Grand Union canal. North Oxford Canal. Welsh road to Newbold on Avon.
Three years ago, when we were at Welsh Road locks for the first time, we only stayed for a couple of nights, which was a shame as it’s such a nice mooring. This time we were there for a fortnight
with a walk to Long Ichington and the Blue Lias on one day, and a drive out to - and a lovely walk around - Draycote Water, where Kim, Luke and George joined us in the sailing club café.
Kim had slipped on the ice a few weeks before and broken her arm, so she was learning how to look after a baby one-handed – not an easy task - so it was good to see them out and looking happy.
After our allotted time we reluctantly cast off and made our way up Bascote locks (2 singles and a staircase)
where we found some very nice dead hawthorn, followed by the Stockton flight.
That took us up to Birdingbury Wharf; a very pleasant mooring spot near the The Boat Inn where the road runs parallel to the canal with just a hedge between and some very convenient parking places.
Car outside boat window; always a Good Thing.
Another stationary fortnight followed, some of which included ice. We went to see a band called the Jigantics at a gig in Warwick University Arts Centre. The venue was very intimate; the audience outnumbered the band by 5 – 1 but they were very good (the band, that is. The audience weren’t bad either.)
As we were quite near to Kim and Luke we volunteered to help whenever we could while Kim was recovering. On the Friday she had an appointment at the hospital, so while Dave drove her in, Ann-Marie babysat George. The consultant threw a spanner in the works by deciding that the poor girl needed a metal plate to hold her humorous together and booked her in for surgery the next morning – Friday. Luckily Luke was able to take the day off so we were relieved of duty and drove up to Yorkshire to see David and Kate for the weekend instead.
Our longest standing friends were, as always, the perfect hosts. As always we had a fantastic weekend, we went for a couple of walks with Dylan-the-dog and ate some delicious meals, then on the Monday morning we packed our bags, said our goodbyes and set off. We’d just got to the bottom of their hill when we became aware of a rather horrible grating noise coming from the engine which, to cut a very long story short, meant we were unexpected guests for a further three days, while Keighley Diesels diagnosed and replaced a broken oil pump.
We are once again eternally grateful to our friends, and once again extremely lucky. It could have broken down anywhere, but it happened near some people who could not only put us in touch with a friendly local garage, but who were also more than willing to put us up while it was repaired. Thinking about what would have happened if we’d been hammering down the motorway when the oil pump pulley decided that being attached to the oil pump was not on its to-do list any more makes our blood run cold.
On The Thursday morning, after we’d spent three days watching from their window as the snow got thicker
the man from Keighley Diesels rang with the wonderful news that we were back on the road. We packed our bags - again, said our goodbyes - again and set off once more. This time, despite the snow, we had no problems getting home, although every time we stopped the blizzard that seemed to be following us southwards caught up; had the man phoned an hour later things might have been very different.
Our fortnight was up the day we got back, so we untied our snowy ropes and moved on.
Up the three Calcott Locks, where we had a fortuitous meeting with Mark on the coal boat Callisto, then turned left at Napton Junction onto the section of the GU between the North and South Oxford canals.
This short length was originally part of, and owned by, the Oxford Canal Company. When the Grand Junction Canal Company were building their new link from Birmingham to London, they made an agreement with the Oxford Canal Company to share this five mile section, but omitted to get a limit on how much their boats would be charged for using it. This resulted in the most expensive five miles of canal in the country and the Oxford being subsidised by the Grand Junction for many years.
These days holidaymakers happily chug past the former toll houses; the old boaters must have dreaded them.
We moored at Nimrod Bridge for one night then moved up to Flecknoe, just along from Bridge 103 where we spent a very memorable fortnight with John and Jac three and a half years ago. Back then it was summer and we were out with the barbeque, this time we were iced in and it was snowing.
We’ve not been happy with the frosted glass in the bathroom ever since we bought the boat. It was a sticky-backed-plastic film that hadn’t been stuck on very well and we finally got round to doing something about it. This is what we did:-
1. Remove old film.
2. Get rid of the adhesive using white spirit and a stainless steel scrubby thing.
3. Apply new stuff and squeegee into place.
5. Stand back and admire.
We sprayed the glass with soapy water to make it slippy and we got round the swivel window catches by cutting a line and a circle and then sliding the film into position. We're really pleased with the result and as soon as the boat is the other way round we'll post some pictures from the outside.
While we were at Flecknoe, Kim and Luke braved the blizzards to come and see us, and we had a day getting paid for counting parked cars in Birmingham. On the Friday, Dave went with Luke to Kent with a trailer to collect a Citroen Dyane that K&L will be taking to Poland in July for the World Meeting of 2CV Friends.
The girlies went shopping with George and Ann-Marie came home with some red shoes. When the boys got back there was a takeaway and a game of Harry Potter Cluedo. It doesn’t get any better than that!
The overnight temperature was forecast to be above freezing for the next few days so we didn’t mind leaving Legend for a bit. We slept on K&L’s sofa bed then after breakfast pancakes went to drop off the trailer. We said goodbye then carried on to Ross-on-Wye to see John and Camilla, whose wedding we went to last autumn.
In the afternoon we had a walk down by the Wye, a pint or two in the White Lion, then a lovely evening with Rich and Becky and a delicious lamb curry.
Sunday morning dawned chilly and misty which turned out to be the perfect back-drop for what we had planned for the day. We went to Purton on the Gloucester to Sharpness Ship Canal. This canal was built to bypass a notorious stretch of the tidal River Severn, allowing shipping safe passage into Gloucester docks.
At Purton the canal runs parallel to, and not very far from, the river bank. In the late 19th century, concerns were raised about tidal erosion threatening the stability of the bank. To combat this old/irreparable river barges were towed up the bank on spring tides and sunk where they beached. Over the years they have settled into the silt and vegetation has taken hold and today the area is known as the “Purton Ships Graveyard”.
From 1900 to 1965 81 ships and barges were beached on a 2 mile stretch.
The last to join this eerie fleet were six 350 tonne Ferro-Cement (concrete) barges built during the Second World War when steel was in short supply.
One of these has since been removed and re-floated; we think it might be the one we saw at Ellesmere Port, but we’re not sure. They were notoriously unwieldy, horrible to steer, broke everything they came in contact with and there was probably a round of applause from the crew when they were rammed up the bank. Follow this link for more info.
After that we went to see Saul Junction, where the Stroudwater Canal crosses the G&S,
and had coffee and cake in the café. Fab weekend and lovely to see the newly-weds happy.
Back at the boat, after another fortuitous meeting with a coal boat (Jule’s Fuels), we spent a sunny morning boating to just outside Braunston where we moored on the Puddle Banks, which is a feat in itself. The canal banks slope into the water so you can’t get right in. Some places are better than others, but the best you can do still leaves you on the bottom with a lean-on, and nearly a foot between boat and bank. We still prefer that to being in the thick of it on the visitor moorings in Braunston itself.
Gordon and Helena live in Braunston; we met them and became friends on the Yorkshire Ouse a couple of years ago, so as we were there we got in contact and they invited us round for dinner. Their lovely house overlooks the marina and their boat, what a fabulous place to live! We were treated to a delicious meal and a brilliant evening in their company. Hopefully we can return the favour when we come back through on our way to Northampton and the Nene.
From the Puddle Banks we turned left at the junction.
After filling up with water carried on up the North Oxford to Hillmorton Locks.
This is uncharted territory for us; the first time we’ve been somewhere new since November. We moored just before the locks, which was lucky, because when we went for a walk down the locks later that day we found that someone had left the paddles half open at both ends of the middle lock and drained all the water out of the top pound.
We can’t think of a way it could have been done accidentally, or of a logical reason to do it on purpose, so we dropped them all and carried on. On our way back we were pleased to see that the level was recovering, and when we brought Legend down the following day it was back up to full.
In 2012, to commemorate the inauguration of CRT, these locks, along with Gargrave locks on the L&L, Farmers Bridge locks on the Birmingham & Fazely and Milnsbridge lock on the Huddersfield Narrow were chosen to have lines of a poem engraved into them.
The full poem reads thus:-
HELD CAPTIVE FOR A WHILE
THEN SLUICED AWAY TO JOIN
THE WORLD’S OTHER WATERS AGAIN
WITH WORDS AT YOUR BACK
THESE DOORS MAKE DEPTH
POWER TO SINK YOUR BOAT
BODILY INTO THE LAND
AND LET IT GO RIDING OUT
STEP AT A TIME A RIVER
DOWN THROUGH THE TOWN
The sculptor was Peter Coates and the three poets who wrote the words were Jo Bell, Roy Fisher and Ian McMillan. Roy Fisher’s words are engraved at Hillmorton, which in the correct order read:-
CAPTIVE FOR A WHILE
CLIMBS CAREFULLY DOWN
THESE DOORS MAKE DEPTH
We stopped at Newbold on Avon, near the pub just before the tunnel. We’ll stay here for a few days and go and visit Rugby before moving on. An unexpected bonus about being where we are is that the canal is quite deep so we don’t get shoved about as much when someone goes past. The frequency of that happening had suddenly increased; we think it must be half term.