Friday, 8 July 2011

Flecknoe to Weedon

We were finally only a few miles away from the junction with the Grand Union Canal and within striking distance of our destination. There was one major canal feature to come though...Braunston Tunnel...of which more later.

We quickly reached Braunston Turn, with its beautiful Horseley Ironwork bridges and swung left. Mick said he wanted to go to Midland Chandlers to make some purchases so we moored up and walked along the canal to the road bridge before trudging back down the other side to the shop. After much browsing and admiring of various items he finally dug into his wallet and bought a small brass plaque for £2.50 - bet they were glad we went to the effort of stopping by!

We had dithered in the chandlers over a Nicolson Guide to the Grand Union, but finally decided it wasn't worth it as we weren't going far, and if the boat did sell, we may not be here again for a while. Instead we made do with OS Pathfinder Series maps which Mick had had the foresight to get out of the library before we set off. But great though they are on land, OS maps are not brilliant for canal navigation.

Ok, we weren't going to get lost, after all the opportunities for taking a wrong turn are limited. But it's difficult to make out any canal features such as locks. I peered at the map.
"I think there are about six locks before the tunnel," I said eventually.

It was very busy below the bottom lock, what with chandlers, hire boats and wot not. I liked it here, it felt like proper canal country. Which of course it is.We hung onto the side of a hire boat which was in the process of being cleaned out before the turn-round and next customer, until the lock was free. We were followed into the lock by a delightful couple from Norfolk who had been cruising the system for a good few months. We shared the flight up with them and got into a good rhythm as we went up. At the top they decided to stop for lunch and so we bade them farewell and headed on to The Tunnel.

I had meanly been teasing Mick, who had confessed to being a little anxious about Braunston Tunnel. It's over 2000 yards long and not very wide. But as we entered the small dark space it was me who had a fit of anxiety.
"The fenders!" I yelled as we motored in. "We should pull up the fenders, we might get stuck!"
"For fuck's sake!" said Mick, angrily. "Why did you wait until we were in the tunnel?"
"Because I've only just thought of it!" I yelled back. Mick obligingly edged down the sides of the boat and pulled up all the fenders.
We both still felt anxious though. What if we met a widebeam? What if we got stuck? What if the boat caught fire?

It is a long tunnel. Very long. There was a boat in front of us and we realised that we were catching it up so slowed down a little. In the middle of the tunnel it was not possible to see either portal which we found slightly un-nerving. The air smelt of our engine so I then began worrying about air quality and so forth before giving myself a good pep-talk.
"Of course it's safe," I said to myself. "No-one suffocates in here, if they had I would have read about it in Waterways World. Pull yourself together."
I felt a bit better after my solo talking-to and we plodded towards the exit. Not far from the western portal we passed the first boat coming the other way. Well, not passed exactly, as they were rubbish at steering and crashed straight into us.
"Sorry about that!" said the helmsman cheerily. The boat, a hireboat, was packed with a family obviously out on a grand outing. It seemed churlish to complain so we smiled and said, "No problem!" then turned and watched them as they weaved their way up the tunnel, shouting and making woo-hoo noises.
"Well, they're not bothered about the tunnel," observed Mick.

Nevertheless we were both relieved when we reached daylight.
"Dunno about you," said Mick, "but I could do with a pint!"

I agreed that some alcohol would be most welcome at this stage and so we resolved to look for a suitable place to stop.

Luckily it wasn't long before we arrived at Buckby Wharf. We moored up and wandered over the lock to the New Inn.
"Hmm," I said with approval. "I think this will set us right."
Two pints and a jacket potato and chilli each and we were feeling very contented. The staff were friendly and the beer was served up to the brim. We approved of the pub very much and it was with some reluctance that we dragged ourselves up to head on.

The New Inn is situated at the top of the Buckby Flight of seven locks. Whilst we were in the pub a boater who was moored below the top lock had come along to let some water down from the upper pound.
"I have to do this every now and again, or I'll be on the bottom," he explained.

We trotted down the flight and then along the short distance to Weedon and Rugby Narrowboats. At last! The journey had taken longe than we thought. But we had enjoyed it, it had been a great experience to get up into the proper canal country and enjoy some continuous cruising.

Northampton skittle game at Weedon
"Cheeses" for Northampton skittles

"Hope you don't sell her," I muttered. "Then we'll have the fun of taking her back."

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