Thursday, 10 June 2021

Partial solar eclipse and an old lock at Cosgrove

I have some catching up to do as I have neglected this blog for quite a few days - oops! First, did you see the partial eclipse of the sun today? We had enough sunshine in Bletchley for me to project the sun onto a white card using a pair of cheap binoculars.
Nothing like as impressive as a total eclipse (which I was fortunate to see in France in 1999), but it's nice to see the moon nibbling away at the sun. There was no discernible darkening of the surroundings - that only happened when the odd cloud passed in front of the sun.
Now back to the business of catching up.

Thursday 3rd June 2021

Josiah was raring to go, having put on his lifejacket, so we set off immediately after breakfast.  The canal was covered in places with furry seeds.
I think they came from willow trees.
At Cosgrove we stopped to explore the horse tunnel under the canal and looked round the church.
And here's Josiah in the mouth of the horse tunnel.
Back on board, we continued down Cosgrove Lock, across the aqueduct and tied up just before the Galleon.  Ally came to collect Josiah leaving us to have a quiet evening on our own.  We walked through the Ouse Valley Park to the Iron Trunk Aqueduct over the Great Ouse.  The footpaths here, as in many parts of Milton Keynes, are of very high quality being smooth and wheelchair-friendly.  It felt odd walking on these paths through fields of grazing cattle.

There are some nice photos to be had of the aqueduct leaping over the river.  But here are mine.
Having walked through the horse tunnel immediately to the south of the aqueduct we looked for evidence of the former locks which led down to a crossing of the Great Ouse on the level. Here's what we found: a gate and a lock chamber, still in remarkably good condition given the length of time since it was last used. The current iron trunk aqueduct was opened in 1811 and I can't imagine anyone wanting to use slow and wasteful locks when they could go straight across, so perhaps the old locks fell into disuse from then. (I suppose they might have been used if the aqueduct was closed for maintenance.)
Jan noticed a strange phenomenon in the sky while we were at the lock. I don't think I've seen a red rainbow before.
The sun was setting and turning deep red, hence the apparent lack of other colours in the rainbow.
After looking at the sunset over the aqueduct we returned to the boat.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

He'll make a fine lock boy

After Stowe Hill (was it Flore?) there was work going on around an overspill weir.
That's what it looked like, anyway.
We had a salad lunch in shifts on the move, and stopped at Blisworth just past Candle Bridge for grandchildren Josiah and Micah to join us, with their parents Ally and Ben. It's a good job we stopped at the first available mooring as there was easy car parking there, whereas opposite the mill a new development has blocked access.

We all enjoyed the trip through Blisworth Tunnel and went straight on to the locks, where there were plenty of gongoozlers at the top lock.
Micah mostly stayed on the boat with Ally ...
... but five-year-old Josiah got stuck in, helping with opening and closing gates.
After tying up at the bottom I cycled back to retrieve Ally and Ben's vehicle, then we all ate at the Navigation. Josiah is staying with us overnight; we will rendezvous with his parents at Old Wolverton tomorrow.

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Exploring the Royal Ordnance Depot, Weedon

Until today I had never seen inside the former Royal Ordnance Depot at Weedon. I shall write more about this below; meanwhile here's a picture to be going on with.
I wrote yesterday about the cow parsley footpath - this is it, running from Butcher's Bridge to Nibbet's Lane.
From the path, looking towards Braunston Church, the field is a mass of buttercups.
As we had breakfast a stream of boats went past in the direction of the locks, so we delayed starting until they had had a chance to get through. Eventually the traffic seemed to ease, so we waited for a boat coming along behind us and then set off.

We had to wait for a pair of boats in front of us to enter the bottom lock, then it was a slow process as we waited for oncoming boats to use each lock as we left it.

I watched a pied wagtail flit back and forth across the tail of the bottom lock; then further up the flight I managed to photograph a yellow(?) grey wagtail on the lockside. (Thanks to Adam for the correction.)
Our passage was calm and orderly, but it took an age.
It was a similar story down the Buckby flight. At last we reached Weedon, where we tied up and had tea on board. Then we walked to the former Royal Ordnance Depot where we found we could actually get in to the site.
It's amazing! We could walk through the open gates, past an unmanned security cabin and all round the area. The buildings were made to store small arms, cannon and gunpowder.
It all looks rather decayed, but the buildings themselves look in good condition. Many now house industrial units.  Where the tarmac and concrete have crumbled away a railway line is revealed.
Running through the middle of the site - indeed, the focus - is the former arm of the Grand Union Canal. The level has dropped and it is obviously silted up but, thankfully, it has not been prettified. It is almost as if it hasn't been touched since the last boat left, probably several decades ago.
There is more information on The Depot's website here. Look - here's a lovely old-fashioned lift with those rattly cage-like doors!
And, finally, another view of the Ordnance Canal.
Updated for correction

Monday, 31 May 2021

Cows and cow parsley

We followed a boat up Itchington and Stockton Locks this morning. At the point when they might have waited for us to join them in a lock boats started to meet us coming down, so we stayed separated. At the top I made myself a coffee (Jan doesn't drink the stuff) and we continued to outside Ventnor Marina, where we stopped for lunch. The sun had come out to burn away the chilly early morning air and it got sunburningly hot.

At Wigram's Turn we turned left onto the shared GU/Oxford Canal towards Braunston.  It was perfect boating weather.
I thought cows were supposed to lie down when rain was on its way - these obviously hadn't heard of that.
At last, Braunston Church came into view.
Today has been the busiest so far, and by a long way. There were boats queueing to come down Calcutt Locks, and there was a seemingly never-ending procession of boats coming towards us between Wigram's and Braunston.

At Braunston we turned right to stay on the Grand Union, and tied up just before Butcher's Bridge, nabbing the last spot before the locks.  Our friends John and Gill, with their daughter Stacey, joined us on our boat for drinks in the evening.  (I think that was allowed!)

When they had gone we walked into the village to post a couple of letters.  It was a very fine evening, and a delightful walk through the cow parsley to get to the High Street. If I remember I'll try to get a photo of the cow parsley path in the morning.

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Rats, rats, rats.

This is the third day in a row that we have seen rats. The most disgusting sight was round the back of Hatton Top Lock Café, where two rats scurried away from a ground-level electric fan unit as we approached. Today I saw a rat in the undergrowth at Long Itchington. Has anyone else noticed more rats about? I have no photos of the furry rodents ... but here's another example of broad daylight nefarious goings on:
This graffiti painter's work to me seemed pure vandalism, certainly not up to the standard immediately to his left. This was in Leamington Spa.

[Update from Pip and Mick: The chap in Leamington was working on a piece for Leamington Mural Festival, the artists name is Lune. All above board.]
As we emerged into the countryside there was a field with broad stripes of buttercups. Why? How?

And then, the other side of Bridge 31, as indicated on Waterway Routes, the dreaded HS2 crossing point. To the north the earth movers were lined up, all big wheels and yellow paint and looking like they mean business.
To the south a new silver city and a huge heap of earth which will form the basis of the railway bridge over the canal.
We shared many of today's locks.  Here we are going up the Bascote Staircase, our last locks before we tied up at Long Itchington.
After tea on board we went for a walk, discovering first that we had moored on the aqueduct over the River Itchen.
In the village itself a spoof blue plaque caught my eye.
There was nothing fake about this song thrush singing loudly and clearly in a tree by the canal.

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Birmingham to London runners saved from dysentery?

First thing this morning I cycled back to Shrewley to buy a newspaper. I went by road as the towpath was rather muddy. By towpath it would have been slightly more than a mile; by road, although reasonably direct, it seemed to be about three miles each way.

And then it was off down the Hatton flight - but first, an appointment with the Elsan disposal point.  Here I was astonished to find two large (40 litre?) drinking water containers being filled from the rinsing hose for the portable poo tanks.  Two white vans were parked there, with three people in hi-viz vests filling the containers.  I asked what they were doing, and they said that the café had said that it was the same water that went to the canalside water point.  Well, yes, but was it to be used as drinking water?  Yes, they said brightly, it was for the Birmingham to London runners.  I pointed out that the hose they were putting in their nice new water containers had previously been down the neck of a loo cassette, just like the one I was holding.  They then - rather reluctantly - poured the water away and started talking about getting some disinfecting tablets from Boots as they drove away.  I hate to think how many runners might have been doing rather more running than they bargained for had I not just happened to come across this.  There were no signs indicating that "This is not drinking water" as there usually are by Elsan points.

Until that point I hadn't noticed the dribs and drabs of runners with numbers jogging down the towpath.  As we made our way down the locks they came past, but they seemed to be more the tail-end Charlies than the elite super-marathoners.  There was a semi-official-looking photographer and a smattering of watchers near the CRT "Welcome Station".
Once we had passed here, i.e. having done four locks, a volunteer lockie started going ahead and setting the locks for us. That was very handy for the next six locks, but then he walked back up the flight leaving us on our own again. But that was fine, I had my bike and we worked efficiently. We did the whole flight of 21 locks in 2 hours 45 minutes.

Some of the paddle gear sported shiny new stainless steel bolts.
We stopped for lunch just above Cape Locks; then moved on to Leamington Spa, where we have tied up outside Lidl.

One thing I forgot to mention a couple of days ago is that we saw many bats in Brandwood Tunnel.  They were flying around, buzzing the boat, clearly picked out by our tunnel light.

Friday, 28 May 2021

How often does a canal flood?

Ah - that's better. Photos have uploaded, so now I can write about yesterday and today.

The newish flats at Dickens Heath have been furnished with flood boards, which would seem to me to be an unnecessary and expensive precaution.  Canals rarely flood as they have overspill weirs to deal with excess water.
I suppose in an extreme case of a huge downpour the overspill weirs might not cope immediately, but would the canal really rise above the edge?  Perhaps there's another watercourse nearby which I haven't considered ...
Well, summer seemed to arrive suddenly yesterday. I did quite a bit of cycling around King's Heath, Stirchley and Yardley Wood and got quite warm. Back on the boat we enjoyed the rural Stratford Canal away from the Birmingham connurbation.
We stopped at Hockley Heath where we joined fellow BCFers Ingrid and Kit for drinks in the Wharf Tavern.
Today we continued down the Stratford Canal. We met up with my former colleague Ian, who has recently joined the ranks of the retired. We gave him a lift from Hockley Heath down to Lapworth Top Lock and enjoyed a chat in his garden.
This is the only photo I took on the Lapworth Flight.
At Bridge 35, two locks above the Lapworth Link, the fierce bywash pushed the boat into the brick arch. Some paint was removed from the top left corner. A boat was following us down the locks; I reckon the extra water coming down with it was what caused the problem.

We turned right onto the Grand Union and passed this pair of gently rotting hulks. 
I think I photograph them every time we pass - it would be interesting to juxtapose the images to see the decline.
One more photo for you: Shrewley Tunnel north west portal with horse tunnel.
We tied up half a mile before Hatton Locks: we have that joy tomorrow. In dry conditions! (We had some light rain on the GU.)