We left home about mid day on Saturday December 20th., arriving at the boat around 4 pm . It had rained on and off for most journey, but it was fine when we arrived at Napton .
We moved Harnser from her moorings down to the lock and transferred everything from the car to the boat. We have an electronic max/min thermometer on the boat recording inside and outside temperature, the sensor on roof had recorded -7C some time in the past week.
The first job was to light the cooking stove to boil a kettle and warm the boat. The kettle boils in about half an hour from lighting the stove but warming the boat takes a bit longer, like a day, so we decided to go out for a meal at the Bridge Inn, Napton. We had quite a nice meal, the menu looks much better than last time we went and the staff very friendly giving good service. The place was not over busy with one or two parties in for the evening and a few people drinking.
We woke Sunday to a nice clear sunny morning with a cold wind. After taking the dogs out we had a run in to Tesco's, Daventry to get the last of the Christmas shopping. Before setting off around 1230 with all the locks against us. We didn't meet a boat until we reached the bottom lock and then we met 3 more before the junction with the Grand Union at Wigrams Turn. On the Grand Union just before we passed under the Daventry to Southam road, bridge 108, we saw a Mink climbing in a bush overhanging the canal, this is the first time I have ever seen one climbing. A bit further on at bridge 99 there is what seams to be a very tame Kingfisher, we have seen it before in that area. It was quite happy to sit on a branch as we passed by, unlike most of them that take off and flight ahead of you. As we had passed this one it dived into the canal and emerged with a small fish in it's mouth to land back in the same bush. That was two good photo opportunities I had missed in one afternoon.
We arrived in Braunston a little after 4 and after filling with water, reversed about 200 Mts.. to moor behind Mike and Krystyna on Draco for the night. This was right opposite the mill house and we wondered how quiet it would be. We needed have worried as they had turned the restaurant light out by 10pm. The wind strengthened during the night with a good frost but Monday was clear and bright with very light winds. We walked the dogs down to the locks and noticed that the water in the end of Braunston Marina was frozen. Magic met Mike and Krystyna's puppy for the first time and they had a nose rub while we had a short chat. We followed this with walk up the village to buy a few odds and ends and spent the rest of the day doing some jobs on the boat including finishing fitting the steerers shelter commonly know as a namby pamby shelter. Just after 4 as I was completing the last job, fixing a magnetic door stay on the front doors with the aid of Diana holding a torch we heard Guy was on his way, a short time later he appeared out of the gloom and was soon moored on the outside of Mike. That night was ate onboard and the went up the Old Plough for a drink, there we met up with Mike, Ashley, Guy Leslie, David and later Krystyna. It was agreed that we would set off at 9-30 on Tuesday morning.
Tuesday started rather damp and got worse as the day went on. Guy appeared at about 9-30 and said he just had to nip back to the pub, he was leaving his car there for a couple of days and the Landlady had rung to say the alarm was going off most of the night. While he was away Mike, Ashley, Diana and I did a bit of boat shuffling so we were ready to leave as soon as Guy returned. We arrived at the bottom lock first just as 2 boats were going up and by the time the lock was free Guy had caught us up so we locked up together, Mike followed up alone for the first lock but then waited for a boat coming up behind him. We only met one boat coming down so nearly all the locks were against us. As we rounded Norton Junction the site of the new piling was something else. The piles must be 20ft. long and the barge with the pile driver on it was 28ft. wide which just left room for a 7 foot narrowboat to pass to get to the top of the Buckby Flight. We worked down the Buckby flight shearing with Guy with Mike and the other boat following us down. The locks on the Buckby flight don't have any bywashes for the excess water to pass the lock instead the water flows over the top of the top paddles, fills the lock and then the excess flows over the top of the bottom gates. This gave us a problem leaving the locks, we would empty the lock and just as Diana was about to open the bottom gates all the water from the lock above would flow into the lock and force the gates closed again. There was nothing we could do but sit and wait until the flow slowed enough for the gates to be opened and all the time it rained.
We moored for the night at Stow Hill opposite the boatyard. Guy and I were under the impression that we were all eating in Narrowboat Public House, unfortunately Mike, Ashley and Krystyna had planned to eat onboard, the result being that 3 of us went to the pub and had a very nice meal with the other three coming up a little later for a swift drink at the pub before finishing the evening on Harnser.
Wednesday saw the weather improve and we set off as planned at 9-30. At High House Wharf Mike gave a long blast on the horn before nosing into the blind only to find a boat coming the other way, causing Mike to do a rapid stop and reverse back. If only the other chap had sounded his horn in reply it would have saved a lot of effort. We carried on to Gayton Junction where we made use of the facilities to top up with water, dump rubbish etc., we then pushed on to Stoke Bruerne to find a 140 ft of free mooring just at the entrance to Blisworth Tunnel where we mooredHarnser and Draco to the bank with Thorn hanging on the outside. This was all wrapped up by about 3 o'clock. A wander down to the locks showed that Arun, Lexa, Sefton and Harvest Moon were all moored but with no one on board.
Later in the afternoon Terry from Arun came along for a chat and we invited him to stay for a meal, then we all went to the pub for the carol singing getting back to the boat around midnight.
Merry Christmas everyone, we had bit of a lay in as there were no plans to go anywhere today and Diana and I had our turkey about 2-30. After lunch John from the narrowboat Black Pig arrived and moored to the outside of Draco. He had made the journey from Braunston in the day and appeared out of the tunnel looking for somewhere to moor just as the last of the daylight was going and I was inviting Mike and Krystyna round for Christmas Cake and drinks.
Boxing Day was bit of a dead day, the weather was drizzly all day , I woke up with a cold and I think the main thing of the day was walking down to the locks , up through the village and returning over the tunnel to the boat.
Saturday we set off to a lovely morning at about 9-30. Diana took the helm and turned the boat round before taking us through the tunnel. In the tunnel I noticed some distance markers that I hadn't seen before, I think these? must be 100 yards from north end markings? It wasn't long before it started raining and was not the most pleasant journey to Weedon. Thorn and Arun were all ready there and Draco followed us in, a little later Sefton, Black Pig, Lexa and Shepard's Moon arrived and we all migrated to the pub about 7 o'clock. unfortunately the didn't have any proper beer on. In the end there were 23 of us having a meal together.
Sunday morning was cold and breezy with a touch of frost about. We set off about 10 in pairs, us and the Black Pig followed by Thorn and Draco. Black Pig arrived at the bottom of the Buckby flight first and started setting the lock, before we could catch them up a boat came out of Wilton marina between us. Julian explained we were travelling together and they kindly waved us passed, as we entered the lock Draco and Thorn came into sight which meant the boat who let me passed joined up with Draco and Thorn followed alone. The lock pounds were terribly low and I was hard aground at one point. I called BW we didn't see anyone but I understand a chap did turn up and let water down just as Thorn was nearing the end of the flight. As Draco draws a good 10" more than me we knew he would have a lot of trouble so we let some water down every time we went through a lock. Half way up we caught up with Arun and they had left over 2 hours be us. When we reached the top of the flight we decided to leave the others and turn right up the Leicester arm with a view to going to Welford and back. We moored for the night in Crick almost opposite Crick Marina.
Now we are cruising alone again we are drifting back to our normal getting up and starting time. Today we left at 11 o'clock in bright sunshine, little wind and cold. The canal had ice in one or two places, the thickest being by Clack Hill, Crick where it was about a quarter of an inch. he weather stayed clear and bright but seamed to get colder as the day went on. We saw several boats on the move, the last one being down the Welford Arm. We winded and moored at the end of the arm as close to the pub as possible, at least we are pointing the right way if the cut freezes over tonight We were hoping to eat there but they have closed the kitchen for a week to give the staff time off so it was a cold buffet onboard.
Tuesday had a slight covering of the white stuff and we set off at about 10-30 a bit later than we intended and due to this we only arrived at Watford locks minutes before they closed the locks for the night. It was a miserable sort of day, not to cold but the sun never got through. The canal was incredibly busy for the time of year and we saw 10 other boats on the move before we moored for the night just before Braunston Tunnel at 5 o'clock in the dark. We ate onboard again, finishing the turkey. It started hot roast on Christmas day, been eaten cold, the bones boiled up for soup and finally served heated in black been sauce with rice.
Wednesday was bright and cold with the canal covered by a very thin sheet of ice. We made a late start and while I drove the boat through the tunnel Diana walked over the top to meet me at the Braunston end. We worked down the Braunston flight meeting a couple of boats coming up and moored up against Pat and Sheila's boat Fair fa as there were no bankside moorings available in the village. We cobbled our food together and ate onboard Fair fa were we discussed the nights events. The Braunston Mafia had hired the conference room at the Marina for the night an as two people had dropped out we were invited along. It was the kind of do where everyone takes some food to go on a communal table and you take your own drinks along. This turned out to be a very pleasant evening with about 10 other couples most of whom we had met before. We returned to the boat just before 2 am in the rain which continued most of the night.
Thursday morning and the water tank indicated empty so we felt it prudent to move off to the water point to replenish the stocks before having a shower, we then stopped of at Ivor's to fill the diesel tank with 133 Lt. of diesel at 30p Lt. before heading homewards. As we were in no hurry we decided to stop at the Napton Bridge for an evening meal only to find they were closed on New Years Day so Diana cooked and we ate on board.
Next morning we set off and had a good run up the locks to our home mooring. It took best part of half a day to get the boat ready to leave for the coldest months of the winter which are bound to be just round the next bend.