Our Boating Companion Edward Winter 1950 - 2020


Edward Winter navigating a very reedy section of the Aylesbury Arm in 2009

Since buying our first narrowboat in the mid 1990s, almost every year we were joined on our travels by our dearest friends Anne and Edward Winter. A quick look through this blog will reveal many references and numerous photos of the four of us navigating the inland waterways across the UK and even on one occasion along the Irish Waterways. With Edward and Anne's wedding anniversary in August we often celebrated on board with a special "towpath feast" - often Edward's favourite chilli con carne. 

With the recent Covid-19 Lockdown we have kept in close touch regularly by sharing Zoom dinners, even attempting to do this from Albert when on our recent journey to Napton. Unfortunately the lack of bandwidth west of Braunston defeated us. Last year Edward had some heart surgery but he had recovered well enough to indulge again in his passion for flying  - although not solo. All through lockdown he appeared well. It therefore came as a complete shock to receive a call from Anne on Saturday 18th July to say that Edward had died suddenly that morning. She was in deep shock and so were we. 

Edward was a warm convivial man who was a brilliant boating companion. He was capable of turning his hand to most things on board - even down the weed hatch where his height helped. He even brightened up dark evenings on board with his bewildering array of magic tricks. We will miss him dreadfully. His passing was made even more poignant because our Golden Wedding garden celebrations, which Anne and Edward were going to attend, were on the following Tuesday.  

We explored so much of the "system" together that I am sure I will always associate Edward with certain locations  - the Upper Thames, Grand Union summit, Leicester Arm, River Nene, Middle Level; the list goes on. We had wonderful times together - some were exciting like the Tideway in choppy conditions where Edward helped navigate, but others were just plain fun.

I will not dwell on all our exploits but quote from an early blog  - not ours but NB Balmaha. It epitomises the fun we had together. You have to picture us mooring up at a crowded Rushden and Diamonds on the River Nene back in July 2006. It is a warm summer evening and NB Balmaha were already moored up.  Mo reported:

"Again, we heard them before we saw them as nb Albert pulled up behind us and squeezed onto the last mooring bollard. With two families and a couple of comics onboard they were enjoying themselves and their chuckling kept us amused. "

Happy times!

There are many on-line tributes to Edward from his scientific colleagues and, in particular, the squash community. I shared his interest in science and his love of interesting cars, but boating with Albert will not be the same without the prospect of Edward coming on board, grabbing a windless and then asking if he can set the locks. I will even miss his long water-consuming on-board showers!

Priors Hardwick

A packed lock pound at Napton

It was busy on the Napton flight.

We got up fairly early, for us, and left our Flecknoe mooring around 8:30. We weren’t the first to depart because around 7.00 whilst we were dozing we heard a boat go past heading towards Braunston and at least two more passed us before 8:00.

We had decided to get an early start because it was clear that this post-lockdown weekend was busy and the Napton flight, which can get busy at the best of times, had the potential to be very busy. After following a couple of boats heading west (one who turned north towards Warwick and one stopped at Napton Narrowboats) and got to the bottom lock at Napton around 9:30 and found it quiet. A solitary hire boat was on the water point below the Folly Inn. A couple of CRT volunteers were operating the locks and this looked like the start of a smooth journal up the nine locks to Marston Doles. How wrong I was. The CRT volunteers were quickly moving boats up the flight to the first pound where there was serious congestion. Three boats were “permanently” moored up there and they had been joined by five boats waiting to enter the second lock. The first pound was in fact full of boats and the extra assistance from the volunteers had simply served to make things worse.

WWII Pill box on the Napton flight

Looking towards Napton Hill

Eventually the message got through and the volunteers began to hold boats back. To put it simply, there was no point in going up through the lock unless another boat came down. The result of all this congestion was the first lock of the flight took us over an hour to negotiate. Boats came down in a steady stream but those going up did not. Still, the weather was glorious, and a deer was spotted alongside the third lock. The water buffalo were in their usual field about halfway up the flight but not near enough to the locks to make a good photo.

Marston Doles top lock

Eventually the message got through and the volunteers began to hold boats back. To put it simply, there was no point in going up through the lock unless another boat came down. The result of all this congestion was the first lock of the flight took us over an hour to negotiate. Boats came down in a steady stream but those going up did not. Still, the weather was glorious, and a deer was spotted alongside the third lock. The water buffalo were in their usual field about halfway up the flight but not near enough to the locks to make a good photo.

Boat in a field (no water) on the Oxford Summit

We didn’t travel much further and stopped at one of our favourite mooring spots on the Oxford Canal summit near Priors Hardwick. It’s marked by a WWII concrete pill box on the off-side. 

Mooring at Priors Hardwick

As I write this, sheep on the former ridge and furrow cultivation opposite Albert are furiously grazing as the sun goes down. A typical rural English scene.

Braunston and Flecknoe

The weather was good and it was Saturday. With the lifting of the Covid restrictions we had thought that the canals around Braunston would be busy. As the phase goes, the world and his wife decided (like us) to remove the cobwebs and give the boat an airing. The first lock at Long Buckby was relatively quiet and when Ragweed and Albert left the lock there was no sign of any other boats moving. However, just as we left to pick up water the first of six boats arrived. Braunston tunnel was busy and slow but most boats were going the towards Buckby. We dropped down the flight with Ragweed passing an assortment of boats going the other direction. Frustratingly, there were a number of single boats from the same hire company who could have paired up and didn’t appear to have been instructed well. One crew appeared somewhat frustrated about their inability to understand what was required to operate a lock. With lock-down being raised, and overseas quarantines remaining, boating appears to be an attractive a British-based holiday. The section between Braunston and Wigrams Turn is usually quite popular for mooring and today was no exception. All the usual attractive moorings were busy and once moored up by bridge 102 a steady stream of boats passed all afternoon. The village of Flecknoe that looks down on this pretty stretch of canal and countryside looked an attractive proposition for a walk. We climbed the hill via the road, explored the village and then returned to the canal via a bridleway that cuts across the fields. The views from Bush Hill were stunning with beautiful fluffy clouds and blue sky. The fields were full cereals but not the usual wheat but barley and more interestingly oats. There were also some interesting patches of sunflowers mixed with barley and wild flowers.

Albert hiding from view

Wide vistas of South Warwickshire


Wonderful old sign on Bridge 103 Oxford Canal

Long Buckby

In the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown we finally managed get away on Albert because staying overnight on boats is now allowed. We are going to take a cruise along the South Oxford which will be interrupted by a short period at home to celebrate our landmark wedding anniversary. The weather was dry as we left Yardley Wharf on Thursday but it became damp and then wet as the day wore on. We went up the Stoke Bruerne flight with a hire boat from Gayton and were assisted part of the way by a pair of CRT volunteer lock keepers.

Our first post-lockdown locks

At the top lock I was taken aback a little when I found a swan family coming out of the lock as the gates were opened. It appears that boaters were being encouraged to try and keep the family in the top pound to avoid potentially lethal confrontation with another more aggressive family further down the flight. The operation of retaining them in the lock was quite an exercise – carrot and stick but with duck food.

Locking Swans

We had a good trip through the tunnel where it was a relief to get out of the rain. We eventually moored up just north of Gayton Junction at one of our favourite spots.

On Friday the weather was much better. We popped in at High House Wharf to discuss a possible paint refresh on the grey colour of our roof with Colin Dundas. The traffic on Thursday had been light but around Weedon more boats were on the move. We reached Whilton just after lunch, picked up some supplies including some gas and then went up the flight with Ragweed a hire boat from Weedon. The couple hiring the boat were from Kent and admitted to being relative novices. However, they handled the boat well and together we made good progress up the flight aided for most of the locks by a steady stream of boats coming down. We moored up just below the top lock and Ragweed joined us. Opposite was a delightful garden and we got talking to the owners who are showing it as part of the National Garden Scheme. It appears that the scheme will operate by appointment under the current Covid-19 regulations. We had a long chat because it turns out we have mutual friends.

Geoff is a retired railway signal man and Sue is a talented canal can painter keeping the Buckby can tradition going. One of the cans on Albert is Sue’s work – we purchased it at Crick Boat show a few years ago. The garden also boasts the top part of a signal from Harpenden which works, a low-level shunting frame signal and a streetlight from Droitwich circa 1930 complete with operating original bulb.

A Roses but not Castles Tray

Long time readers of our blog may recall that I posted about the origin of Roses and Castles decoration way back in 2008 when I came across a blue underglaze plate with a scene reminiscent of the traditional Roses and Castles. Having read Tony Lewery's two books on canal boat painting (Narrow Boat Painting and Flowers Afloat) I have been aware for some time of his hypothesis that the inspiration for the style came from not only Victorian pottery decoration and but also Jappaned goods. I was therefore delighted when the other day we got a present of a decorated metal tray that our daughter Lucy had picked up at antique fair in West London. She described it on the phone as being "a bit like Roses and Castles". When we got it we found it had all the hallmarks of the traditional Roses and Castles style - but minus the castles. It is probably what is described as Toleware.

Our painted metal tray

The tray is just over a foot in diameter and has a dark green ground that is similar to many of the shades used on narrowboats. The flower decorations are very similar to that found on traditional canal boat decoration and the roses in the centre are painted are clearly painted in the same manner with confident sweeping brush strokes. The perforated edge to the tray shows signs of gold paint. We have no idea as to its age (or even its country of origin) but we think its a very pretty item. If could be old, that is Victorian, and this would certainly reinforce the theory put forward by Tony Lewery since the painting technique is so similar.