Friendly moorhen

We’re used to the ducks and swans loitering outside the galley hatch in the hope of being fed. But the moorhens are notoriously skittish and usually stay on the opposite side of the canal. So it was a nice surprise when this one was quite onviously waiting for his breakfast. (For some reason I have assumed he’s a he….)

And he was considerably larger than his companions. But give him his due, we couldn’t resist and shared our porridge with him.

Helping hands

We had a lovely day this weekend. We were in the top lock at Stoke Bruerne, chatting to the friendly gongoozlers, Lily and Brian. Never one to miss an opportunity, knowing we had 5 more locks over the next mile I asked if they’d like a little trip on Firecrest. They were thrilled and thought we were offering them a treat, of course we all know the bigger your crew the easier the locks are. Win win all round. And if you’re reading this , Lily and Brian thanks for your help it was a pleasure having you on board, we really enjoyed your company.

After a short pit stop we made quick progress down to Milton Keynes where we located an excellent micropub and a huge free fireworks display.

Back in Braunston

We’re back in Braunston for a day or so before the planned winter maintenance closes our navigation. All 6 of the locks are repaired this November. The hubub and variety of boats is a nice contrast to our previous isolated location but with so many boats on the move, we were lucky to find a mooring.

But the weather is bland and grey. The cloud cover providing a welcome duvet to keep us warm. Even the sheep are well wrapped up.

We consider the most essential thing to do in Braunston is to stock up on Braunston bangers, the home made sausages from the excellent local butchers.

Farewell BST

We relented this weekend and switched the heating on for the first time this season. And oh boy were we glad when we awoke to frost on the port hole.

However with the prospect of a good photo I put my wooly socks on and broke the ice around the back hatch to be well rewarded with a stunning view.

A few evenings ago we we were shocked to hear three boats go past us between 7 and 8 pm.  They weren’t even going slowly. We nearly fell out of bed when another went past at 10 pm. Then last night we thought it must have been a ghost ship, when we were woken by a boat going past at midnight! Why? Where were they heading in the dark? Who were they going to disturb when they moored up? Was it really necessary or safe?

Amusing Ashby

We’ve seen the weird and whacky while doing the Ashby. I think our prize for the ‘best dressed’ boat goes to the Black Pearl, Not the prettiest but very amusing, (and to those close to my heart right now, please accept my apologies if this seems insensitive.) this photo only shows the bare bones of all the adornments added to it and it’s mooring, the only thing missing was Captain Jack Sparrow.

And I still can’t understand why Eric thought keeping chickens would be impractical on a boat. Although they’d have to lay square eggs to stop them rolling about when boats went past too fast.

My wandering spirit was nurtured from a very young age by my Dad as we traveled to far flung places in our VW combi’s  I can remember us having at least 6 over the years. I even arrived at our wedding celebrations 31 years ago in one, but non had horns to match this one.

And just as people can travel in style, so can dogs, this little chap has got the right idea, who needs to do doggy paddle when you have an owner to paddle your canoe.

We celebrated seeing several kingfishers this week and thought we’d struck gold when we saw this amount of iridescent blue, alas no, only a peacock, then as we returned back from the end of the canal we realised it was still standing in the same place and was a sculpture- it had us fooled,

But when all said and done, whatever the wildlife, nothing beats Firecrest. I’ll be quite sad to leave the Ashby.




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.