Category Archives: Wildlife

Yes, We Have No Peewits

Realising as we left Cropredy that the timetable for reaching Oxford was the same as last year (i.e. somewhat limited if we were leaving on the Tuesday and wanted to be in Oxford by Friday lunchtime) we decided that we’d have to get to Banbury before packing up.

Not far from Cropredy is an establishment called Peewit Farm  – it’s a pleasant stretch of the canal where we’ve moored on several occasions, although rather blustery on this occasion. And as always, we’ve never seen a Lapwing near there, even though we’d seen several in the rather wet field adjoining Cropredy Marina this year.

But every time we’ve been past the farm, we’ve heard or seen Curlews, which is odd, as we don’t really think of them as Oxfordshire birds and they’re sadly on the Red List. Seems the RSPB has being trying to change that, and maybe Peewit Farm is due for a change of name. Anyway, yet again we were treated to a Curlew flypast, so far keeping up the perfect score…

With this stretch of the Oxford Canal becoming rather familiar over the years, we didn’t hang around, and hurried into Banbury, eschewing the fresh bread smells of the moorings by Spiceball Park and planting ourselves right in the middle of the Castle Quay shopping centre, ready for a quick shopping expedition before heading off long-haul tomorrow.

Cold, tired and windswept, dinner at Pizza Calzone beckoned… and this time, NO starters. (The portions are – sufficient, shall we say – and last time we ate there, we made the mistake of each having a starter. It’s the only time we can remember needing TWO doggie bags).

This boating is hard work when you’re not used to it!

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.

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.

Farm Shops and Laundry, Red Kites and a Sparrow Hawk

Monday morning dawned bright and pleasant after a pretty wet and windy night, and although past the impending closure, we still had a “mountain” to climb (i.e. lots of locks) to Foxton & Market Harborough. The Quartermaster also needed to stock up on some provisions, so the plan was to carry on up another seven locks (quite enough broad locks in a day) and visit a well regarded farm shop. But first we needed some water, so we moved just across the canal to fill up.

Just as we were leaving Kilby Bridge, we noticed another boat Labyrinth looked as though they were getting ready to depart; they said they were almost ready, so we said we’d wait at the next lock for them. (It really is much easier with two crews). They were originally only going to go up three locks, but as we pootled on they obviously found Song & Dance as amenable a locking companion as we did them, and they decided they would stay with us up to Wistow. A pleasant – if busy – cruise.

No longer a problem for us, the overnight rain had put the Soar on red boards/flood alert, which was clearly going to be a problem for the several boats heading downhill trying to get to Leicester before the Wednesday afternoon deadline. Let’s hope the river went down as quickly as it went up!

We were somewhat surprised to see three Red Kites passing over- didn’t know they were in Leicestershire, but apparently they are. Finding a nice mooring spot relatively close to the Rural Centre cum Farm Shop, we headed off over the fields. The various shopping emporia and garden centre were all open, and full of all those things you never knew you didn’t need, apart from the delicatessen, which was closed due to someone having a hospital appointment. Ah well. At least the café was open, and we walked back across some different fields, a nice circular walk.

Labyrinth had moored just behind us, and on establishing that they kept similar “gentleman’s” hours to us and were going nearly as far as us, we agreed to set off uphill together again on the Tuesday morning.

During breakfast we were treated to a fine view of a sparrow hawk sitting on a fence post just across the canal; unfortunately Labyrinth’s crew missed it.

And so we put another five locks under our belt before waving them goodbye: we tied up and walked across the fields to Fleckney for milk and other supplies. Although full of cows, you could still see the remains of the mediaeval Ridge and Furrow cultivation system. After lunch we navigated through Saddington Tunnel, waved to Labyrinth who were tucked up for the day just the other side, and made our way a little further to Debdale Wharf Marina. We’d arranged an overnight stay to catch up on some more laundry – it’s never ending!

Debdale Wharf MarinaDebdale Wharf Marina

We didn’t altogether take to Debdale Marina: the boats are packed in on long, thin, metal pontoons. It certainly maximises the number of boats per square inch, but getting your boat in and out of mooring at the far end is a serious challenge. Good job we’re not claustrophobic.

Debdale Wharf Marina

Still, the Chief Otter Spotter did manage to add one to her tally.

Sloe, Sloe, Hip, Hip, Sloe?

After the exertions of yesterday, we decided a lazy Sunday in the sun seemed in order.

The unusually coloured boat behind us was called Rebellion  – we’d seen them moored up at Leicester; yesterday the chap had asked if we had a spare 25 amp fuse – his macerator loo had blown a fuse and he didn’t have a spare. They’re standard car-type blade fuses, not difficult to source from a garage or Halfords, but the chances of finding one late on a Saturday in rural Leicestershire were unlikely. Expressing surprise, as we have a similar loo (same make, description etc.) that has a 15 amp fuse he said his data sheet definitely said 25 amps. Anyway, we had offered him one of our spare 15 amp fuses to try… and this morning he knocked on the hatch clutching a fancy bottle of beer and said “so far so good”.

Given the impending canal closure, we were expecting some boats to head up from Leicester, and so it proved. After lunch we wandered down the towpath to Kilby Lock No 30 (the end/start of the impending stoppage, depending on your point of view).

First up was Green Matters plus a CaRT chap on foot. Green Matters was single-handing – always a challenge, particularly with broad locks – and had gone horribly aground in the by now infamously dodgy and insufficiently watered pound near lock 37. CaRT had come out to rescue him and run some water down, and one chap had stayed with him helping him all the way up to Kilby Bridge (and at the same time helping boats behind).

Kilby LockKilby Lock

Next up were our new friends on Joss and  Corniche. Fortunately there was room for everyone to moor near the pub.


Carrying on our afternoon stroll back down the canal, it was clear (as it was elsewhere) that the Rose Hips had done extremely well this year, but the Sloes and Blackberries seemed to be significantly less prevalent than we remembered from this time last year. However, we came across several small trees/large shrubs that we didn’t recognise, with what appeared to be pink bell like flowers. Further on it became clear that that they were pink seed pods, enclosing bright orange seeds. On some of them, the leaves were starting to turn a lovely red colour too. Back at the boat, Dr. Google suggested they were probably European Spindle bushes. Even the chief garden visitor learns something every day.


We were rather taken by this pair: makes a change from Rosie & Jim.

Later, sitting on the wharf drinking Joss’s tea and coffee, the Green Matters chap appeared, all spruced up for dinner at the pub. However, his dis was well gruntled as he’d arranged to bring his boat down from Newark to Debdale Wharf Marina near Foxton – they offered a quick bottom blacking service – and he’d planned on taking it back the same way. The impending canal closure and required diversion had added another week or 10 days to this originally fairly quick exercise, and the aggro and costs of arranging care for his aging Mum, and kennelling for his dogs didn’t bear speaking about. Boating isn’t always relaxing!

Birstall Birds

We left Mountsorrel on a rather better day: warm sunshine (and certainly not frosty).

Mountsorrel LockMountsorrel Lock

We often see herons standing on the towpath or flying around, but even though you consciously know they roost and nest in trees, they’re very large birds, and it still seems odd seeing them perched on a branch.


But true to form, this one didn’t hang around once we drew level – off it flapped.

Concerned about arriving in Leicester city centre late in the day, only to find nowhere to moor, we decided to stop at Birstall for the night, giving us a short-ish run into town. Pulling up at the visitor moorings below the lock fairly late (for us), a local boater suggested we add one more lock to our tally of four for the day, and tie up just above. This proved to be a good move: it was quieter up there with a pleasant view, and we were right on the edge of a large gravel pit turned bird reserve. Birstall itself had a decent co-op, and right down on the canal, a rather fine pub and restaurant which did decent Guinness and cider.

Heading back from the shops at lunchtime, we bumped into the crews of Joss and Corniche who’d helped us out at Kegworth, and were clearly following us down the cut.

Deciding to chill out for the rest of the day rather than cruising on, after lunch we dug out the spotting scope and binoculars, and went for wander around the nature reserve. No photos, but as well as the usual suspects, we did see an Egret, some Tufted Ducks, and a couple of male Wigeon still in eclipse plumage,  (which had probably just recently arrived for the winter).

And winter is definitely coming… there are still a few Martins and Swallows around, but very few now. The trees are noticeably starting to turn, and there are more and more leaves in the water.

We don’t understand pubs or publicans any more. There are two establishments close to the canal: one pretty much on it, the other only a hundred yards away. At about seven on this Tuesday evening, one – possibly the one with more CAMRA credibilty – was soulless, not terribly welcoming, and empty apart from one elderly couple eating some not very inviting Fish & Chips. The other was warm, welcoming, humming with drinkers and diners young and old, dog walkers and others, and busy enough that we were lucky to get a table. Makes you wonder how the first establishment stays in business.

Tomorrow – Leicester beckons, but before then, dinner at The White Horse! And very good it was too.

My Bonnie Moorhen

Here’s Miller’s Bridge No 34, where we’d moored up near Loughborough.

Miller's BridgeMiller's Bridge

Pleasant and peaceful enough for an overnight mooring, particularly as there were bollards provided, but otherwise unremarkable.

However, in the rushes on the other side lurked a family of moorhens: mum, dad and a couple of teenagers. Moorhens are normally pretty shy, but in the absence of any ducks, geese and swans this family decided that they really liked the (proper job) duck and swan food that SWMBO had cornered the market in.


So much so that, by the time we were ready to leave, this cheeky chappie was stealing the duck food straight out of my hand, while mum, dad and brother looked on approvingly, if  keeping their distance. Quite liked fingers too.

Swans and cygnets would do it at the drop of a hat, but they’re much more aggressive, their beaks are rather bigger, and we quite like having ten fingers each: it makes playing the guitar marginally easier. But a shy young moorhen? Quite remarkable.


Here’s the two youngsters together.

But we fear we may have created a monster. One rarely sees moorhens flying – they paddle despite not having webbed feet, or walk across the greenery, or run along the towpath. This chap, seeing me doing some washing up, helicoptered straight up the side of the boat and pecked on the window. We’re wondering just what’s in that duck food…

Maybe it was the reincarnation of Bonnie Prince Charlie, or a portent of another Jacobite Rebellion.

Derbyshire Calling

And so, on Tuesday morning we bid our last farewell to the Captain, locked Song & Dance down through Wood End Lock with lumps in our throats, and shortly thereafter turned the 90 degree bend that marks the Southern-most point of the Trent & Mersey Canal before making a mile-long beeline for Fradley Junction.

We managed to transit all the locks at Fradley without drama; for the first time in many years and for the first time in Song & Dance we went straight ahead at the Mucky Duck and stayed on the Trent & Mersey, rather than turning back South on the Coventry Canal. It was busy enough that we didn’t stop to take any (more) photos. We’ve loads from years ago and it hasn’t changed much!

Stopping for lunch at Alrewas – a nice village – we paid the obligatory visit to Coates the Butcher, a renowned emporium. Haven’t been there for far too long! Unfortunately the fridge and freezer were stuffed already, and all we had room for was a few rashers of their splendid bacon.

We carried on through the lovely Alrewas river section before getting to one of our least favourite parts of the Trent & Mersey: there’s a long section past Barton Turns where you are effectively the hard shoulder for the very busy and noisy A38. Pushing on, we finally tied up at Branston Water Park 20 minutes after the skies opened. A long day for us – 9.1 miles and 12 locks. Wet and knackered!

Branston Water ParkBranston Water Park

The weather in the morning was much better, so we went for a walk around the Branston Water Park lake before setting off. Didn’t see anything terribly noteworthy, not even a pickle jar, but it was a pleasant stroll.

Branston Water Park

This convolvulus looked kind of lonely…

Branston Water Park

… and the council had thought of everything, even installing a goose park.

Pushing off late on Wednesday morning, we were soon in the middle of Burton-on-Trent’s Shobnall Fields for lunch before ending up on Willington’s Visitor Moorings for the night. They’ve moved the co-op to the other side of the railway since we were last here, doubling the walk. Progress, I suppose.

And so it came to pass on Thursday morning that with Bromyard Festival calling SWMBO walked across the road the the station, and caught several trains back to Stone and Aston Marina to retrieve the car, while someone else – single-handed – took Song & Dance a mile or so down the canal and into the boat megalopolis and warren known as Mercia Marina – Europe’s largest inland marina, apparently.

There was only one taxi at Stone station, and two people got off the train. The were both going to Aston Marina to retrieve cars! Result. Madam was soon back in Derbyshire, and we began the serious task of packing for a weekend away.

Handsacre Hawk

The section of the Trent and Mersey Canal from Great Haywood down to Fradley Junction has been well travelled by us over the years, since long before Song & Dance’s travels. There’s nice countryside down to Rugely, then an interesting if built up section through the town, then Armitage and Handsacre, before becoming rural again through Kings Bromley. It’s always interesting to see what Armitage Shanks have been making: sometimes their works is knee deep in pallet loads of wash hand basins, sometimes toilets, sometimes bidets.

For as long as we could remember, somewhere along the long line of back gardens open to the canal through the three towns, there were two adjacent gardens with aviaries, and invariably, a sizeable hawk sitting on a perch watching the world go by. But we were always past before we knew it. Last time, we made a point of noting it was in Handsacre, so after negotiating the troublesome single file ex-tunnel near there, the camera was ready…



We think this chap is a Red Tailed Hawk a.k.a. a Chickenhawk, but could be wrong. Alternative suggestions on a blue beer token to the usual address please…

Himalayan Revenge & Ninja Terrapins

One thing that was very noticeable on our Caldon Canal expedition and parts of the Trent & Mersey, was how prevalent Himalayan Balsam is becoming. It’s bad enough that R. Ponticum is taking over the Scottish Highlands and making large chunks look like Himalayan Rainforest; now they’re taking over the English canals and rivers too.

The Balsam might look quite pretty with its pink flowers, and you can maybe even make jam or wine from it, but for the waterways it’s seriously bad news. Desperately invasive, it takes over everything, then during the winter dies right back leaving the banks bare and open to weather and erosion. The Inland Waterways Association organise regular Balsam Bashing sessions, but clearly they’re not enough!

And what about the similarly pink coloured Himalayan Sea Salt that’s taking over trendy restaurant and dinner tables and supermarket shelves, with its supposed health benefits? Not to mention the large blocks of it turned into bookends and table lamps…

Where is this Himalayan Sea? And why have they got it in for us?

On the T&M near Kings Bromley we did spot a large Terrapin sitting on a dead branch over the water looking threatening: perhaps this is the start of the fight back. Or will the IWA soon be organising Terrapin Trapping sessions as well?

With the de facto invasion of the American Signal crayfish chappies, there already seems to be considerable debate about whether Crayfish Catching is a “good thing” or not – interfering with nature seldom has predictable results. Mind you, the easily caught river ones are rumoured to be excellent lightly boiled and slathered in mayo. Not sure we fancy one that’s been filtering dirty muddy canal water all its life, though.