Category Archives: Grand Union Canal Northampton Arm

Party Time. 13th 14th July

Cowroast Marina

A bus into Aylesbury for a hire car, £100 cheaper for the weekend than from Hemel Hempstead! The washing machine constantly on the go, an extra £5 added to the electric post needing to be used. We both packed a bag with party clothes, evening dingding was served three hours early, Tilly was left in charge. No magic food bowl?!

A grade 3 tidy up

If we’d wanted to we’d have been able to reach our destination on Oleanna, this would have meant some long days in the rain and on arrival it wouldn’t have been quite so handy. We could have taken the train and a bus or two, some distances to walk would have been involved but the fares were way more expensive than just hiring a car.

The Watford Flight is down there

Our route took us along narrow lanes, sign posts to Cheddington, glimpses of the Grand Union, through Ivinghoe, all places we know from the water. Grove Lock, around Leighton Buzzard, The Soulbury Three, Stoke Hammond. Then the roundabouts of Milton Keynes took us further east and up to the M1. We didn’t manage to glimpse a look at the Northampton Flight, or Long Buckby, but the big trees that accompany the canal to the Watford Flight were easy to spot after the service station. At Junction 18 we turned off, Crick, well the Holiday Inn at Crick.

Long corridors and bridges

We checked in, explored our compact room which of course was the furthest away possible! Mick flicked the TV on, Robbie Cumming making his way along the GU, only just managing to get through the Soulbury Three before it closed for winter maintenance, as if he didn’t know!

Time to join the party, Lizzie’s 50th Birthday party.

Lizzie with her Dad

What a lovely evening it was. People from most of Lizzies life, family, Watford Palace Theatre (where we first met in the 90’s), Cemex, the boating world, most of her current colleagues from Unusual were busy working on the Olympics in Paris, plenty to keep them busy out there.

Jeremy who was once the Production Manager at Watford Palace Theatre, He employed me to paint scenery for a while and the two of us interviewed Lizzie for the Scenic Artist job there shortly after she left college. Jeremy also helped Lizzie when she first bought NB Panda, moving her from Birmingham, Jeremy having lived on a boat during his Watford days. Our paths also crossed further north when we both ended up on the Yorkshire coast. He’s now quite a useful source of info on the Beverley Beck!

Over the last ten years we’ve gradually got to know various boaters through Lizzie. Noel and Carolyn, Noel had been the Harbour Master at Crick when we first bought Lillian, he managed to find a space for her in the run up to Crick Boat show in 2014 where we gradually moved on board.

Crews from NB Kamilli, NB Adagio and NB Leon before they sold her

Andy and Irene from NB Kamilli. Our bows have crossed a few times and hopefully they may do again this summer. The NB Adagio crew, I’ve lost their names now, but we wave whenever we pass the Cape of Good Hope.

Mick, John and Ali

Then John and Ali from NB Triskaideka. We’d once met on a street corner in Crick, only briefly, but Ali and I have been I touch recently. There was lots to talk about with them, very similar boaters to us with the same attitudes to boating and the waterways community. Plenty of red wine was drunk on our table and by the end of the evening we knew we’d be stopping to have a bottle or two more with them when our bows cross.

The Tuckeys

Several faces familiar from around Crick. One lady who worked for ABNB and Neil Stuttle who fits out boats. Then sat next to Mick were the Tuckey’s, yes the crane and boat movers. Lizzie used to help move boats around Crick marina before and after the boat show so has known them for quite some years. Both Mick and I asked them if they’d had lots of enquiries from boats on the Lancaster Canal, the sealock on the Ribble Link has developed a fault meaning boats could be stuck there through the winter. It was interesting as they are asked for quotes for such things, but people rarely tell them the reason, they had no idea about the stoppage despite having had numerous calls.

Cutting the cake

Plenty to talk about, some nice food and plenty to drink, we lasted until the big lights came on at the end of the night!

All a little bit tippsy!

In the morning we joined the masses for breakfast, plenty of people had stayed including Lizzie. Time to catch up again over a cooked breakfast before everyone headed off in their separate directions. A lovely time had by all, good to catch up with people, maybe we’d bump into them all again if we headed to Stratford, but we have other plans. Thank you Lizzie for having a big Birthday and for inviting us.

Not as good as one of Mick’s, but not bad

Back down the M1 being tailed by the Kamilli crew for about 20 miles. Then round Milton Keynes, past all the land marks back to Cowroast Marina and Tilly, who had done her job very well whilst we were away.

For the last week we’ve been trying to catch up with my college friend Jen who lives in Hemel, her current job not allowing her time to come and help us through some locks. As we had a car we headed back to Hemel, a slight diversionary route giving us more narrow roads and just missing Winkwell Swing Bridge back to the Fishery Wharf Cafe to meet up with her and her dog Monty a very well behaved Collie.

Fishery Wharf well worth a visit

Lots to catch up on, Jen is a fantastic scenic artist and used to work at the National Theatre. Now she freelances and has worked on various films and tv series. I believe she said she work on the props for the latest Ghost Buster film and currently is slapping paint on scenery for a new Netflix series about the Guiness family Last year she also painted some very wonderful panto cloths for Bury St Edmonds.

Mick, Pip and Jen.

Recently she’s had an operation on her foot, so the two of us hobbled away from the cafe after a couple of hours.

Back at the boat we settled down for some food and a night in front of the TV, Dr Who with the Beatles. It was obvious what our nearest neighbours would be watching tonight, but thankfully after one rendition of Sweet Carolyn they must have headed to the pub garden to watch the game. A muffled roar from somewhere made us check the score. The quietness that followed suggested that Spain had scored more than one goal. Everyone returned to the marina quite quietly.

A nice quiet evening knitting

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 Fiat 500, M1 twice, 1 very good party, 2 official photographers, 1 offer of crew, 1 problematic bridge, 1 tray, pair 29 well under way, 1 painter and hound, 1 free sausage, 1 nice cafe, 1 musical baddy, 1 quiet night in with Tilly, still 9.75 digits.

2022 Back To Exploring

Time for the annual round, a long post so sit back, put your feet up and enjoy.

The New Year kicked off with winter maintenance in the house. Having two hallways proved time consuming refreshing the woodwork and patching up the worst of the wallpaper. But this was broken up with weekly walks to see the sea. I resumed work on the development showing of #unit21 for Dark Horse and a Christmas present of a cheese making kit proved very tasty in creating my first ever Yorkshire Curd Cheese Cake from scratch. I plan on having a second go at this soon!

In February work progressed in Huddersfield towards opening night, the floor painted, final costume fittings and then the set and lighting added. All while Mick serviced our life jackets and Tilly grew more and more bored of life in the house.

Once the show was opened we had a trip down to London to catch up with the London Leckenbys for a belated Christmas, on our way back we visited Oleanna. When ever we could we visited Blue Water Marina to do jobs and have a pack up lunch. The stove was reblacked, walls washed down and cupboards sorted through.

Then at the end of February, Mick and I left Tilly in charge of the house, we packed enough clothes and food for a couple of days boating and headed to Thorne to move Oleanna through Thorne Lock before a winter stoppage began. Blimey it was chilly out there, but wonderful to be back afloat and moving Oleanna to Goole. Now we were all set to move back onboard and have a few weeks of pootling about in Yorkshire.

Back at the house we made it ready for the first of this years lodgers. Our boat Christmas tree was retired into the back garden where we hoped it would thrive, this of course was before we knew a drought was on it’s way! Tilly said goodbye to the dragon that lives up the chimney, left Seville and Valencia to look after the house before having to endure the car trip back to boat life.

After a few days sorting ourselves, including having one of Joan’s gluten free Chinese takeaways, we unplugged Oleanna and backed out from our mooring at Goole Marina (Boat House). We spent the next three weeks bobbing about between Pollington Lock, Doncaster and Goole. Maintenance jobs were ticked off the list.

Alistair did engine and weedhatch jobs, Frank joined us a couple of times to do carpentry jobs, our galley drawers no longer have a life of their own, the covers had a good scrub and a spray of Wet and Forget to help them keep clean.

In March I’d set myself a charity challenge, to knit as many pairs of socks in the month as I could. Nine pairs knitted for people in return for sponsorship, I also got a very generous donation of yarn from Lisa on NB Summer Wind.

Our plans had had to change as Thorne Lock still hadn’t closed, but was about to! Plans to visit York and West Yorkshire were abandoned, we’d bought ourselves a Gold Licence for the year so wanted to make the most of it. So on March 24th with all the jobs done we turned our backs on Goole and set off into the sunset to see where 2022 would take us, all three of us grinning from ear to ear.

We made our way to Keadby ready for our booked passage on the tidal River Trent, the fast route south. A phone call from a boating friend in need of support meant we’d be doing our best to make use of the spring tide to reach Cromwell in one go despite the weather forecast. We spent a couple of days doing what we could to help in Newark before we needed to be on the move again.

On upstream to The Trent and Mersey keeping up our cruising hours and Tilly hoping we’d stop with enough time for her to explore each day before cat curfew.

Up to Fradley then onto the Coventry Canal, we played leapfrog with NB Free Spirit for a couple of days.

Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, up the Curdworth Flight then a turn left onto a section of the Grand Union we’d not been on before at Star City. Up Garrison Locks, Typhoo Basin and then the Ashted Locks where we now have the measure of that Tunnel! A mooring space at the top of Farmers Bridge had our name on it. This was handy for a road trip to swap lodgers and for visits to the dentist. It also meant we were in shot when a group came to jump the top lock!

Fast forward to 6:15

Our route out of Bumingham saw us through Edgbaston Tunnel, down Lapworth followed by Hatton. A pause was needed for Tilly’s annual visit to a new vet, the one here the closest to the canal we’ve visited so far, also handy for The Cape of Good Hope!

At Napton we joined the Oxford Canal and headed for Braunston, pausing to stock up on goodies from the butcher. On the Grand Union we made our way up over the hill and started our descent down The Long Buckby flight back towards tidal waters.

On the 1st of May we turned left at Gayton Junction onto the Northampton Arm dropping down the flight to the River Nene. We’d only been this way once before and that was when we’d just bought Lillian (NB Lillyanne) back in 2014. We bought ourselves a second Abloy key, showed our Gold Licence to the chap at Northampton Marina and started our journey down stream, time to explore.

A decision was made to head down to Peterborough taking note of places we’d want to visit on our return journey. We worked our way through the guillotine locks, many button operated and others with the wheel of cardiovascular overload.

Tilly loved many of the moorings apart from those in Peterborough where crowds surrounded the boat and meant returning from shore leave was impossible for several hours.

In two weeks we reached the end of the river at the Dog in a Doublet Lock. Here the river becomes tidal, we’d save that trip for another time and turned back upstream to head for the Middle Level.

Here we wanted to explore all the drainage channels, but decided we’d do that on our return too. So we took the direct route and crossed the low lying waters in three days arriving at Salters Lode on Mick’s birthday. The levels out on the tidal stretch of the Great Ouse needing to be just right to get through the lock, turn and head upstream to Denver Sluice.

A lovely GOBA mooring was found on the River Wissey and eventually the sun came out for a birthday barbeque, we’d made it to the Great Ouse.

The remainder of May was spent exploring the River Wissey, Ely and The Little Ouse. Brandon Lock sits at the most easterly point on the connected navigable network for boats Oleanna’s size. Sadly a build up of silt stopped us from getting her bow into the lock, but we did get her as far east as was possible, ticking off the fourth point of the compass.

There was a trip to Hull Truck to meet old friends at a gala evening followed by a meet up with Micks family back in the Fens. At the end of the month we got to know Neil the seal at Ten Mile Bank moorings as he basked in the sun and took sunset dips in the river.

The Jubilee was seen in at Denver, we lit our guiding lights as a Lancaster Bomber flew overhead heading to see the Queen. The Relief Channel gave us a good mooring to be able to have a trip away to celebrate Dawn and Lee’s 50th Birthdays in Scarborough, we went as Wallace and Gromit and won an Oscar!

Another visit to Ely to see the Cathedral, Farmers market and meet up with Heather from NB Bleasdale, the first of many this summer. The River Lark was explored, the end of navigation reached with a handy mooring outside a pub.

We headed for the Cam, our paths crossing for the first time with Ken and Sue from NB Cleddau. Then onwards in to Cambridge where we visited colleges, ate chilled medication and had a day trip to Duxford so that Mick could sit in the pilots seat of a Trident 2, a seat his Dad had sat in on many a flight.

Oleanna squeezed along each of the three Lodes, Wicken, Burwell and Reach. Wicken Lode a magical place and a day visit to Anglesey Abbey with it’s wonderful gardens.

Then we headed onto the Old West a river with a very different feel than the Ely Ouse. A pause was needed when we reached Earith for us to have a tour of Heathers new to her boat GT. Once off the tidal water we were on a different Great Ouse again. Here St Ives, St Neots and Hemingford gave us sunsets, D shaped locks, huge meadows and wonderful towns and villages to explore.

As the temperatures started to rise I needed to do some work. Cruising happened in the mornings, my Panto script and sketches were done in the shade of what trees we could find. White sheets were bought and we hoped for a mooring with shade for the really hot days that were to come. Tilly took to lying on the floor and we took to wearing wet t-shirts to help us to keep cool. Thankfully the hot blast only lasted a couple of days then the temperature dropped and we could continue to head upstream.

July 21st we reached the navigable limit of the River Great Ouse, having to reverse some distance to be able to turn round and return to Bedford for the River Festival.

Here we met up with Ken and Sue, Jennie and Chris from NB Tentatrice and Heather again. Plenty of things to see, do and hear. The boat parades, raft races, vintage cars, all sorts kept us busy for the two days.

Now at the end of July we alternated the days between cruising and my work. More beautiful days cruising and more wonderful sunsets, one day off to visit Cambridge for some more chilled medication and to see the Hockney exhibition.

August saw more hot days. Trips to London to celebrate birthdays, panto meetings, catch up with best friends and travellers over from Australia.

On the 15th August we crossed back from Denver Sluice to the Middle Level having really enjoyed our three months on the Great Ouse. Now water levels were a worry along with having enough time to reach Oxford for me to go to work in October. We made the decision to come back and explore the Middle Level another year, maybe we’ll cross The Wash to get there!

By the end of August our progress up stream on the River Nene slowed to a halt. First one lock broke then another two ahead of us. We’d recently been accepted to join the Reflections Flotilla on the Thames to mark the Queens Jubilee in a few weeks time, now that time was ticking away.

When we did get moving again we had to make up our cruising hours. With the news of the passing of the Queen we didn’t know if the flotilla would still be going ahead, we carried on at pace waiting for news. Back up the River Nene, turning onto the Grand Union, working our way southwards. The news came through that the flotilla would go ahead, but now in remembrance of the Queen.

With a couple of days to spare we squeezed into the Eco-Moorings by Islington Tunnel. Two days of catching up with family and more friends over from Australia before we joined boats heading along the Regents Canal towards Limehouse Basin. An afternoon of activity saw numerous narrowboats festooned with white lights.

On the 24th of September the Thames barrier was closed and we all headed out of Limehouse Lock up stream to Chelsea where we clung onto buoys until the early evening when the flotilla started to muster.

Getting on for 150 boats all displaying white lights got into formation and headed down stream. Crowds stood on the illuminated bridges and Tower Bridge opened up in a royal salute as we passed underneath. What a truly amazing day.

Now we had to head towards Banbury, back round the Regents Canal as a leak in the engine bay needed testing on the calm waters of the canal rather than the tideway. By the time we reached Brentford we were confident with Oleanna’s engine again. On the Thames Tilly got a birthday present of a night on a Cliveden Island. Sadly we got an unexpected present on our arrival in Oxford, a second red line on a covid test! Panto painting couldn’t be put off so we made our way gradually up the Oxford Canal keeping our distance from people at locks and taking maximum doses of paracetamol.

A week of painting in Banbury before I moved to Chipping Norton to stack up the hours over the next four weeks getting the 50th anniversary panto ready. Rendez Vousing with Oleanna at weekends in Banbury and Coventry kept me sane. Mick had to single hand across the summit of the Oxford Canal to avoid the first of the winter stoppages.

All three of us were back onboard by mid November, covid free and vaccinated. We took things slowly now, time to rest up, meet friends, gather family and pootle towards Christmas. Our 20th Anniversary was celebrated with a Chinese takeaway at Alvecote Marina, a planned stop which ended up being extended due to plummeting temperatures. The canal froze, there’d be no moving the outside for Tilly!

Temperatures lifted dramatically and the ice just about vanished in a couple of days, we could now be on our way to Christmas. Alrewas was a good place to spend the festive days, a very good butchers and a village with lots of character and humour.

Bookings in the New Year had been made for passage on the tidal River Trent for us to reach Yorkshire, but this would not be. The Trent had risen before Christmas, Cranfleet Flood Gates were shut ahead of us, so no New Year at Hazelford Lock. Instead our alternator played up and we sought out a mooring to hook up to and see in 2023.

This year we’d been wanting to explore again. This year we cruised miles of new water, made new friends, got too hot, got iced in, got stuck, got to be in the first illuminated flotilla on the Thames for 300 years. What a great year it has been.

So our vital statistics for 2022 according to Canalplan are

Total distance is 1249 miles, 6½ furlong and 555 locks . There were 88 moveable bridges of which 29 are usually left open; 156 small aqueducts or underbridges and 18 tunnels,  a total of 7 miles 2 ¼ furlongs underground and 8 major aqueducts.

This was made up of 227 miles, 1 1/2 furlongs of narrow canals; 363 miles, 2 furlongs of broad canals; 85 miles, 5 furlongs of commercial waterways; 269 miles, 1 furlong of small rivers; 234 miles, 7 1/4 furlongs of large rivers; 69 miles, 6 furlongs of tidal rivers; 176 narrow locks; 232 broad locks; 54 large locks; 2 locks on major waterways.

731.7 engine hours

1156.1 litres diesel, 5 (although we’ve got 1 empty now) gas bottles (used for central heating as well as cooking), 28.5 litres oil, 3 oil filters, 1 fuel filter, 2 air filters, 1 water pump, 2 new belts, 690kg coal, 1 overnight guest twice, 6 packs Dreamies (not enough!), 56 friends, a record breaking 41 Mrs Tilly stamps of approval (4 in one day!), 15 pairs socks, 2 shows designed, 9 lodgers, 2 lots gluten free puff pastry, 9 supermarket deliveries, 30 boxes of wine delivered, 2 lost unicorns.

Thank you all for joining us on our journey. Wonder where we’ll get to in 2023?

Third Up. 11th September

Lock 17 to Gayton Junction, Grand Union Canal

Tea in bed with the Saturday newspaper! Followed by a cooked breakfast, no fresh tomatoes on board so beans took their place on the plate. Yum.

Hmmmm Yummmm

Then we joined the Geraghty zoom, much of the conversation this week was about the queen and a memorial for archaeologist. It was good to see everyone as always.

Binty Bint has been busy adding bees

Time to get a move on, we’d already been passed by NB Ivy May and just before we started to roll up the covers a cruiser came past, so any advantage of the locks having drained overnight or from a late night boater coming down the flight went to Ivy May. There is also another way of looking at it, if there was lack of water on the flight, they would need to sort it.

The flight is known for it’s weed

The first four locks are quite a distance from each other. Here depth is lacking. I think it’s always shallow, just exacerbated from having spent most of the last 19 weeks on rivers with plenty of water under Oleanna’s hull. Add in the amount of reeds floating around and you make slow progress. Mick only had to go down the weed hatch the once though.

A charred border to the canal

Along the off side bank there seems to have been a fire recently, lot of the sideways trees and friendly cover burnt to a char. It appears that there have been two such fires in the area when the ground was so dry, maybe even started deliberately.

Rising up

Once under the M1 the thick of the flight starts. The murals under the bridge reminded me that next time we are down this way we’ll need to spend a few days in Northampton to explore properly.

The M1 from below

The bottom gates have their handrails on the other side to normal, so my kicking the gates open method was not going to work, or it would end up giving me aches in my knees, not what is needed at the best of times let alone in the run up to Panto. I don’t step across the bottom gates as many do, the railings prohibiting this also. I did however have an idea that might save walking round the lock for a second time.

Mick closing up

Maybe the boat hook could be of use. I requested it and managed to pull the off side gate closed, however the gates were just that bit too heavy to push open with the hook. I was very glad of my very grippy shoes as I pulled the gates closed, we’ll see what muscles ache in the morning.

Setting the lock above

After a bit of thinking we got our rhythm back again, me walking ahead to set the next lock as the one below filled, not wasting any precious water. Mick closing up the lock below once Oleanna had risen and exited the lock.

Only one boat came down the flight, the boat ahead getting the advantage of any empty locks apart from one for us.


The higher we got the better the views across Northamptonshire.

At the bridge below the second to last lock a figure stood looking down the flight, waving cars on as they arrived. This could only be one person, Leon. We met Leon eight years ago when we brought Lillian up the flight after just buying her, he helped with a few locks that day.

Leon on the bridge

Today there was a lot of banter and I’m certain it wasn’t water in Leon’s water bottle! He is well known in these parts and apparently very handy with a windlass, he’s been known to assist boaters far and wide, he just asks for 24 hours notice.

Last lock of the flight

As we rose in the last lock of the flight a Diamond Resorts boat arrived under tuition. They proceeded to wind in front of us as we waited in the lock. They were followed by another boat who did the same, don’t mind us we’ll just wait here! It was a bit of a shame that neither boat had let us pass as we now followed them both at a crawling pace back to Gayton Marina, where they both pulled in.

Slowly does it

Should we top up on water? We decided that it could wait for tomorrow if there was space around the corner to moor. Sure enough there was, we turned right and pulled into the first space available, just far enough away from the road for Tilly to go out.

A very welcome cuppa followed, then a shower, then a touch of work, followed by roast pork and a glass or two of wine to celebrate reaching the Grand Union Canal proper and being just a touch ahead of schedule.

16 locks, 4.87 miles, 1 right, 2 ahead, 1 coming down, 1st cooked breakfast in an age, 1 Leon, 1 joint of pork, 1 crabbies, 2 glasses of wine, 2 hours shore leave.

Is That Hair Real? 10th September

Manor Farm to Lock 17 Grand Union, Northampton Arm

Another early start, well we’d had a boat come past us last night and we didn’t want to loose out on the lock, maybe more than one being in our favour. We pushed off just before 8am, our neighbour showing no signs of rising.

Approaching Doddington Lock

Doddington Lock was in our favour, at the end of the lock landing on the top side a weasel frolicked in the grass, it’s white tummy giving away it’s location. For the last few days every now and again we’ve heard clouds of geese coming over head and wished them all to continue onwards with their journey.

Heavy picnic benches

New benches have arrived on four of the FOTRN moorings. These heavy duty benches came about from a legacy that was given to the IWA with the proviso that it went towards improving the River Nene and a great addition they are.

Earls Barton Lock sat empty for us, followed by White Mills. Does anyone know what the two large springs were for in the lock chamber, close to the guillotine gate? Was this the other lock that used to have a radial gate?

Finesse built

The Crick widebeam winner from 2019 sat on it’s mooring, a Kingfisher using it as a perch. Rumour has it that it will be having a refit and going on the market in the not too distant future. So if you fancy a 70ft boat with hydraulic wheelhouse this could be for you.

Whiston Lock

Whiston Lock, the last of those that have had problems in the last few weeks. This is where the duck weed started and what would be the weekend traffic coming towards us. First a small cruiser, recently bought and being moved down to Titchmarsh Cruising Club, the chaps on board were hoping they’d make it today!

At Cogenhoe Lock there was a narrowboat sat in the lock, two people stood around chatting. Was something wrong? One of the fellas had been to ask at the caravan park and was telling the chap with the boat that the lock was broken, ALL the locks were broken! Well that we knew was untrue. Apparently the mooring a short distance upstream was full of boats waiting for the locks to reopen! There was no power to the panel, that bit was true.

Putting the doom-laden news to one side, I started to look at the immediate problem. The chap with the boat was new to the River Nene, was everything closed as it needs to be for the power to be on. Simple answer was, NO! One of the paddles was just an inch or so raised. Once this was down the panel worked a treat. I offered for the old chap to be on his boat and I’d lift the gate, but he’d rather do it himself and keep an eye on his ropes. His boat, his lock, his way.

Harry in amongst the berries

As the lock emptied the chap who’d been full of miss information introduced himself, Alex. Was it one o’clock yet? ‘No just gone ten’, I said. ‘I’ve got to last till midday! It’ not easy you know.’ ‘Is that hair real?’ What an odd question, what an odd man. Eventually he headed off having supposedly seen his wife.

Attention came back to the matter in hand, the lock was now empty, just a simple matter of raising the gate to let the boat out and Oleanna to come in. But hang on the gate wouldn’t do anything. The lights were on?! What was going on! Oh blimey were we going to need to call the EA out? I tried, the chap with the boat tried pressing the button, still nothing. Today had been going really well up to now.

Then all of a sudden the chap with the boat twisted the emergency stop button. He presses it to stop the gate from lifting, which it does anyway! Now the gate could be raised and everyone could be on their way again.

As we passed the weir cut we looked down it. Yes there were boats, but they were all the normal moorers there. The chap with the hair comment hadn’t said one word of truth, I suspect he wasn’t even called Alex!

Passing Billings Aquadrome there were numerous supped up cars, this weekend was a gathering of such cars, many painted bright vibrant colours with their engines out on display above their bonnets.

Nearly went the wrong way!

At nearly every lock now towards Northampton we’d meet a downstream boat just as I was about to close the top gates. One boat was heading back to March from a summer on the canal network. Another recently bought and heading to its new mooring at Ditchford, we met at the first electric guillotine gate. They’d got this far last weekend then realised they didn’t have a key to operate the lock.


We followed and were chased by rowers across the wide water before turning off the river and passing through Weston Barrage. Back to manual locks now, windlass operated at both ends. Mick made the mistake of not tying the bow up whilst waiting for the lock to empty at one of them which necessitated dropping the paddle as Oleanna’s bow stretched across the cut and listed alarmingly. However this turned out to be the first major test for our drawers that Frank had added magnets to earlier this year. One and a bit draws, not what would have been a five drawer moment last year!

The narrow section of river with all the duck weed felt like we were going through swamps. Soon back out onto the river properly, we followed the directions left on a bridge and reached the last of the River Nene locks.

Northampton Lock

A weedhatch check was needed which was done on the lock landing. As I stood with the lock empty awaiting Oleanna a chap came along muttering to himself.

Alcohol induced confidence

He then proceeded to climb up on the top gates where there is no walk way as there is a perfectly good bridge at the other end. Once stood on the gates he balanced himself to where the two vee gates meet in the middle and then proceeded to throw slices of white bread for the geese, thank goodness the gates are quite chunky as his balance was being assisted by drink! Thankfully he continued to cross the gates without any incident and then was encouraging a goose to take a slice of bread from his baseball cap, all too close to his face for me to watch.

Last lock on the Nene

Last lock done, we pootled through Northampton. Many people book themselves into the marina here, or hope to get a mooring on the embankment. We turned to meet the bottom lock of the Northampton Arm, a narrow C&RT lock, armco, small gates. Could we remember how to work these after all we came down this lock almost 19 weeks ago!

We were soon up the lock and the last space by the pipe bridge was free, phew! Lunch then a visit to Asda for some milk, bread and a new computer mouse. Then a walk a bit further to pick up a couple of parcels. 80 meters of fairy lights and a magnetic pole.

One half of the lights

Tilly was now given shore leave for a couple of hours. Not that she was that impressed with the outside, too many woofers, zero friendly cover just a bank that needed peering over and calculations to see if she’d be able to climb up some pipes. Thankfully she didn’t try!

Look out!

12 locks, 9.53 miles, 1 not broken lock, 1 head of real hair! 80m, 45cm, 1 fabric shop not open, 0 art shops, 2 hours shore leave, 2 many woofers, 1 cartoon cat, 0 decision.

How Much Do We Remember? 3rd May

Westbridge Pipe Bridge to White Mills Marina, River Nene

With Frank on standby to be our proxy a phone call was made to Scarborough Council. Mick got to chat to the nice lady who’d helped us eight years ago and through the years had made sure we’ve had the correct forms to be able to vote despite being homeless!

Last bit of canal for a while

Sadly this time she couldn’t help us. She could reissue our postal votes which would automatically cancel the previous ones, but unless one of us went to collect them from the office they would not return in time to be counted in the election. She did check that they hadn’t been returned, either to sender or falsely signed. No-one knows where they are, possibly they will be sat in amongst our post next time one of us goes to do a turn around, delayed in the post. Thankfully we strongly suspect the candidate we would have voted for will be elected, fingers crossed that is the case.

Time to get a move on. We dropped down the last of the Northampton Arm Locks at 10:30 and made our way under Cotton End Bridge the river banks to the west of the bridge overgrown, to the east moorings on large bollards. There would have been space for us here, but above on the arm was a better choice for Tilly, even though she wasn’t keen!

We headed in to Northampton Marina, pulling up on the pump out pontoon. When we bought NB Lillyanne we inherited an Abloy key which has been carried around for eight years. Only having one could be a mistake, one we’d rather not happen. The chap in the office was in the middle of a training course but was happy to sell us a key after we’d shown him our Gold Licence. He also sent us away with a comprehensive map and list of moorings along the river.

Back out on the river we timed it perfectly to arrive at Northampton Town Lock as a narrowboat was just exiting. We asked if we had to leave the gates open when we left, but they didn’t know. Yellow signs on the beams suggested we could leave either end of the lock open, but to lock the other set of gates. Should the river be in flood a red flag is flown and you should not proceed, this was certainly not the case today.

Manual gates at both ends of this, Rush Mills and Abington Lock. The paddle gear easy to wind up and down. Once up a white marker shows at the very top and as you wind them down a marker follows your progress until the paddle is closed.

EA chaps heading back to the marina

At Rush Mills an EA boat was just approaching so I helped them lock up. Below the lock landing has been having work done to it, on other lock landings areas are being left to rewild to help encourage insects and bees.

Abington Lock, now this one we remembered from eight years ago. Lillyanne’s EA licence had just run out so we were doing our best to get her off the river and onto C&RT waters before we were spotted. We did a full days cruise, but hadn’t managed to get as far as we’d hoped in day light. It being April Weston Favell pontoon had looked appealing but shouldn’t be used (May to September it’s a mooring, October to April only to be used when the river is in flood) in the end we moored on the lock landing at Abington, setting the alarm for first light, hoping no-one would see us, they didn’t.

The Washlands

Once through the barrage Northampton Washlands open out, here flood water can be held to limit flooding downstream a barrage at both ends. Hopefully we’ll be able to stop on the pontoon on our way back.

Waterway Routes map showing type of lock gates, lock landing locations and more

So far the locks had been a fairly standard set up with pointing gates (as they are called round here) at both ends, shown on the above Waterway Routes Map as two arrows. But at Weston Favell Lock we had reached our first Guillotine bottom gate, shown with pointing gates at the top of the lock and just a straight line at the bottom. Most of the locks on the River Nene are these type of locks.

These locks have to be left with the top gates closed, paddles closed and the guillotine gate raised fully. Like this they act as a weir, rising river levels come over the top of the gates and can flow out of the lock. On arriving at the lock, using your EA key (Abloy) you unlock the control panel. If heading upstream you bring your boat in and then lower the guillotine behind. Then you can lift the paddles at the top of the lock, some of these can be fierce so caution is required.

Lowering the gate to fill the lock

Once the lock is full open the gate, either exit or enter depending which way you are going. Close the paddles and gates and then empty the lock, no matter which way you are heading. To do this you press the raise gate button until the red light illuminates, this lifts the guillotine just enough to drop the level in the lock, maybe a few inches or a foot. Oleanna gets pulled forward a touch when this happens, but nothing alarming.

Then after a couple of minutes the red light goes out and the green one illuminates, you can then press and hold the raise gate button. This doesn’t sound too bad, in fact on your first lock or two it isn’t that bad, your thumb or finger aches a touch as it takes minutes then a few more minutes to fully raise. By the time you are onto your third lock of the day RSI is starting to set in.

He may be smiling, but I may not after the manual version of the locks!

With the guillotine gate now raised the boat can exit below getting dripped on and you can try to manipulate your thumb into working so as to close the control panel and lock it again. All fun and for those who have been this way before, I most definitely remember the manual versions which are still to come!

At Billings Lock we were following another narrowboat, the lady kindly dropped the guillotine in for us after they had left. They were liveaboards out for a trip from Northampton Marina, ‘Being live aboards you have to get out once in a while!’ the lady said. I asked how far they were heading today, thinking we’d have a locking partner. ‘Just here then we’re turning round to go back’. They must have headed into Billing Aquadrome, a very tight turn by the bridge. We may venture in there on the way back.

Have fun on the Llangollen

The spacing of locks is such that we decided that maybe we should have made a pack up for lunch today. Mick kept us at a gentle speed so that I could make us some lunch and a cuppa without missing too much.

Weir boom

Todays schedule had us mooring near Cogenhoe Lock. Some maps show there to be a mooring near the lock, our old Imray guide suggests mooring on the fields above, but we knew better as this was where we’d considered mooring eight years ago only to find nowhere obvious to pull up. The EA guide suggests ringing to see if there is any space, this must be down the weir arm and looked quite busy, so we’d not bother.

Patiently waiting for the lock to be ready

We then had a choice. Stop at White Mills Marina for the night, or push on to a Friends of the River Nene mooring at Hardwater Mill, possibly another hours cruising. Once we’d dropped down Whiston Lock Mick tried calling the marina, time was already ticking away and if we got a mooring with electricity we’d be able to empty the dirty washing drawer. There was no answer, just a message saying they were closed on Tuesdays. Mick left a message during which someone called him back. Eventually he got through, a lady was manning the phone, the marina office closed. We could moor there for the night £14 and she would see if she could sort electric for us. Brilliant! By now we were only five minutes away.


We turned into the narrow opening, followed directions we’d been given, turn right towards the Ukrainian flag, then head towards the office, pull in on the river side of NB Albert. This we found easily and reversed in, only to find it was a touch shallow.

The very nice lady came and told us where everything was and persevered sorting the electric out for us, £2 we’d see how long that would last us in this new world of higher prices!

White Mills Marina

A quick Cat Health and Safety check. Sadly there was an intermittent busy road close by and a possible ditch that would have stopped our second mate from venturing that far was very dry indeed! So not a natural barrier. I’d rather put up with complaints than not have a complaint ever again from Tilly. So much for moving the outside!

I may have to resort to wine if this carries on

As Tilly was stuck inside I took the opportunity to remove her collar and give her her new wormer. Last years tablet she’d been given seemed to disagree with her, resulting in tremors, so this time the vet gave me a spot on one. Just a dab of wetness on the back of the neck, that’s how they are sold to humans. They think that is fine! It most certainly is not!!! Nobody was touching me after that!

Washing machine was put to use, two loads, a dishwasher load and some electric heating before we headed to bed.

9 locks (1 canal, 8 river), 2 barrage gates, 7.52 miles, 0 postal votes, 0 proxy, £15 key! 4 boats met, 1 grey day, 1 ever so excited cat, 1 extreamly disappointed cat, 1 nice lady, 1 washing drawer empty, 2nd pork meal.

Right To Vote. 2nd May

Westbridge Pipe Bridge

We may now be on exploration mode, but there are other things more important that will dictate what we do for the next week or so. Hopefully we’ll get to spend a bit more time on the River Nene on our return. Today however Tilly and I would be staying put whilst Mick had a day away at the seaside.

Last night he spent time purchasing five day returns, finding the cheapest route via split tickets to Scarborough, totalling £54. Mick gets to do such journeys as he has an old gits rail card. To get a couple of hours in Scarborough it meant him getting on a train at 06:59 from Northampton. He changed at Rugby, Tamworth, Derby, York and arrived in Scarborough at 12:08. His tickets were even more complicated!

A Thank you

The house needed checking over for a change of lodgers, the boiler we’d had problems with needed checking too, but most importantly Mick had gone to pick up our postal votes. Getting them sent on by our lodgers wouldn’t guarantee them arriving in the right place at the right time, but going to collect them from the house a few days before the council election should.

Final mosaic near the lock

When we first moved onboard fulltime Mick had a long conversation with a lady at Scarborough Council about how we could vote from our boat. The lady was very helpful. Every year we had to declare ourselves homeless and register an interest in Scarborough. We then appointed a proxy voter, our friends Dawn and Duncan obliged for us and visited our Polling Station, European Referendum, General Elections, Council Elections. This all worked, we were on the list of special people at the back of the list and our names got crossed off each time. On one occasion Mick headed back to Scarborough from Manchester to vote in person, my vote sadly lost that time.

Today when Mick arrived back at the house however there were NO postal votes waiting for him! It worked for the Police Commissioner last year, why not now! We’d received our Postal Poll Cards weeks ago. All that way and no means of voting. He tried calling the Council, but it being a Bank Holiday Monday the phone remained unanswered.

The bluebells are out

House chores were quickly done, things checked over and he was back on a train at 15:34 to change at the same stations on his return journey arriving back in Northampton at 20:21, empty handed.

The River Nene

Meanwhile Tilly and I had done a bit of cleaning. Meowed at the back door! I’d been out to do some shopping. Eight years ago we’d visited Morrisons, today I first headed to Aldi which is nearer, but very quickly realised the things I wanted they wouldn’t have, so I aborted and headed to Morrisons instead.

There had been a possibility that Mick wouldn’t get back until 9 or 10pm, depending on how the house had been left. So I’d taken the opportunity to purchase some King Prawns, Mick doesn’t like things that eat poo, so they are a solitary treat for me once in a blue moon.

Stirring risotto and prawns

On the offside of the final Northampton Arm lock a family was enjoying a barbeque. Thank goodness there was the lock in between us as their dog seemed to not want passers-by, it came and made that very obvious.

Please move the outside!

Tilly tried persuading me to move the outside to a better one. But all She said was that we couldn’t do that while Tom was in the outside, he wouldn’t like it! I suppose She was right I get all hurumphy when they move the outside a little bit whilst I’m in it and by the looks of things the outside would have had to move a long way to make it any better!

MOVE IT! Tom won’t mind

To while away the afternoon I used up a couple of wonky lemons that I had left over and had a go at a Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil recipe for Lemon Drizzle Traybake. It needed amending to be gluten free and the fact that the suitable tray I have seems to be in Scarborough! The recipe uses rapeseed oil instead of butter so was very easy to make, but the quantity of oil seemed to be a lot and our supplies are a bit short right now. I cut down on the oil, popped it in a cake tin and hoped for the best. After 35 minutes it was cooked, drizzled over with sugar and lemon juice. I just had to wait for Mick to return to sample it.

Lemon Drizzle, click photo for recipe

Tomorrow we’ll ring the Council to see if there is any way we can get a proxy vote at such a late date. We don’t hold out much hope, but it’s worth a try.

0 locks, 0 miles, 5 return tickets, 10 trains, 1 pump still running, 1 dying dishwasher, 1 mini bottle of bubbles, 0 postal votes, 0 boxes wine, 150grams king prawns all for ME, 1 unimpressed cat, 1 slightly cleaner boat.

207 Years To The Day. 1st May

Evans Bridge 42 to Westbridge Pipe Bridge

In need of the services at Gayton Junction we prepared, emptying the wee tank whilst the outlet was on the towpath side. Then we pootled our way to the junction.

What a difference from yesterday! I got sunburnt yesterday, today we could just about see our breath! Layers and long sleeves were certainly needed.

Gayton Junction, which way?

At the junction there was already a boat on the services, but fortunately they had just finished. We pulled in alongside and let two other boats pass before we could swap places and tie up. There was a hive of activity around the service block, the local IWA branch were busy weeding and giving the place a general tidy up. We filled and emptied as required then were ready to push off.

IWA all hard at work

We’ve pulled up at the services here before, but only once been along the Northampton Branch. That was just over eight years ago when we’d just bought NB Lillyanne, she’d been moored on the River Nene and her licence had just run out, so we spent a couple of long days getting her off the river and onto C&RT waters. Quite a rush, not enough time to take much in or write a blog.

Last year was all about seeing family and friends, this year we want to explore again. Today we’d be heading down the Northampton Arm towards the River Nene, Middle Levels, Great Ouse, River Cam etc where we plan on spending the summer. We have our Gold Licence, have joined Friends of the River Nene and The Great Ouse Boating Association. There are different licences to buy, keys and windlasses (that are also called keys), all very exciting!

Fancy swing bridge

But first we needed to stop for an early lunch, there’s nowhere really to stop in the flight of locks down into Northampton so we pulled up opposite Gayton Marina. This is where all the hire boats were aiming for this morning and also where we came to view the first second hand boat we looked at inn 2014, it had too much leatherette for our tastes and really bad storage for a liveaboard boat.

From eight years ago I’ve had this thing that Gayton Marina had to be on the main line of the Grand Union near the junction, every time we’ve passed since I’ve wondered where it had gone! Now I know it wasn’t just a mirage.

NB Caress of Steel came past just as we pulled in, another Finesse boat with space for a motorbike in the tug deck. Then we watched the swing bridge at the entrance swing, all automated, a barrier and flashing light. There was no-one to be seen operating it, do moorers have a fob that they can press to open it? Or is someone watching on CCTV?

Top Lock

Time to set off, with sixteen locks ahead of us before we could stop we needed to get on with it.

We remembered narrow locks, going under the M1. I remembered trying to ride a Brompton up the gravelly track between locks, our lock operation has changed since then going up hill. Today I’d be walking much of the flight three times to set ahead and then let Mick and Oleanna out of the lock above.

What would be different to the locks? There’s always something different on each canal. The beams were wide, easy to cross. Here the handrails on the bottom gates were on the downhill side of them. Would I still be able to push the gates apart to save a walk around the lock? Have they always been like this or is it to put people off stepping across from one gate to the other?

Beep beep!

At the second lock I stood and worked out if I could push the gates from the centre safely holding onto the railing. This actually would be a touch easier to start off with, but to guarantee getting the gate into the recess I would need to change the angle to which I pushed. After a few locks I decided that the angle I was pushing at was not being kind to my knees, so I chose to walk round instead. Thankfully Mick closed the other gate for me with the boat hook, saving a second trip round.

The thick of the flight runs through twelve locks seemingly in countryside, the last one however sitting underneath the M1 near junction 15A. All quite pretty, I suspect the views would have been better if the sun had been out.

A family walked up the flight, crossing over the gates of each lock. They were obviously keen to lend a hand with a gate or two.

Red roof

In the pound below lock 6 I could see a red arc. This turned out to be the roof of a cruiser, the chap on board appeared when we had a couple of locks still to go to reach him. Obviously a single hander, I headed down to lend a hand with gates as he bow hauled his boat into the lock. He said that he’d stopped in the pound overnight and some nair do wells had opened all the paddles and drained the pound, he’d woken up with his boat on the silt.

The bywash was flowing and had got him afloat again, the level still quite low. It took time for Oleanna and the cruiser to pass. We’d left the next two locks ready for him, I suspect he made use of the open gates and then settled back down for another night, waiting for the next down hill boat to leave gates for him.

It won’t go down!

The level below Lock 6 was low. Oleanna ground to a halt exiting. I lifted one of the top paddles to see if I could flush her out. This worked quite quickly, but then the paddle wouldn’t close fully. I managed to force it down a touch, but had to call for Mick to see if he could get it further. Thankfully this worked.

The canal was built by the Grand Junction Canal, with a height difference of 32m between the Grand Junction at Gayton down to Northampton. 17 narrow locks were built to connect the River Nene to the canal network. The first boats arrived at Far Cotton in Northampton on the 1st May 1815, 207 years ago today! However today we wouldn’t be greeted by crowds cheering, it would just be geese crapping everywhere!

Farms were cut in half by the canal, so seven lift bridges were put across so that sheep, cattle and machinery could cross. Today only one such bridge is still fully in tact, just below lock 5, two more sit beside the canal.

Under the M1 are murals painted by local school children. One side depicts the canal through the seasons, the other is a time line of Northampton which is very interesting, bright and jolly. For 100 years the canal was very busy transporting coal, grain and timber, by WW2 road competition took over and trade declined.

A heron flew away from the lock

In 1968 a group of local enthusiasts formed the IWA Northampton Branch, in 1971 the IWA National Rally was held when 650 boats gathered. The branch fought to keep the arm open, objecting to road plans that would affect the route. Today they look after the upkeep of the flight. Mosaics sit near the top gates of each lock and as seen at the top of the arm today work parties keep the thick of the flight trimmed and tidy.

The pounds very full lower down

Once under the M1 the last few locks are set further apart. New housing sits alongside and the amount of reeds increases, this is also something we remembered from eight years ago. Gradually the canal becomes more urban.

Reeds reeds and more reeds

Local boats sat making use of the few rings above Lock 17, but there was space for us infront. We used the last ring and the girders holding the pipe bridge up to moor and moved the geese along taking care not to stand in their pooh.

Last night we had unwrapped the pork joint, dried it off and left it in the fridge to dry out. Before starting the flight I had left it out to come up to room temperature. Once down Lock 15 I turned the oven on, gave the joint a dry off and added some more salt to the leathery rind. Down Lock 16 in it went. By the time we were moored up it had done it’s 30 minutes at gas 7 and could be turned down. The effort paid off as we enjoyed the best pork crackling I’ve ever made along with a quarter of the meat. A good celebration to mark the anniversary of the arm and the start of our exploring this year.


16 locks, 6.5 miles, 1 left, 1 full water tank, 1 grey day, 1 left of 7, 34 mosaics, 1 slow boat to Gayton, 1 Tilly not too impressed, 2 hrs 42 minutes, 1 joint of pork that will last us four meals, 18 train tickets booked (making use of the Sale before it ends), 2 tired boaters.

Rinsing Down the Port Side. 11th June

Evan’s Bridge 42 to Fessey Bridge 58

About five minutes after lights out last night, Mick already making the sound of a man asleep I heard a noise. I sat upright in bed. What was that?! It was a similar noise to that which Tilly makes when she comes home to find the back doors closed, she jumps up from the board that covers the engine onto the sliding hatch, the engine board making a slight rocking noise which is subtly echoed by being over the engine bay. Who was in the pram cover?

Had we got an intruder? Had the ants come back on mass? Mick being on that side of the bed headed off to investigate.

So much for checking the ropes on a night time and locking up! According to Mick, Tilly must have opened the hatch, all by herself! I gave Tom a Tilly look, She understood my look.

Shortly before Gayton Junction, by a bridge there was what looked like a LOT of rubbish that had been dumped there. But on closer inspection there was a canoe tied up to two mooring spikes. A bag and a rucksack, an assortment of cuddly toys. By the bridge was a carrymat and possibly a sleeping bag. Was someone living on the canoe? Using it to move their possessions? Had they settled by the bridge?

Which way?

At Gayton Junction we looked down the Northampton Arm, one day we will venture down there and explore new waters, but not this year there are more important things to do this year.

Blisworth Mill

Soon we were approaching Blisworth Mill, looking fine as ever. New houses were going up on the towpath side, this is where Mikron’s van was parked last time we passed, it would most probably now be in someone’s living room.

An interesting greenhouse, wonder if it folds flat for bridges?

Then Blisworth Tunnel. 1.75 miles long it is straight and quite often you can see from one end to the other. Today however the tunnel was full of mist, fogging up our view. We were glad of an extra layer of clothing under our waterproofs because it was decidedly parky in there. Beams from our lights were visible as the light from the northern portal faded away.

Blisworth is wide, two narrowboats can easily pass , which is what happened at the 1km mark. The light from ventilation shafts showed quite clearly in the mist, then the water coming from them would be caught in our tunnel light, a quick mental note of where the heaviest water was before we found out if we’d missed it. One shaft gave the port side quite a good rinse down.

At the southern end we came back out into the sun, a wide beam moored up presumably waiting for a booked passage tomorrow morning. Two narrowboats may be able to pass in the tunnel, but if you came across a widebeam, one of you would have to reverse.

Stoke Bruerne

With no one following us through the tunnel we watched people on their boats to see if anyone sprung into action hoping to share the locks ahead. But no such intention was seen. The top lock was full so we went straight in and started to work our way down.

Swapping locks

We passed an uphill boat in the next pound which saved opening gates. The next long pound has moorings, but nobody was getting ready to go down hill there either so we carried on.

Through the sideways trees

The next three locks are quite close together, you can get one going and walk to set the next one without too much of a walk. I set the top lock, the next one having just emptied and the bottom gates were being pushed open, the next lock sitting with the gates open waiting.

The boat came out of the lock and went way over to the offside. What were they doing? Then I could see the side of it, an ABC hire boat, maybe they’d got their lefts and rights mixed up and gone drastically off course. Then there was more cabin side visible, ahh they were winding! Another boat came into the lock, soon followed by the hire boat having successfully winded.

I waited for them to start filling the lock before I opened up the bottom paddles, our water could help raise them. By now the lock below had been turned for an uphill boat, so when we’d moved into the next lock we waited again before emptying the lock. I spent the wait admiring the cow parsley growing on the lock gates!

Below Lock 18 you used to be able to walk under the bridge on the offside, but now a very big pipe fills the walkway access blocked by fences.

No access anymore

A chap was trying to open the bottom gate at Lock 19, here only one paddle works and the amount of water leaking in at the top was just about winning. The two of us managed to get the gate moving, he headed off to get his boat. He’d been expecting to share with another boat that was following at the lock below, but instead a Weedon hire boat came along to share. They pulled into the lock, I suspect their second ever uphill lock with the amount of panic showing in the chaps eyes.