Despite our proximity to the West Coast Main Line, we had a good night at Bugbrooke although it was raining steadily when we awoke. We took our time getting out of bed and were unsure of our plans for the day. Eventually, the rain stopped and we decided to set off. As nice as Bugbrooke is, it is just another dormitory village where the residents believe that they live there even though they work, shop and socialise elsewhere.
We moved on to Weedon Bec and stopped at the moorings on the offside near the church. We’ve been here before so there wasn’t anything to explore that was new. Walking down from the canal bank brings you down into the churchyard, crossing a footpath which I think is the Nene Way. We had a look in the church as we passed through and then visited the One Stop convenience store which is part of the Tesco group. Next, we visited the nearby Plume of Feathers pub which was completely devoid of both staff and customers so after five minutes waiting, we left and walked along the street to the other pub at this end of the village, The Maltster’s Arms. We got served there but the place wasn’t very nice so we quickly drank up and left. Out of curiosity, we called back into the Plume of Feathers and were greeted by a very friendly landlady who explained that she had been cleaning upstairs. We had a drink and then returned to the boat.
The following day started off with bright sunshine so I did some cleaning of the roof. It’s a difficult job because it has a sanded, non-slip surface. We never walk on the roof so the surface is of no use to us but the sanded finish traps so much dirt and is a b*st*rd to keep clean.
In the middle of the day we had lunch and then walked to the upper part of Weedon by going down the steps from the canal, turning right on to the footpath, walking to Bridge Road and then going under the canal before turning left on the A5. On reaching the junction between the A5 and the A45, we popped in Tesco and bought a few bits before walking up to the Heart of England pub where we stopped off for a drink. Weedon Bec has a number of Antique shops but we have visited them all before so we did no more than look in the windows as we passed by.
We walked back along the towpath and passed by our old lock buddies on nb Que Sera Sera. Back at Caxton, I spent a couple of hours waxing and polishing the port side.
We were up and about the following morning nice and early and left our mooring in the early morning sunshine, just after eight o’clock. Our journey brought us into the Watford gap where the canal gradually gets squeezed in between the A5, the M1 and the WCML. Two boats were leaving the bottom lock as we arrived and we were soon joined by nb Grampa’s Lady, with a single hander on board. There were a few boats coming down the Buckby flight as we ascended and with Sue doing most of the physical stuff, we reached the top quite quickly.
Luckily enough we found a mooring above lock and just before the CaRT yard. We had lunch, went for a walk and then spent the rest of the afternoon outside the New Inn.
Time for a rant now!
As we sat outside the New Inn, nb Corona arrived at the lock. The steerer made no attempt to slow down and smashed into the bottom gate with such force that people came out of the pub to see what had happened. We have history with this boat and its owner who we presume to be Trevor Maggs as that is the name painted on the side of it. On a previous occasion, this boat shot straight out of the arm between Rugby and Newbold causing us to make an emergency stop to avoid T-boning it. We love the idea that there are many old working boats preserved and still in use on the system and although in the main, most owners are caring and considerate, I think that there are a disproportionate number who think that they have a priority over everyone else. They don’t, they have a leisure boat and pay a licence at the same rate as everyone else. No doubt Trevor Maggs, if that is his name, will also be one of those who complains about the poor state of the locks and that CaRT don’t maintain them properly. Here’s a clue Trevor, stop smashing the f*ck*ng gates up!!!!!!
Rant over – for now!
For the last week or so, there has been a distinct feeling that we are on our way back home. Of course, we’ve been on our way back ever since we set off but when you are exploring new waters, it doesn’t feel that way. Part of the feeling that we are returning is due to the fact that the seasons are changing and that the summer is now behind us. The other part is because we have some familiarity with this section of canal, we know that there are not too many places left to visit and most of them are not new to us anyway. Add to all of that the constant reminders from the numbers on bridges, locks and mileposts that we are gradually getting closer to Braunston where all those numbers end up at either one or zero. (Our Sunday night mooring is 22 miles, 20 locks and 54 bridges from Braunston). The locks at Stoke Bruerne total seven and they are quickly followed by Blisworth tunnel and an eleven mile pound to the bottom of the Buckby flight which also boasts seven locks.
We were up and about early again, pulling on to the service point before starting our ascent just after eight. We didn’t have much to do and so we were entering the bottom lock just twenty minutes later. All of the locks, with the exception of just two, were empty and therefore were in our favour. As a result it took us just an hour and a half to reach the top lock and this was where we met the first boat travelling down the flight. After swapping places with them, Sue just had time to make some toast on the short length between the top lock and the tunnel mouth where all naked flames have to be extinguished before entering. No doubt this is in case methane or some other flammable gas is lurking underground but I suspect that the risk of explosion is very low. Nevertheless, we complied with the rules and as a result, Blisworth tunnel survived our transit.
The tunnel is the third longest canal tunnel in the country but it is dead straight so it is possible to see the light at the other end even though it is some 3,076 yards (2,813 m) away. It was easy to see that there were no other craft in the tunnel with us so I opened the throttle and aimed for the tiny light dot ahead. There are markers on the wall inside giving distances to the nearest end and with nothing else to look at I began counting in 100m lengths. The tunnel had to be partially rebuilt in the 1980’s and the centre section, probably a third of its length, is lined with concrete rings: the same tunnel technology employed in the construction of the channel tunnel. With 700 metres left to go, a boat headlight appeared at the northern portal meaning that I had to slow down and move to the right of the tunnel in order to pass the incoming vessel. A few minutes later and we were both in position to pass safely and without incident and a few minutes after that, the end was very much in sight.
We passed another boat just outside the tunnel mouth and another just two minutes later. By the time we had passed Blisworth mill, we passed two more, had we entered the tunnel ten minutes later, we would have had five boats to pass in there rather than just one.
Blisworth village held little interest for us on this occasion so we passed on by and although we considered mooring near Gayton junction there were no free spaces. Carrying on through rural Northamptonshire, we eventually found a mooring near the village of Bugbrooke. Despite the fact that we had made good progress through the locks at Stoke Bruerne, we had still been travelling for four and a half hours and therefore it was lunchtime.
After lunch, we walked into the village and visited the local shop, then we visited the nearby pub which has now been closed down and the Post Office which has also closed and been moved half a mile away to the local pharmacy – the lesson being, don’t believe all of the information on Google Maps! The shopkeeper told us that there was another pub on the other side of the village but we decided to give it a miss and return to the canal where we knew that there was a pub/restaurant next to Bugbrooke Marina. When we reached the edge of the village, we looked at the map again and saw that the Five Bells pub, the other one in the village, was only a five minute walk away so we decided to pay it a visit. On arriving, we discovered that that it doesn’t open until 5pm on Mondays and it was only 3pm.
We walked back to the Wharf and had a drink there before returning to Caxton along the towpath. Who should we see chugging along but our old lock buddy from the Marsworth flight, nb Que Sera Sera. They had been down the Northampton arm but had only stayed one night after mooring next to a park (no idea which one). They said that the pounds were low and there were lots of weeds along the way so it hadn’t been worth it and they wouldn’t try it again. They asked about mooring and we pointed out that the Wharf pub had mooring for patrons so they pulled over and tied up. We have been leapfrogging each other since mooring near them at Berkhamsted and again at Leighton Buzzard, no doubt we haven’t seen the last of each other. They are heading for the Oxford canal so there are still plenty opportunities until we reach Braunston.