We left our mooring at the top of Napton locks on the south Oxford canal on Sunday 20th June 2004 for what was to be our longest voyage so far, not returning until the 6th August.
The first leg of our journey was to Saul Junction for the Saul Canal Festival on the 2nd July. We would then retrace our steps to The Black Buoy Cruising Club for the AWCC 40 year anniversary celebrations on the 10th July. Then we would head south on the GU to Marsworth where we had arranged to meet friends for the weekend of 17/18th July. After this we continued south to Islington to a friends wedding on the 24th July returning for the reception BBQ at Winkwell on the 30th July and finally getting back to Napton on the 6th August. A total of 510 miles and 486 locks. Our total engine running hours were 282 hours, which included battery charging whilst not travelling. Our route planner indicated it would take us 264 hours.
We set off down the South Oxford canal as far as Napton Junction and turned left up the Grand Union to face its wide locks. The first of these came within the first half mile with the Calcutt three, followed by the Stockton flight and then the Bascote flight, after which we moored for the night.
The next morning we were off again down the Fosse and Radford flights before going through Leamington Spa. There is now a Somerfield store quite close to the canal in Leamington, which is very handy for stocking up with essential supplies. A little further on there is a very large Tesco on the off side with its own mooring and you can push your shopping right up to the boat. There was now only one more flight of locks before getting to the big one, Hatton. Although the weather forecast was not good, the weather was warm and fine and we discussed at some length whether to turn right and do the Hatton 21, or turn left into the Saltisford arm and moor up, doing Hatton tomorrow. Unfortunately we chose the former and got well and truly wet when the skies opened. It was so bad we stopped and moored in the flight for an hour until things improved before pushing on to the Tom O The Wood to moor for the night.
We set off next morning and within half an hour we were at Kingswood Junction and turning left into the South Stratford Canal. This canal has improved greatly over the past 10 years and the BW length men that look after it keep all the lock mooring areas very neat and well trimmed with good mooring bollards to attach the boat to whilst setting locks. Today I listened a bit more carefully to the BBC weather forecast and they were saying things like rain, severe gales, and thunder etc. so we decided to moor at Wootton Wawen in an area were there where no high trees along the banks. We had quite a bit of wind and rain that night but no thunder, but there was worse to come later in the trip.
Next morning there was a bit of sun about, but the barometer had fallen like a stone overnight. Just as we were about to set off a day boat from Wootton Wawen came past with 10 elderly ladies onboard. They were all old friends and had planned a day out on the cut. We followed them to the next lock and I hopped off at the bridge to walk ahead in case they needed a hand. When I got there, there were three ladies on the lock side, one with a walking stick and two with windlasses, but I neednít have worried. The one with a stick was an experienced boater with a broken foot and she was barking instructions at the other two in the rain. By now it was raining hard and they quite sensibly stopped on the approach to the Edstone Aqueduct. We however pushed on to the bottom of the Wilmcote flight and called it a day.
Thursday was an easy run into Bancroft Basin, For those of you that havenít visited Stratford for a few years, the basin now has finger moorings which has greatly increased its mooring capacity, even so every space was taken by 5-30 pm and all day there was never more than one vacant slot. I went over to the Tourist Information Office and bought our licence for the River Avon. Much to my surprise they were quite happy to sell me a licence that didnít come into force until the next day to allow us to do a reasonably early start. This cost £44 for 15 days and we had timed things to the maximum use possible by spending a few days on the Avon now before going to Saul and just catch the end of 15 days on our return journey. We stayed in the basin overnight, it wasnít the quietest of moorings as England had just been knocked out of the world cup.
By 9-30 Friday morning we were out on the river and heading down stream. At the first lock just as we were about to leave, another boat arrived behind us so we offered to wait for them at the next lock. By now the sun was doing its best, which was just as well as we waited for what seamed forever for that boat at the next lock. They slipped in beside us and by the time they had discussed who was going to stay on the boat and run the ropes out, and who was going to work the lock, Diana had been round, closed the gate and lifted the paddle. This was a similar procedure in every lock, drive in, centre rope round a bollard pull tight, stern rope off and try to pull boat forward clear of the cill against hubby who was pulling back on centre rope by which time Diana had closed both gates and started paddles. I asked them how long they had owned their boat expecting them to say three months, but the reply was three years. One of the great things about the Avon is that you leave the gates open when you exit and if there is a steady flow of traffic you find the locks ready for you when you arrive. That night we moored in Evesham just prior to the bridge on the LANT moorings and waited for the arrival of the Mayor and Mayoress of Evesham who we were going out to dine with that night. When I say went out, what happened was he took us out for dinner at The Sankey Boat Club and we provided the transport on our boat, it also meant he managed to get his hand on the tiller for a while. Following a good home cooked meal and a few drinks we headed back up stream to return to our moorings in the town. It was a wonderful evening, just a slight chill in the air and the moon out. I think this is the latest I have ever boated, as it was a little before 11 pm when we slipped gently back into the moorings we had vacated 3 hours earlier.
Saturday morning the weather had changed completely from last night with drizzle turning to rain followed by a heavy downpour. Just below Evesham there is a hand operated chain ferry and on this occasion we had to wait while the ferryman crossed the river 3 times before lowering the chain to the riverbed allowing us to pass. Our reason for going downstream again was to visit the free toilet pump out unit just below Evesham by the sewage works. This was installed as part of the planning requirements when the works were built. We went back upstream for a few days as far as Bidford in some very heavy rain where we put the Helmsmanís shelter to good use.
On the Avon you can moor at most lock landings for 24 hours, which is handy, we moored at the George Billington lock for the night. There is room to moor about 10 narrowboats here and there is a pub just across the lock weir, but no way to reach it from the moorings as its the wrong side of the river. A Black Prince hire boat arrived shortly after us and luckily moored the other side of the bridge. He has been running his engine ever since and he didnít switch it off until quarter to eleven. One night at Craycombe Turn, when it was getting late and it was some way to the next lock mooring, we had to ask another boat if we could breast outside them for the night. It was pouring with rain as we tied up, but cleared out shortly afterwards with a spectacular double rainbow across the sky. One place on the river that has good moorings is Pershore on the town's free moorings; these are situated just at the back of the Co-op across the park. This is also very handy for the High Street shops. The moorings run the full length of the park and have a good depth of water.
Next morning we made our way down to the end of the Avon at Tewksbury arriving at about 10 o'clock to lock down to the River Severn. It was here that the lock keeper informed us that Gloucester Lock was out of action and they had divers working on the gates, so we decided to stay where we were rather than going down the Severn with no way off at the end knowing that there were probably 20 to 30 boats ahead of us waiting for the locks to be repaired. Just as the locky was going off duty at 2 pm he came and told us the lock was now in operation again and we could proceed on our way. It had turned 3 pm by the time we had cleared the lock and were waiting for Upper Lode Lock, the only lock between us and Gloucester on the River Severn to be turned in our favour. It was over half an hour before we entered the huge lock and by the time we left we decided it would be a close thing to get to Gloucester before they closed and we would stop at the first mooring we came to for the night, this turned out to be Haw Bridge where there is a good BW pontoon mooring.
Next morning we headed off for Gloucester Lock. I always ring the lock keeper on my way down to let them know I'm coming, luckily I had got his number from the lock keeper at Tewksbury as the number had changed since we last came down and although the number is displayed on the notice board at the Partings, the old number had been painted out and the new one written in permanent marker that turns out to be not too permanent. It should read 01452 318032. When we arrived at Gloucester there was very little water running down the river but as the lock wasnít ready I moored at the first mooring chain I came to. As the lock emptied I was surprised to find that the water flow against the flow was sufficient to move us backwards upstream. Once inside Gloucester Docks we had to wait for Llanthony Road Bridge to open, this now only opens at set times during the day to reduce wear on the lifting mechanism. We had planed to go to the far end of the Gloucester to Sharpness canal but only managed to get to Splatt Bridge, as the winds were in excess of 30 mph lots of the swing bridges were closed for safety reasons. These bridges are opened by hand using a large windlass but with the high winds blowing down the length of the canal there is a danger of the bridge moving faster than the bridge operator can handle.
Next morning the weather had improved so we carried on to Sharpness. The views across the Severn from here are absolutely stunning and we were planning to spend the night here, but the wind was already increasing in strength and we wanted to be sure of getting back to the gathering at Saul Junction so we headed back towards Gloucester. When we arrived at Splatt Bridge the bridge was closed and the red light on. We dodged about in midstream for a bit waiting for the bridge operator to open up, but there was no sign of life. After a bit I gave a few blasts on the horn but still no response. The next option was to put Diana ashore to find out what the problem was, it turned out he was fast asleep in his office and was completely unaware of any boat traffic. When he did appear he was not keen to open the bridge as the bridge keeper further down was operating a convoy system and was going to let a bunch of boats through in quarter of an hour and we would have to wait for them to arrive before he opened his bridge. This made me wonder how much money BW would save if they operated on a convoy system as opposed to manning every bridge. Again due to the wind we got stuck at the next bridge and moored for the night. Luckily we decided to eat early onboard before walking to one of the two pubs in Frampton. The first one, where we had been advised to eat was closed and the second was full of cigarette smoke and didnít do food. The next day we past the rally site again and went as far as Sellars Bridge where we found Graham and Evelyn Booth on their boat Rome so we stopped for a chat and drink before walking to The Pilot pub for our evening meal.
We didnít start too early today as we were only a couple of miles from the rally site, but as the batteries needed a charge I continued down to Gloucester and then turned back to Saul so we arrived with fully charged batteries. We were quickly shown to our mooring, that coincidently was alongside the same boat we moored against last year. We wouldnít move again until after rally when we would once more be off.
We timed our departure at Saul to reach the first bridge just as they opened for the day, this would enable us to get to Llanthony Road Bridge for the 10-30 am opening. We arrived about 10 am and Diana walked into town to do some shopping. By 10-30 there were quite a few boats waiting for the bridge and as we entered the basin it was obvious that we wouldnít all get out on to the Severn in the first locking, this didnít bother me, as I had to moor and wait for Dianaís return. I didn't wait long before she was back onboard and we cast off in time to go down with the other boats that arrived with us. I had pushed the boat quite hard down the canal that morning and had developed a water leak from the oil cooler boot, but removing the filler cap and releasing the pressure resulted in the leak not even dripping so I didnít use as much power as normal going up the Severn. The lock keeper told us as we left that the tide was high enough to top the weir and would catch up with us in about an hours time, this made it a very easy run upstream, as after the first hour the tide was with us to within half a mile of Upper Load Lock. We had to wait a short time outside Tewksbury lock with an Alvechurch Hire boat. Talking to them they were hoping to moor at the same pub as us that night and knowing there is only room for one boat a said I had no objection to them breasting up to us, hoping they would make the same offer if they got there first. As it turned out we were there 3 hours before them, as they had to buy a new bow rope, the bow thrusters had eaten there original one. We moored at The Fleet, Twyning and they turned up about 7 pm. The first comment after tying up was ĒI hope you donít mind us running the engine for a bit, weíve just put the dishwasher onĒ. He did assure me it would be off by 8 pm and dead on 8 it stopped. A couple of local lads laid entertainment on for us, they decided to launch their boat down the slip way opposite. One sat in the boat the other reversed the car and boat down the slipway. The lad in the boat knew nothing about boats and the one in the car couldn't reverse a trailer. Eventually they managed to reverse the trailer far enough to get the boat off but had not run a line ashore first. The chap onshore then had to shout instructions to his mate in the boat how to lower the outboard and start it, so he could come back up to pick him up.
They say what a difference a day makes, we went from shirts off yesterday to coats on today, the wind was picking up and it looked bad, by the time we reached Stratford it was well over 30 mph with the tops coming out of trees and branches dropping. By now we had teamed up with the Alvechurch boat and their two lads walked round and opened the lock t Bancroft Basin before we set off to cross the river with the wind blowing straight down stream. We were pleased to moor in the basin that night; I didnít look forward to spending it on the river.
We left the basin about 9 heading up the Stratford canal. From what we heard we missed the worst of the weather last night. About half way up the Wilmcote flight I could see a lot of people milling around the lock ahead, the bottom paddles being drawn and lowered again, but no sign of a boat coming out. I went ahead to see what was happening and found the Alvechurch boat sitting in the lock, they were unable to close the bottom gate fully to fill the lock, it was jammed solid so they couldn't open it ether. BW had been called for and when the lengths man arrived he attached a rope to the gate, not the beam and tried to pull it open, he then left a bit of tension on the rope and rocked the beam. Eventually the gate opened, he then tried closing it again but it stopped about 6" short, the same position it was jammed in. He then raked the area around the gate, hooking onto something but unable to pull it out. At this point he left in his truck, assuring us he would be back in 5 minutes and he was, complete with dry suit. He dropped into the water by the lock mooring and started to wade to the bottom gate, within a few yards he had to swim as the water was to deep to wade until he reached the cill of the bottom gate where it was about 4í 6Ē deep. Here he first felt around with his feet and then dived under, a couple of seconds later he came up with a windlass in his hand. Soon we were on our way again with a mixture of weather, a bit of rain, some sun and at times turning cold. We moored for the night at the Flur de Lys at Lowsonford and went for a meal in the pub where they do some very tasty pies and if you buy two glasses of wine you get the rest of the bottle free.
We didnít have to far to go today so made a late start and had to follow another boat all the way to Kingswood Junction. The water tap at the junction is a waste of time with very low pressure. The one Rising Bridge GU is much better and we filled the tank while we ate lunch. We carried on to the Black Buoys Boat Cruising Club for the AWCC 40 year anniversary rally. To say the canal was crowded is bit of an understatement, there were about 200 boats here, double moored on both sides of the cut with a gap of about 8 foot left for navigation down the centre. I don't know what they would have done if a wide beam boat wanted to come through or even if two boats meet and wanted to pass. We left the rally on Sunday afternoon around 3-15 pm. This entailed a short trip to the winding hole and then all the way back past the site where there were still boats double moored on both banks. We moored for the night just beyond Rowington on the top of the rise and ate onboard. Just after we moored up a duck came swimming along that looked as if it's wings had been stuck on up side down.
I woke about 6-30 on Monday and by 7 we were off. As we approached Hatton top a lady poked her head out of her boat and asked if they could join us going down the flight, they would be ready in 2 minutes. We arrived at the top lock and set the first 3 while the 2 ladies in their Springer caught up. All the locks were against us until we met a boat about halfway down, unfortunately a hire boat that had moored in the flight saw this and nipped off in front of us and took advantage of the good road. In the bottom lock we found an industrial wheelie bin that was floating like an iceberg, we pulled it out of the lock and tethered it just below the bywash, before ringing BW. They sent a chap out to retrieve it, unfortunately he didn't notice that I had tied it up and spent some time trying to drag it back into the lock where he could use his tractor to lift it out. Just before Kate Boats we came across a submerged canoe, I managed to get enough water out to float it but not enough to lift it out, so I had to leave that job to someone else. Apart from Kate lock we were alone all the rest of the way to the Two Boats where we intended to moor for the night. After eating dinner onboard we decided to take a walk to The Two Boats, on the way we noticed how many other boats were going our way and were moored between the Stockton flight and us. It was a pleasant evening so instead of visiting the pub, we pushed off and motored up to The Blue Lias and moored between the bridge and the next lock.
We were on the move at 7 o'clock next morning, there in front of us was a flight of locks, all set in our favour and most with their gates ajar. Diana got the bike out and opened every bottom gate on the towpath side right to the top and off we went. As we approached Braunston bottom lock a lady asked if they could join us going up, to which I agreed, however when we reached the lock a boat was about to enter so we went in with them, but there were another couple of boats behind us for the other boat to join up with. Braunston Tunnel was very muggy at the far end but fairly dry all the way through. At Buckby locks we waited for a second boat to join us as per the notice, but they stopped for the night in the first pound, so we carried on alone meeting boats in every pound so all locks were in our favour. We moored for the night just beyond Stowe Hill opposite the small CCL caravan site.
Next morning we left about 10 and made our way to Tesco at Linslade alone. We met a few boats on the way but we had often turned the lock by then, but it did save closing up. We stopped for water at Slapton Wharf and had to wait a bit while an 80 year old converted wooden working boat called "Poyle" filled his twin tanks using both taps. There is excellent water pressure on these taps and our tank was quickly refilled. We caught up with Poyle again at the next lock and a few blasts on the horn had him open the bottom gate so we could get in beside him. We travelled together until he moored for the night just beyond Dunstable boat club. Chatting on the way the owner told us that he had restored the boat himself and one of the materials he used was a French cement that remains flexible and was ideal for filling holes in wooden hulls. We continued on alone to Marsworth andmoored outside the White Lion. In return for 4 of us having an evening meal there our friends could leave their car in the pub car park for the weekend. The meal was a bit disappointing with no sweets available.
Saturday we set off up the Marsworth flight and turned down the Wendover Arm where we inspected all the work that has been going on, then past Bulbourne Workshops to wind and go back down the flight. We then carried on north until we moored for the night a couple of pounds above Slapton Wharf.
Sunday we decided to go to the Grove for lunch. First we had to go to Leighton Buzzard to wind and then came back to the Grove. As we winded another boat joined us travelling south, two boats were leaving Grove lock so we both went through and moored above it (I never could resist a lock ready set for me and the other boater was the same) and walked back to the pub for Sunday Lunch. The food and price was quite acceptable and they sell London Pride beer. After lunch both us and the other boater left the pub simultaneously so shared all the locks to Marsworth where they moor. The boat had just been repainted and as it was 20 years old, they decided to have it fully grit blasted back to bare steel all over by Norton Canes. I asked if the boat had been left full of dust and shot blast, but he said it was very clean. We moored for the night just above the first Marsworth lock and bid our friends farewell.
We left Marsworth Junction in bright sun with a blue sky at quarter to nine and travelled up the flight alone, we met boats in most pounds but by the time we reached the next lock it was half full. At Bulbourne Junction there was a wide beam live aboard right across the cut. The occupant was trying to retrieve her cat from the working boat on the other side. We travelled alone all day meeting a few boats here and there, but only had a few locks in our favour. It's good to see that BW are getting on top of the dog mess problem, but have they actually carried out a survey to see how much of the stuff there is? Do they really need two bins within a meter of each other at each lock from Cowroast to Berkhamsted? Would it not have been better to space them out a bit? We carried on down to Boxmoor for the night and ate onboard
Bit of a late start on a fine morning, again there was very little traffic about but we met up with a single hander at Apsly and did about 5 locks with him, only meeting 1 pair on the way. We stopped for lunch at the beginning of Cassio Park and had more boats go past than we had seen the rest of the day. Just as we were getting ready to leave the skies opened for about quarter of an hour before the sun returned to keep us company down to Batchworth Junction where we are moored for the night.
We set off just before 10 and were joined by a second boat in the first lock. We remained together until they stopped at Harefield Marina. Although the cut was very quiet again we did meet most of the on coming boats at locks. We moored for the night at Bulls Bridge Junction at Hayes by Tesco's. This has been greatly enlarged since we were here last and is now open 24 hours a day. The other down side is they have improved their trolley wheel lock system and you cant get a trolley to the moorings now. The tripping cable is under the brick weave path.
Thursday morning we filled with water and left the moorings just after 10, turned up the Paddington Arm. About a mile further on came across some boating friends we had not seen for over a year so stopped for a bit. We then moved on to Kensal Green for the night, by the Gasometer and opposite the cemetery.
Our target for today was the Islington visitor moorings. To get there we took a detour into Paddington Basin to look at the developments that have taken place. We were unable to get into the eastern basin due to a locked chain and the new corkscrew bridge. I don't think you will ever see ordinary boaters in the basin again. Looking at the set up of the bridge and the approach ramps it looks a major job to open it and there are no facilities built in to contain pedestrians while this operation takes place. In view of present H&S requirements that seem to restrict everything we can do on the cut today I can't see BW ever opening it without 4 people in attendance and lots of temporary barrier posts and fence. When we arrived at Islington moorings we found all the bank side mooring taken and most boats breasted up, so we did the same thing breasting to an unoccupied boat, asking permission retrospectively when the owner returned.
We remained on the Islington moorings until Sunday, as we were here to attend the wedding of two of our friends at Islington Council chambers on Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning we left the moorings and carried on south along the Grand Union, down the Hertford Union Old Ford Locks to the river Lee and into Limehouse Basin via Limehouse Cut. We had Sunday lunch in the pub by Limehouse locks overlooking the Thames. After lunch we left the basin back on to the Grand Union and moored back at the Islington visitor moorings for the night.
We woke at some ungodly hour by the dulcet tones of an Eberspatcher on the boat next door. I think it thought it was a RB211 on runway one at Heathrow. Luckily it only ran for about half an hour and then I got back to sleep. We set off following another boat that had spent the night on the Islington visitor moorings. We turned into Battlebridge Basin to have a look at the museum but everything was shut up. The sign at the top says there are visitor moorings, but we didn't see any signs of any so we turned and went out again. We caught up with the other boat just as they had closed the bottom gates on St Pancras lock, a couple of good blasts on the horn and they opened a gate for us. We carried on together right through Camden locks. As we past over the North Circular aqueduct Diana spotted some very large blackberries so we stopped while she picked a tub. I wonder how many other people have stopped a boat and picked blackberries over the north circular road? We finally moored for the night outside Tesco's at Bulls Bridge junction again.
Next morning we left after a bit of shopping. A little later I nearly had a bag of rubbish dumped on my head, we had just past under a bridge when a lady dressed in Muslim clothing without looking, simply emptied a bag of rubbish into the canal from the centre of the bridge and still without looking took the bag and carried on her way. We met the gravel barges just after they had cleared a bridge, I say they, because the first barge which was unladen had the second on cross straps. Between bridges 185 and 186 there is a building and fenced area on the left hand side of the canal with red lights on top of all the posts, this used to be a heliport used by the London Fire Brigade but wasnít to successful. We had a very good pump out at the BW yard at Cowley Peachey Junction after we found out that the red flashing light on the pump out unit didn't mean that the unit was faulty but that some one else on the site was using the pump out system. Most of the locks were in our favour but many of them had started to fill and Diana had to empty them before we could enter, full support to Mr. Stott. That night we moored by the lakes at Batchworth.
Today we decided only to go as far as Kings Langley. Most of the locks were in our favour and we were able to share with another boat until we stopped for lunch at Cassio Park top lock. On our way down through Batchworth Junction lock last week I noticed a metal bar that should be fitted to the face of the wooden cill buffer was lying on top of the cill and I couldn't work out how it got there. At the next lock down BW were painting so I reported the lose bar to them. When we came back today a BW workboat had the bar onboard and were unloading it as we left Junction lock, at the next lock was a BW chap who was waiting for the workboat so they could repair the paddle ratchet. He told me they would be with him as soon as they had unloaded the bar and where it had come from. It turned out he had removed the bar from the floor of the lock the week before and had placed it on the cill. He was then called away to another job and forgot about it. When I reported it they went down with the workboat and picked it up again. That night we ate at Oscars Pizza Co. in the High Street, Kings Langley. Not only do they do a good pizza but also a wide range of other Italian foods, I recommend it highly. Next day we travelled to Winkwell and enjoyed a BBQ on the towpath.
Today was quite unusual for us, as we shared every lock except one. We left our mooring in bright sunshine and caught up with a boat that past us earlier and kept each other company as far as Waitrose, Berkhamsted, where they were stopping to let the kids have some free time on the playground. We carried on alone and as we entered the next lock we saw a boat entering the one ahead, luckily he saw us and waited until we caught up, we then carried on to Cowroast where he stopped for a late lunch at the pub and we winded, filled with water and locked back down to the pound below the summit for the night and walked back up the tow path to Cow Roast for dinner at The Cow Roast Inn. This is now Thai run with a Thai restaurant, last time we went it was very traditional English. We had a very enjoyable meal there for £40 including drinks. One of the very good things is the fact its still a pub with a restaurant, drinkers are not pushed into a back corner.
Next morning we set off back to Winkwell for Julian's BBQ. We moored on the visitor moorings just above the swing bridge. The weather for the day and evening couldn't have been better with a hot day and a very still warm evening with everyone sitting out until the end of play at about 11 pm.
Well today was the start of the journey home and the first day of August. We left our mooring just below he lock and in the company of Bede made our way down through Winkwell swing bridge, here a not so young lady jogger was getting impatient and jogging back and forth along the pub garden waiting for the bridge to close and muttering away merrily. We then dropped through the next lock to wind and retrace our steps back through he bridge and up the Winkwell locks. As we were turning an Outreach charity boat called Narrow Escape came along and joined us in the lock, handy I think, 8 fit, keen young lads eager to do the locks, wrong! One lad sat on the bow, legs astride the bow fender as they came into the lock, 2 were dispatched to close the lock, which they managed eventually. As the boats rose in the lock another 2 were sent ahead with a BW key to open the swing bridge. I was requested to leave the lock first which I did, they tried to follow me out sideways. The bridge ahead opened and then started to shut, opened fully, shut a bit, open and so on until I was through, then it closed, almost, as their boat approached it with complaints that it was broken. Diana had arrived at the ridge by now and pressed the open button to let their boat through. Thank goodness they decided to stop and do a bit of fishing before the next lock and left us to go on our way alone. We carried on alone until we had past Waitrose's at Berkhamsted where the boat in front was locking up as we arrived, They waited between the two locks for us and explained that the wide beam single hander in front was leaving all the gates open behind him. We did a couple of locks together following this chap until they got fed up and decided to stop for dinner, we persevered, The chap in front had a converted lifeboat with an outboard engine on the rudder and as the other couple rightly said was just sailing out leaving us to close the gates without a word of thanks. He moored prior to each lock, stopped the engine and then opened both bottom gates, he then bow hauled the boat in, tied it up, closed the gates, used ground paddles only and filled the lock. When the lock was full he opened the gates, dropped paddles, untied boat and got aboard. Now came the best bit, he climbed over the stern, down the rudder post on to the rudder standing astride the engine, reached down between his legs to pull the starter cord on the engine, climbed back up and sailed not off into the sunset but to the next lock to do it all again. He stopped to go to Cow Roast marina and we carried on along the summit to Bulborn where we had a meal in The Junction pub. They normally have quite a good menu but not all the curries that used to be on, but today they had been rushed off their feet and had sold out of a lot of items including all the roast dinners. After we had eaten we moved on to moor at the end of the Wendover arm for the night. Tomorrow the Wendover trust will be erecting the original mile post at the mouth of the arm which will be unveiled tomorrow night, with due celebrations and a BBQ, unfortunately we will be on our way by then so wont be able to join them.
Next morning we walked down the arm to where WRG were holding a weeklong work camp to see how they were getting on and give a little moral support. We left the arm and locked down to Marsworth in the company of another boat meeting several boats coming up. After Marsworth Lock the boat in front of us left every bottom gate open as they went down, this continued right down to Slapton lock. There was a very small shower of rain about 5 pm just before we arrived at Grove lock, it tilted the balance and we moored below the lock for the night to eat in the Grove pub.
The day started fine but by the time we reached Tesco it had started to rain and by the time Diana had finished shopping it was raining quite hard. As we made our way to Linslade Lock we had to wait while a Challenger share boat winded, he had left Tesco's a few minutes earlier. As soon as we had past him he started winding again, this time by putting his stern into the winding hole and this was all between us and the following boat that like me had to wait for him. I have no idea why he wanted to do a 360 at Wyvern Shipping. The boat in the lock waited for us, which was good of him and when we entered the lock the rain had stopped and the sun was out. We carried on with this boat until we reached the Soulbury 3, once we were through they stopped for lunch. As I exited the bottom lock a boat left the mooring as I went by and I nearly had his bow up my bum, I think he was planning to get away before us so the next lock was not against him. He dropped in beside us at Stoke Hammond Lock. I couldn't see any name, number or licence on his boat and the BW chap at the lock never gave him a second glance. When the lock emptied we both drew forward to pick up our crews and he then gestured that I should lead on, the only thing was he didn't slack his speed at all which meant his bow got dragged into our rear quarter. After this we pulled away from him and caught up with a hire boat just before Fenny Stratford Lock who we shared with. As we made our way through Pear Tree Bridge No 88 Milton Keynes it started to chuck it down and I put the namby pamby steerer's shelter up. It rained all the way to Cosgrove where we moored on the visitor moorings above the lock for the night.
After the rain stopped last night it became quite humid and foggy in the moonlight, it was still misty this morning but it soon burnt off to give a very hot day. We worked up the Stoke Bruerne flight with two families on a Napton hire boat, they told us that their boat had been broken into while they were having lunch in the Proud Perch. They had moored at the end of the pub mooring for lunch, when they returned the front door had been forced. They moored at Stoke Bruerne and we carried on through the tunnel meeting a couple of boats on the way, one of them was the "Out Reach boat" Narrow Escape that we had seen at Winkwell. I was quite surprised they had got that far. We filled with diesel at Fred Tarry's at Nether Heyford at 33p per litre, that was 1p more than we paid on our way south about 4 weeks earlier, but he was still the cheapest we saw on the Grand Union.
We left about 9 am to a cool morning but it warmed up as the day progressed. We arrived at Whilton lock to find a boat already in there waiting for us so we locked up the flight together. This was Laughton a converted camping boat that was once owned by Union Canal Carriers in 1984. We met someone in every pound apart from the top one which eased our passage somewhat. Braunston tunnel started very clear but slowly got mistier as we approached the Braunston end and even after we had left the tunnel it was still quite steamy. We waited at the top lock for another boat to catch up and only met one pair in the whole flight so most locks were against us. We stopped briefly at Midland Chandlers and the timing was perfect. While we were in there the skies opened, it thundered, lightning and hailed for about quarter of an hour. When it stopped we then pressed on to Napton for the night, just prior to Napton Junction the storms started again and it continued raining heavily until after we had moored. We went to The Bridge Inn where we had another excellent meal. While we were there the landlord had his head shaved in a Mohican style and dyed blue in aid of charity, a collection in the pub raised £65 for the local flying ambulance.
When we moored last night it was like driving pins into a wet sponge so I was pleased and surprised to find them still in this morning as several boats had past before we were up. We left for the Napton flight meeting several boats on the way, in the flight we met at least one and often two boats in every pound. I have not seen the flight so busy and it didn't let up all day. They were still queuing when we left the boat and went home mid afternoon.