Tuesday 31 August 2021

Down and up the Calcutt locks

Last night we were able to tie up outside the B&B at Napton Junction where Son Nº3 and family were staying. That led to a very good late afternoon / evening.

This morning we headed up to the Calcutt locks (with their paddles which, to us, seemed extremely odd), where there was quite a lot of activity.

That meant Bram and Obie got to help with the locking, until it was all too much and they needed a rest!

Up and down the locks they went
On Erin Mae, Erin Mae
Up and down the locks they went
On the good ship Erin Mae

O what a time that was
On Erin Mae, Erin Mae
O what a time was had that day
On the good ship Erin Mae

And, having gone down the locks, winded, had lunch and come up the locks again, we returned to base until it was time for them to have an evening drive to their London home. Son Nº3 got some steering practice on the way.

It's been a great couple of days, and Bram and Obie were probably singing the Erin Mae song in car, until they fell asleep.

O what a time that was
On Erin Mae, Erin Mae
O what a time was had that day
On the good ship Erin Mae

Monday 30 August 2021

The Erin Mae song sung again

Bram and Obie came to stay
On Erin Mae, Erin Mae
Bram and Obie came to stay
On the good ship Erin Mae

O what a time that was
On Erin Mae, Erin Mae
O what a time was had that day
On the good ship Erin Mae!

Obie helped with the steering.

While Bram speeded us up or slowed us down.

All such activities, and progress through some locks and back, will be incorporated into new verses tomorrow.

Strictly speaking, of course, they didn't actually stay on Erin Mae. They're staying in an excellent B&B at Napton Junction. But I think that staying with us for the best part of today, and of tomorrow, allows such literary licence.

Sunday 29 August 2021

Close encounters

Unbeknown to us, our friends Mark, Cheryl and Amelia drove down to the canal to meet us as we set out for Napton this morning. This is the family who got Erin Mae from Great Haywood to the River Severn and back in about 9 days, back in 2016. I think the Olympics were on at the time. We'd known we might meet them on the towpath some time over the next few days, but hadn't expected to suddenly encounter Mark walking through a bridge hole – they'd taken a chance with when we might set out today. Once they were all on board we sauntered at tickover back to where they'd left the car – they'd had a very long towpath walk. It was great to catch up and natter about this and that. I forgot to get the obligatory photo.

Then we had another unexpected encounter.

I still think a widebeam looks extremely odd. We met a couple on this section, where the Oxford and the Grand Union canals run together between Braunston and Napton. It's at Napton Junction that the Grand Union turns right on its way to Birmingham.

But we were going straight on, to the winding hole just before Napton Bridge 111.

I was glad there was no traffic as I turned Erin Mae. Everybody knows it's what you do and that they have to wait while you do it, but this is a relatively slow hole, complicated by the shallowness of the water and, today, the wind.

We came back a couple of hundred yards to tie up, and found that our spot might become a bit dusty.

Harvesting the big field opposite involved this behemoth and another couple of tractors. Fortunately the wind blew most of the dust the other way. I was astonished to discover later that they had done the whole field in the afternoon.

Less pleasing to observe was the steering of some boats that passed our mooring. One got all out of shape, colliding heavily with both an on-comer and one of the moored boats. A minute later another, going far too fast, failed to judge things properly and, in avoiding an oncoming boat, gave Erin Mae a good thump. That's the second time in a couple of days.

And that's the sort of close encounter I can do without.

Saturday 28 August 2021

New territory

We reached the Hillmorton flight by 9.30 this morning, to avoid the traffic. These locks are not deep, but there are three pairs, side by side, so you can choose which side you want to go.

At the middle set there were two volunteer lockies. These locks have the reputation of being some of the busiest on the network, so they want to keep boats moving through.

Then it was on to the top pair – all very seamless. I practised letting Erin Mae drift into the lock while I stepped off at the entrance with a handling line, to go up the steps and operate the gate on this side.

You have to be especially careful about the water flow when you're not on board, but it's something that single boaters do all the time.

Then it was on towards Braunston, a long winding stretch with lots of traffic, including a boat to add to my list of Tolkien-themed boat names. I only saw the name as he passed, so you'll have to take my word for it, but this is NB The Naughty Hobbit. From the rear, it looks like a Sea Otter (for Roger and Mirjana, who know what that is).

Now I can't think of any particular reference to an especially naughty hobbit in either The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. Perhaps one of the hobbit children had a reputation that I've forgotten. Anyway, I think I'll append the updated list to the end of this post.

I'd always thought of the view of Brewood church as you travel north on the Shroppie as likely being one of the most photographed, but I expect it's run close by the sight of Braunston church as you approach from the north. And it has an adjacent windmill for added value!

Some call Braunston the heart of the network. It must be almost totally unknown by anyone who isn't a boater. We've only been through here, in the reverse direction, once before, in 2015. 

Today we turned right at the junction, to move into new territory., and tied up about a mile beyond Braunston, on the first stretch of armco we found.

It's a decent mooring, but there is still lots of traffic. Hardly surprising for a Saturday on a bank holiday weekend towards the end of the summer.

Now, as promised, and to make a long post exceedingly long, here is my updated list of Tolkien-themed boat names.

Arwen Evenstar
Bilbo Baggins
Earls of Rohan
Frodo’s Dream
Lord of the Rings
Many Meetings
Riddles in the Dark
The Arkenstone
The Naughty Hobbit
There and Back Again
Tom Bombadil

Friday 27 August 2021

All wired up

Wayne the electrician arrived at 9 a.m., and did a great job. I'd had a good look at the shower pump's wiring last night, and Wayne concurred with my conclusions about what was what. It was his hands, of course, that sorted it out, while I did helpful things like turn the switch on and off on command.

All now seems to be fixed, so we shelled out the dosh and set out for Rugby. An expedition to Tesco beckoned – it was just unfortunate that it was uphill from the supermarket back to the canal. We moved on  a mile or so to moor up for the night where it's less noisy.

Mind you, it didn't stop a hire-boat hitting Erin Mae while misjudging the line between us and an oncoming boat. My baser instincts rattled the bars of their cage, but in the end we let it pass without comment!

Thursday 26 August 2021

Still stopped at Stretton

I finished off the cooking of last night's tea under the grill, and that required switching the inverter on. Unfortunately I forgot to turn it off again. When we got up this morning, the SmartGauge showed the batteries' state of charge as just 54%, even though the inverter was running nothing but itself. A normal figure might be between 70 and 80. I am reminded why in 2016 I went through the process I called Twelvoltification, getting rid of everything I could that needed mains voltage, and running everything off 12 volts. This morning I felt thoroughly justified in my decision, and thoroughly annoyed that I had to run the engine to get the batteries up to a reasonable SOC again. The solar panel gave some assistance in the afternoon, but the days have generally been dull.

Today the new shower extractor pump arrived, but not until late afternoon, and Jamie came to fit it. Unfortunately there were issues with the wiring that he was unable to resolve, so we're still here at the end of a day doing largely nothing. We have a promise that someone will be here first thing tomorrow, so we're hoping it can all be dealt with quickly. We have to get to Napton Junction by Sunday evening, doing a proper Tesco shop in Rugby on the way, and the schedule's starting to look a bit tight!

Wednesday 25 August 2021

Stopped at Stretton Stop

As promised, Jamie turned up first thing this morning to examine the pump that extracts water from the shower tray.

Not only was he a knowledgeable boater and engineer, but also a guitarist, so we enjoyed chatting with him. But what would he say about the pump?

The relay in the junction box was working but the fuse, which was OK yesterday, had blown again – an indication that the fault was something inside the pump. He hoped it might be the impeller (relatively cheap and easy to fix) but eventually concluded it was the motor itself. Only solution unfortunately is a whole new pump – much more expensive, and hope it fits the space. So that's on order for tomorrow. And he also had a reason (and a remedy) for an apparently intact hose dribbling water in spite of having its Jubilee clip well tightened.

Meanwhile it's been getting unseasonably chilly sitting here in the boat. Since there's no point in having a rejuvenated stove if you don't use it, I eventually fired it up, and it warmed us through nicely!

Tuesday 24 August 2021


A week ago I had to replace the fuse for the pump that drains our shower tray. Last night, the pump stopped working again. Not the fuse this time, and the relay gives a clunk when I press the switch. I fear it may be the pump itself which needs to be replaced. So we've stopped tonight at the home of Rose Narrowboats, a place called Stretton Stop, so their engineering department can check out the pump in the morning.

A nice little place, with a swing bridge across the canal, and miles of Warwickshire countryside behind us.

But you may observe, firstly, that Erin Mae is moored a foot or so from the bank; and, secondly, that I have two mooring lines set up at the stern. Not being able to moor close to the bank because of its profile, or underwater obstructions, means that we are very susceptible to being bashed around when any other boat passes. That's the reason for the spring – the second line at the stern – which is doing at least something to ameliorate the problem, by restricting Erin Mae's movement.

Unfortunately, the other issue is a different sort of line – the main rail line about 20 yards beyond the opposite bank, with a regular stream of passenger and goods traffic. I've traced the line on the map, and been amazed to see how closely it follows the route of the canal from Rugby all the way to Rugeley, from whence a branch takes trains right past our home marina at Great Haywood. It's a reminder of how closely interlinked were the canals and the emerging railway companies in the early days.

It's the goods or maintenance trains in the night that are the sleep-interrupters. But we have no choice – that shower pump awaits attention in the morning. I probably shan't hear a thing. But my best beloved's hearing, sadly, is more finely attuned to such disturbances.

Monday 23 August 2021

Goodbye to Coventry

Last night a couple from another boat were out on the wharf in Coventry Basin singing songs to a banjo, so I took my accordion across to join in. I didn't know any of their repertoire – quite a lot of American railroad numbers – but was able to play along, and we had a good time. Annoyingly, I completely forgot to get the names of either themselves or their boat – hope we meet up again sometime.

This morning it was time to pack up and leave. Past the Ricoh arena, less visible from the canal than the two Manchester stadia,

under the M6,

and up to Hawkesbury junction where, once again, a large boat was blocking the way.

Unlike last time, this was no novice. It was just that he was wanting to wind a very long boat. At one point he even invited me to use Erin Mae to push his nose around, partly so that we could slip by the side, under the bridge and onto the Oxford Canal.

This seems to be junction, not just for the Oxford and Coventry canals but also, just round the corner(s) for all the local high voltage power lines.

This evening we're nestled up in a spot that feels a bit more remote, though still just within sound range of the M6.

We're hoping all the electricity in the air won't fry us in the night!

Sunday 22 August 2021


Two new words for me (Rakshabandan and Mela), both tied up with Hindu culture. I have no intention of attempting to explain either the words or the link to a 19th century peace-making event, which I was told of yesterday. But today's festival, held in the canal basin, had the support of a good many organisations, including the Coventry-based British Organisation for People of Asian Origin (BOPA). It was well attended by all sorts of folks.

Throughout the day in the main marquee there was a programme of mostly Asian music, heavy on the drums, which was very popular.

In addition to the craft and food stalls you'd expect, there were also a couple of crafty boats with their wares on display.

The military recruiting machine was out in force.

And in the middle, to my surprise, was Richard Parry, CRT's CEO, with other members of the CRT team. 

Richard, in my experience, is a very approachable person. This is the third time I've run into him (Leeds & Liverpool towpath in 2015, and at a BCF AGM) and it was good to chat briefly again about boating issues.

Late afternoon we went to the Cathedral for Choral Evensong. Quite a contrast!

Saturday 21 August 2021

Rainy day

It's been grey, and drizzly. So we went for a coffee at the Playwright's café on the Coventry Basin wharf.

We paid a visit to the Portuguese shop, also on the wharf, and chatted in Portuguese with the owner and her Brazilian friend.

And then we stayed under cover.

Meanwhile, various crews have been erecting scaffolding-framed stalls for a festival due to take place in the Basin tomorrow. Apparently it's an annual celebration of an historic occasion from 19th century India, when Hindu women and Muslim women stopped their menfolk fighting each other. Covid stopped them holding it last year, so everyone's looking forward to it. We've arrived at the right time to experience some of the culture of this city of culture. Especially if there's no fighting.

Hope it's a bit drier than today.

Friday 20 August 2021

City of culture

Coventry is the 2021 City of Culture. So we thought we better experience a bit. Among the items on our visiting list today was Lady Godiva, who holds pride of place in the town centre.

Just on from there we found our first real target – the Herbert art gallery and museum. I didn't bother with a photo of the outside, and the items inside were not easy to capture. However they were really interesting. The gallery currently has a exhibition of 2 Tone music and culture. This was totally new to us, as we had just gone to work in Brazil when it took off at the end of the 70s, and had really finished by the time we returned. A mixture of Jamaican music and punk, and associated with both an anti-racism ethic and the protests surrounding the early Thatcher years. It was fascinating to find a bit of British culture that we had completely missed, and to see its deep association with Coventry.

Just back from the gallery towards the city centre is the cathedral. However well you know the story surrounding the bombing of the mediaeval cathedral, the extraordinary movement of reconciliation that followed, and the way that was captured in the construction of the new cathedral, the whole thing is incredibly impressive. A nice feature, given our family links to Norway, was a small organ, presumably played on just special occasions, given by Norwegian people as a mark of identification with what the cathedral stands for.

When we got back to Erin Mae, we found another cultural event taking place in the canal basin. The library boat NB Scribendi, for which we had had to move up a space last night, was doing a great job of encouraging people to get into books.

A folk band got going with some some original songs focussed on the Coventry canal.

There were lots of different activities for children, and crafty stuff for all. It wasn't terribly well attended – the sky was grey and it was Friday afternoon – but those who were there had a really good time.

Thursday 19 August 2021

Coventry Basin

Another grey day, but finally we were on our way to Coventry. There were one or two things to see on the way.

First was the entrance to the Ashby Canal – but we weren't going up there today.

I'm not sure this fella would go anywhere with a chimney that tall.

At Hawkesbury Junction there was a bit of a delay. We tried to fill the water tank, but the tap was the slowest we have ever encountered. Then we found some hirers having fun at the junction itself which, to be fair, can be a bit of a nightmare. We still don't really know what they were trying to do, but other boaters helped to pull them round when they got stuck. The boat just in front of us helpfully moved on and over so we could get through – our route was straight ahead.

Just beyond the junction is another water tap – not a lot quicker, but needs must. Four days till we can fill up again. The beasts on this bridge overlook the tap. To my eye the head of the big bird is more like a dinosaur than a swan!

Then it was on to new territory – the first time we've been on the Coventry stretch. It was mostly back-end urban and bleak, but with some surprises.

This was the first patch of water lilies, but not the last. The guy working on his boat quite enjoyed having his personal water garden!

After more than 3 hours travel we finally found the spot we'd booked (until Monday) in Coventry Basin. It's a decently worked area, with a statue of James Brindley (one of the early canal engineers), some shops and a coffee outlet. It will probably liven up at the weekend, and then we shall we wishing it hadn't.