Tuesday, June 28, 2022

HS2 - the disruption begins

 I see that CRT will shortly  be escorting boats through a short length of the South Oxford summit while the HS2 people construct a temporary bridge over the canal. It's over two years since we were up there and saw the mountain of earth all ready in place to lift the line up over the canal.

They'll have their work cut out escorting all the boats because it gets a lot of boat traffic up there, including a lot of hire boats at this time of the year. No doubt  the temporary bridge is needed so that they can work from both sides to prepare for the real bridge. I wonder when that'll appear. I suppose there will be a lot more of this to come because the line will cross the canal in a number of places including a huge flyover near Denham on the GU.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Quite a finish

How splendid to finish our cruise with this spectacular sunset on our last night.  Worth clicking on the photos if you have a big screen.  This was at Napton, where as we walked back to the boat after  a meal at the Folly, we spotted the cattle on the horizon with the setting sun behind.

The Folly looks a bit different this year with half of the marquees dismantled and the others not in use.  Also the splendid new Potting Shed bar is only open at weekends although you can sit on the veranda.  

There are so many pretty spots to sit outside in the pub gardens.  At first you think there aren't many customers, but then as you walk round you see lots of small groups here and there and you realise there are probably fifty people or more.  Mark the landlord is having a tough time finding enough staff to run a full service, but they are coping as best they can and doing a good job despite somewhat limited offerings and hours for food. As ever Caroline has done a brilliant job on the planting with pots and tubs blooming everywhere.

En route back to Ventnor we passed this long new stretch of piling and restored towpath just before you get to the bridge where the closed Bridge pub stands.  

Very tidily done, you have to admit.  It'll look better when the grass grows and will no doubt attract moorers.
We spotted several such places ( but a lot shorter) up the Ashby where the bank has been repaired and the towpath done up at the same time.  It all seems to be the work of the Rothen Group who are getting a lot of work from CRT lately.  I looked at their web site and they have a blog with a lot of interesting articles on the methods and machinery they use for dredging and piling.  A very professional outfit by the look of it.  

I notice also that CRT are using new contractors for mowing and vegetation control ( whatever happened to Fountains?).  CRT claims a substantial savings in cost although they report they are having to put a lot of effort into getting the new contractors to meet timescales and standards.  Let's hope it's just teething problems and not a case of paying peanuts and getting monkeys.

Now we're back at home and finding we need to get back control of the garden which has gone berserk in our absence.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The end is nigh

 Since our last post we've completed the North Oxford, which I am beginning to like more and more.  What a treat it must have been for the nineteenth century working boats having all those wide straight runs with no locks and how they must have marvelled at the steep high embankments raising them above the land below.  Of course it would have been less tree lined then and so whilst they'll have had great views, they will have missed the lovely shaded glades and all the bird song which accompanied us for hours on end.

You see a fair few of these iron bridges along this route.

They span the little arm-remnants of where the old bendy canal went before all the straightening happened. It looks like the iron balustrades were transported there in big half-one-side pieces and then assembled on site.  I presume the iron sections came there by canal - quite a sight I would think.  A number of the little side arms so created now find use as boatyards.

The first night we moored just short of All Oaks Wood where we stood outside at sunset with the man from the adjacent boat and enjoyed the colours in the sky.  

Next night we made it all the way to bridge 87 (henceforth know as 'the place wot Adam showed us').  Actually, having eulogised about the N Oxford, I don't like the bit between Hillmorton and Bridge 87 much.  It seem to drag on a bit.  The remaining bit into Braunston is of course lovely.  We got another great sunset at B87.

Today being our last full day of the trip, we have made our way to Napton in order to enjoy the delights of the Folly garden.  Mooring was very tight and we only just got in thanks to Kath asking another boat to move to close up the gap in front of them.  This they did, but not cheerfully. Anyway our thanks are due to them.

Tomorrow it's back to Ventnor and then the drive home to see if our garden plants have survived the heat.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Reflections on the Ashby

 Blimey, what a difference a day makes. 30 degrees C yesterday and 15 degrees today!   Rainy too, but not as much as the met men prophesied.  Now the Ashby is a distant memory and we sit here at a damp and dismal Hawkesbury (pump engine side).  Never mind, the weather is due to improve again from tomorrow.

Now, one or two more thoughts on the Ashby canal.  What a strange little beast it is,  sometimes narrow and shallow, sometimes deeper and pretty wide.  You get the impression that they started out at the top end with good intentions making a wide, straight and deep enough canal for the coal boats and then ran out of either money, time or energy as they got further south. I wouldn't want to navigate the lower sections with a fully laden coal boat these days.  You'd never get through.

Having said all that, the good bits are extremely charming and scenic and apart from the short stint through Hinckley, it all runs through bucolic countryside.  One thing they seem to grow a lot of up there is wheat, huge swaithes of it.  Somebody will make a good killing this year as I hear grain prices are high.  When Kath used to make corn dollies, she had to seek out farmers who grew old strains of wheat in order to get straw long enough.  Today the wheat stalks seem incredibly short.  Barely a foot high from what we saw.

Occasionally we spotted old mileposts up the canal and at first we were a bit puzzled.  Here's one.

As the guide books and canalplan tell us, the Ashby is currently 22 miles long so the numbers don't add up, I thought.  Then I realised that the original canal was 30 miles long, the remaining 8 miles being closed off until the happy day someone reinstates it.

There is wildlife aplenty of course and youngster rearing is going full swing with loads of ducklings, goslings, moorhen chicks etc.  Even the electricity pylons seem to have babies.

Slow on the uptake again, it took me a while to work out the purpose of the mini pylons.  Down at the south end of the canal there are pylon lines going in all directions, presumably spreading out from the big switching station near Hawkesbury.  Inevitably I suppose, one line has to cross another, and that's where the mini pylons come in.  They allow one set of cables to pass beneath the other.  Simples.

I did say I'd try to photograph one of the garden terrace steps then plunge precipitately towards the canal at the mobile home site near the southern end of the Ashby. I commissioned Herbie's official mobile photographer (Kath) to snap one as we pass.  Here's what she got.

How do you fancy tripping down that lot after a couple of glasses of wine?

Tonight we dine in on a farm shop steak and ale pie to warm us up.  I hope it's as nice as it looks.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Shady business

 Well here we are in a quiet shady spot not far below Hinckley.  It's actually been tolerably cool in the shade, but tomorrow is supposed to be the super hot day.

As is quite normal on these trips we keep passing the same boats moored up, then they pass us moored up later.  A sort of canal boat leap frog.  We again passed the nice old feller who swapped us coal for cooking oil and also the Yorkshire man who we moored next to in Shackerstone on the way up.  Do you remember the Monty Python sketch about the old Yorkshire men.  "We used to sleep in a paper bag", "Well we used to dream of a paper bag" etc.  Well this Yorkshire man was of that ilk.  

He had many strong opinions and he wasn't afraid to express them.  "I'd build a wall round the M25 and lock all the London buggers in".  "There's only two builders in England who can build a proper boat. All the rest are complete rubbish" etc etc.  He referred to a well know canal person as a Leftie, so I presume our man was a Rightie. Humouring him, I didn't venture to express my own opinions since as I come from south of the Humber, my opinions are worth bugger all.  Yet he was friendly enough I suppose.

Our neighbours tonight are a pleasant couple who live aboard with their dog and cat.  In the time honoured manner we talked about how we came to get a boat, our general life stories etc.  He is a web site developer working entirely from his boat. Nice people.  I always like talking to the people we moor next to, even the bluff Yorkshire men.

Normal shops are virtually non existent up the Ashby canal, unless you want to walk some distance from a bridge in Hinckley.  There are however a couple of good farm shops near the canal and this morning we visited the one near Stoke Golding.  I suppose a lot of the stuff was not produced on their farm, (bananas grown in Leicestershire?)  but what they had was good and reasonably priced, so we stocked up with bread, fruit and veg, milk and some very nice lamb chops which we cooked on our Cob barbecue and I am digesting as I type this.

Tomorrow? Who knows.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

What to do on a hot day

 Nine o'clock sharp and Alex and I met to clean Herbie's bilges.  Well to be honest, such was Alex's enthusiasm for the job that it was just a matter of me watching him do it with his wet and dry vacuum.  The clean(ish) rainwater we dumped in the hedgerow and the oil and diesel from under the engine is now safely decanted into a can to be taken to the recycling place at home. I'm not sure I would eat my dinner off the bilge floor now, but it does look a lot more respectable and of course dry.  Alex stoutly refused any reward for his labours and returned to retouching the paintwork on the cartoon on the side of his boat, which he painted to have a good grumble at the shortcomings of CRT and the powers that be in general. 

Here's Alex drawing alongside us last evening. 

You can see the cartoon, but to get the detail you'll need to look at

 wewalktogether.uk/2020/06/14/villains-and-heroes It pulls no punches. Well worth a look.  BTW Alex also built his boat himself, from the bottom up.  Clever guy.

Now that we are coming back down the Ashby I have to think of something new to say with my magnetic lettering on the side of Herbie. Judging by the comments we get, this simple act seem to give a lot of people some pleasure.

It was just as well we started at nine because the day soon got uncomfortably hot as we tootled on down the Ashby, leaving Alex to his artwork.  It was good that there are so many bridges because it was cool and a little breezy under each one.  We decided to stop for lunch at Sutton Cheney wharf as we liked the look of it on the way up.  Also it has a facilities block  for the necessaries.  The little cafe there was busy, but we ordered slices of quiche and a bowl of chips to eat on the benches in the shade.  It was a bit of a long wait, but worth it as the food was really good.  The quiches really eggy (in a good way) and contained sun dried tomatoes and mozzarella, and the chips (twice fried) were skin on jobs cut large.  My mum would have complained " They might at least have peeled the spuds" she would have said.  They were in fact delicious.

Off we then trundled the relatively short distance back to Stoke Golding while we rest from the heat, and no doubt this evening take a refreshing stroll up the hill to contribute to the takings at the George and Dragon.

I fear the next couple of days are going to be uncomfortably hot.  Maybe we should start early or travel in the evening.  We''ll see.

Meanwhile here's a photo of the aqueduct at Shackerstone.  I don't think Pontcysyllte has a lot to fear status wise, but I like it nonetheless.

Speaking of Shackerstone here's another photo showing a pleasant memory of sitting across the road from the church yard there.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

A day of coincidences.

 Such an eventful day, I hardly know where to start.

Well this morning we got to the top of the Ashby - well as far as you can currently get.  Soon boats will be able to go half a mile further as next Monday work starts in installing a new stop gate to control the passage into the next watered section.

There a nice little shop at the current head of navigation selling ice creams and bric a brac to raise funds for the canal restoration.  

They are currently quite a few million short of the full cost but every little helps.

Just beyond the shop, hidden by trees, you can glimpse the pumping house which draws water from an old mine shaft over 500ft deep and sends it to the good people of Hinckley for their daily needs.  

These days it runs on electric pumps of course but the beams of the former steam engine have been saved for posterity and are displayed by the canal side.

When we arrived a man (about our age) came past with a shopping bag.  "Ah ", quoth I, " is there a shop in the village?". "Only a farm shop", he replied,"What was it you wanted?", "Oh just some barbecue coal", I said.  "Hmm have you got any cooking oil?", said the man.  Well to cut a long story short, I supplied him with a small bottle of cooking oil and a cup of sugar and he gave me enough BBQ coal for three meals.  Result! Everyone happy.

Coming back through Snarestone tunnel 

I could see a boat at the other end waiting to come in.  When we emerged into the daylight the man on the waiting boat suddenly threw his arms wide and shouted "Hello".  Well blow me down if it wasn't our old friend and expert chimney maker Alex - Lord of Emslow and mutual friend of the lovely Mortimer Bones.

Back beyond Shackerstone Alex caught up with us and we moored up together and spent a very  pleasant evening swapping stories and sipping surprisingly nice Lidl chardonnay.  I happened to mention that I had a lot of rain water in Herbie's bilge and Alex confided that on his very small boat he had two wet and dry vacuum cleaners (people who know Alex won't be all that surprised), so at breakfast time tomorrow we have a date to suck the offending fluid from our bilges.  Another result!

There'll be more to say about the Ashby canal in a later post, but until then, enjoy the promised heatwave.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

The lure of a good pint

 We're accelerating. Today we did all of 12.5 miles and as we passed Charity Dock (always a pleasure) we even overtook The Stig

Charity dock is a sort of breakers yard for old boats/wrecks.  Hearing how boat prices have risen over the last year, some of them might actually be worth something.

Turning into the Ashby canal, we started counting the stone bridges which Rick has always denied existed.  Well 11 of the first thirteen were of the said stone and Kath took photos as evidence. I look forward to a grovelling apology from Rick. 

The Ashby is so rural that it's hard to imagine that is was dug to allow for the transport of coal from the mines at its head.  It is of course dead level all the way, having no locks but there is one bit where a cutting has been hewn out of the rock.  On one side of this cutting there is a mobile home site with incredibly steep gardens down to the canal.  You almost expect to see kittiwakes or gannets clinging to the ledges.  Most unsuitable I would have thought for the elderly folk who often inhabit these mobile home sites, some of the steps and stairs down to the garden terraces look terrifying. I think they might have to abseil down them.   On the way back I'll try and photograph a couple.

Such was our progress that we abandoned our original plan to moor at Hinckley and  we pressed bravely on to Stoke Golding, lured on by the promise of a pint of Fallen Angel ale at the George and Dragon - a risky strategy as we had to pass several good empty mooring spots, just hoping that the moorings at the bottom of the field in Stoke Golding would have space for us.  

Well fortune favours the brave and there was room, so without further delay after tying up, we walked across the field and up the hill into the village for a pint or two.  Great pub, exceptional beer and at a price unthinkably low down where we live, except perhaps in Wetherspoons.  Most ales were £3.70 a pint.  I read recently that the £10 pint has been seen in London recently. Certainly 4.50 to 5 pounds is normal back home. The pub next door to the G&D  has the Mango Tree Indian restaurant/ takeaway at the rear, so after the pub, that was dinner sorted.  We got a takeaway that turned out to be too big even for us to eat, so we'll have leftovers tomorrow.  Good little village Stoke Golding.

Although the Ashby is shallow, especially at the sides, there does seem to be a good selection of places where you can moor and a fair number of them have mooring rings which is always nice.  Boat traffic today was remarkably quiet ( well apart from Hawkesbury which was manic this morning).  Strange for a Sunday in June.  Is there something  people aren't telling us?

Friday, June 10, 2022


Yes, we actually got moving properly today and here we are glimpsed over the lovely long grass at Hawkesbury.

Not as bad as it looks, the path by the boats is mown as you see here

but the wider verge is left to grow as nature intended. Quite right too. Of course Hawkesbury junction is not all about nature and canal history, it also sits next to a mega electricity switching station with pylons stretching away in every direction.

The canal junction itself is well loved by boaters, having the super Greyhound pub and the stylish junction bridge

Standing on that bridge you can see what a tight turn boats have to negotiate from the North Oxford canal on the right to the Coventry canal on the left.

Someone has done some good planting at the little garden by the stop lock.  The bees were certainly enjoying it.

So that's the end of the Oxford canal until our return journey, but I shall look forward to that.  Not many people eulogise about the North Oxford, but I really like it, especially the section for All Oaks to Stretton Stop (which I neglected to photograph today) which is really lush, pretty and in the big cutting with its tall trees, mega impressive.

Thanks to Dave who sent this link  https://www.rose-narrowboats.co.uk/oxford-canal-and-stretton-history.htm which explains about the straightening of the N Oxford.  It would appear that it was done around the 1830s which makes those big embankments and cuttings even more impressive.

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Taking it steady

 I'm relieved to say that today has been less exciting than yesterday.  Kath is doing OK after her unscheduled dip in the canal, although parts of her anatomy are somewhat black and blue after we hauled her over the canal edge like a sack of spuds.

Deciding on an easy day we tootled along to Rugby Tesco to restock the fridge and the galley, then we pottered on for the very short distance to Newbold where we now rest for the night.  The height of the canal embankment along here is mighty impressive. Were it not for the trees, you could feel like you were flying.  I'm not sure when they built it but I do know that the North Oxford underwent some straightening and improvement long after it was first built.  Maybe it was late enough not to rely solely on men with shovels and horses. Feel free to enlighten me if you are an aficionado. Now it's wide and has long tree lined straights with high bridges and I rather like it. The difference between the North Oxford and the South Oxford is very marked. 

Since Covid first struck we have visited hardly any pubs but now being quadruple vaccinated and Omicron being seemingly less harmful, we cast cares to the wind and walked along to the Barley Mow for a pint and something to eat.  

If you look at the Barley Mow website it looks like a pretty smart pub, and it is tidy enough, but not as nearly smart as the web site implies.  I would call it a decent enough working man's pub.  The beer was nice and not too dear, so that was good. According to the web site the chef is highly trained, which I can only take to mean that he trained at a college at the top of a hill.  Don't get me wrong, the steak and ale pie I had (with lots of gravy -big tick), and the lasagne Kath had were perfectly ok, but decent basic pub grub at a very reasonable price is the limit of the praise I can offer.   By all means go there, just don't get taken in by the upmarket web site and end up expecting more than it is.

The list of jobs needing doing on Herbie is a bit daunting, so I'm aiming to do one small job each day.  Yesterday it was tightening the stern tube stuffing box or whatever you call it - now it doesn't drip.  Today I had a go at replacing the radio aerial, but the nut inside the roof lining has rusted up and it's two handed job, one person outside to grip the old aerial butt and one inside to try to twist off the rounded nut with pliers.  I hadn't got the heart to ask Kath to help just yet.

Tomorrow we resume a more reasonable pace and we're heading for Hawkesbury junction which should take us a few hours.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Drama at Hillmorton- Kath takes the plunge

Kath fell in the canal!!  She slipped whilst climbing aboard when we stopped and tied up for lunch below Hillmorton locks.  She was up to her armpits in water, feet still not touching the bottom and hanging on to the bank grass for dear life. I dashed over and tried to pull her up, but the bank was too high and the grass too slippy. Even a young fit person would have had difficulty in hauling themself out. So for several minutes we hung on to each other, Kath half out of the water and me pulling her arms and she trying to get a purchase with her feet. It was beginning to get worrying and both of our grips were tiring.  I looked around for help but no-one was about.  Eventually a boat appeared from the direction of the locks and I shouted for help.  The boater was probably as old and frail as we were but ‘any port in a storm’.  Fortunately a much younger and stronger man who had been sitting inside a nearby boat heard my shouts and came running.  He managed to reach out and grab the back of Kath’s jeans and together we hauled her out.  It was still quite a task for the two of us. She has a bruise on her shin and a nasty looking swollen thumb is of course a bit shocked (as am I) but is otherwise ok.  We abandoned our plan to press on to Newbold for the night and we’ll stay here today and recover.  The man who helped us was very caring and came back to check we were OK.  

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and we’ve both come up with some strategies we might have employed to get Kath out of the water.  However I’m not sure how we would have done much different as I was hanging on to her with both hands to stop her slipping further in.  We will however take a look at some escape ladder options.

Herbie rides(yet) again

 Wednesday morning. At last we’re out cruising, and what a great start we’ve got off to.  Only the day before, I was feeling a bit reluctant to get going but today it was a reminder about how good boating can be. Hard to believe but it was actually quite hot by late afternoon.  The hedgerows are bursting with dog roses and elderflowers and the canal banks peppered with ox eye daisies and yellow flags and everything is fresh and green.  It’s lovely to be out amongst it. But better than that we’ve had a surprise meeting with an old friend. Well two actually.  First it was Karen, who recently left her job as our lovely marina manager and is now working at Midland Chandlers in Braunston where we dropped in to look at gas hobs. Then as we were talking to her, who should appear but Adam (sadly without Adrian who was off flying to Toulouse) who had spotted Herbie tied up outside and came in to find us. The big news is that Adam has replaced his trademark old beige Tilly hat, seen on many’s the cover of Canal Boat magazine, for one of a different hue -blue in fact.  I could scarcely cope with the shock.

Boaters are all cruising about the network hither and yon and just now and again old friends meet up as paths cross and what a delight it is when that happens. We haven’t seen Adam for simply ages and as he had a couple of days to kill ( although he does have 19 boat reports from Crick show to write up!) we decided to tootle off together up the North Oxford and find a spot where we could moor up for a barbecue together.  Adam has an amazing ability to remember bridge numbers and mooring places and was immediately able to suggest a good spot just below bridge 87. So that’s where we went.  Once there, Adam provided the gin and us the tonic and we had spare BBQ fodder from our aborted weekend with Grace and so we dined  al fresco style until dark and had a massive catch up on all the news and drank a rather too much wine.  

So thus fortified and invigorated we head north today to replenish food stocks at Rugby Tesco and thence to maybe Newbold - or wherever fancy (and the canal) takes us really.  Deep joy.

Saturday, June 04, 2022

Not getting going.

Well the plan was to set off on a bit of a cruise this weekend, but the weather says 'hang on a bit'.  When we left home yesterday morning it was warm and sunny and now sitting in the marina it's cold, wet and windy.  What is worse, Grace and the dogs, Ronnie and Rosie are with us for the weekend. A teenager and two dogs are hard to entertain when confined to the boat and going nowhere.

Never mind, there is one good thing.  A new cover we made (well Kath mostly) to stop the rainwater leaking in at the foot of our side hatch seems to be working splendidly.  Something needed to be done as the rain would get in and wet the top of our sofa back.  Longer term I need to fit a new door cill, but this was an easy quick fix and it works well.

We bought some waterproof fabric on line, and it does appear to be properly waterproof and the little neodymium bar magnets Kath sewed into the hem seem to grip the boat really strongly. So while the cover is easy to remove, it sticks on well against the wind.  I just have to be careful not to get it too close to my pacemaker when I'm handling it.  I suppose the whole thing cost us less than £20.

If and when we get moving, we plan to tootle up to the top of the Ashby and back.  A journey of 53 miles and only 7 locks (including the little Hawkesbury stop lock) each way.  Easy peasy.

On the subject of miles, I expect Boris Johnson would approve of Canalplan's habit of still using furlongs for fractions of a mile.   Having suffered the necessity to do my engineering degree in both imperial and metric units back in the late sixties, I lack his enthusiasm for a change back to the good old days. Leave well alone I say.  We still have pints of beer and signposts in miles.  I'm still five feet ten inches tall (but shrinking).  I can't bear the thought of petrol costing however much it would be per gallon. When I was a student in the 1960's we had to do our engineering sums in metric and in imperial, making a lot of extra work. I wouldn't wish that on the youngsters of today.