Friday, 23 July 2010

We're not in Blue Haven :-)

Yes, we set out as promised. We'll give more detail in a few days when we're not so rushed!! But we left on the 19th of July, set out south to Brothers in Farms (our name for a lovely rural spot) north of Braunston, moored at Birdingbury Wharf on the Grand Union for the night of the 20th, moored in Long Itchington on the 21st, Radford Semele on the 22nd and now we're in Saltisford Arm, Warwick. We're off to Oxford for the day tomorrow, but we promise to update all details on Sunday.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Blue Haven for a week

We're back in Blue Haven for a small spell to sort out a few domestic things and for Elizabeth to go off to Windermere for a few days work. We set out from Braunston just after breakfast and just after Elizabeth popped in to Tradline Fenders for a new oil lamp. An easy two hours, Pete did the tiller work and Elizabeth wrapped braid around the metal fender holders so that the holders wouldn't scratch the paint. Then did dishes. Then set up the office for arrival. Then made coffee for arrival. Then watched the groundworks for the new Buckby Marina just south of Hillmorton. Then we pulled into our mooring and it all felt as if we'd never been away!!

To Braunston and a tiller CLUNK

Well, Monday the 12th of July was an eventful day. We set out from Stowe Hill in the morning, ready for a full return to Hillmorton in the evening. We did well, enjoyed our trip up the Wilton then Buckby flights of the Grand Union with Katherine, a new boat and new boaters. After stopping at Buckby top to use the sanitary point, we travelled by Norton Junction, then into the Braunston tunnel. It was the first time we have ever not met a boat coming the other way! Having seen the tip in Waterways World about pointing our headlamp up to the right so we could see the roof and sides of the tunnel better, we had much the best tunnel trip ever.

Into Braunston top lock, change helmsperson as usual, Pete worked the downward gates, Elizabeth drove out and CLUNK. The tiller handle dropped with a loud clang. From there, she could only manoeuvre for half of the full tiller sweep. A loud and long sound of the horn brought Pete back from setting the next lock down and together, they encouraged the boat heading up to leave the towpath and GO UP the lock - so we could pull in without hitting them. We tied up Bella and investigated.

OK, here goes. The tiller is connected to the rudder with a long vertical shaft with a protruding bit at the bottom which sits in a collar jutting out from the stern. The shaft had popped out of the collar, allowing the rudder/tiller shaft to drop. Pete had seen this on other boats and knew that with a few heaves, lifts, wiggles and shoves, he could lift it and drop the protruding bit back into the collar. But, oh, the work. He walked down a few locks to get connectivity on the phone (all this would have happened in a hole in the mobile net!!), called our friends at Blue Haven Marine and was affirmed as doing the right thing. So, back to Bella, back to standing on the stern gunwale and stern fender, back to heaving, lifting, dropping, heaving... In the meantime, we both decided that River Canal Rescue might lend a hand and Elizabeth went to call. As we waited, Pete decided to get out the socket set and to undo the bolts which held the tiller/rudder shaft in place, allowing it more wiggle room. Woo Hoo - it worked. We called RCR back again to let them know that they weren't needed after all and we were away.

Five locks later, we sailed into Braunston to be met by a call from the side and there they were - Berkhamstead and crew, one of the boats of the flotilla which had passed us on Saturday, moored up. Insisting that we stop and chat, they allowed us to find a mooring first! We finished our busy day of 10 miles and 13 locks drinking home-made wine from the bows of Berkhamstead, chatting about religion, politics and planning. Oh, and boats.

Stowe Hill visit and many friends

On the 7th of July, we set out from Buckby top (having been taken over by Five O'Clock) and made the flight of double locks all on our own. Great fun! We stopped at the bottom of the Wilton locks, passing Five O'Clock, where Elizabeth went into the Chandlery whilst Pete made a work phone call. Five O'Clock passed us just before we set out again and no locks later, we passed them as they were moored at Weedon, and then we moored up at Stowe Hill (home of Rubgy Boats) to have a good visit.

We sat a day or so, went to Oxford for a fun piece of work, then set out with our friends on Ferret on the Friday evening. What fun! We moored up only 2.5 miles east of Stowe Hill near Bugbrook, had much wine and food whilst sitting on the towpath and generally had a hoot of a time.

The next morning, we both set off to Gayton turn (where the Grand Union Northampton Arm sets out east
), we moored up at the service point and Ferret turned to return west and bagsie a table at the Wharf Inn for us all to have lunch. We used the services, turned, found a lovely woodsy mooring, then walked to the Wharf where we all had a great (late!) lunch. When we set off again, we found we were caught in an unplanned flotilla As we waited for one boat to pass us before we set out, we realised there was another, then another, then another... And one of them was Berkhamstead and we knew the boaters! We had moored opposite their land home two years ago and had so many chats from our hatch to their balcony that we ended up all together on their balcony for our last night in Berko. What fun to see them again! After their slowing for a chat with us, the whole flotilla slowed, then they were followed by our friends on Ferret and then yet another boat. We finally set out and the picture shows the crowd.

Some of the crowd turned, others moored, we passed Berkhamstead boat as they welcomed land visitors, then Ferret and we moored up back in Stowe Hill. Within minutes we were all gathered around with more Stowe Hill moorers. Chatting between sips of wine went on for some time into the evening ...

Buckby Penultimate

We moved out from Napton, meandered north by Wigrams Turn, where the Oxford joins the Grand Union and the Grand also turns west to Warwick and beyond. From Wigrams to Braunston, the single canal stretch is both the Oxford and the Grand. Lock free, it is a lovely piece of canal. We turned right (east) at Braunston and moored up for a bit of shopping.

As we were mooring, we heard a "Hello, Elizabeth!" from a passing Tillerman on Promise Me Too and, after a few minutes, we both realised that this was another URC minister and wife who we knew from Oxford. A small walk out later took us to Braunston Marina where we caught up for a chat with them on the service point. We walked back from the Marina with maps for the western canal network and two new fenders.

We went on to the locks where we met up with It Must Be Five O'Clock Somewhere, another long narrow boat. We shortened their name to Five O'Clock for chatting sake and shared the 6 Braunston locks with this lovely boat and couple. A pleasure. Tunnel next, quite dry of drips as the ground above it was so dried out, then on to Norton Junction. This is where the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union heads north. Five O'Clock had moored up by then, but we headed for the Buckby locks to get through the top lock before mooring for the night.

Lo and Behold, as we got to Buckby top, our dear friend from Rugby Boat Sales was photographing a new boat for his brokerage. When he was finished, he joined us on Bella then we all traipsed off to the New Inn. Brilliant day!

On to Napton

We travelled the very windy windie bit of the Oxford on the 5th, taking ourselves through one of the unique features of a James Brindley designed canal. The section from Fenny Compton to Marston Doles, the top of the Napton flight (the southern end), is sweetly called the Meandering section. The reality is that it twists and turns all over the place. Dear James Brindley, the engineer of the Oxford, was instructed by his commissioning canal company to use as little money as possible. Hence, lift bridges made of wood rather than solid bridges made of brick and stone and - meandering around hills rather than gouging out great cuts or exploding long tunnels. And in the summer, when the Willow, Hawthorne and reeds grow faster than they are maintained, we get sharp blind corners. Wooo - fun! (not). We had a number of near misses with hire boats and bridge holes, but all in all, Elizabeth was able to knit quietly whilst Pete took the tiller.

We did the Napton flight in good time and great laughter. We think we saw every sort of boat from private live aboards like ours, to private boats out for the summer, to private boats out for the weekend, to hire boats, to working barges and even Hotel Boats. The fun here is that one of the Hotel Boat crew was known to us from the Saltisford Arm of the Grand Union. It is so much fun being able to chat on route to people we know!

We moored up outside the Bridge pub (as per usual!) to find it is closed on Mondays. How can a pub be closed???

Sunday, 4 July 2010

NB Acres to Cropredy and on to Fenny Compton

We left NB Acres on Saturday morning and went through our first lock of the day, Kings Sutton. Such a lovely summer day to see the entrance to the lock under one of the oldest bridges on the Oxford; bridge 179. Elizabeth couldn't help taking a picture of Bella as she entered the lock, as the garden looks so wonderful. The three plants on the front are Berry patch (the blueberries), Azzy (the Azalea) and Heidi, the heather. On the roof are Perry, Saxi, Annabellle, Sharon and Lavendar. Stewart and Rosemary tuck behind the deck doors on travel, but are presently sitting on the deck bench, which you can see behind Pete.

We travelled to Cropredy and were able to moor up at one of our favourite spots, just north of the lock. We stayed there one night having stopped off at our local, the Braeneose (so named as it used to be owned by Brasenose College, Oxford). This morning, we set out to a far windier day and moored up early afternoon in Fenny Compton. The weather continues to get windier and cloudier which, thankfully, is quite a change! Apparently, it has been the driest first 6 months of any year in the last 80 years. Though this makes for a very shallow canal, it has made for glorious cruising.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Heyford then NB Acres

We left our friends in Thrupp by moving out of the 14 day moorings in a swift move to allow Snowgoose to move in. Smugly moored is what we call it! We headed out to yet another lovely day (this is getting to be a habit!) and easily made the 8 miles, 5 locks and two lift bridges to Heyford, Bella's old home. We found a superb mooring at the south end of the 48 hour slots and had a walk over the fields to the pub. It all feels so familiar! Home to a great fresh broad bean and bacon salad.

We set out the next morning to water at the watering point just south of the bridge, then moored up by Oxfordshire Narrowboats for diesel. NOTE - there is now a fab B&B at Heyford, which, by the way, is over the canal from the train station allowing you to travel to Banbury or Oxford. We were shown around the B&B and it's lovely. Really.

We set out around lunch time and motored up to our next 'old haunt' at NB Acres, just north of Nell's lock, the northern end of another stretch sharing the Cherwell which starts at the south end with Aynho weir lock. We moored up on the towpath side here when we first moved Bella north. And, we were in NB Acres last July, when we first came across this smallholding owned by the residents of narrowboat Per Ardua. Then we met Clarissa, the rare breed Oxfordshire sandy and black pig and this year, we met her newest family and her family's newest family! In the new buildings, we saw day old chickens and ducks, one cracking into new life whilst we stood there. Today, a turkey hatched and another was cracking out as we watched. So many of our lives are so distant from this, it is wonderful to experience it. One brood of pigs was five weeks old, the other five days. We can hear the squeals as we sit here! The weather has been lovely for us, but for NB Acres, rain would be welcome. Their bore hole is stressed and all their 1.5 tonne water butts are empty. Ah well.

As ever, we are taking advantage of the electrics here and are working on clearing the laundry. The pics are the inside of a lock and the lock wall. We wanted you to see all that grows on it!! And we are privileged to be so close to cows as they wade to the water. In our nearly three years aboard, we never cease to be amazed at how close to nature we are.

Thrupp for nearly a week

We had a wonderful time in Thrupp. It mizzled a little one day, but other than that, we enjoyed summer weather. This is a shock for us! The longest summer since we've lived on Bella. The second night there, we had lovely dinner guests and celebrated with Cava, cream cheese and caviar, pastas with fresh herbs and garlic then finished with chocolate fondu. The beautiful scientist amongst us had never had either the starter or the finish and the fact that we had a set of glasses for each liquid brought some hilarity amongst our boater friends. What a hoot!

The next evening, we had a BBQ on the towpath around one friend's boat whilst we listened to tales of the cut from Rose who was born on a working boat and spent much of her life working them. We learnt to say 'motor and butty' not boat and butty and learned how to correctly pronounce Braunston. Our dear meal provider, Kate, tells Rose's tale in A Boat's Yer Whole World We saw it in Banbury last year and loved it. On Sunday morning, we wandered the country lane then waterside to climb the ages old steps to Shipton on Cherwell parish church. We were SO warmly welcomed and it was good to worship with a friend whilst not in Rugby or Oxford.

We ended our stay, after Elizabeth went to Manchester for an overnight meeting, by having a BBQ outside our other friend's boat (s). What fun. Much conversation about deep and complex things and the enjoyment of the passing (Very Loud) birds. Or cars and lorries. This BBQ was around a fire, outside the boats, next to (in?) the car park, right by the Banbury Road. Brilliant. We'll go back to Thrupp.

The pics are of the moorhen family we watched frequent the opposite side of the canal from our mooring and of the lovely Thrupp evening. That's the Jolly Boatman pub with its lights on just on the right of the bridge. We love the reflections...