Houghton, Great Ouse

With good weather, on Sunday we had a day investigating a National Trust Property not too far from home (just over an hour by car). It was Houghton Watermill or described in the NT Handbook Houghton Mill and Waterclose Meadows.

Houghton Mill
(Note the outflow from the waterwheel to the right of the building)

The 18th century water mill is not far from Huntingdon and lies on the Great Ouse. Although we spent some time with Albert on the River Ouse we haven't ventured this far upstream. The mill is a substantial building with a long history. It once housed a number of waterwheels. The remnants of some of the original machinery still exists inside the building but The Trust have installed a working wheel outside driving a single millstone. When multiple wheels were in operation it would have been a noisy, busy and dusty place.

Every Sunday during the season the watermill is in operation grinding small quantities of flour as you will see in the video I took below.

Houghton Mill in operation

We enjoyed lunch at the NT Tearooms, visited the mill, crossed the lock and then went for an extended walk across the meadows to Hemmingford Abbots and Hemmingford Grey, both delightful and picturesque villages with some substantial properties that must be worth a fortune.

Houghton Mill Lock

Old School House Hemmingford Abbot

More thatched properties Hemmingford Abbot

Village Library in a phone box!

A Sea Otter moored up above Hemmingford Grey Lock

I notice that No Problem passed through this way on Tuesday. I was on the look out for them on Sunday just in case they had made rapid progress. It turned out that they were not far away in  St Ives. If we get around to boating this way I will make sure we stop overnight at Houghton.

Polishing and Aston Marina

Sunday was a glorious sunny day as we moved from Great Heywood to our summer moorings at Aston Marina. Being Easter there were a number of boats on the move and most appeared to have come from Aston.

However, before I relate more of our journey, I forgot to mention  that on Friday evening, with the prospect of good weather to come I managed to polish the mushroom vents. They came up a treat with the heady combination of Bar Keepers Friend and Shiny Sinks followed by Brasso. This was followed by a protective coating of Jade Oil - I don't want to polish them for a little while.

Polished mushroom vents 

As we left entered Weston Lock a boat coming south appeared. It was Tyseley the converter working boat of the Mikron Theatre group. We have seen them perform a few times and even shared an overnight mooring at Upton when they were in transit along the River Severn. Tyseley's crew were not part of the theatre group but volunteers moving her to another venue. It appears they have been involved in moving the boat for many years.

Passing Tyseley the Mikron Theatre Boat

The crew of Tyseley warned us of the aggressive male swan on the cut through the village of Weston; his mate is sitting on a nest. We met him last year when he attacked our stern fenders. This year we got a repeat performance but he didn't follow us quite so far along the cut.

This year's fender attack!

As we passed through Burston we saw NB Morpheus again. Nobody was on board - I wonder if they were having Sunday lunch in the Greyhound? After we had moored up at Aston and retired to the marina deck for lunch, Morpheus appeared at the marina entrance and did a "circuit" via the separate exit. I suspect they were carrying out a reconnaissance for a hand-over later in the month. They mentioned the possibility when we shared locks on the Grand Union.

Morpheus again

We look forward again to some summer boating from Aston. The Macclesfield and Peak Forest are on our agenda.

Reflections in the Trent & Mersey Canal, Aston

Great Heywood

After the miserable weather of the last few days, today was much more pleasant. Although it started cloudy it gradually became brighter as the day wore on. We filled up with water at Fradley but the tap was very slow and we didn't finally get on the move until around 10:30.

Fradley Locks

Although Fradley Junction was quiet, more boats appeared on the cut as the day progressed. Being Easter Saturday many boaters appear to having their first long weekend trips. 

Armitage "toilet" factory
Armitage opened-out tunnel

Rugeley was busy with boats and we passed a steady stream of boats travelling south. We wondered if we might have a significant delay at Colwich Lock, as often happens, but this time only two boats were ahead. The bridge by the lock is shared with the farm and cattle are often driven over. With the recent rain the path over the bridge was a mud bath and Maggie resorted to wellies to operate the lock.

Mud glorious mud!

We stopped for the night on the approach to Shugborough. The views of the house are glorious but tonight we were treated to a barn owl hunting over the meadows alongside the River Trent, and a hot air balloon launch. This was then followed by a spectacular sunset. Is this a good omen for tomorrow's weather?

Ballon launch from Shugborough Hall

Sunset over Shugborough Estate


On Friday the weather was miserable. We left Bradley Green in the rain and it rained nearly all day. It was a long day's cruising to Fradley Junction, over 8 hours, but nearly all straightforward. We arrived at Glascote Locks around midday and found that a number of Boaters Christian Fellowship, including Halfie, were moored up for a local Easter celebration event. As usual there was a delay at Glascote because the locks are slow filling. It was sad to see the closed Steve Hudson yard.

BCF boats at Glascote
(Easter meeting)

Closed SM Hudson Yard, Glascote

By lunchtime were reached Fazeley Juction but kept moving. The showers became steady rain as we travelled through Hopwas and it was miserable. My spirits were improved a little because, as in previous years, at this time of year the floor of the woods were covered in wood anemone.

Wood anemone in Hopwas Woods

We moved on through Whittington and Hudlesford and eventually we called it a day just before the junction at Fradley. As were moored up NB Morphius passed us. They are going up the Trent & Mersey as well.

Coventry, Little Heath

On Thursday we returned down the Coventry Arm towards Hawkesbury Junction. As I posted earlier, on the way into Coventry we had passed some areas of the city that were familiar to me from my brief employment at Courtaulds back in 1968. One of these areas was Little Heath where there once was a large factory. On the Britain from Above site there is an excellent image showing the factory and the canal running behind.

Courtaulds Little Heath Works, Little Heath, 1929

Courtaulds Little Heath factory in 1929

Today the site has been flattened.; contractors are busy preparing it for house building. I expect it will be very different the next time we pass this way.

Former Courtauld's Little Heath site in April 2015
(site preparation)

Bradley Green

On Thursday morning we left our mooring in the basin at Coventry to head north towards Atherstone. Unlike most days recently it was mild and quite barmy. We stopped just outside the basin to take on water which took a long time and then retraced our route through the suburbs. (see Little Heath post)

Bridge 1 Coventry Canal 
(A tight fit but Albert passes through with chimneys and exhaust in place)

It's shame that with all the attempts at tidying Coventry Canal environment the cut is so full of rubbish. Some areas required careful navigation to avoid the polythene bags and other detritus. However, the worst example was close to Longford where tyres had been dumped on the bank and some had been thrown into the cut.

Tyres in the cut!

We passed by Hawkesbury Junction which looks quite different from this aspect and headed towards Bedworth. As we passed the junction we were photographed by CanalSide Art and the images are now on their Facebook Page.

Hawkesbury Junction

The journey through Bedworth to Nuneaton was straightforward and we passed through the town in glorious sunshine. It was just after Nuneaton that one of the few remaining telegraph poles can be seen. The towapaths, roads and railway lines of Britain were once lined with them and this pole would have been one of millions. 
A monument to former technology

The section of the Coventry Canal from Nuneaton to Hartshill and on to Atherstone is very pleasant with extensive views across the valley of the River Anker. However coming around one bend we discovered the last resting place for all the plastic drinking bottles consumed in Warwickshire. It is a shame because the water through this section is relatively litter free.

Drinking bottle graveyard

Maggie negotiating a bend near Hartshill

We got to Atherstone Top Lock about 4:00. The weather was calm and dry so we decided to descend the flight (11) and moored up at Bradley Green at just before 6:00. A good days boating in fine weather. Our evening entertainment was the Leader's Debate on TV. 

Granny on the Move

Back in February Free Spirit (a.k.a. Jameisons Afloat) posted about the whereabouts of Granny Buttons on the cut, wondering when a new post might appear on Granny's site. Andrew Denny's last post was in August 2012. I commented on the Free Spirit site that the lack of posts was probably because Andrew might be a little busy with his job as Assistant Editor for Waterways World.

Today, as we made our way along the Coventry Canal to Fradley, my mind was wandering and as we got the Streethay Wharf I thought to myself, "Granny Buttons used to moor at Streethay". At that moment I spotted Granny and then I spotted Andrew himself.  We exchanged a few words across the water as we passed. We have passed Granny Buttons on the cut a few times over the years but it has always been moored up with no crew on board.  In fact the only time we have had a face to face conversation with Andrew was at Crick Boat Show a couple of years ago. So this was something of a first.

Andrew was in the process of starting Granny's engine and his words to me were "I'm off to Birmingham". So there you have it Granny watchers.

Andrew Denny & Granny Buttons at Streethay

Cosy in Coventry

We left Chathiron this morning in blustery weather with sunshine. Unfortunately it also rained and we had hail! Still, compared to yesterday the wind was benign. We made Hawkesbury Junction (Sutton Stop) by lunch and then turned left (west). Yes, for the first time we explored the Coventry Arm. We have passed this way often but always found ourselves pressing on towards our destination. However, we haven't totally neglected Coventry before, having visited the Herbert Gallery and the Canal Basin back in 2010 (not by boat).

James Brindley looking out over Coventry Basin

After turning onto the Coventry Canal we stopped for lunch and then made our way past the Ricoh Stadium and the outskirts of the city. 

Maggie giving Martha some TLC 
(Hawksbury junction)

Ricoh Stadium

New Footbridge

Cash's former factory, Coventry
(now cottages)

I was taken by the former Cash's factory alongside the canal which has been converted into cottages. I think that many of our age will have had Cash's name tapes sewn into their school clothes. 

This area is not unknown to me. Back in 1968, whilst studying for my bachelor's degree I worked for a year as an assistant chemical engineer for Courtaulds whose headquarters were in Coventry. I was based in the research laboratory which was opposite the main factory on the Foleshill Road close to the canal. 

Courtaulds' buildings on the Foleshill Road 
(modern scene from Coventry Message Board)

Courtauld's main building from the canal

 However, before we got to Bridge 3 where the Foleshill Road crosses the canal we passed by a huge empty site that was being redeveloped. Machines were moving earth and test bores were being carried out. It suddenly dawned on me, just after we had gone by, that we were passing the site of Courtaulds Little Heath works. I spent a little time there carrying out some routine measurements for one of the senior staff. It was an acetate production plant and I remember clearly the high solvent concentrations that pervaded its atmosphere. I mentioned this at the time to one of the process workers who said, without irony, what smell son? I presume he and most of those directly involved with the process were desensitised.

We moored up in the delightful basin at the end of the arm.  It is busier than in 2010 and Valley Cruisers are operating from part of it. The only negative of our journey along the arm was the amount of rubbish in the water. I managed not to "get a prop-full" until the last few yards. I winded in front of the statue to Brindley, reversed into our mooring and as I put on power to stop we collected a mix of polythene bags and other debris. Another exciting (?) trip down the weed hatch in cold water.

Coventry Basin
Tonight we are warm and cosy in the basin and we have good satellite reception although tonight's choice leaves much to be desired. Tomorrow I will try and get some pictures of the Little Heath site as we return down the arm and head for Atherstone.