Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Final Push For Home

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

Picturesque, but shallow, stretch near Grove Church Lock.
We had a lot less to do than yesterday in mileage terms, but, unlike the flights of locks we did yesterday, much of today would be individual locks spaced out enough to make it impractical to have someone easily setting them ahead of the boat.   WE would make it back today, but it is the kind of day when guessing likely timings is quite hard.

We had demolished quite a bit of the largely lock free stretch, before the locks start to kick in again for the climb up to Tring summit, but still had quite a few miles before reaching the shallow Fenny Stratford lock.  Our friend Alan, the former mooring warden there, said "you should be back by tea time", and that felt about right to us - particularly if you were not too precise about what constitutes tea time!

We then encountered two different hire boats starting up ahead of us, and often taking a ponderous or slow course, (sometimes both!).  We managed to get past these before Stoke hammond, laving them to share Southbound locks at a rather more sedate pace than we hoped to maintain.

Cath steers between the final Seabrook locks.
Stoke Hammond Three Locks still had the same very competent volunteer lock keeper we had encountered here before - one of the few we saw again on the whole of the GU from Braunston.  He was enforcing a regime that optimised water use, (hardly necessary at the moment!), but this caused only a small delay.

From Leighton Buzzard back to our home mooring isn't far, and only 9 locks, but it often seems to take a while, not helped by seveal badly leaking locks, and a significant number of slow fillers, that lack top gate paddles.  You can obly make so much progress, and we were largely doing as well as this stretch allows.

Swing bridge near journey's end.
In the end we probably bettered "tea time", but even doing a less than full clear out of the boat after a full calendar month afloat managed to absorb a lot more time.  Still, we had managed what had seemed fairly unlikely only 4 days ago, when still right up at Alvecote - not bad, and Cath could work as planned on Friday.

I have just realised we still need to get Sickle back now, though!

Linford Park to Home Mooring
Miles: 21.2, Locks: 15
Total Miles: 502.0, Locks: 300 (Worked)

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Definitely Staying On Track For Home In Time.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

The man in the bath - paddling hard in foul conditions!
By now we realised, barring major hold ups, that we could be home by Thursday night, so that Cath would be in time to go into work the next day.  It would mean longish days, but it was possible.

Moored just one lock down the Buckby flight, we realised another boat was passing Southwards.  Did we want to go down with them ?  (They didn't mind waiting a few minutes while we got going).  We said "Yes, definitely", and were quickly on our way. It all passed fairly smoothly, although initially all locks were against us, so Cath started setting ahead of both boats

Do I really have to wear this ?
At the bottom the other boat went ahead of us, but it was quickly obvious they travelled quite slowly.  For some reason they didn't wave us past for several miles, where conditions are ideal to overtake, but then did so, (as so many do!) just as we were approaching a line of moored boats, and then did not slow hugely themselves.  I always find that situation tricky!  Normally if you are given a chance to overtake, but don't immediately take it, you will not get the offer again, but I hate trying to pass in unsuitable circumstances, particularly where moored boats don't want you going fast.  Anyway, I compromised, and was soon past with no complaints!

Sharing locks down the Stoke Bruerne flight.
Again the weather was highly variable, and, when not too windy, I had the umbrella up quite a bit.  We had a good run through Blisworth tunnel, although the first part of it was as wet as I have experienced in a long while.  Straight through Stoke Bruerne, without pause, we again caught another boat waiting to go down the locks, with which we then shared the whole flight.  On this occasion they were stopping for services, so we got a clear run away, or at least until we met one of the weaving day hire boats one finds on this stretch.

Vast amounts of excess water at Stoke Bruerne.
By Wolverton we badly needed supplies, so we pulled up, to allow cath and Michael to go to the supermarket there.  David had been with us throughout over 4 weeks, and now felt he would like to be home a day earlier.  So, Michael having agreed to stay on, david set off for the station, and we set off South again - not quite the result we had expected, but it would allow david some time to sort out things he was struggling to do in the confines of a boat with four and a dog on board.

Cath suggested we stop at Stantonbury, but I particularly like the offside moorings at Great Linford.  There are only a few of these, so a place is not guaranteed, but  we managed to find a slot on the end just long enough for our fifty feet.  It had been a long boating day, particular in terms of miles covered, but we had done enough that we should be back at our home mooring tomorrow.

Below Buckby Top Lock to Linford Park
Miles: 27.5, Locks: 14
Total Miles: 480.8, Locks: 285 (Worked)

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Continuing to Clock Up those Final Miles.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

Newbold tunnel, where less and less of the coloured light now work!
All we could do today was more of the same really!  We needed to keep Chalice moving towards home at as good a pace as we could, without knackering ourselves.  Even if Cath was going to not be there at the very end, due to work commitments, it was sensible to continue to keep moving as much each day as was reasonable.

My lock team at Hillmorton.
Michael, our younger son, is not a huge fan of the boats, but the deal struck was that to be with Odin, he would need to be with us - it didn't seem practical for Michael to head off home with Odin alone, for a number of reasons.  Michael was clearly torn - cabin fever was starting to set in a bit, after so many weeks afloat, but he wasn't keen to be without the dog.  At each point we might have put him on a train, he eventually decided to stay put, and maybe go at a subsequent station, even if less convenient.

In a way, I guess we were hoping he would stay, both because he is doing so well with training Odin, but also because he is actually very useful crew, if he wants to be.

Another gratuitous picture of the lovely Vesta.
Very variable weather wasn't helping us a lot, and as Cath was frantically trying to get on with work, I often found myself at the tiller for long periods, trying to hold an umbrella, without it getting blown inside out.  Another feature was pulling over regularly to allow Odin his comfort breaks - we have been 100% succesful with no "accidents" on board, but if I have just managed to pass a slow boat, I don't relish being told I must now pull over again, to let the dog have a pee!

Hillmorton locks proved to have one lock of every pair out of use for various reasons, but didn't hold us up hugely.  A hire boat asked us to go in ahead of them, because they didn't want to hold anyone up.  It was pointed out it was busy enough they could end up doing that all day!

He looked like he had ceased any attempt to try and stay dry!
Things continued to go well to Braunston, where we were straight into the flight again.  Cath and I wanted to try eating at the once again reopened Admiral Nelson, but whilst their "veggie" menu would have fed us, the sons didn't fancy the limited options offered.  So we decided we had no reason to stop, and would carry on right through Braunston tunnel - further than we had expected to get.

At the top of Buckby locks we met a young chap called Luke, paddling a bath tub all the way from Birmingham to London, in aid of the Red Cross.  He seemed a bit ill equipped, (he didn't even have a piece of rope or string to hold the bath with, for example), but as he had already come all the way from Birmingham, he obviously had stamina.  He has to carry it around all locks - the bath being less of a problem than all his kit oaded in to it.  At Buckby this involves passage through a narrow foot tunnel, so David helped him get bath and possesions below the lock.

David helps carry the bath at Buckby top lock.
There is sadly no option of a pub meal now, at Buckby, as the pub at the top of the flight has recently closed down.  However, we were going no further, but already starting to wonder if we could now get back to base in the remaining two available days, if we put in longish hours.

Ansty to Below Buckby Top Lock
Miles: 23.5, Locks:10
Total Miles: 453.3, Locks: 271 (Worked)

Monday, 27 August 2012

Would Have Liked To Stay Longer!

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

Starting to climb Atherstone locks.
 This was always an ambitious trip out - to be honest a too ambitious trip out, given the time we had available! Although we had planned to celebrate our Silver Wedding at some canal location during the Bank holiday weekend, we had neither initially planned for it to be as far away as somewhere like Alvecote, let alone factor in taking both boats - and hence have two to get back home.

Progressing well up the Atherstone flight.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first two actual days of this event, as well as a free day before that to get in the swing of it, but it was obvious that although the event was carrying on through the Monday, that we simply could stay there no longer.

Odin with "convincing" looking pheasant.
In fact any sensible evaluation of a canal planner said we needed five days to get back home, even with one boat, and we had only four.  Or at least Cath had only four, as this was Monday, and she needed to be in work on Friday.  This is not quite the problem it sounds, as there are convenient rail stations on the trip home where she could jump ship if she needed to.  However Odin the dog would need to stay on board, and with at least one son saying they would need to go home early, I was not sure I would ultimately have crew for one boat, let alone two, given that Odin needs some attention too.

Forging round the turn at "Sutton Stop".
It seemed sensible now to all go home in Chalice, and leave Sickle somewhere secure.  Would Alvecote agree to this ?  No problem at all, as it turned out, she could stay exactly where she was on a marina berth, so we had no fears about leaving her, and collecting her later.

So we had a major sort out of what needed to be on each boat.  We didn't do too badly, as it turned out, but did eventually travel with a few things on Chalice that might better have been left on Sickle.

Our strategy was simple.  Go as far as reasonable each day, without flogging ourselves to death.  We could react to any changes, (such as a departing son), as they occurred, but just needed to press on at a good speed.

What may not be obvious is that Odin was up on the bridge.
Such a plan can be scuppered if you get to somewhere like the popular Atherstone locks, and there are big hold ups.  Fortunately these were not to busy, and even passing the hotel boat pair operated by a rather infamous ex-vicar produced none of the difficulties sometimes reported when they are about.  Apparently we got lucky, though, as he later got involved in what seems can only be described as a "canal rage" incident, amongst the boats still at Alvecote.  I'll not try and repeat the story, as I didn't witness it, but it sounds like it was bad enough that formal complaints will be made about his behaviour.  Remarkable for someone who has paying guests on a holiday that they market as supposed to be tranquil!

In fact we continued to make good progress, getting eventually right through to Ansty.  Having come the other way, we expected problems mooring here, and indeed we had some.  The better visitor moorings always seem permanently full here, and the only obvious alternative is a stretch with a muddy collapsed bank, but where underground obstructions stop you getting near it.  After several attempts, we decided it was just too awful, and pushed forward a bit more.  Fortunately I spotted a single better length that looked like it could accommodate our 50 feet without blocking the nearby bridge at all.  It proved to be a much better option than where we had already tried.

We had made exellent progress, but not, we felt, enough to get all the way home, before Cath had to be back in school.  The planner seemed to still say the same.

Alvecote to Ansty
Miles: 21.3, Locks:12
Total Miles: 429.8, Locks: 261 (Worked)

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Alvecote Historic Boat Gathering - Day 2 - Sunday

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

In the interests of getting something published, I'll start with a "pictures only" version of Sunday too.

Keeping an eye on what's going on.
Chimneys, cans and other paraphernalia.
A nice touch
Sickle & Tycho
Laplander steams off to start the daily parade.
Sickle was second today - Reginald prepares to follow us.
This is what Josher bows really look like - modern "replica" builders please look again!
Certainly an impressive line up.
Getting ready to leave the marina.
View back towards Samuel Barlow - Reginald now following.
Following Laplander
Dodona - a tug conversion of a butty - the back end also exists as another Dodona.
Tench-  Matt and Rebecca have their new daughter with a suitably adorned cot!
We pause to allow Dove out of the marina.
Sean - owner of the marvellous Laplander.
Tom and Jay on Archimedes

Parading at Alvecote
Miles: 1.5, Locks:0
Total Miles: 407.0, Locks: 249 (Worked)

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Alvecote Historic Boat Gathering - Day 1 - Saturday

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

As the blog is running so far behind real time, at the moment I'll just post photos of the first day of the event. 
Tugs & Ice Breakers
Joshers mostly.
Many of the Joshers are the resident South Midland fleet.
There were lots of Joshers
But plenty of Grand Union boats too!
Sickle prepares to set off in the parade.
Followed behind by Tycho.
Passing Tycho, after we had turned, and were travelling back.
Nutfield steerer decides to ignore Atlantic already attempting to go through narrows.
General view of parade - Kangaroo approaching.
Waiting to move forward past the marina site.
Immaculate Tench, owned by Matt, former owner of Sickle.
Tycho still sports an ice ram like the one Sickle once had.
Dave ventures out with the Cheterfield Trust's Python - a shortened Josher.
Having just turned Sickle a second time, Tycho does the same just behind.
Sickle returns to the marina.
Followed by Tycho - an interesting comparison!
Aber and Chertsey - The Joshers weren't the only immaculately turned out boats!
Archimedes can often be relied on to turn up well loaded - and it did.

Parading at Alvecote
Miles: 1.5, Locks:0
Total Miles: 407.0, Locks: 249 (Worked)