The Babbie

In a recent post I noted that BW staff on the Napton flight, Oxford Canal were carrying out repairs. At one stage they closed the lock to repair the metal plate attached to the large piece of wood protecting the cill - a bolt had come loose. I was told they were repairing the "babbie".

From Wikipedia it appears that this refers to the piece of wood not the plate.


A narrow horizontal ledge protruding a short way into the chamber from below the upper gates. Allowing the rear of the boat to "hang" on the cill is the main danger one is warned to guard against when descending a lock, and the position of the forward edge of the cill is usually marked on the lock side by a white line. The edge of the cill is usually curved, protruding less in the centre than at the edges. In some locks, there is a piece of oak about 9” thick which protects the solid part of the lock cill. On the Oxford Canal it is called a Babbie; on the Grand Union Canal it is referred to as the cill Bumper.
(my emphasis)

Well done who ever added that piece of information.

Herbert Gallery and Canal Basin, Coventry

When Sonia Rolt published the remarkable photographs of Robert Longden in 1997 in A Canal People , I was immediately taken by them and I made sure that it was one of my Christmas presents for that year! It was therefore inevitable that when I read Granny Buttons blog about the exhibition of Longden's photographs at the Herbert Gallery, Coventry that we would have to plan a visit. I had toyed with boating up to Coventry but our busy summer plans made that very difficult. With the closing date imminent (August 30th) we went by car yesterday.

It had been years since we visited Coventry and regretfully we have never boated along the canal from Hawkesbury into the city. We firstly visited the cathedral, When we both lived in Solihull in the 1960s the cathedral appeared brand-new and modern; a wonderful statement to the ideals of reconciliation. It still resonates with ideas of world peace; the additional art concerning the holocaust, atomic weapons and genocide have made sure of it. The centre-piece Sutherland tapestry, now 50 years old still stuns.

The Herbert Gallery is a marvellous place. The range of activities and exhibitions going on was very impressive. Being a relatively small gallery the collections on display were not extensive but they made up for it for being displayed well. They were particularly child-friendly. We very much enjoyed the thought provoking and impressive Face to Face exhibition by Kate Boyce and is on until 26 September, that features 2m high photographic portraits of gorillas, chimpanzees and orang-utans. The life histories attached to these portraits causes you to examine our relationship to our closest biological relatives.

So what of the main purpose of our visit, the Robert Longden exhibition. The photographs are marvellously reproduced and the large format certainly enables you appreciate the quality of Longden's photography. Each photograph was indexed to the Rolt book and the captions were very informative. There were a number of unpublished photographs that impressed us. The images available were all from glass lantern slides. One wonders what would have happened if the bulk of Longden's photographs had survived. There were some exhibits on loan from Stoke Bruerne and the Coventry Canal Society that were well displayed and entirely appropriate to the theme and a video featuring Sonia Rolt (Splendid People) put the whole thing into context. Our only disappointment was the slideshow of images from the curator of the exhibition, Robert's great grandson Stephen Pochin. Although he appears to have done wonderfully well with the exhibition as a whole, and he states quite clearly that he wanted to avoid the cliched "then and now" view of Hawkesbury Junction (Sutton Stop), his concentration of the detritus and minutia of life, not necessarily related to boating, appeared out of context and the quality of the photography appeared incongruous. There was some criticism of Stephen's work in the visitor's book, particularly from those mooring at the junction.

If you can make the exhibition in the next 10 days I would recommend it.

We also investigated the Canal Basin. It has a statue of James Bridley looking out towards Hawkesbury and 48hr moorings that appear secure. We will try and visit Coventry by boat next time. Apart from what we saw today it would be interesting to pass through Foleshill where I worked in the late 1960s for Courtaulds. I operated a pilot plant in a building that backed onto to canal.

James Brindley looking out over Coventry Basin

The bridge in the distance is said to be the smallest on the canal system, according to the display nearby

Canal Basin, Coventry

As Granny Buttons put it, "the Basin is an underused jewel, an unpolished stone".

Yardley Gobion

We’ve been a bit slow blogging about our return trip from Braunston.

On the Friday (Aug 12) we left Braunston for Norton Junction. The weather was cloudy but dry. After taking on water at the Stop House, with a tap that could only produce a dribble, we moved up to the lock flight. A Canal Boat Club boat, returning to Market Harborough, waited for us at the bottom lock. We had a good passage with them all the way up the flight, they were a good crew and we got up the locks quickly, but again the top pound was congested with six boats sharing.

It appears that when there is a queue at the top lock (as there was), crews get fixated on moving through locks as soon as "their turn comes". They appear to forget that they won't get through a flight any quicker if they join the boats in front in the next pound. They fail to look and see if any boats are in the pound beyond the lock immediately in front.

The top pound was again very shallow because water was not evenly distributed amongst the pounds. One of the crews leaving the top lock decided to complain that I was making it difficult for them to navigate out the lock (it was very shallow and Albert being deep draughted was near the centre of the channel). Since they should have waited above the lock I thought that it was a bit rich to complain and I told him so in my response. I don't suppose my reply will have had any effect.

We had a good passage through the tunnel passing four boats but all before we reached the difficult bends at the southern end. We moored up above the top lock at Norton Junction and had a quiet afternoon before going to the New Inn for dinner. The Parkins had our usual pint of Frog Island and half of Old Rosie but our friends the Winters went for non-alcoholic options. The food was again good.

On Saturday we started out descent of the Buckby flight in cloudy weather. Again we joined a Canal Club boat at the first lock but this time with a crew from Germany. They were not enjoying their time on the canals as the weather had not been good, they thought it was not suitable for their children, and they appear to have bent their tiller at one of the locks on the Leicester Arm. The tiller arm was certainly at an interesting angle. Half way down the flight the heavens opened and we got the first of the days many heavy downpours - typical boating weather.

Descending Buckby Locks in the pouring rain!

Nice plants - Whilton Lock

After a short pause at the bottom lock, to pick up bread and milk at Whilton, we continued to Weedon. It was at one of the tight bends just north of Weedon where we found the first of two boats adrift from their moorings and across the canal. The first was being retrieved by a boat going north and we retrieved the second with judicious use of the bow fender and boat hook. We learned from the crew of the other boat carrying out the recovery that it was the Canal Club boat ahead of us that had "gone through at 200 mph" that had caused the mooring pins to come loose. They did appear to be in a hurry when they left Whilton.

Around the next corner we discovered another incident. A cow had managed to get itself on the canal side of a barbed wire fence and couldn't get back into the field. It was in obvious distress and was calling to the rest of the herd. We stopped in Weedon for lunch and I managed to hail the farmer from across the canal. She went off across the fields to sort out the problem. Just before we left we noticed that all the herd had been moved to a field closer to the farmhouse. It appeared that the incident had ended well.

As we passed through Weedon I pointed out the site of the recent drugs bust on the cannabis "factory". The house, close to the Narrow Boat pub looked quite innocuous, then I suppose most of these "factories" do.

As we moored up near Gayton it rained heavily gain. This time we had thunder and lightning just to make things interesting. We found out later that our neighbours had spent that evening at the Battle Proms at Althorpe, not far away. They did get soaked but were pleased that the clouds rolled away just in time for the Spitfire to make a fly past. Ironically, it stayed dry at home.

Sunday was a better day so far as the weather was concerned; warm sunshine. We had a smooth run through Blisworth tunnel, went down the locks on our own and moored up at the bottom lock. The second lock from the top of the flight was being operated by BW because a boat had collided with the post causing it to break. They had lost reverse. The gate was leaking badly but could still be used. BW were concerned should the whole gate collapse and that's why they were providing assistance.

Leaking damaged lock gate on the Stoke Bruerne flight - broken post.

We then walked back to the Navigation for Sunday lunch. The food was good (great Yorkshires) but because it was fine weather the pub was busy and the service slow.

Mosaic underneath the A508 road bridge Stoke Bruerne

A short trip in the sun then brought us back to Yardley; a good, but short, late summer cruise. We are committed to other things early September so our next cruise is a few weeks away.


On Tuesday evening our friends Edward & Anne Winter joined us at Braunston for a local trip and our journey back to Yardley Gobion. We had a very good "Two for One" at the Boathouse, having moved Albert up to the moorings right outside the pub. Good to see it was busy. Working boat Towcester arrived for local deliveries to residential boats in the Stockton area. We managed to squeeze a 65ft Alvechurch boat into the remaining 63ft space outside the pub by judicious positioning of boat bows. The Swedish crew were delighted by the British resolve to fit them in.

On Wednesday morning we decided to travel up onto the Oxford Canal summit. We had a very pleasant trip in sunshine to Napton and then climbed the Napton flight behind several other boats, often in a queue. There were tales of broken paddles, boats stuck in locks and other reasons for the queues but the BW staff carrying out maintenance (they had just changed some lock beams) said it was just traffic volume.

Napton flight bottom lock

Maggie taking Albert into a lock - Napton Flight

We moved onto to a favourite mooring close to Bridge 131 near Wormleighton. Last time we were here in April there were just two boats, this time there were six - summer cruising. Many of the cereal fields were being harvested well into the evening - catching up in the dry weather.

On Thursday we got up early to different weather, wet. Our aim was to turn Albert and then go down the flight to Braunston. There are few winding holes on the Oxford summit so we had to go to Fenny Compton and turn by the wharf. This took in total three hours after which we were ready for breakfast. We moored up near the delightfully named Wedding Footbridge. We then retraced our steps of Wednesday and reached Marston Doles mid afternoon. BW staff were painting the new lock beams and carrying out some running repairs on one lock. It appears they were fixing the metal plate that is fitted to the wooden device that protects the cill. We asked the name and got a confusing answer - "babbie or maybe barby". Will have to carry out some research to find out.

Lock maintainence during the cruising season

As we left the flight at Napton and made our way towards Shuckborough the clouds began to look like a scene from the movie Independence Day! We came upon a group of cyclists who had stopped rather suddenly, one of their group had found one of the many potholes in the towpath and had ended up in the cut! We stopped to help him recover his sleeping bag which had also ended up in the cut. Then a loud clap of thunder announced a huge downpour and we left for Braunston. The steerer got very wet but everyone else didn't so I suppose it wasn't such a bad journey. By the time we reached Braunston the rain had abated and we were lucky to find a mooring right outside The Boathouse - time for another very welcome "Two for One".

Towcester loaded with coal, diesel, and gas


We took Albert to Braunston over the weekend.

Our friends from Queensland, John & Di Harden were over visiting the UK on their way to Kyrgistan; it's a long story! They have been on Albert twice before, but have not travelled far from Yardley, so this time we organised a one-way trip to Braunston.

Leaving on Friday, the weather was OK but cloudy. For the first time I decided to reverse Albert out of the marina to avoid the difficult turn north. We made Stoke Bruerne bottom lock just before two other boats (Ollie & Miss Mollie from the Taverners Boat Club at Cosgrove) who wanted to go up together so we waited until the next boat, Glamis Castle arrived. The trip up the flight was straight forward and the Hardens soon got used to operating locks again. We had a good lunch and drinks at The Boat. Over lunch working boat Ibex and butty Ilford arrived.

NBs Ibix and Ilford

They were going south. The last time we saw Ilford was Spring 2009 at Roger Fuller's yard at Stone.

We had a good trip through Blisworth Tunnel and moored up just beyond Heyford Field marina. We glimpsed a good view of a sunset through the hedge.

Sunset near Nether Heyford, Northants

The sunset just got better

On Saturday we went up to Weedon, and we visited the Bramble Patch, one of Maggie's favourite places where there was an exhibition of quilts inspired by New Zealand. John and I also visited the Weedon Royal Ordinance Depot. The depot was once connected to the Grand Junction main line by an arm and famously it was the place where government would be relocated if Napoleon had invaded Britain. A section of the canal remains in water between the impressive military buildings.

ROC Weedon gate house

We travelled up the Long Buckby flight with Octavia built by Barn Owl Boats, a very smart new boat, and moored up just below the New Inn where we met our friends Bob & Lyn Doyle from Moriarty who were moored up but on their way south.

Steerers chatting whilst descending the Buckby Flight

The weather was bright on Sunday and we had a great journey up to the tunnel in glorious sunshine with John and Di taking lots of pictures of the rolling English countryside.

Toll House, Norton Junction

Canal Bridge, Grand Union, Norton/Braunston

Being a good boating day in summer, there were lots of boats about. We passed seven in Braunston Tunnel and there was a queue at the Top Lock.

Braunston Tunnel southern portal in summer sunshine

Steve with John & Di Harden at Braunston Top Lock

We managed to persuade the crew behind, on their way to the Cropredy Festival to delay of passage down the flight until the first pound was clear. There were six boats in the very short pound. We made good progress down the locks but the bottom two pounds were very shallow. Some crews going up the flight were telling tales of paddles being left up. We moored up below the bottom lock and had a Sunday lunch at The Boathouse (formerly the Millhouse). We had good food at reasonable prices. Unlike the time we passed here in the spring, it was full.

Working boat Kestral (heavily laden) with its butty Vienna, Braunston

We will continue our cruise next week with another crew - more to come.