Friday 28 September 2006 and we arrived at the boat on Friday afternoon about 4 pm. No sooner were we onboard and it started to rain quite hard, it was 5-30 before we could move the boat down to the lock and unload the car and as it was a bit cool I light the stove, this also meant that Diana could cook our evening meal. As we reversed back from the lock a lady in a bonnet walked up, saw us about 100 yards up from the lock and raised the top paddles, she didn't realise that we were going backwards and I didn't realise that she had walked up from the lock and not down from Marston Doles. As some of you may have guessed by now it was Elaine Scott, "The Lavender Boat Lady" anyway I walked down and apologised for mucking her about.
Saturday morning we were up just as the sun was rising and at 8 o'clock headed off by car to Avoncroft Museum to attend the IWA AGM and Branch Officers meeting. The weather stayed fine until just before the meeting ended when we had bright sun and heavy rain giving a spectacular rainbow over the town.
We returned to the boat through the odd shower and decided to set off down the flight heading for The Bridge Inn, Napton to eat as we had not been there for some time. We had a good run down the locks meeting a few boats coming up so we were able to legitimately leave some of the gates open. There were a couple of mooring places by the Folly but still a boat found it necessary to moor in the winding hole. Then it started to rain, thankfully not too heavily. At The Bridge all the visitor moorings were full and we had to go about 4 boat lengths past the end of the piling to moor on pins in what can best be described as a wet sponge. We walked back in the rain to the pub, it was 7-15 and we were told that we could have a table at 8-30 if we cared to wait. As good as their word a few minutes after 8-30 we were shown to our table where we enjoyed good service and good food. Since we visited last the Bridge Inn has changed hands, it is now owned and run by the Gilbert family who are old friends of Carol and Tim who use to run it. I say family, Mother is front of house, dad who worked with Tim in South Africa is the chef, the oldest son also works in the kitchen and the other son is the barman, a real family business.
For a Sunday some of the boats were on the move by 7-30 because of our soft moorings we weren't far behind them. As I was a bit low on diesel we made a quick detour to Calcutt where we took on 210 lt. at 47p per lt. As we approached Braunston in started to rain quite heavily, Diana was steering and because we slowdown passing moored boats, the boat behind was almost on our fender. The strange thing is, when I took over on the back they dropped back quite a bit. Just beyond the Puddle Banks the skies really opened and the visibility fell dramatically. Diana suggested mooring up, but with the umbrella up, the rear doors shut and I was quite dry. I'm sure we would both have got soaked mooring up. The rain continued on and off until well into the afternoon. We moored for the night about 6 o'clock at All Oaks Corner, Brinklow midway between two other boats; one had a fire smoking towards us and the other his engine running. Just after this another boat came by looking for somewhere to moor, so we pulled forward a bit behind the one with the engine running, ironically the boat that pulled in was also a Marquee Narrowboat hull. As the evening progressed the weather deteriorated.
The weather had improved a bit but it was still a bit windy and cool with week sun. We pushed off at 9-30 and made our way to Sutton Stop where there quite a few boats about. Diana made a perfect 180 deg turn onto the Coventry Canal. We carried on passed Charity Dock before turning right into the Ashby Canal at ten past one. We found the Ashby quite easy going and averaged 3 mph for the first 10 miles. By now the day had warmed up nicely and it was a pleasant afternoon. The main thing we noticed since our last visit was the new Trinity complex at Hinckley with a large marina and new pub, but with overnight mooring at £5 per night I don't think we will be stopping for a pint.
As we are not in a great hurry when it started to rain we decided to pull over and moor to a convenient piece of piling just prior to bridge 31 Wooden Top Bridge at 1650 hr.. The rain soon stopped and after tea looking across the canal with my big torch I spotted "Ratty" a water vole nestling just above the water line. I called Diana but by the time she came up "Ratty" had left and in his place sat a big brown rat. Later in the evening we saw several more Voles opposite the boat.
Tuesday morning and 7 AM I got the wet cold nose and rough paw treatment in the left ear as Magic wanted his breakfast, hence we set off at 9 o'clock It was a sunny clear morning but soon turned cool and damp. A short way along the canal we had a vole swim across the canal in front of us. I have been quite surprised how busy this canal is and we have met several boats throughout. We carried on to the present end of navigation where there was just one space left on the 48 hr visitor moorings which we soon filled. We walked to Measham, a brisk 40 minute walking each way. The museum was closed because they were short of volunteers. Next door is the Community Office where they had a display about the canal restoration through the town and we spoke to the project officer about the on going project. We then walked down the High Street to see where the town visitor moorings would be on the line of the old canal just behind the Hardware store that was here in the days of the original canal. We walked back to the boat and after a chat with the occupants of the next boat set off back through Snarestone tunnel to moor for the night at the wharf just below the Globe Hotel and ate there later. This was very good value for money, we had two main courses, two sweets and three pints of Pedigree all for just a few pence over £26 and was all very tasty with good service. I place I would recommend.
Today I had to reset the dog's alarm clock at 6.30 AM. as I had no intention in getting up at that time of the day. By the time we were ready to leave at 10 o'clock several boats had passed in both directions and lots of the boats ahead of us had left. We gave the last boat to leave a good 10 minuets head start before we set off however we soon caught them and spent the rest of the morning following them at 2 MPH until they moored at Market Bosworth visitor moorings. The afternoon saw us traveling at a better rate of knots until we caught up with a Black Prince hire boat just past Trinity Marina. The chap steering was more interested in talking on his mobile phone than driving the boat. He speed up slightly after passing the moored boats steering with his foot and wobbled all over the cut, we must have followed him for well over 1/4 before he suddenly went astern, pulled close to the bank and then shot below, the boat still drifting forward along the bank. As we started to pass he came out and put the boat back in gear to pull away again, I think it was at this point he realised that we were there. He then jumped off with a boat hook, walked to the front of the boat and hooked it by the handrail with his boat hook and acknowledged us passing before getting back to his phone. The boat then drifted out of his grasp so he walked to the stern and hooked that end, still on the phone with the bow in the bushes on the off side he climbed back on board to sort things out. At this point we lost sight of him as we rounded the next bend. From here we carried on to between bridges 3 and 2 and moored for the night and eating on board. After dinner the sky was clear and the moon and stars shone brightly, the wind dropped away to nothing.
We set off about 9 AM. in light rain with the sun trying to break through. We had a good run to Hawksburry Junction swinging into the basin moments before a Black Prince boat left the lock and as there was a boat behind him left the top gate open as we left. As we left the lock a chugger pulled out of the moorings in front of us, I say a chugger, he then preceded to chug at 2 MPH all the way to Streton Stop. The only thing that made it bearable for us was that he didn't slow much when passing moored boats and we did, so we had a short run catching him up again. At Streton Stop he pulled into the visitor moorings and took a rope ashore and his wife went back into the boat and then walked down towards Rose Narrowboats. I thought she had gone shopping so went passed him, but it turned out that she had walked all the way down to open the swing bridge. We didn't see them again. BW has removed some of the obstructions in the cutting but there is still a large float on a tree stump that has slid into he cut. We pulled over at the new marina that is being constructed off one of the old loops, now the area has been cleared you can see the old arm running off beside the new marina and it is still in water and looks in good condition. We carried on in the progressively heavier rain to Hillmorton Locks where a boat was on its way down and two more waiting behind it, this meant the other two were set in our favor but we didn't meet any more boats. As it was such a miserable day we decided to stop for the night right outside the Royal Oak to eat. The pub is now a Hungry Horse eating-house, The Speckled Hen bitter was fine but I wish I hadn't bothered with the cow pie, we didn't even bother to try the sweets. We don't plan to give the place a second try.
This morning was quite bright regardless of the BBC weather forecast and we only had very short showers but they were accompanied by quite strong squalls that made it very unpleasant. There are still just as many boats in the Braunston area not displaying valid licenses, I counted 8 to the end of the puddle banks. As we approached Napton Narrowboats, they had started sending their boats out for the week, which caused very slight congestion. After last night we decided to stop at the Bridge Inn Napton for a decent meal and then continue our journey up the flight in the morning. When we arrived just before 3 there wasn't a single boat moored on the stretch in front of the pub, so we are in the closest spot with the shortest walk and this time we had booked a table. As we sat and eat our Buffalo pie and drank our Black Sheep bitter we could see the harvest moon rise, but it was quickly obliterated by clouds, just peeping out every now and then. Later the skies cleared and we could have easily motored on in the moon light with no need of torches at the locks.
We woke Saturday to the sound of the Black Prince boat behind us running their engine and it wasn't long before boats started passing, but not the BP, I think he just wanted hot water or electricity. We set off about quarter to nine expecting to find a queue at the bottom locks, well the moorings outside the Bridge had been full last night and several boats passed well after 6 PM. so I expect they moored at the Folly. However when we arrived at the locks, no boats, only one coming down. We didn't turn a single lock all the way up and it didn't rain, it was windy and a bit cool, but no rain. We pulled into our mooring and I then set about doing an oil change that was 30 hours overdue.
We set off again back down the flight. The reason being that yesterday we met Ken and Claudia on the flight. The were planning to eat at the Blue Lias with Ian and Ann and thought we might like to join them. All the locks were with us except one. As we arrived at Calcutt top there was already a boat waiting to enter the lock as well one coming up, very handy. The Ownerships boat entered the lock first and we came in alongside them ready for the trip down, then he said to me. "You go out first, we are stopping for a pump out" Bang goes my partner for the next two locks. I asked him how long he had been out to get a full tank. "two days" was his reply. By now we were down and in the first pound where the Calcutt services are situated. A boat at the services shouted to us. "Are you going down, if so can we join you" so we didn't have to do the last locks alone after all. In the second pound down we met Oak and Ash the hotel boats with Martin Reed at the helm. As we left the middle lock a boat was leaving the lower lock and a couple of boats were waiting to come in. One of them was another Ownerships boat with three ladies onboard having a days tuition at boat handling and they were somewhat slow entering the lock as they had to work under instruction and play acting as if sharing with a very short boat. We admired all the excavation works at Calcutt marina and Ventnor Farm Marina. When they have been filled with water they will produce a very good reservoir for Stockton pound and all without costing BW a penny. We stopped for lunch about a mile before Stockton top lock, after we set off we passed one moored boat and there sat Ken and Claudia having their lunch. We arrived at Stockton Top Lock to find yet another Ownerships boat waiting to go down. It was "Black Swan" one of Ownerships newer vessels with only 6 owners. This owner was a bit jarred off as the boat he was waiting fore coming up had set the locks 3 or 4 ahead so he had been waiting well over quarter of an hour for them to clear the flight. Once we started down it went like clock work, leaving each lock by one gate, one crew member closing up behind us and the other setting the lock below, we were down in next to no time. We pulled on to the far end of the Blue Lias moorings and "Black Swan" tucked in behind us. We all congratulated each other on a good afternoons work and went our separate ways. They then entertained us for a while with their automatic satellite dish that sat up, rotated back and forth through 360 degrees a few times and then went back to sleep. It was still doing this when we took the dog for a walk, I think the row of willow trees to the south may have had something to do with the lack of signal. Eventually the other 4 arrived and the 6 of us ate in the pub before going to "Prairie Crocus " for coffee and home made cake.
The plan was to leave early Monday morning but we were a bit late getting up and a boat had already passed and went up the flight before us, turning all the locks. As soon as we set off it started to rain but it only lasted a few minutes and then the sun came out causing things to warm up. We went up the Stockton flight alone with everything against us, we finally met a boat coming down just through the bridge but even then the top two locks were against us. Just as we were leaving the last from top Phil of BW cycled up and said "leave the gates open, I've got a tug coming down" I said if he had turned up 15 minutes earlier he would have had another 3 open for him. As we turned into the South Oxford it started to rain again and this time quite heavily so we pulled over just before the Folly for lunch. Once the rain stopped we set off again up the Napton flight with most of the locks against us, the boat in front (the same one we came up Calcutt with) back set a lock for us. As the traffic up and down the flight was so light we were able to stop in the top lock and unload the boat into the car without holding anybody up before returning to our moorings