Saturday, 26 May 2012

An Unusually Hot Day

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Each weekend we have been continuing the journey to slowly return "Sickle" back to "home".  Last weekend we had decided to limit our movements, as we knew we would be locked out by restrictions at Calcutt, the first of 4 Grand Union lock flights we can only get through during a restricted opening window.

Coming up Stockton Locks - no other boats about.
The plan this weekend was to actually try to get to "Sickle" in time on Friday evening to go up the Stockton locks that evening, but various"happenings" at home meant a later departure, and we were late enough up at Long Itchington that we decided just to go to the pub, and leave any moving until the morning.  We had sought advice about which of the four possible pubs might provide a meal, and had received both good and bad comment about each one, I think, but decided to sample probably the best known, and certainly the most picturesque - "The Blue Lias".  Being a beautiful Friday evening the place was heaving, with diners at virtually all of the very many outside tables, and a long queue to order drinks and food.  In fact they were quite efficient, and we ended up with a meal that was good, but not outstanding - probably as well as we would have done at any of the pubs.  However what Cath was told when she tried to order coffees later almost beggars believe at a "dining pub" in the modern age.  Apparently they only do instant coffee.  We went back to the boat!

"Sextans" - Sister to "Sickle", but now with 10 feet added.
Next morning we set off up the Stockton locks, we had moored with 9 still to do, and we were fairly slick at getting up these quickly.  At this stage nobody else was moving, but as we pressed on to Calcutt, for the final locks on the Grand Union Birmingham main line, it started getting much busier.  In fact we were at Calcutt by 10:00, which, with the locks having been locked until 09:00, meant we had not lost much time by not getting going last night.  With "Sickle" having no fridge or cool box, and it being very hot weather, one is constantly on the watch for opportunities to top up quickly with small amounts of fresh milk.  The shop at Calcutt provided this need.

On to the shared Oxford Canal - Wigram's Turn behind.
Today we were unsure if we could get through Stockton, Calcutt and Braunston locks and be at the Long Buckby ones before they were locked for the day.  When we caught up a procession of very slow moving boats on the stretch of canal between "Wigram's turn" and "Braunston Turn", (technically part of the Oxford canal, but broad, and the Grand Union shares its route), it seemed unlikely we would.  However several boats quickly waved us past, and we were soon back to making good progress to Braunston.

"Sickle" gets a tow up the Braunston locks.
At Braunston there was no queue for the locks, and we were quickly joined in the bottom lock by a lady single handing her boat.  She asked if we could tie "Sickle" to her boat, so she could bring them up, as Cath and I worked the locks, which we did.  It seems odd to be lock wheeling together - usually one of us has charge of one of the boats!  Lock-keepers were controlling flows to try and get maximum use of locks, and least use of water, so the flight took longer than expected, but not unreasonably so.  Generally we are getting more positive feelings about the volunteer lock-keepers than the negative thougghts being put about by some!

Undoubtedly the most disturbing image of the day!
By now, what had looked unlikely earlier now looked fine - we would get down the Buckby / Whilton locks today.  We made a quite brisk passage of Braunston tunnel, and were soon at the top of Buckby.  Again someone who had been taking water said they would come down with us.  This was quite welcome, as the day was unbelievably hot, and these are not the easiest locks on the Southern Grand Union.  Progress was not particularly rapid, as we fairly soon had caught up boats in front, and in some cases were again waiting for boats coming towards us.  But we were still well ahead of any plan we had had at the start of the weekend.

Don't believe this sign if you want "provisions" or "essentials"!
We realised if we tried to cook in Sickle's cabin that evening we were likely to make it too hot to get any sleep.  A barbecue seemed an excellent idea, but we didn't have any of the required items for one, (we are talking "vegetarian" barbecue here, of course!).  Cath was mindful of a sign soon after you leave the bottom of Whilton locks that might imply a suitable farm shop, so we moored up, and off she went.  Apparently the place in question whilst advertising "provisions" and "20 shops" is not in any way useful for buying any of the kind of things we had in mind.  Oh well, at least we now know it is a waste of space!  However, I realised if we moored on Weedon embankment we could access a convenience store from there.  Cath did rather better there, and produced enough things that a barbecue was in order.  Much taken with our mooring spot, high on the embankment, and about level with the top of the church tower, we decided we had already put in a long day, and would stay where we were.  An excellent evening, just spent relaxing, and enjoying the surroundings. 

Long Itchington to Weedon Embankment
Miles: 19.0, Locks:25

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 305.7, Locks: 258


  1. One of my favourite bits of canal trivia concerns the shared section between Napton and Braunston: boats going north on the GU travel it one way, while boats going north on the Oxford go the other way!

  2. Indeed so, Adam.

    This seems to be one very busy bit of canal these days, in no small part due to the large number of big marinas that have sprung up in that locality. Obviously the fact it was both the weekend, and excellent weather had helped bring out boats in large numbers, although I got the impression many were not going to be going through any locks!
    I realised as we were doing it that there are some truly stunning views on that stretch, too.


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