Thursday, November 06, 2008
A Long Short Cut
Our route out of the east side of Birmingham started to veer northwards and we were soon heading almost due north towards Tamworth. Why were we going this way on our way south? As you know, we usually add together locks and miles and calculate our journeys in 'lock-miles'. If we had gone straight through Birmingham and down the Grand Union, we would have been going down the 21 broad locks at Hatton (near Warwick) and then up 20-odd locks a few miles later. The longer route, north via Tamworth and then south near Coventry and Rugby, certainly had more miles but also substantially less locks, so the 'lock-mile' total was lower. Added to that was the opportunity to explore in Birmingham and revisit parts of the Birmingham & Fazeley and Coventry Canals that we had not visited since 1986, plus all the locks were narrow ones. A detour? Not really – more of a short cut!
Our entry to Fazeley was under the curiously mediæval-looking footbridge – spiral staicases each side, a simple walkway across. Next to it is a swing bridge which seems little used; probably only for access to the farmer's fields.
In the next few days, we (like most others in the UK) suffered a blast of wintry weather, when it was a real joy to get into the warmth after the afternoon's cruising had deteriorated into sleet and cold winds. We still enjoy the crisp winter light, especially in the mornings, but setting up the wind turbine and the TV aerial as the light begins to fail and in freezing conditions makes the boat's central heating and coal fire really welcoming!
Past the Alvecote boatyard where we hired a boat back in 1986 (now much expanded!) and on up the Atherstone locks – surprisingly attractive – before plodding through the edges of Nuneaton and Bedworth, where we found ourselves back on familiar territory again as we came to Marston Junction, where the pretty Ashby Canal branches off north-east.
The landscape round here tends to be a mixture of semi-industrial and nondescript edges of housing estates, but there were occasional highlights, especially as we approached Hawkesbury Junction with its iron bridges and quirky layout. Even Hawkesbury is surrounded by electricity stations, but we had a pleasant surprise to find 'Edna May' there with Steve and Lindsay on board. Since meeting them last year on the Stratford-on-Avon Canal, we seem to see each other quite often. The last time had been on the Llangollen only a few weeks ago. So, a slightly longer stop for a cuppa and chat before having lunch and heading south on the Oxford Canal.
Jeremy cycled out to see us at 'Stretton Stop' near Brinklow, stayed the night and cycled straight into work in Leamington the next morning. Good to see him and have the usual long chat into the night!
Only three locks between Hawkesbury and Braunston, then Braunston's own flight of six before plunging through the tunnel to Norton Junction, where we stopped for the night before going down the seven Buckby locks – the last ones before we reached Blisworth! Since Braunston, we were back in broad locks again, and some of those larger lock-gates were certainly heavy after the lighter ones on narrow locks! Coming down Buckby, it was good to be able to share locks with another boat – saves water and shares the work!
About 9 or 10 more miles brought us to Gayton Junction and Blisworth Marina. We had made informal arrangements by phone and email to stay here for 2 or 3 months this winter. When we arrived there was no-one around, so we moored up opposite the entrance ready to make contact the next day.