Thursday, 29 June 2017

Enjoying an English summer!

Josher Emu passes us en route to Braunston
First we spent a few days sweltering in thirty plus degrees heat – that's 90+ degrees in the sort of old money that we pensioners still prefer. Now we are enduring little more than half that temperature and miserable drizzle to boot.
But, as they say, what would we English talk about round the locks if it wasn't the weather.
After hiding under the shade of a tree in Whittington for a couple of days waiting for Mrs B's emergency dental treatment, we pottered gently down towards Braunston in the company of various working boats all going to the same destination as us – the annual Boat Rally there.
We are a bit over-familiar with the route. It was the scene of our first ever canal boat owning journey ten years ago; a race against winter closures which turned into a race against winter itself as snow fell and the canals iced up.
The Coventry Canal hasn't really changed. The eleven spaced out Atherstone locks felt familiar and busy too. Nuneaton was an unchanging dump – a cameo of life there being the sight of two blokes swigging lager and fishing while a year old in a pushchair gazed blankly at an iPad: daddy day-care, Nuneaton style, while Charity Dock is still the same shambolic crazy mess of junk, rubbish and weird statues. I hope Nuneaton changes but Charity Dock never does.
We moored near Hawkesbury Junction where the Coventry meets the northern Oxford Canal. Moored behind us was a working boat en route to the show. Or rather half of one as it turned out. The owner had bought the front half of 'Gorse' and built a suitable cabin to match it to. Somewhere, it seems, is another owner with the original back half and a new front!
The northern Oxford, with its long straights, is rarely interesting but it still has memories for us of entertaining stops in pubs and a near flooding of Harry when Seadog Brian got on a worktop and knocked a tap on. No such incidents this time. We did see yet another monster marina under construction in this always crowded area though.
Braunston was inevitably doomed to be busy so we pulled up as soon as we saw moored boats – and left ourselves a half a mile walk through one of the most overgrown and crumbling away towpaths I've experienced. Down at Braunston Turn we passed the sad remnants of a burnt out Sea Otter – these are built in aluminium and so when they burn, they melt. There was virtually nothing left!
Not just burnt out but melted; the remains of a Sea Otter
I do like a crusty boat show. Last year we went to Lymm where boats, cars and traction engines provide the full classic transport experience). Braunston sticks to boats but there are more of them and the canal parade is a kind of vaguely organised chaos as boats attempt a circuit via a three-point turn at Braunston Turn, then back along the canal and through the marina.
The Braunston parade: organised chaos or maybe just chaos
Anything can happen and usually does from an ‘I know my rights’ private craft which has turned a blind eye to the multiplicity of boat rally warning notices around the area and then discovered that a 70ft boat and butty pair are a pretty formidable obstacle to encounter on a crowded canal, to a bunch of happy (in the alcoholic sense) hireboaters who panic at the sight of a enormous oncoming Big Woolwich bow, engage hard reverse and find themselves broadside across the cut.
The Turn is the place to watch, not just for the antics but for the artistry with which the steerers can manoeuvre their big boats. As someone who has never mastered the art of reversing a car and trailer, I'm in awe of people able to reverse 140ft of boat and butty back round a bend.
My favourite picture: English eccentricity
The boats are everything from painstakingly accurate pieces of history to battered and sometimes much altered survivors of nearly a century of life. I kind of prefer the latter, to be honest.
We were joined on Saturday afternoon by our youngest daughter and her large lurcher puppy - which seemed even larger inside a small narrowboat cabin...especially when he decided our bed would be his bed too for the night. After a fine Sunday lunch at the Old Plough up in Braunston village, daughter and dog headed home and we headed up the locks in the company of an Aussie couple who'd come over, bought a boat and were spending six months on the canals.
A large lurcher in a small boat
As I headed into the near mile and a half long Braunston Tunnel, I spotted the headlight of a working boat behind. He seemed to be catching up which gave me the excuse to wind the speedwheel and get a shift on. Twenty short minutes later we shot out the other end.
We cruised on down to Norton Junction and turned onto the Leicester Section of the Grand Union, mooring opposite the pretty Toll House where another mate of ours lives. What happened next was certainly a surprise.

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