Posts Tagged With: Travels

Betelgeuse: Bolinder Butty Boating

Sutton Stop – Huddlesford 28 miles 13 locks

Our friends Jason and Charlotte recently bought an old boat to live on: a beautiful unconverted small Woolwich butty, Betelgeuse. Jason is also an owner of the wooden Claytons tarboat Spey so that was the obvious choice to tow the butty from Braunston to Stone where they will be based. They invited us to join them for part of the trip, and we readily agreed! Boating with a pair of old boats is even more fun than boating with one!

We drove to Nuneaton railway station and got a taxi to the Greyhound at Sutton Stop, having visited ASDA in Nuneaton for supplies. We arrived at the exact same moment they did – we could hear Spey‘s distinctive single cylinder Bolinder as we approached! Time for a few drinks at the Greyhound before bed – we were sleeping on the cross bed in Spey‘s forward tar tank, which is surprisingly cosy!

Next morning we set off up the Coventry canal, the butty on cross straps. At Bedworth we passed fellow bloggers Halfie and Jan on Jubilee, who took some photos. James did a fair bit of motor steering, and I took the butty helm – it took some getting used to but it was a new and exciting experience for me. We’d set up a couple of hammocks in Betelgeuse‘s hold, which were a great place to relax and watch the canal pass by. Down the Atherstone flight, I helped the motor with Mac, another Spey owner, steering and the others bowhauled Betelgeuse down the flight. In the long pounds we waited to tow the butty, whilst I set ahead.

We stopped at the Samuel Barlow for the night, breasted up to Tench and Ilford. Late that night Tom also joined us, and as we had a shorter day to Fradley the next day we set off after breakfast. When we got to the Plough in Huddlesford, we got a taxi to Lichfield Trent Valley and a train back to Nuneaton and the car home. A great weekend, and a big thanks to Jason and Charlotte for inviting us on their first trip – we wish them well with the further work they have planned on the boat and hope we get a chance to give them a tow with Willow one day!2014-09-13 07.58.50 2014-09-13 08.24.02 2014-09-13 09.04.18 2014-09-13 09.21.56 2014-09-13 09.36.04 2014-09-13 12.25.43 2014-09-13 14.35.08 2014-09-13 15.07.15 2014-09-13 16.21.14 2014-09-13 17.53.22 2014-09-14 15.26.48

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Summer Trip Counts

We had a fantastic summer trip, and when we got back we plugged it all into CanalPlan to work out how far we’d gone. 

500 miles

385 locks

16 tunnels

1 of Willow’s sister boats visited

all in 30 days of travelling or so (the rest we were tied up somewhere)

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Voyage Home Day 10: Waterbeach to Cambridge

Start 8:30am, finish 10:30am
River Cam
6 miles, 1 lock

Well, that’s it for our big voyage – we are home! Willow is now moored in the Duck’s old spot, and the Duck is behind our neighbours’s boat.

It was a short but momentous journey this morning, as we arrived into town in the drizzle. We moored up alongside the Duck and went to say hello to our neighbours on Light Enough to Travel. With the boats alongside each other, it’s amazing to see the contrast between our old boat and the new one!


We have made a start on transferring things across, but much of the Duck’s contents will have to go to the garage for now. We have a few days grace from the council regarding having two boats onthe mooring but early next week the Duck’s new owner will take her on and begin moving her about.

Of course the most important thing that needed transferring was our Lyra- we’ve really missed her, and although we know she’s been we’ll looked after, it is nice to have her back. She’s really settled in to Willow, having explored literally every nook and cranny including the bilges!



In the afternoon, we had lots of visitors coming to see our new home. It’s good to be back, but we have a lot to do!

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Voyage Home Day 9: Salter’s Lode to Waterbeach

6:30am- 6pm- with a 90 minute wait at Denver and a two hour stop in Ely.

Well Creek, Tidal Ouse, Great Ouse, River Cam

26 miles, 3 locks

We were up early today to catch the tide. After discussing tactics with Paul the lock keeper, we went into the lock.

Because Willow is longer than 63 feet, the normal lock gates to lock boats up to the high tide level could not be used. Instead, a small, low set of gates were closed behind the boat, and we locked down one foot from the Well Creek level to the slack water at low tide.

Once out we paused alongside the tyre wall for the tide to turn and start flowing inwards. Although there isn’t a big aegir or bore like on the Severn, when the tide arrives it does bring a surge.

Dead on time at 6:54, we saw a pulse of water heading up the river and Willow went rapidly backwards towards the gate, then rapidly forwards, as the surge carried us around. I was able to use the engine to slow us down, but even using lots of power couldn’t keep the boat quite still against the tide. It didn’t matter though; after a couple of smaller secondary surges, we were able to head to Denver sluice. The river had changed almost miraculously from dead flat calm to a visible faster-than-walking-pace flow inland within a minute. We were able to edge the fore end out into the stream slowly, and pirouetted around until we were facing towards Denver.

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As we went up the tidal river, we saw the large digger outside Denver start to dredge. We knew from Paul that the floating pontoons were not in place, and had been doubled up in front of the lock entrance with the silt pusher boat moored to them. There was no place to easily stop, so we ended up having the fore end moored onto the very end of one of the pontoons, and the back moored loosely to one of the vertical posts that the pontoons were normally moored to. Luckily because the tide was coming in we didn’t have to worry about touching the bottom and going aground, if we had we would have just floated off a few minutes later when the tide came in more. Much less stressful than on a falling tide!

Once we were safely moored, they started digging again, plunging the digger arm into the river about ten feet behind Willow’s stern which was very disconcerting!

We had a long wait for the lock keeper. He was due, according to the board, at 8:00am, and so we waited, having tea and bacon sandwiches whilst waiting. In the end, he didn’t come down until 8:40, because there had been a communication problem between them and Paul at Salters Lode and they weren’t expecting us until later. We only just made it under the bridge across the lock chamber, had they waited another 20 minutes the tide would have been too high and I suppose we would have had to wait outside the lock until it dropped.

Undeterred we locked through and set off towards Ely through the grey skies and light drizzle. Amy had to set up the laptop and catch up on work inside, but I steered on fortified by occasional cups of tea and planning in my head the next steps of fitting out Willow.

We arrived at Ely at 11:30 and emptied e cassettes and filled the water tank before moving down the town quay to find a mooring. We managed to hang off the end of a nice mooring with the back sitting alongside a tall wall, exactly the same place we have moored Lucky Duck on previous occasions.

Once safely moored we headed for Waterside Antiques. There were a few items we were considering purchasing, including a lovely brass bilge pump- first spotted in 2007- which we resisted buying for today. We did however come away with a shunter’s pole, not because i fancy shunting some loose coupled goods wagons on the railway but as a device to clear the propellor. As Willow doesn’t have a weedhatch, you have to poke and prod from the side with the cabin shaft (boat hook) but shunter’s poles, which have a spiked corkscrew end, are excellent at removing weed and fabric, because you can twist the corkscrew end into it and pull it off easily. We also popped into the chandlery and got some small diameter stove rope to redo the joint at the top of the flue to the collar which is dribbling tar- a job to do when it’s warm enough to let the fire go out!

We bumped into our friend Mark, AKA The Engineer, on a cruise on his new boat, WB Norwegian Blue (“This is an EX PARROT!” Etc.) and were joined by our friend Richenda for the journey to Waterbeach.

The weather stayed grey and there were occasional drops of rain, but it wasn’t too bad and we made swift progress. Bottisham Lock was against us as a Bridge Boats hire cruiser was locking up in front of us, but we reset the lock and went in. There was a slight hitch when the hydraulic pump that powers the gates and slackers (East Anglian term for paddles) refused to work and lower the slackers down again. After a few minutes of poking and prodding, moving the guillotine gate, and generally faffing with the panel the hydraulics decided to work again and we locked through.

We moored at the 48s at Clayhithe and went to The Bridge pub for dinner. Just as we were finishing our pudding we were joined by Big John and a work colleague, and a very convivial time was had, culminating in a tour of the boat. Plans were also made for a possible gathering in Sunday if the forecast good weather turns up, which would be very welcome.

Tomorrow we’ll head into Cambridge in the morning, and then start organising Lyra and our worldly goods so we can move off of Lucky Duck.

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Voyage Home Day 8: Whittlesea to Salters Lode

Start 8:45 am, finish 6pm

Middle Level Navigations

24 miles, 2 locks

A late start because we wanted to make the most of being able to use the showers at the leisure centre in Whittlesea. It opens at 6:30, so we were up early and both showered and breakfasted by 8:30. We waited until the boat breasted up to us was ready to go, and then we were off.

I didn’t see much of today – I had work to be getting on with and made the most of the lock free pounds when I wasn’t needed to be inside using my laptop. James was happy at the tiller, as although the route’s boring, at least it was novel doing it in Willow. The going was slow, but not quite as bad as we’d expected, and eventually we made it to Marmont Priory lock, which was looking lovely in the spring sunshine. Willow has never been this far East, as Marmont Priory was not lengthened until 1998, after Willow’s last Fenland adventure with her previous owner. Margaret the lock keeper and her daughter helped us through and then it was on to Upwell/Outwell, where the channel runs down the middle of the village street. The twin villages were looking gorgeous, with daffodils and celandines lining the banks. Here, we were in tickover all the way – it was too shallow to go any faster, but we made slow and steady progress. We stopped for half an hour on the town staithe for a breather, and to clean the propellor blades which had picked up a fair bit of weed.

Beyond the villages we were able to go a little bit faster, and made it to Salters Lode at 6pm exactly. We’ve been and spoken to Paul, the lockie, who confirms we are on for 6:30am tomorrow to lock out on the level tide, then we wait just outside the lock on the wall until Denver are ready to receive us. That’s the plan anyway! Fingers crossed.

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Voyage Home Day 7: Fotheringhay to Whittlesea

8:00 am start, arrive Whittlesea 7:30pm – with a sizeable break at Peterborough

River Nene, Middle Level

24 miles, 8 locks

A wise man – possibly my friend Steven- said that there were two kinds of fun. Type One Fun activities are enjoyable at the time. A nice cup of tea and a biscuit, say, or opening the door in winter to be greeted by a blast of hot air. Type Two Fun activities are horrible at the time, but can be looked back on later and enjoyed, once they’re over.

Moments of today’s boating were Type One fun, like most boating is; but there were definitely moments of Type Two fun also!

We started off early at Fotheringhay in the early morning light mist, with the sun struggling to peek through the lit grey cloud. It was a lovely morning to be out boating, and we were soon flying down the Nene. We were booked through Stanground Sluice at 3pm, and Amy needed to visit the NHS walk in centre in Peterborough to pick up some medicine.

As we approached Water Newton lock, however, we could hear the rhythmic banging of piling taking place. Turning the corner, we saw the entrance to the lock and most of the river blocked by four pontoons supporting a digger with a piling hammer attachment on the end of the arm, a porta
cabin, and several Land and Water Ltd. contractors in hard hats, hi viz jackets, and life jackets. We thought we would have a bit of a wait, but they were very efficient; they used the arm of the digger to pull-up the spud legs that were anchoring the pontoon to the river bed, and a small tug manoeuvred the whole thing across the river to enable us to get in the lock. More contractors worked us through- despite leaving us in turbulent water at the bottom of the lock having left a top paddle fully open. No harm done, though, as the bloke responsible had a good natured ribbing from his colleagues.

Below Alwalton Lock, the whole back of the boat seemed to suddenly rear up. There was a particularly large sandbank in the middle of the lock cut where the main flow from the sluices joins on. However despite rising up a good few inches at the back, Willow soon dropped back having worked its way over the sand bank through pure momentum- 25 tons takes some stopping!

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We were soon in Peterborough, and joined the great collection of bloggers moored to the waterfront- Sue and Vic of NB No Problem, Mo and Nessa from NB Balmaha- both of whom had come across the Wash from Boston (!) – along with NB Matilda Rose. Graham from Matilda Rose was off dropping off the car, but we saw Jill. After filling the water tank from the very large hose, Amy headed off to the Walk In Centre to collect her prescription, and I moved the boat off the water point and breasted up with Matilda Rose temporarily.

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Annoyingly, the Walk In Centre was no longer right by the riverside. Amy had to walk a further 15 minutes to get to it, and our deadline at Stanground was rapidly approaching, as the relief lock keeper was heading off at 3:30 to attend to something else.

After letting Amy know what I was going to do, and that I would wait for her below the lock, at 3pm I took Willow down to Stanground, which is a short walk out of Peterborough. Stanground lock was lengthened in the late 1980s to take full length boats, but the old part is only 2’6″ deep. As Willow draws 3′ at the stern, we wouldn’t have got through. The solution is to go through backwards, and to reverse a mile to a wider part where a side stream joins on, so that you can wind.

I turned Willow outside the lock entrance and reversed in, and locked down with no trouble. En it was a case of reversing out of the lock and onto the lock landing stage to wait for Amy. The wi d was picking up, but we were determined to go.

Amy arrived back and we set off at about 4:30. It became Type Two fun fairly rapidly. Straight away, we realised that using the engine to reverse was very hard. Because the creek is so shallow, and the cross wind very strong, it was impossible. We tried different methods, including leaving the engine ticking over in astern gear and fending off the banks with the long shaft, but it just wasn’t happening. We resorted to tying several ropes together to so hat one of us could haul the oat backwards, and the other one could push off with the long shaft. We turned the engine on occasionally to push off the bank if we got stuck, but started making very slow progress, it progress nonetheless, backwards.

Morale was at a particularly low ebb when the end of the tow rope dangled in the water and ended up getting snagged in the propeller. Luckily, having reached under the counter up to my shoulder, and felt around the propellor, it wasn’t that badly snagged and I was able to pull it off the prop.

We kept on making slow but steady progress, although the long shaft snapped partly in half, and had to be splinted with a length of wood a d the ever reliable gaffer tape. In places we had to reverse carefully with the engine, as a small side creek and a swans’ nest prevented us pulling from the bank. Eventually we made the winding hole, just before 6pm, and were able to turn Willow and start to head down the shallow creek towards Whittlesea. Frustrating at the time, but we got through it and had a particularly well deserved cup of tea afterwards!

Once in Whittlesea, the next hazard was the infamous Brigatte Bend, a 90 degree corner lined with concrete on both sides. We knew Willow had come around it before, it that was about 15 years ago and were worried that trees and other vegetation could have grown up in the mean time.

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Luckily, it was not a problem at all. I was able to put Willow into reverse which swung the forend around the corner and put the back end into a convenient recess, and we were able to make it around without touching the sides. However it is supposedly much harder in the other direction.

Once in Whittlesea we were able to moor up next to another boat- coincidentally also Cambridge based- NB Stourbridge, which is owned by another Conservator. After helping another boat breast up alongside us, Amy and I headed back into Peterborough, by taxi this time and far more rapidly, towards a city centre pub- because a bloggers’ gathering was in progress, and we could both do with a drink! After catching up with Graham and Jill, Sue and Vic, Mo and Nessa, and Michael from NB Anastasia. A very good time was had by all, I believe, before we headed back to Willow.

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Voyage Home Day 6: Wollaston to Fotheringhay

Start 7:30, finish 6:30

River Nene

30 miles, 18 locks

A grey cold day, with an irritating wind which made negotiating the inadequate Nene lock landings particularly tricky. And I’ve been feeling a bit miserable as a result of all the sunlight over the past few days bringing on an allergic reaction. Normally I don’t get this until much later in the year but the long winter has not prepared my pale skin for 12 hour boating days! It is easily controlled with corticosteroid cream but id not brought mine with me and won’t have a chance to get any until tomorrow in Peterborough.

But the day was brightened by seeing the Yarwoods early on at Ditchford lock. They’re making a dash for the canals and we thought we’d only pass them on the river but a chance meeting at the lock meant a little more time to catch up. They also mentioned that they’d accidentally left a special Nene lock wheel device belonging to the boat they were sharing locks with at Woodford lock, and could we see if it was still there?

It was, and it certainly helps speed up those awful manual Nene locks!

We stopped for the day at Fotheringhay, a lovely little village with great moorings provided by a local landowner for £4 per night. We’d hoped to visit the pub too, but it was closed for refurbishment until tomorrow.




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Voyage Home Day 5: Bugbrooke to Wollaston

Start 8:30, finish 7:15pm

GU, River Nene

19 miles, 29 locks


A gentle start this morning, with a lock free cruise to Gayton Junction, where we turned on to the Northampton Arm. It took us 3.5 hours to get from top to bottom, and it was a relatively easy run – although all the locks were against us, there was plenty of water in all the pounds, and we had the help of a “hobbler” – someone who  helps work locks for money. An enthusiastic lock-worker, he told us he walked 3 hours from Weston Favell (the other side of Northampton) and although unemployed spends his days helping people up and down the locks, earning tips from boaters. Alas we didn’t have any cash on board but we gave him one of our windlasses as he’d lost his. The cut was shallow and weedy as we expected but not as bad as it is in the summer, and we didn’t pick up anything too nasty on the blades.

Back on the Nene, we felt like we were on the home stretch. Still a long way to go but we know the Nene, this will be our fourth time descending the river. A few things have changed – notably the pontoon providing access to the service point in Northampton seems to have disappeared. Annoying, as we’d hoped to get rid of our rubbish there, having not been able to do so at Gayton either as there’s no rubbish disposal there anymore either!

We’d planned to get just beyond Northampton, as we’d expected it to take ages to do the flight, but it was onlt 2:30 as we passed through the Washlands. Below Billing Lock, we had been very kindly warned by blog reader Alan about the presence of a nasty shoal most of the way across the river, just where a little stream joins the river. He said that if you keep well to the left (going downstream) and use the mouth of the stream to get round you should be fine. And we were. We’d hoped to moor just above Cogenhoe Lock, but now we see that along the stretch which used to be unofficial moorings, there are big signs banning all mooring. This left us with a problem as we did not want to stop in Wellingborough – it’s far far too noisy opposite the the factory there, but there is nowhere to stop between Cogenhoe and Wellingborough, and it is hard going, with all the twists and turns. Normally we start early at the top of Gayton and make it to Rushden and Diamonds, but not today. So we have decided to stop on a lock landing pontoon just below Wollaston Lock, and have set an alarm to be off first thing tomorrow. Not ideal, but there really isn’t anywhere else. With a boat this deep, we can’t just moor on a bit of bank with a plank.


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Voyage Home Day 4: Yelvertoft to Bugbrooke

Start 8:00am finish 6:00pm (with a few breaks!)

GU Leicester Section, GU

15 miles, 14 locks

A relaxing day for us. It began with an early start, ice breaking as we passed Crick Marina and towards the tunnel. We were through the tunnel at 9am, and then heard that our friends (big)James and Emma, their son, and their friend Audrey, who were to meet us at Watford locks, were running a little late. So we stopped to wait for them at the top of the staircase and had a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich while we waited. They arrived, bearing supplies as well, having kindly offered to stop in Tescos on the way and pick up some essentials for us.

As we descended the staircase, the sun began to shine, and it turned into a glorious day. The Jameses were at the tiller and we were soon at the bottom of the locks. They joined us for a little cruise to Norton Junction, and we ate some of the amazing rainbow cake that Emma had made. All too soon it was time to say goodbye – they were off for some more local explorations – visiting Braunston and Foxton locks, and we were off to Braunston too. But not by boat – Neil of Herbie had kindly offered to drive us over to pick up our purchases, saving us hours of boating and allowing us to have a bit of a day off!

We loaded the car with the fridge, leisure batteries, anchor chain, new mushroom vent, rope, and set off back to Norton Junction, where Neil was able to park the car right next to the boat! Soon we were off down the Buckby flight in the sun, sharing locks with nb Sláinte. At the bottom lock we stopped to buy some coal at Whilton Marina before pressing on. With no locks it was quite a pleasant cruise but the Grand Union is busier and we met several boats coming the other way. I even took the tiller for a while, learning how the boat responds differently to the Duck.

We moored up very early for us, at Bugbrooke, at 6pm. We lit the stove, wired in the new fridge then went looking for a pub to have dinner. After two false starts, we had some hearty pub grub at the Five Bells and then walked back to the boat in the dusk.

On to the Nene tomorrow!

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Voyage Home Day 3: Kilby Bridge to Yelvertoft

Start 8:15am, finish 8:20pm

GU Leicester Section

26 miles, 22 locks

Today began with the twelve wide locks between Kilby Bridge and Foxton. They were hard going as all of them were against us, and a chill wind was blowing. But the countryside was very pretty, all rolling hills and lambs gambolling. We were also cheered when we heard from Kath on Herbie, who said that they would meet us at Foxton staircase to help us with the locks. I also found time between locks to call Midland Chandlers and buy various expensive things at their special “freaky Friday” 20% off rate, including a fridge and 4 leisure batteries!

It was lovely to see the Herbies and their grand daughter Grace at Foxton locks, and the flight was mostly very relaxing after the morning’s slog. The only incident was when an over enthusiastic volunteer lock keeper opened a paddle before we were ready, trapping Willow’s fender between the gates. It was quickly resolved however, and we were up to the top in just under half an hour, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate with the Herbies before pressing on.

The summit pound was very tricky, but was a fair challenge for steering. James managed to keep a good pace up, though he said that whilst he managed to get around the corners, at times it wasn’t particularly elegant. We overtook a Canaltime boat who had left Foxton just before we did, and who were travelling at tickover. They were happy to wave us past just before the tunnel, which was a relief as we were able to rig up the 240v floodlight in the well deck pointing up at the tunnel roof, and the 12v floodlight on the engine room cabin top. This meant the tunnel was very well illuminated, and we were able to admire the brickwork, concrete repairs, and the marks left by maintenance and other purposes.

Although progress was slow on the winding parts of the summit pound towards Yelvertoft, we managed to press on and just as the last light was beginning to fade moored up outside Yelvertoft Marina on pins. We originally thought about going to the top of the Watford flight, but because we were slightly slower than we thought we would be over the summit pound, didn’t make it in the daylight; had we left at 7:15 or 7:30, we might have made it, however. Either way, it’s a pretty good days boating.

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