stopped at Marsworth junction to take water, there are still the same boats to be seen that were here last time I came this way so visitor mooring is somewhat limited, I'm sure they move after 14 days, but how far?
We turned down the Aylesbury arm and to say there was plenty of water would be an under statement, by lock 3 the towing path was under water and it was flowing over the top gates at quite a rate. The Aylesbury looks are not the most user friendly with no board on the bottom gates so its difficult for one person to close up without walking all the way round the lock and at one lock BW have sold off the lock wingwall on the offside so the lock wheeler can't even step on the boat from there. We have moored for the night about 10 yard up from the Disable Fishing point at Wilstone. Tomorrow we will go down to the basin in Aylesbury to wind. As a percentage this must have more unlicensed boats than anywhere on the system.
We set off quite early for us and we didn't see any boats on the move until we were back on the main line. The first 4 locks below Wilstone have to be left empty with a paddle up as the chambers leak. BW are fitting extra bollards both prior to the locks, minimum 3 and at the locks, 3 down one side and 2 the other and these are narrow locks. The second and third locks from the bottom are fitted with anti vandal locks, these require a BW key to open them and as the bottom gates are padlocks which hold the key captive until relocked makes bit of mucking about. Just above the third lock there were two gents fishing right on the lock moorings. I nosed the boat against the top gate for Diana to get off and they made it plain they intended to continue fishing no matter what. I pulled back so Diana could open the gate and then forward to straighten up and enter the lock, at this point his float disappeared beneath the boat and he started to try to play me in. I think I will probably find a hook on the stern gear somewhere. We went right to the end of the Aylesbury arm and moored on the visitor moorings for a couple of hours while we went into town. Just as we returned to the boat it started to rain so we pushed off clobbered up with coats. By the Tesco moorings there is the remains of a cruiser that has been burnt out. A little further up the canal the water has started to flow into a field on the off side as the level of the bank is the same as the water level and even small depressions let the water flow out. A long section of the canal has reeds encroaching from both sides with just a boats width down the centre of open water. The canal gave a good harvest of fishing floats probably 12-18 with 6 on one bush alone. As we approached the top pair of locks we met a lady with a windless, her husband and boat were waiting at the top to come down. The only boat we had seen on the move all day. We moored for the night just below the locks at 7-30 pm and walked over to The White Lion to eat and I must say it was much better than last time we visited.