Thursday, May 05, 2016

Back on the broad locks.

Since leaving Wigan on the Leeds and Liverpool we’ve only had narrow locks to deal with. Quicker to fill and empty I much prefer them to the broad and long chambers of the Grand Union Canal. But that’s all we have ahead of us now as we take the watery highway to Brentford and the River Thames. There’s quite a few of them, too. We’ve made a start…

We left our overnight mooring up near Willoughby Wharf on Tuesday, down the last bit of the North Oxford Canal to Braunston Turn.

The flat plain of the Northamptonshire/South Warwickshire area makes for fine grazing, but medieval ridge and furrow patterns in the fields indicate that agriculture has also been important here.

Ridge and furrow on the land, noughts and crosses in the sky!IMG_9600
Bank erosion has significantly widened the canal along here, but it’s very shallow on the offside. A trap that has caught many an unwary boater!

The corbelled spire of All Saints, Braunston has been a boaters landmark for as long as the canals have been around.

The village of Braunston sits on a ridge aligned roughly east/west, with the church and a sail-less windmill on the western end.


We stopped behind Chas and Anne on Moore to Life to fill with water near the junction, then chugged around the corner mooring up opposite the Boathouse pub.

Tanked up, heading for a mooring

The twin Horsley Iron Works bridges that span the arms of the triangular junction at Braunston Turn are a distinguishing feature of this section of the Grand Union Canal



This junction didn’t exist before the 1820s, the North Oxford swung to the east into here, then south through what is now part of Braunston Marina, before following a convoluted course and joining the current route south east of Bridge 98, a mile away.
Braunston Turn
Background mapping from Paul Balmer, Waterway Routes. The dotted red line is the approximate line of the old route.

IMG_9617The old route now terminates in a dry dock in Braunston Marina

When the Grand Junction Canal reached here on it’s way from London to Birmingham the old line was abandoned and the new junction and length of canal constructed. The remaining stretch of the Oxford to Napton Junction was also widened and deepened as part of what was to become the Grand Union Canal. South of Napton the South Oxford Canal remains much as it was laid out by James Brindley. So it winds and loops around, following a level course as much as possible. There was no reason to apply the improvements seen on the North Oxford to speed up traffic; the South Oxford was largely redundant as a major commercial artery with the completion of the through route using the Grand Junction , Warwick and Napton and Warwick and Birmingham Canals. These, and several arms and branch canals were amalgamated to form the Grand Union Canal in 1929.

We only stayed in Braunston the one night, time enough to top up the larders and get a few bits and pieces from the chandlerys.

Boatyards and a chandlery below Braunston Bottom LockIMG_9619

On the right, just below the lock, is a pump house that used to house a Boulton and Watt steam engine, used to pump water back up the locks. The Grand Junction used this method of re-using canal water in several places along it’s length. The alternative was costly reservoirs.

Up Braunston Locks

Top Lock, Lock 6
Moore to Life had gone up ahead of us, sharing with another boat.

Braunston Tunnel is soon after the top lock, and turned out to be a repeat of my fraught trip through Harecastle a couple of weeks ago. I though I’d fixed the very dim tunnel light, but I was wrong! It was a struggle to see where the fore-end was, and a boat coming the other way made we swing too close to the right side wall. A bent chimney cowl and a scrape in  the paint on the handrail was the result. The cowl was easy to sort, the paint damage will take a little longer…

The canal emerges from the tunnel in a gloomy cutting, but it soon gives way to open countryside.IMG_9632

Norton Junction is where the Grand Union turns to the south and the Leicester Line heads off to the right, north. It takes you up through Leicester and Loughborough, then joins the Trent near Nottingham, using the navigable River Soar.IMG_9633

The pretty Toll House at the junction

We were lucky enough to get moored all together above Buckby Locks. Just as well, Sue and Vic were expecting a couple of deliveries here, then we all gathered on No Problem to celebrate Sue’s birthday. IMG_9638
This morning it was time to part company with Chas and Anne. They’re turning around to head a ways up the Leicester Line, but not before they helped us down the first couple of locks of the Buckby Flight.
We had a going-away present from them. Our old England flag was looking a bit worse for wear. No, that’s not true. It was almost non-existent. So they’d kindly bought us a new one!
The old one is to the right, I think we had our money’s worth!

Buckby Top Lock

Another short day, we stopped below the second lock! We’ll be here for a day, moving on on Saturday.

Locks 8, miles 4½ since last post.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Hanging out with friends

We’ve had a quiet few days, although the canal hasn’t been! Lots of boats about.

The most important event has been Sue and Vic putting No Problem up for sale. With the build of their new wide beam No Problem XL continuing apace and the completion date looming closer it’s time to find a new owner for this much-loved boat. The advert, with all the specs., is found here. Well worth a look if you’re in the market for a family-sized boat.

Our bird feeders have been well patronised, blue, great and long-tailed tits in the main, with the odd robin and chaffinch thrown in for variety.IMG_9565





The dogs enjoyed pack walks around the fields to the west.IMG_9563

It’s all going to change soon, though. Planning permission has been granted for the construction of a 550-berth marina in the area south of Onley Prison.

Barby Pools Marina
Barby Pools Marina

Although extensive, the development is intending to be environmentally responsible, with plenty of wildlife areas. Conservation has already started, with attempts to capture and re-home the local newt population in hand before the earth-movers arrive.IMG_9573


No-one newt home
I’m assuming that Mr. (or Mrs.) newt would be delighted to jump into a plastic bucket containing a stick, a bit of grass and a square of polystyrene foam. Although considering that they all seem to be empty… maybe not!

All this area will be boats by 2020.

I think that avoiding this stretch of the North Oxford at Bank Holidays will be a good move…

IMG_9571Yesterday we had a surprise but short visit by Sue and Richard on NB Indigo Dream.

Their passion is looking after retired greyhounds, and they were accompanied by four of these lovely but often abused dogs. Olly, Archie, Henry and one other who’s name escapes me are just four of the many that Sue and Richard have rescued and looked after over the last few years. The charity they support is here.

Today, before the rain started, we all moved down a ways to near Willoughby Wharf. Car parking is available on the bridge here, and we were expecting Ness, late of NB Balmaha, for the afternoon. Boatless since the sale of Balmaha she nevertheless likes to keep in touch. We all gathered on No Problem for tea and cakes and a good catch-up.

Tomorrow, now the chaos of a Bank Holiday weekend has subsided, we’ll head into Braunston to top up the cupboards. Then Wednesday we’ll be heading south down the Grand Union Canal.

Double-header. Sue’s Penny (left) and Meg come to visit.IMG_9592
They won’t come in unless invited…

Hi KevinToo. Yeah, feast and famine this year so far! The wine cellar and dog food cupboard are looking a bit depleted…

Locks 0, miles 1¼

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Gathering of the clans

We left the top of Hillmorton Locks Wednesday morning, heading for the length of piling near Onley, the other side of the long Barby Straight. We had a short stop at Hillmorton Wharf on the way. As part of the package when I bought the new loo off ebay back in February I also got a Separett Ejektortank.
This 50 litre tank takes the liquid element from the separating loo and automatically mixes it with water for use as an organic fertiliser. No use to me; we’d have to tow it along behind the boat! I’d exchanged emails with Richard at the Canal Shop at Hillmorton Wharf, and he’d agreed to take it off our hands as he stocks the Separett line. Basically we swapped the new/old stock tank for half a tank of diesel! Suited both parties! Now I don’t have to keep moving the thing about all the while…

The Canal Shop at Hillmorton Wharf has a well-stocked chandleryIMG_9538

The Barby Straight is…

There are offside moorings along the northern half of the straight, with individual, private plots of land. The one furthest south is for sale, a 90’ frontage and running about 50’ back from the canal. A nice spot if you want a base, and have got around £90k under the mattress!

Gathering clouds over Barby Marina…

…and Barby Hill

Moored between Bridges 80 and 81

It’s quiet here at the moment, but then Dave and Lisa, NB What a Lark arrived, soon followed by NB No Problem, with Sue and Vic and the pooches. They’d all had to put up with the afternoon wintry showers which we avoided by stopping by lunchtime. So tea and cake (and bonios) were consumed while we all caught up with the news. Later on on Thursday morning the “Larks” left, seen off the premises by Meg…
…then Chas and Ann turned up, on their new boat Moore to Life. Another round of tea and cakes and chat then, in the afternoon.

The weather has been somewhat mixed if predictable. Cold, frosty nights, sunny mornings and showers in the afternoon. Today has been no exception, only that the showers have been a little later. We’ve got a thundery hail-storm going on at the moment…IMG_9558

Chatting with Les (NB Valerie) earlier in the week rekindled my interest in the original Brindley-surveyed line of the North Oxford Canal.
Rooting through old maps and documents online allowed me to identify all the old loops and twists, at least I think  have. I spent several hours plotting them on Paul Balmer’s excellent canal maps, then emailed the man himself to check that publishing them would be OK. He came back with the information that publishing is fine, but why did I go to the trouble when the latest version of the maps already includes the old route! I had a copy of the latest revision but hadn’t got around to to installing it, so I was working on a earlier one sans loops. Doh!
Brinklow to Clifton –my version..
Ox 3

…and Paul’s!
Pauls Map
The loops on Paul’s are shown as a double-dotted line, you’ll have to click to enlarge. But you’ll see that they correspond, well, mostly!
Mine isn’t as accurate, he actually went and checked the route on the ground where possible, whilst I relied on old maps and documents.

Locks 0, miles 3¼ (Wedensday)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A stop-start day.

It was very close to zero this morning, cold enough to give us a good frost, anyway. The sun was out, but there was a chilly wind blowing down the canal as we set off.

Leaving the moorings near All Oaks Wood…

…and through the wood itself.


An untouched section of the original contour canal winds it way past HunderfieldIMG_9495

Brinklow Marina uses one of the redundant loops as an entrance, spanned by a fine cast iron bridgeIMG_9496

Along here the new, straighter line of the canal cuts through the loops of the old like the line through a dollar sign!

We made our first stop at the small boatyard just before Newbold Tunnel. While this weather continues I though we’d better get another couple of bags of solid fuel.

Newbold Tunnel is a part of the improved navigation. IMG_9504
Double width to allow boats to pass and with a towpath on either side, coloured lights were installed in 2005. But with no provision for maintenance one by one they flickered and died, now they’re all dark.
Here’s how it looked when they were first installed…

We stopped for water just beyond the tunnel, then pressed on into the fringes of Rugby.

The Barley Mow, next to the water point, offers a good range of services, not all beer related!

Rugby Wharf is off on an arm to the right, followed by a pair of aqueducts.IMG_9507

The first crosses a road, the second the River Swift. These twin valleys caused Mr Brindley some thought as he surveyed the route. His solution was to divert the navigation in an extended, inverted U to the north until they were shallow and narrow enough to be comfortably crossed.
I’m not sure why he was uncomfortable building aqueducts here; in 1761 he’d successfully thrown a stone aqueduct over the river Irwell, carrying the Bridgewater Canal, much to the amazement of the local population!
Irwell Aqueduct

Our third stop was at Masters Bridge for a visit to the adjacent Tesco and a bite to eat.

They’ve moved the water tap, from the other side of the bridge, to the park moorings.IMG_9512

We paused for a 5 minute chat with Mike and Mags, NB Rose of Arden, who are waiting to take the boat into the dock at Hillmorton Locks for a repaint, then continued on, leaving the built up area at Clifton Cruisers base at Bridge 66.

The Rose of Arden crew

Another redundant stretch of canal is used as moorings at Clifton CruisersIMG_9514


We were being followed by some rather dark clouds by this time. Up to now we remained dry, we just had a brief flurry of snow at lunchtime. But our luck ran out…
I think that’s more than we’ve seen all winter! It didn’t last though, soon blowing over on the brisk north-westerly.

We had to put up with another, wetter shower before we reached the bottom of Hillmorton Locks, but it had cleared again by the time we started up.

Hillmorton Locks, with a volunteer just about to knock off when he saw us comingIMG_9528

The Oxford Canal workshops, dry docks and offices were up this arm. IMG_9529
The facilities are still in use for boat maintenance.

Mags in Lock 5
For some reason the duplicated locks each have a number, so 2 and 3 are side by side, as are 4 and 5 and 6 and 7. The Trent and Mersey Canal adopted a different scheme on their duplicated locks. One number is shared, but the locks are designated offside or nearside to the towpath.
The metal construction between the chambers controls a sluice between them. It allows the locks to act as side ponds for each other, potentially saving water. Not in use now, though. Much too confusing for us simple-minded boaters!

Mags heading for the top lock, and there’s another shower coming!IMG_9534 
We managed to outrun it though, up and out, through Bridge 72 and tied up before it reached us.

That’s the last of the narrow locks we’ll encounter for some time. Our route now takes us south, using the Grand Union Canal. All broad locks on that canal, but we’re planning on having locking partners…

Locks 3, miles 7¾