Monthly Archives: October 2017

Posh Nosh in Priors Hardwick

The season’s drawing to an end, and leaving Braunston on the Friday morning, it was definitely autumnal. We didn’t go far, and ended up just a few miles down the water, on that bit of canal which is technically part of the Grand Union, but also the bit that joins the North and South bits of the Oxford Canal. It was pretty quiet, and with pretty views.


We were rather intrigued with this wide-beam shell tied up in the middle of nowhere. With no obvious vehicle access, it appeared to be a sail-away shell that was being fitted out, but rather abandoned. Ah well, who knows what the story was/is.

Saturday morning, we turned onto the South Oxford, and eschewing the delights of The Folly Inn and/or Napton Post Office coffee and croissants carried straight on up the Napton flight of nine locks onto the summit, and moored in the middle of nowhere.

Or nearly the middle of nowhere.

From Bridge 124 you can cross the canal and walk across the fields on a farm track for just over a mile to The Butchers Arms at Priors Hardwick. It’s not really a pub, it’s more a seriously good restaurant, and we’d been vaguely promising ourselves a visit for some years. Maybe it was the trek across the fields sharpening the appetite, but we had the best meal we’d had for a seriously long time. (And, it has to be said, one of the biggest bills too). Well worth the dark country walk – an evening to remember. We may have to return when the bank balance recovers!

A Braunston Peregrine Hunt and a Daytrip to Daventry

It was a pleasant late afternoon when we’d moored up in Braunston, so we went on a wander to see if any peregrine falcons were lurking around: we couldn’t see any on their usual church spire roost.


By the lock, the rowan looked splendid, but we weren’t sure what the grapes were doing there. Perhaps they were a lure for the peregrines, but we thought it unlikely. Then out of the blue, a peregrine whizzed past, did some aerobatics then whizzed off after a wood piegon. Perhaps they do like grapes for dessert…


This chap was spending absolutely ages taking a photo: I think he was playing with Neutral Density filters and very long exposures, so here’s one of ours that took rather less time.

Braunston LockBraunston Lock

Wandering back along the main street, we yet again failed to work out what this addition to a cottage was all about.


And, by the time we made it to the church, our friends were again in residence on the steeple.

Braunston Peregrines

We thought everyone in Braunston loved their peregrines, but it would seem not. The lady walking her dog in the churchyard was thoroughly fed up with them: she really didn’t like wading through well-stripped avian carcasses amongst the gravestones.

Ah well – time for a Guinness, and a well-timed discussion with the bar’s resident boat engineer on the likely life time of boat domestic battery systems: we suspect Song & Dance may need an upgrade soon…

And, although Braunston has a reasonable store and a good butcher, for a change we did the OAP bit on Thursday, and got a free bus ride into Daventry so the quartermaster could assuage her by now desperate Waitrose withdrawal symptoms. We’ll soon be home for the winter, and the addiction will be much less of a problem.

Buckby Can or Cannot

Leaving the newly-weds to their own devices, we headed back up the Grand Union, stopping again at Weedon. This time up the far end near the station, where there is a useable pub for dinner, and more importantly in the circumstances, a Tesco Extra. Both proved useful.

Then it was back up the Buckby flight – or nearly. We’d spotted some pleasant mooring spots between the top lock and the next on the way down, so aimed for there. They were right by the towpath shop that sells those brightly painted watering cans (called Buckby Cans). The shop had just closed for the night, so we wandered up to The New Inn at the top lock for sustenance (where the cans originated many years ago).

Autumn ColoursTug

On the way up we passed some nice houses and gardens; autumn colours were definitely starting to show through.

New BridgeFrom New Bridge

Rather puzzled by the New Bridge – it looked pretty old to us – perhaps it was named after the pub.

Signal GardensDSCF6132

We were equally puzzled by this house, which had railway signals and large statues of animals overlooking the cut. Oh well, it takes all sorts.

With a Buckby Can already in the saloon, we eschewed any more, and setting off on the Wednesday morning we stayed on the Grand Union Canal at Norton Junction, and made our way through Braunston Tunnel, then down the Braunston Locks to tie up right in the middle by early afternoon in pleasant sunshine. Just time for a peregrine hunt, and maybe a beer…


After the cat show, we didn’t really feel like heading immediately home, so rather than wind at Bugbrooke we decided to head off in rather pleasant weather down to Gayton Junction (where the Northampton Arm heads off), where we could (a) wind the boat and (b) take on some water. Approaching the Junction, it was clear we were entering prime wide-beam territory, and with them moored both sides finding a path through was a challenge…

Wide Beams

Just about managed to catch a piccy of the splendidly named narrowboat QWERTY, with Caps Lock as its home base. (Strange that that lock isn’t in the Canal Planner Database).

QwertyBail Faster! 

We were rather taken with the little run-around spotted in a Bugbrooke back garden too as we cruised back through in the opposite direction. Click on the photo if you can’t read the name…

A few miles further on past Bugbrooke we’d reached a pleasant spot we’d earmarked a few days before as a good mooring for the return trip. There was a narrowboat already there, but enough room for two. As we drew close there was a sign hanging from the tiller that said “just Married”, so we carried on a bit further, just in case they got too energetic and started rocking their boat enough to cause waves…

A Russian Interlude

The reason for getting to Bugbrooke at this particular time was to go to the annual Russian Blue Breeders’ Association cat show, as we were suffering grey cat withdrawal symptoms. We had in the past showed Biggles (who did rather well) but hadn’t been for a few years. First, a recce.

Moored at Bugbrooke wharf, immediately opposite a pub called – wait for it – The Wharf, we wandered in at about 16:30 to check it out. We know it was Friday afternoon, but It was mobbed. Also just opposite Song & Dance was a large advert for a pub in town that had come highly recommended; their Farcebook page had an urgent advert for kitchen staff dated September 5th. And a post on September 12th saying they’d shut until further notice. Apparently the “third” pub in Bugbrooke had also closed for the time being. No wonder The Wharf was mobbed.

Our reconnoitre showed Bugbrooke to be a reasonable sized village, with a Cricket Club, a Football Club,  and a decent sized modern Community Centre, yet only one (out of town) pub, a tiny convenience store, and a pet shop. Rather odd. So dinner at The Wharf it was.

Saturday lunchtime saw us walking across the fields to the Community Centre in pleasant sunshine. It was nice to meet up again with some old acquaintances, and confirm that if we ever decide to recruit another Captain for us to serve, it would be a Russian Blue. Mind you, the chief cook was also very taken with a Chartreuse cat – a new breed to the UK – and similar in many ways to Russians. There may be trouble ahead.

As the show closed, and facing a longish walk back to the boat, you can guess what we won in the raffle… a large and heavy bag of cat litter. Mutter mutter.

Aberrant Apostrophes and Normandy Connections

Yesterday, we’d been faced with either just working Watford Locks, and leaving a lot to do on the Friday, or carrying on down Buckby locks and leaving us very little to do (after the second lock it’s not feasible to stop halfway down). Opting for the latter, we had loads of time to get to Bugbrooke by close of play, and were soon tied up above the church at Weedon Bec, which is tightly sandwiched between the canal and the West Coast mainline, both of which loom over the churchyard on high embankments.

Weedon Bec

The “Bec” is customarily silent, as in Tooting; both place names derive from a mediaeval abbey in Normandy that owned lots of land around both areas.

There are two ends of town; the old part is lovely, with warm sandstone and brick houses and occasional thatch, albeit with a distressing surfeit of aberrant apostrophes.

Weedon BecWeedon Bec

Weedon BecWeedon Bec

The other end, where the soon-to-be-rerouted A45 will shortly become the Weedon and Flores Bypass, is rather different. There’s a major road junction with the A5 surrounded by antique shops, pubs, restaurants and a Tesco. Between the two lies a boatyard, and the remains of a short arm into a one-time Royal Ordnance Depot with an interesting history. It was supposedly going to be a secret bolt-hole for the royal family if Napoleon crossed the channel.

Royal Ordnance Depot, WeedonRoyal Ordnance Depot, Weedon

The last time we were here, you couldn’t go into the depot, but they’re gradually turning it into a destination for the general public. Unfortunately the short arm connecting the basin to the canal has now had a shiny new housing estate built over it. However, with a huge second-hand bookshop equipped with comfy sofas and a café, it was definitely time to tarry.

Belatedly we set off again, down a pleasant if railway-noisy chunk of the Grand Union, and reached our destination of Bugbrooke by about 16:00 on Friday afternoon: right on time! Time to explore…

No Slap On The Head, and More Hedge Cutting

Thursday morning, and we were a little behind on our plan to get to Bugbrooke by Friday evening, so we quickly headed off to the top of the Watford Locks flight (a lock, a 4 chamber staircase, then two more locks) to find someone ahead of us just starting to head down. We thought we were in luck,  but the lock-keeper had other ideas – he had a single-hander at the bottom who had been waiting a while, and was going to help him up the flight before allowing us down.

We’d waited here before! In better weather, it must be said. And if you want some pictures, there are doubtless some from September 2015 somewhere, but dinner’s just been served.

About 45 minutes later we got the metaphorical green light from the lock-keeper, and we headed on down. The paddle mantra here is slightly different from that at Foxton – “Red before White, you’ll be alright; White before Red, smack on the head”. We made it down without getting a headache.

Joining up with the Grand Union Main Line at Norton Junction, we decided we’d better bite the bullet and carry on down the Buckby flight of locks too. We’re back in wide beam territory, the seven locks are hard work, quite a few were against us, and we were glad to get down to the bottom.

The only problem is that the M1, the canal, the West Coast Mainline and the A5/Watling Street all run together within the width of couple of hundred yards. Tying up by Bridge 18, the M1 is almost next door, but the road works, a shiny road new surface and a thick hedgerow meant traffic noise was surprisingly low. The trains were another thing altogether but tail off overnight. No sooner had we packed up for the day than a farmer came to cut his hedge: really must be the season for it!

Anyway, after working 14 locks, we slept well despite Virgin Trains’ best efforts.

Ships That Pass In The Light, and A Sign of the Times

Back at the boat, after a less exciting lunch than we’d been hoping for, we raised two fingers to closed butchers, and headed off. We had an appointment with some some Russian Blue cats on Saturday, and didn’t want to be late.

Not far down the cut, we called in at Crick Marina (owned by the same people who run Song & Dance’s winter home at Cropredy) for fuel and a pump out. Manoeuvring a narrowboat in unsheltered confined spaces in a strong wind is always interesting…

The only time we’d been there before was by car, to the huge annual waterways festival held there every year. It looks very different then.

We’d planned on finding somewhere near the top of Watford Locks for the night, which meant passing through Crick Tunnel, then trying to locate somewhere reasonably quiet. A boat had just emerged, and left it’s headlight on, and just as we were about to tell them, realised it was our friends Ian and Janet from Guildford Folk Club and Yately Morris on their boat Tuesday Night. They used to moor in Cropredy too, but last year, at the Crick Boat Show, won a free year’s mooring somewhere else (near Napton Junction, we think). If we’d been three minutes earlier, we’d have passed in the dark of the tunnel, and never known it was them. Guess we’ll see them in Guildford in due course to catch up.

On this section of the Grand Union (the “Watford Gap” area), the M1 motorway, the canal, Mr Branson’s finest express trains and Watling Street (the A5) all converge through the same gap in the hills. Finding somewhere reasonably quiet for the night can be a challenge, but having been this way before, we knew a likely spot, and luckily had the place to ourselves.

Should you have wanted to, you used to be able to access the infamous Watford Gap Services from the towpath, but alas no more. The angle of the barbed wire at the top of the high security fencing that now surrounds it is clearly set up to prevent anyone getting out of the services onto the towpath (as opposed to the other way round). Rumour has it that as a favourite “first stop” after Dover for lorries heading north, it’s a prime spot for illegal immigrants to jump ship (or lorry, as it were) and head off into the hinterland. So us boaters have to forego our Big Mac, Costa Coffee and Krispy Kreme Donuts…

What a hardship.

A Horrible Sense of Deja Vu

One of the reasons we were pretty much dawdling along the Leicester Section summit pound was that we rather fancied giving the highly regarded Butcher and Italian Deli a second chance. Having discovered the place two years ago on the way to Foxton Locks, an attempt to revisit on the return leg failed miserably because their approach to opening hours was somewhat disappointing.

With a shiny new web site, and rave reviews, they were now due to open at 12:00 on Wednesday morning after their weekend closure. And so, leaving our freshly cut hedge behind, we soon tied up near Yelvertoft, and commenced the trek down the hill to stock up on delicious cheeses and prosciutto and sausages and stuff, arriving at 12:05… only to find that yet again the place was shut. There was a sign on the door saying “doing local deliveries – back at 1pm”, but with the pub shut, weather iffy and nowhere to wait etc. we were disinclined to get arrested for loitering.

Phoning the the mobile number in the window elicited the information that actually he was – again – getting his van fixed, and would be back if and when the garage got around to putting a new tyre on. Apparently the local area  is renowned for being one of the “worst areas in the country for potholes”. We were not amused. And wondered why he didn’t get his van fixed when his emporium is supposed to be shut.

A shame TripAdvisor doesn’t include such establishments.

A Welford Diversion and A Crepuscular Display

Pottering on gently into October, the weather was a bit unpleasant, with wind and rain setting in, so we ended up not travelling very far, and mooring up at North Kilworth.

North Kilworth Narrows

Last time we were here, they were just starting to dig a new marina opposite all the moored boats between us and the bridge. They’ve still not finished, but – apart from a huge warehouse like building – it looks about ready to fill with water. It’s apparently owned by the Debdale marina people; they’ve used the same long thin metal pontoons, and it will be an even bigger boat park  by the looks of it.. Goodness knows where all the boats are going to come from, and we shudder to think what might happen if they all tried to go boating at the same time!

Welford Wharf

The weather continued vaguely unpleasant on the Monday. We diverted up the Welford Arm, which was deserted compared to the last time we were here. The weather probably had a lot to do with it. Tied up right at the end, and only 20 yards from The Wharf Inn, after a brief trip across the border into Northamptonshire to buy milk, and to renew our acquaintance with Postman Pat, we retired for lunch.

Owl CountryOwl Country

Back on the main line, we tied up for the night next to this large rough pasture field. It might not look much, but as it got dark, we had splendid flying display from a large barn owl hunting for supper. Seemingly unaware – or at least unfazed – by our presence the other side of the see-through hedgerow, we had some superb close up views of it aerobatically quartering the area, and once diving into the grass (albeit returning without any small furry rodent in it’s clutches).

Another short cruise in the morning and we moored up in pleasant farmland.

TreeLeicester Section Summit Pound

While having lunch aboard, there was a very odd noise, and that turned out to be a hedge-cutting tractor; clearly dangling the cutter over the top, the farmer had given the towpath side a pretty good haircut too. The tree was a bit of a puzzle too.


Despite the mediocre weather, having worked no locks today, we headed off on a circular walk to get some much needed exercise. We passed several herds of cows, all of which wandered over to investigate – they must be very bored. The hedge-cutter seemed to be following us too – must be that time of year.