Canal journey ahead
After the Rugby bus incident, I was keen to continue my canal journey towards the Ashby, and away from the construction work close to bridge 66. This would include navigating a tunnel, swing-bridge and a lock. My first day out of Rugby I didn’t go very far, mooring close to the ‘All Oaks Wood’. A wonderful shady wood-lined stretch of the Oxford canal, however the mooring was out the other-side of the magical woods and in full sun. Getting to this rural spot I travelled through Rugby and Newbold.
Rugby was the first large town I have been through on the canal, and having heard horror stories about other towns and cities of ‘youths’ hurling abuse/ stones / bricks/ bikes/cars at passing boats, I was ready for action. This proved totally unnecessary as the canal through Rugby had a rural feel, and at busy road crossings there were lots of other boats. The ‘youths’ – I am always intrigued by this term as it seems to be a nameless, genderless collective, which takes on sinister meanings -didn’t appear, unless you include a couple of teenagers walking their dog.
I was also quite surprised by the lack of industrial architecture I had expected towering Victorian relics by the canal-side, instead it was largely green and felt secluded. Newbold looked liked a lovely spot to moor up, but I had psychologically readied myself for the Newbold tunnel, so I knew I couldn’t stop until I was out the other side.
Before setting off that morning I had checked my headlight was working and had my large torch to hand after the Braunston tunnel incident. As it turned out such preparations for Newbold were fairly ridiculous, as the tunnel is only 250 yards long – it verges on being more of a bridge than a tunnel. The tunnel can take two boats, and also has a footpath running inside too, if I had realised how easy this tunnel was I might have stopped in Newbold.
Once through the tunnel it wasn’t much further to the All Oaks Wood and the mooring spot. I spent the day painting and made use of the heat to wash and dry some clothes. That night I poured over my canal maps ready for the next day and prepared for the journey to Hawkesbury. I was bracing myself for my first swing-bridge and a lock and the weird looking layout of Hawkesbury. All of these appeared on my maps, but I am never quite sure of the layout and how I will handle them until I arrive, so I always set off with a fair amount of trepidation. (Largely because I am fearful of having an audience to whatever cock-ups I make!)
Next morning the wonderful hot weather had gone and I was back to wearing eight layers, a bodywarmer and gloves as I moved on to Hawkesbury junction where the Oxford Canal meets the Coventry.
This stretch of the Oxford canal, all the way from Rugby to Hawkesbury is lined with dead-end canals going off on both sides. These mark the original course of the canal, and were ‘lost’ when the canal was straightened between 1829-34. Apparently, James Brindley, canal builder extraordinaire, planned and built the Oxford to reach as many places as possible. The idea being that more people would be engaged with the canal if it reached more places. I am sure this was a marvellous idea, especially after a few gins. Of course this meandering made the journeys much slower for working boats, and therefore more expensive, ultimately resulting in the shortening of the canal, by 15 miles, and the creation of dead-ends.
Canals to nowhere
What I liked about these unused turnings is that many of them do have lovely iron bridges spanning the dead-end canals. Some of these are now used for marina access, whilst others abruptly end and merge into woodland. I am sure there are great ghost stories to be written about the old course of the canal.
Romans and swing-bridges
At Brinklow I headed under a towering brick bridge, which carries Fosse Way, the Roman road from Exeter to Lincoln. (I think this brick bridge is a later addition ?.) I could see the swing bridge ahead of me, and couldn’t help feeling a bit of frustration as the boat ahead closed the gate behind them.
Just as I tentatively approached the bridge I was relieved that an employee of Rose Narrowboats appeared and opened the gate for me. This was made all the better as he identified my Sabb engine and Pea Green as a Barney boat. I am still left wondering how I will do a swing-bridge alone when the mechanism to open the gate is on the opposite side to the towpath and where you tie up yor boat. (This is probably why I am yet to go down the Market Harborough arm, as there are two swing bridges – one ideally placed for the pub gongoozlers.)
Once through the swing-bridge the next stretch of canal allowed me to try and re-enact a picture from my canal bible ‘The Story of Our Canals’ from Ladybird. This canal moment is probably the equivalent to acting out a favourite film scene or music moment – think driving through Joshua Tree National Park whilst singing at top volume songs from the album Joshua Tree, or bumping down the very badly surfaced Route 66 whilst pretending to get some kicks (I soon gave up on this one…).
The enacting on the Oxford canal was more to do with trying to take a picture of Pea Green on the canal, as a Virgin Pendolino swung along the railway track alongside. Throughout the late 19th Century and early 20th Centuries there were a number of photographs taken with a steam train running alongside the canal. Clearly it would have been more exciting if it had been a steam train but nevertheless, Ladybird re-enactment is up there alongside other legends.
Needless to say this all failed, as the Pendolinos travel at between 125-135mph and by the time I had my gloves off and my phone camera open the trains had long disappeared. I had a whole series of photographs of the power cables on the dull looking railway line. Not to beaten I did manage a picture on the way back. Though I still think it would be more exciting to have been pictured alongside a steam train.
As I headed through Ansty and under the M69, the noise of the M6 got louder and I knew I was getting closer to Hawkesbury junction. In both of my guidebooks the junction looked ridiculously complex. Not helped as in one the junction was handily across two pages. One book had an enlarged map, which just seemed to make things worse. All that was certain was there was a lock, and a couple of hard turns, all with a pub right on site…. Great.
I approached with trepidation, passing lots of moored boats, just as a woman was closing the lock gate behind her boat. I tied up, leapt off the boat and opened the gate. Back on the boat I moved carefully into the lock, looking for the lock bollards to loop the boat too. I was a bit miffed to find there were no bollards. Bugger.
I got off the boat, rope in hand, windlass in the other and carefully placed the rope a bit of a way from the lock edge, so I could still hold the boat as the lock went down. I strode across to the lower gate and was about to put my windlass on the paddle when I noticed that the water in the lock was pretty much level with the canal on both sides. Now I was really confused, but really didn’t want to look like a complete idiot in front of the lunchtime pub crowd.
Baffled, but still trying to look like I knew what I was doing, I wound up the paddle. The water went down all of 25cm… my whole ridiculous antics with the rope now looked a bit daft, as even with the boat at its lowest point in the lock I could still easily step onto the stern, without using the ladder or manhandling the boat with the rope.
I later learned this was a stop lock – stopping the boats before they joined a new canal (with its own fees) and stopping the neighbouring canal from stealing water from the other (sort of). As a single-hander boater I think this might be my most favourite lock – ever, and ridiculously on the return journey I had two men help me… (shame they hadn’t been at Braunston a week before!)
Through the Junction
Once through the lock, despite my worries, it was of course blatantly obvious which way to go. I swung the boat 90 degrees under the bridge and then 90 degrees again to pass the old engine house and emerge onto the Coventry canal. Hurray, I had done it, stress of the day over.
Coal and blackberries
I moored up a little further on in a very peaceful spot, next to the Coalpit Field, just on the outskirts of Bedworth. Once again it was difficult to imagine how different this spot must have looked 100 years ago. I had handily moored right next to a whole lot of blackberry bushes, all full of ripe blackberries. I picked far too many and decided to make a blackberry compote – as you do. Then over the next couple of days I ate far too many blackberry pancakes for breakfast.
Later that day I also tried out the pub at the junction as my friend Kate came to meet me and we hid in the pub as the heavens opened and we looked agog at rain – it had been quite a few months since we’d seen rain like that. We couldn’t help but feel sorry for the drenched customers who came in as we smugly sipped our drinks!