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

Monday, April 25, 2016

On up the Oxford.

We had Jaq and les aboard last night for a drink or two. Les and I spent the evening talking about the original line of the Oxford, while the ladies spoke of other things. I’ve no idea what, but both topics of conversation were so absorbing that it was nearly 11 by the time we called it a day.

We had a bit of a lie-in this morning, it was raining first thing anyway. Les and Jaq got away first, we left shortly afterwards but going in the opposite direction.

As I mentioned, Les and I were talking about the old line of the canal last night. The Oxford was completed in 1778, planned and surveyed by the redoubtable James Brindley. As with his previous projects, the 91 mile long navigation was laid out as a contour canal, avoiding the construction of cuttings and embankments. Unfortunately this meant that the canal wove a devious route across the countryside. But this method of construction was outdated, the modern technique of cut and fill used successfully further south provided a much faster, more direct route from source to destination.
By the 1820s, with competition from alternative routes, the winding route of the Oxford was a severe handicap to trade so the canal company decided to re-survey the route and offer improvements. The survey recommended massive changes, chopping through the loops and bends of Brindley’s line and reducing the distance from Hawkesbury to Braunston by a third.

After nearly 200 years a lot of the old route has been lost, but the evidence is there if you know where to look…

Just up from where we’d moored was a loop that swung out to the south, returning to the current route after half a mile.

Leaving just beyond the entrance to the Coventry Cruising Club moorings on an old colliery arm…

…it returned just to the south of Stone Bridge.
Unusually this redundant loop didn’t fall into disrepair immediately. It serviced the Craven, Alexandria and Old Main Collieries so was kept open while the pits were still working.

Sometimes the old loops are almost undiscernible…

…at other times a cast iron bridge carrying the towpath marks their position.IMG_9486     
Sunshine and showers were the order of the day, and the breeze steadily increased, gusty across the exposed embankments.

The canal line remained unchanged through the village of Ansty, but to the south and east it runs on a long embankment then into a deep cutting through Nettle Hill.

The M6 crossing the cutting near Nettle Hill

There’s a short section of the “old cut”, with a line of permanent moorings on the offside, alongside Colehurst Farm, then the new line is encountered again as the canal approaches Stretton Stop.

Approaching Stretton Stop
Stretton is home to Rose Narrowboats, with a hire fleet, moorings and good workshops. There’s also a little swing footbridge across the canal to deal with.

We’d planned to moor in a popular spot, near All Oaks Wood, but it looked a bit busy as we approached…
There were gaps, though, and we pulled into one of these. Not without a struggle, mind. One of the heaviest showers of the day was on it’s way preceded by a squally wind. It was a struggle to pull the boat in against it, but we got there in the end.

On through Rugby tomorrow, with a stop to top up the larder.

Locks 0, miles 6¾

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A truncated trip…

Yesterday was bright and a little breezy, quite pleasant in the sun. Meg and I had a walk around Hawkesbury Junction before we set off…

Panoramic shot of Hawkesbury Junction
To the left is the lock-keeper’s house, occupied for a long time by the Sutton family, with a boat in the stop-lock just in front.
Just right of centre is the Greyhound Inn, recently granted Canal Boat magazine’s Pub of the Year Award. At the end of the junction bridge is the Toll Office, where boats were charged according to their cargo as they moved from one navigation to the other.
Heading away is the Coventry Canal down to the city, 5½ miles away, and the North Oxford commences at the stop lock, after a sharp turn under the bridge in front of the pub. There is only 10” inches of difference between the levels of the two canals. The background to why the junction is a bit odd can be found here.

The above composite photo was taken from taken from the footbridge near the old engine house, seen here.
The engine house sheltered first one, then two steam driven beam pumps, lifting water into the canal from shafts sunk down to the water table. The first pump engine had already seen a century of use in a local colliery before being moved here in 1821. That’s recycling!
By 1837 the old pump’s capacity proved inadequate and a newer, more power engine, drawing from a deeper shaft, was installed alongside. Both became redundant in 1913, when the sinking of a new shaft at Coventry Colliery upset the level of the local water table. The later engine was scrapped in the 1940’s, but the earlier Newcomen Atmosphere Engine languished in the engine house until 1963, when it was removed, restored and now takes pride of place in a museum in Dartmouth, birthplace of it’s inventor Thomas Newcomen. 

We toddled off at around 10:00, up to the junction then under the bridge and around the 180° bend to the stop lock. Easily completed in one with a boat of this length, but it must have been interesting with a full length motor and butty!

Outside the stop lock

The fine cast iron bridge spanning the junction
The development opposite is on the site of the busy Sephton’s boatyard.

Minimal difference in level in the stop lock

Out of the lock and now the North Oxford Canal, the navigation follows a wide loop around the former site of Longford Power Station. The only reminders are a great pile of rubble, pylons and more recently installed electrical sub-stations.IMG_9459 


Ooh, voles!

Under Tusses Bridge (the Elephant and Castle pub has closed, by the way) there’s a strip of land alongside the canal which contains some interesting motoring history.

An early Volvo P1800, the model made famous by Roger Moore’s The Saint series on TV in the 1960’s
The earlier cars were built under licence by Jensen in West Bromwich, and this appears to be one of those.

A VW Beetle, less wings, and what may be a Dutton?IMG_9464 

And a trailer made from the rear end of a Ford Zodiac Mk III!IMG_9465

Our day’s trip ended just around the corner. We were cruising past a green boat when suddenly there was a commotion from inside, excited shouting and banging on the windows. It turns out we were passing Les and Jaq’s NB Valerie. We were looking out for each other, as we knew that we were on opposing courses, but I hadn’t expected to see them this far up the Oxford yet.
So we pulled in and spent a very pleasant afternoon chatting and swapping anecdotes. We’d not met before, but have several mutual friends.

We decided not to carry on today. I wanted to watch the London Marathon, and also to wash and polish the right side of the boat.
Hah, talking of marathons… Just over 12 months ago I did my first (and probably last) 26.2 miler. Or at least  thought I did. It turns out that the organisers of the Greater Manchester Marathon in 2013, ‘14 and ‘15 made a cock-up with the tape measure and the course was actually 380m short! So the run was only 25.96 miles! Does this mean I‘ll have to do it all again…?

Hi Adam. Yes, the side pond beside Lock 6 at Atherstone is in use, but not for us mere mortals!

Locks 1, miles 1½