Careful at the locks

 Crick – Norton Junction – Braunston – Hillmorton

 17 miles, 16 locks, 2 tunnel transits

Back to the boat – would it be fit for another little voyage?

Well, yes – the bilges were empty of excess water, thanks to some fine plumbing detective work which had identified water overflow from the calorifier as the problem, and created a pipe diversion to an existing external hull fitting.   (This solution was a relief, as Boatwif for one had had anxious moments following the saga of a boat where the hull had been split due to a collision with a bridge many miles from its home base). An additional joy was the return to service of the Webasto water heater and its control panel being now positioned in a much more user-friendly place in the bedroom.

So where to – and for how long…

A reverse back from the pontoon.

Just after the boat with this interesting stern flag    Cleddau was turned left out of the marina to cruise past Crick Wharf    and plunge into Crick Tunnel    . Emerging in late afternoon a comfortable mooring spot (between Bridges 9A and 9)     was soon found, where from inside the boat at least, the drone of motorway traffic was not too intrusive.

Off the next morning the last mile to Watford Locks. The omens looked good – no boat queue waiting to descend these lock keeper-controlled locks. Still there was a long wait as three, then a fourth boat, were worked up the locks. While waiting who wouldn’t take a photograph of the tidiest rubbish disposal compound in these parts? Or of the healthy runner beans

and the flower-filled wheelbarrows…? 

On the move at last.

The single lock.

The four staircase locks (including one with very leaky gates).

The last two locks.

Look, healthy saplings planted on the offside near the bottom of the flight.

Out of the lock flight, past When I’m 64 (oh, to be only 64 again!)  and on the familiar couple of miles to Norton Junction. At the pretty cottage on the corner tables were laid up under a gazebo for what looked like a fine Sunday lunch…

Onward, heading towards Braunston. (Why is it that when you don’t need a mooring in a favourite spot there is plenty of space available – but if you do plan to moor there the rest of the world has already staked their claim…!)

Through Braunston Tunnel (for the fifth time this year). At the far end several wide beam boats were moored up. Were their skippers waiting for a booked early morning passage through the tunnel…?

It was a slow descent of the six Braunston broad locks. There were two boats going down ahead and little upcoming traffic to aid the gate pushing and paddle winding.  Only at the last lock was there another boat to share with, and a crowd of gongoozlers observing from the bridge.

Later, moored close to the entrance to Braunston Marina, a little exploration offered photographic opportunities…

Out of Braunston on Monday (after the longest delay ever at a water point waiting for another boat to deal with its rubbish, and someone else’s rubbish, and washing and hand wiping its two cassettes, and then filling its huge water tank). Signs suggesting a 30 minute limit at a water point mean nothing to some folk…!

Bearing right at the Braunston Turn Cleddau cruised onto the Oxford Canal (North), a canal suited to narrow boats but NOT to wide beams. You have to gaze at Braunston Church and its beautiful 150 foot crocketed spire. Below are the distinctive folds of a ridge and furrow landscape, a relic from medieval times.  The canal weaves on in a north westwards direction. Apart from cows and sheep it’s  largely empty terrain,   until, on the left,  the (pretty new)  Dunchurch Pools Marina is passed  and later, on the right, there are the Barby Moorings and Barby Wharf.

As the canal gets closer to Rugby so do images of the famous rugby football game appear in murals under bridges. 

Then come the three duplicated Hillmorton Locks, with its rise /drop of 18 feet 7 inches. Cleddau arrived at the top lock; the offside lock was empty and its bottom gates were swinging in the breeze. On the towpath side, though, a boat was about to enter the chamber to ascend. Best to wait and share its water.

Into the lock came a long Rothen’s workboat, three hold compartments filled with materials for work place delivery. Three life-jacketed young boys raced about, keen to help… Their mother was firm and authoritative. After the top gate had been opened all three boys were ordered back on board.

Just as the Captain was bringing Cleddau into the now full top lock another boat appeared heading for the top lock. A line of small flags fluttered above its rooftop. Boatwif quickly wound the paddles to fill the offside lock for them and then attended to Cleddau’s needs. One good turn deserves another and the crew of Rosemary (the flag fluttering boat) helped by closing Cleddau’s offside bottom gate.

Boatwif set off down the towpath to the middle pair of locks.  Ahead some boaters were busy emptying the towpath side middle lock – and the offside lock was taped off, out of use. Into the one operational middle lock sailed a cruiser, the lady crew member a chatty soul. “Come from Hawkesbury Junction, not through the stop lock though, haven’t been out on the boat for four years, Covid and all that, been all over though, canals and rivers too…”

The bottom gates were duly closed and action moved to the top end. The lady began to struggle to move the top end paddle; Boatwif couldn’t get her end to budge at all. The Rosemary lady arrived from the top lock and offered to lend a hand – but even with a double windlass action no progress was made.

“Use the long arm windlass,” the Captain bellowed from the boat, where he was drifting about in the pound above the lock. Places and duties were swapped, Boatwif boat and rope holding, the Captain paddle-winding. Meanwhile the cruiser’s skipper had got off his boat to help his wife.

Then, calamity – the cruiser was tipping, veering swiftly to a 45 degree angle.

There was scurrying about, water released from the bottom end, before slowly and carefully being added at the top end.

The cruiser was righted. The water level rose. The crew clambered back on board. The gates were opened and out the boat sailed.  “Alright. We’re alright,” called the lady as she passed. “Just the crockery all over the floor,” and off they chugged towards the top lock.

Such events bring hearts into the mouths of spectators – and sharp memories to mind of past near-disasters for any boaters who have witnessed them… As to what had caused the near sinking – the owner had tied a rope to the lock ladder when he went to help his wife; as the water level rose the boat was pulled tight and began to tip…

With two functioning top locks and two functioning bottom locks, the out of action middle lock had caused a severe log jam; five boats were waiting below for Cleddau to emerge and another one was about to leave the bottom lock to join the queue… (Note to selves: when returning this way be prepared for a slow Hillmorton ascent…!)

During a quiet evening moored a little way beyond the locks a useful job was accomplished, the elderly root-bound mint plant was removed and a fresh mint specimen planted. Just now need some lamb suppers – or an occasion for some Pimms!

Oh, and where is Cleddau heading? The Ashby Canal, in Leicestershire.

2023 totals: 259 miles, 258 locks, 4 swing bridges, 12 tunnels

 Do you live aboard?  FAQ now posed 16 times

  • 2023 Monkton Moments*– 8 (Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

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1 Response

  1. Pip says:

    Glad you have a new refreshing mint plant. I’m in need of about four mugs of compost to finish repotting herbs, they’ll have to wait for me to find a handy mole hill somewhere.
    Enjoy the Ashby
    Pip and Mick

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