Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Guest, guests and more guests

In the lock at Cosgrove, on the Grand Union
I normally blog around once a week and just realised it’s been nearly two since I last we posted our position into hyperspace. It’s a sure sign we are getting closer to home now. In the last few days we have entertained more guests than we had all last year on our Northern Odyssey.

If my memory serves me well, we were around Rugby somewhere when I last blogged, and once through there, it’s pretty rural until you get to `Canalsville Central`, aka Braunston. For those of a non-boating persuasion this is pretty much the centre of things on the canal network. It’s where the Oxford meets the Grand Union Canal and for around a mile or, it’s a mixture of moorings, boatyards, marinas, bridges and pubs, before you climb several locks and disappear  into the Braunston tunnel for a half an hour or so.

We had a long weekend in Braunston. The weather was set to be `changeable`, and we had Pat’s Brother-In-Law, Des, visiting us on the Monday. Des is from just outside Melbourne (the Australian one), and he has been on `The Cat` before, when we were down in Gloucester two years ago. We were able to cruise then but this time the weather was pretty dismal, so we had lunch, had a good old chin-wag, and Des returned to his base in North London.

Somewhere near Weedon, Northants
The journey south from here follows the M1 on one side of you and the railway on the other for several miles, with Virgin trains heading for Birmingham and points north, hurtling by at regular intervals. It’s rather bizarre that we are doing around 3mph, compared to the high speeds of the trains and cars beside us. Before we left Mercia Marina I did a schedule and by and large we were keeping to it. We had a night at Nether Heyford and then we had the delights of the Blisworth Tunnel, which is a bit longer than the Braunston one at a little over 3,000 feet long. It was a 40-minute journey, passing five boats along the way. It used to bother me meeting other boats in tunnels but I take it all in my stride now.

Emerging from the tunnel you are immediately thrust into the `chocolate box` village of Stoke Bruerne, a magnet for gongoozlers, who hover around the top lock. I do not like being watched going into locks. It often brings out the worst in my boat handling skills, but we are now a `well-oiled` machine again, and I easily got in via one gate, leaving half an inch on each side. A textbook entry.
The top lock and gongoozlers at Stoke Bruerne

Leaving the top lock at Stoke Bruerne. The Navigation pub is on the left
I like Stoke Bruerne, but we have been through it a few times, so we dropped down a couple of locks, moored up and only stayed the night. I do feel though, that once I have been through the Blisworth Tunnel I am back south, which is a bit strange when we were still in Northamptonshire.

Then it was Cosgrove. This is on the northern edge of Milton Keynes, and we arranged to meet our Canadian pal Vaughn at The Barley Mow, the village pub for Sunday lunch. Vaughn stayed for the weekend and I think it he enjoyed himself. It’s pretty different to the sort of boating he is used to.  He is having to come over to the UK several times this year, so I expect we will see him again soon. Martin & Fern, two other old pals, who Vaughn has been staying with, also came up for lunch and stayed until early evening. A great day which we both really enjoyed.

We are now deep in the heart of Milton Keynes, moored at Campbell Park. We’ve never moored here before, and I don’t know why not. It’s a great mooring – a very attractive setting (apart from the Canada Geese) and only a 10-minute walk to John Lewis. What else could you want!  Thanks for the tip Ian and Irene.
The view of Campbell Park from our side hatch

Pat uses her window cleaning skills on the side of the boat

Vaughn left us yesterday morning and today we welcomed Laura, who lives close by, who I have known since I was a teenager. She popped in for lunch, and brought her uke along, as she plays with a local group, and then ran me down to Maplins where I bought a new digital TV aerial. This was recommended to us by a neighbour on the marina and we have seen several boats sporting this model, all who have sang its praises. It’s only been up an hour or so, but we have 80 or so channels, so pleased with that.
Rog adjusts his new Digital aerial, bought earlier today

Vaughn, Fern and Martin. Our guests over the weekend

We continue through Milton Keynes tomorrow, and will be in Leighton Buzzard this weekend, where we will be entertaining our pal Hubert, who is travelling up from Dunstable for the day. Hubert is an old friend of “The Cat’s Whiskers” and I hope we get the chance to give him a small cruise. The weather is not looking that great at the moment for the weekend though.


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Back On The Cut

Hello Friends, family and fellow boaters

The Cat's Whiskers at rest somewhere near Atherstone on the Coventry Canal, surrounded by fields of rape.
Well we finally chugged out of Mercia Marina last Thursday morning, after some six weeks back in the country and a day later than we had planned.

We invited all our “pontoon pals” down to The Green Man in the village last Tuesday evening for the pub’s weekly “Pie Night”. I was a bit dubious as to how successful it might be after our last “Pie Night” expedition last November when they only had one choice available, but I should not have worried. The pies were superb – everybody had them, and all commented on how tasty they were. It’s just a shame Sarah couldn’t make it, after hurting her back again. See you in August ladies and gents. We’ll miss you.
Our pontoon pals join us before we leave Mercia Marina at The Green Man, Willington for their weekly "Pie Night"
Wednesday morning rolled around and it was blowing a “hooley”. Frankly it would have irresponsible to go out on the cut with winds of over 40mph, so we paid for an extra day’s mooring and left the following morning.

It was nice and sunny .... for about an hour and then – hailstones, gale-force winds and driving rain. Hang on, I thought. This is May, not March!  But nobody ever said this boating lark was going to be all sunglasses, shorts and G&T’s on the deck – unless you pick up a hire-boat brochure where it’s always sunny.

So we had the works thrown at us, and we hadn’t yet reached Burton-On-Trent, which is only about five miles from the marina. Since then the weather has picked up a bit, though strong winds have been a feature. Sunny periods and strong winds sum it up.
An hour out of the marina and I've broken out the brolley and gloves
At Branston (where the famous pickle used to be made) we took advantage of the lady selling her rhubarb at her back gate for charity. Pat knocked up a lovely rhubarb crumble, which, as you will see from the photo, didn’t last very long.
Pat prepares to work her magic on the rhubarb we bought from the towpath
It didn't last very long however

From The Trent & Mersey, it was a sharp left turn on to the Coventry Canal at Fradley Junction and we spent much of the weekend in the little village of Whittington. Our pals Dave and Angie  on “Lady Esther” were coming the other way so we waited for them to arrive. It was good to catch up and Dave, being a Leicester City fan, was in a good mood after an excellent win by them. Talk about “The Great Escape”.  We had a very pleasant Sunday lunch in a local pub with them and waved goodbye on Monday morning.
Dave & Angie leave Whittington aboard Lady Esther, proudly displaying their Leicester City FC flag
We have set ourselves a bit of a target and plan to be entertaining Pat’s brother-in-law, Des, on Sunday in Braunston.  He’s over from Australia. However, losing a day’s cruising on Sunday has meant some longish days, but we have now caught up with our schedule and are on the Oxford at a place called Ansty. Not much to say about the place except the village used to be owned by the infamous Lady Godiva.

We have got back into the cruising routine very quickly and it’s great to see nature renewing itself as we glide through the countryside. The scenery has been dominated by waving fields of yellow rape. I love the smell but I know it drives some people’s sinuses crazy, but it’s become very much part of the landscape in recent years. Tiny baby ducks squeak for their mums as we separate the families in our wakes and although we have seen several swans nesting, many others have had their young and are out and about with them. And if it’s not fields of rape we are gliding past, then it’s sheep and their lambs, bleating and gambling around.
A typical scene on the Coventry Canal

Proud mum and dad and their goslings
It’s been a couple of years since we last cruised the Coventry Canal. I seem to remember the weather wasn’t that good when we were last there and that can make a huge difference to how you remember the experience.
Following the fall-out surrounding Top Gear,"The Stig" moonlights on the Coventry Canal. 
A number of boaters advised us not to moor in Nuneaton, which is one of the biggest towns you cruise through. We had no intention of doing that but were amazed at the amount of allotments that skirt the canal as you cruise though. They just go on and on and on.

No shortage of allotments in Nuneaton
Five miles short of Coventry, you come to Hawkesbury Junction, a famous canal spot. Here we turned left on to the Oxford Canal at lunch time today and now it is evening and we are wondering what to do about tomorrow. Shefali, the Weather Lady on Midlands Today reckons we are going to have another wet and windy day tomorrow, so we might make a dash for it first thing, down to Rugby or sit it out here and catch a bus into Coventry.
Toodaloo folks

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Here Comes The Son

We celebrated a first this weekend. Our son and heir visited the boat: he also stayed over to take advantage of the Bank Holiday weekend. It was just a shame the weather didn’t warrant us taking him out for a cruise. But we are hopeful that that will happen later this summer.

Kev joins us for a drink at the Boardwalk at the marina
However, I think the real reason Kev came up was to have his hair cut. He reckoned it was over 6 months ago that he last visited a barber, and you can see for yourself the result after Pat worked her magic.

From this

To this

Pat works her hairdressing magic

It was good to show him the site of the lodge we are having built and the marina in general. I think he had a good time, though I think he would have liked to have a bit more of a lay-in than we gave him.

Apart from that it’s been a quiet week. I managed to get the bilge painted, dodging the odd shower along the way. The temperatures have certainly dipped dramatically after the Mediterranean weather we had after Easter, and we have had to light the fire on several occasions, meaning more runs to the marina shop for sacks of coal. We are still OK for wood, though we had to get some kindling in last week as well.

We almost missed the bingo session last Wednesday. We knew it was imminent, but failed to put it in our diaries. Now, I have never, ever been to a bingo session, or even wanted to go, but we thought it right to support the leisure committee and it was OK. Pat won some money, but in truth, I found it a bit boring.

A study in concentration

We have now paid the balance of our deposit on the lodge and it looks like it will not be built until the autumn and arrives on site, shortly before Christmas. That will suit us.

We have told our tenants we are moving back in at the end of August. We have had the house valued and with a bit of TLC the agent predicts it could fetch a fair bit more than we had thought.

And that’s about it. Tonight we are going out with our “pontoon pals”, down the local in the village for a “Pie Night” and then, all being well, on Wednesday, we will cruise out of the marina, turn right, and head on through Burton to Alrewas, and then turn left at Fradley Junction on to the Coventry Canal. The weather forecast for the rest of the week in the Midlands is not fantastic, but early May is very changeable, so I am anticipating gloves and thermals at the very least. Hope to see some of you along the way.