Setting off again

Ginger Bear slumbered for four days in Northampton waiting for our return from a family wedding.

Our nephew Jun married his long term girlfriend Liberty. He looked great in his uniform, and she was beautiful in lace and embroidered cowboy boots. After the service there was a quirky reception in a field. The threatening rain clouds failed to deliver and the sun shone.

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It is a shock that we are now part of the ‘older group’, even if we still think we are thirty five. The little ones had a great time running round the field with balls, bats, croquet mallets and fairy wings.

It was lovely to catch up with our children, grandchildren, family and friends.

Ginger Bear had recharged her batteries and was ready to go, but it was raining heavily, so we decided to stay another night. I was able to spend a happy afternoon in the tiny marina laundry room feeding coins into hungry washing machines and tumble driers. I did manage to read most of a book during the lock in, but increasingly appreciated the ease of our friendly Brentford laundrette’s service washes.

On Tuesday we were working our way back up the seventeen locks from Northampton to Gayton Junction. The locks had been quiet on the way down, and were now very busy with boats in both directions. Some going down to the festival and others trying to leave before it started. Volunteer lock keepers were helping to maintain the flow, and we passed a friendly Leon who was helping another boat down.

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Reaching the mainline again, we turned north and moored near Bugbrooke in position to meet visitors the next day.

Claudia and Eliza (daughter and granddaughter) arrived the next morning having driven from Dorset.

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Eliza is used to staying on the boat in London, but was not very impressed when told she had to wear a lifejacket and lifeline when on deck. She managed this most of the time without complaint, and when fed up with the Hi Vis outfit entertained herself below with beads, colouring and favourite books.

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It was lovely having them for a couple of nights, and we waved them off on Friday morning hoping they would be early enough to miss the worst of the early Bank Holiday traffic jams.

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A passing boat had warned of a problem with the next flight of locks, so we decided to stock up with supplies at Weedon.  We were also keen to investigate a hidden military depot and barracks built in 1803 which originally had access from the canal. Legend has it that some of the buildings had originally been intended to hide the King in the event of Napoleonic invasion.

We peered through the old canal gateway, saddened to see the buildings had been turned into untidy industrial units.

On towards the Buckby flight and into our own Bank Holiday traffic jam. We joined the queue and moored for the rest of the day. All movement had finished, and some boats had been in the queue all day. We walked up the flight to look at the problem with the second lock of six.

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An impatient boat had tried to push its way out of the lock before the water was level and broken the gate. A very effective temporary repair was in place, but boats now had to be helped through the lock carefully by Canal and River Trust personnel, one at a time. There were long queues in both directions.

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The next day we slowly moved up the queue, doing a bit of gardening and maintenance on the way.

The guys on the lock were really helpful and at least one had given up holiday to come in and manage the lock over the Bank Holiday weekend.

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We later moored above the flight of locks and wondered about the profession of the owner of a boat and house below the lock.

Yesterday we waited for the rain to clear before carrying on through a long tunnel and down another flight to Braunston. Passage through the tunnel became increasingly tricky as the boat in front slowed and then seemed almost to stop.  It was difficult to understand what was happening in the dark. When we eventually emerged we saw that a large wooden board had attached itself to the bow of the boat in front making it almost impossible for them to steer. They fished it out as they came out of the tunnel, and resumed normal steering. We then accompanied Crossley with her cheery crew and bouncy collie down through the flight of locks which made our progress much quicker and easier.

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Braunston was a major junction in the canals’ heyday, and still is very busy. Boats, many of them hireboats, going in all directions. We turned down the combined route of the Oxford and Grand Unions canals at an interesting dualled junction, and moored a little later.

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A circular walk, while supper cooked, took us to Flecknoe where we found an odd brick building with no obvious purpose on the edge of the village. It had the appearance of an air traffic control tower with no adjacent airfield. Unable to solve the mystery we carried on and passed a narrowboat decorated with almost anything that could be fitted onto it.

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Arriving back late we rescued our chicken and ate it. Delving deep into the internet suggested that the mysterious brick building was a corn drying kiln built between the wars.

Today, a morning of constant rain has given me time to write. We have watched frequent boats passing with grim faced sodden figures standing at the helm. Eyes straight ahead, no customary wave.

The rain seemed to stop after lunch leaving a general greyness and mizzle. We decided to go a little further.

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A few minutes after we left the rain started again, but of course it is now more difficult to stop.  We decided to continue to Napton Junction, turn right towards Warwick, and stop before the locks at Calcutt. Unfortunately for me a boat was waiting to go into the lock, so it ‘seemed sensible’ to take the opportunity to accompany them down through the three locks in the rain – and then stop. We are now moored in a quiet country spot. Not sure about the signal strength, so may have to post this tomorrow.

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