Thursday, November 06, 2014

Chance meetings…

I didn’t get to post last night; we had guests for a while, then there were a couple of items I wanted to watch on the box.

So, yesterday. It had been a cold night, but it was bright and sunny as we set off through All Oaks Wood.
IMG_2227The Oxford Canal was one of the earlier generation and the construction method was that pioneered by the great Mr James Brindley.
His solution when meeting hills and valleys, was, as much as practical, to go around them. The Oxford, as built, stuck stubbornly to the 300 foot contour from Hawkesbury to Hillmorton, where three close together locks raised the navigation 18½ feet.
Clinging to the same level meant that the canal twisted and turned through the topography, describing some long loops, particularly around the confluence of the rivers Swift and Avon near Rugby. This was fine for a start, although a pain for the boatmen on the tight turns. But with the introduction of the railways competition for cargos became fierce,  the canal became inefficient and something had to be done.
Thomas Telford was commissioned to re-survey the route and suggest improvements which went ahead in the 1820’s. Telford’s survey involved the “modern” technique of “cut and fill”. Instead of going around rising ground the canal went straight through, and the removed spoil used to build embankments across the valleys.This left several isolated loops of the old route, most of which are long gone. It also meant that a whopping 14 miles, over a third, of the original line was bypassed. In boat terms that’s 5 hours, a massive benefit.

The scheme was successful, the North Oxford Canal was showing an operational profit right up until Nationalisation.

Near Cathiron an old loop is occupied by Brinklow Marina at one end…IMG_2229


…and Lime Farm Marina at the other.

Another leaves near the current position of Newbold Tunnel, skirts southwards across the Avon, through a tunnel behind Newbold Church then re-emerges beyond the Avon Aqueduct on the current line.

Old loop near Newbold.IMG_2234

Where the towpath had to cross the old line these elegant cast iron bridges were installed, built at Horsley Ironworks in the Black Country.

The new Newbold Tunnel is wide enough for two-way traffic and unusual in having two towpaths, an indication of how busy this route was. 
In 2005, as part of the celebrations for Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light, lamps were installed on the offside, creating a tunnel of light.
Paid for by British Waterways and the local council, unfortunately no provision was made for maintenance and all but one forlorn light have now failed.IMG_2242

After passing under a couple of road bridges, there’s another Horsley bridge carrying the towpath over the short stretch to Rugby Wharf, home of the Willow Wren hire fleet.IMG_2247 You know what I’m going to say next…
This was the return of the Newbold loop, and crossed over here, as indicated by the widening of the channel. It headed north for a mile, almost to the village of Cosford, before crossing the Swift and returning, rejoining the current line just west of Masters Bridge.IMG_2252

In between the exit and return of this loop, the canal crosses two aqueducts, one over a minor road and the other over the River Swift,

Swift Aqueduct


It’s this valley that caused the 2¼ mile detour to the north. Obviously Brindley wasn’t confident enough to build an aqueduct across here. I‘m surprised though. He’d successfully completed the Bridgwater Canal’s stone Barton Aqueduct over the River Irwell ten years earlier. Maybe it was financial constraints… It’s always about the money!

There’s popular moorings at Masters Bridge, handy for shopping and there we passed NB Muleless moored on the park side. Gave a toot but no-one was home.

Gary and Della’s MulelessIMG_2253 

Just over a mile saw us past Clifton Cruisers (a bit congested) and moored up overlooking the golf course.
A little later we were surprised to see Muleless passing, after all they were facing the other way in Brownsover! Anyway, they pulled in in front of us and joined as for a pre-prandial drink or two. We’ve met before, but only briefly. Now we’ve had a proper natter.

This morning, after our first proper frost, we set off in bright sunshine once again. We beat Gary and Della…

We had about half an hour before reaching the bottom of Hillmorton Locks. Bridge 68, Kent Road Bridge, has “muriels” on both sides. The boat-themed one on the offside is fine…

…but the Rugby one on the towpath side has suffered from the ministrations of the spray-can wielding oiks.IMG_2260

Hillmorton Bottom Lock(s)IMG_2262

These narrow locks are duplicated, another of the 1820’s improvements.

Unusual paddle gear

Coming up HillmortonIMG_2264

A boat was coming out of the nearside middle lock, so we motored straight in. It was here that we met our aspiring lock keeper, Alfie. He helped us up both the remaining locks, pushing on the beams and winding paddles.

Alfie at the top lock. Thanks, mate.IMG_2265

There were several boats moored above the locks, outside of one a familiar figure was gesticulating madly. It was Tony and NB Timewarp. We had to pull in for a catch up; it’s been nearly six months since we’ve seen them! We were there for nearly an hour, putting the world to rights, before shoving off. In between times Gary and Della had gone past.

Jacqui on Timewarp
They make and sell tillerpins, you know… No chance of a picture of Tony, he always hides when he sees a camera. I think he’s on the run…

Someone’s been busy with a grappling hook under Wharf BridgeIMG_2270
I hope the scrap man collects them soon else they’ll finish up in the cut again!

The fine lines of the butty Lincoln would have made her easier to tow.IMG_2271

The land becomes flat after Hillmorton, Telford only had to bypass two small loops to create Barby Straight. There’s a length of private linear moorings along here…IMG_2274

…ending at the entrance to the recently opened Barby Moorings.IMG_2275

It was a bit windswept across there; the bright morning had deteriorated. Grey clouds had rolled in on the back of a rising wind. It was getting decidedly chilly.

The straight ends at the base of Barby Hill where the canal starts to wiggle a bit as it passes under a succession of accommodation bridges. This stretch is popular for mooring, we pulled in just past Bridge 80 behind Muleless.

I‘ve just noticed, looking at the OS map, that the top of Hillmorton Locks is less than four miles from Crick Wharf over on the Leicester Line. 100 feet difference in elevation, though.

Hi Lesley. The box contained all the stuff they'd forgotten, not just the doughnuts! Don't give her ideas...

Over the two days, Locks 3, miles 11.


Malcolm said...

Hi Geoff,
Missed your return through Foxton, I wasn't on duty. Missed you passing through Barby too, I was away for a few days. I'll keep an eye on your progress and hope to catch up with you again soon. Malcolm

Angela Marsay said...

HI Geoff, Mags and Meg the DOg, I understand my son Alfie has had a fabulous amount of fun with you guys down at Hillmorton Locks today. Thank you so much for the kindness you showed him and allowing him to join in. experiences like this are important for children. He will love seeing his photo and having his name mentioned on here! Thanks again Alfie's mom Angela

Marilyn McDonald said...

Hi Geoff and Mags, Lovely to read of your cruising in recent posts - in particular because it's the last bit we did before putting the boat into Barby Moorings for winter breasting up while we are back in NZ to fulfill the 'being here for 6 months' requirement of the NZ pension. I hope we see you when we are back next year - we will keep an eye out. Look for us too on nb Waka Huia. Cheers, Marilyn and David