Norton Junction and Nether Heyford

On Saturday we left Hillmorton for Braunston. The weather was windy and cold but it wasn't raining. We stopped off at Midland Chandlers to pick up some bits and pieces, notably a gate valve so I could balance the hot and cold feeds to the shower mixer valve. We moored up alongside a friendly crew who were consulting the staff over "leisure" batteries - sounded like it could be expensive.

We moved slowly to Braunston Bottom Lock hoping to meet another crew to pair up with but were disappointed. There were crews coming down the flight in pairs but none going in our direction. The waiting area by the bottom lock was as usual busy with Union Canal Carriers hire fleet waiting to go out.

Braunston Bottom Lock

The Admiral Nelson

As we made the Top Lock a crew appeared behind us but by then it was too late to pair up. We headed for the tunnel and found it completely clear all the way through. We had a very rapid transit and then reached Norton Junction around 2:30 PM. We dropped down the one lock and called it a day. As Maggie went to visit Anchor Cottage to purchase a watering can for the garden, I fitted the gate valve on the shower cold feed. It turned out to be one of those rare jobs that was completely straight forward and also successful.

That evening we ate at The New Inn (Fish & Chips) and then took a stroll up to the junction as the sun went down. The weather had improved.

Norton Junction

As we stood on the bridge by the tollkeepers cottage we realised that all the years we have passed this way this was the first time that we stood on the bridge looking over the Grand Union.

The next day the plan was to pick up our grandson Hugh at Weedon and for him to have a sleepover on the boat before we returned to Yardley. Gobion.

We left fairly promptly (for us) and teamed up with Wild Marigold a hire boat from Calcutt. They had a helpful crew and we made good progress down the locks. The weather was showery and blustery.

This season's ducklings at Long Buckby

Replica tug at Dodford Wharf

Just after Dodford we began to realise that since we had been away there had been significant progress with the construction of the bridge over the canal for the Flore Bypass. A new concrete span was in place across the canal and a colossal crane was on site. An furtherspan across the canal and two others across the railway appear to be needed.

Modest crane for lifting narrow boats and colossal crane for constructing bridges

Crane for constructing the Flore Bypass Bridge

In the afternoon Hugh joined us for a trip down to Nether Heyford where we moored up for the night close to Heyford Fields Marina. On the way we picked up water by Stowe Hill and Hugh made friends with another five-year old boy called Max - they played in the woods together.
A happy Hugh boating

Our neighbours for the night were Moriarty. When the boat belonged to Bob & Lyn Doyle we spent some happy days together on the River Nene in 2006

Hugh ready for sleep in the back cabin

On Sunday morning we headed south towards Stoke Bruerne to meet up with the family for lunch and take Albert down the flight to our home moorings. The tunnel was very wet with sheets of water descending to canal level in several places and not just by air shafts.

Blisworth Tunnel Northern Portal

The moorings at Stoke were very quiet and we could select where we wanted to tie up. We had lunch at The Boat Inn and then went down the Stoke Flight with NB Hera who were planning to stop overnight at The Navigation at Cosgrove. We finally got to Kingfisher Marina at around 4:30 PM and then had the task of picking up cars and unloading the boat - never as much fun as packing up - none of the anticipation.

Hillmorton

David Owen in his 1986 book "Exploring England by Canal" discusses "When to Cruise" - I have a copy on board Albert. It's a not often discussed topic. 

With the wet and cold weather we have having recently I decided to reread it. He discusses boating at Easter and points out the vagaries of the weather even when the holiday falls in late April. He points out that snow is not uncommon, but he is keen on Easter boating. As positive aspects he points out the usually plentiful supply of water, lack of weeds and wonderful spring flowers. Today was definitely a day to enjoy Easter boating. The weather suddenly changed from yesterday's heavy cold rain to today's bright cloudless skies. What a difference a day makes!

Shepherd's Hut & "Mini" Ruston Bucyrus near Trusses Bridge

Interesting Poly-tunnel At Stretton Stop

Pussy willow in bloom

Ash trees with their black buds emerging

All Oak Woods

Newbold Tunnel

Just after Newbold we had a bacon butty whilst on the move. There were a number of hire boaters on the move from several of the usual companies (Alvechurch, Napton, Clifton Cruisers, Black Prince etc.). They must be relieved by the change in the weather.

We made Hillmorton at around 2:30 and used what must be the worst water point on the system - difficult to moor up with the slopping stone bank, poorly positioned rings that can only suit a 70 ft working boat and water pressure that means it took over 30 mins to top up Albert from half-full.

We finally moved off and then joined a mini queue waiting to go up the locks. I pulled Albert in front on Nick Wolfe's mooring and we had a chat whilst waiting. A friendly cat took a shine to our boat.

Cat Aboard!

Daffodil display between the locks

 We moored up for the night just above the top lock and then walked down the flight to the cafe for afternoon tea.


Afternoon tea at Badsey's

We also explored the dry dock and other facilities. Around 18 years ago we had our first boat painted in the facility. The dock is very much the same as then but the personnel are different.

Grantham's Bridge Dry Dock at Hillmorton

Lock beams with poem

Sutton Stop

We woke to good weather on Wednesday and made use of the facilities at Sutton Wharf. Free hot shower followed by coffee and a bacon bap for breakfast. This made it a relaxed start to the day. We didn't depart until 10:30.

It was at this point that the heavy rain showers started. We followed a boat that had moored up just ahead of us and was also going south. Just by Dadlington the steerer pulled over. I asked if he was OK and got the response - "I'm giving up mate!" - I know how he felt but I told myself  that I was made of sterner stuff.

All the way through Stoke Golding and Hinkley it rained. At Marston Junction, where we turned onto the Coventry Canal towards Hawkesbury Junction, we had a dry interval, but then we had heavy downpours all the way to Sutton Stop. Once again we passed through the stop lock in the rain and then tried to find a mooring on the Oxford Canal.

Most of the moorings at Hawkesbury Junction were taken and were we were forced to moor up on a curve against some large sheet piling and use mooring pins. It took a range of pins, ropes, and fenders to get the bow and stern in a reasonable position - canal boats are not banana shaped. This included "springing" the bows and using some floating wheel fenders I purchased after mooring problems on the Shropshire Union.

Still we had a good night's sleep and the boat was secure in morning.

No photos - gives you an idea how wet it was!

Rainbows over Sutton Cheney

On Tuesday we set off for the end of the canal, or more precisely its current  limit of navigation. The weather was not to bad at the start of the day, but as we found out it later rained heavily.

The journey north through Gopsall Woods, just north of Shackerstone, was delightful.

Gopsall Wood

The visitor moorings at Gopsall Wharf looked an ideal overnight spot but they were occupied by a couple of CRT workboats. We reached the Snarestone Tunnel and were reminded why it is called the "crooked tunnel". It certainly needs to be taken steadily as seeing the "wiggles" takes some time when your eyes are not accustomed to the dark. 

Snarestone Tunnel Southern Portal with The Globe to the right



The terminus for Albert, being 60ft, is just short of the final limit at the generous winding hole. We purchased some coal from the Ashby Canal Association as we took on water. The winding because "interesting" as the wind suddenly got up. I was just thinking how well the process was going when it was clear that Albert was just going sideways downwind. I resorted to pulling Albert around by a bow rope - there are some occasions when discretion is required. 

Ashby Canal "terminus" with a rain shower approaching

After passing through the tunnel going south we stopped for lunch at The Globe at Snarestone - another good pub that was quite busy for Tuesday lunchtime. We both had Ploughmans. With three cheeses and a slice of ham we took the cheddar back to the boat.

A generous Ploughmans

After lunch we had more heavy rain showers as we travelled south. We moored up for the night at Sutton Wharf where there are good moorings, showers and a cafe. As we passed the southern edge of Ambion Wood there was yet another a heavy rain shower but with the bright sun we were treated to one of the most intense rainbows I have seen. We had complete double rainbows they were spectacular!

Spectacular Rainbows over Ambion Wood, Sutton Cheney

Shackerstone

On Easter Monday the wet weather continued, we only had one dry day in the week!

Water, water, everywhere ..
(running-off into the canal)

We stopped off at Market Bosworth for water. We were looking to replace a gas bottle and so popped into Bosworth Marina. It’s well equipped and the staff were very friendly. We not only picked up gas but also had a pump-out. Unlike most quayside pump-out facilities their machine is powerful and is not time-limited. We therefore managed to clear out a lot of “gunge”. Unfortunately, the café was closed after a recent fire.

Easter egg

We found a duck's egg on service pontoon - must be Easter.

As we left the marina we followed the 72ft ex-working boat Beaulieu (3 ft 6 draft) to Congerstone. Even with the canal full of water it struggled a little to moor up.

We finally moored up at Shackestone and the rain abated. The towpaths at Shackestone were very muddy, but we decided to walk around the village. This included a visit to the church and afternoon tea at the station. 

Midland Railway Insignia



Tea Room

We did however notice that the river had reached the top of the arches of the Shackerstone Aqueduct. 

Shackerstone Aqueduct

At the station saddle tank Cumbria was still on duty but there were only a few hardy passengers – notably granddads with their grandsons.

Cumbria filling-up with water

Returning to Albert I got our refurbished satellite system working (Freesat) in time to watch our favourite Monday night quiz shows (Only Connect and University Challenge).