Sunday, 15 November 2009

North Warwickshire autumn day

Fierce storms have blown across southern England for almost 24 hours, bringing down trees and flooding roads. Today in north Warwickshire, the sun rises into a clear sky. It is cold but still: the winds have flushed the Indian summer away and autumn is here in all its glory. A few trees hang steadfastly to their leaves, an ever-decreasing minority among the bare, stark branches. All around us, birds fluff up against the call and peep sadly.

For once we motor across the marina at Calcutt with not a breath of wind to throw us onto the rocks. We turn out in front of NB Caracol and together climb the three Calcutt locks. Steaming coffee is downed by helms and lock-wheelers of both boats. At the top, Caracol motors away while we wait a while to change a gas bottle.

Under way, we look out across the little Napton reservoirs and look for a space among the Calcutt moorings. There are none. There never are. It's one of my favourite places and I would love to be moored up here alongside the reservoir for the winter.

We turn north at Wigram's and squeeze through the first awkward stretch and the succession of blind bridges. Oxford bridges are either completely blind or on the verge of total collapse. We open up the engine to test the new exhaust; it works. But within five minutes, smoke is pouring from the lagging and the base. Father-in-law Bill, who knows a thing or two about engines, reckons its just the grease and dust and fluff burning off. Nothing much fazes Bill in the engine room, whereas everything fazes me completely.

Our SmartGauge shows 94% charge after a heavy recharging by the lads at Calcutt. I have been so impressed with the attitude of everyone at Calcutt Boats - highly recommended. The charge steadily increases as we motor northwards.

Lower Shuckburgh appears to our right, and past a favourite farm, then on towards Flecknoe and the long-lost Wolfhamcote where a wooden working boat has sunk, a victim of the winds last night. Debris floats forlornly while several people look on wistfully. It's one of those situations where you don't know quite what to say.

We turn into Braunston and moor up below the bottom lock. After a certain well-known Braunston company showed no interest in doing our refit (actually wasting our time a few weeks back), we have been in discussion with Phil at Wharf House Boats. He and Sue are an absolute pleasure to deal with: a good mixture of old-fashioned honesty, blunt opinion and plenty of creativeness. He shows us their current projects and we are impressed with the quality and style.

We stop for a quick pint at the Admiral Nelson - mixed feelings about the place these days but very glad to see it open again. Then - much later than we had planned - we are setting off once more for Calcutt.

We are being followed by two fast hire boats, once of whom completely mucks up passing us and swings into our bow, finally pushing both of us to the side. We motor into the strengthening southerly wind. XC Wind had predicted 14kt souwesterly dropping to 9kt by 3pm, but it's surely the other way round. The old BMC 1.5 is struggling a bit and at Lower Shuckburgh in the gloom the oil temperature light suddenly comes on, the water temperature slips up and the oil pressure drops back badly. Bill looks at the gauges pensively, orders a tick-over speed for five minutes until the oil temperature light goes out.

We return to Calcutt Locks in the total darkness but now regard them as our home locks and work them swiftly, albeit with floodlighting from the new headlamp and offshore Crewsavers and LED torches for everyone.

Some days just work out well. This was one of them. A wonderful cruise on one of my favourite stretches; pints of Tribute and Black Sheep; bacon butties; the smell of diesel and a warm engine; golden autumn sunshine; Turneresque sky ("it's like the bridge at Maidenhead"). A great day. Messing about on boats, eh? Keep it secret.

16.2 miles, 6 locks

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