Neither of us had been all the way up the Ashby canal and we had heard rumour of an extension being opened so we went to have a look.
Tuesday 28th July, Brinklow to Ashby canal Br 31
“I can go boating now the rain is gone”…
”It’s gonna be a bright, bright Sun-Shiny day”
(with apologies to Johnny Nash)
Well actually Partly cloudy, breezy with scattered showers, but that doesn’t fit the tune.
I had to use a LOT of power to turn the boat after we backed out of the mooring, and there was a VERY load rattle from the transmission at high revs – worrying.
After a short stop at Rose boats so Chris could pick up some bits we headed north to Hawksbury.
Hawksbury is interesting. You might expect the two canals to meet in a sensible T-junction on the level. But thanks to 18th century bean-counters its much more complex and interesting than that. As you approach the junction on the Oxford canal, it turns sharply, and you run parallel to the Coventry canal for a while before you get to a lock with a fall of 6”. This lets you into a basin beside the Greyhound pub (with lots of Gongoozlers). You then have to pass under a fine wrought iron bridge which takes you onto the Coventry canal.
Now, if you are going north (like most people) then you have to perform a 180 degree turn going round the bridge abutment before entering the narrows of what used to be another stop lock. If you are going to Coventry then you have to do a quick right-left chicane. Quite do-able with a modern boat, but imagine it with a horse drawn working boat!
Now what was Samuel Simcock thinking when he designed it? Certainly not the efficient movement of boats - which, after all, was the whole point. Even back in 1777 the bean-counters got in the way of good engineering, as they probably have since we learned to count. In order to maximise toll revenue the Coventry canal company insisted that the junction was much further towards Coventry so the two canals ran parallel for almost a mile to Longford. It was’t till 1803 that some sense prevailed and the junction was moved to Hawksbury Pity they didn't do a proper job and make it a T-junction and even the levels out.
After doing the Hawksbury turn, we threaded our way north past the extensive moorings and had and uneventful run up to the rather better designed Marston junction where we turned up the Ashby. The first thing we encountered was the remains of the stop lock where tolls were collected, but it’s built rather too close to the bridge over the junction for easy manoeuvring.
The Ashby has a very different character and you sense this as soon as you turn off the Coventry canal and leave the houses behind. It’s quiet, rural and shallow, and apart from Hinkley there aren’t any big towns on the route so shopping opportunities are few. At first the towpath is poor and the banks are very overgrown with bulrushes, so there is not much chance of casual mooring.
There was a lot less boat traffic too, which is just as well as it soon gets very narrow indeed as it threads past peoples' back gardens. You wonder how the builders imagined they could operate it as a wide beam canal (as originally intended) but you can see their intent at the wide bridge holes.
We had a good run through Hinckley, then we saw a Viking hire boat pin-balling up the canal ahead of us. I’ve seen some idiots in my time but I wonder how he made it from Rugby. He obviously still hadn’t figured out which way to push the tiller which seemed to have only two positions hard port or starboard. We went slower and slower while he bounced from bank to bank on a wide straight section. Then we reached moored boats and Captain Incompetent slowed even more - we were out of gear most of the time. One of the moorers commented: “I know they are supposed to slow down, but really!” At least he didn’t hit anyone, but it was close.
By that time there was quite a queue forming. Finally we got to a straightish section and asked if we could pass, he agreed but accelerated as we got alongside. When I opened right up to get clear, the rattle in the transmission came back – NOT good. But we all got past and proceeded at a more reasonable pace, though the guy behind me was keen to push on faster than I wanted to. As the weather was closing in again, we pulled over at Bridge 31 near Dadlington and called it a day after 8 ½ hrs on the move.
The weather forecast for the next day included a weather warning for heavy and persistent rain. So it looked like the best plan was to sit Wednesday out, but as our mooring wasn’t very good we decided to have an early start in the hope of beating the rain.
Wednesday 29th July, Br31 to Battlefield moorings
It wasn’t actually raining first thing, so we cast off more in hope than expectation. The rain started after 15 minutes and intensified remorselessly. When we got to Sutton Cheyney the moorings were full so we pressed on. By the time we got to the Battlefield moorings it was absolutely chucking it down and I was soaked. But fortunately there was lots of room and we got moored quickly.
This was my first really wet trip on Grace and I really missed the rear doors and second Tonneau support we had on Max. So that’s another couple of jobs added to the list.
We spent the rest of the day doing yet more DIY jobs and took a lot of jobs off the list, but by mid afternoon cabin fever set in so I went exploring in the deluge.
The moorings are right by the site of the battle of Bosworth where in 1485 King Richard the Third (despite numerical and tactical advantage) made a poorly judged charge and was killed. So the crown passed from the foreign despotic Plantagenets to the Tudors who were no better. But at least the war of the Roses was over and the new king Henry 7th could concentrate on foreign wars and repression at home.
After looking at a stone memorial to Richard, I walked up a stream (normally a road) to the preserved Battlefield railway station at Shenton. Soon people started to arrive and I guessed a train might show up. It did - a DMU! What a let down, why preserve one of those? I trudged back through monsoon like conditions climbing the waterfall (normally steps) back to the boat.
Chris had been cooking lamb in red wine for dinner and the aroma was wafting down the towpath – what a welcome home.
Thursday 30th July, Battlefield moorings to Terminus to Sutton Cheyney
The forecasters predicted heavy showers in the afternoon, so we made an early start. We spent a pleasant morning ambling along through fields and with no locks to interrupt one’s progress it’s easy to loose track of where you are. Pretty soon we came to Shackerstone where the tight left hand turn over the aqueduct woke me up. The preserved railway has it headquarters and engine sheds here but they weren’t open that day.
This was as far along as I had previously been on this canal so now it was all new territory.
After a relaxed hour or so we entered Snarestone tunnel - only 250 yards, but the first real tunnel we had done on Grace. This was where I wished the tunnel light switch was nearer to hand, so another job get added to the to do list.
After the tunnel we saw lots of signs warning “Canal closed ahead!” Did this mean we couldn’t get to the end after all ?
When we got there we found a building site with seriously big Tonka toys shifting lots of earth, including one busily filling in the winding hole. But we could see the brand new one about a boat length further on and what looked like a second canal along side. There was also what looked like the makings of a lock right at the end.
We turned in the new winding hole and backed the boat to the end of the canal and had lunch. So this was the extension? all 70’ of it? A chap from the Ashby canal society arrived, who told us we were only the second people to use the new winding hole, and that the parallel canal was a nature reserve that natural England had insisted on at cost £200K. I bet that gave some faceless bureaucrat great satisfaction knowing he had forced other people to waste their money. Then I asked about the lock, and heard that was BW wanting to separate their water from the extension, and the lock was put in at their insistence. More bureaucratic idiocy.
We set off back as heavy clouds threatened, and by the time we got to the tunnel it was persisting down again. We continued through heavy showers till we arrived at the very nice (if slightly unusual) offside visitor moorings at Sutton Cheyney. The moorings are a jetty made from recycled plastic, and then it’s a short walk to the “on-shore facilities” - which we made good use of as by now the pooh tank light was red all the time. Decided we must get a pumpout tomorrow, phoned Ashby boats and arranged one for the morning. The facilities also included an informal library where you can swap books or “buy” one for a donation to the RNLI. We swapped a couple of books but they also had Videos and even some DVD’s
That afternoon it was warm and sunny, so I bailed out the front lockers and started to derust the starboard one after nibbling ineffectually away at the drain hole. Meanwhile Christine set the washing out on the pontoon.
Lots of water in the engine bilge again – I’ve got to DO Something about this.
Friday 31st July, Sutton Cheyney to Hawksbury
Ashby boats were very busy as it was their change over day, but we managed to squeeze in immediately next to the bridge. They are a very helpful and friendly lot, and they quickly got us pumped out. We bought some very reasonably priced diesel as well.
Our next stop was Trinity Marina, just for a nose round and see what they offer. Chris got us choc ices. Yes, ice cream - it was warm and dry enough to welcome one, the first time this trip. There’s a big Brewers Fayre pub there, but the moorings belong to the marina and if you stay overnight they charge £5. Well they can kiss our custom goodbye!
Soon afterward we passed ex-Maximus owners Gary and Brenda on their boat Arowas, but unfortunately no where to stop and chat.
As soon as we turned onto the main line we noticed how much busier it was and I soon had a guy right on my transom. So as soon as we reached straight bit I pulled over and let him by. He engaged warp drive and went by at high speed, almost washing a moored Tupperware cruise up the bank
We expected that the visitor moorings at Hawksbury would be fairly busy but got in OK. As supplies were low, we went for a meal at the Greyhound. Even though we arrived early it was very crowded, and we were lucky to find a table. I thought it was rather expensive and the food was nothing special. By the time we got out it had started to drizzle and it stayed wet all night, but at least the portholes don’t leak any more so that’s another job off the list.
The forecast was for sun and showers the next day so we decided to go and have a look at Coventry - but that’s another story.