Saturday 4 October 2014

The last bit of boating for this season

Our last few days of actual boating involved getting from Weltonfield, to Braunston, to Wigram’s Turn Marina at the junction of the Oxford and Grand Union, up and down the Napton flight of locks, and finally to Barby Moorings.

Arriving into Braunston from the south involves a long tunnel (tall, wide so no hassles with it apart from meeting two boats inside it, neither of whom wanted to touch the wall with their starboard side so kept a bit far over to the centre meaning that if I wasn’t going to hit them, I had to scrape the tunnel side …) and a few locks. We locked down with Derick and Jan, their daughter and her partner on nb Meandera. Derick and Jan are coming to NZ next year so we have swapped details and expect them to come and stay with us in Wellington.
We had seen Jane and Michael on Moody Blues several times over the last week or so and exchanged greetings, and then they moored in front of us at Braunston, and friends of theirs moored close by – Bob and Bron on Celtic Maid – a couple of Aussies, easily recognised by the additional star on their flag and their accent … We had seen them too, but not registered the flag or spoken but that was remedied with all four of them in Braunston. 

On Friday morning we rendezvoused with Ed (and his brother Rob) for the last jobs of this season: checking the bilge pump which David was concerned wasn’t working on automatic, linking the Webasto and starter batteries so that the trickle charging would work for them over winter too, but most importantly investigating the mystery of the temperature gauge alarm that went off on our way through Milton Keynes the week before.  Barry had thought it was probably an airlock but I haven’t asked what the issue really was as it didn’t happen again and I think I am doing a La La La with my ears blocked about it – surely if I ignore it, it will go away, won’t it?

Friday was also the anniversary of David’s dad’s death last year – so in the morning David was feeling pretty sad. It was good to have the distraction and positives of meeting and speaking with new people, talking with our son Tim, seeing Ed and Rob again, and realising how lucky we are to be having this experience.

From the mooring at Braunston, looking back towards the lock
Not these Raleigh bikes tho, as seen on a garage in Dalry, Scotland
On Saturday afternoon after a late start to the morning we moved on to Wigrams Turn Marina as a good place to moor up and meet big Neil and little Neill who were coming to join us for a couple of nights. They had been to NEC in Birmingham to view the latest range of Raleigh bikes before coming to join us. 

Nibbles, wine, dinner and big catch ups as we have all made big changes in our lives since we last were together:  they now own and run Bude Bikes in Cornwall having moved from Witney – little Neill and I met when we both worked at Elsevier and big Neil had moved out of corporate life in preparation for this move sometime beforehand. They have had a great season with such a good summer and have expanded the business from what they purchased two summers ago. They have good business sense and, as the bike hire business is seasonal, they have a winter income stream where they turn the bike shop into a Christmas shop. We have seen photos and are impressed! Entrepreneurs with common sense!!

On Sunday morning we departed for the Napton flight, and big Neil was in charge of steering. That piece of the Oxford is rather bendy, narrow and shallow and he was great.

Into Napton Bottom Lock
 Then I steered into the locks and David enjoyed having two helpers. I did get frustrated when we’d left the lock gates open for a boat descending the lock ahead and someone came behind us and emptied it so they could come up without waiting. I swear the three blasts on our exceptionally loud airhorn were to notify them that they should wait, not my being aggressive – although the horn is so LOUD it sounds aggressive without even trying! Maybe I was just a wee bit grumpy …

I will own that I was extremely grumpy with (read: swore loudly at) a guy waiting for the lock we were coming up in who, even after being asked to wind them slowly wound the paddles up so fast that I crashed into the gate, the fire extinguisher fell off its bracket, the bottle of cooking oil fell off the bench, mugs of tea were spilt.

However, those mishaps aside it was lovely coming up those locks again – it’s a while since we’ve done them and the outlook is lovely.

Bison beside the locks?

Little Neill walking, big Neil steering

We winded (turned) at the arm below the top lock, assisted by a guy who had moored up for lunch very close to the winding hole – he took the stern rope and pulled us around along the length of his boat. Back down one lock and then we moored up for lunch – cheese tart and fresh boat-made bread on the towpath in the warm sunshine. Just lovely. As we sat there, it felt like we were moving on the towpath – the effect of seeing the movement of the boat in my peripheral vision. Quite weird – like looking at the clouds and having it seem as tho you are moving and the sky is still.

Taking it slowly and in a relaxed fashion

I don't often get to lean on a lock gate

I think this is the lock 2nd to top after which we turned
Neill and Neil shared the steering back down through the locks and on past Wigram’s Turn to where we moored up out in countryside – it was peaceful, quiet and beautiful. We had intended to be finished for the day by about 4pm, but were just mooring up after 6 - there had been queues at the locks from part of the way up and most of the way down, esp as the bank beside one lock had been damaged recently and only one paddle was operable to keep the flow manageable. With the CRT barges moored either side of the pound, manoeuvring between those two locks was a bit tricky but our team accomplished it without a problem.

 We had to be up reasonably early on Monday morning and we moved away in warm, sort of misty conditions, in tick over all the way – it was our last real (half) day of boating, and we were reluctant to have it end.
Swan family up and about early too

Approaching Braunston
Braunston church steeple in the early morning mist

Misty and cool but the sun soon shone
It turned into a lovely last day - near the bridge at Braunston

Neill waving goodbye to us at the same bridge

And off he goes

Big Neil was allowed a sleep in, but he was out of bed by the time little Neill was about ready to be disembarked with his folding bike (and car keys) just before Braunston to ride back along the towpath to collect the car from Wigram’s Turn. That was not without incident – Neill managed to get lost – how can you get lost on a towpath, I hear you ask. Well, it wasn’t on the towpath that he mislaid himself – he had to get up on to the road at Bridge 108, cross the bridge (to get to across the canal) and cycle to Wigram’s Turn Marina which is on the offside. Instead of crossing the bridge he ended up in the village of Willoughby. It was early for him, he’s not necessarily a morning person … However he successfully found his way back to the marina and the car and started driving back towards Barby.
Waka Huia heading for Barby - hard to get lost on the canal
So we cruised on towards Barby ... And as we rounded a corner, David and I saw the familiar mop of hair and profile of Mick accompanied by Julia on a stunning looking boat. I called out, but they thought we were grumping about something so steamed on. I hauled over to the towpath (never a fast operation when you need it to be) and let David off and he ran back about a kilometre before attracting their attention and getting them to stop. After a few minutes, I left big Neil holding the boat and walked back to see if David had caught them up. It was fabulous to see them – we lost touch with them over 10 years ago, and always regretted it.  We now have their contact details and will definitely be staying in touch this time. Hopefully we’ll be able to do a bit of flotilla or convoy boating next year.
We also very briefly saw Paul and Sally (living on a narrowboat forum Paul), introduced ourselves but couldn’t stop to chat. Will have to remedy that too next year.

Of course, while all this is happening, little Neill is making his way to the car and back with the car (but not in a direct way …). While we had abandoned big Neil, they were making use of modern communication tools and big Neill told him where the boat was. So then, instead of driving to Barby, little Neill set out to find the nearest bridge to the reported position of the boat. Of course, by the time he'd found the bridge, reassembled the bike and started biking again, David and I had come back to the boat, apologised to BN and moved on our merry way towards Barby. But LN cycled backwards and forwards between the two named bridges and couldn’t find us. Doh! A call to BN and he was told to get back to the car and drive to Barby. So instead of him arriving an hour before us, we arrived at the same time pretty much … 

I managed to moor at the designated jetty (the route to which included a narrow passage and a chicane through the marina) without hitting anything or embarrassing myself. Tying up the boat officially signified the end of this boating season for us.

We offloaded the guys' gear and said good bye to them, then the rush was on to get to Rugby to collect Barry and the rental car - more about that in the End of Phase Report coming next to a blog near you ...

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