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…

Better Than Buchan, and another Peregrine

Coventry CathedralCoventry Cathedral

The bell tower of the old cathedral remains intact, so we decided to go up to the top. While John Buchan could only manage 39 Steps, this involved climbing a spiral staircase of 180 uneven, narrow and steep stone steps. You need to be properly fit (puff, puff, wheeze), and passing anyone coming the other way is a serious challenge if they’re unfriendly. There are the expectedly fine views from the top in all directions, and of course, Eagle Eyes spotted a passing peregrine heading for the church just across the road. With people wandering around the top, we don’t suppose they roost on the cathedral spire, but some feathers lying around the top suggest they may spend a little time there during their tea break.

Coventry CathedralCoventry Cathedral

As well as student tower blocks, Coventry also seems to have a large Ferris wheel down by the bus station, but it clearly wasn’t overly popular – hardly saw a soul on it, and when we passed it on the ground, it was stationary with no one waiting at all.

Back at the Basin, we were slowly inundated with young people in 1930s outfits heading for one of the units – a  30th Birthday Bash by the looks of it – but despite our fears there was no untoward noise or behaviour, and after our exertions in the hot weather, we fell asleep well before they packed up for the night.

Dog Collars and Purple Shirts

We had intended to wander around Coventry Cathedral (Mark 3), and as we approached we found them halfway through an all day festival in celebration of 100 years of the diocese (or something, but clearly not the cathedral itself. There were all sorts of things going on outside in the sunshine as well as inside; the old steps were covered in coloured chalked messages and bon mots.

Coventry CathedralCoventry Cathedral

Inside. they’d moved out all the chairs, and lots of people were just wandering around enjoying the building, so in we went – we may have happened upon a natural break in proceedings. The Archbishop of Canterbury was apparently involved somewhere, but we’re not terribly good at “Spot The Primate”. However, we did notice very high purple shirt and dog collar quotients (the latter including the lady with the microphone and black & white spotted dress in the middle of the next picture).

Coventry CathedralDSCF6864

We were unclear about the exact ecclesiastical function of the small sailing dinghy in front of the choir steps, or for that matter that of the paddling pools below the stained glass.

Coventry CathedralCoventry CathedralCoventry Cathedral: The Charred Cross

There’s no doubt though that the huge tapestry is quite remarkable, as is the Charred Cross in the stair well.

Coventry CathedralCoventry CathedralCoventry Cathedral

And although the roof is perhaps not quite as impressive as those on our accidental Splendid Ceilings cruise two years ago, the new Cathedral is quite definitely a remarkable building and space, and a fine tribute to its predecessors.

Coventry: Academia Old & New

The Canal Basin is just outside the busy ring road, so in pretty sweltering sunshine we climbed the pedestrian bridge and crossed the roaring traffic. After the infamous WWII raids, the centre of Coventry seems to slowly be turning into high rise student accommodation, right next to the old Grammar School and eslewhere, although there were signs of an older town in the middle.

CoventryCoventry: Old Grammar School

Coventry CentreCoventry: Old and New

The cathedral that was bombed was seemingly the second; all that remains of the first is the undercroft billed as Lady Godiva’s Cathedral in a wonderful example of marketing.

Coventry and Original Cathedral UndercroftCoventry and Original Cathedral Undercroft

Sent to Coventry

The five miles from Sutton Stop into Coventry Basin is not, shall we say, overly scenic, although not without interest. For example, it passes the largest 24 hour Tesco in the country, and the Ricoh Arena, home to Coventry City FC and The Wasps RFC.

We normally cruise just listening to the bird song, but this sunny morning going through the industrial backwaters we had music on deck, on shuffle. It’s always interesting to see how often “random” tracks somehow match the environment, but all the iPod could offer passing the Ricoh Arena was a number from Ian A Anderson, whose lack of interest and/or knowledge of all matters ball-kicky is self-confessed and legendary (and doubtless applies to matters ball-hitty too). Ah well. And then, ten minutes later, as we emerged from a bridge hole, the iPod burst into Brown Sugar just as a huge hoarding came into view advertising the Rolling Stones playing at the Arena in a month or so. Hmm…

In hot sunshine, we reached the refurbished Coventry Basin in time for lunch. It’s an odd place. It might have been rescued from dereliction, but apart from a boat hire base and a few old warehouses that one can’t get to, there’s not much there of interest.


The Canal & River Trust sign (click on photo to “go large”), suggests you can spot quirky crafts in old warehouse – we spotted none, unless a Polish grocer counts – and relax in cafes and bars. Well, there was one small and very basic cafe, and what might have been a night-club that opened up at about 7.30pm for a private birthday party; most of the units were unoccupied, and the place was pretty much devoid of people, passing trade or much interest. Even the “local wildlife on the water” were a few desultory Mallards and a passing Black-Headed Gull. And large chunks were surrounded  by temporary fencing as the cobbles were lifting and becoming trip hazards. CaRT living in cloud-cuckoo land again!

Coventry BasinCoventry Basin

Coventry BasinJames Brindley, Coventry Basin

There is an old crane, and a statue James Brindley – a sine qua non of such places one suspects.

Coventry BasinCoventry Basin

Nevertheless, the basin’s very close to the centre of Coventry, so after sampling the solitary cafe’s wares for a snack lunch we girded our loins and set off for town.

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.