‘Yep, we gave each other the look that means we spent the night together,’ Nick called through to the bedroom – genuinely pleased at the nod of acknowledgement as he dried the coffee cups, gazing out the window at the hairy sandal wearing man motoring by on the stern of ‘Mr Toad’. There’s something about sleeping within feet of a complete stranger that means you wake with a bit of a bond despite having never spoken.
Unlike the re-engineered section above Braunston, this part of the Oxford canal is crammed with twists and turns making for a very pretty journey, packed with blackberries and sloes, the hedges have a purple tinge.
After a lunch stop at Fenny Compton we headed into The Wharf in search of butter. It’s an unusual set up with a kind of wicker basket home produce market sale going on in the garden and a shop tucked somewhere between the kitchen and the bar, making you feel as through you’ve somehow landed in the store cupboard. There’s plenty to buy – a record-breaking six types of baked beans but sadly no butter.
Leaving the summit level, the canal began the drop towards Oxford, the amount of boats moving today must have been close to one of the busiest we’ve seen. Blustery rain cleared leaving a sunny afternoon, showing the best side of beautifully thatched Cropredy.
Napton Locks were great fun with a whole run of genuine, interesting people, together everyone would have made for a very good, very squished dinette dinner party – complete with star guest Denise Black, oh yeah it’s all happening out here, in the middle of nowhere.
After the excitement of the Napton flight we pulled over to get to grips with the cratch frame and general front of the boat which has slowly slipped to a nasty looking state. The rain held off while gouging, prising and sanding got underway. The horn and light got sanded, wire wooled, brassoed (even though it seems very un-brass like) and finally lacquered, of course.
After a slightly alarming initial Canal and River Trust update, the stoppage at Caravan Lift Bridge looks set to be sorted before too long.
Tied up on the first Braunston mooring it was strange walking to the church at the top of the hill and realising we were actually almost in the heart of the village. The Atherstone Aldi stock up it still going strong, so a pint of milk and some cream later we walked back down the hill to dump The Murkster – Midland Chandlers is way too much fun for one person to hang about outside holding the dog.
The rows of toilets, camping kettles, holding tank chemicals, 12v fridges and water containers may evoke nostalgic feelings of childhood camping but the prices do not, making it a great place to handle the goods, read the packaging, check the quality etc before investigating how much cheaper it can be bought elsewhere. We did come away with some brass lacquer, having only heard people bemoan their luck at having lacquered mushrooms in the past we’re struggling to see what’s not to like – a whole new world of long-term shiny possibilities has opened up. It turns out that even the curtains poles should be shiny, not dingy green. Murk is not so keen on the stink of Brasso in the air, which is a shame for him as one pole is done leaving 13 to go.
After a water fill, one ongoing dispute was settled – I championed the Grand Union as the route down to London, whereas Nick favoured Oxford and the Thames, no prizes for guessing which way we headed at Braunston Turn – Oxford is 50 miles away.
The Country File forecast dealt the final blow to August’s weather, we weren’t exactly going to stay where we were for an entire week so pulled on waterproofs and got out there. Plans for a short trip until around lunchtime to charge the batteries etc went out the window, by lunch only a few miles of water had passed under the boat, the day was just beginning…
Probably not helped by dank conditions but this stretch of the Oxford canal is a bit straight and a bit dull which wasn’t Brindley’s plan at all. Originally a contour canal, by the 19th century the winding water was struggling to cope with the amount of traffic, so in the 1820’s the section between Braunston and Coventry was re-engineered, reducing the route down from 36 to 22 miles, chopping out a lot of interest along the way – this resulted in ornate iron bridges framing arms that once wound the wiggled original waterway, Bridge Falls is an example of this, offering a journey to nowhere.
Somewhere along the way we climbed Hillmorton Locks. No idea what we were doing out there for so long, the only other movement came from water logged hire boaters – not sure how many repeat bookings a week of rain rain rain will generate.
At 17 miles I swapped the stern for a hair wrap and blow dry while Nick soldiered on to a soggy total of 19. Yuck.
The day began rural and quiet then became busier, verging on slightly crazy at some points as time went on. Disturbing a good few Sunday fishermen we moved through rolling hills and fields of golden corn before disappearing into Nuneaton where quaint bridges were replaced with bold concrete expanses, views cut short by houses and factories.
Marston Junction heaved under the pressure of boats turning onto, and out of the Ashby canal. With one boater seemingly unable to find reverse we watched a stand-off unfold as more and more boats arrived producing an ever increasing audience.
On towards Hawkesbury Junction before stopping for a water fill – which took forever due to our ongoing washathon. Turning under the grand iron bridge we worked the stop lock with hire boaters who were absolutely horrified to hear their next manoeuvre was a 180 degree turn, under the bridge, in front of a busy pub of bank holiday drinkers.
Leaving the Coventry canal behind we began the Oxford, which instantly felt deeper and less manic. Moored outside the Rose and Castle tonight, the swings and slide look so empty and forgotten without the Milky Bar Kids running riot…oh my…could we be missing you??
Last time having taken one look at the barbed wire and smashed windows we passed straight through Atherstone like willocks. This time, in need of food we headed on in and found a rare high street packed full of independents. There’s probably not much you couldn’t pick up there – other than a bottle of International Polwax. The town is famous for its Shrove Tuesday ball game dating back to the reign of Kong John. With only one rule – not to kill anyone; once shops are boarded up, the match starts at 3pm when a ball is thrown from Barclay’s Bank, there are no teams and no goals, the ball is decorated with red, white and blue ribbons which can be exchanged for money by anyone lucky enough to grab one.
After a hefty food haul, we moved off making a handy space for Gloria who we first knew as the lady whose left over electric credits we shamelessly drained at Aston Marina whilst still avoiding the moving aspect of narrowboating. We’ve met on several occasions since (always with a tinge of guilt about that electric) and are travelling a similar route for a while.
Moored out on our own last night, it was a bit odd this morning to hear clanking piling, then look out to see someone tugging their engineless boat round the corner and mooring nose to nose with us. Two ropes, we were away…
A couple of miles on we set up in sunshine so the solar panel could do its thing. The weather was hardly August but at least it was dry for most of the day so the boat got a bit of upkeep – the hatch turns drippy when condensation sets in so in a bid to divert the water elsewhere a giant can of expandable foam got shot into the cavity…how exciting it will be to see water appear from another place instead.
With Watling Street running nearby, home for tonight is reckoned by some to be the site of Boudicca’s last battle (google SFR), although quite a few other places seem to claim that fame too.
The Eberspacher has been playing up again – nothing new there but it did mean each morning came with a choice between a cold shower or travelling a while until the engine warmed the tank. This morning was beyond chilly for August so we set off and ducked in for showers along the way. Chimneys were smoking, boaters out chopping kindling and everyone hidden beneath layers of clothes, most passing conversations involved the temperature with some unthinkable suggestions of an early winter. No way.
Fazeley has been transformed since our last trip through with the old wharf now converted into housing. A bit of a back log tailed from Glascote Locks, where we muddled through with an interesting bunch, finally emerging from the top of surprisingly only two locks feeling quite bamboozled, wondering if we’d slipped into a parallel world for a short while. The remainder of the day was mainly a splattering of residential, a little countryside and a colourful flash of historic working boats waiting for theAlvecote rally to get underway.
Finally tied up it was a relief to find the fire going well and a lovely warm boat, which got Nick thinking time had arrived for the Eberspacher’s most drastic cut and shut to date…plenty of drilling and rebuilding later the unit was back in place and making its usual unsettling fire up sound – hey presto, a full cycle later the radiators were piping hot. Diagnostics reported a faulty overheat sensor, it seems there’s no end to the Eberspacher’s capability of going wrong. Meanwhile I waxed the boat in readiness for winter?