Mind Your Ps and Qs

Now that’s what I call a leaky lock

We try not to upset people on the canals, and I’ve got matters of boating etiquette on my mind.

Great Haywood Junction. For once, we aren’t turning right

Earlier we were cruising down the Trent and Mersey past the Shugborough Estate. It was a beautiful morning, bright, sunny and drowsy. If it weren’t for the biting wind it would have been perfect. We were in no hurry, which was a good thing, as there were lots of boats moored up against the banks which made for slow progress. The topic of slowing down for moored boats is a bit of a hot potato in boating circles. I think the official line is to go no faster than 2mph causing as little disturbance to the water as possible. We were taught to crawl past on tick over and that habit is fairly ingrained, even though we privately consider Beau Romer to have the slowest tick over speed ever. This morning a boater leaned out of his hatch and thanked us for going slowly, commenting we were the first today. He also told me he was writing a song about it. I hope I’m not going to get prosecuted under copyright law, but it went something like this:

“Rushing to the queue at the lock, rushing to the queue at the lock

Got a two-week holiday and a three-week itinerary

Rushing to the queue at the lock!”

Just a sleepy day in Staffordshire – High Bridge No 60 – complete with it’s nasty bend

My smugness didn’t last long. As Martyn pulled over at Colwich Lock to let me off with my (brand new and untested) windlass, we spotted a lady opening the paddles to empty it. I was sure she hadn’t seen us approaching to descend, so I beeped the horn. She looked up and stopped what she was doing, moving to the head gates instead. When I got there she told me the lock had been only half full when she started letting the water out. I felt a bit guilty, but vindicated by the time we got through as by then there was a nice little queue of boats waiting to ascend and descend, and no water got wasted. Should I have alerted her, or let her be? Thoughts on a postcard please? We don’t plan to offend.

I can find a good G&T anywhere – even at Wedgwood

Since I last wrote while we were in Stoke on Trent we’ve passed through Barlaston and Stone, and have been on land for a week. We stopped at Wedgwood to visit the factory and thoroughly enjoyed it. Stone was a necessary stopping point because a) I had to work; b) we needed groceries and there’s a Marks & Spencer Food Hall conveniently right next to the canal; and c) secondly it lashed down with rain for a day. On days like that only hire boats move because usually they have somewhere they need to be.

The Armitage Shanks factory in, not surprising, Armitage. They’ve been manufacturing toilets and other sanitary ware here since 1817

Last weekend was the annual Crick Boat Show and even though every year we protest we aren’t going, almost every year we do. It isn’t the lure of the shiny new boats and the stalls with lots of tempting things to buy, it’s the people. We catch up with old friends and make new ones, and the whole thing is over far too quickly. Following Crick we went home for a few days. We’re leaving our car there this summer. Last year the mice got under the bonnet and had a good nibble on some of the insulation; we’re anxious to avoid a repeat.

Shopping for a new sofa at Crick? It’s hard to make up your mind

Can’t Buy Me Love

Nervously waiting to go under Harecastle Hill

Today was Harecastle Tunnel Day. Harecastle is 2,926 yards long. It’s one-way, quite wide, dead straight, pitch black, and gives me the heebie-jeebies. This isn’t anything to do with the skeleton in the alcove about 450 yards from the northern entrance, or that the Kidsgrove Boggart reputedly haunts it – it’s the fans.

The tunnel roof gets lower and lower as you go through, you end up driving in a crouch

There aren’t any ventilation shafts in the tunnel, so when all the boats taking part in a particular passage are safely in and underway they shut the doors behind you and start up the ventilation fans. The closer you are to the southern end, the louder the fans are, it’s like being in front of a jet engine, you can barely hear yourself think. Three things put the wind up me; (no pun intended) tractors, tanks and giant fans.

Tunnel’s end, the Southern entrance. Iron causes the water to look like Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup

We survived the trip, neither of us saw the Boggart and no one was blown away, Martyn gave the tunnel wall a tiny nudge, but honours are even because two years ago, I hit the tunnel as we exited. We are now moored up just a mile from the tunnel on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent at Westport Lake. I call it Goosepoo Lake because it’s home to hundreds of Canada Geese (or that’s how it seems to me) and we all know how prolific they are with what they leave behind. There’s a visitor centre and a very nice cafe. I’m working tomorrow and if the torrential rain stops perhaps I’ll send Martyn out to investigate.

We use Thomas Telford’s tunnel, James Brindley’s original one lies unsafe and abandoned

On the way here we stopped at Middlewich to have some work done to the boat. We had new leisure batteries fitted, which we had planned, and a new bow thruster battery, which we hadn’t. That one battery alone cost over £350 which is painful, especially as we don’t even use the bow thruster that much. It doesn’t mean I’m not glad we have it, but we don’t rely on it in most situations. That got me thinking; one of the questions non-boaters wonder about – and a topic all boaters talk about – is how much it costs to run a boat. So here are our figures for last year:

  • Gold CRT licence from 1 July – 31 December – £602 (Gold because we spent a lot of time on the River Thames) plus about £450 from the 2022/23 licence
  • Insurance – £495
  • Mooring fees £1809 (for our marina and other odd nights in marinas and on the River Thames)
  • Diesel – £982 (ouch!)
  • Coal, logs and kindling – £323
  • Electricity – £150
  • Gas – £170 (I cook a lot)
  • A couple of engine services and some repairs – about £1000
  • The approximate basic cost of our epic 930-mile 2023 journey – £6000
That swan decided we needed to be seen off!

But the value of all that fun, friendship, new experiences and travel – priceless.

It’s all about the smiles per mile

At last!

Just a sunny day in Worsley

2024 cruising has been an awfully long time coming.

Spotted this chap in Wigan!

I’ve been working all winter and have barely seen anything apart from the view out of the window. The plan was to finish working at the end of March and set off to have some fun., but plans don’t always work out. We left the marina on 3 May and I’m still slaving away on my laptop three days each week. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Lord of all he surveys passing through Parbold

We’ve been on a mission for the past week. The canals up here are very familiar to us and the weather has been kind so we’ve been moving when when we can and picking places where we know the internet is good and there’s something for Martyn to do when we can’t. Some of the familiar stops have just been a quick touchdown; like coffee from the Horsebox in Worsley and a swift couple of pints in the Brewery Tap in Lymm. We did meet fellow Bickerstaffe owners Sean and Diane on Alchemist in Stockton Heath and had a most convivial evening over a couple of bottles of wine. There is, sadly, no pictorial evidence.

There are so many cute goslings this year. Canada Geese are honking, pooping machines, but also extremely good parents.

We still get time to stop and have a little nose around. We tried to repin an unmoored boat in Manchester and found a car boot sale in Dunham Massey. It was probably the worst one I’ve ever seen, but it was all for charity so we paid our £1 and went for a nose. We even rescued a party of lady hireboaters who got themselves thoroughly stuck coming out of the Saltersford Tunnel. Sir Martyn the Chivalrous to the rescue!

The advantage of only moving at 3mph is that on a nice day you can walk alongside the boat and admire the canalside art

So today we are sat in the sunshine at Kings Lock in Middlewich, having dodged several historic boats yesterday on their way to a festival in Anderton. We are getting new batteries and having a couple of other boat-related jobs carried out ready for this year’s cruise. You know what the acronym BOAT is, right? Bring Out Another Thousand … If the canal gods are kind to us, and we have the time we have plans this year that include Stratford-upon-Avon, but we’ll see how it all pans out.

Fish and chips and a pint in Middlewich – rude not to

There and Back Again

Ancient and modern – passing a horsedrawn boat at Copse Lock

The paucity of blog posts recently in no way reflects our disappointment with the Kennet and Avon Canal. Even though it’s a bit challenging to moor in many places, it has lovely fluffy banks harbouring reed buntings and interesting places to visit. We really rather like it. We’ve had the opportunity to go home for a couple of days, and had lots of visitors on the boat.

Sometimes you have to do more than a little gardening to moor your boat

It really feels like coming home. Bradford-on-Avon, Bath, Devizes, Trowbridge; these are all places very familiar to us from work and leisure. We used to drive to Bradford-on-Avon on weekends and bank holidays to gongoozle and dream long before we were lucky enough to have Beau Romer. We’ve hired boats from there twice and one year when a week on a narrowboat wasn’t possible due to time constraints, we managed to squeeze in a day hire with most of the family for my birthday.

April 2014, Martyn’s first canal boat holiday on the Kennet and Avon. He’s still wearing that sweatshirt – see the previous photo!

Enough reminiscing. Now we’ve been down the Caen Hill flight and back up it again we’ve completed all seven Wonders of the Waterways in this boat. We aren’t interested in the IWA Silver Propeller award, although we’ve now visited several of its required locations, the Seven Wonders was something I had my eye on from the start.

Descending Caen Hill

If you ever find yourselves in Devizes early on a Friday evening, take yourself to Wadworth’s Brewery Tap, where the beer is superb, the welcome friendly, and they even have a pizza van that turns up outside to keep you there for just one more pint.

There’s no better place to enjoy a good pint than in a brewery

One slight disappointment was we didn’t make it to Bristol, although we did get down onto the River Avon. I phoned the lock keeper at Hanham Lock to get all the information on mooring in Bristol Floating Harbour only to find out it was going to cost £51 to stay there for one night. The cost of a mooring in a marina is usually no more than £20 and we’re miserly so Bath was as far as we got.

The views from the roof of Bath Abbey’s bell tower are awesome

We spent a good few days in Bath. It felt like we were on holiday there. Martyn and I climbed to the roof of Bath Abbey, enjoying the views and the history in equal measure. Lianna, Dan and Rowan came to visit and helped us up the locks from the River.

Bath Deep Lock is 19’5″ deep, and the second deepest lock in the country. (Tuel Lane on the Rochdale Canal is the deepest at 19’8.5″. We did that in 2021)

We like the West End between Devizes and Bath so much that we went up and down it twice. We had Becky from America visiting and it seemed such a shame not to do some proper touristing, so there’s been a lot of eating, drinking and fun.

It was in the unlikely setting of Bath’s Guildhall Indoor Market I had possibly the best cocktail ever – a marmalade martini.

On the return trip we girls went to the Thermae Bath Spa and after a couple of hours floating around in the warm Bath water, I thoroughly recommend it.

The beautiful Warleigh Weir at Claverton, complete with wild swimmers

It wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t find out something obscure to tell you. We were having a stroll around Bathampton one evening when I happened on a plaque on the side of a building. After Wiliam Harbutt invented Plasticine in 1897, until 1983 the factory that made it was sited there. What a shame Wallace and Gromit weren’t from Bath instead of Yorkshire!

William Harbutt looks rather friendly, don’t you think?

Caen Hill is made up of 29 locks, the Lower Seven, or Foxhangers Locks, the main hill of 16, and the 6 Devizes Locks at the top. There are wonderful volunteer lock keepers who help with the 16, but you’re on your own for the rest. On the way down with Penny and Andrew as a pair we did all 29 in one day. I’m not in a hurry to repeat that. On the way up we moored at the bottom of the hill, waited for the locks to open and went up as a single boat. Martyn and I share the driving, but poor Becky wound every single lock. Thank goodness for that brewery at the top.

There she is, waiting for the hard graft in the morning

We think the attraction between us and the K&A must be mutual. The canal wants to keep us here. We are currently moored at Pewsey, and for a few more days at least, we’re stuck. Both the old and new electric pumps failed at the Crofton Summit. They had to resort to firing up the boilers and running the steam pumps to rewater the canal. Those pumps date from 1812 and 1845, thank goodness they are still operational. Now we are just waiting for a repair to a lock at Hungerford (which was due to be fixed during the winter, but it wouldn’t wait) and hoping that another one that looks dodgy a bit further east holds out long enough for us to get through. It’s a long way back to Lancashire.

Bath again – gratuitous charcuterie

No Mooring

Egyptian Geese on the River Thames. I wasn’t familiar with them at all. It’s interesting how the local wildlife changes as we progress

Sorry, it’s been a while, so here’s a rundown of our exploits over the past few weeks – not what I thought I was going to write about at all. We liked Uxbridge, and it didn’t seem to be remotely in the grip of byelection fever while we were there. Martyn and I snuck off for lunch and then unexpectedly to a Muse concert at Milton Keynes, courtesy of my old schoolfriend Alison and her husband Peter. It was our third time seeing Muse, and they were every bit as excellent as I remember.

Nothing to do with boating at all, just enjoying a splendid evening at the National Bowl in Milton Keynes with 60,000 0ther people

After Uxbridge, the Grand Union got a bit grim. I didn’t think much of Hayes and Southall and there was a stretch where I’ve never seen so much rubbish, and we even spotted rats on the bank. It’s not all roses and castles. We spent a couple of pleasant days at the top of the Hanwell flight but descending the locks there was a bit of a trial. First there was no water, then there was too much. Until the CRT properly came to our rescue Penny and I were running up and down trying to let water out at the bottom to mitigate the threat of the overflowing higher pounds. Consequently it took about three times longer than it should have done.

Three Bridges at Hanwell. designed by I K Brunell of course. It’s road above canal above railway

Finally we reached the end of the Grand Union Canal at Brentford and our date with the mighty River Thames – the tidal section between Brentford and Teddington. I was apprehensive; would we be swept away, overturned, or mown down by an Uber boat or a large sea-going vessel? Thankfully none of that happened. We sped along on the tide at a giddy speed for any self-respecting narrowboat, and reaching Teddington was a bit of a anticlimax.

Cruising past Richmond-upon-Thames. Last time we were there we were on our honeymoon!

After Teddington we started to have the sort of problem that was going to become all too common over the next couple of weeks. “No mooring, no landing” the signs say, sometimes there’s a bit of variation “Keep off” or “Private mooring”. You start to feel a bit desperate sometimes for the feel of solid earth under your feet. It isn’t exactly welcoming. There are visitor moorings. You can only stay on most of them for 24 hours before payment is due, so there’s little temptation to linger either. You see boats moored squeezed in and moored up to tiny sections of the bank where the vegetation is just about pnetrable, but those spots with prevailing high banks are generally more suited to the river cruisers than to the likes of us. We might be king on the canals, but on the Thames we’re distinctly second class.

Kingston Railway Bridge, with Kingston Bridge in the background. My old head office is the sandy-coloured building on the right.

We did pay to stay in a few places. We lurked right outside the gates of Hampton Court Palace for the full five days we were allowed. I got to catch up with some old work colleages, and some of them came to see us on the boat. We even risked a short evening cruise, ever fearful that even at 8pm some opportunist would steal our mooring while we were out gallivanting.

Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare. I’ve driven past it many times, but have never seen it from this angle

Windsor was a bit of a disappointment. We arrived on Monday, on the day that POTUS came to visit the King. Can’t say I noticed, although we think we saw the Presidential helicopter leaving. Martyn and I ventured up into the town, which seemed to have a bit of a problem with the drains and an excess of homeless people. It was decidedly inconvenient that Windsor Castle was closed until Thursday and we decided not to stay and wait.

A beautiful evening at Runnymede, interrupted by planes constantly taking off from Heathrow Airport

Marlow was a delight with a lovely park where we enjoyed watching a bit of evening cricket and some very nice window shopping. We had a good mooring and went on a very mini pub crawl. Sadly Henley-on-Thames was only a brief stop for shopping. We jammed into a very tight mooring – twice because I had to move to let another boat out. Three years ago I never would even have attempted it. A historic boat festival was in full swing and once again mooring was at a premium. We should have stayed put because then we had quite a long slog to Reading before we were able to find anywhere to stop for the night. An overnight at Sonning, rubbing shoulders with the Clooneys, wasn’t going to be for us.

Amphicars having fun in the rain at Marlow

I hadn’t meant to describe our sojourn on the Thames so briefly. I like to think that we’ll be back to explore it at a bit more leisure in the future. It is so very different to the canals we are used to; so wide and grand. We kept the binoculars on the stern with us at all times, there’s so much to see they came in very useful, if only to read the “No Moooring” signs.

Windsor Castle of course. We had planned to moor on the playing fields of Eton College on the left, but it was too shallow. I must have winded the boat 5 times looking for a suitable mooring spot

So now we find ourselves on the Kennet and Avon at last. I like it a lot. So far it reminds me of the Leeds and Liverpool. They are both broad canals with a reputation for being difficult, they both flow through some beautiful countryside, they are both lined with pillboxes from WWII and they both terminate in a major port, Bristol and Liverpool respectively.

Gliding between the shops and cafes in Reading

We’ve seen some interesting things, the turf-sided locks for instance. We even survived the fearsome lock entrance at Woolhampton relatively unscathed.

Waiting for Monkey Marsh Lock to fill

For one night only we found one of the nicest moorings we’ve had in a while at Tyle Mill. I think it rates up there with my favourites at Gargrave on the L&L and Barnton Cut on the River Weaver. I’d like to spend a few peaceful days there in the future, enjoying the company of the resident cows. I wouldn’t mind next time though if we didn’t see the cover in which we wrap our pram hood while cruising disappearing down the River Kennet never to be seen again! That’s going to be expensive.

Martyn guarding the protecting the washing from the cows. For some reason he thought a red sweatshirt was a good idea …

When You Can’t See the Wood for the Trees …

Locking with LarkRise

The convoy of three has continued on its merry way. We haven’t had the best of luck so far this week. Martyn sacrificed a screwdriver to the canal gods, and I knocked my water bottle into the water halfway up the Marsworth Flight. It was a hot day and the bottle was full of blackcurrant and blueberry squash; what a waste. Martyn was not happy when the water hose exploded and flooded our well deck either. At least the water was cold.

Looking back to Marsworth Reservoir

I’m loving all the uniformly-painted black and white former lockkeepers’ cottages on this section of the Grand Union Canal. It makes you realise what a superhighway this canal was in its day. It joins London to Birmingham and, by and large, it takes the straightest, fastest route. There’s no meandering around hills and valleys, just lock brutally and inexorably following lock. Back in the day this canal certainly had the manpower to cope with it, and the cottages are a testament to this fact.

Another lovely cottage

We passed a film set on the banks of the canal. At first we thought the weird scaffolding was part of the work for HS2. The emerald green colour should have given it away, that and the munchkin village, complete with wicker witch. It was the set of Wicked, and it’s massive.

That’s a lot of building, but no sign of Jeff Goldblum or Ariana Grande

On reaching the top of the locks we stopped close to the Grand Junction Arms and had a delicious lunch. While we were there the heavens opened, and the ensuing thunderstorm was biblical in its ferocity. It was such a trial that we were stranded in the pub garden for an hour, mercifully under a huge canopy, watching the parasols being bent over by the force of the storm and avoiding the streams and rivulets at our feet. In our haste to get to the pub we hadn’t stopped to put up the pram hood up on the stern of the boat. It took the rest of the afternoon to get everything dried out.

We need the rain, but not that much that fast

The next day we were warned about a tree across the canal in the Tring Cutting. Of course, it had to be our boat that brought it down, right on top of the cratch cover. Penny and Andrew had already got through unscathed, Karen and Drew were behind us. I managed to stop the boat before the tree limb did any real damage, but it still took Martyn and Drew about an hour to saw it up and get us free. Amazingly there was hardly any damage. The canvas needs a good clean, and one rivet needs replacing, that’s all. And there’s nothing for the Canal and River Trust to do now. Us boaters are resourceful.

When Martyn retired he was gifted a reciprocating saw. It came into its own for a spot of lumberjacking

Since then we’ve taken root in Berkhamsted. It’s a lovely town, full of interesting shops, with a beautiful old church, a Waitrose and a M&S Food Hall. It’s the first place we’ve stayed I honestly don’t think I could afford to live in, certainly not buy a house, but we’re getting closer and closer to London.

Lock 53, Berkhamsted

It’s been hot and sunny every day and we are moored under a tree. Somehow I’ve managed to enjoy coffee and walnut cake every day for the past three; in a cafe, courtesy of Karen, and a delicious one that Penny cooked today. We’ve done some light boat maintenance. We went out to eat in the Thai Cottage last night and had the most excellent dinner; it’s a restaurant I heartily recommend. Tomorrow we’re moving on.

Every cloud has a silver lining. If the tree hadn’t fallen on our boat we wouldn’t have seen this family of Mandarin ducks

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

Celebrating the railway heritage of Wolverton, just north of Milton Keynes

We are somewhere between Leighton Buzzard and Tring, so I’m lost. I only know we’re closing in on London.

This widebeam was right across the canal when we found it. We couldn’t pass until we’d repinned it. Probably a speeding boat pulled it loose.

Martyn and I went back to Wareham for a few days, we had some business to take care of, dentist, doctor and haircut. We also got to see friends and celebrate a wedding, which was lovely. I hope Dave and Sue have a happy married life together. Congratulations Mr and Mrs Wheatley.

Seren Glas on the Iron Truck Aqueduct in Cosgrove, with no barrier on the starboard side, is the first of its kind.

We left the boat in Cosgrove. Penny and Andrew looked after it for us, for which we were grateful. Cosgrove promised so much and delivered so little. On the map it is a delightful place, with a caravan park and lakes. In reality the caravan park is strictly private, and they own all the nice bits. The horse tunnel, squat and oval, which runs under the canal, was fun though. Karen and Drew on Lark Rise caught up with us there and we’ve been travelling with them and Andrew and Penny ever since. That’s been extremely pleasant. We’ve explored pubs together and on Saturday night we had the first towpath barbecue of the year. We are all heading towards London and although our timetables are different I hope we’ll continue to cross paths on the way down.

The Ornamental Bridge at Cosgrove is definitely the most ornate we’ve seen on the Grand Union,

We cruised through Milton Keynes, which was pleasant and warrants further exploration at a more leisurely pace. It’s all parks, gardens and nice-looking houses from our perspective on the canal, not a concrete cow in sight. Leighton Buzzard seemed very noisy; we thought there was some sort of protest going on. It was only after we passed through I discovered it was the day of the Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable Truck Convoy. The mind boggles.

A hot day and a cold beer in The Globe Inn in Leighton Buzzard. That’s Karen and Drew in animated conversation.

Martyn and I went for a trek across a field to look at a railway bridge. It’s quite a notorious one. It used to be called Bridego Bridge, now it’s known as Train Robbers Bridge. It’s the site of the 1963 Great Train Robbery perpetrated by Ronnie Biggs, Buster Edwards et al. I had to go and look at it. Before I married Martyn my surname was Wisbey, and Tommy Wisbey, who was one of the train robbers, was related to my ex. Later that evening the Flying Scotsman crossed it but none of us got to take a photo. Opportunity missed there.

The infamous Train Robbers Bridge. I don’t think we’ll be catching that train.

Up and Down the Line

Turning in a new direction at Norton Junction. It was one of my first junctions and still one of my favourites.

We’ve been going the wrong way (considering our destination is Bristol), and having a little diversion, a flirtation if you like, with the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal.

The Lark (Rise) Ascending at Foxton Locks

I loved it. The Leicester Line starts with Watford. and the roar of the M1. You can even cut across a field to the Watford Gap services for a McDonalds if the fancy takes you We didn’t. Then come the Watford Locks, seven in total, four in a staircase. They have volunteer lock keepers to see you through safely and marshall the queue. We didn’t expect to wait over an hour and a half for our turn; we know better now. The locks are ingenious, they fill and empty via side pounds. Every lock has a red paddle and a white paddle, one to control the flow of water into the pound and one to control the flow of water into the lock. They have a saying for confused boaters: “Red before white, you’ll be alright. White before red, slap round the head!”

Gliders take to the air at North Kilworth

Then there are 23 miles in total of lock-free bucolic loveliness. It’s the definition of pastoral. There are no towns and really no villages to break up the countryside. We spotted the first dragonflies of the year, red kites, hares and a fox slinking across a field. It’s so pretty that it almost got a little boring!

Mile after mile of fields, blue skies, fields and hawthorn blossom, the fallen petals sitting on the water (and all over the boat) like confetti. It’s such a hard life!

We met our friends Paul and Anthony as we reached Crick. They’ve had their last journey on Morning Star. We’ve had so many fabulous times with them on her, but I’m not that sad, as the new Morning Star, a stunning electric boat built by Oakums, was launched and proudly shown off at the Crick Boat Show. Thanks Anthony, I know you know what I did last summer, but I don’t need you to hiss it in my ear through the porthole at 11.30 pm! I will get you back for scaring me half to death!

Squeezing past the double-moored narrowboats at the Crick Boat Show. I didn’t take one single photo while we were there …

At the end of the long pound are Foxton Locks, two staircases with five locks in each. Again with wonderfully friendly and informative lockies to help and with a slightly different rhyme “Red before white, you’ll be alright, white before red, wish yourself dead.” I’m not messing with those guys. In the pound between the two staircases we met Karen and Drew on Larkrise, and had a super and unexpected pub lunch with them before we headed down an arm to Market Harborough, where we stayed for a couple of days.

The countryside is still pretty, but you don’t want to catch a whiff of the rendering plant on the Market Harborough Arm!

The Foxton Locks are a gongoozler’s paradise. On the Saturday afternoon when we ascended I think half of Leicestershire was there. There are two pubs and cafes and I got to indulge my love of good beer and rum and raisin ice cream, always a bonus. Between 1900 and 1910 there was an inclined plane, a type of boat lift, at Foxton, now just a relic, but there’s a nice little museum for people to learn about it, and the life of the boatmen and women. With the hawthorn in full blossom, a swans’ nest to watch and at last some sunshine, the two nights we stayed there were a joy.

All that’s left of the inclined plane at Foxton Locks

On the way back down we explored the Welford Arm. There’s a charming pub at the end called The Wharf Inn. The internet is risible, so we had to call in for a pint just so I could buy a train ticket and order a Tesco delivery. What a trial! We also stayed at North Kilworth Marina so we could all go to the Crick Boat Show, even though we said we weren’t going to this year. It was the usual mix of catching up with friends, enviously viewing the latest boats and shopping. We bought a new chimney and a life ring, so now we are adequately equipped for the mighty River Thames and back on our way again.

Approaching Yelvertoft, another image of Leicester Line loveliness

Today we turned back onto the Main Line of the Grand Union Canal again. It was a rather longer day than we planned. We queued patiently at the Watford Locks on the return trip for nearly four hours. Canal time or what?

A totally gratuitous photo of Beau Romer looking rather splendid moored up at the top of Foxton Locks

Of Shoes – And Ships- And Sealing-Wax – Of Cabbages – And Kings …

Captain Edwards putting the bunting up for the Coronation

With apologies to Lewis Carroll, and aware that there are no cabbages, sealing wax, or shoes in this blog – and strictly speaking no ships either – I am playing catch up, or I’ll get progressively further behind. There’s a lot of travelling to recount but there’s nothing new here as we cruised all these same canals last summer.

Some ladies by the canal in Rugeley

From Tixall Wide we turned right back onto the Trent and Mersey Canal and cruised down to Rugeley, an excellent place to stop because there’s a Tesco right next to the canal. We like places like that. We had met Gareth and Lou from Cruising Crafts at Great Haywood Junction and I asked Gareth to make a pouch for my walkie-talkie to add to my utility harness, so now I have Windlass, CRT key, handcuff key and walkie-talkie all to hand when we’re going through locks. Since I’ve had it I don’t lose handcuff keys with gay abandon either. We don’t use the walkie-talkie much when there’s just the two of us, but they are very handy when we are cruising with another boat and we were putting the hammer down a bit to meet up with Andrew and Penny again.

Great Haywood Junction in a bit of rare sunshine

From Rugeley we quickly carried on through Armitage, where toilets (Armitage Shanks) are still made and the site of the Armitage Tunnel, which isn’t as it was opened out due to subsidence, so it’s just a very deep narrow cutting now. This year no one hit the side on the way through. Once again we didn’t stop at Fradley Junction, so I still haven’t been to The Swan pub, or the Mucky Duck as boaters call it.

Making the turn at Fradley

Then it was down the Coventry Canal, past Kings Orchard Marina where we stayed last year and through the village of Hopwas, where you have the choice of two pubs facing each other across the canal, the Tame Otter and the Red Lion. We missed out on them both. From Fazeley Junction we headed for the extremely slow Glascote Locks and on to Atherstone.

Found by the side of one of the Glascote Locks – very true!

There we had a day off for the Coronation, huddled up in front of the fire listening to the rain and watching the TV. What a shame. All sorts of events were going on in Atherstone and the rain was a disappointment. It was a fabulous day all the same. Martyn wishes we hadn’t bedecked the boat with bunting though, I’m never buying the cheap stuff again. When we took it down it had left dye all over the boat which was the devil’s own job to remove.

Atherstone Top Lock, and friendly lockies. It will always be known as Rat Lock since a rat used the stern of our boat as a bridge here last summer!

Once we’d made our way through Nuneaton, which has seemingly endless allotments and was the home of Larry Grayson (who my Auntie and Uncle took me to see years ago in Bournemouth Pavillion), we reached Hawkesbury Junction with its daunting 180 degree turn. Martyn made it in one with aplomb, in front of a garden full of gongoozlers enjoying a pint in The Greyhound. We had a lovely reunion Sunday dinner there later with Penny and Andrew, which will take some beating.

I had a couple of pints of this in The Greyhound, and very nice they were too

From then it was down through Rugby (on the Oxford Canal by then) and through the three locks at Hillmorton, apparently the busiest in the country. I rather like them, but they were very full, and crossing the middle lock was like wading through a stream.

I wonder how many feet have stopped onto the lock gate here at Hillmorton

Braunston is the centre of the canal system, and it was surprisingly empty this year. We were a bit shocked that the marina was selling diesel at £1.65 per litre. We didn’t fill up there!

Approaching Braunston

We had a couple of days in Weedon on the Grand Union which meant I got to visit The Bramble Patch, one of my favourite patchwork and quilting shops. And I think this is quite enough for one blog, even though I’m not completely caught up yet.

Ready to repel pirates on the Buckby Flight

Old Friends and a New Favourite

Brick Kiln Lock in the (rare at the moment) evening sunshine

I have to think back a bit now. Once we got off the Shroppie and onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal at Autherley Junction, we enjoyed ourselves immensely. I guess I have a new favourite canal. It’s quite an interesting one, with lots of twists and turns – a contour canal – has some beautiful scenery and intriguing towns and villages on the banks. We spent three days travelling northeast on the Staffs and Worcester in mostly good weather and I want to go back, take my time, and explore the whole canal.

Even the graffiti under the M6 was impressive

There were only a couple of downsides. For a few hundred metres you pass a chemical works with prominent “no stopping” signs, and then there was the night we spent at Acton Trussell. We moored outside the enthusiastically-reviewed Moat House Hotel on a Saturday night. To be honest, I was rather hoping to be treated to a night’s B&B to celebrate my birthday and maybe even enjoy the luxury of a wallow in a bath! Sadly they were fully booked and we soon found out why. There was a wedding taking place, and I expect the guests had taken over the whole hotel. We didn’t mind the festivities and loud disco, it was actually rather jolly and we almost felt like we were celebrating along with the wedding party. We fully expected it to go on until midnight and we aren’t normally people who retire to bed early. We even had fun guessing which of the old standards the DJ was going to play next (Madness followed by Bad Manners and Dexys Midnight Runners was a bit of a no-brainer if you’re of a certain age). They were still going strong at 1 o’clock in the morning, and by that time we’d definitely had enough, especially as for the last 30 minutes it felt like we were in Ibiza rather than Staffordshire. And to compound my grumpiness at an early start after a late night we boated in the rain the next day.

The Captain enjoying the view – or maybe checking for pirates

The destination was worth the early start. We arrived at one of our favourite moorings, Tixall Wide, to enjoy the bank holiday. Apart from the honking of Canada Geese and the eroding banks which are apparently going to be fixed this summer, it’s a joyful place to spend a couple of nights.

I wouldn’t mind living here at all

On May Bank Holiday Monday we took the opportunity to visit the farm shop at Great Haywood Junction, and Shugborough Hall. The Shugborough Estate is one of the few National Trust properties we can easily access from the canal. I do like to see more opulence in my stately homes and a little less of the National Trust’s educational displays, but The Lichfield Apartments were a delight. It was almost as if Lord Lichfield had just stepped out of his family home for a few minutes with his camera and gone off to photograph the Royal Family, or someone equally famous.

I thought it was the cat that curiosity was supposed to kill, not our neighbours at Tixall Wide

And finally for this post, on Tuesday we had a day off. Martyn didn’t think so, as we took the opportunity to give the boat a good clean, firstly because it absolutely needed it, and secondly in readiness for the Coronation weekend to come.

Shugborough Hall