Underneath the Arches

I think the Oxford canal was built by someone who’d had a little too much to drink and, looking at the original route, would have failed a police breathalizer.  It wiggles and winds all over the place probably because James Brindley was having to keep a tight reign on the budget, embankments and cuttings being too expensive to include in the design. In 1820, about 50 years after it was completed and it was realised how profitable this major highway was, work began to ease navigation by creating a straighter more logical route.

The tortuous sections weren’t abandoned completely, they were spanned by the precast Horseley iron works bridges, now they have become, marinas and secluded residential moorings.

Shortly after leaving Rugby, the canal passes under the Newbold tunnel. Another expensive addition to the newly straightened canal. It’s 240m long and although it can take side by side narrowboats, it’s easy enough to see and wait for oncoming boats.

At Antsy the canal spans the valley over an aquaduct which you can’t see from the boat, but the railway rushes past over some fantastic arches. I can only assume the train passengers enjoy a similar view of our transit.

A few miles on at Hawkesbury junction, the Oxford canal joins the Coventry canal 

It’s a peaceful but popular mooring spot, far enough away from the motorway and railway, but still close enough to the Greyhound, a must for boaters and gongoozelers alike.

And finally we’ve just heard that our friend Laurence’s boat, Elizabeth Anne, won best of show at Crick.  James Attwood is a fantastic boat builder with a flare for innovative design and is a real asset to Braidbar boats.

Fully Ballasted

We’ve had issues with Firecrest’s ballast since we got her. Before we left Braidbar we added 200kg which helped significantly, but as we got to know how she handled we realised more was needed for a perfect trim. As Eric needed to hire a car to attend a meeting, he took the opportunity to have some weights delivered back home which he could them bring to the boat. And while we had a car I took the opportunity to fully ballast the fridge.

We’ll distribute the weights properly under the floor at the bow. We also filled up with water at Rugby and diesel at Lime Farm Marina. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to how the boat handles with all that extra weight.  We still think more might be better but it’s not high priority. We wanted to go cruising.

Chelsea highlights

Its lovely to be cruising again but last week, being off the boat, I got to enjoy the Chelsea Flower show, albeit courtesy of the BBC. However Suffolk isn’t short of beautiful gardens to enjoy. I visited The Walled Garden, to see the wisteria walkway.

And of course to buy some plants for our own garden, because not only is it a lovely old garden, it’s also a first rate nursery.

Heather loves photographing flowers so I’ve borrowed a couple of her images.

Clematis are one of her favourites

This says summer to me.


Bet the honey will taste good from these Centaurea

I wonder if cows that eat buttercups make tastier butter?

Even the cereal crops look amazing when the wind is blowing across them.

But of course the yellow flag iris that grow along the canal back get a gold medal every time. 

Has it been snowing?

I know it’ a bank holiday weekend but surely it hasn’t been snowing again. 

The Maybush blossom is falling thick and fast. But once it’s in the canal it looks more like porridge than snow.

Cow parsley is one of my many favourites, especially when it’ right outside the galley hatch and is adorned by raindrop diamonds.


A Hectic Week

Cheryl has been off the boat so I could have a quiet week working.  But this is boat life, and my social life this week has been hectic.  After a very enjoyable day helping Jo and Laurence down the Atherstone flight, they picked me up as they passed through Rugby hoping I’d help them down the 3 Hillmorton locks as well.  Jo was only a few hours from her new home so keen to get going so left Laurence and I chatting, it was nearly sunset before I arrived back on Firecrest.

Then I met Malcom and Barbara from Ampere, on their way to Crick to represent the Electric Boat Assosiation .  They kindly invited me to a BBQ, something Cheryl and I used to enjoy regularly when we were land based so this was a real treat. The next day I saw Laurence again.   Continue reading A Hectic Week

Watch the birdie

The sight of a duckling never fails to excite me, but they are insanely difficult to get a decent photo of. Especially if we see them whilst we are cruising, the brood invariably gets separated on either side of the boat and then they bob around like dodgem cars cheeping like teenagers at a pop concert until they are reunited once the boat has passed. 

And sadly ducks aren’t blessed with the best parenting skills, which is probably a good thing if every brood of 12 reached maturity. It’s heart breaking seeing a vulnerable lone duckling without it’s family to protect it. And ducks get a whiff of a crust coming in their direction the drakes get first pick. (we feed the ducks on porridge oats because too much bread isn’t good for them)

Swans on the other hand, parent as a couple, one watches the cygnets whilst the other keeps watch or danger, leading them to food and waiting until the cygnets have had their fill before they take their turn

In this case he was worried I wanted to take more than a photo.

Perhaps mum was looking for sharks…

Moorhens often keep their chicks close to the nest or bank. Searching for food seems to be a priority which they take back to feed their young.

We were lucky to be moored right opposite this nest where there were 5 chicks playing amongst the reeds. At one point we had a three bird roast on offer, swans ducks and moorhens in one shot.

I think Hans Christen Anderson got it wrong when he wrote about the ugly duckling, he had obviously never met a moorhen’s chick. Cute but not beautiful.

We saw a barn owl and an young owl, fledged and flying, but as it was dusk didn’t manage a photo. And there’s quite a few kestral and buzzard up above. Probably on the look out for lone ducklings.

I’d like to see a young heron, but although they were plentiful on the Macclesfield canal last spring, we don’t seem to be seeing so many herons further south. And the same with Canada geese although many will say that’s an advantage.

This green woodpecker had obviously found a good supply of grubs in the field opposite our mooring. We see quite a few woodpeckers, and hear quite a few more when they’re pecking a tree trunk.

We’ve seen all these birds in the past fortnight, kingfishers as still proving elusive.



Helping hand

Earlier this week we set out to help our friends Jo and Lawrence. They both have brand new Braidbar boats. And making that first outing from Lord Vernons Wharf all the way down to Crick was going to be quite some journey.  124 miles and 66 locks.

We remembered back to last June and our first adventure with a time schedule just how exhausted we were. So as we were roughly in the same location we offered to  help them both through the Atherstone locks. That’s 11 locks over roughly 2 miles. Really we just wanted a nosy at 2 beautiful boats.

We were moored in Rugby so we hopped onto a train to Atherstone, 20 minutes by train, or 2 days by canal.

Working both boats through the locks took us about 4 hours, lots of chatting done along the way. And too warm to rush.

Jo rewarded us with a magnificent spread and we raised a glass of chilled white in a toast to many hours of happy boating and good friendships. And Lawrence let Eric take a turn at his helm.

In all fairness Jo also offered us the chance on Blue Pearl, but I declined as I still get the coliwobbles at the thought of steering Firecrest.



All Stations All Stations, this is Firecrest, Over

We thought it time to put our brains to work over the weekend.  We went to Willow Wren training centre to do the marine radio short range certificate course in anticipation of us taking Firecrest onto tidal rivers. We’d spent a few weeks communicating using the phonetic NATO alphabet which was challenging in itself if you know anything about our spelling ability. And we’d got ourselves thoroughly bogged down ploughing through the handbook.

Izzy had prepared a welcome board for us as we cruised onto the wharf. And then Steve came to say hello and let us know that we were the only two doing to course this time.

Of course because it was only the two of us, there was a lot of fun had as we ad libbed the carefully prepared practice messages. But we obviously behaved ourselves well enough for Steve to hand us over to David to take the test.  And of course our hours of careful homework paid off as we both passed with flying colours, one of us just slightly better than the other, but I don’ like to gloat.

On a serious side, Eric and I both felt that Willow Wren deserves it’s good reputation as a training centre. Steve immediately picked up on our personalities and learning needs. And the venue was well equipped and pleasant. The site as a whole is still a work in progress but it’s very sympathetic to the environent.

It’s a beautiful setting just off the canal

And the swans know they’ll get fed especially when they bring the children.  Steve has a big bag of appropriate food and we give then porridge oats and lettuce. 

All stations this is Foxtrot India Romeo Echo Charlie Romeo Echo Sierra Tango. We’re now legally allowed to operate our VHF radio


Tow path treats

We came across this lovely sight on Sunday.  Someone’s found a true romantic. We wondered if there was a string quartet hiding behind the hedge.

Napton’s novelties

We’ve seen some memorable things on the south Oxford canal

We reckon this must be one of the most photographed narrowboats not on the network. How it got here we don’t know, but it is marooned all on its own, in a field. Eric and I have been debating whether or not marooned is the right adjective to use for a boat on its own personal canal.

Napton, being on a hill, was a significant lookout post during WWII, whereas the enemy used the canals as a significant navigation landmark.Consequently there are a number of concrete pill boxes along the bank, we hope they don’t topple into the canal.Then we saw a field of cows. But when I looked over the wall I realised they weren’t cows but water buffalo grazing peacefully-also hoping that they don’t topple into the canal.We wondered what they were destined for until I walked up to the village shop, (one of the best little convenience stores we’ve seen)And we had the most delicious water buffalo burgers for our tea.

Just imagine a photo of an empty plate here…

On my way back from the shop, I discovered the Napton Cidery. A wonderful small brewery in one of the farm barns.




I was generously plied with samples before I bought a few bottles, thankfully I didn’t topple into the canal.

As always with canal life, we’ve seen lots of things to make us smile, yet we didn’t really see them the first time we  travelled this way a few weeks ago. Canal life is never dull.