Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Braunston (love it or hate it)

It’s now five months since Karen started her contract in Leamington Spa, heralding a complete change in our boating life.  Until the end of February we were cruising most days and visiting places all over the country, most of which, neither of us had ever been to before and many we had never heard of.  Now we are staying put for a week or two at a time and having a mini cruise when we need to move. Our cruising requirements are now governed by the facts that our licence demands that we move every two weeks, that Karen’s office needs to be accessible and we need to moor close to safe parking spots for the car.

In those five months we have covered 87 miles and 63 locks:

Started at Huddlesford on the Coventry canal and travelled slowly down to Warwick on the Grand Union.  We then turned round and have got back as far as Braunston on the Oxford canal

It is three months since we were last here at Braunston and now the holiday season is in full swing it is really busy with boats going by constantly.  It is also a tourist hot spot so many non-boaters are wandering up and down the towpaths looking into how life used to be in a canal village.  Because of this we moor just outside Braunston where it is quieter.

Looking down from the bottom lock at Braunston with a pumping station on the left and original boatyards on the right (oh, and a pile of stanking planks on the left)

One of the reasons we like Braunston

A boat café for tourists (gongoozlers as boaters call them)

We also like Braunston as there are many country walks in the area, several sites of medieval villages, abandoned railways and unclassified country roads to explore.  The Admiral Nelson, one of the lockside pubs here, holds a music festival every August in a meadow next to it.  We have never been but fully intend to this year.  We are allowed to stay for two weeks where we are moored so should catch it as it is on over our last weekend.

Another change for us is that we used to do large shops whenever we were in a town with a supermarket by the canal.  Now, Buddy and I walk to the local store, greengrocer etc. to top up daily.  When Karen and I lived in a house and both worked, she used to cook in the evenings and prepare lunches for the following day.  She had a lovely habit of putting sticky notes in my lunch box with a message on.  Before the children left home they used to get the same treatment.  I now do the cooking during the week and prepare Karen’s lunchboxes and I now realise how good she was at inventing messages especially when she had four to do each day!

Typical audience when preparing dinner

On our first walk of the day yesterday we walked through Braunston and up to the 1 ½ mile long canal tunnel.  There are six locks on the way and always scope for some entertainment from the holidaymakers, whether hireboaters or people who take their boats out of the marina a couple of times a year.  Yesterday was no exception.  A couple of private boats came out of a lock and were heading to the next lock.  I gave them a cheery wave and hello; one boater returned the same as is usual, but the other, on a shiny expensive looking boat, totally blanked the scruffy man with a dog.  I stood and watched them get ready for the next lock.  The shiny boat man didn’t tie his boat up to the lock landing correctly and the wind caught it and he was left trying to hold on to the rope.   Fortunately his wife could see from the lock and was shouting for him to let go.  You could see he didn’t want to let go of his precious boat but fortunately he saw sense and he dropped the rope.  The boat wasn’t going to go far as it was a short pound between the locks and the guy on the other boat picked him up and manoeuvred over to rescue the abandoned boat.

Boat drifting away on the left with distraught owner (in white top) on the towpath

Lessons like that are good as it always shows that boats must be shown respect as they are far stronger than humans.

On Tuesday afternoon Buddy and I took in a much longer walk and were following a footpath towards the hamlet of Sawbridge (about half a dozen houses, three of which sell free range eggs so we feel guilty only visiting one) and we came out onto one of my pet likes:

An unclassified country road

In fact we went on two different unclassified country roads on our walk.  At one point we walked under an abandoned railway and I suspect the road looks little different now to when the railway was first built.

Old railway bridge across the unmade road

We left the unclassified road and walked up and along the railway embankment until we met the canal.

The old bridge across the canal was removed soon after the Beeching cuts

The rest of the week is going to be different as we have Karen’s son, Matthew, and Marie, his Norwegian girlfriend, coming to stay for a few days.  Two of my sons, Steve and Jake (and Jake’s girlfriend Domi) are also coming up to stay one night so it’s going to be a boatful.  Our new boat is 12 foot shorter than the current one so it will be tricky putting up a large crowd once we take delivery of it!

Monday, 25 July 2016

Braunston (back to the puddle banks)

Silver Washed Fritillary – when Sophie and Yanos were here last week we saw a lot of these in Oversley Woods

Sophie and Yanos left us on Friday morning after their mini holiday with us and when they got home Sophie sent me some pictures she had taken during the week.  She was particularly pleased with a couple:

Me with a pile of my beloved stanking planks

Me giving Yanos a masterclass in bridge styles.  This is a turnover bridge that enabled towing horses to cross the canal, when the towpath changed sides, without having to be unhitched from the boat.

Next weekend we are having our annual family camping trip to Malham in the Yorkshire Dales – this year there will be 29 of us plus two dogs.  So on Saturday Karen and I went down to her mum’s to pick up some of the camping gear we have stored there, the rest being at my parents’ house in Yorkshire.

The flat leaf parsley that Karen has grown from seed this year has grown really well so we have been using it to make salsa together with our tomatoes that are now finally ripening.

Bunch of flat leaf parsley Karen added to our salsa with our barbecue on Saturday evening

Getting ready for the barbecue – one of the skewers has halloumi cubes – so much better grilled than fried in a pan

Sunday was moving day so we packed up the boat and drove the car to Braunston, our home for the next two weeks.  We had a pleasant four mile walk back to get the boat and saw a great many butterflies along the towpath.  I have said before that waterways aren’t really the place to see butterflies but this year seems to be a bumper year and there are plenty of the common species flying along the towpaths.

As usual it was good to have a cruise, albeit relatively short and with no locks.
Strange place to moor a boat right on a corner when there is plenty of space before it on the straight

We went into Braunston to fill up with water and then had a tricky manoeuvre to turn round at this junction in order to head back towards Leamington.  Timothy West  and Prunella Scales were heading to the junction on their boat at the same time but from the north and so they had to wait for us to complete our turn.

We went under the left hand bridge (which goes up to Coventry) and reversed back the other side of the bridges so we could come back through the right hand bridge

Braunston is 30 minutes from Karen’s work so we have decided that this will be the limit of our travels to the east until we get the new boat.  We found a spot on the puddle banks which is yet another of our favourite mooring places.
Moored on the puddle banks – home for the next two weeks

One reason we like it here is bacause the banks are shallow so you have to use gangplanks; many people don't like that idea so avoid this stretch making it quieter for us.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Lower Shuckburgh (camping, cruising and visitors for five days)

A Beautiful Demoiselle - see further down this entry

I used to suffer from a bad back every so often when I worked and I put that down to long commutes. It seems that was a good assumption as my back has been fine since living on the boat.  That was until we went kayaking last week and I seemed to overdo it - it was Buddy’s maiden voyage so Karen was watching him, making me the only paddler.  The ½ mile to the pub and then back again was clearly too much as my back starting playing up.

I was due to go up and see progress on the new build last Wednesday but was in no state to drive.  By Friday it was a lot better so Karen drove all three of us up to Northwich in the afternoon.  Progress is good – there have been a few coats of undercoat, the insulation has been installed and the wiring laid out.

Looking from the bows

Inside showing the insulation (which we don't have on our current boat!) and wiring

After checking up on the new boat we made our way to Ironbridge for the weekend.  We had found a really quiet campsite – just eight pitches and a few of those pretend camping cabins. Camping is always good for my back because of the hard ground.

Making camp with Buddy doing nothing as usual

We have a joke in the family about how each of us have been caught giving masterclasses on different subjects, usually those about which we have no idea, e.g. me and DIY.  Anyway, unbeknownst to me Karen had taken this shot of me with the campers in the pitch next to us.

Me giving a masterclass on camp layout and fire making

We did walk into Ironbridge but it was really busy with people and reinforced how much we prefer the solitude of our life - it was good to get back to the quiet of the campsite in the afternoon.

The famous iron bridge at Ironbridge built in 1781 to cross the River Severn

My eldest daughter, Sophie, and Yanos were coming to stay for the week on Monday and when we got home on Sunday evening we decided we should move the boat.  We were moored by a reservoir and in the evenings we were prevented from sitting outside as there were so many flies.  As a short heatwave was forecast it was only going to get worse and it would be unbearable sitting inside a hot boat in the evenings just to avoid flies.

We had a walk to Lower Shuckburgh to check that a favourite location of ours was free; it was so we went back and took in a gentle evening cruise.  It’s a good spot as it’s quiet but next to a small road bridge so Karen could get to work easily and it is also a favourite amongst people like us for these reasons.  It’s fairly narrow but two boats can pass easily in either direction provided they take it easy.

Broadbeam boat passing our mooring showing it’s wide enough for two narrowboats to pass

On Monday, Sophie and Yanos arrived and we made a picnic and took in a circular walk around Wolfhamcote and Braunstonbury.  These are sites of two abandoned medieval villages that I have written about before so won’t cover them again except a quick mention of the abandoned church.  As we walked up to it we were convinced we could hear an organ playing even though I knew the church was stripped bare inside.  We went in and found a boater playing pretty dark churchy music on an accordion!  She said she finds it cooler to practise in the church rather than on her boat – Buddy agreed as he spent the 10 minutes we were looking around, laying on someone who had died in the 1600’s, well, the flagstone that covered the person’s crypt.

Sophie and Yanos trying out our kayak, although Sophie looks like she's taking it easy

Tuesday was the hottest day of the year so far and as Karen and I have our bridge night on Tuesdays I prepared dinner early.  We actually ended up having a barbecue – it was lit in the hottest part of the day on the hottest day – talk about mad Englishmen.

Buddy resting under the bridge – the coolest place he can find

We took in various butterfly walks during the week and I saw my first Silver Washed Fritillary, White Admiral and Grayling of the year.  Here are a few of the better shots of the week:

Marbled White

Fresh White Admiral (spotted first by Yanos) taking advantage of moisture on the hottest day before Buddy came crashing through the undergrowth and disturbed it

Mating Blue Tailed Damselflies on the sweet peas on the rear deck

At the top of this entry is a Beautiful Demoiselle – one of only two UK Demoiselles which are in the 20 strong family of UK Damselflies.  Damselflies rest with their wings along their backs and Dragonflies rest with their wings outstretched. Dragonflies tend to have smaller forewings than hind wings whereas Damselflies have the same size wings fore and aft

On Wednesday evening we met Karen from work and went to the Folly Inn at Napton.  Fortunately we had booked a table as it was packed out; unfortunately some staff hadn’t turned up so our food took an hour to come which is a bit ridiculous for pub grub.  Anyway we had a great evening especially observing the mad landlord and the way he treated his staff.

There was a new girl on and when I asked her what fruits were in the red berry tart she said well it looks like a big jam tart so maybe it’s jam.  I said that it must be some sort of recognisable fruit and her response was well yes, it’s a tart with red fruits squished in it.

Thursday saw a bit of canal rage outside the boat.  A private boater was waiting at the bridge for a hire boat to come through and was getting cross that the steerer was going too slow!

I decided to cook some spicy, sticky, sweet masala chicken on the barbecue in the evening as it had been yet another warm day.  By the time Karen got home from work it started raining a bit which cooled things down – we ended up inside the boat to eat followed by a few hands of cribbage.

Our mooring here is in the shade in the morning and late evening which has been a welcome relief.

We are moored next to Lower Shuckburgh church with its unusually shaped bell tower

Amongst Karen’s flowers are some nasturtiums which are a great favourite for Large Whites to lay their eggs on so I have a little patrol each day and rescue any before they get caught by Karen.

A batch of Large White eggs

I obviously missed this batch and first instar caterpillars have emerged

All in all it’s been a great ten days since the last blog entry and we will probably cruise into Braunston at the weekend for our next stay for a couple of weeks.  We are going to need water and want to be in Braunston as there is a music festival at the Admiral Nelson on the 6th August.  We have always been elsewhere on the canal system in previous years and promised ourselves we would make it this year.