Thursday, 22 December 2011

Grand Union Canal. Stockton to Welsh Road.

We’re moored up for Christmas in a beautiful spot just above Welsh Road lock.
It’s very practical too, there’s a proper car park right next to the bridge, so the car is about 100 yards away; very useful when you’ve got a load of Christmas stuff to deliver to various parts of the country.

We chose this spot as it’s 5 locks and 4 miles from here into the centre of Leamington Spa. Anne’s coming to stay with us for Christmas and we’re planning on cruising down the locks and into town wearing Santa hats and playing carols at full blast. We reckon we can fit it in between opening presies and listening to the Queen’s speech on the radio.

We’ve gone from scraping the bottom of the coal scuttle to having enough fuel on board for a small power station. Despite being held up by the ice, Mark turned up with the coal boat Callisto at about lunch time on Tuesday and transferred 176 litres of diesel (ouch!) and 6 bags of Stoveglow onto Legend.
We did a careful calculation with our dip-stick and worked out that we have a 240 litre tank and that we’ve used 112 litres since we bought the boat in April. That’s 14 litres per month. While we were waiting for Callisto to come down the locks, Dave went scavenging in the woods and found a fallen Ash tree, most of which is now on our roof along with the coal.

British Waterways have been busy round here; 2 guys on a work boat followed us down the Bascote staircase locks and then set about the very leaky bottom gate with gusto. In less than an hour they’d turned the torrent or water rushing through the gates into something a lot less alarming. The morning after we arrived here at Welsh Road a whole team of day-glo suited blokes turned up with 2 vans and what looked like a torpedo on a trolley. On this part of the GU there are a lot of back pumps which take water from the bottom of a lock and return it to the top. In 1930, when the canal was modernised and improved, new wide locks were built alongside the original narrow ones. Nowadays the narrow locks are not used and the bottom gates have been replaced by weirs. When a back pimp is installed by a lock, they often get put inside the weir, pumping the shortest distance from the lower level to the higher. The torpedo turned out to be a new back pump, this is the old one after they pulled it out.
This is where the new one goes, you can just see the water flowing out of the top through the gap.
During the 5 hours it was switched off the water level dropped about 6 inches, although some of that may have been on purpose to make changing the pump easier. It took a whole day to recover to the proper level, although to be fair, this lock is due for closure in January for maintenance. Judging from the amount of boats on the move at the moment they could close anything anywhere and no-one would notice. Maybe it’ll be busier over Christmas week.

Merry Christmas reader and thank you for your company during what for us has been a momentous year. We’ve accomplished a lifestyle change that could so easily have been just a dream till it was too late. We wish we had pound for every time we’ve heard the phrase “Oh, I always wanted to do that.” It’s not our style to administer advice but if we’ve learnt anything on our travels it is this: Life is not a rehearsal. Use your best china.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Oxford & Grand Union. Marston Doles to Stockton.

Good Grief! Time doesn’t half fly when you’re having fun!

We’ve both had lock-winding birthdays in the past couple of weeks. We went down the newly reopened Napton flight on Dave’s
and then down the Stockton flight on Ann-Marie’s.
In between the two we went from the old, narrow Oxford canal onto the new (ish; it was widened and improved in the 1930s) Grand Union. We’ve been in narrow locks and bridge ‘oles since June so it was a bit weird steering Legend into the 14’ wide Calcutt top lock.
When we’re on our own and in a wide lock we only use one gate, and once we are back into the routine, wide locks, although they look more daunting, are actually easier and quicker to get through. We’re now moored at the bottom of the Stockton flight, right outside the Blue Lias pub, which is competing with Blackpool for the “Brightest Illuminations” trophy, and a short walk from the happily named Long Itchington and its many hostelries. We’re here for a couple of days waiting for a coal boat to come back. We’ve cut it a bit fine on the old gathering winter fu-oo-el front, but Star Class Carrying should be back tomorrow with a goodly stock of smokeless and we’ll be OK for another few weeks. We do try to buy from the boats when we can rather than land based merchants. We’re still always on the lookout for firewood when we go for walks; ideally we use wood during the day and put a scuttle full of coal on at night so that it’s still alight and snug in the morning.

In the evening on Dave’s birthday, Mum & Dad, Chloe & Shandy and Frankie & Harry joined us for a meal in the Folly Inn at Napton. We had a lovely time; it’s not that often that the eight of us get together. After Mum & Dad had gone home we somehow managed to find a bed for everyone else on the boat.

A fortnight later on her birthday, after being a boatwoman for nine months, Ann-Marie put an (almost) steady hand on the tiller for the first time.
After a mile and a half of hitting absolutely nothing, causing precisely no major calamities and feeling rather pleased with herself she put it back where it belongs. Dave will happily steer all day long, and Ann-Marie will happily let him, but she needed to prove to herself that if necessary, she could.
She can.

In the afternoon Nikki came to join us for a few hours, she brought some home-made apple wine and we fed her home-made mince pies. Bliss. The day after that Kim & Luke joined us for a games afternoon followed by a meal in the highly illuminated Blue Lias to further help with the birthday doings. All this seasonal good will and bonn-homme does seem to have resulted in an unusual amount of pub food appearing in our diet just recently; we fully expect to be back to beans on toast and 11p Aldi noodles in January.

We’ve been ice-breaking! Very exciting stuff. We were woken up on Saturday morning by some very strange clonks and creaks and looked out of the window to see the ducks skating around on a frozen canal. After breakfast another boat came past us going the other way and ploughed a channel through it, so we fired up the Lister, put all the artic gear on and shoved off towards the locks.
Turned out the other boat had only come from round the corner so we were soon pushing sheets of virgin ice into the reeds. We made sure we were going very slowly as we passed other boats; having large chunks of ice banging into your hull doesn’t do the blacking any good and can be quite alarming, especially if you’re in a plastic river cruiser.

Other things we’ve done recently; Dave’s driven Chloe and Shandy’s Bay VDub which was brilliant and took him straight back to the Splitty that he had when he was too young and stupid to look after it properly.

We went to the Coventry Transport Museum with those two plus Luke & Wiltz. We’re vaguely attempting to visit places of interest in our vicinity as we move around the country. This place is definitely worth a look; a lot of thought has gone into displaying the hundreds of exhibits to put them into the scenario of their daily use, rather than just lines of stuff with dates on it. There can’t be many people who go through it without finding something their dad used to have.

Along with Shandy, Frankie and Harry we squeezed into Chloe’s flat for the weekend and went to the Frankfurter and German Beer market in Birmingham.
Twice, due to a misunderstanding of closing times. (“Why is everyone going the other way?”) It was much better on Sunday afternoon.

We’ve decided to go to Stratford in the New Year before heading up through Birmingham to Halesowen for Easter. There are various lock and bridge closures on the Stratford-on-Avon canal between January and March, but we should be able to dodge them. We have - as always - a list.