Ducks, debris and dumb barges

Wednesday 29th June: Bascote (Warks) to 1m west of Braunston (Northants), 8 miles, 13 locks

                “ Aw rite?”… Cleddau is back in “You alright?” territory, first recorded last summer on the North Oxford Canal.* These words have crossed the canal several times today, and on the final occasion its speaker could not have been more cheerful.  It was about 6pm and Boatwif was taking an evening amble along the towpath when from a boat on the opposite side came:

                “ Aw rite?” (Here the speaker stretched out his arms as if to embrace the canal). “I’ve finished work, the sun is shining – and I got a cold beer!”

                Boatwif’s response, predictably perhaps, was “And I’ve just had my cup of tea!” The truth is she had had two since mooring up, but had faded into unconsciousness for a while after the top third of the mug and so had had to drink another!  Fatigue hits after Grand Union lock flights: heaving, pushing, pulling, winding, rope-throwing, rope-heaving, precision steering… Today had involved 10 locks at Stockton plus three at Calcutt just 2.5 miles later.

                When you share double locks with another boat up or down a flight inevitably conversation turns to boats and routes. Our partner’s boat had been built by Reading Marine at Aldermaston in 2000, repainted by them two years ago – and got caught up in that company’s going out of business. Their destination is the River Nene and Peterborough.  It was good to be able to impart a hint of the delight of that special mooring found last year at the lakes just outside the city. Their favourite trip from home mooring on the Staffs and Worcs is down to the River Weaver; the Cleddau crew already has plans to check that navigation out in late September or October.

                Once all locks were done Cleddau’s route today took her past moored boats (many of them full seventy footers) and the two huge marinas at Ventnor Farm and Calcutt. Then Napton Junction was reached. Here the Grand Union goes right for Oxford, left for Braunston.   Wigram Turn Marina sits right on the junction, a large notice proclaiming No Servicing on Saturdays.  Is this where nb Valerie is temporarily tied up…? It was hard to see but all looks well.

                The Oxford Canal, for that is currently our cut, has a different feel from the Grand Union. It winds and weaves; where the fields are not hedged views are of corn crops and gentle undulating slopes. Bridges and buildings are of red brick, though several farm buildings seem to be in total disrepair. “Always on corners,” shouted the Captain, only once today, but probably for the thousandth time in a cruising career. This canal requires a fair amount of jiggling and dancing around oncoming and tied up craft.  Then, just before mooring up, Cleddau progressed gently past a workboat busy dredging the waters by the banks, deepening the edge, moving the clay back towards the middle of the cut. Somewhere, comfortable against the hedge and oblivious of boats, a red-hatted reader concentrated on his words…

                A towpath trundle this evening was sheer delight, not a road or a railway line to create intrusive noise. The canal belonged to ducks on the bank, blackbirds on the branches, a cockerel on the offside, inquisitive escapee sheep beside a bridge, a beetle and butterflies. Yet it is as if this is Braunston’s backyard: a submerged wooden barge plus at separate points a discarded life ring and a tattered stern pram cover.

 Tomorrow:  Braunston – the Buckby Flight, no further than Weedon…

*See: http://boatwif.co.uk/2010_08_01_archive.html

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