The Essence of Boating ?

Maggie and I attended a funeral service today for our friend Chris Allin who, apart from being a gifted musician, also lived for many years with his partner Maggie aboard his narrowboat Mr Blue Skies outside The Navigation at Thrupp Wharf, near Cosgrove. Some may remember how he used to organise the music nights for the pub.     

We never knew that he also wrote poetry and were amazed to read the poem below in the order of service. It just sums up the feeling you get each evening when you are onboard - particularly in winter. 

I just had to get blogging again. 

BCN Bi-Centenary 1969

 You may wonder why, after months of absence from the canal "blog-sphere" I am writing about an event over 50 years ago. 

Well firstly I will try and explain my absence. After Edward Winter's untimely passing I felt I just couldn't get back to reporting on my mixture of canal and river journeys, old waterway's books and memorabilia. My heart just wasn't in it and to some extent I always though of Edward as being "My Reader" - I would write with him in mind. 

Also my world of science, I am an editor of an international engineering science journal, just got busier and busier with researchers busy writing manuscripts during the Covid restrictions. I therefore set aside Albert's Blog "until the spirit moved me".

Well a couple of weeks ago my next door neighbour who knows my passion for canals donated some books and pamphlets that had been his fathers - mostly about the Llangollen Canal. He was de-cluttering prior decoration. As part of the handy package I obtained came a wonderful pamphlet for the 1969 IWA National Rally that was held on the Birmingham Canal Navigations to mark their 200th anniversary. The 53-page pamphlet is fascinating and the copy pristine. It has great articles that would not be out of place in Narrow Boat. In particular, the article on BCN history by J.L. Langford is really good. 

But why did that particularly move me to post about this now. Well the next image is the big clue!

   Yes, HRH Prince Philip who was patron of so many organisations was also Patron to the 1969 Rally of Boats in Birmingham. His interests in boats and sailing was well-known but I hadn't realised that he had a connection with the canals. At this time "Mr Birmingham" - Frank Price was Chairman of British Waterways and I just wonder if he was the one who persuaded the Duke of Edinburgh to oblige. The IWA were always trying to be well connected and I am sure they were pleased with the patronage. I can just imagine Peter Scott or John Betjeman asking him. However, I can't find a record of Philip actually visiting the rally.  It was also a critical time for canals and the birth of leisure boating. Encouraging public interest in what were seen by some as dirty and dangerous waterways was vital for their survival. 

As always with these booklets from bygone ages the adverts are revealing.

Braunston Marina full of GRP Cruisers

Early Steel narrowboats - note the prices

We will be out boating soon and Albert has had an updated galley. I will have to get back to more regular posting and perhaps even finish reporting on last year's cruising.


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