Thursday 14 January 2016

Grand Union Canal. Norton Junction to Market Harborough.

Happy New Year Dear Reader!
If we are to make one resolution for 2016 it should be to write more blog posts. The last one was at end of November and here we are in January. For this we can only apologise; our lives have been happy and full, and we are very sorry for not sharing them with you.

We left you at a windy Norton Junction. While we were there, we made some alterations to enable us to winterise the boat easily. We put antifreeze in the central heating and, as we’ve got an air-cooled engine, the only other thing that could have been a problem was the water pipes. As it was, the lowest point in the pipework was under the bath where access to drain the system was impossible. We solved that problem by running a pair of new pipes from there, through the wall into the bedroom, under the bed to a new lowest point in the engine room bilge. We made a lift up panel in the engine room floor and fitted stop-taps to the pipes so we can get a jug underneath them.
All we have to do now is turn off the pump and stop cock at the water tank, open all the taps and then drain the water out. We found that if we blow into the kitchen tap it pushes all the water out of the Morco, leaving all the pipework empty and frost free! You may have noticed, Dear Reader, that we skipped, oh so lightly, over the part where the new pipes were connected to the existing system under the bath. This was accomplished by making an access panel between the under-bed storage locker and the bath plumbing. Simple you may suppose. How wrong you would be. Dave had to lie on his back in the locker whilst wielding the electric jigsaw above his head. However the end result was worth it; not only can we now drain the system quickly and easily, but we can also get to the bath drain pump, should such need arise. (Ironically, when we left the boat for a week the weather was so mild we didn’t bother draining it after all.)

Two days after we came up Buckby locks they were closed for winter maintenance. In this case that meant replacing gates on the bottom three, and a lot of brickwork repairs. All the new gates were stacked in order on a work boat ready to go when we moored up.

On the second morning they disappeared into the mist on their way to their new home for the next twenty five years.
We had the odd stroll down the flight to see how the chaps were getting on. First they craned out the old gates. Usually this would have meant rigging up a gantry over the lock and winching the gates onto a waiting hopper, but as there was a convenient car park right next door, they just got a huge crane and made easy work of it.

We also did a bit of work in Birmingham, had a day out in Milton Keynes with Laura and Alison, and had a lovely visit from Chloe, Shandy and their friend Mike.

We finally manged to spend the Whilton Marina £50 voucher we won in the IWA festival raffle in Northampton. We got a pair of outside fold-up steps, a new chimney liner and a big bottle of Elsan.

The day before we left Norton, Bob and Mandy arrived on Nb Matilda Blue and invited us round for Dinner and Dancing or, more precisely, pasta and meatballs and Strictly from Blackpool.

From Norton we turned onto (for us) the uncharted waters of the Leicester Line and up the lovely Watford Locks.

This beautifully kept flight is tucked away behind the extremely busy Watford Gap services on the M1. It's rather weird to think that as we were gently making our way up the staircase, on the other side of the hedge there was a hive of frenzied activity going on.
The idea had been to go up with Matilda Blue behind us, but Dave was a bit previous with the setting off business, and we found ourselves at the top in no time. We did a quick visit to the sanitary station, then went on under the M1 and an accommodation bridge, to moor up on the edge of Watford Park.
We walked back to the locks to lend a hand, but Matilda Blue was already up, so we gratefully accepted Mandy’s bacon butties, even though we hadn’t earned them. As we were munching away coal boat Nb Callisto arrived so we had a swift appraisal of funds and got three bags of nutty slack delivered to our roof.

We had a few days at Watford Park before moving on to Yelvertoft on what, for us, was a perfect boating day. We started by moving the car and finding a good parking spot right next to a bridge, then walked back through Crick, where we just happened to get to the Red Lion as it opened for morning coffee. As we made our way over the top of Crick tunnel we could see some of the spoil heaps that were left behind where when the tunnel was dug.
The method employed by the engineers was to survey a line and sink shafts at regular intervals. The navvies dug outward from each shaft bottom forming a (hopefully) straight bore. At Crick the spoil was simply dumped at the top of each shaft, and it remains there today.  It’s almost as if the last bucket-full has just come up the shaft and the last navvy has just emptied his wheel barrow.

We turned down a little track to the tunnel mouth, then along the towpath back to Legend where we had a quick lunch before pulling the pins and setting off. We had the canal to ourselves as we headed back to the tunnel portal, but when we got there we saw a headlight coming towards us. The tunnel is two way, but as we weren't in a hurry we waited for what turned out to be two boats to come through.
Once we were in we had a clear run all the way through. We have one of those 30 LED inspection lamps, so we tried putting it on the roof, just ahead of the rear slide and shining upwards. As we’d hoped, instead of there just being darkness behind the headlight, the tunnel roof was nicely illuminated just ahead of the steerer, which meant we could see anything sticking out or dripping before we found it the hard way, and we could see all the distance markers.
On the other side of the tunnel we were treated to at least four kingfishers and a Muntjak deer before mooring up fifteen minutes ahead of the rain.

The next morning, with high winds on the forecast in the afternoon, we carried on along the main line then turned right onto the Welford Arm and followed it to the end. As we chugged past the permanent boats, we spotted a very excited and very squeaky spaniel and an equally exited, although not quite as squeaky Lindsay from Nb Happydaze. Lindsay and Paul were on a permanent mooring in Welford Marina; we’d told them we were coming so she’d brought Jack out to meet us and welcome us to their lovely home. We turned Legend round and backed onto the water point, then had lots of hugs and made a big fuss of Jack, before mooring up on the towpath, within sight of our friends’ boat.

Welford was a wonderful place to be and we had no worries at all about leaving the boat there. 
There was a proper car park, our friends were just the other side of the marina, and best of all there was the Wharf Inn half way between the two of us which, we discovered on several nights, did amazing food at very reasonable prices.
There was even a hair salon next to the pub, so Ann-Marie was able to get her hair cut. It’s definitely on our list of places to come back to. The only downside was that we both had horrid colds which slightly put the mockers on things, but we still had a fabulous meal in the pub with Anne on Dave’s birthday and another one the following evening with Lindsay and Paul.

Our Christmas visiting began with David and Kate in Keighley, where we had a lovely time.
Amongst all the delicious food we managed to fit in a visit to Skipton Christmas Market.
Back at the boat, we did our last bit of Christmas shopping in Market Harborough, then had Lindsay and Paul over for dinner – our last at Welford until next year. In the morning we prevaricated for as long as possible until finally it came time to say goodbye to lovely Welford and our lovely friends. With promises of a return in the new year and Happy Christmas wishes ringing in our ears, we filled up with water, fired up the Lister and set off in the sunshine back to the main line.

At the junction we turned right towards Foxton locks and before long we were tied up at Husbands Bosworth tunnel entrance where we loaded a couple of Dave’s wood stashes onto the roof. Once that was done we chugged our way through the tunnel and moored up at Laughton Hills just before the sun disappeared and the wind picked up.
The spot we’d picked to moor at was the best for solar, being next to a big gap in the hedge but, as we realised when we set off on our second Christmas visit to Karen’s, not really the best for car access, being about 300 muddy yards from the bridge. The fact that the tiny road over the bridge had been dug up a couple of weeks prior to us parking our car there, and the sustained activity of large multi wheeled excavators and dumper trucks was still very much in evidence in the form of masses of sticky mud all over said tiny road and the bridge didn’t help. After a sticky and slippy trudge to the car with bags of pressies, overnight stuff, and all the usual paraphernalia that accompanies us on our outings, we did a comedy double act involving hopping about on one foot while trying to change out of our filthy wellies, while keeping our luggage off the floor.

At Mychett, Karen treated us to a night out at a Christmas Concert by the Band and Corps of Drums of the Royal Logistics Corps. What a fabulous evening! In the morning we went over to Fleet where Mum’s choir (she doesn’t own it, she’s just in it) were singing Christmas carols and songs,
then back to Karen’s for mulled wine and an afternoon asleep in front of the Polar Express while wearing Christmas onesies.
The next day Karen, Andrew and ourselves all went to The Vyne - a NT property near Basingstoke.

All the downstairs rooms were decked out for Christmas, all from a different era in the house’s history.
We left feeling very Christmassy indeed.
On the way back we stopped off at Aylesbury Marina at the end of the Aylesbury arm where Laura and Alison had a winter mooring for Nb Large Marge. We had a good old chinwag in the afternoon, followed by a really yummy Indian in town.

We re-trudged our muddy towpath just before midnight back to a cold, dark Legend where, as there was no-one within earshot, we fired up the gennie for half an hour while we lit the fire and made hot water bottles, before diving under the duvet.

We’d been looking forward to the next stretch of water for years. Before we bought Legend, before we even knew for certain that boat life was going to be in our future, on sunny summer days we’d come out to Foxton Locks, stroll around the place, buy an ice-cream and watch the boats going leisurely up and down the staircase. And dream.
Well on the 15th of December 2015 we finally brought our boat down our favourite flight.

Diane joined us for the trip down, and Bob and Mandy walked up from their winter mooring in Market Harborough to help. Due to a misunderstanding, we upset the locky by going straight into the top lock without asking, but by the time we’d got to the passing pound, it was pretty obvious that we knew what we were doing and Mandy had sweet talked him into submission.

He left us to it and we did the bottom five unsupervised. At the bottom we moored up opposite the pub and went inside for lunch.

The next morning was Ann-Marie’s birthday; after the present-unwrapping there was a short bit of boating through the swing bridge into Foxton village followed, later on, by a meal and a show in Market Harborough. Or, more precisely, a free coffee, a sticky bun and a tour of the Christmas lights.
Our third and fourth Christmas Visits were up to Chesterfield to see Jen & Anne, then down to Warsop to see the Foxes. We’d hoped to fit Judith, Rachael, Alan and all their respective families in as well but we had to do a fifth visit the next day to catch them all. From there we went over to Nuneaton to see Kim, Luke and George (visit no. 6). We stopped over, so there were games in the evening and lots of wine, then in the morning there were pancakes for breakfast, followed by salt-dough Christmas decoration making and painting. Around tea-time we managed to fit in a flying visit to our boat, where we lit the fire and ran the gennie for a bit before rushing out again for an evening on board Matilda Blue – this time for the Strictly Final.

The sun came out briefly and joined the blustery wind heralding our arrival at Union Wharf; the rather majestic finale of the Market Harborough arm. We tied up at the sanitary station, then used the time while the water tank was filling, to figure out how we could turn round in the crowded basin without being blown broadside into the Canaltime hire fleet. In the end we spun Legend round on her nose with Ann-Marie on the wharf holding the front rope. The entire manoeuvre was all very calm and controlled; the back end missed the fleet by a couple of feet and it all looked very slick. We moored up just outside the marina in the sunniest spot and watched someone else try to do the same thing but without anchoring the front end. That was far from slick, and we were very glad we’d had time to think about it and make a plan.

Market Harborough was to be Legend’s home for Christmas. We however, were going to France to spend the festivities with Frankie and Harry.  

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