Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Itchen Navigation - another disused system

Having reported in an earlier post on the Somerset Coal Canal, Sarah and I recently explored part of the long disused Itchen Navigation while visiting our son and his girlfriend in Winchester.  This was a 10.4 mile long navigation that ran from Winchester to Southampton.  Originally authorised by Act of Parliament in 1665, it wasn't completed until 1710. It had a total of 17 locks (15 full locks and two single gate locks) and was fed by the River Itchen, which ran parallel to it.  In the early years of the 19th century it was carrying over 18,000 tons per year.  It ceased to operate as a commercial waterway in 1869 after succumbing to competition from the Winchester to Southampton Railway. Unlike the Somerset Coal Canal, it still has water flowing in it, but all the lock gates have long since disappeared and have essentially become weirs. The old towpath now makes for a delightful footpath.  The first photograph shows the upstream entrance to the old lock at Compton, near Twyford, and the second shows the view upstream from almost the same location.

Monday, 24 June 2013

A tow bar for mooring

One thing we did see on our recent short trip, apart from soaring red kites mobbed by crows, kingfishers streaking ahead of us through overhanging umbrellas of riverside trees, the grandeur of a riverside church lit from below and sculpted by wind blown shadows .... was two permanently moored narrow boats using scaffold poles, hinged at their base on the bank and with a tow bar clip at the river end, clamped to a tow bar that seems to be welded to the deck of the boat.
You have to imagine this clip attached to a triangle of scaffold poles anchored on the bank.

Why this curious arrangement? We think it allows for greater control than a rope, avoiding being pushed into the bank, but able to float upwards with rising water levels. even if the bank was awash the poles would hold the boat in place.
Obviously a solution to a problem when moored by a riverbank such as the Nene and faced with variable water levels.

And finally Oundle

With weather still overcast - though the prospect of jam tomorrow - or the next day - we head for Oundle, not even stopping at Ashton, though we were tempted (see previous post).

At Oundle John is again in his element. While I would ignore a fault for as long as possible then get a man to replace it, John works very differently. The gas fridge is old and has for some time been erratic starting. Now it has entirely failed,. I suggest a new electric one; he opts to take it out and examine it with a view to fixing it. I think of fridges as cupboards to keep things cool; for John this is a technical problem that can be solved with his skills, persistence and a great curiosity to find out why the thing has stopped doing its job.
To cut a two hour adventure short I can summarise by saying that the dust and soot and dead insects that accumulate around the back of a 20 year old fridge had blocked the burner, and with all that cleaned up, gas pipe, electric cable, vent and holding screws back in place our good old fridge is now working again. A triumph of John's persistence and skill. Oh, and I did the hoovering round the back so it wouldn't happen again for another 20 years. But I'm modest about my critical role ....

What next? Possibly a gas bubble tester on the gas bottle, a replacement TV now the infuriating digi-box has stretched our patience. And looking at future plans such as a suitable marina on the Grand Union. Anyone know of a good marina near Milton Keynes?

Back to Fotheringay

Bright and fine at 5am but overcast and very blustery by 8.
Newspapers from Elton Post Office then we decide to head back, to Fotheringay in the first instance.
Undecided in this temperamental weather my thoughts start drifting towards taking a few days in Scotland later in the week. While I'm fine reading interspersed with the odd stroll and a pint at the end of the day, John's boundless energy needs more active outlets and we consider heading back to Oundle sooner rather than later. The fact that the fridge is broken and our milk has gone off helps to urge us home ....
Nevertheless we love the mooring (but try to moor away from the bridge, where cars tend to parp as they approach the blind hump back).

We like the church and the castle mound, and we agree that The Falcon is our latest favourite pub,so we plan to stay for the evening barbecue (Sunday's speciality).
When the weather permits we investigate the Church of St Mary and All Saints, which is impressive, though much reduced in size since its finest days. It features a well designed history of the Dukes of York, for whom the castle was home (Richard the Third was born here).
The evening barbecue at the Falcon was a great success and very good value.
Hurrah for the Falcon!

Fotheringay to Elton

Up betimes. Wind and rain overnight with warnings of more to come over the weekend. In a sunny spell we make a dash to Elton, the next mooring place known to have a good pub nearby, and despite winds blowing us on to the shore at Warmington lock - which took three of us to push off and work through the lock, we moor at Elton unscathed. It's a rough mooring just up stream from the lock, and we use the gangplank, but the nettles have been cut so it's fine.
The Post Office / Shop is open, The Crown is open too, and with rather slow (at 0.5Mb you could hardly call it broadband) wi-fi it takes all the time of drinking a pint to download my daily newspaper. I was nearly forced to have a second pint!
Unfortunately there are no bar snacks on Saturday or Sunday evenings and with restaurant meals at £25 for 2 courses, £30 for three (compared to the Falcon at Fotheringay, £13.50 for 2) we opt to eat on board.
We note that the Black Horse on the main road is closed (permanently or refurbishment?).
At this point we have the choice of mooring up for the day, going on or going back. The weather is not helping, being increasingly blustery with showers. We nearly opt to walk across the fields to The Kings Head at Wadenhoe but then we discover there is a Loch Fyne restaurant just outside Elton so we choose that for our evening.
In the afternoon John tinkers endlessly with the frustratingly erratic TV (deciding it must be the wind in the trees affecting the signal), the gas fridge (no flame, no spark), the light in the loo (replaced) and some voltage things to do with the boat batteries (about which I know little). Fortunately he enjoys that sort of thing.
We had a good meal at Loch Fyne, 20 minutes walk from our mooring (into the village, up the hill and turn right and keep going just past Elton Hall).

From Oundle through Ashton to Fotheringay

I really needed to get away for a break so, knowing that "boating is the fastest way to slow down" and despite some ominous weather warnings, we headed off, through rain showers, to Oundle to start a trip down stream.
Up river they say there is weed, while downstream there are several good pubs and eating places plus tranquil water - so we head off in overcast conditions, mooring up for lunch at Ashton Lock whence a 15 minute walk takes us to the surprisingly quaint and quiet estate village of Ashton with its attractive pub The Chequered Skipper. The village was rebuilt by the Rothschild family; the Chequered Skipper is an attractive butterfly now extinct in England, though Elton was one of the last places in England where it could be found. A picture of the butterfly is on wikipedia .
We had a very good lunch at The Skipper and recommend it.
Back to the boat, through Cotterstock and Perio locks to Fotheringay where we moor directly below the church.
This is a spot well worth the £4 mooring fee. and that's not something you'll often hear from me!
Exploration leads to the Castle mound and a small memorial to Mary Queen of Scots as this is where she was executed.

This view is looking downstream, taken from the mound, which is all that remains of the castle, except for a stump of masonry (here at the bottom right) where Mary's execution is commemorated.
"In memory of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, beheaded in the Great Hall of Fotheringay Castle, 8th February 1586/7"
It is difficult to visualise the castle as it was but there are several pictures which attempt it, plus a model in the church.

More about Fotheringay Castle on wikipedia.
We eat at the award winning (and deservedly so) Falcon at Fotheringay. It has good bar snacks as well as a fine restaurant and a tap room, excellent service from charming young waitresses and bar staff and with wi-fi too it's just a fine place to whittle our lives away after a hard day's boating.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

More on Fish and Duck

My first visit to the Fish and Duck since the recent renovations -and, despite the fact there's no pub yet, I was impressed.
I like the website graphics, I liked John who is marina manager and who showed me round (after checking me out that I was not snooping with intent!) and I liked the way they have cleared the site, invested in electricity and water, improved the marina and provided floating pontoons ... Yes, I could see myself happily moored up at the Fish and Duck. They have high standards and are being firm about maintaining them. Quite a change from the laissez faire regime of liveaboards with gardens and sheds and dogs and junk. There's a place for them, but sometimes free spirits get their anchors  too firmly dug in and take advantage of benign hosts.
This is a marina in progress, but it looks like a good time to get in. The access road is undergoing more improvement since the surface recently became rutted, so that should be better soon. There are plans for a taverna style eatery - which appeals to me, and I'm delighted it is not to be a gastro pub. They have access to a mobile crane and can arrange dry docking with Stretham Marina (more good folks with ambitions for excellent marinas). Parking seems well organised, mooring payment is one month in advance and "time of payment is of the essence", but there is no lengthy period of being tied to 6 months or a year as many marinas do.
So for £47 per foot per year on average, with additional charges for electricity if you choose, which is a high end charge compared to what we pay, you get a perfectly placed marina at the confluence of three great rivers: the Old West, The Great Ouse and The Cam.
A trip of a few hours could take you to the Lazy Otter, Cambridge (The Five Miles), or Ely (The Cutter). On a sunny day, what more could you wish?
I must add that I have no involvement in the Fish and Duck apart from a keen desire to see a good marina and a drinking hole on this excellent spot. I wish the owners and the manager well - it's a very good start!
Photos on an overcast day I'm afraid, but quite a contrast with this time last year. I expect to see the place full of keen boaters by the end of this year.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Fish and Duck Marina Reopens

Following a great deal of commotion in clearing liveaboards from the Fish and Duck at Popes Corner on the Ouse (our old stomping ground with Patience) as described in a previous post, we now hear that the Fish and Duck has reopened.
According to Waterways World there have been major refurbishments with additional moorings, "smart" electricity meters and water points. The access road has been repaired and planted with flowers along its edges and the whole place brought up to scratch.
THe owners are now turning their attention to rebuilding the pub, which was a popular watering hole for over 100 years and was demolished a few years ago.
Congratulations for all their hard work to Davina and James at If it's as good as they say we might be tempted to bring Patience back to the Ouse before long!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Somerset Coal Canal

One doesn't normally associate the predominantly rural county of Somerset with coal mining, but the area of  the county south west of Bath, around Radstock and Camerton, had an extensive coalfield. The last mine closed in 1973.

The Somerset Coal Canal was built to carry the coal to Bath, Bristol and further afield, and had two branches.  One formed a junction with the Kennet and Avon Canal at Limpley Stoke and ran west to Paulton.  A second branch (connected by a tramway to the main branch) ran from Midford to Radstock.  The surveyor was William Smith, 'the father of English geology'.  While he was surveying the route, at the end of the 18th century, he realised that the various rock strata in different areas of north Somerset followed a consistent pattern.  The canal was in operation between 1805 and 1898 and was one of the most profitable in the country, carrying 100,000 tons of coal a year at its peak.
Bridge over canal bed near Midford

During a recent weekend staying with friends at Midford, we took the opportunity of walking along the route of the canal between Midford and Southstoke.  This short section incorporated a flight of 22 locks, which raised the canal 135 feet.  There is now an active preservation society, see, and while we were walking, we saw a group of enthusiasts restoring the flight of locks.

Lock no. 15 being restored
Combe Hay flight
Apart from the first 500 yards, at its junction with the Kennet and Avon Canal, the Somerset Coal Canal is now derelict. It will be many years before narrow boats are seen again in this corner of Somerset.

Some of its route will probably never re-open, as it was built over by the Limpley Stoke and Camerton Railway, constructed at the beginning of the 20th century by the GWR for the same purpose of carrying coal from the mines.  This branch line was immortalised by providing the location for filming 'The Titfield Thunderbolt' in 1952.