Day 44 – Familiar Territory

I woke up early this morning but couldn’t leave until the Braunston Locks opened at 9.00. So I did some cleaning, swept the carpet, cleaned out the cockpit which gets messy with me climbing in and out all the time. Even cleaned the shower and handbasin. And the cooker. At about 8.50 I started the engine ready for the off and – it started raining.

Back inside to get all togged in waterproofs and boots that have been out of site for a couple of weeks. By the time I’m ready the lock is open and there’s another boat come up behind me, so we do the six locks together. (They’re wide locks on the GU).

Funny the effect accents have. Most don’t bother me at all as long as I can understand them but ‘Eshturee En’lish’ used by the guys on that boat got to me.

I asked one where they were going. He looked pained. Frowned, then called to his mate on the other lock gate, ‘Ere John wha’s tha’ place where we got the bo’ from? Lu’erwerf was i’?

‘S’righ.’

‘Oh so after these locks you’ll be going up the Leicester Line then while I go straight on through the Buckby flight.’

‘Dunno.’

We didn’t talk much through the rest of the flight.

Just as we got to the top the rain stopped. Of course the cockpit was soaked by then and I’d carried in grass and mud climbing in and out so it looks like it did fist thing this morning before I cleaned it. Since then it’s been alternating hot, cool, windy, still and humid. I’ve had on every combination of shirt, tee shirt, fleece, waterproofs, shorts, jeans, sun cream, sun hat on/off, sun glasses or normal glasses. Several times.

Shortly after the locks there’s the Braunston Tunnel. Like the Harecastle that marks the watershed between Trent and Mersey, Braunston is where you cross from the Trent catchment area into the Nene Valley. It’s down hill all the way to Peterborough from here. In fact beyond, the low point is in the middle of the Middle Level between Ashline and Marmont Priory locks. Then it’s uphill again to Tempsford.

At Buckby there were a couple of boats preparing to leave the lock and one waiting to go in, so I tagged along with them. The boat was called ‘Waterway Routes’ and the woman doing the largest share of lock work was wearing a ‘Waterway Routes’ logo on her sweatshirt. It turns out it’s her husband’s hobby/business. They publish waterway maps as downloads or GPS format for phones. They update them by cruising around checking what’s changed. They are on their way to London and plan then to go up the Lee & Stort making a video. See http://www.waterwayroutes.co.uk for more.

After Buckby it’s a long lock-free trip to Gayton Junction where I stopped for the night. I should have filled the water tank today but thought I’d get away with it until tomorrow. Mistake, it ran out making my after-dinner cuppa. I discovered there’s a CRT Service station about 200m away but I’m too idle to move the boat. I filled a 2l bottle, that’ll do for tonight and for a breakfast cuppa, then I’ll move.

17 locks down to Northampton tomorrow,

Day 43 – Back to the GU

From Hawksbury Junction to Braunston is 22 miles and three locks (not counting Sutton Stop I did yesterday. The Oxford canal continues to wind along the contour line, only occasionally resorting to cuttings and embankments and a short tunnel at Newbold just north of Rugby. From the canal Rugby appears to be a small village with a park down to the water. There are a few glimpses of roads and commercial development through the trees but you don;t get a sense of it being a big town at all.

Soewhere along the route between Hawkesbury and Rugby I passed ‘Equinox’ heading in the opposite direction. That’s the boat that got in terrible trouble on the Nene during the floods about 5 weeks ago. Tony (I think) was amazed I’d been to Wales and was on my way back. Didn’t have time to ask as we passed where he’d been.

The locks come in a group at Hillmorton south of Rugby, they had some CRT volunteers but I only got helped through one. They are all in need of serious work, the gates sway alarmingly on their posts and the paddles are incredibly hard to wind.

Braunston is one of the system’s busiest hubs with chandlers, marinas and hire bases grouped around the junction.

I arrived here about 5pm assuming I could go through the locks and find a mooring before Braunston Tunnel, but the lock opening hours are being restricted to save water. They closed at 4pm. I’m moored on the wharf of one of the hire fleets just below the first lock.

From here on I’m back on the route I took 6 weeks ago, GU to Gayton, Northampton Arm, Nene, ML and Gt Ouse.

No easy locks from here on, the GU are wide and heavy, the Northampton Arm are narrow but awkward with the bollards on the wrong side and the walkways on the ‘pointing doors’ on the wrong side of the gates so you can’t hop across the half open lock to open the other side.

The Nene is a slog. It’s pretty and I guess if you keep your boat on it and potter up and down between your favourite watering holes it can be pleasant enough but for the long distance voyager it’s 3-4 days of heavy locks that for some reason have to be left empty with the guillotine raised, whichever direction you are going in. I’m dreading it.

I got a text from Nick Sharp this evening, he didn’t stay for the Eisteddfod and set off home a week before me. He’s currently on the Nene around the area where we met during the floods.

Day 14 – More big locks

Before setting off I made a list of things I needed to do:

  1. Empty loo
  2. Fill water tank
  3. Fill diesel tank (to be on safe side I put my reserve 10l in)
  4. Get more gas (I swapped the bottles over a few days ago)
  5. Find launderette

I expected to find a marina where I could do all five. No such luck. Royal Leamington Spa has a boaty place, on the river Avon, not the canal. But Warwick has three. Delta Marine is a boatyard that does repairs and refits. They suggested Kate Boats about 100m along. It’s a hire boat place that graciously allowed me to empty the loo and fill up with water, but they run out of gas in bottles the size I need and they only keep diesel for the hire fleet, not for sale. So onto Saltisford Canal Centre which did have gas, but no diesel and would only let me use the launderette if I stayed over night.

So with enough fuel for now and everything else sorted I pressed on to the bottom of the Hatton Flight of 21 locks. There I stopped for an early lunch and did some hand-washing and the washing up I’d not done earlier to save water.

I made a start on the locks after lunch doing five of them accompanied by a narrowboat. I couldn’t keep up the pace though and they pressed on while I had a tea break. Then I did another five and stopped for the night.

I was starting to worry about the fuel, Seren has no gauge so I rely on a rough estimate of how big the tank is and the assumption I use 6-7l per day. So after dinner I found a petrol station on line and went for a walk. It wasn’t far but 10l of diesel in a steel can gets heavy after ½mile!

11 more locks first thing tomorrow, then a nice relaxing pound to Knowle.

Day 13 – Big Locks

I wrote this yesterday but then found I couldn’t publish it because I had no internet connection. So here you are 24 hours late.

Unlike the Northampton Arm the GU Mainline has large locks. Those encountered today (17 or 18 depending how you count a 2 lock staircase) have the 1930s big ground paddles. They are amazingly efficient at emptying or filling a lock, but hard to turn. I did the first few at Stockton single handed, then a chap from a boat at the top who was out walking his dog borrowed a spare windlass off me and set a few locks in advance for me. Very kind.

Round about the 5th lock he saw a boat coming up and set the lock for them and asked them to leave the next two open for me coming down. Eventually I got to the bottom.

There’s a brief pause after that until Bascote locks, the staircase pair and a single. There were two Australian couples on a hire boat coming up and two others ahead of me waiting to go down. The Aussies were having a logic problem, filling locks they should be emptying and generally getting it wrong. Eventually it was my turn and as I entered a narrowboat arrived to share the lock.

We shared the next couple but I needed a rest by then and he pressed on. I need to empty the loo soon and spotted a ‘Sanitary Station’ on the map below Fosse top lock so I decided to make for there, and teamed up with another hire boat with 3 couples on, 2 probably in their 50s and someone’s parents who just stayed in the cockpit. The younger ones were fit and organised though so we made good progress.

The Sanitary Station was closed. We did one more lock together then I had to call it a day above Fosse bottom lock. I’ll get to Warwick tomorrow and there are three marinas there. I might even find one with a launderette.
I’m still two days behind, in fact two days ago I should have been through two more locks and stopped in Royal Leamington Spa, so I guess that’s about two days plus an hour. If I keep to schedule from here on I should arrive on June 27. So I can drop another few days and still get to see Jools Holland at Llan on July 1st.

Day 9

Nothing went wrong today so this will a short post. Also just got low battery warning! Did remaining 9 Rothersthorpe locks without incident by mid morning then stopped at Gayton Marina for fuel and water, and to empty the loo.

Carried on to Br 41 had lunch then walked to town for bread milk etc.

The leisure battery hasn’t been holding charge very well right since the start, the inverter and fridge are putting a liitle more load on it that usual but not enough to account for the loss. The wiring looks OK and it charges up from the solar panel and the engine but each evening it falls to 10.x volts by bedtime. I checked the fluid level, and it is a bit low so I looked for deionised water in Bugbrooke, even trekking across town to the pharmacy, but they hadn’t any. Still, walking is good. Though maybe not so good when you’ve just done 9 locks.

Tonight I’m by Bridge 19 on the GU main line,  between M1 and railway. Both are sheilded by trees though so the noise is bearable. Not far from Buckby locks so will do those in the morning. After that is Norton Junction where I have to take the Leicester line, then the Watford locks, Watford as in Gap not in N London. I might save them for Friday morning.