Tuesday, 28 October 2014

After leaving the River Nene and coming back onto the canal system we spent a few days moored opposite the pub at Bugbrooke. Our son and his girlfriend came to visit and we had a reasonable meal in The Wharf. It's one of those pubs that are trying to be a gastro pub but not quite managing it. The menu was too long and complicated so you knew most of the food was probably pre-prepared and either vac-packed or frozen. It wasn't busy either which was a bad sign especially as it was Saturday lunchtime.

I seem to be getting rather clumsy in my old age and on the Tuesday I tripped when getting out of the boat and caught my back on the cratch board. It feels like I've cracked a couple of ribs so we've been taking things very easy for the past week, travelling slowly and only doing short journeys. We'd been undecided which way to go when we got to Gayton Junction but after sitting out the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo at Bugbrooke we finally made our minds up and turned round and are now heading down the Grand Union. We haven't been this way before and have been very pleasantly surprised at how nice the canal is. It's also very busy with lots of hire boats which must be due to it being half term. There are also lots of wide beam boats around here, mostly permanently moored as residential boats but we've also met a few moving, which makes it fun at bridge holes or when passing through linear moorings with wide beams on both banks. Do they pay more for their licences as they take up twice as much water? We met one wide beam boat when we were moored at Stoke Bruerne. The guy came steaming past, steering with bow and stern thrusters and actually rammed into the side of us. He couldn't even use the excuse that it was windy, he just couldn't steer his boat in a straight line. He moored up behind and later on we heard him bragging about his boat to some walkers and telling them how the C&RT men would be coming out at 8am the next morning to stop all other boat traffic while he went through Blissworth Tunnel. Do they pay for C&RT to come out when they want to go through tunnels?

He was welcome to Blissworth Tunnel! It's over 1800 metres long and very wet. It had rained the previous day and water poured down on us all the way through. At one point I considered putting an umbrella up even though we were both wearing full waterproofs.  It was nice to get out into the sunshine again.

This is one of the concrete rings that have been used to rebuild the middle section of the tunnel. It's still brick lined at both ends though and is wide enough for two narrowboats to pass each other but has to be closed to traffic when wide beams want to go through.

We spent a couple of nights at Stoke Bruerne before carrying on down the Grand Union and have spent the weekend at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes. The wide beam boats moored behind us are permanently moored and the ones opposite are on 14 day moorings.

This tiny boat reminded me of a gypsy caravan

while this wide beam was huge and extremely posh

We're now moored at Fenny Stratford but haven't decided how long we'll stay here yet. With the weather being so warm and sunny it's ideal cruising weather so we may move again tomorrow. It's nice not being tied to a schedule.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Back onto the canal

Its been a beautiful sunny and warm day, just perfect for leaving the River Nene and coming back onto the canal system. Most of the day it was so warm that we were back in T-shirts.

Unfortunately we really noticed the difference between maintenance - or lack of it - by C&RT as against EA. For the past couple of months we've had immaculately maintained lock landings and lock gear but the locks in the Rothersthorpe flight at Northampton had very overgrown lock landings and graffiti  painted lock beams.

The canal is very narrow in places with overgrown reeds and weeds

The first boat we came across was this sunken one.

The lock gear is well greased but the lock surrounds definitely need a bit of TLC as these weeds which have been dragged out of the water are rotting and extremely slippery.

This is the bridge under the M1 with its huge reinforcing beams. The roar of the traffic has been with us most of the way up the flight.

Half way up the flight we came across this couple

Its a bit surreal thinking that these locks were originally built this long ago. I suppose in the scheme of things they're still in pretty good condition.

We really enjoyed working up the flight of 17 narrow locks. They were much more interesting than the big automated ones we've been used to on the rivers. We did have a bit of help from a strange little guy called Leon who makes his living lock wheeling up and down the flight. He attached himself to us about half way up, on his way back up the flight after helping an older couple down. They'd passed us in one of the lock pounds but Leon wasn't a happy chappy. After helping them down 17 locks the boaters only paid him £2 plus a kit-kat. When he caught up to us he negotiated a fee of £5 to go on ahead and open all the bottom gates for us. He ran between every lock and was quite entertaining in his own way. Roger learnt his full personal history in the hour he was with us. He reckons he supplements his benefits by making money helping boaters but as he smoked a cigarette at every lock and was carrying a water bottle filled with alcohol he can't be making much profit overall.  Two locks from the top of the flight we passed a plastic cruiser just starting down so Leon jumped ship , after being paid, and went to "help" them instead.

We filled with water and diesel at Gayton Marina and are now moored opposite. It's very noisy from the M1 but we're only stopping here for tonight and will carry on again tomorrow, hopefully to somewhere a little quieter for the weekend.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

River Nene, pastures new

We stayed in Peterborough for a couple of nights earlier in the week. It's a good shopping centre and with the seasons changing I needed to do some clothes shopping.

We're really enjoying the River Nene although there is a dire lack of moorings and we've had to moor on the end of lock moorings a couple of times. That hasn't inconvenienced anyone as we've only seen 4 moving boats in the past week and one of those was the coal boat. Where is everyone?

The only other problem has been a lack of any 3 mobile internet signal hence the current sporadic nature of the blog, and the phone signal has been a bit dodgy as well.

At Warmington Lock we came across our first non-electrically operated guillotine gate.

The wheel could do with a knob or handle of some kind to make it easier/faster to operate.

We stopped overnight at Fotheringhay. The bridge arch is very low and I wouldn't fancy our chances of getting through if the river level rose by much.

We moored on the field beside the church and hadn't even finished tying the ropes when a man came round collecting his mooring fees. £4 overnight or £2 for a short stay.

I suppose the view was worth the £4

It was a beautiful afternoon so we took Chico and went walkabout. There are some gorgeous houses and autumnal foliage everywhere. I collected a bagful of conkers as I've been told that they repel spiders. I'm going to hang a string of them in the cratch as we seem to have been infested while the boat was moored in Fox Marina.

Many of the village houses were thatched and we stopped for a while watching the thatcher adding some finishing touches to this new one.

Fotheringhay is famous for its castle where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner and finally executed in February 1587. The castle must have been quite a sight in its day

but there's not much left now, just this mound and section of mout

and a small section of wall which has been preserved for prosperity.

Water levels aren't particularly high at the moment but a few of the lock gates are below the level and we didn't really need to open any gates to start filling with water.

We'll be stopping off in Wellingborough this weekend to catch up with friends over Sunday lunch. We'd like to stay longer but we have to be off the Nene by the 20th which is when some of the winter maintenance stoppages start. When we get to the junction with the Grand Union we'll toss a coin and decide whether to turn left or right.............decisions, decisions.....

Solid fuel stove maintenance

After 6 years Roger decided our stove could do with a bit of TLC. Although there weren't any actual cracks the glass in the door was badly crazed and looked a mess and the rope seal was quite squashed which meant the door wasn't sealing as tight as it used to.

He disassembled everything and gave the inside of the door a good cleaning with a wire brush to get rid of any bits of rope or rust.

He then fitted the replacement gasket which goes between the glass and the cast iron door surround

Small metal clips hold the glass in place and are supplied with the new glass. Unfortunately one of the clips supplied was the wrong type but luckily he'd kept the old ones "just in case".

He then glued in new rope around the door seal and around the ash pan door but forgot to photos.

While he was at it, he also replaced the fire bricks which were quite brittle and crumbled as he was taking them out.

So far this Autumn we haven't really needed to light the fire, basically it hasn't been cold enough yet and we've been managing by running the central heating for just an hour in the evening. Once he'd done the refurbishment though, we needed to light a small fire to cure the glue which holds the rope seals and also to dry out any moisture from the fire bricks. A large fire straight away would probably have cracked the fire bricks.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Toilet Troubles

We had a great time in Italy, despite our second hotel being a reincarnation of Fawlty Towers, and I'll post a few photos once I've worked through the hundreds that I took.

Our original plan had been to leave Fox Marina last Tuesday after Chico came back from the kennels, but we had to extend our stay for a few days while we popped back to Manchester for an unexpected medical appointment on Thursday.

On Friday we went for a pump-out just before leaving, but after dropping one bar on the gauge nothing else moved and we realised we had a blockage.  We've had a few hiccups with pump-outs over the years which we put down to inefficient pumps but this was a real "oh shit bugger" moment. Alan who works in the marina kindly offered us the use of the pump-out machine on Saturday morning so we could cut a hole in the top of the tank and empty it that way. Roger had bought an inspection hatch for the tank the last time we had a problem about 6 months ago but as things seemed to have fixed themselves he'd put off installing it. Now seemed the ideal time and place so that's what we did.

Surprisingly it wasn't as smelly a job as we'd been expecting and by putting an extension pipe onto the pump-out hose we managed to get it right inside the boat and into the tank which was quickly emptied.  The cause of the problem then became very clear.  There was a large piece of sand paper in the tank, presumably from when it was manufactured, and it was this that was causing the problem by getting stuck on the end of the pump-out pipe and sealing it. While we had the tank open and the use of the pump-out machine we took the opportunity to chuck a load of fresh water into the tank and give it a good cleaning out.  Roger then fitted the new inspection hatch and hopefully we won't have any future problems.

I don't think that's bad.......only one blog about toilet problems in almost 5 years of blogging. Must be a record............