The Grand Tour: Mile Zero!

Monday, July 1, 2019

It’s been a great few days on the Lucky Nickel, including an important milestone.

Day 8: Blisworth to Buckby

This was my first long day of cruising alone with no locks and few distractions. Yay for BBC Radio 4, podcasts, and headphones. It was very hot but I made good time and arrived at the bottom of the Buckby flight of locks at about 3:30, at which point I was clearly distracted because of this:

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The Beer Boat! What a genius idea. They were moored at the marina near the bottom lock, so obviously I had to pull over for some take away - 3 bottles of rhubarb cider and 3 of pale ale. With one of each in the fridge, I was ready to celebrate getting to the top of the flight and mooring for the night. Fate had other ideas.

Remember how I raced to the top lock at Stoke Bruerne because of the restricted hours? Well obviously I was not paying attention because I got through two locks at Buckby only to find the third chained up. And did I mention it was really, really hot? So I was stuck for the night in the short stretch of canal between locks (called a “pound” for those paying attention) and I was hot and sweaty and tired and at first I was NOT HAPPY about any that. Then I remembered the Beer Boat, and the small crowd at the Beer Boat, and the modest sound system they had set up, and the people with guitars taking turns at the mic, and I realised the universe was telling me to walk immediately back to the Beer Boat and lay on the grass with a cold bottle of cider and accept that there was literally no where else I needed to be. And suddenly it was all fine.

Stats: 12 miles, 2 locks, 2.5 lock miles per hour.

Day 9: Buckby Lock 12 to Braunston

The other good thing that happened because I got stuck between locks is that three other boats ended up there with me, meaning I’d get to share the locks all the way up. Even better, the next folks in line were nine young guys on a stag do (bachelor party) who cheerfully worked the gates and paddles all the way up the flight such that I made great time and never even had to leave the boat. Luxury!

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Here we are coming up in a lock with a local pub crowd arrayed like an audience watching every move.

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After that flight of locks it was straight into the other tunnel on the route: Braunston Tunnel. This time I put fresh batteries in my head torch, so got a couple photos inside.

I made it to the Braunston Flight of locks well ahead of the stag do, so mentally prepared myself to the whole way up on my own, only to have the lads chug back into the picture at the second lock. Good boys! This gave me an easy ride all the way to Braunston, where I entered Lock #1 with a great sense of achievement. Having started at Lock #89 a mere eight days before, it felt like a real accomplishment

And of course one of the guys was kind enough to take this photo of me and the boat in Lock #1. They were lovely.

And yet there was more to come. I arrived in Braunston - purely by chance - just in time to catch the tail end of a two-day festival of historic boats so I puttered slowly through the centre of the festival and moored around the turn past the twin bridge and then walked back to check things out.

The twin bridge at the turn off - the canal actually has a median!

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These boats were moored five abreast just outside the entrance to Braunston Marina, the heart of the festival. Things were winding down, but there were still lots of restored boats lining the canal, with explanatory notes about their history, and helpful people to answer questions.

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Even more importantly, I found this... Mile Zero! 89 locks and 86 miles complete (and still not half way through the trip). This was just after Bridge #1 of course.

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I pottered around among the traders, especially this traditional rope shop.

This is genuinely where they make rope fenders every day.

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And there was the Cheese Boat! I picked up some Welsh cheddar-like cheese and a jar of chutney. Beer Boat, Cheese Boat... Next I predict Cake Boat, Free Wifi Boat and hopefully Massage and Engine Piston Re-boring Boat.

It was even late enough in the day that they were draining the last of the casks in the beer tent so the beer was literally free. Honestly it was a bit magic.

I even had time for a run and a shower before supper and if that wasn’t enough, when I got back to the mooring I was invited for drinks by my nextboat neighbours Mike and Jane, who were lovely and friendly and had nice red wine. And in a bizarre coincidence, it turns out that Mike’s son runs a special effects company that I’ve actually used several times on big jobs.

A ready-made locking crew, Lock #1, Mile Zero, Cheese Boat, free beer and friendly neighbours. This might have been the best day so far.

Stats: 6 miles and 11 locks at a blistering 3.4 lock miles per hour. Thanks lads!

Day 10: Braunston to Napton-on-the-Hill

A short easy day, just seven lock-free miles along the canal to Napton-on-the-Hill, where I hope to be joined by friends tomorrow morning. It’s been a windy day, with little to report except a stop for a fresh bottle of gas en route. I've tucked myself into a mooring spot near a recommended pub and am now ensconced at the local café/post office/grocery shop where they have wifi, atrisinal water buffalo sausages, home made scotch eggs, fresh bread, and an impressive array of pastries, along with boring necessities like milk and eggs. Nicely done Napton. I was genuinely not expecting buffalo sausages. Or buffalo milk ice cream.

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Best boat I passed today

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And some locals enjoying the canal

Stats: 7 miles, 0 locks, and a lazy 2 mph.

I've now left the Grand Union for the Oxford Canal, which is narrower and sort of wilder and where the locks are only one boat wide, so apparently they're quick and easy to operate. Plus I'm getting back into an area where train stations occur more frequently so I'm hoping more people will come join the fun for a day or two. Also, unsurprisingly, the Oxford Canal goes through Oxford, where I hope to moor for a couple days to see the sights. Stay tuned.


Kathryn Davies said...

I think I cheered reading that you'd made it!

Piran said...

I think that the Beer Boat deserves a link, in case anyone wants to drown themselves in beer while floating by:

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