Monday, 31 December 2007

Christmas Cruise - Day Five

Wednesday 26 December, Boxing Day

An earlier start today, slipping away from our moorings at 8.15, before the sun was fully up even. It was a beautiful clear morning, which turned into a lovely sunny day.

Once we got to the top of the locks at Marston Doles, we started meeting boats coming up. First was Crofton, currently an OwnerShips boat although it's being sold out of the scheme (cruiser stern, reverse layout, built 2002, £55,000 if you're interested). Then came Ten Bob Note, with just time for a quick chat with Rhonda on the tow path, and a yelled hello to Ernie, who was steering.

We stopped for water at the bottom of the flight. The first tap was incredibly slow, so we swapped to the other one which had much better pressure. Then we moved on a bit before stopping for a lunch of leftovers, before heading back to Napton Junction, Calcutt Locks, and Stockton Top Marina. We'd have loved to have stayed on board longer, but work was calling the next day.

11 miles, 12 locks. (40,42)

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Christmas Cruise - Day Four

Tuesday 25 December, Christmas Day

Not a white Christmas, but a wet one. It had rained all night, and was still raining when we slipped away from our mooring at about 9am. We were soon starting our ascent of the day's locks, including picking our way through the boats moored above Broadmoor Lock.

By the time we'd reached the top of the Claydon Locks, at about 11am, the rain had stopped. There was plenty of water flowing into the canal from all the feeders. At the Fenny Compton "tunnel", the water coming down one feeder was leaving a rather unpleasant looking scum on top of the water.

We carried on moving until we reached our chosen mooring (identified on the outward journey), between Bridges 130 and 129. When we passed here in the summer, it was completely full. Today, there was just one other boat, belonging to the canal artist Jane Selkirk. As the day wore on, two more boats joined us.

It was about 2pm when we stopped, so we cracked open the champagne, started cooking the turkey, and opened our presents. It was a bit of a struggle fitting everything in the oven, and the roast potatoes seemed to take longer than expected, but it was a great Christmas dinner, eaten to a spectacular sunset.

9 miles, 8 locks. (29, 30)

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Christmas Cruise - Part Three

Monday 24 December, Christmas Eve

We'd planned a relaxed start to the day, as our aims were very unambitious. We wanted to spend Christmas Eve in Cropredy, which was only a couple of hours away at most. We had considered going to Banbury before turning, but the very short days meant there wasn't really enough time. Even so, we were away from our moorings by 9.30.

The temperature had risen over night, and all the ice had melted. We'd soon dropped down the four locks, and were turning at the winding hole at Cropredy Wharf. We had to wait a few minutes for another boat to fill up with water, before we moved onto the water point.

While the tank was filling, I popped over the the Bridge Stores, to see if they had any coal. They did, although not the usual 25kg bags of Taybrite or Pureheat. The 10kg bags of smokeless fuel from what appeared to be a local coal merchant were also more expensive than usual. But, once we were using it, it seemed like good stuff, seeming to burn much more slowly than either of the more common brands.

Once the tank was full, we went back up Cropredy Lock, and moored just above it.

We were moored up by 12.30, and paid another visit to the shop for some provisions before lunch. Then in the afternoon, we went for a walk around the village and southwards along the canal. The village sign is surprisingly new, and was apparently put up to commemmorate two events which were two years apart, the millennium and the Queen's golden jubilee.

In the evening, we had a good meal at the Red Lion, before going to sleep to the sound of the church bells, which started ringing a good 45 minutes before the 11pm service.

2 miles, 5 locks (20, 22)

Friday, 28 December 2007

Christmas Cruise - Day Two

Sunday 23 December

We woke to a heavy frost and a frozen canal.

We were underway just after 9am, once we'd managed to break enough ice to get away from the bank. For the first hour or so we were ice-breaking. It wasn't very think, but pushing a way through makes a lot of noise, and it made getting round some of the Oxford Canal's notoriously tight bends quite difficult. Later, we were able to follow the tracks of another boat which had already done the hard work. As the morning wore on, the mist lifted, the sun came out, and it was a beautiful day.

Then at Fenny Compton the weather changed. As we went through the narrows, we found ourselves in fog and the temperature dropped. We passed a couple of other boats, including one with a helmsman dressed in shorts! We stopped for lunch just above the Claydon flight, and while we were stationary the sun burned away the fog. In the afternoon, we tackled the locks. There was still frost on the balance beams, and ice on the ground.

We moored for the night on the straight section below the locks. It wasn't yet half past three, but the light was soon fading. We watched a DVD, and ate on board.

12 miles, 5 locks. (18, 17)

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Christmas Cruise - Day One

Saturday 22 December

I left home at 7am, and arrived at Stockton Top marina a couple of hours later after a trouble-free drive. The first thing I did once on board Debdale was light the fire, as the boat had been unused for a couple of weeks. Then I unloaded the car and unpacked. Next was a trip to Rugby Station, to pick up Adrian who'd stayed overnight in London after a work Christmas party.

We finally left the marina at 11.45, and were surprised to see quite a few boats coming the other way. It was a cold, fairly dull day, but still as we went up Calcutt Locks.

At Napton Junction, we turned right onto the Oxford Canal, and were soon going up the locks. At the third one, we got something round the prop, so once the lock was full we stayed in the chamber to investigate, and found a large white nylon sack, which was fortunately easily removed using the boathook. We didn't see another boat through the locks, but there was evidence that someone else had been up before us as a number of the locks had their top gate left open.

We got to the top in a couple of hours and moored for the night. Then we had a move along a bit, in order to get a satellite signal. We wouldn't normally have bothered, but both wanted to see the final of Strictly Come Dancing! We put up our battery powered Christmas lights, to add a festive flavour to the boat, and settled down to what was forecast to be a cold night.

6 miles, 12 locks.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Merry Christmas

One more day of work tomorrow, then we'll be off to spend Christmas on boat Debdale. We plan to head south on the Oxford Canal, and if all goes to plan we'll spend Christmas Eve night at Cropredy. Unfortunately work will interfere again much too soon, as I have an early shift on 27 December. In the mean time, I'd like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

OwnerShips' New Website

OwnerShips has a new website. It vastly better looking than the old one (although it seems to have gone live without absolutely everything working properly!)

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Llamas and pigs

Next to the water point at Fosse Wharf is a field of llamas. The neighbouring pen is home to lots of little black pigs.

But it seems their future is in doubt. A story published in the Leamington Courier reports that the owners are having a battle with the local council over planning permission, not for the animals, but because the humans live on the site.

The llamas and pigs will be there for a while though, because the appeal isn't due to be heard until the end of April next year.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Sump thing understood

I'm grateful to Andrew Denny on Granny Buttons for providing an answer to my query about the name for the low points (topographically speaking) of the canals. It seems that the stretch of canal between two uprising locks is called the "sump pound" -- and it appears that they're few and far between (although the Grand Union has two).

Saturday, 8 December 2007

December Cruise - Part Three

Day Four - Tuesday 4 December

We left our moorings at Cape Locks at 9.30, and made two brief stops in Warwick: one at Kate Boats for a bag of coal, and one at Tesco for a new bucket (to replace one that's leaked the whole time we've had a share in Debdale). In Leamington, we had a huge piece of clear polythene hooked on the rudder. We got it off with the boat hook and kept it on board so it didn't make its way back into the water. But things still didn't seem right, so when we stopped for lunch below Radford Bottom Lock, Adrian had a look down the weed hatch and found a lot more polythene wrapped round the prop. Fortunately it wasn't hard to get off. After lunch, we set off up the locks, sharing just one (and that was with a single handed boater).

At one point, two British Waterways boats were coming towards us. The front one appeared to have no-one steering, and only moved over at the last minute. It turned out to what looked like a floating generator being pushed by a little tug boat, who's steerer couldn't see over the top of it. As it passed, he mouthed an apology. We thought it might have been better if he'd been towing rather than pushing, or let the other boat go in front.

The last locks of the day were the Bascote Locks, including the staircase pair. It's the only staircase on the Grand Union.

We moored for the night just past Bridge 27, as the wind got up, and admired the sunset.

9 miles, 12 locks (21,34)

Day Five - Wednesday 5 December

It had turned into a wild night with strong winds and heavy downpours. But by the time we set off at around 9.30 it had cleared up (although it was still breezy). We went up two locks, then stopped for water at Blue Lias. As we filled up, two Kate Boats came past bound for their base at Warwick, having had their bottoms blacked at Stockton Top. Apparently two more boats were on their way in the opposite direction, and the two crews would swap when they met half way.

The Stockton Locks were done quickly as they were all in our favour. We passed just one boat coming the other way. We'd been asked to moor ourside Stockton Top, ready for a pump out and diesel. The straight edge isn't quite long enough, so the stern was sticking out a bit as we tied up. It was at this point that Adrian fell in. He'd been taking the stern rope back to the boat when I heard a yell and a splash. He wasn't hurt, but the coldness of the water had come as a bit of a shock. A hot shower was in order.

We cleaned the boat, had lunch on board, before packing and heading home (through very heavy rain). The marina was pretty full, despite many OwnerShips boats being at Braunston for their winter maintenance.

2 miles, 10 locks (23, 44)

Friday, 7 December 2007

December Cruise - Part Two: Warwick

Day Three - Monday 3 December continued

It was mid morning when we moored up for the day above the Cape Locks, so we headed into Warwick. We'd heard that the Saltisford Arm was being used for winter moorings, so we walked along the towpath and up the arm, to see how busy it was. It was absolutely full of boats, including three pairs of hotel boats, Duke and Duchess, Oak and Ash, and Dawn and Dusk. In town, we had a good lunch at a cafe called The Tuckery, before heading to Warwick Castle.

At £15.95 each, the entrance fee is somewhat eye watering. But there is plenty to see, including the Great Hall and State Rooms, a depiction of a weekend party from 1898, and the towers and ramparts. The rooms had all been decorated for Christmas.

There was a funfair being built in the courtyard, and the Conservatory and Peacock Garden was closed for the construction of an "ice trail". According to the leaflet this will enable the garden to glide past you, which sounds like quite a feat, even for the Tussauds group!

After our visit to the castle, we returned to the boat via Cape Road. In the evening, we had dinner at the Cape of Good Hope. The food was pretty good, but the staff could have been more welcoming.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

December Cruise - Part One

Day One - Saturday 1 December

We were up early and left home at 7.30, heading for Stockton Top. We arrived a couple of hours later, and found Debdale on the mooring outside the marina (facing in the wrong direction as usual!) We unloaded the car, and set off at 10am bound for the Stockton Locks. We'd decided to go this way as we hadn't done this route for a while, and because of stoppages in other directions. The weather was far better than forecast, with blue skies and wintery sunshine.

As we left the second on the Stockton Locks, we noticed a boat just starting its decent. So we re-set the second lock for them, and waited in the third lock. It turned out to be another OwnerShips boat, Castleber, which is a reverse layout cruiser stern. The only boats we met coming up were two single handers: they were a couple taking a friend's boat to Wigram's Turn to be sold. As the four boats crossed in the short pound, it almost looked like a busy day.

Having reached the bottom of the flight, plus Shop Lock and Itchington Bottom Lock (which are very close but don't seem to be counted as Stockton Locks), we moored up for lunch just past Bridge 26. We also got the fire going, as the boat was pretty cold. In the afternoon, we did the four Bascote locks and moored up for the night just through Bridge 29. We last moored in this lovely quiet spot in a hire boat in May 2006.

4 miles, 14 locks.

Day Two - Sunday 2 December

A lazy start as the weather was awful. We had a lie in listening to the rain pounding on the roof, then had eggs and bacon for breakfast. But the rain cleared earlier than forecast, and we decided to set off at 11am. Almost immediately a shower came over, but it proved to be the only one. The first lock, Welsh Road Lock, looked slightly odd, with the balance beams in under-coat grey.

As time went on, the weather improved, and soon the sun was out. At Wood Lock we met Castleber coming back (partnered with another boat) , and another OwnerShips boat, Sojourn, was waiting to come up. Then it was onto the Fosse Locks. We stopped after the top one to take on water.
The last lock of the day was Radford Bottom Lock, which dropped us onto the Leamington Pound, the lowest point of the canal in these parts. We wondered if there was a name for the low pounds, equivalent to "summit pound", but if there is we couldn't think of it.

The stretch into Leamington Spa was into a very strong head wind. At times, it felt as though we weren't making any progress at all, and the canal appeared to have waves. The moorings before Bridge 40 in Leamington are very scruffy, so we went through the bridge to the slightly nicer looking ones. We had a late lunch on board, then walked into Leamington to have a look round the town and the shops.

4 miles, 6 locks (8, 20)

Day Three - Monday 3 December

A bright, still morning, but quite cold. We set off at 9am through the outskirts of Leamington, and over the River Avon. There's a plan to make the river navigable up to this point, and this is where there would be some sort of connection between it and the Grand Union. The Stratford and Warwick Waterways Trust, which is behind the idea, says it would be done by building some sort of boat lift.

We were soon going through Warwick, and up the Cape Locks. We continued to the junction of the Saltisford Arm (or more accurately, the junction of the Warwick & Napton and Warwick and Birmingham canals), where we winded and retraced our steps to the top of the Cape Locks. We hadn't seen another moving boat all day.

We spent the rest of the day in Warwick, of which more later.

4 miles, 2 locks (12, 22)

Friday, 30 November 2007

December cruise

We'll be back on board Debdale for a few days from tomorrow. The weather forecast doesn't look very good (although the five day forecast is a lot better today than it was this time yesterday), and it doesn't look as though I'll be getting the photogenic frosty mornings I was hoping for.

We're planning to go down the Stockton Locks this time, towards Leamington Spa and Warwick, because we haven't taken Debdale this way before. The last time we were on this part of the Grand Union was in May 2006, on the Leicester Circuit. There are some lovely places to moor. This is Bridge 29 (Splash Bridge, I believe), just below the Bascote Locks. There'll be a full report when we get back.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Wife share?

The Bravenet counter shows me how people came to this blog. Whenever anyone arrives via Google, I look to see what they actually searched for. Occasionally, it has something to do with canals or narrowboats.

Not this evening, however. The search was for "Market Harborough wife share video". The results were not nearly as interesting as they could have been.

Thursday update: And there's another one. Someone was searching for "wife swapping cruises". Obviously by putting the story about Stockton Top on here, I've hit a rich vein of Google searchers!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Sunset times

Here's a useful site, which shows the sun rise and setting times for dozens of places for years to come (and a load of other things too).

I discovered it when I was doing a bit of advance planning for a week we're due on Debdale in March next year. I wanted to know what time it gets dark at that time of year, so I could work out how many hours travelling we could realistically do each day. Here is the chart for Birmingham for March 2008, which shows that by the middle of the month there'll be two hours extra daylight compared to today.

Among the other (possibly less useful) things on this site, is a facility to work out some of the key moments coming up in your life. For example, it tell me that I'll be 20-million minutes old at 11.35 on Wednesday 9 April 2008, and I'll be 2000 weeks old on Tuesday 29 July 2008. make a note in your diary!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Wife Swapping at Stockton Top

This story, which I'm assured is true, was told by OwnerShips' MD Allen Matthews at the owners' meeting, and is also published in the latest OwnerShips magazine. It originally came from one of the firm's local managers, and happened a few years ago. Names of people and boats have been changed to protect the innocent.

Mr and Mrs Smith arrived at Stockton Top at midday although not expected until mid afternoon. They checked in with the manager and found that nb Sofar (launched about a year before) was ready and waiting. However, the Smiths had planned a pub lunch so put their luggage on board before going to The Boat Inn. Being the careful sort of chap he was, Mr Smith read the logs and the end of holiday reports. He also checked the two gas bottles, the diesel tank level, the water tank level, and even checked to his own satisfaction that the toilets had been pumped out. All was well, except that the water was a little low. The local manager told him he could either wait until the top of Calcutt Locks, or use the hose and extension there at the marina. The manager warned Mr Smith the the marina suffered from low water pressure, and filling the tank might take a long time. "Not a problem", said Mr Smith, planning to fill the tank while he had his pub lunch.

While Mr and Mrs Smith were having lunch at The Boat Inn, Mr and Mrs Jones arrived. They were owners on nb Sogood. It just so happened that nb Sogood and nb Sofar were of the most popular layout, and had been launched within a few months of each other. Indeed, they were a little difficult to tell apart, especially when moored stern-on in the marina. The local manager had solved this problem for staff with dynotape stickers of the boat's name above the rev counter. On this particular day, the boats were moored side by side.

Mrs Smith, while enjoying her lunch, was somewhat concerned that the water tank might be full, and told her husband she was returning to the boat to check. She added that she would start unpacking. At the boat, she found the hose still filling so she started to unpack while waiting for Mr Smith to finish his lunch. Very shortly afterwards, Mr Jones noticed water pouring out of the filler of his neighbour's boat. So he removed the pipe from the boat, and used it to top up his own tank. Being a tidy sort of man, he also moved the hose, which had been running over his neighbour's boat, so that it now ran the length of his own roof. Shortly afterwards, Mrs Jones discovered she had a slight catering deficiency, and Mr Jones was dispatched to Southam with a shopping list.

Mr Smith having now finished his meal, returned to his boat. Or rather, he returned to the boat with the hose running along its roof. He turned off the tap, reeled in the pipe, replaced it by the standpipe, and started his holiday. A few minutes later, Mr Jones returned from the supermarket to find his boat missing. A quick search drew a blank, so he went to see the manager, who told him he'd just seen the boat leaving the marina. Mr Jones said his wife would never have taken the boat by herself, so after a short discussion the manager decided to phone the boat.

Manager: "Is this Sogood?"
Mrs Jones: "Yes..."
Manager: "Is this Mrs Jones?"
Mrs Jones: "Yes it is."
Manager (trying to be clever) "This is the manger at the marina. Can I speak to Mr Jones please?"
Mrs Jones: "I'm sorry he's steering the boat, can I get him for you?"
Manager (slightly confused): "Can you actually see Mr Jones from where you're standing?"
Mrs Jones: "No the back door is shut."
Manager: "Well, I have someone here who says he is your husband."
Mrs Jones: "Well who's steering the boat then?"
Manager: "That's what we're trying to find out!"
Mrs Jones: "Hold on, I've just had a look through the keyhole. I can't see his face but it's not my husband. I can tell by the legs!"
Manager: "Pardon?"
Mrs Jones: "My husband never wears shorts because of his varicose veins. This man is wearing shorts, and his legs are completely different."
Manager: "I'll bring your husband to you. Can you tell me where you are?"
Mrs Jones (seeming unfazed): "We're passing some moored boats on the right..."
Manger (groaning): "It'll have to be Calcutt Bottom Lock."

The manager and Mr Jones drove to Calcutt and ran to the bottom lock. A few minutes later, nb Sogood arrived with Mr Smith at the helm. He was rather surprised to learn that he'd taken not only the wrong boat, but the wrong wife as well. Mrs Jones seemed more concerned that her husband had left the shopping in the manager's car than at having a strange man steering her boat for more than half an hour. A rather quiet and deflated Mr Smith was returned to Stockton Top.

The following Friday, the manager saw Mr and Mrs Smith and innocently asked them if they'd had a good holiday. It was obvious from the frantic gestures made by Mr Smith, who want standing slightly behind his wife, that she remained in blissful ignorance of what had happened.

The moral of the story is that you can check the gas, the diesel, the water, and even the loos. But the most important checks to make before setting off are that you have the right boat ... and the right wife.

Friday, 16 November 2007

M40 Blues

Carrie on nb Blackbird posted a beautiful picture the other day of the sun rise on a very frosty day at Bridge 172 on the Oxford Canal. We moored in almost exactly the same spot in very different conditions, on a sunny September afternoon.

It's a lovely spot, except, as Carrie points out, for the drone of the M40 (which gets worse once you're through the bridge).

I recently found a trip report which showed how different things used to be. Andrew Smith, one of the owners of the OwnerShips boat Sojourn, has posted a log written by his father during a family holiday on the Oxford Canal in August 1982. One night they moored near Grants Lock, just past Bridge 173. That's just about where the M40 crosses the canal, and would be pretty unbearable today. On the other hand, there were serious water shortages on the canal (and the fashions of the day leave a bit to be desired too!). Other reports on Andrew's site include another Oxford Canl trip from 1970 and a holiday on the Llangollen in 1990, as well as his own family's trips on Sojourn.

No Problem with Children in Need

Sue and Vic on No Problem have promised to give 5p to Children in Need for each "shout" in the shout box on their site. So if you have a few seconds to spare, please help Sue and Vic part their cash!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Lock cottages

Andrew Denny on nb Granny Buttons posted yesterday about a lock cottage for sale on the Stratford Canal, and noted that three cottages on the Oxford Canal have been sold in the past couple of years (including the one at Somerton Deep Lock, which we passed in September).

This reminded me of a conversation I had with the owners of the cottage by Cropredy Lock as we locked through. The whole family was outside, with the little lad demonstrating how he'd been told to hold on tight as he walked across the top gate. I mentioned to the owners that they must have one of the most photographed houses in the country. They said they'd often walked into shops and unexpectedly seen their house on the front cover of a magazine or calendar. And they described returning home to find a major photographic operation going on; it was a shoot for Oxfordshire Life (which I notice is owned by the same company as Canal Boat).

After that, it didn't really seem right to take my own photo. Consequently, I have no picture of Cropredy Lock cottage to illustrate this post. So here's the cottage at Kings Sutton Lock instead!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Hardy owners

The latest edition of the OwnerShips magazine, OwnerSnips, is out, and show what a hardy bunch many owners are. When the hire fleets are tied up and the marinas are full, OwnerShips boats, it seems, are still out and about.

Among the articles in the magazine is one about battling through ice and snow on the Caldon in late November. Another owner writes about any icy November day on the South Oxford. Then there's a piece about New Year on the Grand Union, and another about doing the Warwickshire ring in March.
We have a week on board booked for the beginning of December. Judging by the year so far there's no predicting the weather, and stoppages will mean our choices are limited. I'm hoping for crisp, clear days, with very few other boats on the move.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Watford locks -- again

I mentioned before we set off on the October trip that I'd had some trouble finding out about the opening times at Watford Locks. suggested that the locks were manned only until 30 October, so I phoned BW to find out what was happening on 31 October. It took them a while to find out, but they said the locks would be open as normal, just unmanned.

Of course in the event, the lock keepers were still there on 31 October. Logically, the last day of the month was their last day on duty (and in fact one of them was just setting off in his own boat, which had been moored just blow the top lock),

And the opening hours I'd been told were wrong, too, as winter hours had already begun. These were well signed though, as far away as Braunston bottom lock.

Watford Locks are currently closed, and will be until 21 December, for dredging of the side ponds.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Yelvertoft Reading Room

This building in the main street in Yelvertoft is the Reading Room. It's opposite the shop, just a short walk from the canal. According to the plaque between the windows it used to be the school, and dates from the early 1700s. There's also a rather impressive sundial above the door, although at the time we were there the sun hadn't yet made an appearance!
An internet search reveals little about the history of the Reading Room. But it does bring up a long list of village groups and activities which take place there. It's good to know that this building still plays such an important part in the village.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

October Cruise -- Part Two

Monday 29 October

As the car was close by, and I needed to move it into the marina car park anyway, I drove into Southam to have a look round and buy a few supplies. There's a reasonable selection of shops, including a Budgens supermarket, and a free car park.

Back at the boat, I cleaned out the stove and polished the tiller arm white I waited for my parents to arrive. Once they'd loaded their things onto the boat, we set off in the direction of the Calcutt Locks, which we shared with a Canaltime boat doing the Warwickshire Ring. We turned left at Wigram's Turn towards Braunston. The weather was fantastic, bright sunshine and warm for the end of October.

After a short lunch stop, we reached Braunston and turned right. We embarked on the locks, with my father doing the work, and made good progress despite being on our own. There were several boats coming the other way which helped, but we met nothing through Braunston Tunnel. Not wanting to mooring in the cutting immediately after the tunnel we carried on, but the banks along that section are in a poor conditiona and not very good for mooring on. We ended up going round the tight turn at Norton Juntion and using the visitor moorings at the start of the Leicester line. It was cold by this time, so we lit the stove and ate on board.

13 miles, 9 locks (19, 15)

Tuesday 30 October

It was a bright sunny morning, and we were on the move at 8.30 after a cooked breakfast. There was only a brief wait at Watford Locks: one boat ahead of us, and one boat just finishing its descent. The lock keeper said it had been the busiest October he could remember, presumably because people were making up for the poor summer. The only problem came right at the bottom of the flight. The piling there is falling apart, with the top piece sticking well out. As I pulled away, a pipe fender caught on the metal and broke the eyelet on the roof that it's tied to. As the fender was jammed in the gap, I was able to rescue it. We were soon at the top of the locks, and moved over to the water point to fill up, and dump the rubbish.

Crick Tunnel proved to be extremely wet for the northern few hundred yards! The extension to the marina there is well advanced (and huge). We tied up at Yelvertoft for a lunch stop, then continued north. But conscious that we needed to be back down the Watford flight the next day, and the winter opening hours mean they close at 3.30pm, we made the decision to turn around before mooring for the night. We made use of the winding hole just before bridge 36 and began to retrace our steps. On the way we passed a bridge which appears to be on the verge of falling down. It's no surprise that this stretch of canal is to be closed over the winter for bridge repair works.

We moored up for the night in a nice spot just before bridge 27. The boat was beautifully warm, as the stove had been alight since lunchtime.

17 miles, 7 locks (36,22)

Wednesday 31 October

Thick cloud had been forecast, so we were pleased with the sunshine when we woke up. We slipped away from our moorings at 8.45, and during the hour journey to Yelvertoft saw no other moving boats. We tied up at Yelvertoft Wharf and walked into the village. There's a useful shop with a post office, and a little further down the main street an excellent butcher.

We stopped for lunch just before Watford Locks. At the locks themselves there was no queue, so we were allowed straight down. It was the last day of the season for the lock keepers there, and the one who'd been on duty the day before was just setting off in his own boat. The already fine weather had become even better, with plenty of sunshine.

We stopped for water at Norton Junction, then continued through Braunston tunnel to our chosen mooring for the night at the top of the locks. Another OwnerShips boat, Aylestone, was attempting to go down, but there seemed to be a problem. My father went to investigate, and the crew told him they'd been waiting ages for the lock to fill but the water was leaking out the bottom gates as fast as it was entering. He pointed out that they might have more success if they opened the ground paddles as well as the gate ones, and they were soon on their way!

13 miles, 7 locks (49, 29)

Thursday 1 November

Another forecast of thick cloud for the midlands, and another bright sunny morning.

Excellent bacon from the butcher in Yelvertoft for breakfast, then off down the Braunston Locks. We shared with an Ashby hire boat with three enthusiastic guys on board, which meant we had someone to go ahead to set the next lock. At the short pounds, I suggested to the steerer that we leave the lock together, stay close through the pound, and go straight into the next lock. He said he'd never done it before, but was impressed at how much easier it was (and seemed to think it looked quite impressive too).

As we approached the bottom lock, a boat which had just winded went in, quickly shut the gates, and started going down. My father was ahead at the lock, and discovered that the boat had just come out of the paint dock, and the owner was keen to go down alone as he had no fenders and wanted to preserve his new paintwork for at least a few minutes. I'd like to know what happened when he came to exit the lock, as the dry dock there was being emptied and the flow of water pushes you right over to the far side. I suspect he didn't manage to get away without touching the wall.

We tied up in Braunston and I got a replacement attachment for the fender from the chandlery. At Tradline Fenders, my parents bought a new doormat. Then we filled up with water, and set off for Stockton. There were lots of OwnerShips boats heading for Braunston. The boats which are having their winter maintenance this side of Christmas will be based in Braunston while the canal is closed at Shuckborough. We stopped for lunch before bridge 103, then turned right at Wigram's turn. We shared the top Calcut Lock with a Calcut based OwnerShips boat returning to base, did the middle one on our own, then waited in the bottom lock for Aylestone which was just coming down behind. We moored before bridge 21 (meaning I'd spent four of my seven nights on the boat in almost exactly the same place), and ate at the Boat Inn.

9 miles, 9 locks (58, 38)

Friday 2 November

After the final clean of the boat, my parents packed and left. I moved the boat the couple of hundred yards to the marina, mooring up alongside two other boats. Fortunately, the journey home was much quicker than on the way up.