Friday, 25 September 2015

Westward Ho!

Home from retrieving Patience from Snarestone and bringing her home to Welford, while I organise my diary, it's good to look at our explorations so far, from 2009 to 2015.

See how the yellow lines are spreading as we find new canals to explore.... (click on the map for a larger version)

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Up the Ashby Part 4. Snarestone and beyond ....

It is a very peaceful, warm and sunny day on this, our last piece of the Ashby from Shackerstone to Snarestone.
Buzzards wheel, spiral and slip-slide past each other high above us; a statuesque heron takes off like a pterodactyl as we disturb his solitary post; two kingfishers shoot out from the trees, flash blue fire as they sprint up river then shoot back into the undergrowth. Everywhere there are pigeons, magpies, squirrels, ducks, moorhens, walkers, fishermen, boaters and cyclists.

And soon we see the Snarestone Tunnel - shorter (250 yards) than those we've passed through this week, and narrower - this is for one way traffic, so watch carefully before entering ....
and so we reached the winding hole we'd looked over when making our recce earlier in the year.
But from our neighbouring boater we learn that the Ashby Canal Association has just opened a further stretch, only a week ago, and we would be in the "First ten" boats to boat it. How could we refuse? So the kind gentleman opened the swing bridge for us and off we went into the unknown - all brand new 500 meters of it.
The bridge (below) is still being completed, though it looks like it's only the coping stones yet to be placed,

the winding hole is just 50 feet (Patience is 45) and there are diggers at the very end (above) showing the way to future expansion, but this is currently the end of the Ashby.

Plans abound to join it up 4 miles further north to Moira.
So, back through the tunnel and we moored up 100 yards downstream where Patience will stay until we pick her up again next week for the return journey. Thanks to The Globe, an attractive and refurbished pub ideally situated for visitors to Snarestone and The Ashby.

We covered a total of 69 route miles and 18 locks, including 47 completely new route miles for Patience from Braunston Junction to Snarestone on the Oxford, Coventry and Ashby Canals. And after a brief respite, back we shall go!

Up the Ashby Part 3. Bosworth to Shackerstone

Leaving Lime Kiln, through Hinkley, past quite a few wharfs old and new, to Sutton Cheney where there is an extensive café and moorings and a path to The Bosworth Field Experience. This comprises a pleasant woodland walk to an interpretation centre where children try on armour and press buttons while adults read explanatory boards with great seriousness, trying to make sense of why one distant "royal" relative should believe himself to be more kingly than another .... We browse the extensive family trees and then we find that the battle itself probably only lasted an hour, and that the site of the battle remains unclear. So, somewhere near here a battle took place in which Richard III, recklessly charging forward, was killed and Henry VII was crowned in his place.
So, well done Bosworth Field Experience, to have made so much of genuine interest from a site which has few notable physical features -  and yet a king died here in the final battle of The War of the Roses and the ascent of the Tudors to the throne changed the history of England. More here.

The Ashby continues through a pleasant autumnal landscape with harvesting on all sides. It is rather shallow, and we witness four groundings on the west / towpath side, avoiding it ourselves by good luck and by holding to the central channel wherever possible.

We moor at Shackerstone, where there are lovely moorings between bridges 51 and 52 (see photo) and John is able to visit the Battlefields Railway Line - unfortunately not running today; we are told its steam engine is out of action. The station is locked up and we can't even reach the platform, but it looks an attractive spot. Only four miles to reach Snarestone and the end of the canal.

Up the Ashby Part 2 Hawkesbury

Stretton is a tight little toll point on the Oxford with a swing bridge and lots of moored boats.

Hawkesbury Junction  and then Marston Junction are key points on the route from Braunston to the Ashby. Both have acute angle turns, with Hawkesbury being 180 degrees and it is at Marston that the Coventry Canal meets the Ashby.

We saw a water vole which recklessly tried to cut across us and only just avoided getting entangled in the prop. From here the way is green with overhanging trees and steep gardens descending to the canal, cluttered with steps, benches and curious figurines.
One place, Charity Wharf, was the most cluttered and absurd place I've seen - a junk yard of dummies, children's play equipment, bits of boats and cars and washing machines. Very weird. Very "Steptoe-by-the-canal".
Lime Kiln Bridge, near Hinkley, is our mooring for the night. The pub, across the main A5, is busy, the moorings are full and we can hear the cars at night, but it's a serviceable stopping place. I'm struck by the sign on the large jar of pickled eggs: "May Contain Eggs". Good to know the Health and Safety Police are active hereabouts.
Good to know also that Mr Engineer is on top form, diagnosing a rattle from the engine as a loose mounting and successfully taking two spanners to it.

Up the Ashby. Part 1, widening the tunnel at Braunston

The plan was to leave our base at Welford and reach Snarestone at the top of the Ashby Canal by the end of the week. We could then leave Patience at Snarestone, return home for a week, retrieving Patience to take the return journey to Welford. This would require some safe car parking, and the generosity of our wives in taking and collecting from the further ends of the canal system.

The first stretch from Welford to Norton Junction, through the Watford flight (pictured), is old territory for us now, and we sped through in good time, mooring at Norton and surviving the perilous walk in darkness across the lock gate from the pub.

Day two, through Braunston, was a little less successful, as the uneven sides of the Braunston tunnel and oncoming boats nudged Patience into the crumbling wall of the tunnel, scraping off a navigation light at the bow and a piece of brick at the stern. Apparently the chandlery at Braunston do a regular line in green navigation lights; I was obviously not the first boater to have scraped against the tunnel walls. Nevertheless there was little damage done - it certainly sounded worse than it looked.

So through Braunston with its busy waterfront, proud metal bridges, shop full of excellent boating literature (I bought Rolt's "Narrow Boat" here) ...

and eventually moored up at Newbold on Avon, where the Barley Mow is right next to the moorings and Rugby (and rugby) always seems not far away (they portray the game even on the underside of their canal bridges).

This north section of the Oxford canal is interesting and new to us, and to highlight the sinuous route of canals John points out that at a point just south of the Hillmorton flight on the Oxford Canal east of Rugby, we were only 4.5 km (3 miles) as the crow flies from a point just north of Crick on the Leicester Arm - but about 17 miles by canal. See the red line below. And we passed Crick two days ago ....

However my favourite contrast between routes is between our original mooring at Stretham on the Ouse near Ely and Ware in Hertfordshire on the River Stort. I drove between them in an hour, (48 miles down the A10), and used Canal Planner to show that it would take SIXTEEN DAYS by boat, (230 miles, 7¾ furlongs and 162 locks) , having to go up the Ouse, through Denver Sluices, along the Middle Levels, River Nene, the locks at Northampton, the Grand Union down to the Regent's Canal and finally up the Lee and Stort (see map below). The sooner The Ouse is connected to the GU joining Bedford and Milton Keynes the better!

But now we're about to reach the Ashby ....