End of the line

The Ashby Canal is still a restoration project. In the 1940’s the northern 8 miles were closed and filled in because of subsidence from the Leicestershire  coal field.

The Ashby Canal Association Is actively working towards reopening this section to complete the navigation at Moira. As always progress is  dependant upon funds, but the society is currently on a roll with a new bridge, section and winding hole completed last year and the next stage, the Gilwiskaw Brook Aquaduct due to be started in the spring.

I still prefer the look of the old bridges though. 

We walked as far as we could along the prepared route. It’ll be interesting to take this photo again in a few years.

Of couse in the years between the closure and now, there has been housing development over the original route so completing the canal will be partly ‘new’ canal rather than restoration but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Ashby is recognised as a SSSI ( no, not an embarrassing disease, a Site of Special Scientific Interest) because of the wildlife and plant habit, water voles and native crayfish, to name two.

We saw a camera shy vole, and several kingfishers.

The new canal has naturalised very quickly though it lacks the avenues of trees that are a highlight at this time of year. It’s a lovely canal. I’m sure we will include it on our travels in the future.

 

 

 

Nostalgia off the narrowboat

The Ashby has several historic attractions within walking distance of the canal. On Sunday morning before the early morning mist had burnt off we marched up Ambion Hill to walk around the Battle of Bosworth heritage site.

Setting off from our mooring at Sutton wharf, it’s a pleasant 2.5 mile walk through the fields and woodland, with information boards telling the grizzly tale of the final battle of the War of the Roses. Where on 22nd August 1485, Henry Tudor’s small army beat the Plantagenet King Richard III, claiming the crown for himself, ending this civil war thus commencing the Tudor period of English history.

Interesting though this history is, I still get thoroughly confused as to whose who and why they are all so intent on killing each other. (I guess our descendants might say the same about the 21century) but the views from the top of the hill were worth the walk.

Continuing our cruise along the canal we reached Shackerstone, our mooring for the night, in time to stroll upto the station which is the terminus for the Battlefield Line Steam railway.

GWR 2-6-2T Small Prairie Tank No. 5542 at Shackerstone Station

I don’t know what it is about steam trains but the lure to buy a ticket and take a ride was too great to ignor. Sadly it meant we didn’t have time for afternoon tea in the station cafe.

Our journey took us 5 miles down the line to Shenton. This is where we had done the battlefield walk in the morning. The engine uncoupled and reattached itself for the return trip, whilst we got off to look at the engines. There was a 1980’s Diesel carriage engine on our train and Eric was able to fulfill every little boy’s dream and pretend he was the driver. 

One of our fellow passengers was a genuine little boy who took ownership of the drivers seat. Taking great exception to Eric having a turn. And with his limited toddler vocabulary managed to say very forcibly “man off” which caused such laughter it’s no entrenched as our on catch phrase.

Eric did managed to get onto the footplate of the steam engine and chat to the fireman

To round off a brilliant day we ended up at The Rising Sun pub in Shackerstone where there just happened to be a classic 100 year old model T ford parked outside. And the owner was happy to let me sit in the driving seat.

No that’s not the local cat under the rear wheel, it’s the hand brake!

 

 

Autumnal Ashby

We’re often surprised by just how different and individual each canal is. This week we have been exploring the Ashby canal, which meanders through Leicestershire’s farm land. A mix of agriculture, sheep and cattle.

But the first thing I noticed was the abundance of teasels.

 I think it’s because there’s no formal hedge between the field and the canal, just wild vegatation that they are so noticeable, and pretty too. But further along it changes to woodland. Mainly Ash and Willow which turn yellow

But with the occasional Beech tree for some real autumnal gold.

The bridges on the Ashby are beautiful but they carry narrow roads and too many drivers think it’s ok to drive fast over them, papping their horns hoping any unseen oncoming vehicle will give way before they collide. When in reality all it did was destroy the peacefulness.

Of course one of the best things about Autumn is that it brings the welcome return of homemade soup season making lunch the best meal of the day. But we discovered a new delicacy on the canal, “leaf soup” . Autumnal leaves might look stunning but when they fall into the water they become a thick gloopy mess that fouls the prop enough to hinder progress. Thankfully they shake off easily enough with a few revs in reverse.

 

Onwards and Upwards, from Rugby to The Ashby

We’ve decided to explore the Ashby canal. So we’ve continued west along the North Oxford to Hawkesbury junction, then onto the Coventry canal for a few miles north and finally turning right onto the Ashby. It was a treat to get cruising again after 14 days on the Rugby mooring.

The original route of the North Oxford Canal is twisty and contorted in a most bizarre way but it was straightened out in the 1820‘s. A lot of these abandoned stretches have been put to good use for residential long term moorings and boat yards. The ornate iron bridges over the towpaths remain. 

We both breathed in as we passed through the Rose Narrowboats hire base. Glad we didn’t meet anyone coming towards us, it was a jam packed full.

It wasn’t all prettiness with this huge electrical sub station just before the junction.

Into the stop lock at Hawkesbury, where the Oxford meets the Coventry and the canals were built at a slightly different level.

And into the junction basin

Under the Black Cat bridge (well if Bedford can have a black cat roundabout, the canals can have a black cat bridge

And onto the Coventry canal where the wildlife got even more impressive.

And the art work ‘interesting’…

Before we arrived on the Ashby. But more of that to follow.

 

Roaming around Rugby

The North Oxford canal skirts the top of Rugby and its outlying villages, creating a natural boundary to the town for about 5 miles. There are several places to moor but nothing special. The towpath quickly became a muddy skate park after the rain. However the official Rugby moorings at Brownsover had rings for 20 or so boats and access onto the “Black Path”. The Black Path got its name because it was originally a cinder track built so the workers could get to work over the extensive rail tracks. It’s now a well maintained tarmac route 20 minutes walk into the centre of town.

Closer to the visitor moorings is a selection of retail parks with a big Tesco, Cineworld, several other very useful big stores. But our shopping now is focused on getting the essentials unless it’s at an event like the Rugby Food festival.

By the time we’d done the rounds and tasted the samples we felt like we’d been on a truely international gourmet tour and gained several pounds.

And whilst we were exploring Rugby we took the town walking tour and were amazed to see just how many interesting things have happened in Rugby. As always we thoroughly recomend taking walking tours, this one is free and runs twice a week from the library.

The most obvious claim to fame is that Rugby is where rugby originates from. Of course there were many variations of ‘football’ but in 1823 William Webb Ellis went down in the history books as being the first man to run with the ball. There are statues and commemorative  plaques throughout the town.

But all are diminished by Rugby school itself which dominates and enhances the town. It started in 1567 to serve the needs of the poor boys within 10 miles of the Rugby. Times have changed!

 

Rugby’s literary heritage is also celebrated throughout the town with ‘comfy’ sofa’s and piles of books to read scattered around the many parks however they’re all made out of concrete so not so inviting after all.

But Rugby isn’t all about games and leisure, there was a strong industrial and engineering presence in the locality. Notably it’s where Sir Frank Whittle worked on the prototype of the jet engine in the 1930’s. Before the townsfolk objected to the noise.  And Rolls Royce is not that far away at Antsy.

The midlands rail network built up significant depots and workshops here but despite Rugby being where the countries radio time signal was transmitted with the iconic radio masts (now demolished) the trains always had a reputation for not running on time.

My personal favourite of Rugbys productivity is that Mr Kipling had a bakery here. This roundabout has floral cupcakes adorning it in memory of an accident some years ago when the delivery lorry had an accident and tipped over spilling cake everywhere.

Sadly my account of Rugby seems to be in the past tense as all the large companies are no longer here. Warehousing and distribution centres now dominate the outskirts with manufacturing units being demolished in favour of housing estates. Thankfully the town centre seems to have retained enough independence to make it still a pleasant place to wander around.

 

Back to Sunny Suffolk

Apologies for my lack of posts, I’ve had another unplanned week away from Firecrest looking after a few essentials in Suffolk, which of course, has meant that I got to go to the seaside with my fabulous friends and family. Aldeburgh will always be one of my favourite places. A bracing walk on the beach looking at the fishing boats

followed by lunch at the Aldeburgh Market,

Grilled goatscheese and beetroot salad. Yummy.

And then a few miles down the road to Bungay

More beautiful old buildings, but just look at that sky, it really was that blue.

And finally back to Woodbridge, where there’s quite a community of river dwellers.

Mmmm don’t think I should be complaining about muddy towpaths…

 

The village show

We’ve rounded the corner at Hillmorton and are relaxing around Rugby.  Saturday afternoon was the Clifton upon Dunsmore village fair, so instead of heading for the big shops we walked up the hill to see what was going on. Who’d have thought I’d ever get my workaholic husband to stand around in the sunshine enjoying the village dog show, but that’s what we did.

Perhaps it won’t be that long before we have a canine companion onboard Firecrest. (By that I mean another few years not another decade) or perhaps it was just the pull of the beer tent that persuaded him to accompany me.

Whatever the reasons we did have an enjoyable afternoon. There was a collection of vintage penny slot machines, so we handed over our pound coin for 20 old pennies and went off in search of the jackpot. Of course all our winnings had to be spent but as I managed to win more than I’ve ever managed on the national lottery, it was a pound well spent and much more fun than the noisy flash bang whizzy arcade games that devour more than they spew out.

No village show is complete without a police presence these days and we enjoyed a chat with these guys. One of whom was proudly sporting a tractor boys badge, yeah go Ipswich Town FC. on a more serious note they told us about a Warwickshire scheme called WaterwaysWatch where we can sign up for email alerts to be notified of any problems arising along the canals.

 

Coddiwomple

Bet you could hear us laughing, we love this word sent to us by our good friends John and Tina. Yes it is a recognised word and it means

“to travel in purposeful manner towards a vague direction”

If we had known this 2 years ago Firecrest might have  been known as the Coddiwompler and you’d be able to hear us singing merrily, “hi ho hi ho it’s a coddiwompling we go…..”

But don’t worry Firecrest , we do still love you, and as we returned to Suffolk for a few days we splashed out for a few nights of extra security by putting Firecrest into a marina. Just past the huge brand new Dunchurch pools is the smaller Barby Marina, which had a space for us and at £12 per night with electricity included was just right. But best of all, a beautifully maintained grassy island the home of three cheeky alpacas, Blade, Orisino and one more that I can’t remember the name of. I succumbed to buying a fleece to spin, it is beautifully soft.

Happy reunions

I was startled to hear a big “hello there” through our side hatch a few days ago, Chris, Les and Reuben the puppy on Eleventh Heaven sidling up beside us. They were able to moor right next to us and as drinks were shared, the next 24 hours has faded into a bit of a merry blur.

Eleventh Heaven was the Braidbar showboat in 2012 and the boat that confirmed we wanted Braidbar as our own builder. It is always reassuring to see an ‘older’ boat still looking so good although Chris has done a lot to sort out a few of the problems.

In the morning I walked with Les and Reuben while Chris gave Eric a lesson in splicing rope. A very useful skill as all our frayed fender ropes are neat and tidy again. Although Eric’s going to have to buy himself a set of tools cause he ain’t using my sharp kitchen knives…

More happy reunions happened over the weekend. Our good friend Richard was being baptised at the church we had worshiped at in Suffolk. We decided to  hire a car and make it a surprise visit back home. The look on their faces as we walked into the church was priceless. And it was good to catch up with our land based friends.

We’ve seen a few more Braidbar boats to tick off the list, 2- naid and 117-rocquette, (again apologies for mis spelling names)

 

 

Wild Willoughby

It was time to leave Braunston but we wanted a few low key days in the countryside before we got to Rugby. The weather was ‘British’ eg unpredictable so we only cruised a short way out of Braunston up the North Oxford.

Past the poor boat that burnt out. I don’t know any details but hope there weren’t any people hurt. And I hope that whoever is responsible can remove the debris before too long.

A lot of the canal is overgrown making mooring tricky but we found ourselves some piling and settled down to explore.

I found the essential hedgerows delicatessen to provide me with Hedgerow Jam, crab apples, plums (or damsons) rose hips, haws, sloes and blackberries.

I’m still not 100% sure if the sloes are ready, I was advised that if you can bite into one without the taste making your lips curl they were OK. Although every bit of previous knowledge says the sloes shouldn’t be ready yet. However I managed to make a few pots of jam that have gone down very well with scones and clotted cream.

Mashing and straining the pulp etc is a bit of a palava on a boat so I think I will be sticking to straight blackberry jam in future.

On my wandering walks through Willoughby I came across a herd of alpacas. They are the cute and curious. And if I could have one on the boat this is the one I’d choose

Although when I looked down at my feet and saw that my toes had turned orange, I got a bit worried, I’m still not sure what caused my new pigmentation but ignorance is bliss. If my toes fall off or I turn into an alpaca I’ll let you know.