Companionable days

Rugby (golf course) – Braunston – Grand Union (Bridge 100) – GU above Bascote Locks – Royal Leamington Spa

30¼ miles 26 locks

Counties – there’s always a desire to know one’s whereabouts in county terms – blame it on the many hours spent poring over a Counties of England and Wales jigsaw decades ago… To date, since March 12th , Cleddau has cruised through and into 5 counties – Cheshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire … Now, on the Grand Union at Royal Leamington Spa, the boat is definitely back in Warwickshire.

A chatty soul on a boat moored nearby on Saturday explained that he was heading for Norfolk. Once Downham Market was mentioned (home of his late parents) it wasn’t long before the Denver Sluice to King’s Lynn expedition of July 2014 was recalled, the bridge at Downham Market looking perilously low as Cleddau sped downstream towards it on a falling tide.   Questions were raised about the King’s Lynn floating pontoons and soon the Wash Crossing to Boston was under discussion. “Did you do it as three boats?” Boatwif was asked. “And did you write a blog about it…? I remember reading that…”

You have many conversations while afloat or on the towpath. Indeed, in recent days there have been several visitors on board:

Home neighbours T and M drove across to Braunston with flowers, mail and two free local newspapers. They came for a little cruise      and on return to Braunston got caught up in an unexpected event (outlined below).

Two customers at Midland Chandlers needed transport of a solid fuel stove and various heavy items     back to their boat (a prototype 1950s amphibious caravan).    Fitting it out will require skill and enthusiasm – there seems to be plenty of both.

A little later Frank (from a nearby narrow boat) was on board; his had been a similar career path to the Captain’s, so an hour or so of aircraft chat was happily passed.

There was good chat on Tuesday too with hire boat locking partners as Cleddau dropped downhill on the Stockton Flight: other canals explored, the different appearance of the Grand Union paddle gear – and working life in Cyprus in the 90s.

Not that it was a Monkton Moment* at all (Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections) but there was (curiously, near Welsh Road Lock)     a very unexpected confession. A towpath walker (she was well wrapped up and carrying a rather heavy looking rucksack) gazed at the boat’s name and asked where the boat came from. When told ‘Pembrokeshire’ she responded with: “Oh yes, of course, lovely county, I was conceived just north of Newquay…” Sometimes it’s hard to find a suitable response…

Then, on Wednesday evening Cleddau was under close observation by toddler Samuel and his father Raj. They live in an apartment overlooking the canal in Royal Leamington Spa. “Boat, boat,” repeated young Samuel. He (and his Dad) were desperate for a look inside a boat – and that’s how talk on Cleddau got round to the 25 states in India, the rivers from the Himalayas to Bengal and Raj’s artwork in which he creates landscape pictures by painting with a palatte knife.

And what about the boating? Well, there was the excitement of the three paired locks at Hillmorton on Sunday.  It was Easter Day and bells rang out joyfully from a nearby church. An accident was avoided (just) at the bottom lock.      A man stood on the lock side, firmly focused on a fishing line trailing down into the lock channel. He remained oblivious of the approaching boat, of the lock keeper opposite him and of the lock gate behind him. It was a near thing, he could have ended up splashed down into the canal water…

“Were you fishing for a windlass?” Boatwif asked.

“Nah, lost my garden shears from me boat yesterday. Thought I’d find ‘em.”

The remaining two locks were passed through, the words of Jo Bell, one time Canal Laureate, marked out on the gates of the middle locks.

 

 

The canal trip to Braunston is always delightfully rural. Lambs gamboled    and nuzzled their mothers    but the size of a new marina under construction (Dunchurch Pools) was a surprise.

The beautiful crocketed church spire of Braunston Church (‘The Cathedral of the Canals’) dominates the countryside in all directions.

 

  

Securing a mooring near to a road bridge in Braunston on a bank holiday weekend felt a positive triumph! Sucker for information boards Boatwif could not resist this:     Charles Dickens – a past visitor through Braunston, well, well!

Canals are for boats, of course. How about these, “junk boats” made by some children and their enterprising grandparents.

 

From Braunston the Grand Union weaves and curves east /west to Napton Junction. To travel it in a leisurely way is to observe old structures  

and extended curves,

to absorb the seasonal colour

and observe the ancient land shapes.

Then comes Napton Junction,    arms pointing east back to Braunston, south to Oxford or north to Warwick. It’s not long before the cruise heads downhill, three locks at Calcutt,    10 locks at Stockton, 10 more still to Leamington Spa. These locks are heftily built, for wide beam boats or two narrow boats,  with paddles that wind noiselessly upwards…  A chain attached to a heavy metal grip is designed to prevent the paddle returning to the closed position.

The bollards for securing ropes round are hefty too,    and helpfully, prevent ropes from slipping out of position.

Then, after Radcliffe Bottom Lock, there was a sighting again of this curious craft.

Royal Leamington Spa is less than regal when approached along the waterway. In these parts it was opened in March 1800 for carrying freight, from coal to corn. New student housing is near completion    and waterside living seems to as popular here as in other urban settings.

As for the Royal in Royal Leamington Spa? More about that next time…

Since Higher Poynton 182 miles, 3 tunnels and 76 locks

Monkton Moments* to date: 0

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

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