Sunday 13 October 2013

Stoke Bruerne Village At War Weekend - 15th & 16th September

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

(Yet another very retrospective blog post.)

We had fought like mad to actually be at "Village at War", one of our favourite events of the boating calendar, but as the weekend approached it looked increasingly from the forecasts like it could be a washout.  We had done a "Village at War" two years previously where the Sunday had largely got rained off, so we relaise how important it is to the organisers that bad weather doesn't restrict visitor numbers to the point that no funds are raised by the event.

However as we moved into the weekend the forecasts got a bit more optimistic - Saturday it seemed might not be too bad, although Sunday still looked fairly hopeless.

The reality was nothing like as bad as even the revised predictions.  Saturday was actually a pretty good day.  Even Sunday held fairly good until about lunch time, after which the bad weather did start to appear.  However by then most exhibitors and traders seemed fairly satisfied - a good measure of success seems to be when the burger stall runs out of burgers, and Peter Oates assured us that this had happened reassuringly quickly!

It does seem though that although we carry cameras around a lot, we are getting progressively less good at taking photographs of these events.  I have to admit a lot of time was spent eating or drinking at The Boat, and this may have contributed to a lack of pictures.  However, as is customary at Stoke Bruerne events, "Sickle" did a bit of parading, and there are at least some photos of that!

Stoke Bruerne Village at War
Miles: 2.0, Locks: 4

Total Miles: 539.0, Locks: 272

Saturday 12 October 2013

Braunston to Stoke Bruerne - Thursday 12th September

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Another very retrospective blog post.

For various reasons relating to planning around other events, it turned out that the best day to move "Sickle" on the final leg of the trip from Shackerstone to Stoke Bruerne, ready for "Village at War" was the Thursday, even though we did not need to be at Stoke until a day later.

To do these point to point moves often involves two cars, and a lot of shuffling around, but that is pretty expensive in fuel, so if we can avoid it we prefer to.  We have had some success recently combining use of a bike with just one car, and we decided to try that again for this move, although we had learned the lesson that a full sized "mountain" style bike makes it much easier than one of the Brompton folders.  It does also need fairly good towpaths.  So the plan was that we go to Braunston with a bike in the car, which we would use to lock-wheel the flight, before Cath returned to the car, with bike, and then drove forward ready to assist at the Buckby locks, again using the bike.  Once clear of Buckby she would drive to Blisworth with the bike, then cycle back to meet me as I progressed South with "Sickle".  By choosing Blisworth we both avoid the parking limitations at Stoke, and the need for Cath to cycle over Blisworth tunnel.  I could drop her back there later, and she could then drive to Stoke whilst I went through the tunnel alone.

I like a good plan, but it all started to fall apart as we tackled Braunston locks, where progress ended up being incredibly slow.  Virtually all traffc seemed to be the direction we were going, up the locks, with few balancing movements down.  There were some very slow crews who were working locks slowly and ineffeciently, and a volunteer lock-keeper positioned at just one lock in the centre of the flight seemed to actually be insisting on things that made it take even longer, but probably overall wasted more water than it saved.

Again many of the pounds in Braunston were low, and this wasn't helping.  This is quite a basic thing, but in many of the Grand Union lock flights it now seems commonplace, with nobody assigned to attempt to keep the levels up.

By the time we were through Braunston it looked highly unlikely we would be tying up in Stoke Bruerne before nightfall, as we had planned.

Howeer, at Buckby things went rather more smoothly, and a couple of boats we shared with were very helpful, and, hearing we needed to make Stoke, suggested we went ahead of them.  By the bottom of Buckby it seemed just about possible we might succeed, if no more hold ups.  Cath set off with bike to do the next leg by car, and I set off with "Sickle".

I can't recall exactly where I finally saw Cath again, but of course Buckby to Blisworth is a fair old way, so she had done a fair amount of cycling by the time we did meet.  However it had worked well, as she had largely avoided the rougher towpaths, and after that we continued to make good speed, although wondered if we would have to call it a day by the time we reached Blisworth.

However some local knowledge confirmed plenty of availability of moorins at Stoke, so even if I emerged from the tunnel in darkness, mooring up should be no issue, (it of course makes little differenvce if night has fallen whilst you are in a tunnel!)

So I set off through the tunnel - always a pleasure when nobody else is in it, and you can go at the speed that "Sickle" actually seems to prefer! 4mph was easily achieved!

So we not only got to Stoke, but were also in time for a meal at The Boat - it seems to be "our local" tese days even though we live many miles from it - we almost certainly visit this pub more than any other.

I suppose the fact we took not one single picture says a lot about the nature of the day - all standard stuff, but such slow going for the first few hours.  Braunston to Stoke Bruerne at this time of year used to be an easy days boating - now it seems you can't rely on it not taking an awful lot longer than it really ought to need to.

Braunston to Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 20.6, Locks:13

Total Miles: 537.0, Locks: 268

Friday 11 October 2013

The Blog Stalls Again - Retrospective post - Newbold to Braunston - Tuesday 10th September

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Blog fail!  One month after some of the boating nothing has been written up.

As far as this day goes, there could have been a reason though!

I was on my own again, and although it may not sound much to experienced single handers, I knew I had to work through the locks at Hillmorton on my own.  I reasoned that with twinned locks I could take my time, as there is always the pair to each lock that someone can use i they get impatient with me!

First lock at Hillmorton
In practice a lock-keeper helped me at the first one, but then said "you are on your own for the rest".  Not a problem, but with multiple boats going up ahead of me, using both locks of a pair, I had to stop and reverse one of each in order to use it.  The locks here were suffering the same "low pounds" syndrome that seems to be commonplace on South East waterways flights this year.  There may be volunteer lock keepers, but they don't seem to be empowered to top up pounds that are low.  One did take a photo of me though - about the only way you get pictures for the blog if single handing!

After this I had two consecutive experiences I would have preferred to avoid, as I got into a queue of slow moving boats, with all the rest travelling ahead of me.  After following one at a reasonable distance for some miles, he then waved me past at a less than suitable spot.  As I was roughly alongside him, with not much clear waterway ahead, he put the power back on.  I suggested if he wanted me to pass he should remain well slowed down  and he said "yes, I understand", but shortly after slackening off, then speeded up again!  I did get by but it was hairy.

Shortly after this another boat waved me past at somewhere even less suitable.  I should have followed my instincts and not gone, but often if you don't go past when the boat in front offers, you are then not given a chance somewhere more appropriate.  As I was going alongside  I actually said something like "Thanks, but I'm a bit nervous of doing this, as the last boat didn't actually let me past".  "No problem" says he, (or something similar), but then winds on the speed!  At this point a boat comes round the corner towards us, and I have no option but to try and stop dead.  Total mayhem ensued, and although there was no boat to boat contact, I was very grateful of "Sickle's power, but less grateful for the fact it is very hard to prevent the front end swinging to the left bank, if it is all applied at once!  I made a mental note not to pass anyone else unless I was comfortable I could still outrun them if they did all the wrong things!  I have to say this busy stretch of the Northern Oxford seems to attract more people with little idea of what they are doing than most other canals we visit.

After that it was fortunately incident free to Braunston, and I had been trying to liaise with Cath such that she would arrive there by car to pick me up at an appropriate time, as we planned to leave "Sickle" there briefly.  I was quietly hoping that those who had waved me past, but not actually let me past, would not arrive anywhere nearby.  My patience was a little exhausted by this stage, and I might have had further "words".  However after a good feed at the Gongoozlers' Rest, I was prepared to put it down as one of those unfortunate boating days that hopefully only happens once in a blue moon!

Newbold to Braunston
Miles: 11.2, Locks: 3

Total Miles: 516.5, Locks: 255

Monday 9 September 2013

Longest I Have Ever Boated Alone with Sickle

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

I'm struggling to believe CRT erected these signs!
I didn't sleep great on my own, despite more space in the bed!  It was actually getting colder, but on my own I didn't want the effort of lighting or managing the Epping range, so I went for extra blankets.

The kettle is taking an inordinately long time to boil on our normally excellent meths fuelled stove - I don't know why, but was determined not to leave without a full thermos of coffee that I could pour from when under way.  I also made sure I had a proper breakfast, because lunch on the move would not be an option.

Ashby Canal Bridge No 1 - Nearly off this canal now.
Where we had moored last night near Stoke Golding was shallow, and I was on the bottom, some way from the bank.  I didn't realise how much I was on the bottom, until I attempted to "unstick" myself from it.  Whilst I was getting nowhere with engine power, use of a shaft, or indeed both, Trevor Maggs boated by on his working boat "Corona".  Trevor makes things look effortless, (he has more practice than most!), and I don't think was convinced by me pausing my attempts to get going, and trying to look like I could if I actually wanted too!

"Corona" and "Sickle" both await passage at the stop lock.
The next thing I learnt was that if following Trevor on "Corona" don't expect to catch up!  I kept getting tantalising glimpses of "Corona" in the distance, but only occasionally, and many miles ater, the gap seemed as large.  I finally only caught him when he had to wait for the stop lock at Hawkesbury.  He got through, but some CRT employees attempting to reattach the top balance beam rather better than it was made me wait some time while they "spannered" away.  By then Trevor was probably tied up back at base in Rugby, (OK, well not quite).  It seemed sensible to stop for sandwiches.

"Corona" glides into the stop lock at Hawkesbury.
I decided I would carry on until early evening, and Newbold looked favourite - I thought I might get a pub meal and some shopping there, and did not fancy pushing on into Rugby itself.  I had however picked the one night of the year that the nearest pub wasn't doing evening food, and the one next to it never does.  I thought I was scuppered, until I found there are three pubs in Newbold.  The Newbold Crown provided adequate food, but in completely empty bar, and I thought my pint of Doombar wasn't quite up to scratch.  Perhaps one is more demanding when you only have yourself for company?  The Co-Op, however, provided all my shopping requirements, and I managed to get back to the boat OK, even though I had failed to take a torch with me.

Leaving Newbold Tunnel - just before tying up for the day.
By putting in a long day today, Braunston should be reached fairly easily tomorrow, although I would have to work Hillmorton locks on my own.

Stoke Golding to Newbold
Miles: 23.9, Locks:1

Total Miles: 505.4, Locks: 252

Sunday 8 September 2013

How To Be At Sickle's Next Event?

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

We know we are temporarily breaking our resolve to do our boating at a bit more sedate pace, but, as already explained, we are also keen to get to all this years events with "Sickle" that we reasoned we might just manage at the start of the year.

But with Cath currently unavailable during the weekdays, (don't ask!), could we get "Sickle" from Shackerstone this weekend to Stoke Bruerne by next weekend, ready for "Village at war" - one of our favourite events.

Well, yes we can, but only by me "single handing" "Sickle" for much of it.  I'm no natural single hander since I broke my pelvis a few years back.  Steering the lock free sections isn't too bad, but I don't really do jumps any more, and am not confident with tacling too many locks alone.  But from Shackerstone to Stoke Bruerne the "real" locks only kick in at Braunston and Buckby on the Grand Union.  The biggest task on the narrow canals would be the paired single locks at Hillmorton - I reckoned I could do that.

Approaching a typical attractive stone bridge on the Ashby
So I would stay with "Sickle" and start the journey, but Cath needed to be at home.  If we left Shackerstone and got a few miles in that would help, so that's what we did.  Rather daftly I suggested Cath could take the car on to another point, then cycle back or walk back to meet me coming towards her.  We could travel on those miles, have a final meal together, and she could then leave.  We rather miscalculated though, and she walked far further than sensible, plus by the time we arrived at Stoke Golding it seemed highly unlikely anybody would be serving a meal.  Fortunately we wee wrong, as a pub there actually has an Indian Restaurant attached to it - a double blessing, as I could have a proper pint of real ale with my "Indian" rather than the "traditional" Kingfisher, which, if I'm honest, I only drink under duress.

Sleeping alone on "Sickle" for the first time was an odd experience, but as a "Grand Union" motor's cross bed is really only a "single" in household terms, I did have a bit more room than sometimes!  I later learnt Cath wasn't home until about midnight - we pushed things a bit far, really, but it makes my task for the next couple of days a lot easier.

Shackerstone to Stoke Golding
Miles: 9.9, Locks: 0

Total Miles: 481.4, Locks: 251

Shackerstone Family Festival - Day 2 - Sunday 8th September

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Again almost no "boaty" pictures, but here is a random selection from Sunday.....

It is worth reminding perhaps that clicking on any image will give an enlarged view.

Harris Hawk

Good explanations given by the trainer.

Miniature traction engines.

A Leyland Tiger of 1948

Bedford J6 Fire Engine of 1962

Bond Bug
Bond Bug
Mini AA Van - They seem tiny now!

Token boat - this one is a steamer.
Spitfire! (Must buy a telephoto lens!....)

Saturday 7 September 2013

Shackerstone Family Festival - Day 1 - Saturday 7th September

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Not "boaty" pictures this time, but here is a random selection from Saturday.....

"Battlefield" railway - GWR 2-8-0 Freight Loco.

"Battlefield" Railway - Train after arrival at Shenton station.

Anker Morris Men

(Very!) energetic solo dance.

Anker Morris Men

Melodeon players. (Cath deeply envious of small melodeon on left!)
Ford Corsair - Cath's "ex" had one of these.

Triumph Herald Estate - Cath's mum had one of these.

Morris Traveller - No!, but I once owned the van version.

Sinclair C5 - Nobody in the family ever had one of these, though!

Sunday 1 September 2013

Onwards to Shackerstone

(Retrospective post after failing to keep up! - Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Cath did some very long dog walks, hence pictures of boat underway.
What's to say, really?  As I already indicated yesterday, this is our first trip up the Ashby Canal in any boat.  I did have reservations about "Sickle" because of her deep draught, and the fact that the Ashby is traditionally recognised as shallow, or at least in parts shallow.  But we know lots of the other "historics" plough up it.

We don't seem to be stirring mud too badly at this point.
Actually the books say that a robust dredging program has improved much of it, but that program was not comprehensive, so other parts remain un-dredged.  That just about sums it up!  Mostly progress was OK, but at some points you really are stirring up the silt, sometimes for several miles at a time.  It could be worse, though, and a much higher percentage is OK, than is really bad.

Allowed to roam with no worries of any roads, Odin loved it.
It is a very pretty canal, and I can almost tolerate its "locklessness", (I like a reasonable injection of locks, usually!).  Of course it is a canal that ultimately you can only turn around and come back again - there is no possibility of a one way passage as part of a circular route.

We booked into "Shacky" late, so were told we would need to moor away from the area reserved for historic boats, although there was plenty of space in this when we turned up.  Not wishing to upset the organisers though, we did as we were told, and managed to just squeeze into a space right by what looked like it would be one of the entrances to the festival site - one of the advantages of being only 40 feet, of course.  However we could not get the boat anywhere near the bank, and as Odin is currently still freaked by walking a plank, we decided he probably couldn't actually accompany us to the festival itself.

Enjoying a cuddle with "me boy".
One of our friends who had volunteered to take someone back to Alvecote was with us quite soon after, and Cath went off to collect our car.  In the meantime I walked Odin up to the railway station for the preserved "Battlefield Line", which runs from here.  They couldn't actually supply a timetable for the trains on the Festival days, but I at least had a cup of coffee whilst there.

The Limekilns to Shackerstone (Ashby Canal)
Miles: 13.0, Locks: 0

Total Miles: 471.5, Locks: 251

Saturday 31 August 2013

"Sickle" On A Canal Completely New To Us.

(Retrospective post after failing to keep up! - Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Atherstone, yet again.
At the start of the year we set ourself a "stretch" target of all the festivals and historic boats we hoped we might get "Sickle" to in 2013.  It seemed fairly ambitious back when we drew it up, but, up until now, we have managed all we hoped to do.  However we always knew the fnal parts of it would take a bit of organsing.

The lockes are generally close together at the top of the flight.
The plan had the possibility of the Shackerstone Family Festival followed the very next weekend by the Stoke Bruerne "Village at War" event.  We have never been to Shackerstone, but "Village at war" is already a firm favourite of ours.  But we still have family circumstances where moving boats in the week is "challenging", so could we possibly do both?

Making the turn at Marston Junction.
We decided to go for Shackerstone, but then make no firm decisions until we saw how things panned out.  So this weekend was about getting "Sickle" from Alvecote, (the last event) to Shackerstone (the next one).

We have never before been up any of the Ashby Canal.  Lack of time has meant whenever we have passed Marston Junction, where it joins the Coventry, we have never been able to go and sample it.  So, very unusually, it would be "Sickle" breaking completely new territory for us.

New territory - the old stop lock is very silted.
But first we had to get to Alvecote, and travel down the Coventry canal.  Alvecote and Shackerstone are well separated by canal, but remarkably close by road, but not close enough that we fancied cycling between the two to collect a car.  But driving two cars up seemed daft.  I put out a late appeal to see if anyone could help us, and almost immediately got two forum friends offering to carry us between one and the other - as neither were actually that close themselves, this really was a very generous gesture from each.  So we took up just the one car for a change.

Our travelling companion - and typical Ashby background scene
Atherstone locks are getting quite familiar to us - the fourth time we have worked a boat through in just a few weeks.  At the first lock a young man on a following boat said "I'll just tie my boat off" then I'll come and help you work the locks!".  Do we really look that old?  Needless to say once we got going we stayed well ahead, and never saw him again.

This is a very typical view of the surroundings.
We had been advised that the best place to try and get to for food when joining the Ashby is a pub called "the Limekilns", which is near Hinckley.  We would have to sit outside, as we had "Odin" with us, but unless the Ashby is really shallow, I thought we could just be there in time.  Well the Ashby, at least the first bit, seemed broadly OK, and progress was reasonable.  We did get our meal, but it was getting fairly dark as we ate it!

Alvecote (Coventry Canal) to The Limekilns (Ashby Canal)
Miles: 20.8, Locks:9

Total Miles: 458.4, Locks: 251