Monday, 29 June 2015

Braunston Historic Boat Show

Can't really say I'm a historic boat enthusiast but we're here so let's take a look!

I did spend quite a bit of time looking at and reading the histories of the boats that were moored along the canal. Rachael enjoyed the party atmosphere and the various exhibition tents. The procession of historic boats was interesting, so many large boats one after the other! The procession started well past the marina main entrance and headed down to the junction where they proceeded to wind (turn) forward under one bridge and reverse under the other and back up towards the marina.

This boat is going forward again after reversing under the bridge. There is another reversing under the bridge in the background. All these boats winding (turning) at this junction, due to the island in the middle, made for a very slow process.

The Braunston Marina was absolutely bustling with working boats, they were moored wherever they could fit them.

It was a beautiful day on Saturday, perfect for wandering around the marina. The cafe boat was doing a roaring trade out the front of the marina. Inside, the morris dancers were looking rather hot in their costumes, doing their very athletic folk dancing.

Maybe it's the sadist in me but I did spend quite a bit of time up at the junction watching the myriad of hire boats with their inexperienced handlers come down the arm only to be met at the junction facing a 70ft working boat. I did hear one lady on a hire boat yell to her partner on the tiller in a panicked voice,  'where are we going to go, what are we going to do'. The parade marshal did quite a good job fitting these boats into gaps in the processions return journey back towards the marina.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

A Palace and a Surprise at Braunston

Still heading south at our leisurely pace we have taken in a sightseeing tour of a palace and a detour to spend a few days at in Braunston.

After leaving Leamington Spa we continued on along the Grand Union Canal for the short cruise to Long Itchington at the base of the Stockton Locks. A pleasant little cruise through the country with a some fields of poppies along the way.

Four locks at Bascote, two individual locks and two in a staircase. We paired up with a nice couple in NB Hecla to go through these four double width locks.

A short cruise to the water point to top up again since it was washing day and that always depletes our water stocks. It was a nice fast tap, we sat down to have lunch while we waited for the usual slow fill and fifteen minutes later it was overflowing...a short lunch break. No problem though, another fifteen minutes and we moored at the bottom of the locks at Long Itchington a small village but with no less than five pubs. Two of these pubs sat right on the canal on opposite sides. It was quite busy here, lots of boats moored up, although not so unusual at the bottom or top of a longish lock flight.

We received a call that evening, Kevin and Carol were home and had a free day, do we want to go to Blenheim Palace? We had been talking about doing just that so that sounded great to us. They drove over and picked us up for the forty-five minute trip to the palace. Turns out it was well worth a look, especially with our English Heritage Cards.

Nice Front Gate!
In the picture below the main courtyard was fenced off while they were setting up for a concert the next evening. One of the artists to play was Van Morrison.

The Front Door and Main Courtyard

The Formal Gardens

More Gardens and part of the large lake
We finished off the day with a stroll around the very old local village next to the palace then back to The Cuttle Inn, next to the canal at Long Itchington for a pint and dinner.

The next day we were off early to tackle the Stockton Lock Flight. Our three hundred metre trek to the first lock we managed to pick up a partner to work the locks with. Turns out they were an American couple from San Diego on a similar sojourn to us. As we worked our way through the locks other boats were ahead and behind us, coming and going. By the time we had reached the last lock we were sharing it with a Swedish team of six in a hire boat. It was an interesting day!

Three more locks and a few more hours and we were mooring up at Braunston just before the junction. We were a little out of our way but I needed a few things at a chandlery. Moorings were severely restricted because, surprise! surprise! a Historic Boat Show weekend being run out of Braunston Marina, it was only by chance that we had managed to arrive on this weekend.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Wilmcote to Leamington Spa

Our journey from Wilmcote to Leamington Spa has been hard work and largely uneventful.

Going down to Stratford we did the Kingswood to Wilmcote leg in two short hops but Kevin and Carol had business to take care of and needed to be back in Crick early, we needed to catch up a day. After the two day stopover in Wilmcote we headed off early with the plan to knock over the trip in one day and go a little further to set ourselves up for the next day, tackling the Hatton Lock flight, all twenty-one of them!

I did take a few pics of our trip back up the Stratford Canal but only a couple this time so as not to repeat myself. This shot is near Lowsenford, one of our stops on the way to Stratford. I wanted to clearly show the split in the bridge for the tow rope to pass through in the early horse-drawn days. Some of the bridges were quite tight with only centimeters to spare.

This was a sixteen lock day, keeps you nice and busy. No time to swan around with farm shops and sightseeing this time! We pulled into and back out of Kingswood Junction around 6pm and headed down the Grand Union Canal towards Warwick, tying up at Turner's Green just before 6:30. Still plenty of daylight left, it's not getting dark until around 9:30 to 10pm.

The next morning was another early start. We both filled our water tanks for washing day and headed off for the one hour cruise to Hatton Top Lock. We moored about ten minutes away from the top lock  to have a cuppa, it had been a busy day yesterday and today was going to be busier.

We landed at Hatton Top Lock, which had already been set by a boater waiting to be partnered down the flight. These locks are all doubles so pairs can work the same lock thus cutting the time. Not finding a partner from the pair of us he waved us into the lock, a good start. so we had plenty of helpers for the first two locks. Seems these are very popular locks for gongoozlers (canal sightseers). About five locks down the welcome sight of a CRT volunteer! He and his dog said they would stick with us for the next hour! That certainly sped the process up even further as he set the locks in front of us.

We lobbed into Warwick and moored above the Cape Locks in the late afternoon happy with our achievement. Another early night, ready for a sightseeing trip to Warwick Castle in the morning.

We have been to Warwick on a previous occasion but didn't have time to get to the castle so it was number one on our 'To-Do' list. I must admit that this castle is up there with the best that I have seen.

And through the gate...

A nice little trebuchet in the front garden. They normally have demonstrations in the gardens but unfortunately it was rather a wet day, no jousting either. I still felt we got our £29ea worth.

The Great Hall had an extensive collection of armour and weapons, this knight and horse armour some of the best.

These dining rooms with their ornately decorated ceilings were quite beautiful. The second room, had no windows and being rather large, the flash wasn't quite up to it.

And, just some of the extensive gardens...

I haven't included any photos of our tour of the dungeons. The tour is done in small groups, where you are guided around by actors playing the part of storyteller, sometimes jailer and sometimes judge. They have cornered the market on photos with a green screen print available at the end of your forty-five minute tour.

Rather than stay another day we left Warwick the next morning with Kevin and Carol. We were moored just above Cape Locks so Rachael and Carol wandered down to set the locks as Kevin and I moved the boats off the mooring. First stop was Tesco to refill the cupboards, fortunately the two moorings along side Tesco were empty on arrival so we moored up and walked the couple of hundred metres to the supermarket. It was here that we said farewell to Kevin and Carol as they headed off back to Crick to do a few bits and pieces. We got back to Serafina and Dunslavin had been quickly replaced by another boat. We were on a twenty-four hour mooring, so we sat down for lunch. Not sure why it's twenty-four hours, it's very popular and only required for four hours at the most. Rather dangerous too, it's on a blind right-hand bend in the canal and so many boats don't slow down as evidenced by the gouges out of the rubber bumpers on the canal side. We heard another boat arrive so quickly cleaned up and told them we were heading off, they gladly took our place.

We arrived in the centre of Leamington Spa after a short cruise. There are lots of moorings here and eerily we were the only boat on them overnight.

Monday, 22 June 2015


Snap decision! As we were coming up the flight of locks from Stratford the more locks we did, the better the idea of taking a train from Wilmcote to Bournville sounded.

The trip to Bournville was an after thought, well sought of. We had discussed going to Cadbury's and I knew we were heading towards Birmingham but I hadn't realised how close it was to Birmingham or we would have called in on the way down. Halfway up a flight of sixteen locks, a six day return trip and thirty-six locks in total wasn't sounding terribly appealing. So that's what we did, a thirty minute train ride to Birmingham Moor Street Station, a five minute walk around to Birmingham New Street Station and an eight minute train ride to Bournville Station. Note how close the moorings are from the station.

A short walk from the station to the front doors of Cadbury's.


The visitor's entrance was quite a bit further, in fact we seem to walk half way around the outside of the factory, but it was a pleasant walk. These days they don't let you get too close to the manufacturing process with viewing from behind glass windows. We did get our share of chocolate but not as much as I remember in earlier visits. Several of the attractions told the story of the founder and how the company was run, George Cadbury was quite innovative for his time providing compulsory education, shorter working weeks and caring for employee's families as well. It was a full day out and all quite interesting, mainly geared to the family with rides and simulated streets of the beginnings.

The village of Bournville was also interesting, specifically built for the employees of Cadbury's and creating a balanced community. Providing housing, schools, places of worship in a healthy green environment. Selly Manor is a beautiful old building dating back to 1327, complete with Tudor gardens, it hasn't been lived in since George Cadbury had it moved to Bournville in the early 1900's to open it to the public.

We spent an additional day in Wilmcote and strolled down to Mary Arden's Farm. It was less than ten minutes stroll from the canal, we were after a few shots of the main house which sits at the front of the property. Not too many straight pieces of wood in the building but not bad for over 700 years.

As always, there was a nice old pub just a few minutes walk further on, in this case The Masons Arms.

Friday, 19 June 2015

A few days in Stratford

I was still limping around when we got to Stratford. Rachael and I have been here several times before, in fact only last year was the last time. We had a small list of things we wanted to see this time.

We headed off across the road from the basin to reacquaint ourselves with Stratford. Rachael likes getting into large shopping areas and besides having strips of shops, Stratford has quite a few nice little arcades to wander through. We wandered up to the mall, which is the main tourist strip, since it contains Shakespeare's house. I have thrown a photo of the cottage in but we didn't go in this time.

We managed to find a nice little tea house for some lunch, mind you they're not too difficult to find in Stratford. Stratford is quite a tourist trap and things are noticeably more expensive here than we have gotten used to. On our walk we came across this pub, the building dates back to 1594. Seems there has been a pub on this site since 1718.

We had almost completed a circuit of the main shopping area when we came across Tudor World which seemed interesting. It was housed in an old Tudor cottage hundreds of years old.

It was mainly a lot of reading with scenes depicting various aspects of Tudor life. I think five pounds each was about the right price. Of course, no Tudor World would be complete without a manikin of Henry VIII.

We had several days to wander so we headed off along the Avon River to Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare and his family are buried. We went into the church, paid our one pound each and headed up to the chancel where the family are buried. Lovely windows in the church!

 I asked what denomination the church was in the care of and as expected it is Church of England. Although, like many churches in England, it has swapped around a few times. This bust is erected above the family plot in the church.

And finally, the grave of Shakespeare himself.

As we continued our walk we did come across another heritage building, not terribly different to any of the other Tudor buildings except for the ornate storm water pipes and guttering all made of lead. No water recycling here!

Kevin and I managed to check out a few of the local pubs during our stay. The Red Lion and The Pen and Parchment are both on the canal, just outside the basin moorings and you can moor between them. A very handy situation! Handy too, for a stay lasting longer than 48 hours, our stay lasting about five days.

We headed off back up the Stratford canal towards Wilmcote mooring up after the first four locks to restock the cupboards at the large Tesco, five minute walk away. The town centre is really only good for the essentials. Next stop was for water and a haircut for Kevin while we waited to fill both boats.

We moored at Wilmcote, which is four miles from Stratford, with sixteen locks in between. Ten minutes by car, four hours by narrowboat...a nice leisurely trip!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

A little bit of re-modelling

We organised a carpenter last August to do some work on Serafina over the English winter, that plan didn't work so well. When we got back in May this year nothing had been done despite the many promises.

It's much easier to get things done when you're on the spot and I must admit the carpenter did have a lot of questions that weren't covered in my comprehensive email complete with diagrams and photos. The work was finally finished before our planned date to set off cruising after the carpenter shuffled a few jobs around. After all, eight months was a fair time to stand in the queue!

Here are a few before and after shots.

This is the before shot of the well deck. The boxes on each side weren't fixed to the floor and quite dangerous to step on in the wet.

The new versions are built in, much larger and add significant storage space.

and with the cushion and lid removed...

This isn't the best shot of the port side of the engine room but it gives you an idea. The main reasons to upgrade were to take the base of the control box through the floor to cut down the engine noise apart from the obvious drop of varnish the old pedestal needed.

The new version gives us a better view of the instruments, the Morse control is slightly higher and closer and lots more storage to clean up the engine room.

The starboard box was a tacked on set of pigeon holes with cane drawers.

The new version looks built-in and once again add lots of storage.

We also added a step to help Rachael see the bow of the boat a little easier and have much better access to the Morse control. Once again, the step helps to cut down engine noise, replacing a makeshift set-up that channeled engine noise straight up at the helmsman.

We didn't get all the work done that was originally planned but we had to make compromises otherwise we would have ended up in the marina for another week. The most obvious omission was the engine room bulkhead shown in the photo, that will have to wait for another cruising season.

Friday, 12 June 2015

A Shakespereian End

We have put three more days of cruising behind us since spending two days at Kingston Junction for our Birmingham sightseeing stopover.

We caught a mid-morning train into Birmingham for our first day of sightseeing, I say mid-morning because it was time for a little sleep-in for a change. Our research on the sites of Birmingham weren't exactly glowing hence the lack of photos. On arrival, after a twenty minute trip, we headed out of the station and straight across the road to The Bull Ring, a large shopping complex in the centre of Birmingham. The Bull Ring and city centre were pretty much where we stayed for the day. We visited a couple of markets, both permanent and pop-up, browsing a multitude of things. Suffice to say, one day of shopping was enough and our second day allocated to sightseeing was reallocated to washing and polishing Serafina.

On Tuesday morning we untied late and headed off for the short cruise to Lowsenford. Through the short link between the Grand Union Canal and the Stratford Canal, early on it was easy to see why the Stratford Canal is so popular. The countryside along the canal is picturesque, the ornate bridges, aqueducts and cottages it really is a pleasure to cruise.

The bridges are built differently to the bridges on other canals we have cruised. No tow path under the bridge, a split in the middle of the bridge for the tow rope instead. It makes all the bridges much tighter.

The captain insisted on doing most of the locks. Here she is waiting for the canal to empty as we continue on down to Stratford.

The old Lock Keeper's cottages all have the original round topped roof, the peaked roof is a later extension. My research tells me that they used the frames that they had used to build the arched bridges as roof frames. This is unique to this area.

A strenuous two hour cruise called for lunch and a drink or two. The Fleur de Lys Pub was the obvious choice being right next to the canal.

After lunch we headed off up the hill from the canal to a farm shop near the top. We picked up some excellent pork sausages, premium price but premium quality, they were a treat!

Heading off early the next day we headed for Wilmcote with a lunch stop and some services at Wootton Wawen. Disaster struck along the way! As I was helping out with a lock I stepped in a cleverly concealed pothole, spraining my ankle. Rachael organised the initial first aid at the lock and when we arrived at Wootton Wawen I was bandaged up.

I was fortunate to be traveling with Kevin and Carol on NB Dunslavin, jumping around the boat to organise a pump-out (holding tank) and diesel takes both legs, when you are trying to do it at speed. The service staff had us moor in the aqueduct, near the hose for safety reasons (they said), but blocking the canal completely. I'm not too keen on blocking canal traffic completely but the staff were comfortable with it.

We crossed several aqueducts along this canal but the longest was the Edstone Aqueduct built in the 1800s and is 250 yards long. The Edstone is longer but not nearly as handsome as the Pontcysyllte aqueduct on the Llangollen canal.

I haven't crossed an aqueduct yet where it hasn't been windy and pushing the boat to one side, the Edstone was no exception. The port side of the boat dragged against the edge of the tray for the whole way, working the engine that little bit harder.

These ducks were well acquainted with humans and wandered right up to Rachael quacking away for a meal. This time there was nothing on hand to feed them.

Another short trip down to Wilmcote where the moorings were quite busy owing to an estimated one hundred yards being fenced off  because of falling edge stones. We had to moor well back from the 48 hour moorings. These two shortish cruising days were in preparation for a long day of 16 locks ahead to get down into the Stratford basin.

An early start next day saw this hire boat, that passed us just before we set off, run aground. As they passed, they mentioned they were not planning to go down into Stratford. One hitch in that plan, there are no winding holes ahead!

A very long day of sixteen locks with not so many miles covered but well worth the trip. The Stratford basin is a lovely place to moor. The basin sits right on the edge of the centre of town.

Our backyard has a lovely set of statues in it, although the gardener could trim the hedges a little later in the morning.

The lock to the Avon River is at our front door, this picture from the bridge over the lock. Our plan at present is to go back up to Kingswood Junction and on the Stratford canal towards Birmingham, rather than go on to the river. We have a date with Cadburys!