Monday, 30 June 2014

Crick to Welford - our new home

Day 5: Crick to Welford
We deserve a leisurely day and this is it. 12 miles and one lock to go, turning off the Leicester arm to go just 1.5 miles to the end of the Welford arm and our new home.
Though drizzle and worse comes over us, and our mooring isn't quite ready, we nevertheless moor up comfortably and temporarily and celebrate with an excellent pie at The Wharf, our new local.
And so Patience is at peace again as we drive back to Cambridge, pretty tired but pleased with our work - 36 travelling hours, over 5 days, 70 miles of river and canal and a massive 58 locks.
When planning, we have estimated journey times by adding the number of locks to the number of miles and dividing the total by 3.  This assumes an average speed of 3 mph and an average of 20 minutes to get through each lock. In practice we have tended to do a lock in nearer 15 minutes. We've also compared our efforts with the invaluable Canal Planner and find we are about 10% longer in time than their estimate. However over all it's pretty predictable unless you're stuck in a long queue for a lock at busy times.
There's much to be done now at our new pontoon. John will tinker with his 15/16th spanners and we'll install a new, electric, fridge. Then we can explore the region, ideally placed as we are to go up and down the Leicester line and back into the Grand Union, from which the world is at our feet. We might even create a plan to visit all the traditional English (and Welsh) counties that have canal access, as we have done - walking - with The Walking Boys. Once our knees have recovered.
Today: 12 miles, 1 lock, 5 hours. Knackered.

Through to Crick

Day 4: Weedon Bec to Crick
Leaving Weedon Bec will take us along the Grand Union main line for a while before turning right at Norton Junction up the Leicester arm.
It rained last night, heavily at times, and just as several things have already malfunctioned (shower pump, engine mounting, the log ...) we realise there is a faint drip around the chimney and the fridge is warming instead of cooling. The milk is already sour.
After a body and hair wash in the basin we're off, sandwiched at times between west coast trains and M1 traffic but heading north towards Braunston as all the milestones tell us. We spot a surprising number of old working boats with their long cargo holds and small cabins and we shoot through seven locks partnered by a young couple with an immaculate working boat - A and N Buckle from The Nene - to reach the New Inn at Norton Junction for lunch at 12.30.

Norton Junction
The Fish and chips are good, the waitress hard working, the barman lugubrious and often disappearing as soon as customers enter the pub. We attempt to bid him a cheery farewell but he avoids our gaze as if we'd taken advantage of him. Don't go there if you're looking for bonhomie.
Now the decision is whether to crack on and climb the seven locks at Watford or to moor at the bottom and reserve the pleasure of climbing to the next day. At this point the insistent rain clears for awhile and we decide to motor on.

Watford locks is a set of six partly in a staircase (where the top of one acts as the bottom of the other) and as I opt to do the locking for a change I'm greatly relieved to find that there is a lock keeper willing to help us on our way. Malcolm is a friendly and able CRT volunteer who knows what he's doing and guides me through the red and white side paddles as we work our way slowly uphill.
Crick Tunnel
And so to the top and on a short way to Crick through the Crick Tunnel, gloomy and dripping but literally with a light at the end of the tunnel, which is reassuring. Do wear waterproofs as you go through.
The Moorings restaurant at Crick

And finally we are out at the Crick marina with only a short trip to Welford tomorrow.
Apart from lunchtime the rain has held off, but the fridge has definitely given up the ghost. Nevertheless Patience has done well and the end of the journey is in sight. It's been attractive country scenes and tow path all the way and tonight we can relax in peaceful moorings (it's quietest after the bridge and a little away from it).
In the evening to a very busy Friday evening at the Red Lion, where it is too hot to stay long, and we are thoroughly soaked in a sudden downpour on the way back to the boat.
Today: 10 miles, 14 locks, 6.5 hours

Northampton to Gayton and beyond

Day 3: Northampton to Weedon Bec
Up betimes to another sunny day though some cloud cover could hint at more moderate weather to come.
Past a deserted industrial warehouse and its pigeons, past the grassy park littered with last night's revelry and into a series of 17 narrow locks that come thick and fast. This is where a third crew member would be great, going ahead to prepare the lock so we don't have to moor up first.
Sometimes the overflow comes rushing in from the sides and pushes the boat across. Just when you think you're on target you're heading for a wall, while slowing down means you lose the velocity to counter the side force. Sometimes you just have to go for it - which is why they describe canal boating as a contact sport ....
Under the M1 by way of a giant concrete pipe ...
and at last to Lock number 1, end of the flight of 17
We pause for lunch at Gayton, which marks the junction between the Northampton Arm and the main line, (it's a sign of our growing confidence as well as our fatigue that we can stop for lunch) then on through a blissfully lock-free area to Weedon Bec, mooring opposite a wharf and within earshot of the main west coast railway which broadcasts the sound as of rushing wind and doesn't disturb us at all.
There has been some vibration in the stern in the last few hours and now John, ever alert, finds (secretly to his delight, I believe) that one of the engine mountings is loose, probably as a result of our collision with the log yesterday. This gives John the opportunity to wield his Massive Adjustable Spanner in earnest and soon the engine is rebalanced.
Here at Weedon Bec we have exceeded our route expectations by about 2.5 hours.
We visited here on our original search for moorings and by chance came upon an area that was built as a military ordnance depot in the Napoleonic area. It was chosen as a place as far from the sea as possible yet reached by canal so weaponry and gunpowder could be transported here. It was also planned as a last refuge for the King should Napoleon overrun the country. It is still defended by a fierce security man, as we found when we wandered in. It is also a possible site for the Fire Services National Museum, which explains the smattering of fire engines hereabouts. Not much of this can be seen from  the river as we pass, however.
We have an evening meal at the Heart of England (get the reference?) on the road over the bridge from our mooring. Good food and good service.

Today: 11.5 miles, 18 locks, 8 hours

Sunday, 29 June 2014

To Northampton

Day 2: Irthlingborough to Northampton
A bright and sunny morning as we set off beyond our previous furthest point west, towards Northampton, or at least Weston Favell which is a few miles this side. We're not yet confident about just how far we can get, though Canal Planner does give us the best advice and we have downloaded a detailed pdf of our proposed route onto my iPad.
The trick seems to be, if there is any doubt about your ability to go on, to stop this side of a flight of locks because once you are committed to it you can't stop half way. But perhaps we are more worried about unfamiliar locks (there are 58 of them on this trip which sound alarming) than we need to be.
We pause briefly at Wellingborough with its spacious moorings by a public park then through Upper Wellingborough lock. When the sluice waters appear under the boat Patience's bows swing alarmingly and the centre line is very stressed.
Tip of the day: open the paddles in stages so that the power of a single gusher doesn't tear the boat from its moorings.
The river is delightful, the weather fine (though there is expectation of showers tomorrow) and while the frequent locks slow progress and cumulatively are quite tiring, this a good journey with steady progress.
Then suddenly, out of the blue, with the penultimate lock of the day behind us, there's a loud thump and the engine cuts out. From peace and tranquility we are instantly without power - and drifting. It's too far for the fishermen on the bank to catch our mooring rope and we drift while feverishly working through the possibilities, the cause and any solutions. John tests the engine out of gear and it works fine. A relief. Must be the prop - and there it is, looming through the weed hatch like a dead shark, it's a large log that has become firmly jammed in the propellor and refuses to come off. While John tugs at the prop I tie a cord to a saw for John to hack away at the log and move to the bow to start punting us with the boat hook to somewhere more convenient - like the bar with moorings about half a mile ahead.
At last, just as I'm getting in to the swing of punting, but starting to realise punting to Welford isn't exactly convenient, John triumphantly extracts a metre long log jammed in the prop (two big cuts show where the blades have sliced part way through) and we are free! what a relief. Note to blogger - add Prop Jammed By Flotsam to our list of hazards.

We pull in to Northampton Midsummer Meadow Moorings (free on pontoon, while the marina charges £10 per night) and celebrate our release with a beer and a Waitrose curry. For those without a Waitrose curry on board Morrisons is only a few minutes away. We hurl the offending log well away from the water.
The  noisier folks in Northampton are celebrating some distance away, by casting litter as far as they can chuck it, there are youngsters out on dinghy practices, and the centre of Northampton is a cross between the elegant (fine High Victorian Guildhall, interesting mix of buildings around the market place) and dead warehouses where once there was a shoe industry but now pigeons make deposits. Lovely waterfront, and that's what matters to us today. 
Today: 18 miles, 15 locks, 10 hours

Patience Aweigh

Day 1: Oundle to Irthlingborough
Oundle has been a good place and we recommend it - and The Ship Inn nearby - to anyone seeking refuge on The Nene, though the Nene itself does come with the disadvantages of strong stream advice after heavy rain in the midlands, so boating is sometimes restricted.

So we bade farewell to Oundle Marina, our home for the last two years, with thanks to Mark and Jacqui, and headed on to the great canal network in our long journey west which started at The Lazy Otter at Stretham on the Ouse five years ago. It's a little later in the morning than we would have liked and there's a long day ahead but it's a lovely day and the sun shines on us as we pootle along visited by red kites and blue dragonflies.
The mid stretch of this trip is a bit short on waterway pubs, - with the exception of the Kings Head at Wadenhoe, normally packed by moored boaters yet today totally empty - so we've aimed to be self-sufficient in food just in case. Menus are covered in a previous blog.
Between us we have knees and an ankle that need nurturing so we must beware risky acrobatics (as if ...)
We pass Thrapston Bridge moorings where we have stayed previously, but there's no time to spare and few mooring options so the next stop is Irthlingborough - not our favourite town, but at 7.30 and after 8 hours of continuous cruising it's the perfect spot and as soon as John has checked the engine room I heat up the spaghetti bolognaise cooked the night before and we settle for the night.

Some long term financial arguments over the football stadium or at least who is responsible for the moorings here have resulted in some of the moorings being closed, but there's enough room for us and a couple of others.
At the end of the day we should be on track for reaching our destination of Welford by Saturday evening, though this depends on reaching some of the staircase locks in time. And we're not used to locks. How shall we cope?
Today: 16.5 miles, 10 locks, 8 hours

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Nantes-Brest Canal

While on holiday in southern Brittany, John and Sarah visited a few places along the route of the Nantes-Brest Canal, unfortunately without a boat on this occasion. The canal was built in the early 19th century and ran for 385 km from Brest in the west to Nantes on the River Loire.  Brittany is a fairly hilly region and 238 locks were required, which works out at an average of one lock per mile! Fortunately many of them had full-time lock-keepers. The canal used several stretches of river and only some parts of its total length are still navigable.
The first photo shows the two locks where the canal crosses the River Vilaine in the delightful small town of Redon.  The close-up of the lock gates shows the crank handle for opening and closing the gates.  
Getting a large cargo boat across the river and into the lock when it was flowing fast would have been a challenging task as the boats were a tight fit in the locks.  The next photo shows a couple of surviving working boats, although the canal is mainly given over to pleasure craft these days.
The final photo shows the canal at Blain, a few km east of Redon, with several smaller pleasure craft moored up at the old town quay.