Friday, 17 August 2007

First week on board

Friday 10 August

This was our first sight of Debdale since the OwnerShips show, way back in February, and was an unexpected extra week on board. The boat happened to be free, and some rearranging of shifts meant we could have an extra holiday on board.
Having arrived at Stockton Top marina on the Grand Union on schedule at 3pm, we quickly unloaded the car and began to unpack. We were then shown how everything on the boat worked by one of OwnerShips' "Dirty Hand Gang", Guy.

We were concerned that the Tesco shopping we'd ordered online didn't seem to have arrived at the marina. No-one seemed to have seen it. We resigned ourselves to not having much to eat that night on the following morning, and decided to set off. Leaving the marina proved to be quite tricky, and involved reversing out onto the canal and then turning. Halfway through the turn, a member of Kate Boats staff said they thought they'd got our shopping -- so we moored up to the service point and took three crate loads of food and drink on board.

Once properly underway, we spent the time getting used to the boat. The three Calcutt locks were shared with a private boat, and we then turned left onto the shared Grand Union/Oxford Canal section. We carried on until around 7pm, when we moored up in a quiet spot just before bridge 101 and cooked on board.

6 miles, 3 locks.

Saturday 11 August

This was the day of the naked man. He was walking along the towpath just before Hillmorton Locks, wearing nothing but a rucksack (and presumably some shoes, but I wasn't looking at his feet), and carrying two divining rods.

Hillmorton itself was chaotic, with lots of boats, most of them going down. We had lunch on board, then stopped at the water point in Rugby. While Adrian filled the tank, I took the three home delivery crates back to Tesco as we didn't want them on board. There was a queue of four boats at the Hawkesbury Junction stop lock, and it took almost an hour to get through -- madness for a lock with a fall of less than a foot. I was annoyed at making a bit of a hash of the turn, but felt slightly better when I saw others do worse! We moored up shortly after the turn, and had dinner.

Later in the evening, we walked down to The Greyhound for a drink, and saw the motor boat GLASCOTE with a butty, GOSPORT, coming through the lock in the fading light. Returning to the boat, we found them slotting neatly into a space which had just been vacated right behind us, and marvelled at the crew getting a 70 foot boat into a space of no more than 72 feet.

24 miles, 4 locks (30, 7)

Sunday 12 August

After two hot sunny days, we were prepared to believe the forecast of heavy showers. However, the only one was mid-morning and lasted all of twenty seconds. There were lots of boats going our way down the Atherstone flight, so the going was slow. The locks were exactly as I remembered them from a couple of years ago: attractive, but very frustrating. They empty quickly, but take an age to fill -- and as we had to fill many of them ourselves, the whole thing took a long time. With a brief lunch stop in the long pound after lock 5, the flight took around four hours.

As it was a lovely evening, we decided to keep going, aiming for Fazely Junction. When we got to the Glascote Locks, I feared we'd be frustrated just short of our target. The bottom lock has a problem with the bottom cill, which means it takes 15 to 20 minutes to fill. The woman who lives in the cottage alongside the lock said BW had been providing a lockie during the week, to help smooth boats through. Part of the problem is that each lock load of water coming down into the middle pound adds about 5 minutes to the filling time.

We weren't delayed unduly though, and were all tied up just before bridge 77 at Fazely Junction by 7.30. We discovered that the pub by the canal doesn't do food on a Sunday evening, so we tried the Peninsular Chinese Restaurant, which turned out to be excellent.

19 miles, 13 locks (49, 20)

Monday 13 August

A lock free day today. Normally, this would be my idea of a boring day on the cut, but this one had two redeeming features: it would be virgin territory for us (the stretch between Fazeley and Fradley being the only part of the Coventry Canal we hadn't done); and Fradley Junction is a favourite place, and always worth a visit.

It turned out to be a lovely stretch of canal, and very busy. This made some of the bridge holes interesting, particularly the ones on bends. We cruised through Hopwas and Wittington, enjoyed the busyness of Streethay Wharf, and were fascinated by the work going on to make the Trent Valley railway four tracks, which has involved building two new bridges over the canal: one for the two new tracks, and a temporary one for access for the contractors.

We arrived at Fradley at lunchtime. Adrian turned the boat in the junction and we moored at the start of the Coventry. The BW cafe had virtually nothing on the menu actually available, so we went up to the Kingfisher Cafe instead, and had an excellent lunch, followed by a few purchases in the junction shop before heading back to Fazeley, where we moored just before the juntion.

20 miles, 0 locks (69, 20)

Tuesday 14 August

Excitement in Atherstone. Not at the locks, which took a long while as usual, but at the Co-op. We'd left Fazeley straight after breakfast, and made slow progress in heavy rain through the Glascote Locks, Tamworth, and the Atherstone Flight. It was 4pm before we got to the top, moored up, and went into town in search of somewhere to buy a late lunch. We discovered a big Co-op, complete with a cafe serving soup and a roll, where there'd just been a crash in the car park. It was the talk of the store, and clearly the most exciting thing to happen there for some considerable time!

Back at the boat, we made the decision to stay put and lit the fire to help dry ourselves out. Then of course the rain stopped -- until we decided to go out for a walk in the evening, when we got drenched!

9 miles, 13 locks (78, 33)

Wednesday 15 August

Very wet again today, with torrential rain and thunder. Adrian's turn to try to get round Hawkesbury Junction in one: a better effort than mine, but we still need more practice.

We made a stop at Ansty for lunch, and another at Rugby for water and a dash to Tesco. It was here that the engine wouldn't turn off with the ignition key. A phone call to Guy helped us locate the lever which stops the engine manually. We continued a bit further, mooring below Hillmorton Locks.

25 miles, 1 lock (103, 34)

Thursday 16 August

All the Hillmorton Locks were in our favour, and there only boats we saw were coming down, so we were through quickly. Adrian polished the mushroom vents while we were on the move. Reaching Braunston at about 11am, we moored up before the junction and walked to the Gongoozler's Rest for tea and fruit cake. We bought bread at the shop by the bottom lock, and a tin of grease for the stern tube at the chandlers on the other side of the bridge. Adrian had a lesson from the man in the chandlery on the best way to fill the stern tube, which he did on our return to the boat while I cleaned all the windows I could reach. The sun was out, so we had lunch on the well deck.

We'd only been going again for a few minutes when the rain came down again -- not for long, but heavy enough to bring the waterproofs into action. The rest of the afternoon was a mixture of warm sunshine and heavy showers. We filled up with water at Calcutt, then went down the locks in a huge convoy of boats. We arrived back at Stocktop Top just too late for services, so were asked to moor on the services point ready for the morning. Then it was just a matter of cleaning the outside of the boat, packing up, and loading the car. To avoid the worst of the traffic, we went for a meal at The Boat next door to the marina before heading home at the end of a great week.

11 miles, 3 locks (114, 40)

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