Category Archives: Boats and Boating

The A to Z Canal (or not), Ostrich Burgers and Baileys

Having more or less accidentally turned onto the Ashby Canal, one is immediately struck by how different it is to the rather built and industrial Coventry Canal. Built to carry coal from the Ashby Coal Fields to the wider world, it never actually reached Ashby de la Zouch. Ah well. But it winds its way through delightfully rural Leicestershire rarely coming close to “civilisation”, without locks or lift bridges to disturb the peace. Even the nearby railway is the Battlefield Line which only has traffic at weekends, high days and holidays. Never far from Bosworth Field, the weather was so sunny (if occasionally a little chilly) that we got so blissed out for a couple of days that photographs were forgotten.

We realized it was almost exactly a decade since we’d last travelled this route, with additional crew Emma, Jake  & Louis. So here’s  a few pictures from then – looks like it might have been chilly…

The Crew - 2008Ashby Canal 2008

We rather like Market Bosworth: it’s a pretty village with most of the shops you could want. The only snag is that it’s a mile or more from the canal up quite a steep hill; at least one’s carrying the shopping downhill.

Market BosworthMarket Bosworth

Market BosworthBattlefield Line - Market Bosworth

On the way, you pass this rather unusual cottage and garden, and if you pick the right day, a nice old saddle tank engine.

Cousin JackAshby Canal - End of the Road

Back in the present, this chap’s clearly a Show of Hands or Steve Knightley fan.

Snarestone Service PointSnarestone Service Point

Tuesday morning we reached the end. The useable canal used to finish at Snarestone, where the local enthusiasts maintain a base. Nowadays you can boat another half mile or so, but unless you’re a good bit shorter than Song & Dance you than have to reverse all the way back. Too hard! Anyway it looks a little different from how we remember it a decade ago. That said, our principle memory was of a permanently moored narrowboat occupied by a couple and three huge German Shepherd dogs. Since then we’ve seen a few other similar households where multiple huge dogs would seem to take up more room than exists in a narrowboat. The boats must have Tardis technology.

Turning round, we went back a little way through Snarestone Tunnel (the village is built on top of the canal), and had a surprisingly excellent lunch at The Globe Inn: it’s the first time we’ve seen Ostrich Burgers on the menu. One had to try one.

Motte & Bailey

Later that afternoon, the cook was staring at the map and said “What’s a Motte-and-Bailey look like?”. Like that…

The Great Coventry Canal Bridge Numbering Scandal

One of the best ways of knowing roughly where on a canal you are is to keep track of the  bridges you pass under. On nearly all the canals, the bridges are numbered. There are a few exceptions: on some waterways, and on rivers, they’re named instead (or have both a name and a number). But on canals it usually numbers .

The numbers refer to the bridges built at the time of the canal, and increase or decrease as you trundle along. Occasionally a bridge will have been demolished, leaving a gap in the numbers (although you can often see where they were because the canal narrows there). Nevertheless, knowing where you are – bridge wise – can be important, and it means other people can easily find you in an emergency, as we found out last year.

Of course, some more bridges will have been built since the canal was constructed. And the rule is that you take the bridge number below your shiny new one, and add a letter. So Bridge 15A will always be between Bridge 15 and Bridge 16 – it might be right next to Bridge 16 when Bridge 15 is miles away, but that’s how it works.

So, imagine our horror as we came out of Coventry Basin on a bright sunny Sunday morning, finding Bridge 5 nestling between Bridge 5A and Bridge 5B. You really can’t rely on anything these days: heads should roll!

Anyway, we recovered enough to retrace our steps back to Sutton Stop, and carrying on were soon at Marston Junction on the outskirts of Nuneaton, where the Ashby Canal turns off North. We were so discombobulated by the morning’s shocking discovery that we decided a few days rural recovery was needed, and on the spur of the moment turned Right onto the Ashby Canal. Well, it was a beautifully sunny Sunday lunchtime…

Sutton Stop, Coventry Go

The North Oxford Canal is not our favourite, partly because it’s less scenic than many, often enclosed by trees, and mooring can be a problem – there are loads of large boulders just below water level along the banks, and tying up anywhere without pilings can be a problem. It’s not without interest though.

It used to be a wiggly contour canal like the South Oxford (the summit of which goes to ridiculous ends). But to speed things up subsequently, embankments and cuttings were built to make short  cuts across quite a few of the lengthy loops. The towpath crossed the resultant redundant loops on some impressive iron bridges (bought as a job-lot by the look of it), and the loops themselves either died, became mooring arms or turned into marinas.

North Oxford CanalNorth Oxford CanalNorth Oxford Canal

These pictures were actually taken on our race North at the same time last year.

We’ve moored just here, on the way South one year: quite a nice spot.

North Oxford Canal

Eventually, after winding in and out of Ansty and the surrounding motorway junctions and omnipresent electricity pylons, one reaches the meeting of the Oxford Canal with the Coventry Canal at Hawkesbury Junction, also know as Sutton Stop. And indeed there is a stop lock between the two canals with a drop of about six inches maximum. This time the Visitor Moorings were crowded but we just about fitted on the end.

Here’s some old pictures of the area: Sutton Stop on a busy, hot and sunny weekend on our first trip south. Somehow they never made it into the Blog first time around.

Hawkesbury Junction Visitor MooringsThe Greyhound, Hawkesbury Junction

Not sure why ponies were wandering around the moorings, but The Greyhound sure was busy.

Hawkesbury Pumping StationHawkesbury Junction

Coming South down the Coventry Canal, just after the Hawkesbury pumping station there’s an interestingly tight turn under the junction  bridge into the stop lock/North Oxford Canal. And on a sunny weekend there are dozens of gongoozlers at the pub to mark your handiwork. Using the bow thruster is regarded as cheating…

Hawkesbury JunctionHawkesbury Junction: Sutton Stop Lock

This time, we were pleased to see the little cat “graffiti” was still there, four years later.

We’d also decided that instead of turning Right at the junction in the morning and heading North, we’d turn Left and follow the 5 miles or so into Coventry Basin, as we’d never been down there before (although SWMBO knows Coventry rather well from a past life over which we will draw a veil).

A Braunston Bimble, a Friendly Trans, and a New Town

Parked on the North Oxford Canal just on the outskirts of Braunston, we needed some groceries, to collect an fRoots package from the Post Office, and some small boat bits from the huge Midland Chandlery, so off we set across the muddy field for a stroll around town.

Braunston - church fieldBraunston Visitor Moorings

North Oxford Canal - BraunstonBraunston

In the Post Office, a tall slim person, we guessed late 60s, dressed smartly in women’s clothes, and without a trace of stubble or Adams apple spoke just like a bloke; having changed a massive £20 into Euros s/he expressed surprise when I said the magic words Poste Restante and said s/he didn’t know that service existed. and asked about it.

The assistant in the shop called him Bryn. We moved across to the community cafe across the road, and shortly after we’d got our coffees, s/he came in and we got chatting. S/he’d been a sea-going engineering person for many years, travelled most of the canal system years ago in a narrowboat, and still worked in the marina for the boat sales company, even though s/he was now over 70. Knew Piper Boats well. Clearly a well known figure around town, s/he was off to France on the bus for the weekend on the annual village exchange visit (hence the Euros), it was equally clear that the totally unfazed locals still referred to Bryn as “him”. Clearly rural England isn’t as hide-bound as one might think…

Returning to Song & Dance via the chandlers, we set off after lunch for the delights of Rugby. Arriving at the top of Hillmorton Locks, we decided to lock down: there are six locks paired up so only three to work, and tied up at the bottom at what used to be a pleasant mooring “out in the sticks”. Apparently Hillmorton locks are the busiest on the system. It was quiet when we passed through, although we did spot nb Rebellion who we’d helped out last year as we leapfrogged each other down the River Soar and past Leicester.

These green fields now seemed pretty well churned up, and diggers and stuff were beavering away. We discovered the next morning that the whole area that used to comprise the VLF Rugby Radio Station (for submarines and self-setting clocks) was being turned into a new town: hundreds of houses, two primary schools, a secondary school, yadda, yadda. And doubtless no improvements to the local transport infrastructure. Not quite true: there were rumours of a Rugby Parkway railway station. Wonder what we’ll find next time we pass.

Three Canals, a Wetting, and a Peregrine Fly Past

Wednesday morning saw a trip to the Post Office for croissants and coffee (first lunch or second breakfast – a quandary) and a chance catch-up with the crew of nb Valentine with whom we had been playing leapfrog from Oxford, and who had also battened down at the top of Claydon due to the (slightly position ally challenged) weather forecast for Monday.

The current weather seemed OK if unremarkable and a bit cold, so we pushed on (or off!). A chance of a shower, apparently. Foolishly looking at the clearing sky, and having decided not to tog up in waterproofs, your helmsman got absolutely soaked when a vicious rain and hail shower suddenly bubbled up out of nowhere…

Just after the rain stopped, we had a fly past from a low-flying peregrine falcon. We don’t know if they’re still resident on Braunston church steeple – if so, it was probably one of those –  we weren’t that far away.

Later that afternoon we tied up just outside Braunston, at a pretty spot looking across the ridge and furrows up to the church – we’d moored here before, but were surprised to find little room: just enough for us. Still, we had managed the transit from the South Oxford Canal via a stretch of the Grand Union to the North Oxford Canal. Three different canals in a day – can’t be bad.


No sign of any peregrines here this evening though, but we’ll find out more tomorrow.

Across the Summit Again

It rained a lot on Sunday night / Monday morning, but not enough to get terribly excited about. Expecting to stay put given the Met Office Yellow Alert, when we surfaced we found that the rain had stopped, and the wind blustery but not overly remarkable. Looking at the latest info, it was clear that the really bad stuff had missed us by about 50 miles to the East. Looked a bit grim back home though!

So, dry, but with overcast skies and fair old wind, we decided to set off, if only as far as The Wharf Inn at Fenny Compton to grab a pint of milk. As it happened, it wasn’t too bad boating, so we carried on, eventually mooring up near the radio mast that keeps appearing from different directions, and on Tuesday, in sunshine and warmer air we carried on the familiar route down Napton Locks to moor up right outside The Folly Inn. A May Day Steak DInner called!

As always seems to be the case crossing the summit, we saw something interesting flying (fairly) low level. This time it was a Douglas DC3 (Dakota). We’ve seen one around the Oxford Canal before: wonder if there’s one based at Kidlington or Coventry.

We’ve done this stretch quite a few times now, and there’s more blurb and some pictures from our 2016 trip here.

Cold as Claydon: The Unquiet Canal

We were itching to be off on our journey North, but Sunday dawned a bit dour and chilly. But the forecast for Monday was awful – torrential rain, gale force winds and cold to boot. So to put a peg in the ground so to speak, after filling Song & Dance with fuel and water, and unfilling the unmentionable tank, we noted the mileage on our car (which we were leaving behind) and said our good-byes to the chaps at Cropredy.

The wind wasn’t as bad as the previous time we’d left (gosh – was that really nearly a fortnight ago) and we exited the marina without heeling over or any undue drama. There was a fair bit of boat traffic about, and we stopped for lunch after three locks, before tackling the five in the Claydon flight climbing up to the summit pound.

By the time we reached Claydon Top Lock it was windy, and absolutely freezing: 20 degrees colder than the same time a week ago. The weather’s gone crazy.

We’d noticed a few swallows had arriving a few days ago, but the ones at Claydon Top Lock really looked as though they wished they hadn’t. Quite a few just perched the edge of the lock looking miserable, barely bothering to get out of our way; a few made desultory flits over the water but there was nary an insect in sight. Hope they make it through the next few days. Strangely, we haven’t seen any Martins yet – just swallows.

Turned out several other boats had made it to the top before tucking up for the night; none of us expected to move on the Monday and we all battened down the hatches. Last time we spent the night near here (a couple of years ago) it snowed.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Oxford Canal

The plan (ha!) was to get back to Cropredy Marina for the weekend, where we could use the car to do a major supermarket and sheds shopping exercise while thrashing the washing machine, leaving us all set to start North. This meant we had a decent distance to go from Thrupp, so we were going to pretty much just reverse our trip down, rather than pootle along slowly like we usually do. Consequently we ended up mooring up just above Upper Heyford – by Double Bridge this time. It was noticeable that the warm weekend had dramatically brought on the rape fields dramatically: going down they were green just starting to yellow; coming back up they were fully in their rather acid yellow “glory”. Prefer green grass, I must say (and not just because you really don’t want to try a forced landing in a rape field, however smooth it looks). And when the sky’s glowerin…

Weather Closing In 

Thursday we were aiming for Banbury, so without much ado, we passed through Aynho Weir Lock onto the Cherwell, and under Nell Bridge into Nell Bridge Lock, back up onto the canal. Whereupon we picked up a hitchhiker. Didn’t even ask or stick a thumb out!

We’d had the odd duck on the roof while moored up, and sometimes heard webbed footsteps padding around at night. But we were surprised when a pied wagtail landed on the roof while we were underway leaving the lock. He stayed for a couple of minutes, flitting off the side now and then to try and catch an insect before reversing in mid air back to the boat. Our ghast was well and truly flabbered. As we approached the Pig Place he left us, presumably knowing that we were going in search of items of a porcine variety. They were decorating the mobile kitchen, so no bacon sarnies though. Mutter mutter.

After lunch, after going under the M40 and locking up through Kings Sutton Lock, another pied wagtail (or maybe the same one, but we’d come some way) alighted on the roof. Spent several minutes exploring the roof, coming right back near us, with occasional flits off the side for a few feet before returning. Stayed with us for over half a mile – quite amazing.

And then, sometime later, we saw a house sparrow on the gunwale, doing the same trick. He didn’t stay long, but something is clearly going on. Don’t have a avian hitchhiker for years, then three in a day? I blame the Tory government. Or global warming.

Coming into Banbury, as we had speculated on the way down, the diggers had already moved into the nice but now fenced fields, and had already dug up a huge amounts of earth. Ah well, that’s progress.

In the spirit of reversing the trip down – we moored up in exactly the same point in the middle of Banbury. Only pointing the other way…

What a Difference a Day Makes

The nip in the air coming home from last night’s gig wasn’t a figment of our imagination. Monday was overcast and cold, in complete contrast to the weekend. Sue left for the station short order, as she had to get back to Southampton, wash her morris uniform, and get back out again to dance in Odiham in the evening. Some people have it bad!

We soon set off too, as we had an appointment in Thrupp on Tuesday morning with Mark Paris, a Boat Safety Scheme Surveyor. Yup. Song & Dance is nearly 4 years old!

The winding hole on the Oxford Canal proper is eight feet too small for Song & Dance. So, locking down onto Castle Mill Stream/The Thames (technically needing an Environmental Agency licence – oops) we quickly locked back up again before anyone noticed. Then, pausing only for a croissant and coffee at the excellent Hayfield Deli right on the canal, before averting our eyes from the Agenda 21 dwellings, we soon escaped Oxford, noticed that the red board at Dukes Cut Junction had gone, and were soon passing Mark’s boat in Thrupp before finding a mooring right outside The Boat Inn. How convenient!

The Boat Inn, Thrupp

Anyway, it was so cold and miserable, we decided that we’d better eat there – not a hardship. And later we saw Mark playing cribbage in the bar, so kept our fingers crossed that he won, and would be in a good mood.

Shortly after we’d arrived, Joss turned up. We’d spent a week or more crossing paths with them and their mates in Corniche back in September while coming down the River Soar and Leicester section of the Grand Union. Last week, we’d passed them moored in Banbury on the way down to Oxford: this year they were heading to the Kennet and Avon, but all the Thames red boards and a poorly dog had caused them to delay for several days in Banbury while we hit the fleshpots of Oxford. With dog and river sorted, they’d obviously decided to move on now, as they came into Thrupp shortly after us. More catching up to do!

The next morning Mark arrived, spent an hour or so prodding and poking around the boat and testing the gas and stuff before pronouncing himself satisfied. A couple of very minor issues that need addressing but that’s us all legal for another 4 years. We celebrated by going for a walk in the Thrupp Community Woodlands by the Cherwell in the cold and rain before retiring for tea and cakes at Annie’s Tea Room before a cosy evening “at home” on Song & Dance.

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!