Thursday, 25 August 2016

Oops! A-over-T on the Lancaster

Thursday has become boat checking day. The day I get on my bike and cycle over the hill to Carnforth (and sometimes Tewitfield) then back along the towpath, recording the numbers of the boats at the mooring sites on the way back to Lancaster.

Today I thought I had it easy. Hilary was heading up to the Yorkshire Dales in the car and could give me - and the bike - a lift to Over Kellet, from where it's a gentle downhill potter to Tewitfield thus avoiding the hilly bit. I checked the moorings at Tewitfield - all in order -  and then at Carnforth (just one overstayer) and set off down the towpath for the next site at Hest Bank.

This section of the towpath is a Sustrans long-distance route paralleling the A6 trunk road and so very useful for long-distance cyclists such as those doing the "end to end". But not if they have any sense. Photos on Nick Addy's Canal Planner from about ten years ago show a well maintained, wide tarmac path.  Not any more. The path has not been maintained and has been deteriorating ever since it was created and is now heavily rutted.

Pottering along, between bridges 127 and 126 and just thinking how lucky I was to have avoided the hills and to have a flat route home, my rear wheel caught in one of the deeper ruts causing the bike to skid.  The back wheel went one way and the front the other and I found myself heading straight for the cut!  I pride myself that in 10 years of boat ownership and many years of occasional boating before that that I've never fallen in. But this was a near miss - at the last moment I managed to drop the bike to the floor and jump - or rather fall  - off. I landed head first, fortunately on the grassy strip between the tarmac and the water, whilst the bike came to rest with the front wheel overhanging the cut!

There was no damage done to the bike and only a sprained finger for me, although I was glad I was wearing my helmet, which Hilary makes me do after a rarther more serious incident on the Isle of Mull a few years back.

Fortunately there was only one towpath walker to witness the incident and I was able to pick myself and the bike up and make a joke of things as he reached me.  I remounted and made my way to the next bridge and down onto the layby on the A6 that I knew housed a tea bar to get myself a cuppa and a Bacon Buttie, after which I abandonned the towpath and cycled down the much safer A6 trunk road to Hest Bank.

Monday, 22 August 2016


Fishmongers may not have perfect spelling - but at least this one doesn't seem to suffer from the dreaded "Grocer's Apostrophe"  Well done for resisting the temptation to add one to all those plurals!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Held Up at Varney's

Our destination for today was only Banbury, so no need for any heroics and we made a leisurely start.
Claydon Top Lock
I was a little disappoionted to see a hire boat entering Claydon Top Lock as we approached, but it had a competent crew and we followed them happily down the flight until we arrived at Elkington's Lock, where we were surprised to see them on the lock landing apparently waiting for it to fill itself to let them through!

They soon explained that there was a problem at the next lock - Varney's - and that the long line of waiting - and moored - boats between the two locks meant that there was nowhere for them to go. At this stage we didn't know what the problem was, but we could see a space below the lock that was big enough for Sunshine, but not for them, so we went through on the underdstanding that we were not taking their place in the queue.
I then walked down to Varney's to find out what was wrong.  A large piece of masonry had broken away from the paddle housing at the top of the lock and was stopping the bottom gate from opening fully. The same thing had happened earlier in the week apparently and, sure enough, the offending piece was on the towpath for all to see.  CRT staff were on their way with a promised arrival time of 12.50, although the steerer of the first boat in the queue was running a sweepstake on their actual arrival time. (It was then 12.20).
Waiting for Varney's Lock

Some entertainment was provided during the wait by a couple of boats electing to try and turn in the unofficial winding hole above the lock. They both made it, but only after a struggle and a lot of "advice" from waiting boaters.  CRT turned up at  One o' Clock (The organiser won the sweepstake!) and soon had the obstruction clear. They stayed behind for a while to speed up the passage of boats  and, after everyone in the queue had regained their rightful place, we were through the lock by 2.10pm.

CRT staff removing the obstruction from the top gate.

Not that we went very far.  A sticking valve aboard Sunshine had led to the water tank emptying itself into the toilet tank during the night - something which only became apparent during the wait - so we called in to Cropredy Marina to empty one tank and fill the other.  Ironically, Sunshine had had a pump out only a couple of days earlier.  Its crew were annoyed at having to pay for another one so soon, although in retrospect they were glad it had been empty when the water tank started to leak.

It all meant we were rather late arriving at Banbury, but we found a space at the end of the moorings in the centre of town, just past the Tiom Rolt Bridge.

That was the end of my few days afloat. In the morning I got the bus back to Rugby and a train home.  Sunshine will be out for the rest of the summer - although the itinerary is uncertain - and I'm hoping for the chance for a bit more boating this year.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Just William

With it being an August weekend and with there being a lot of boats about we were anticipating queues at Napton locks so made an early(ish) start, which turned out to be totally unnecessary as we arrived at the bottom lock with not a boat in sight!

We did meet one at the second lock - although its steerer didn't seem very pleased to see us. The lock was empty - and therefore in our favour. The other boat was just leaving the lock above as Sunshine was almost ready to leave that below. My understanding of the "etiquette of the cut" led me to open the bottom gates, although by now the downhill boat had arrived at the top. It wasn't as if they were in a hurry as they hadn't bothered to send a crew member ahead to set the lock for themselves.

"Was the lock full or empty?" asked the steerer, rather aggressively.  It called for a one-word reply:  "empty" and the conversation proceeded in that manner:

"Well, the volunteer locky (who was nowhere to be seen) told me it was full!" 
"So we'll just have to wait for you then?"
"Yes". (although I did add "saves water")
He then returned to his boat and needless to say offered no help to speed our passage through the lock that was "holding him up".  I was ready with a smile and a "how do" as we passed but he avoided eye contact and that was that.

It was the only incident of note - the rest of the day being taken up with the usual meander across the Oxford summit level. It's a lovely stretch of canal but not as nice as it used to be since the towpath hedges were allowed to get out of hand and become trees, obscuring what used to be fine views over extensive stretches of countryside which added enormously to the feeling of remoteness you get on this section.

Royalty class "William" at Fenny Compton. You wouldn't want to meet this on a blind bend!
We stopped for the night at Fenny Compton, where the youthful proprietors of the Wharf Inn are making a huge effort - not just good beer and food but a shop and laundrette on the site as well. Just after tying up we heard the unmistakable sound of a Bolinder engine and I poked my head out to see the impressive sight of a Grand Union "Royalty" class bow, riding high out of the water and heading straight for us as camping boat "William" came under the bridge.