Not far now

Braunston Top Lock to Crick Marina: 8¼ miles, 7 Locks

 Onward on Sunday – the only way was forward and the way forward is through Braunston Tunnel (1873 metres /2048 yards long).     It’s wide enough for two boats to pass each other, but should you meet another boat near the Norton Junction end passing feels trickier because of the slight S bend.  Two oncoming boats were met, both near the S bend – but no hull contact was made – phew!

Out of the tunnel. It was Sunday morning – and a speed canoeist whizzed past    – twice.

It’s a green corridor at first with trees either side. From time-to-time clumps of ox-eyed daisies lit up the towpath verge.    Cleddau was heading along the 3 mile pound towards Norton Junction.  To the north the rolling Northamptonshire fields come into view.    Cows huddled for shade underneath a large tree. On past a boat where plants, swan and duck food were for sale.

Would there be a mooring space on the favourite stretch before Norton Junction? It looked unlikely, a string of boats, some dozen or so, lined the towpath. From the bow Boatwif spotted a gap – would it be long enough?

Gently Cleddau was edged into the gap,   bow to bow with the boat in front, stern to stern with Lady Melissa,   a Tudor rose decoration underscoring the  boat’s name.

“No, we don’t know why it’s there, we’re third owners,” said the Lady Melissa crew, explaining their lifestyle of 90 days in Spain alternating with time back in the UK. Their dog (a Spanish passport holder) apparently has more rights in Spain than its human owners…

With thunderstorms forecast by mid-afternoon walks from the boat were only of a short distance.

Norton Junction signpost    – towards Leicester for Cleddau tomorrow

Boats as seen on zoom lens from Leicester Line footbridge

Moored boats as seen from Bridge 9

Just where Cleddau had been squeezed in, the towpath showed signs of fresh repair, some stonework on top of what is often a quagmire of mud.     A natural spring or a slope behind the hedge throws excess water across the towpath at that point. A drain has been installed to drop water into the canal – and during and following the rainstorms the intense noise of water torrenting against the steel hull belied the notion that rippling water can provide a quiet lullaby…

A dry morning next day was very welcome. Across the canal motorised “sheep dogs” were being deployed to round up the herd of cows and move them from one field to another – not a straightforward operation, it seemed…

Two beeps of the horn as Cleddau made the 110 degree turn round the Junction onto the Leicester Line.  It was beautifully cool in the dappled shade;     as yet there was no intrusive traffic noise, just the sound of mid-morning birdsong.

On past Weltonfield Marina    and the beautifully painted Irish pipers on Milligan’s Mist.

 Soon then, on the other side of the canal, Welton Haven Marina hove into view,  as well as the sight of swan domesticity.

Past the back of Watford Gap Services, five (blurred) ducks in a row on a gate,   and a terrace of cottages.

Moored boats ahead – was this a queue? The queue…? 

Boatwif got off to find out – and yes, this was the five boat queue to go up the Watford Locks.  Up the hill to book in with an assistant lock keeper, the boat’s name spelt out and relayed by radio to the duty lock keeper at the top of the 7 lock flight. “There are six boats coming down,” explained the assistant, “it’ll be at least an hour…”

Back downhill to Cleddau, where the Captain was investigating why the engine would not turn OFF.

Engine boards up.

Screwdriver out.

The fault was traced, a lead that had worked loose…

Slowly the boats working down the locks arrived and passed those boats waiting at the bottom – and slowly the queue ahead began to shorten… A tap at the head of the lock landing presented a good opportunity to top up the water tank. Then eventually (about 1 hour 40 minutes after booking in with the lock keepers) Cleddau was allowed to enter the bottom lock    – and to hover or float about until Lock 2 was ready.

Then there was the staircase briefing: “Red, then White, and you’ll be alright…”  and Leave a clear empty chamber between the boat ahead and yourselves.”

Up the boat climbed, crew duties swapped for a few locks.

At the top there’s a tempting book swap in the Lock Keeper’s hut, unless deterred by the bumblebee notice…

Onward, under the M1 bridge, past the boats queuing to go down the locks. Soon it’s back to rural countryside   and then the final tunnel transit of the trip. Through Crick Tunnel (1397 metres /1528 yards) and out beside Crick Wharf.

One. Two. Three.

After the tunnel it’s the third entrance from the canal into Crick Marina.

As Cleddau refuelled at the service pontoon there was a fine welcome from the young swan family. Such was their welcome that the entire family swam off to occupy Cleddau’s empty mooring space – and took quite some persuasion to move out of the way when the boat came in!

Just two pontoons along there was a new boat on the block, a glossy blue wide beam, an overstayer since the Crick Boat Show. “She’s being craned out next Tuesday,” said one of the marina staff.  “She’s going to Guernsey.”

So that was it, Cleddau finally tied up again after her Stratford-upon-Avon out and back trip.

Trip Stats: 100 miles, 190 locks, 6 tunnels, 1 theatre production (Hamnet) and 1 towpath dinner.

Best go home now and cut the grass!

 2023 totals: 189½ miles, 214 locks, 4 swing bridges, 6 tunnels

 Do you live aboard?: FAQ now posed 16 times

  • 2023 Monkton Moments*– 7 (Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

1) Grew up in Milford. 

2) I come from Porthcawl.

3) I live in Ceridigion… (at Shrewley Tunnel)

4) I went to Haverfordwest Grammar School in the 1960s. My father was in the oil industry. We lived in Herbrandston.

5) Used to live in Milford Haven – Aberdaugleddau…

6) Cleddau – Pembrokeshire. We lived in Llan…??

7) Why don’t you just call your boat ‘Swords’? …It’s the river in Pembrokeshire – I used to go caving in South Wales.


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