Thursday, September 20, 2007

Leicester, Locks – and Laundry!

You know those feelings as you come home from a holiday – "Will the house be OK?" and "Hope nothing has gone wrong" get mixed up with "Looking forward to getting home again". Just the same for us, as we returned to Whilton Locks and found Zindagi safe and secure. The wind turbine and solar panel had kept the batteries well topped up and we were ready to move south to Weedon, do some shopping, fill up our water tank and turn around again to meet up with Johnny and Sue at Norton Junction.
The plan was to take a trip together up the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal, another favourite of ours as it slips quietly through the countryside. Our theory is that not so many people travel along this section as there are fewer pubs along its length. Fewer shops, too, so some careful shopping was needed!

Some real attractions, though, including the Watford flight of 'staircase' locks (just near Watford Gap service station on the M1), 3 tunnels and the famous Foxton Locks with two staircases, one above the other. In between, on the 'summit section', just beautiful country and simple brick bridges, some with busy roads over them and others practically out of use.

Johnny had been boating before, some years ago, and soon found that he really enjoyed being 'at the helm'.

Sue had to start from scratch, getting her head round how locks work and getting involved with working them – not to mention helping Val with the normal run of 'household' tasks! Great to have such a willing crew, and really good to be able to spend some fairly relaxed time together!

The enjoyment was slightly marred by our washing machine breaking down, closely followed by the microwave. They are both under guarantee, so repair should be fairly painless. The washing machine man is due to come tomorrow (Friday) morning. The immediate challenge was to find a launderette on this sparsely populated canal – conveniently located at the bottom of Foxton Locks!

We cruised northwards until we reached the edge of Leicester, then turned around and came back! Just below Foxton Locks, we passed some British Waterways guys driving in new sheet piling at the canal side, and then came back up this famous flight, over the top section and back down here to Norton Junction again.

The weather has been dry for the most part, sometimes a little cool, but with some really hot sunny days as well – not at all bad for mid to late September!

A Brief Visit to Devon

As we have hinted before, we had some different travelling to do in early September, as we were invited to Leigh and Martin's wedding at Ashburton on 8th September. But first we had a few other things to sort out . . .

We cruised back from Coventry via Braunston, where we saw the historic steam-powered narrowboat 'President' and its butty, 'Kildare', setting off to travel up the Ashby Canal, where we had just been!

We had arranged for a consignment of tools from Switzerland to be delivered to Whilton Chandlery, just below the flight of locks at Long Buckby. We arrived there on Wednesday 29th August, having been told by the carriers that the delivery MIGHT be there that day, but definitely by Thursday. No worries; we had booked the train tickets for Friday, even ordered the taxi.

By Thursday afternoon, nothing had happened, so we checked with the chandlery. Apparently the driver had phoned to say that an unexpected low bridge meant that he couldn't come by his planned route, so he might not make it. Frantic phone calls to the carriers to try to make sure that the delivery came before mid-day Friday – otherwise we would be on our way to Devon!

Well, it came, but only just in time! We locked up the boat, caught our taxi and took our train journey to Brighton. There we collected our car from Adam and drove on down to Devon the next day, to spend a few days with Dave and Mary, who had shared our trip up the Llangollen Canal back in early April. They live on the edge of Dartmoor, so there was a slight change of scenery!

Taking the opportunity to make essential visits to doctor and dentists, we had over a week in Devon, spending half of it with Dave & Mary and half with Joe and Wendy in Barnstaple. A little strange to be back there but 'of no fixed address'. Even stranger to visit Lapford to pick up some post!

We really enjoyed our time with our friends in both places, getting out for walks together and just sitting and chatting. Here are the backs of some former almshouses near Joe and Wendy's house in Pilton, Barnstaple – different again!

And then, of course, the main reason for the trip – Martin and Leigh's wedding! We took lots of photos, but perhaps this informal one captures the joy of the day for you!
Then back to the boat, via Brighton – VERY nearly missing our train connection at London Euston! Funny that having been 'home' to Devon, we felt that we were coming home to 'Zindagi'!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Little Diversion

So, where to go from Braunston? We were conscious of the fact that the available time was limited, as we needed to get back to Devon for a wedding in early September and we were also expecting a consignment of garden tools from Switzerland, due to arrive just before we left and back at the bottom of the Buckby locks. We wanted somewhere to go for just less than 2 weeks . . .
In January last year, we had visited the little Ashby Canal, which is about 20 miles long without a single lock. At the time, on board our shared boat for our winter week, we had said it would be a lovely place to visit in the summer. So, here was our opportunity!

We left the wide locks of the Grand Union and headed up the northern part of the Oxford Canal through the edge of Rugby. Here we are going DOWN one of the paired locks at Hillmorton while another boat is coming UP the other one. We only had three locks to go down until we reached Hawkesbury Junction, just on the edge of Coventry, where there is a 'stop lock' with only about six inches change in level – a relic of the old canal companies jealously guarding their own water levels!

Some really graceful cast iron bridges were built along this stretch, and Hawkesbury Junction itself is no exception.

Then up to Marston Junction on the edge of Nuneaton and onto the the Ashby Canal – quiet, rural and somehow secluded as it seems to avoid towns and villages along its route.

There are some lovely stone bridges and one tunnel along its route, which passes through pretty countryside close to the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Near Market Bosworth, we came across a little boat which had lost power, and so found ourselves offering an impromptu rescue service!

Before we left the Ashby, we met 'Kingfisher', a beautiful boat, built in 1928, which was apparently the inspection launch for the Grand Union Canal.

Then on back through Hawkesbury Junction and down the arm that leads to Coventry itself. Some people had told us it was not worth the trip, but we went anyway – no regrets at all! We missed being pelted with eggs by some kids on a bridge (producing a camera to record their faces is a trick we were told ages ago!) and chugged on into Coventry Basin. It was unbelievably quiet, yet right near the heart of the city. Here is 'Zindagi' next to an old wharfside crane, in front of the old wharf buildings. Another peaceful city centre oasis!