Saturday, 27 September 2014

Yelvertoft to Welford and home

Friday 26th September.

It is the end of September
Chimneys across the marina breathe again,
Give out smoke
Drifting like morning mist across the canal.
Boats move shyly to their winter moorings
Preparing to rest
And peace descends on the wharf.

A restful day, with heron, squirrels, kingfishers, a buzzard with small prey in its claws and a macabre dead bird hanging from a thorn. The boating is straightforward with only the little lock at Welford and the tight entrance to the marina to negotiate.
Bare ploughed fields have clearly defined furrows in the sharp autumn sun, the texture of the earth rough and granular.
And the watery sun shines through as we head for home.

And soon, after the driest September since records began in 1910, we'll have to prepare Patience for winter, her first at Welford ....

Braunston to Yelvertoft - via Warwickshire

Thursday 25th September. Up betimes to carry out our cunning plan to boat not only in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, but also Warwickshire, where the boundary lies a short way down the joint Oxford & GU Canal. It's a whim, but one easily achieved if we get up early turn at the Braunston Junction and wind at a winding hole a short way down the Oxford & GU.
Early means just 7am and I find the moorings misty wit the slow moving smoke from cosy boats stoking their stoves in the first chills of autumn.
Bridge 1 at Braunston

The bridge over Braunston Marina

Bridge 1, early morning mist

The Grand Union Canal at the junction with the Oxford. Preparing to turn left (west) up the Oxford & GU

Returning to Braunston Junction on the Oxford & GU. Preparing to turn right (east).

Back at Braunston we moor up for a gargantuan spread - The Gongoozler's Big Breakfast - at The Gongoozler's Rest Café, a smallish boat (14 seats) at the mouth of the marina.
This breakfast fuelled us for the whole day! Recommended!
And so, well filled, we head back through Braunston Tunnel, passing other boats coming the other way with three inches to spare, sharp left at Norton Junction, up the Leicester Arm, up Watford Locks, Crick Tunnel, Crick itself and moored up at 4pm at Yelvertoft again. 
13 miles and 13 locks including the Warwickshire diversion this morning.

Crick to Braunston

Wednesday 24th September. Heavy rain overnight clears early and by the time we've passed through Crick Tunnel the sun is out. Before we know it we are under the M1 and queuing to go through Watford Locks. If we had a Ladybird book at about Bridge 5A it would show a fast train on the west coast railway line, the M1 motorway and Services and the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union canal (plus a plane flying above) all in the same place, for they almost interconnect here, near Long Buckby.

As we go under Bridge 6 I recall eating terrible fish and chips at the restaurant there 20 years ago, now renamed Mango Lounge and closed.
It takes an hour to get through Watford Locks (staircase, 7 locks, 16metre fall) ...
... even with a helpful lock keeper, then we reach Norton Junction at 1pm and, not pausing for lunch at the tempting pub to the left we charge on to the right and  on the Grand Union proper.

 Through the Braunston Tunnel for 20 minutes and we approach that boater's mecca of Braunston itself, though there are still 6 locks to go through before we reach the moorings by the marina. So it is 3.45 before we finally moor up, 10 miles, 13 locks in 6 hours 20 minutes including 30 minutes waiting at Watford Locks.
In late afternoon we wander up the hill away from the canal and into the village. Down by the canal it feels like a full-on canal village with hundreds of boats, busy comings and goings, two chandleries, eating places and various shops - but in the village itself they live a separate life, it seems.
Bridge over the Junction of The Oxford and The Grand Union

The Junction facing south down the Oxford Canal

Bridge on The Grand Union at the entrance to Braunston Marina

Under the bridge at the marina entrance

In the evening we stroll back up the towpath to The Admiral Nelson, widely recommended as the best for food and we entirely agree. Here is a view as we entered the lock on our way down.  It's a good place where we were well looked after and well fed.

Back to Patience, torches in hand, and we notice that Winter Moorings commence on October 1st. Clearly we are nearing the end of the season, when only hardened liveaboards stay out on the water. So we light our little stove, newly renovated, and our thoughts stray towards winter.

Welford to Crick

Tuesday 23rd September and there is still warmth in the sun and energy in our bones. On a pleasant day for late September we make an uneventful journey from Welford to Crick in 4 1/2 hours.
There is time to reflect (ho ho) on watery things, such as Pink Floyd's new album "The Endless River" and Peter Ackroyd's meandering book "Thames - Sacred River". Of which more later.

We take an evening stroll up the prominent Crack's Hill (a glacial moraine), from which there are extensive views, then on to The Red Lion in Crick. On our last visit the place was crammed and hot, then we were soaked in a deluge while returning to the boat. This time we chose from a good range of food and Adnam's beer in pleasant surroundings, busy though not too much so, puzzled only by their decision to charge Debit as well as Credit card users an extra 50p - and their website which seems to consist of a single page and uses the suffixes eu and pn. Quirky!

Welford to Yelvertoft

A short overnight excursion to Yelvertoft, which is a village just 3 hours away from Welford and so easily manageable for a quick trip.
It also has a useful pub, The Knightley Arms, which does good food and beer at fair prices. We've been there a few times recently and find good service and well cooked food. The lads in the snooker room can be a bit noisy for quiet diners like ourselves, but it's great to see so many people enjoying a village pub.
As a measure of its merits we felt able to take our wives there for an evening meal, and they were not disappointed. Picture of wives suitably wrapped up against a chill breeze at the extensive moorings nearby.

The next suitable mooring-with-pub is Crick, which tends to get quite busy, but has more facilities. Between our moorings at Yelvertoft and those at Crick you pass the newish Yelvertoft marina.

Here we are approaching Yelvertoft Marina to use their winding hole. It's quite a new development, with all mod cons including wi-fi for residents and they also seem to be adding a slipway.

A successful weekend just boating up and down and pleasant non-strenuous walks along and across the towpath.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Whose Blue Submarine?

Have you seen a blue "submarine"?
From the train on the Liverpool Street line, on the river at Hackney, near The Anchor and Hope and adjacent to the bomb crater caused by a bomb that fell on St Paul's Cathedral (defused by Lieutenant Robert Davies  who drove it through the deserted streets to Hackney) there lies a boat the width of a narrow boat but to all appearances a nearly windowless blue submarine.
Who knows anything about it? I'm intrigued!
This photograph is borrowed from The Gongoozler site, taken by by Kathryn Bromwich - to whom many thanks. I haven't yet been able to get to the riverside myself and look at the license or find any other details of ownership - or even the name of the boat.
It is astonishing - and if you know more please contact me!
(Follow-up blog entry here!)

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Foxton to Market Harborough and a bit of the Leicester Arm

Clearing Foxton Locks we turned sharp right into the Market Harborough Arm, having opened the little swing bridge first. As the Foxton Locks are so deep and a staircase, and there are two swing bridges on the Market Harborough Arm, this is not easy territory for single handed boating.
In fact the second swing bridge, Bridge 4, shown here, would seem impossible to use single handedly. You must moor on the left going up, walk across the bridge to the other side, insert your key in the mechanism, go off to close road barriers at both ends, return to the mechanism, release a brake and push with considerable effort so the road swings at 90 degrees. At this point solo boaters would find there was no way to get back to their boat (even assuming they'd separated their engine key from the waterways key used for the bridge mechanism).
Fortunately John and I were able to slip easily across and leave the bridge behind us.

Much of the Market Harborough Arm is in quiet tree-lined countryside with a few views through the trees. That changes from Bridge 13, notable for what seems to be a travellers' site of mobile homes and wrought iron gates. The number on the bridge is actually pockmarked with pellets, which is not promising, and an adjacent house is for sale. Here the canal edges are poorly defined until we are clearly on the outskirts of the town and bungalows with well cut hedges and lawns slope down to the water.

Soon enough there are good moorings and there is the Basin beautifully defined with an old warehouse converted to an up-market restaurant - The Waterfront restaurant here is partnered to The Old Boathouse  at Foxton Locks - some modern flats, architecturally in keeping with the site, and narrow boats moored neatly alongside pontoons. There are fuel and pump-out services. This is where the first Inland Waterways Association Festival was held, by Aickman and Rolt in 1950.
The town centre is just 15 minutes away, with a diverse range of shops and a purposeful atmosphere. Having been impressed by Symington's Corset Factory, home of the liberty bodice and now a museum, we pause for a quiet pint at The Angel and head back to Foxton to moor up by the swing bridge and have another evening meal at The Old Boathouse.
Morning Mist at Foxton Locks
Next day we venture a little up the Leicester Arm, which is the third arm at Foxton junction, as far as the winding hole near Bridge 72, and the Smeeton aqueduct, a little before Saddington Tunnel. From several sources we hear that vandalism in Leicester and immediate surrounds make mooring a dangerous pursuit, as local lads compete to throw stones and smash windows of boats. We did see some broken boat windows near Market Harborough and wondered why there were wooden shutters over some of the windows. We are assured it is safe as far as Kilby Bridge, but north of that Leicester is best passed through without delay.
Here is the view back at Foxton, seen from the end of the Leicester Arm. The Boathouse restaurant is directly ahead, the Bridge 61 café / pub is immediately to the right after the bridge and mooring places for those queuing for the locks are directly to the left and right after the bridge. You must report to the lock keeper before entering the locks so moor up immediately after the bridge where you can.

Our return to Welford pausing at Husband's Bosworth and North Kilworth is noted in the previous blog.

Welford to Foxton return, via Husband's Bosworth and North Kilworth

This was a four day trip from our base at Welford, up to Foxton, through the locks and beyond.  
We popped in to Husbands Bosworth even though The Bell is closed on Monday lunchtimes. On a beautiful day the village was looking very attractive, with pleasant variety of houses and a sprinkling of expensive cars. There is a single general store and post office in a run-down state being replaced, it would seem, by something more contemporary.
The trip through the tunnel was uneventful; the moorings for the village about half a mile away are a bit rough but usable if you beware shallow areas. This shot from mid stream opposite the moorings shows the poster for The Bell, Bridge 46 and the tunnel entrance.

The canal between Husbands Bosworth and Foxton is a green corridor with very occasional glimpses of the Laughton Hills where there is a break in the trees lining the towpath. In good weather, wise boaters have moored there to savour the view, so look out for the ideal sunny spot over the hills.
We moored for the night above Bridge 60 rather than clutter the immediate approach to the staircase of locks (best reserved for watering up or for queuing) and strolled down to sample the site. Access to the locks is controlled by a lock keeper and his assistants and there is a 8am to 6pm limit.
We resolved to eat in The Old Boathouse and to set off promptly through the locks in the morning. Good food (and wi-fi except in corners) but expensive beer. If you prefer to cook for yourself or to have plainer fare try the Bridge 61 café where the beer is 40p cheaper!
Next day we boated the last few yards up the misty morning river to the Top Lock to commence the 45 minute trip through the ten locks. It's a beautiful scene even when descending into the deep slimy trench which is a staircase lock. The countryside is alternately revealed then disappears as if you are going up and down in a lift - er, which you are.

As no-one was heading upwards we shot down at a gallop - except for my bumping into the middle pound, exactly as I did twenty years ago on my very first canal holiday ... (here's the view from just below the pound looking back up to the top lock)

 - then a tight turn right towards the first swing bridge for the Market Harborough Arm. More on that in the next blog.

On our way back, two days later, the locks were busier and we were in a queue, with boats waiting for more than an hour to enter, plus 45-50 minutes to get through. However this did give us time to explore the museum - informative and interesting without being too large.

We reached Bridge 46, the Husbands Bosworth rough mooring, again to spend the night and walked up to the village once more, to The Bell. Frankly its decor feels more like a dishevelled student flat than an eating pub, and the landlord seemed morose and oblivious to his awkward mixture of soft furnishings. Nevertheless, cheered by the low beer price (in contrast to the outrageous mark up at The Old Boathouse at Foxton) we ordered the pub grub - and were very pleasantly surprised by quality and quantity. The landlord's mouth broke into a semblance of a smile when we complimented him on his "cooking" but it really was rather good fish and chips and steak and ale pie.
Wielding our torches we returned to Patience for the night.
Next day, after 12 minutes in the tunnel we dropped in to the very useful North Kilworth Marina for a pump out and a top up of diesel. We also talked to Ben the painter about the possibility of a repaint for Patience, whose sides are becoming a bit worn. A good price offered for 6-8 weeks work, and we'll think seriously about it for next year.
Back to Welford in good time after a successful trip.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Replacing the flue collar on a Morsø Squirrel

The Morsø Squirrel range of solid fuel stoves is probably the most popular for narrow boaters. It's compact, gives off the right amount of heat for a cold metal boat of 40-50 feet long and has few things that can go wrong.
Ours, however is 20 years old and starting to show its age. This picture shows the stove in situ ...
... and closer inspection shows the collar that joins the flue to the stove is in bad shape.
I had filled the gap with fire cement but this may have made it worse by restricting natural expansion and now the collar has broken into three parts.
As a stove potentially gives off poisonous carbon monoxide this is Not A Good Thing, so we planned to fix it.
The first thing needed was a flue collar
and the lugs and screws for fitting it. I bought ours from Bowland Stoves which is the parent group for Morsø.
First we examined the top of the flue because we were unsure how that was fitted and it would be necessary to raise the flue a few inches to insert the new collar. As it turned out we need not have worried, as it was held in place by packing, insulation and mastic rather than troublesome bolts. It should be able to simply slide up if the packing is loosened so there was no need to unscrew the circular panel around the flue, which appears to be there to tidy up the edges of the ceiling panels.
You can see how the flue disappears into the cast iron chimney collar (that's the one that emerges outside the roof of the boat) and the fire rope packs it in place.
We were now able to knock away the broken old flue collar and its fire cement, revealing the bottom of the flue where it joins the stove.
Now it becomes clear that there is a simple hole in the top of the stove, which we cleaned up with a wire brush. We also found that there was a baffle inside the stove - created to direct the hot gases - but which had accumulated 20 years of non-combustible material on its top surface. This was cleared out from inside the stove before going any further.
The collar has two tabs and by inserting the two screws and screwing loosely to the two lugs we were then able to lift up the flue a couple of inches and slide in the collar with its screws and lugs in place. This took two of us - one to lift the flue and the other to slide in the collar.
This closer view shows the collar in place with the screws visible. Before the flue was put back into place the lugs were placed under the top surface of the stove and the screws tightened to hold the collar firmly in place. Note that there is a long end and a short end to the lugs and it's the long end that should be placed under the edge of the hole. So the screws hold a sandwich with the lugs at the bottom, the stove top next and the collar tabs at the top. A clean surface to the edge of the hole in the top of the stove ensures a good seal.
Finally, the bottom of the flue was placed firmly back in the centre of the collar, the small gap between flue and collar packed with fire rope and we ensured the top of the flue was seated neatly into the chimney collar, packed firmly and made waterproof from the outside with mastic.
All in all this took us a bit over an hour and the biggest problem was washing our hands and arms of soot! We will, however, monitor the gases from the stove with our CO sensor as no risks should be taken with gas and stoves.

I strongly recommend the pdf file "Installing Stoves in Boats" by SOLIFTEC.
See also the Boat Safety Scheme Advice.
And Morsø's own installation guide.
See also our blog entry on re-seating the blanking plate on a Morsø stove.