Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Due South

After the relative peace and quiet of the Coventry and the Oxford canals, where you passed two boats a day if you were lucky, we now find ourselves back on the “expressway” that is the Grand Union Canal, with its wide locks, marinas round every bend, and hordes of boats of every conceivable type, as we head south.
The North Oxford canal was charming, and afforded every conceivable landscape. Wooded cuttings, pastoral farms, rolling hills and a bending watercourse floated by, with the occasional “fast straight”,  occasionally interrupted by the M6 motorway roaring above us, and the ubiquitous railway line that parallels so much of the canal network.
Hillmorton Wharf

We really liked Hillmorton, which is right on the edge of Rugby. It has a little wharf, a small flight of locks, and commanded a very picturesque location, that we both really liked. Unfortunately it rained for much of our stay, but we got a good TV picture at last, and then found there was bugger-all on worth watching.
There followed a three-hour chug into Braunston - very much the “Crewe Junction” of the waterways. A very busy place, with a huge boating heritage. Anything you want done, or for your boat, you will find here. Or so I thought.  I was hoping to get some anti-tamper screws for the rear door, that was damaged the previous week in an attempted break-in. Tried three places, to no avail.
Braunston Marina

It was not a wasted stop though. When I retired my pals brought me “Waterways”, a very detailed canal mapping system, which is installed our this-here laptop, and which we use a lot. It’s great for working out mileage and times, and finding where the local launderette, butchers or leisure centre is. The business is run out for Braunston Marina by a gent called Mike Kelly and we have been communicating over the last few months as a cut-down version was available on Android, for my phone, but not for our trusty Kindle Fire.
We met while there and he, rather magically, sorted it all out for me. I think Mike was more surprised than me, as there were issues over coding.  So we have the system on all our devices. I just love technology!
And then it was tunnel time again. Braunston, this time - about a 35 minute journey under Daventry. We met five boats going through!

Yet another boat in Braunston tunnel

I have now worked out approximately where we will be most days, right up to our arrival in Hertford on the Lea and Stort on 18 August, so if anybody our there is thinking of paying us a visit, we can give you a fairly good idea of where we will be at any time.
Wide locks can be a real pain if you go through them on your own, unless you are very careful lifting the paddles, and we generally hang around and wait for a “lock buddy”. You don’t have to wait very long on the Grand Union, especially at the weekend, and we descended the Braunston and Buckby flights of locks with various crews. Within two minutes Pat seems capable of getting a life story and all sorts of personal information out of her locking partners. I normally sit at the back of the boat, listening to Joni Mitchell or some country album, watching them go at it, hammer and tongs, as the water gushes in, or out, as may be, and they lean on their windlasses.
We are now in Northampton, all on our own, beside the lock that leads on to the River Nene. This is where we will stay until tomorrow evening when our Kiwi pals Helen and Kevin arrive by train from Cornwall. They will then be on the Cat until Sunday.
It’s a quiet mooring, just us, the swans and a couple of fishermen, and we are overlooked by the giant Carlsberg brewery.
Earlier today a patrolling police officer approached me and asked if he could borrow our boat hook. It transpired he had lost his hat in the canal. On his triumphant return we got to talking about security and I told him I was having problems finding anti-tamper screws. “Oh, like these you mean,” he said, and pulled out a small packet with four screws exactly the right length from his uniform. “I’ve had them in my pocket for weeks, and wondered when they would come in handy. You’ve done me a favour - now I can return it.”. Luvverly jubberly!


  1. I may be 'teaching Granny to suck eggs' but if you are in a double lock on your own open the ground paddle on the same side as your boat first. That way, in most locks, the water flowing in will bounce off the opposite wall and hold you in to the side. It works most of the time, honest.
    Kath (nb Herbie)

  2. Kath's right (She's talking about when you're rising in the GU wide locks). Ground paddle on the same side as the boat, gate paddle on the opposite side, and your boat will sit against the lock side as calm as anything.

  3. Glad you got your screws Roger......
    I am learning every day..........Thank you Kath