Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Frozen Aynho doesn't stop Bella

Here we are, New Year's Eve. This morning was bright and frozen, but we are determined to make it to Cropredy, where we expect to celebrate New Year's with Dom, Helen and various other boat nutters. For once, we were the ice breaker, rather than someone else starting it for us. A little slow through Aynho weir lock, as along the way, we managed to pick up an entire bicycle tyre around the prop. Pete stuck his hands into frozen canal water down the weed (!) hatch to fetch it out and all was finally clear. Somehow he's still warm, though Elizabeth made fresh coffee and served our homemade chocolate fondu biscuits to help out. (Chocolate fondu biscuits: left over chocolate fondu (this time made with rum), one egg, enough self raising wholewheat flour to get sticky and paste like, spoonfull by spoonfull on tray in gas marked 6 oven and hey presto! Yumsville.)

Short Reg trip to Oxford then on to Aynho

A little trip in Reg (via TKMaxx) to Oxford and we were on our way north again. Ravenspur had set out already, looking forward to going to the Raindeer in Banbury. We made our way to Aynho, watching the frost set in.... We had another toasty night aboard and finished up watching The Thomas Crown Affair (Peirce Brosnan). Lovely.

Dec 28th and we're back at Heyford

Pete and Dom walked in to Heyford Wharf to have David Dare say, "Well I see it is the Rugby contingent!" We moored up just after lunch and then collected Reg who had been parked up in Heyford ready to be needed. A drive to Banbury meant shopping lists dealt with, a little road rage managed and the happy return to Bella and Ravenspur. Too cold to walk to the pub, we took advantage of Ravenspur's wonderful Bloody Marys. Toasty night with our iron stoves!

Moored up at the Rock of Gibraltar

Here we are, moored up at the Rock of Gibraltar pub in Enslow. Apparently, the area was called Gibraltar and the pub was made of local stone... Anyway, you can just see Ravenspur, a lighter green, moored up just ahead of us. Dom and Helen kindly moored first and left just the right amount of space for us. We had hoped to have dinner but realised that on Sundays, they only do lunches!! So we had an afternoon of pints and chat. Great.

Helping Ravenspur to float backwards

On the 28th, we left Thrupp, our friends on Ravenspur inTow. Not exactly - but tied up next to us, as you can see in this phot. Ravenspur had got as far as Thrupp and decided not to go into Oxford, where we had gone. Therefore, we had turned around for the return journey, but they hadn't. So, we tied alongside and we travelled forward to the winding hole and they floated along backwards. Fun! We let each other through the Lift Bridge, then each facing the right way, made our own independent way to Enslow. Well, not quite independent, as we helped each other through Lift bridges and locks.

Christmas day

Here we are, Scrabble after a hefty and wonderful meal. Pete, of course, is taking the piccy! Notice, this is Super Scrabble. Jeffrey won, followed closely by James! The Nativity set is up and reminding, just to the right of this shot. We started our day with a wonderful service at St Columba's, delighted to see friends and to enjoy Carla's carefully thought out and moving service. James and Jeffrey arrived just after 1pm and we started with cream cheese, caviar and fizz. Salmon next, then organic turkey roll with bacon (prepared by Feller and daughter, Oxford covered market), followed by our Christmas pud which Pete and Elizabeth made back in October. Chocs, cheese and port, all was well!!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Thrupp for Boxing Day

We left Oxford late this morning and made our way to Thrupp. We had a fabulous Christmas with James and Jeffrey, ending up with a relatively evenly spaced Super Scrabble game, won by Jeffrey with James in close second. We're now moored up near our friends Dom and Helen who have made their way down the Oxford canal for their Christmas cruise from Rugby. We'll be travelling back north sort of together, planning on having a meal tomorrow night at the Rock of Gibraltar pub in Enslow.

Pictures to follow!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Christmas to all our readers

We have an idea who some of you are and are delighted that you tell us you enjoy our tales. We are still happily moored up in Jericho, Oxford. A note to friends and family who sent wonderful boxes of goodies - Pete took the train to Rugby on Monday to collect all our post and deliveries, so all is safely with us. In advance of opening, thank you all!! Yesterday we hung our lit star (snowflake) high above Bella. No it's not a sign for a manger, but a sign to travellers even so - friends looking for us on the towpath. We have been delighted to see many and today anticipate James and Jeffrey's arrival for Christmas Eve festivities this evening. They'll be back for Christmas day nosh tomorrow when we anticipated being joined for pudding by our friends on Ravenspur who have travelled down the Oxford canal from Rugby in time for Christmas. A very early text from them says they are now close!

A very merry and blessed Christmas to you all.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Oxford for Christmas!!

Here we are. We made by yesterday it with no ice, no flooding (though a fast river Cherwell nonetheless) and we're moored in lovely Jericho. Mooring was fun (not!). We spotted quite a clear stretch of 7 day mooring spots, quizzical why they were still free. It turns out that, without quite a large plank or drawbridge, they are out of bounds for anyone. The towpath has broken into the canal in quite large chunks of below water boulders, meaning that it is impossible to moor alongside. We finally moored up opposite Lucy's iron works, now redeveloped to swish housing, but still had to use the plank and we were sorely grounded with a huge list to port. Finally, Pete took the boat hook to the water and checked the depth ahead of us, as well as the presence of solid towpath edge. We moved Bella up about 50 yards (metres?) and we can just jump off without the aid of a plank. We are a close walk to the heart of Jericho, the street from the canal taking us up to the side of Raymond Blanc's restaurant, for those of you who will know where that is (Gray's? Meachins?). We had a lovely shopping foray today, really enjoying being here, ending up carol singing with many friends from Church in the renewed Bonn Square. Christmas, here we come!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Through Heyford and on to Enslow

Today we set out from Aynho in a grey but lovely day. We moored up at Heyford, Bella's old home, and had great chats with the people there. David Dare took Elizabeth to Bicester North station where she caught a train to Banbury and a taxi to Cropredy to collect Reg, then return to Heyford. Our lovely friends there have said that Reg can stay there over Christmas - a quick train hop from Oxford should we need him, but safely out of Oxford's residents only parking schemes.

Today's memorable moments were: Elizabeth, while hovering Bella as she waited for Pete's lock work, was closely visited by a huge beautiful Shire Horse. Pete saw Kestrels, Buzzards and his first Red Kite on the Oxford Canal. We had a tricky time mooring up opposite the Rock of Gibraltar in Enslow, as the first mooring was too shallow and rough and the light was fading fast. But we found another one. But the most odd thing (MOST odd) was that sometime when Bella was moored in Heyford, something swiped the Cyclamen from the hanging pot from the deck railing. Not the pot and compost, so not a human. But something absolutely cleaned the cyclamen, flowers and stems, from out of the pot and compost. If anyone knows what eats cyclamen, we'd be delighted to know. There were huge numbers of mole hills... do moles eat cyclamen????

DaJeff cruises on Bella and we all get closer to Oxford

Tuesday, we met Jeffrey, home for a few weeks for Christmas. Stupendous timing at the airport; we only just turned up at the arrivals gate as he only just came out! On the Wednesday, we all three set out from Cropredy and made our way to Banbury, Jeffrey helping with locks and taking the tiller a few times. It was a stunning bright winter day, perfect to see the countryside. We dropped him off for Banbury station to get to Oxford and we carried on to Aynho. We were delighted to be able to get that far. Flooding from the previous week's rain had only just diminished enough for us to make it under the bridges. Whew! We stopped at the most wonderful pub and .... froze (!) We got back on Bella to get warm.

2007 Cropredy to Marston Doles reversed for 2008

On Monday, we made it as far as Cropredy, Elizabeth's hoped for stop to be able to set out for the airport to collect Jeffrey from Australia for Christmas. In 2007, this same journey took 8 hours with three extra hands (four Meachins less one Elizabeth) and this year took us 6 1/2 hours. Smug? No... On the journey, we took a tiny frog who had hopped on for the ride from one lock to another on the Claydon flight, and Pete saw a Heron. A gorgeous robin sat on a branch SO close while we did the top lock on our way in to Cropredy. When we got to Cropredy, Elizabeth took a taxi to Banbury, a train to Coventry, another train to Rugby and a taxi to Blue Haven to collect Reg for his airport run.

We set out for an Oxford Christmas

We were going to set out for Oxford on the 13th, but the weather was foul and wet, so decided to spend the day getting all the laundry done and as much preparation done as we could. We upped ropes and set out on the 14th and made it as far as Napton top lock, Marston Doles. This was the exact reverse of the journey we made back in 2007 to move Bella up to Blue Haven. Then we did it in 8 hours with two extra hands, this time we did it in 7 on our own. We've learned a thing or two :-) The weather was cool, but dry and no sign of ice. On the journey, Pete saw a Kingfisher (we are convinced it was the same one who welcomed us last year) and a Buzzard. AND he was shouted at by a Parrot from a moored up narrowboat.

Making our way to Oxford for Christmas

It's been over a week, dear Blog readers! So sorry. But life has been busy. Pete was in Cambridge for a week assessing grant applications and loving it, while Elizabeth went back and forth to London a few times and kept Bella's fire from going out - usually Pete's job. There was preparation to do, knowing we were moving toward Oxford on the weekend. There was weather watching to do, seeing if there would be a freeze ,meaning we might not get out, or seeing if there was going to be hard rain meaning we might not be able to travel where the Oxford Canal shares a course with the Cherwell, and there were British Waterways works to monitor to see if the Oxford would indeed be open again on December 12th. Much to do...

Monday, 8 December 2008

We like icy, frosty weather, so took Bella out

It was a stunning sunny weekend, one of the many days of Pete's birthday (now that it is going over many days and parties), so we decided to celebrate out on the cut. We travelled just a short distance from Blue Haven to Clifton upon Dunsmore, just west of Hilmorton Locks. Helen travelled with us just for the journey, with dogs Defa and Trio running along the towpath and having a great time at the locks. Poor Defa went out on one of a pair of lock gates when the other of the pair was still open! He scared himself a little, but managed to back up onto the stable lock side and run around the other gate. Helen and dogs walked back to Hilmorton just after we moored. Saturday night was one of the birthday dinners and we travelled back to the marina on Sunday afternoon.

Thanks to the Ice Breaker! Look carefully at the boat pic, just by the water line. That is frozen water and this was the first boat of the day. After this ice breaker and a few more, we ventured out breaking a little ice ourselves. When we got back to the marina, Elizabeth turned into a serious ice breaker, using the boat hook to clear our slip to moor up. What a hoot! We had a terrific time.

Frozen marina

The ice comes around again! This is one seriously frozen marina last Thursday, with hard frost on top of the ice. And Phil, the seagull, has managed to find a place not too cold for his feet.

Bella has an extension!

Bella's had a nose job! Finally, the cratch (frame) and cover are in place and she looks like a real boat now. We suddenly have a huge space for coal, toilet cassettes, the parasol, boat cleaning things, spare this, that and the other. It is terrific. When travelling, the soft sides roll up and are fixed to the top frame, so that Elizabeth still has room to be bow thruster and ice breaker. We are thrilled to bits. It tidies away all the spare stuff from the roof and adds much pleasing insulation to the bedroom.

Pete's long birthday party

Well, our dear friends and family all live just too scattered to get them together without their expense and a hefty carbon footprint (think Aberdeen, Plymouth, Oxford, Gosport, Rugby, Australia...). So, for Pete's 50th, we decided to have a series of parties - small dinners with friends. Lo and Behold, the fuel arrived in two boxes from Pete's brother and sister in law, Dave and Sandy. (Thank you!!!!) The box of 24 Australian sparkling organic beers managed to just slip under the gunnels beside the dining room cabinet - as in pic - and the crate of Claret just managed to slide into the wine rack. Who says there is no room on a narrowboat? We have had two splendid dinners so far at Rugby restaurants, but the beer and wine have flowed around the marina, neighbours and workers alike, with much success.

Christmas Decs tell stories of their own

This is our treelet. From this angle, it looks like a small tree. But look at the top - there are two of them. This is really the end of two large fir branches from the fir tree up the hill from Bella's mooring. We put two flat branches on top of each other and sandwiched the twinkle lights in between. Elizabeth tied it all together with sparkly red bows which have turned into the ornaments. The white and gold wreath on top is made from ties which were around the Christmas Crackers at our Blue Haven Marina friends Christmas dinner last year. So already, this most recent part of our story is part of our Christmas tradition. It is all 'planted' in a vase tied to the wall behind so that it doesn't fall over in a lock (!).

The animal standing in front of the tree is Hobbe - our Yulbok from Sweden. In Sweden, there is no Father Christmas, but the Christmas goat who delivers presents (why?). So when we were on holiday in Sweden, we were given a tiny version. Our large version, a present from many years ago, sits in storage for James or Jeffrey.

The US influence on our Christmas is Father Christmas, made in the US and given to Elizabeth, but really depicts the European traditions.

Then there is the Kenyan influence. When James arrived back from Kenya in June, he proudly displayed our early Christmas present - this stunning Nativity set. One picture is the three Wise Men waiting for their entry to the drama and the other picture is Angels (musicians!) and Shepherds. In a wonderful rush box awaits the manager with child. Mary (oddly enough, not dressed in blue with blond hair!) and Joseph await just outside. James met the crafter who created the set and we were all touched with his own story to create this timeless one. We have always balked at the European version of the nativity, wanting something a bit less sanitised and more, in our eyes, real. Not only is this set perfect for that wish of ours, but it is also beautifully narrowboat size. Such thanks to James. Now, just so you know why the set is not presently in one single tableau. Pete lives out the drama each year with whatever set we have. As the weeks of advent progress, he moves the characters closer as we both retell the story to each other. Sad (:-) and wonderful.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Christmas Decs are up! Advent started...

We'll post up pictures a little later, but this is just to report - The Christmas Decorations are up! Star outside, treelet inside, Nativity characters waiting their part in the drama. We also now have a cratch and the cover is on its way.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Back in Blue Haven for a spell

We arrived back yesterday just after lunch, setting out from Newbold late morning. We were delighted that it was dry whilst doing Hilmorton Locks. Last time, it was drenching wet! Our Swan family were delighted to see us again, asking for feeding as late as 11pm! You'll know Rosie and Jim, and over the summer they delivered Chris and Robin. Now all four hiss and coo waiting for the special duck and swan pellets we get from the pet shop. We've just come back from a trip to Braunston where we collected special side plates for the Morso stove - they sit inside the sides and force the coal to the centre. So hopefully it will mean less coal and more heat. Watch this space!

Monday, 24 November 2008

In Newbold now, after Hilmorton and Braunston

This is Elizabeth at the tiller, chatting with Andrew.  He and Sarah visited us at Blue Haven on Saturday, then travelled with us to Braunston and stayed at our new find, The Old Workshop B&B.  We were all a bit miffed not to have the promised snow, but we did enjoy the clear winter sun! After a lovely visit, we all travelled back to Blue Haven on Sunday, where Andrew and Sarah collected their car for a reportedly wonderful drive back to Gosport.  

We travelled on through Hilmorton locks, having felt quite lock starved, and moored up in Hilmorton visitor moorings for Sunday night.  The only serious precipitation of the day was when we worked locks!  Today we made our way to Newbold and Elizabeth is in London for the night for more URC training work, while Pete is flickering from the desk in Bella.  And Josie managed to demolish the entire batch of chocolate fondu biscuits while on her own in the afternoon...

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Bella in the air

This is Bella's bow out of the water. You can just see the rack she is resting on - and you can see why she needed some new protective paint! Pete wants you to know that the light coloured oblong toward the bottom of the hull on the unridged section is called a sacrificial annode. It protects the steel from being worn away by the activity of the brass propeller. Some of you may understand this. Elizabeth knows that there are four of them. Barry tells us that they have a few more years of sacrificing themselves left before they will need replaced.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Bella's out of the water!

She's out of the water! Pete watched as she was 'placed' on a rack fore to aft, with 4 hydrolic lifts positioned to lift her out of the water. Our home rising into the air!! Yes, there are pictures, but we'll put those up later. The reason is that her hull needed spray washed and blacked - meaning a new coat of protective paint. We're also having a cratch built; in other words, a frame to hold a cover for the bow. It is nearly up now and when all done, it will be the equivalent of our garden shed, holding coal, spare toilet cassettes and other domestic storage. The bow holds these things now, but of course it all gets wet! It will soon be warm and dry. As Bella is out of the water, we have found other beds. We stayed with Jane and Simon in Rugby last night and are now in Oxford for a few days.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Wind, lightning and laundry

The joys of Blue Haven are that we have water on tap and mains electricity.  Quite a change from the cut! We've been using both to get through mountains of laundry.  We had no idea we had quite so many socks between us....  We didn't do the laundry after we left Saltisford in Warwick as dear Levi the generator is playing dead.  We have to have him seen to.  So we had much piling up!

Last night as we were listening to yet another fast spin, we also listened to pelting hail and saw flashing lightning.  Quite an amazing night!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Addtions to the garden

Some herbs don't grow outside in the winter terribly well. Our basil, tarragon, parsley and mint were suffering. But suffering most was Elizabeth, keen to have some lush colour in the garden. So, we went out to the garden centre and came back with Cyclamen, Primrose, Conifer (pink - seen in the back of the azalea tucked up next to Lavender) and something else pink. We don't know what it is, the garden centre had Saturday staff and we can't find it in our Gardener's encyclopaedia. But it was offered in flower next to the Cyclamen, so we made the decision that it probably can thrive outside. If any of our readers can name the pink flowering plant to the left of the Rosemary, we'd be grateful!

Oh, and we are back at Blue Haven, enjoying the electricity for the washing machine and for the oil filled radiator we place in the clothes room just under the damp laundry to get it dry quickly. We are enjoying being able to keep all the curtains open in the day, where out on the cut, we always keep the tow path side closed. And it was good to see our marina friends again, as we were welcomed back by Barry, Dom and Helen, Bob and Sue, Bob and Jean and Roy. We haven't seen Barbara yet, but know we shall. So, it is not all bad not being out on the cut!! However, we have plans...

Friday, 7 November 2008

Travelling to Blue Haven for a spell

We're back on the Oxford Canal now, having made our way around Hawkesbury Junction from teh Coventry Canal. As we prepared to go through the lock (of just under a foot in depth!), we bumped into Barry (Country Dreams) who, with others, was waiting for a canal boat hearse in preparation for a funeral. It was moving to see the working boat decked out and ready to receive its important cargo.

It was an intermittently bright and drizzly day taking us back on to the Oxford, but on a section we had not yet known. By evening, though, we were moored up back in Newbold, just east of the tunnel where we have been twice before for some long weekends and really, just the west side of Rugby. Now we can say - we have done the Warwickshire Ring! Six different canals, 120 locks, five tunnels and 100 miles later, we can say we loved it! It included Warwick, Birmingham, and much countryside. It was fun to enjoy our year anniversary in the midst of such a journey.

Yesterday was a moored up day so that Elizabeth could go to London for a few meetings. She thought it was fun to get the taxi to Rugby station, but to get it from Bella out on the cut, not in the marina :-).

This is being written as we travel east and we'll be moored up in Blue Haven tonight.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Still in Hawkesbury

Just so you know, we're still here. Off to London and Oxford today, but Josie stays aboard and guards dear Bella. They both seem to like it here, but the call of shore power for the washing machine says that we'll move out tomorrow and make our way to Blue Haven for a short spell of laundry. The weather is dull, damp and not so cold as it was when we were travelling, but the fire is doing a splendid job of keeping us toasty and dry.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

We made it to Hawkesbury Junction

We got to Hawkesbury yesterday late afternoon, as we hoped. Poor Pete did much driving in biting cold, but he seemed happy, no matter how much Elizabeth tried to relieve him of the Tiller. "I LIKE driving" was the firm reply :-) So Elizabeth stayed warm, blogged in fat band (duly noted on the Coventry canal map with Pete shouting bridge numbers below) and managed to make the fire sing. Now we are happily moored at the junction of the Coventry and Oxford canals having had a lovely domestic day (cleaning, putting up a shelf, fixing the end of the TV aerial, making scones and choccy biscuits, cutting towpath greens to revive the flowers, etc). We await a visit from friends for dinner. We are not sure how long we'll stay here, now that the rush is over. Watch this space!

In the meantime, these pics are from Friday - morning near Tamworth, evening in the middle of 'nowhere'.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Interesting Canal stuff

For those of you who read this blog who are interesting in all things canal now that you got hooked on our site, do look at There is a heap of information.

A year afloat!

Well, a year afloat. Yesterday, the 31st of October, marked 12 months since we pulled away from Heyford Wharf to begin our new life. And this blog is therefore over a year old! It seems hard to believe. We've travelled over 400 miles and seen things we would never have been able to see otherwise. We have chatted with people over locks, learnt canal history, seen industrial history, seen the real deprivation next to wealth in the countryside, watched the regeneration of community after community as they cluster to revive canal sites. We have also managed to keep working (on some exciting contracts) and make new boating friends.

As we write, we are still on the Coventry canal, having moored up last night in what felt like the middle of nowhere with fields to both sides and not a building in sight. It feels good to have that confidence now. We know we have everything on board and much sorted so we know we can be far from roads or buildings and be fine. We did the Atherstone locks today, the first of November, having been concerned that we might not make them in time for the stoppages there on the 10th. But we got there with lots of room to spare, so can relax now into our winter travelling.

Except for the locks at Hillmorton which never are closed (because they are parallel singles, so if one is closed for repair, the other can be used), we are now lock free until the end of March. It doesn't mean we won't travel (!) but it does mean that our travel is limited to Atherstone on the Coventry to the west, Snarestone on the Ashby to the north, and Napton on the Oxford to the south until all the lock repair work is finished in the Spring. Braunston Locks open again the end of February, but we couldn't really get too far after them, so we'll just consider them off limits. All that said, that's a good 60 miles or so we can still be travelling and certainly hope to do the Ashby canal before winter is out.

We are floating quietly to the west of Nuneaton now, planning on working our way south of it to continue to Hawkesbury Junction ( for tonight. We just pulled in to a little marina for kindling and are off again. We'll now go slowly back to Hilmorton for the end of November when we hope to have Bella's blacking done. This is the black protective paint from the gunnels down over the hull. She'll have to be out of the water, so Josie and we will have to have a few nights away. In the meantime, we're enjoying this wonderful autumn afloat. And we are truly enjoying this life afloat. If you have not already been to visit, please do!

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Another new canal and part of Elizabeth in the water

Well, we finished the Birminham and Fazely canal today, having done 11 locks from Minworth and turned onto the Coventry Canal. Another new one!! And at each such junction, Pete is at the tiller and Elizabeth is in the bows, keeping watch for potential boats coming our direction and therefore keeping us both from hitting each other. Today, as Elizabeth jaunted back down the gunnels from fore to aft (feet too wet to do the trip inside), she and Pete were chatting about whether she had asked him to sound the horn or move to port (left). So intense was the conversation that neither noticed her left foot step onto the canal rather than the aft deck. One foot, one boot, one leg of thermals, one sock and one trouser leg all canal damp. As she held on, Pete the hero lifted her by the armpits back into the safe of Bella. First fall!!

But here we are now, just east of Tamworth at Glascote locks. 5 3/4 hours travelling and 22 clicks - 13 of them locks. We DO enjoy this! This pic is of a footbrigde near Drayton Manor Park. What a hoot. Looking forward to tomorrow's anniversary. We moved out of Heyford Wharf to live aboard 12 months ago, Halloween. For us, not All Souls Eve, but the night before All Saints day. Full of promise and hope. And here we are. Watch out for tomorrow's blog (Dave and Sandy - thanks for the champers in the fridge waiting the celebration!).

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Moving out of Brum

We're on another new canal now, after having moored in Birmingham, Gas Street Station on Monday and Tuesday nights. Tuesday, Pete went to Oxford and Elizabeth stayed home (!) and worked at Bella's office and watched the snow. Wonderfully our colleague and friend, Al, happened to be in Brum the same day, so popped by for strategic chats.

Today, we set out at 8:50 and moored up at 3:30. In that time, we moved from the Worcester and Birmingham Canal to the Birmingham and Fasely canal, covered 8 miles and 23 locks (which dropped us nearly 100 feet from the centre of Brum)- a total of 31 clicks in just over 6 1/2 hours. Our best record yet!

On the journey, we saw the fascinating mix of industrial architecture through over 250 years, some of the old buildings still in original use. We travelled under new buildings and under old ones, saw the openings (now closed) to old industrial locations and saw Spaghetti junction from an entirely new vista! Under Spaghetti junction was a junction of canals - parallel sections of the Birmingham and Fasely, the Teme Valley Canal and the Grand Union; all of these with various aquaducts over the rivers Teme and Rea. We were in a lock which was also a tunnel and we had a complete mix of lock styles, gates and paddles. One hardly opened without a mighty push and though one boating family told us of being stuck in it, we just squeezed through. One bridge, near Tyburn House, we recognised as having driven on only just this past September as we drove to Sutton Coldfield. A hugely ecclectic canal day! Absolutely terrific.

And finally, a delightful KIngfisher flitted our welcome to Minworth, where we are moored now. The good news is that we have broken the back of the journey to take us to Atherstone before the 10th of November, when those locks will close for repair and could hinder our way back to Hilmorton. But now we are only 40+ clicks away and have over a week to make it. With today's 31 clicks in one day, we feel we can relax a little on the rest of the Warwickshire Ring!

Monday, 27 October 2008

A split bridge and scenes

The scene of the buildings and canal is the Turn o' the wood moorings from a few days ago. The pic with the bridge on the left and the lock gates on the right is Kingswood Junction; to the left is the Stratford Upon Avon Canal south branch, to the right the north branch which is what we took from the Grand Union/Stratford link canal we were travelling. The final pic is from a traditional canal bridge, some 200 years old. There is a gap in the middle. This is to take the rope of the boat from one side of the bridge to the other. If you enlarge the photo, you'll see the bits on the right hand upright where ropes have worn through the iron in the last centuries. It is amazing to still travel in real time in this environment worn with much time.

Another new canal!

The serene wooded view was this morning, the urban scene 5pm this afternoon. We woke to a glorious Autumn morning, put on the engine to have enough umph to have toast with breakfast, then set out from Warings Green at 9:45. After stopping at a hoot of a Wharf for fuel and water (hoot - garden shed as the office, Wharf warden appearing with Lab and slipper), It was SLOW going to Brum; the Stratford Upon Avon canal is so shallow that we kept thinking that something was around the propeller. Pete stopped us a few times to throw the engine in reverse (turn the propeller the opposite direction) just to check. All OK, but frustrating. We did an electric drawbridge today and two tunnels! Both tiny, but hey. Then we joined the Worcester to Birmingham Canal to end up in Gas Street Basin, right in the middle of Birmingham. We are a short walk away from New Street station (good for Pete as he's off to Oxford tomorrow). We were both a bit surprised that the Birmingham canals we've been on have been much more lovely than anticipated with grafitti only under bridges and much beautiful building. Where we are moored is clearly urban regeneration, but it works! We are delighted that we can live in the countryside one day and in the middle of urban chic the next. What fun!

Sunday, 26 October 2008

19 Locks, a draw bridge, clear weed hatch and we're on the Stratford

We're on a new canal for us again! What fun. We're on the Stratford upon Avon Canal, entered at its midsection at Kingswood Junction. It was so quaint and beautiful. A small link canal from the Grand Union took us to the narrow locks of this canal opened in the late 1790s with much fundraising. As soon as we entered, we had locks as immediate welcome! 19 of them took us up to beautiful landscape.

And - we were on a roll. We followed our wide lock plan of when Bella is in the lower lock as it is filling, the lock worker goes up and gets the next one up ready. But these narrow locks have an annoying feature - there are two gates to open on the way in the bottom lock. On wide locks, there are two gates, but we only have to open one of them, so the lock worker only really has to operate one side of a lock, not both. Not so on these narrows. SO (!) we have created a new routine, including Bella in lock operation. Lock worker opens one gate, Bella gently nudges open the other gate. Lock worker closes one gate, the driver points the tiller into the corner behind the open gate, puts the throttle ahead hard and sends water into the corner behind the still open gate. Hey presto, gate closes! One side worked, not two :-) Then Bella gently pushes forward against the upper gate, driver steps off and both Pete and Elizabeth work the paddles. When Bella is ready, she gently nudges open the upper gate (single), lock worker waits to close the gate and driver steps onboard Bella while she continues out the lock to the next one (now empty thanks to the lock worker making it ready). Ah. We love this.

However, the Stratford canal is very shallow, making us think we had weeds around the propeller, Bella was going so slowly. So we stopped TWICE to check. Poor Pete the weed hatch handler - pics above. A fun moment was using a draw bridge - we've never done that before! Pic above.

We stopped just before Bridge 19 and moored up by a read cider pub. Oh well. Someone must! It was a great welcome to a wonderful autumn day and a new canal. Tomorrow we're off to Brum.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Turn o the Wood moorings and a returned Reg

Today's journey is mostly told by Elizabeth, who took Reg back to Blue Haven to rest a bit while everyone else travels. We took Bella three more miles, lock free, to Turn o the Wood moorings, just east of Kingswood Junction when Elizabeth returned. But before that, here's her journey:
10:41 Train from Hatton to Warwick Parkway arriving 10:50, walk to Saltisford Marina (8mins?), drive Reg to Rugby Hilmorton Co-op by 11.25, drive to Blue Haven, collect post and talk to Dom, cadge lift from Barry (Country Dreams) to bus stop at Watts lane, take bus to Rugby centre, get coffee, take 12:40 No 63 bus to Leamington Spa (nightmare bus driver), take 1:54 train from Leamington to Hatton, arriving on foot 2:07. Set out in Bella 2:15 :-) as Pete had already done all the pre-sailing checks.

And we were back out again. Heavenly Autumn day! One of the pictures is from a few days ago - the lock handles on this section of the Grand Union. They replaced all the old locks in the 1930s when the whole of this section was expanded from single locks to double. The old single locks are still present; used as weirs. The 'new engineering' of the first part of the 20th century has resulted in lock gate paddles operated by hydrolic means. So these odd round white 'sticks' with what appear to be even tinier sticks coming out of them replace what we are used to seeing as cogs winding the steel paddle holder. It takes 20 - 23 revolutions per stick (yes, E counted) with a windlass to open them, but to close them, it takes no windlass at all! We just knock the keep off and watch them lower. A hoot!

The other two pics are today. One is the Shrewley Tunnel, where you can just see the upper tunnel opening for horses, back in the days before Izuzu engines. The other is just the lovely day!!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Hatton Flight and out on the cut again

Well, here we are at the top of Hatton Flight; 21 locks lifting us from the beautiful Warwick pound in Saltisford Canal Centre through the Warwickshire hills to Hatton. We did it in 3 1/2 hours(!), making a staggering personal best of an average of 6 locks an hour. It helped that they were all at our level, boats either having come down before us, or on their way down to meet us.

But you should have seen us! On the tightly placed stretch, one of us as lock-handler would open the gates and one of us as driver would move Bella in. Having closed the lower gate, the lock-handler went to the top gate and started to open the paddles. While the lock filled, the lock-handler walked ahead to the next lock, let out whatever water accumulated, opened the lower gate of that lock, then returned to the lower lock to open its upper gate and let the paddles down. Then the driver swaped tiller for windlass, the lock-handler became driver, and we switched lock for lock and just carried on up hill. What fun! We loved it. It also helped that it was such a stunning clear and beautiful Autumn day :-)

We moored up half an hour west of the locks in Hatton itself, in preparation for using the train to collect Reg tomorrow morning and return him to Rugby. Our mooring is wonderful and opposite a farm. Spot the cows!! Apparently they like canal water better than their water trough - so says the farmer who had them out for a walk.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

A happy dinner in Warwick

We're still in Warwick, but move out to the Hatton flight tomorrow morning. This is us, sitting opposite Sandy and Dave who whizzed in to see us on their way back from Amsterdam and their way to Sarah and Andrew. We had a great time and so enjoyed their stay. Again - all are welcome!

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Warwick is Bella's home for a little while now

Oxford and Warwick today; Elizabeth at the GKG office and Pete in the Bella office. On the weekend we were in Muswell Hill, London, where Pete was photographing a weekend on worship and art, led by Elizabeth and colleague John. Bella is happily moored in Saltisford Canal Centre, Warwick. If you visit, you'll see our mooring. The bottom photograph shows a building with green shutters and we are just there. We arrived in Warwick on Wednesday night, the 8th of October, having stopped for a spot of shopping at Leamington Spa on the way. The mooring is just lovely and we had a wonderful visit around Warwick. The castle beckons tomorrow!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Near Leamington Spa now

Yesterday we car/bike/boat hopped. It started with Elizabeth and Blossom leaving Bella to meet Reg in the car park of the Two Boats in Long Itchington, then drive to Welsh Road Lock about 2 1/2 miles ahead, park Reg, unfold Blossom and cycle back to Bella. All of us then travelled 15 clicks, 10 of them locks, to Radford Semele just east of Leamington Spa. Pete and Blossom went back to collect Reg, do a bit of shopping and come home. While they were away, Elizabeth finished her crab apple jelly (tow path forage again) and put up some blackberry jam, the berries fresh picked on arrival at the mooring. This morning, Elizabeth took the train to Oxford for early meetings and Pete drove for late ones.

It may sound confusing, but we LOVE this life!!!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

October finds us out on the Cut again

Today finds us on the Grand Union canal in Long Itchington, Warwickshire on October 5th. We went back to Blue Haven for a week while Elizabeth and Pete went to Sutton Coldfield twice, then Elizabeth hopped off to Edinburgh, Chester and Liverpool. We set out again on the 2nd of October.

It was good to be in Blue Haven long enough to use the shore power and wash anything we could, including curtains, dog towels, etc, to catch up with marina friends and to talk with Blue Haven's Barry about a Cratch. For the uninitiated, this means a cover over the bow - a triangle window at the front rising from the bow, a small hard roof linking the top of the triangle window to the body of the boat over the bow doors, then a soft tent like cover with zips to open its side doors. This will be our equivalent of the garden shed, holding the coal, waste cassettes, Blossom and more. We already keep such things in the bow, but it will be more secure and dry with a cover. Hopefully he can fit it in November. Which meant we could move out now!

We set out late Thursday afternoon, the 2nd of October, and moored just an hour south, but OUT. These images are just a few things we like along the way. Elizabeth loves geese; they have such soft eyes, so unlike the bolshy swans. The morning light was clear and bright. The bicycles show you that there is trade on the canals. The basket is more foraging.

We went south to Braunston again where took the Oxford canal south at Braunston junction. Just before Wigrams Turn, where we moved off the Oxford and on to a section of the Grand, we moored up for more crab apples and blackberries from the tow path. The crab apple mush is releasing juice for jelly through the jelly bag as we write. A few clicks later (14 in total on the 3rd), we moored up near The Boat, a pub on the A426 just north of Southam. We have SO often seen this pub on our journeys to and from Oxford. It was such a hoot to be there by boat! Friends Simon and Jane (with new pup Indy) met us for dinner at the pub; great. (message - so can anyone!!)

Saturday saw us move a massive 9 clicks (!), 8 of them locks, down the Stockton Flight to the Blue Lias Pub. Blue Lias, as that is the name of the clay in the local quarry which contributed to the cement used to build the Thames Embankment, quarried from the lowest level of the Jurassic period clay. Hence the dinosaur on the pub sign :-). We still have Reg with us, so it was not too hard for Pete to walk a mile to collect him. Today we moved a huge 3 clicks (3!!) to the Two Boats pub at Long Itchington. Again, only one mile, so Pete walked back for Reg while Elizabeth cut crab apples for said jelly.

Yes, we are pub hopping our way to Warwick. We have scheduled a stop at Warwick's Saltisford Canal Centre where we expect Bella to be safe while Josie goes to kennels and Elizabeth and Pete go to a working weekend in London. We'll let you know if all goes according to plan!!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Forager's dinner in Braunston

We've just been in Braunston for a few days having a wonderful time meeting up with friends from Sweden. Yasmin and Robert stayed in the Old Workshop B&B, just inside the boundary of Braunston Marina, and it is a fantastic find! A few hours cruising from Blue Haven in Rugby, a lovely night in Braunston, out on the cut the next day for a trip to Napton and back with a stop for lunch, then back to Braunston for dinner. We pulled away this morning, with Yasmin and Robert ready to drive off to Stanstead. Just a note from Yasmin. As she was sitting looking around Bella last evening, she finally said of our 6'10" wide boat, "this is massive!!"

So the forager's dinner. Last night we had risotto with chestnut mushrooms picked by Pete from just beside our Blue Haven mooring and parasol mushrooms picked by Helen while she was walking the dogs on Sunday morning. Pud was blackberries picked by Yasmin and Robert on their walk around their B&B and apples from the garden opposite Blue Haven, given to us by Helen. We are so enjoying learning where we can find the most wonderful food! Thanks to Helen and Dom, we had a stunning puffball mushroom last week. We thank them loads for letting us know the mushrooms we can eat (!). No poison; we are writing this post after the feast.

Monday, 15 September 2008

September 15 and in Rugby for a little while

Well, we're back in our mooring at Blue Haven, after a wonderful weekend in Braunston. We moored up at Marston Doles, the top of the Napton flight of 9 locks on Friday afternoon at which point, the heavens opened. Elizabeth and taxi went to salvage Reg and they had quite a puddle wading trip back to Bella, moored just south of the top lock.

Blessedly, Saturday started dry and the wonderful Barometer needle kept creeping to the right - high pressure and dry. By the time we moored in Braunston early afternoon, it felt almost like summer. Heavenly. We stayed there two nights which included a wonderful surprise visit from Dom and Helen and we spent much of the evening chatting and sipping - them in our deck chairs on the tow path and us on the bench on the deck. Their dogs, Trio and Defa, needed protection from our delightful Josie, kept on deck by a dining chair across the gap between the stern railing and the bulkhead. Must get a fence...

Now back in Blue Haven, still dry and moored in our old spot, we want to get back out! Since we were last here on May 25, we have travelled 625 clicks, with probably just under half of those clicks being locks, and managed just over 543 engine hours (some of those while moored to charge batteries). So with over 300 miles behind us on the open canal, we hardly want to stay moored in a marina! And, we are immediately next to Bluebell; lovely boat, but not the open field, while our other side is the quayside with lovely grass, but it is up a hill, the top of which is above the level of the roof of Bella. So, no open field there either. We won't be here for long! We're back to plug into electricity while our generator is up the spout, to just check in, to do some work elsewhere and to welcome our friends from Sweden early next week. But we are wondering where else we could moor while they are here.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Out of Claydon on our way to Napton

As we write, we are on the move. Elizabeth and Pete swapped locks again to finish the Claydon flight, and both are frustrated that the next 11 miles are completely lock free!!! Not fair. Pete is back at the tiller with camera to capture bridges, and Elizabeth is at the desk doing some work for the Women's Resource Centre, writing her journal and, yes, the blog. Yes, she writes most of the posts. But we never are completely sure!!!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

We moved home again - to Claydon

We've now left Cropredy and the Brasenose behind for a while. In a day which started wet but ended up in a fine Autumn breeze with hints of sun and lots of blue sky, we travelled north again. Elizabeth helped with Cropredy Lock and then took Blossom to Reg for a spot of car hopping again. She drove to Claydon (discovered there is no Post Office), then cycled back to Pete, Bella and Josie, happily moored up at Bridge 150, Broadmoor Bridge before Broadmoor Lock. We don't think this is where the prison is... Pete had coffee ready, then we all (except Reg, of course) starting working our way north. It is good to be on the move again!!! And now that Pete's back is better, Elizabeth and Pete started swapping lock work again. Elizabeth forgot how much she enjoyed the slow rise of Bella up the lock. It is a wonderful sensation to drive into a lock and only see the sky and slimy walls and then to gently have the scenery come into view. Causes one to smile! We're now moored up on thin band, but at least connected, on the pound between locks 19 & 18 in the Claydon flight. For those of you who don't know, or couldn't recall, the 'pound' is the water between locks. And no, we don't know why. As soon as we were moored, Elizabeth re-located Reg and found a Post Office in Upper Boddington. As quintessentially English as its name.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

For the Fairport Convention fans...

Just for those of you who read this who care (and deeply), our Cropredy watering hole is the Brasenose. Just last evening, we heard the latest publican tell someone, "Have you heard of Fairport Convention? almost all their early music was written in this very room!" Clearly a local claim, but it is still fun to have our current local having been seen on the cover of an early Fairport album :-)

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Cropredy now

We're living in Cropredy again, as we did the third week in August. It is fun to live in so many different places! Yesterday, when we prepared to cruise, we joked that it was moving day. But unlike any previous moving day, there was no removals van and team at the door and we had no unpacking to do when we arrived at the new place. We just start the engines, untie the lines and set up home somewhere else! Pete only just caught a Kingfisher leading the way - do see for a view. As ever the weather is, well, weather. But on our shopping stop in Banbury, we bought a barometer just to be able to do a little forward hoping.