Sunday, 29 July 2007

And Finally

We rose earlier than usual in order to complete the last remaining lock and arrive in good time at the boatyard. As there were more moored boats than usual - it was the Linslade Canal Festival - we were slower than expected but still managed to arrive at our final destination with ten minutes to spare.

Then came the frantic transfer of all our belongings from the boat to the car - the cleaners were already waiting to prepare the boat for the next hirers. There was panic when we realised that, compared with when we came, this time we had to leave room for Ellie. Although the upright part fo the rear seats is divided the seats are not, so it was a tight squeeze but eventually everything fitted in.

So it was time to bid farewell to Poppy - who had served us excellently for the past six weeks - and settle our account with Wyvern Shipping before going into Leighton Buzzard town centre for coffee and cakes.

We planned to have lunch on the way - Joanna and Adrian needed as much space before Ellie returned as their cleaner was ill on Friday and Adrian had also been redecorating her bedroom in her absence. Alas, Bicester Shopping Village failed to offer anything suitable so we pressed on to Summertown where Christine recalled a rather nice lunch place she had been to before. Alas, no more so we checked out the available options and it soon became clear that the ladies wanted a 'proper' lunch. Thus it was that we chose an Italian restaurant which provided us with excellent food, despite the somewhat off-putting maitre d'. Ellie says that the food is so good she will put it on her recommended list of places to go!

Andrew and Joanna were treating us to an evening at the Battle Proms as a celebration of our anniversary - it would be something that the girls would enjoy as well. However, the gates opened rather ealrier than we had previously understood so there was not long to check in to the Travel Inn and shorter baths than perhaps might have been the case!

Before long Andrew arrived to pick us up and transport us to Blenheim where, in the grounds of the palace, the concert was to take place. The Oxford family arrived first and staked out a picnic spot. The time before the entertainment began at 6.30 was devoted to picnics - it was a good humoured crowd that was gathering but it soon became clear that there was a definite class hierarchy: At the top were those with gazebos (even though they were banished to the Gazebo Zone), the came those carrying tables, followed by those (like us) with just chairs. Finally, some groups opted just to lie out on rugs on the grass.

Cavalry demonstrations were provided by a re-enactmnent society as well as providing plenty of photo opportunities and Alice was delighted to be able to pet one of the mounts.

The main concert itself started promptly at 7.30 (just as drizzle arrived!) and contained all the expected pieces for a promenade event, especially with lost of bangs and fireworks! The 1812 overture was the first opportunity for the gunners to show off. The rain clearly did not affect them The rain was not heavy and no-one was prepared to concede defeat to the elements - even if sales of large umbrellas rocketed!

After the interval, Beethoven's Battle Overture was another chance for lots of noise - the amount of smoke as well as noise made us realise (just a little) what it must have been like on a battlefield a century ago where the quantity would have been multiplied many times and the ground very much muddier. (We were quite surprised how well the grass stood up to the occasion, even the car park)

With Alice already asleep we decided to set off for the cars whilst the final items were being played, but not before Ellie danced to the Sailors Hornpipe.

In fact, we had an even better view of the last fireworks session by being a little further back and with the palace as backdrop. All in all, it was a very good evening and a great chance to spend time with the family!

Friday, 27 July 2007

Last Full Day

So the six weeks come almost to the end! It was also a very sunny, warm - almost hot - summer day and the threatened afternoon rain did not materialise.

The day began by a short move up to the junction where we filled the water tank for the last time. (It took a while, not least because a littler person had a very long shower this morning!) There was also a chance to take a look at the narrow locks on the Aylesbury Arm, beginning with a two lock staircase.

The next task was the seven lock Marsworth flight - Ellie was now able to 'set' the locks so that we made good progress. At the top - Bulbourne Junction - we had time to cruise up the short Wendover Arm. This canal is gradually being restored but at the moment the end is at a disused stop lock, winding and mooring point just under two miles along. Although narrow and quite slow, it was very pretty - even the bread flour factory somehow seemed in place!

Now we had only to retrace our route back towards Leighton Buzzard. Going down the Marsworth Flight was very efficient. With Ellie now well into the setting process we managed all seven locks in exactly one hour. Not bad going! At the bottom lock there was a splendid ice cream shop - although Ellie had to go to the adjoining cafe for service. Scrumptious!

The remaining locks are stretched out with just a few minutes respite between each. Close to one of the locks was a swing bridge - Ellie's first experience of operating one. At least this one is quite smooth to operate. We could also see in the distance a huge lion carved into the chalk hills on the horizon.

The final mooring and time to sort out and clean through before an early start tomorrow on the final run into the boatyard.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Wet at Marsworth

The most obvious feature of today was the rain - at times it was quite torrential and everyone became wet through more than once! However, we did make good progress, helped by some very effective lock operation by Ellie. Once or twice she needed a little help to start a heavy lock gate moving but was very keen to do as much as she could on her own. Actually, we set off before Christine was ready and Ellie was able to do all the gates and paddles whilst Mike drove the boat through the first lock!

One of the interesting features along this section of the canal are the double arched bridges. Originally the canal company planned to install a second set of locks but this development never happened.

During some of the heavier rain spells, the movie library was found to be very valuable - Ellie managed at least two!

There was one brief sunny spell after a time when the rain was so heavy that we just had to stop for about 45 minutes! Alas, the blue sky did not last very long and when we moored just before Marsworth Junction it was very heavy as Ellie completed the mooring and doing the propellor check.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Ellie Joins the Crew

It was not long after setting off that we arrived at Blisworth Tunnel - not only is it wide enough to pass boats coming the other way, but it also has sufficent water dripping (gushing) in to drown the steerers! The tunnel had to be substantially re-built a few years ago and outside the southern entrance is a sample of the concrete liner that was used. It seemed stange to realise that the tunnel - without the water - is circular!

On then to then to the Stoke Bruerne locks and this time we worked down on our own, although there was a constant stream of boats coming up.

Pressing on, we were aiming for Wolverton at 2:30 to meet up with Ellie and Adrian. Sure enough, just as Mike was negotiating Cosgrove Lock, Adrian rang to confirm details - Tesco Car Park. We arrived a little early and were just completing the check out when a further call announced that Ellie was in the car park looking for us.

Soon we were aboard with our latest crew member. We stopped at Giffard Park to take on water where Ellie quickly learnt how to tie a clove hitch mooring around a bollard. She also spotted a zip wire in a nearby play area and she, accompanied by Granny, went off to explore whilst the water tank slowly filled. After we had set off again, Ellie opted to view one of the videos which Andrew had left on the laptop specially for her.

The only remaining lock was at Fenny Stratford where there is also a swing bridge across the lock. It should have been open but was across the navigation when we arrived. Still, the lock is hardly a great effort: its rise of just over a foot resulted from an error in levels at one stage of canal construction.

Nearly south of Milton Keynes we found a mooring spot for the night and Ellie quickly showed her new found skills, not only tying the stern mooring rope but also first hammering in the spike. Alas, she also discovered the hazards of using a heavy lump hammer on the front spike and had to retire rather hurt with a squashed finger. Granny says that she'll live to tell the tale!

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Through the tunnel

Our start this morning was delayed somewhat by the need to make a phone call to Warwick Police Crime Desk. They wanted to prepare a report on the break in to the boat when we were in Leamington Spa. Whilst it seemd to take a long time, it was good to know that - despite the demand on resources which the floods made - they still took minor incidents like this just as seriously as normal. Whilst there is little that they can do, at least we have a crime number for the case. Interesting to learn that, if it had been a more serious case, there was a CCTV camera not far away at the nearest road intersection, even though it would not have covered the boat itself.

Before long we neared Braunstone with its distinctive church spire a landmark for several miles. After arriving at Braunston Turn we crawled through the busy, narrow stretch to the flight of locks. It was good, whilst going through the flight, to be able to show a couple, who were interested and thinking of a canal holiday, what was involved in operating the locks.

At the tunnel entrance we could see the land slip - not large but it had deposited enough into the canal to reduce the entrance to a single boat width.

After a lunch stop we tackled the Long Buckby flight, accompanied in the locks by a full length boat where a couple were being shown how to work father's boat before the grandparents went off with the three grandchildren for a couple of day's break! It took an exceptional length of time to work nthe flight, partly because of the poor maintenance on many of nthe gates but also because most of the boats coming up were rather slow in working through!

After the locks came the long level pound to Stoke Bruerne. There were large quantities of moored boats which are quite oppressive. British Waterways really must address this as a long term policy issue and aim to take all long term mooring off the canal. At Heyford a large new marina was under construction - without water it was possible to see what is normally out of view.

After the rain of so many days, it is gooid to be able to report that today was a bright, sunny and warm day - almost like summer!

Monday, 23 July 2007

Not Braunston Tunnel

We already knew that there was a problem with the tunnel at Braunston so we set off on the remaining section to the junction not knowing quite where we would be going for the day. We arrived and the notice set it all: CLOSED. As we were filling up with water, a Waterways member of staff arrived with the latest report: the tunnel entrance and approaches were to be examined by engineers today (they had not had an opportunity to do so over the weekend) but it was feared that a landslip had caused damage to the structure of the tunnel stonework. If confirmed this would mean a significant stoppage.

After a discussion by mobile with Wyvern Shipping (the boat hire company) we decided to cruise up the North Oxford and possibly part of the Ashby Canal - at least this was somewhere that was open, even if not necessarily the most thrilling of canal scenery! At one point we passed - slowly - under a bridge on a tight bend that had clearly taken a few knocks and was in urgent need of maintenance!

The only locks on this stretch for well over twenty miles are the three locks at Hilmorton. They remain as pairs of locks with all pairs fully functioning (unlike many we encountered on the Trent and Mersey). They did, however, have somewhat unusual paddle winding mechanisms with catches guaranteed to give greasy fingers! Shortly after the flight we called at a boatyard to take on more fuel and for a pump out. They confirmed that the latest information was that Braunston remained closed.

We continued through Rugby intent on making it to Hawesbury stop lock for nightfall. However, just after passing through the short Newbold Tunnel we received a message from James at Wyvern telling us that British Waterways had just announced that the tunnel was now re-open. We confirmed that this was the case ourselves and, although it is possible that urgent dredging works tomorrow may cause some delays, we stopped to discuss our options.

As the route ahead was not especially interesting and, to improve our chances of making it back to Leighton Buzzard on Saturday morning, as well as thinking about the stretch for Ellie to do with us on Thursday and Friday, we opted to turn around and head straight back to Braunston. It is unlikely that we will quite reach it tonight but should be able to tackle the locks and the tunnel first thing in the morning. This means that we may well have time to go south of Leighton Buzzard on the last two days! As we passed the boatyard where we had called two hours earlier, their notice now said Tunnel OPEN!

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Ellie and Alice

Today we planned to meet up with Joanna, Adrian, Ellie and Alice. As we did not have a very good mobile signal, we good not get through to them - we did get a voice mail message overnight which indicated that they might have a problem with roads closed by the floods. To give us the best chance of meeting, we moved the boat on, through five locks - including a two-rise staircase - to Bascote Bridge.

Before we reached the we sawing a waving hand - Ellie - and the family walking down the towpath. Despite their fears, the roads were open but with almost no traffic so they were able to make good time! Adrian and Joanna were going to spend the day shopping in Milton Keynes but it was several locks up the Stockton Flight before they coulkd drag themselves away - to the Blue Lias pub which was recommended by passing boaters! Ellie was quick to take her place at the tiller to take driving lessons from grandad.

Both Ellie and Alice helped with the locks and Ellie especially proved very competent at winding the paddles up and down as well as shifting 3 tonne lock gates! By the time we had passed through the Calcutt Locks Alice was very good at walking across the top of the gates. Just as well as the ice cream shop at the top of the floiught was on the other side of the canal! Unfortunately, the grandparenting task proved too demanding (or the grandparents were too incompetent) to take any photos of these feats!

After turing left at Napton Junction they moored close to Fleckno Bridge to await the return of the parents - and a roast chicken dinner which was gradually prepared during the last cruising period. Ellie undertook the daily engine maintenance tasks.