Sunday, 8 November 2015

Braunston to Bricks - the end of navigation

It's been exactly two months since our last blog. It's reassuring to know that our loyal blog readers have better things to do than worry about why the blog hasn't been updated. We have been overwhelmed by a wall of silence and precisely zero enquiries along the lines of "Where are you? Have you sunk? Have you been washed out to sea?".

I'm pleased to put all readers' minds at ease that we are still alive and kicking. So no more sleepless nights for you lot now.

What we have done over the last couple of months is something rather rash and unforeseen. With a degree of sadness after 6 years living afloat, we have now moved back to dry land. Pas Mèche is safely tucked up at a marina in the midlands and is now for sale through Great Haywood boat sales.  Oh go on then, here's a shameless plug

But before we get into all that, we were last seen in Braunston. On the way out we passed the iconic double arched bridge where the Grand Union meets the North Oxford canal.

Next, after a bit of a queue we joined the mayhem at Hilmorton Locks. Mayhem because these locks are paired and one of the top ones was out of action so boats were coming up faster than they could get down. Does it really take a genius to work out that when you have more boats coming up into a pound and not enough going down the water runs out? Apparently it does, and geniuses were in short supply at the middle lock so boats were going aground all over the place in the pound above. Fortunately we made it down and, after trying to no avail to explain why people shouldn't rush up the locks just to join the queue of stuck boats above, we left everyone else to it.

The cruise through Rugby is pretty unremarkable, the highlight being the embankment above the town which has a number of short aqueducts. Rumour has it this isn't a particularly safe place to stop though, which is a shame as it would be handy for shopping.

Instead we moored for the night in Newbold on Avon and walked over the tunnel where we met some rather over-friendly cows. Fortunately these ones were behind a gate, unlike the ones we were herded by on the South Oxford last year.

The next morning we passed nb Chalkhill Blue, belonging to friends and fellow bloggers Neil and Karen. We'd met them in Warwick when they came to look round PM for inspiration as they're thinking of downsizing to a 'go anywhere' 57' boat like ours (oops, was that another plug?).

Next stop was Hawkesbury Junction, where the North Oxford meets the Coventry Canal in a rather contorted U-shaped junction. Over Victoria's left shoulder is the North Oxford and over her right is the Coventry.

I have to confess I was a little nervous about this manoevre, still traumatised by doing it on only our second day of owning PM back in 2009.

Pressure is added by the presence of The Greyhound pub right by the junction, which is normally full of drinkers sat out watching for boats making a mess of this junction. Fortunately it was raining and the good people of Coventry clearly don't start drinking this early so we didn't have an audience.

We must've learned a thing or two about handling a narrowboat in the six years we've had PM as the turn is actually pretty straightforward (actually that's not the right expression...). When we did this back in 2009 we did make the turn but with a lot less dignity. I remember my mum making a brave but ultimately doomed attempt at pulling the front round with a rope from the towpath. Not very professional but at least it was only the rope that ended up in the water!

Once you get out of Nuneaton the Coventry canal is surprisingly pleasant and rural. Here we are passing the old workshops at Hartshill Yard...

... just before we moored for the night in the wide open valley of the River Anker.

Continuing on towards Atherstone the Coventry is probably at its best, following a winding course through a beautiful landscape of re-claimed spoil heaps from the old quarrying industry round here.

Atherstone locks is never a quick flight but it's attractively set and there always seem to be plenty of boats going up and down.

After a gap you get to the last two locks on the Coventry at Glascote. This sign pinned up by the bottom locks pretty much sums up the attitude and lifestyle of boating as it should be. We've noticed in the time we've lived aboard that people often forget that waterways are not like motorways, and the general etiquette and respect for other boaters isn't what it used to be. Oh dear, I must be getting old!

Turning right at Fradley Junction we were back on the Trent & Mersey - fittingly the first and last canal we cruised on PM.

We crossed the River Trent near Alrewas...

.... then detoured into Burton on Trent. It's a sign of how much we've learned boating that we managed to wind (ok, "turn" - keep up landlubbers) here and reverse through the bridge behind us in the photo below without a hitch, when in 2009 we were terrified going through the same bridge forwards!

As the sign over the canal suggests, this is the brewing capital of the UK. The Marston's brewery tour was fully booked when we came this way earlier in the summer so it would've been rude not to give it another go. Fortunately there was plenty of space this time so we had a good couple of hours being shown round the historic brewery in what turned out to be a private tour just for the two of us.

As any ale fans will know Marston's Pedigree is the only beer to be brewed using the Burton Union system. I won't go into detail (partly because I was too distracted by the imminent tasting session by this point in the tour to really take it in...) but suffice to say it's an amazing sight and makes a pint of 'Peddy' seem pretty good value.


Freshly educated, and with my wallet lubricated by the (very) generous tasting session, we spent the rest of the day making sure Burton's ales were up to scratch. Next day we had a short cruise to Branston water park, where we were treated to a lovely evening for our last night on PM.

We spotted Chalkhill Blue just round the corner so invited Neil and Karen over for drinks that evening. It was great to catch up with them properly and find out about their plans for their new boat. It definitely helped dispel the 'final night afloat blues' too.

Our last day on PM dawned bright and sunny (secretly I was hoping for pouring rain to ease the pain of leaving her!) . We waved to Neil & Karen as we set off (apologies N&K for the post-shower hair photo) ....

... then climbed our last ever lock (!) at Barton Turn...

... before reaching PM's home for the time being while she awaits a new owner.

I know I would say this given she's for sale but PM has been an excellent boat. We've covered most of the waterways, some in very challenging conditions and, as blog readers with good memories will vouch for, we've barely had any issues with her. She's been the best liveaboard you could hope for over the last six years.

The decision to move off wasn't an easy one but we feel it's time to get on with other things in life. Unfortunately that also means spending more time working and it's just not fair to a narrowboat to leave it cooped up in a marina all the time. They're boats (and that's different to "house boats" as most landlubbers seem to call them) and they need and deserve to be used as such. That means they should be out cruising, and for us that's just not compatible with real life. 

So we've moved on. It's been a great six years afloat and we will always have a real soft spot for boats and the waterways but other things beckon and we are taking to life on land very well after so long on the boat. Toilets that empty themselves, heating that just comes on and taps that keep on flowing without having to refill a tank from a frozen waterpoint definitely help!

We're living in Bath but not far from the river/canal here (we're even in the Nicholsons!) so we still feel in touch with the waterways. We've met some great people on the canals so if anyone who know us is doing the K&A do let us know - we're not far away!