Looking back I think we can say the weather finally turned on Friday. The day started grey and damp with rain by eight and a strong breeze. It stopped again by nine and with a forecast for worse later we decided to at least get through Calcutt Locks to start with. Entertaining from the start, as the continually strengthening wind was blowing us firmly onto the bank where the water was shallowest and the mud deepest. Only two or three attempts were required to finally break free and gain sufficient momentum to make progress down the cut.
The three locks are very close together and between the middle and top locks is the service wharf for Calcutt Boats, where we needed to call in and get diesel etc. The dock lies parallel to the line of the canal and set back 100 feet or so. It seemed the entire fleet of Calcutt’s own hire boats were already moored stern on with a space left by the diesel pump itself. The mission for the prospective customer, should they choose to accept it, was to leave the middle lock and then immediately manoeuvre in the tiny pound to come beam-on to the wind and reverse back onto the wharf between the other boats. A simple manoeuvre in a car; fraught with difficulty on a 55’ slab-sided narrowboat in a rising gale.
The simplest approach was to let the boat be blown against its neighbour and reverse back along it with Sue standing on the gunwale fending it off as we went. Fuelled up and reassured by the attendant that the wind was going to get much worse, it was time to leave again. By this point we were going nowhere by driving straight out at 90° to the wind so it was a case of using what little space was available for both of us to pull the bow round as far as possible into the wind and then racing back to the tiller to get some power on, before she was blown crossways again and then head into the prepared top lock. All, no doubt, highly entertaining for the Calcutt staff who were, presumably, hiding somewhere out of sight to avoid being asked for any assistance.
With the rain now starting in earnest we approached Napton Junction, a blind T-junction facing another marina entrance immediately opposite, with a degree of trepidation. The only approach, really, is to keep moving slowly into the cross channel to start the turn until you see or hear any sign of an impending collision. As it happened there was nothing coming in either direction today so we completed that one without incident and as soon as possible found a little stretch of bank where we could pull in, moor up and hope to wait out the rain.
By now we were hearing that this was “Storm Callum” and expected to become even more violent and to persist for at least another 24 hours. The rain stopped for a while after lunch so we moved on towards Flecknoe, where we planned to moor up for the night. The wind was still rising but once we were on the move we could keep moving forward and only the tightest corners were a problem. We were very surprised at the numbers of boats moored along the stretch approaching Flecknoe at Bridge 103, everywhere else the moorings had been half empty. In the end we found ourselves moored back at Bridge 101, just where we had mustered the L&G flotilla in April with Mike & Lesley Fielding and Neil & Karen Payne. Under normal conditions this is a nice spot. Today the wind was howling down the open hillside straight against the side of the boat, with minimal screening from a few scraggy trees on the opposite bank. We didn’t get that much rain overnight but the wind just kept on going and we began to wonder about the integrity of a couple of branches overhanging the boat.
On Saturday morning it was raining at first and just as windy so we debated whether to move at all. Ultimately we decided it would be nice to moor up somewhere with a bit more shelter. We kept an eye out for a gap in the rapidly moving cloud cover that we thought one might be able to drive a narrowboat through and seized an opportunity about ten o’clock. We made it into Braunston, more or less dry following just a couple of quick showers and moored up near the Stop House, a CRT hangout beside Braunston Marina entrance. At that point the sun came out and stayed with us for the rest of the day, which encouraged us to find a walk up the locks as far as the Admiral Nelson. Steeling ourselves against the temptation to go into the pub and have a drink we turned right here and headed uphill to start a loop round behind Braunston and back in via Wolfhampcote.
Wolfhampcote is the site of a deserted medieval village, mainly marked by the Church of St. Peter that seems to stand there completely isolated amidst open pasture. Despite having been threatened with demolition in the past there is a group that still maintains the church and services are still held there once or twice a year. The village was abandoned in the 14th Century. While that is said to have been due to the population having been infected with the plague, brought to the village by refugees from London like us, this is now believed to be untrue. Most of the inhabitants generally did survive the Black Death and were living there after had passed. It is now believed that they just gradually sloped off to wealthier areas that were easier to cultivate, leaving the local landowner to use the area for sheep grazing.
It was a nice walk in the afternoon sunshine with great views of the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire countryside but the wind never really eased up, which made it quite a bit more tiring than usual. In the evening we made our way to The Boathouse for an evening meal. Right on the canal, this Marston’s pub has always specialised in a very wide menu, sold very cheap and thus attracting families and large groups but with cheerful restaurant staff who always seemed welcoming and helpful. In the year or so since our last visit it has had quite a downgrade. They will no longer run a tab, there is no table service to take orders or settle your bill and within 15 minutes of our arrival they had run out of Peroni.
By Sunday the wind had eased off somewhat and heavy rain started about six-thirty to continue, without a break, for most of the day until about four o’clock in the afternoon. Any thought of moving on was abandoned quite early on. We had plenty of time in hand and the forecast for Monday was almost as bad; better to spend one day getting wet rather than two. Apart from a brief trip to the chandler’s, late in the afternoon, we stayed on board all day. So far, we always seem to have plenty to do on these occasions. Accounts still need to be reconciled, we need to get up to speed on puppy training etc. and a lot of time was consumed in looking at the colour scheme for the new boat. We know what it should be in principle but continue to struggle with the exact detail of how to arrange it.
We really needed to move on Monday as we needed to be in Rugby that night, in order to catch our train the next morning to get back and pick up the car from Purley. It was a cool start and still pretty breezy but not raining at first. We managed to get the water topped up, turn around in the marina entrance and get down to Midland Chandlers for about nine o’clock to pick up the solid fuel (bags of coal and nets of logs) that I had paid for and put by the day before. This was supposed to be a quick stop to grab the goods and go. All went well up to the point where I was loading it all into the top box. The vinyl cover is held on all round by elastic straps. Lifting up one side of the cover and throwing it back we had begun to load things in when another strong gust of wind that we really should have been prepared for lifted the undone cover on our side, cunningly unhooked the bungees on the other side and blew the whole thing into the canal. Moving round to retrieve it Sue was just in time to see it disappear below the surface of the water – who knew it could sink? Fifteen minutes of fruitless fishing with an eight foot boat hook saw us almost at the point of surrender when I just managed to locate it in the thick silt of the canal bed and land it, without the aid of a keep net. Quite a relief as much of the value of the top box is to be able to store things outside the boat and still keep them dry.
The rain had held off pretty well up to this point and while we did get some spells of light drizzle on the way up to Rugby it was a lot better than the day before. The canal seemed very quiet with only a few boats passed on the way up through Hillmorton. As we left there we began to see the signs of construction in progress. The further we went the more we could see, with huge earthworks alongside the canal for a long distance until, shortly before we reached Rugby we came upon a big bridge being built over it. Looking it up on the interweb we found that what we had seen was work on a new road to connect Rugby with Houlton, a brand new town of 6,200 houses being built the other side of Hillmorton out almost as far as Crick. It seems there is no escape from the endless expansion of development and now we are really in no position to complain, having just bought a newly built property ourselves.
Rugby station has had a makeover and seems quite modern but you can’t move or replace the old railway lines so the bones of the old station are still there beneath. There is evidence of that in this VR postbox, still in place, which should delight Neil Payne, who must be suffering withdrawal in one of his obsessions having been abroad for many weeks.
Our rail journey itself on Tuesday morning was straightforward, really but maintained our experience of the success rate for public transport at a pathetic 50%. As the first of the two trains we had booked approached Euston it came to a halt and the conductor appeared to be announcing that we had encountered a gridlock, with all four main lines each having trains sitting at red signals in both directions. It turned out to be the result of an encounter between road vehicle and a railway bridge that meant that when we did start again we had to proceed at snail’s pace through the affected area. They did announce that as we were delayed more than fifteen minutes we could go to the LNR website and make a claim for compensation. Sue tried this but the complexity of the whole process exhausted even her terrier-like tenacity and she gave up. After all, off-peak with a Senior Railcard, the whole journey had only cost £5.30 each to start with.
The main mission for the day was to get the car and visit the local branch of our bank in Caterham to arrange transfer to our solicitor of the funds required to complete the house purchase. The amount was such that this could only be arranged in person. With that, on top of settling two more invoices for the boat build in the last ten days, it felt quite painful. Even though that was the only reason the money was in the account at all, it still seemed a shock to see the balance drop to almost nothing.
We had arranged to stay with Jen and to be down until Friday, when the house purchase was expected to complete. A chance to visit our mothers and meet up with friends. We had put out feelers to see if, while we were down, one or two people might have a gap in their busy schedules to meet up for a drink or a meal. It was great to find that we could muster a party of fourteen for dinner at The Horseshoe in Warlingham on Wednesday night. It was really nice to see everyone to catch up on their news, and we managed to include a round of “name that puppy!”. It might have been yet another farewell tour for us but we got the impression it was also a good excuse for everyone else to get together after the summer as well.
Weather-wise, Wednesday had been a complete washout, with a permanent light but penetrating drizzle. Thursday was much better, which was good as we aimed to get as much as possible of the stuff we had stored in Jen’s flat packed in the car before going to see the grandchildren and their parents in Tonbridge for the evening. Sue got to pick Liam, who is two now, up from nursery and walk him home and we had a chance to catch up on progress with the house they are trying to buy down there. In the past, we have experienced all the same issues of deposits, mortgages and negotiations on the price based on defects in the survey etc. that they are having now. Hearing about it made us appreciate just how much easier our move has been this time!