Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Day Five- Canal Pilgrimage

Stockton Bottom Lock- Napton Junction- Braunston- Napton Junction

15 miles, 11 locks

Grand Union

In which the Duck and her crew share many locks with two contrasting sets of boaters, discover that whilst Braunston's reputation as a canal mecca is deserved, there isn't much else going for it, are not of-fender-ed by a shopkeeper offering a good deal because we didn't look like we owned a 57' shiny semitrad with bowthrusters, shun Braunston's diesel prices and go to Wigram's Turn, only to find it deserted and closed.

We were woken up this morning by a BW van driving past; and, being moored not-quite-but-nearly on a lock landing stage at the bottom of Stockton locks, we decided to move off pretty sharpish. We started the engine at 8, and paranoidly checked that it was circulating water out of the exhaust, which it luckily was. Another boat, NB Dreckly, shared the flight with us. They were good company and very efficient at lock wheeling- which isn't surprising, as they'd been doing it for 25 years! We headed up the flight in convivial company, Amy working the locks in a particularly sprightly fashion and myself steering, trying not to make a fool of myself. We managed very well and, parting company at the top lock as they stopped, we felt it was a shame that we wouldn't be able to do the rest of the day's locks in such efficient company!

The weather was a bit grey at this point, but moving the umbrella to be close at hand at the stern- not at the other end of the boat- clearly kept the rain at bay, as Murphy's Law dictates it would have tipped it down if we didn't have a brolly. We had a refreshing 1950s-style elevenses of jam sandwiches and tea, and passed the dramatic- albeit windy- scenery around Calcutt and Ventnor marinas. I'm glad we're not living in such a connurbation of boats, it's not really what I want about life afloat; Upware isn't too big or crowded.

At the next set of locks, we waited for a following boat, NB Beatrice Emma, to catch up, and locked up with them. This was clearly a family boat, with a young chap of about 11 steering. Amy decided not to be out-done and concentrated hard on her boathandling, and did very well. We all locked up together in a very chatty atmosphere; fantastic fun, and a different but equally enjoyable experience to our more refined earlier companions.

We finally reached Napton Junction at about midday, and decided to make the most of being ahead of schedule by going to the canal metropolis that is Braunston. The Grand Union in this section is winding, following a contour, and has spectacular countryside vistas; very bucolic, and I would imagine stunning in the sun. However in today's greyer, windy weather it was less engaging and so, for the first time, we put our radio on the stern and learned about petitions, the state of the olive oil market, and local independant booksellers versus Amazon from Radio Four. If any of those eclectic subjects come up in a pub quiz we'll be sorted.

As we approached Braunston, we overtook a pootling Black Prince hire boat- it was hard to stay behind, as our tickover speed was higher than their cruising speed- and stayed slow as the numbers of moored boats increased. We passed the tragic sight of Usk and Lucy, a working pair unfortunately subject last year to an arson attack, and soon passed into Braunston itself.

Our first port of call was Braunston Marina, to buy diesel; finding it at 99p per litre, we phoned around other local marinas and found it at 89p at Wigram's Turn back at Napton.

After a short shopping trip in the Londis in the centre of town, where we met up again with the family from Beatrice Emma, we went on a jaunt to Tradline, who make and sell fenders and ropes, to get a longer centre line. The Duck only has long lines on the bow and stern, the centre line- used to hold the boat still in locks, and generally very useful- is rather short indeed and isn't as versatile as we'll need, for the Thames and for descending double locks on our own.

The shop owner was very helpful indeed; we'd hinted at our impecunious state in a discussion as to which ropes to get, and so he offered us two 30' mooring lines in navy blue polypropelene rope for his eBay shop price of £20, rather than £21 each- fantastic! We also bought some shackles. When mooring, especially on rivers, it's very useful to be able to use a spring, that is, an additional rope that forms a triangle with the normal bow or stern rope, to stop the boat surging around quite so much. As the Duck's cratch board gets in the way if you try and use a spring at the front, we needed a metal shackle, attached to a convenient metal loop, to hold the rope and stop it rubbing on the cratch board.

We also got a rope side fender, made of nice brown sisal, which was going cheap because it had been outside in the rain and had swollen somewhat. This meant we could replace a plastic fender towards the stern of the boat, and move the plastic fender to under the bow, where it will take the brunt of any impact with lock cills or piling when we wind the boat.

Overall, the Duck looks very smart with her new additions, although we could replace the ubiquitous light blue cheap polypropelene rope to improve it further.

We aimed to try and get back to Napton before the marina shut for the night, and so headed off at about four o'clock. Unfortunately we didn't quite make it, and arrived at six or so; too late to get diesel. As we couldn't find their visitor moorings, and there was no-one about to ask, we moved out of the marina onto the towpath, where we're moored on the Grand Union just to the side of the junction, ready to fill up the diesel and water tanks first thing tomorrow.


  1. HI,
    Your last two have bought back many memories,Napton flight in the pouring rain mouring by Warwick, and Braunston the very first time, in three camping boats from Union Canal Carriers taking 36 scouts from 1st Easthampstead in the early 70's to Leighton Buzzard and back what fun.