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Nene and Grand Union, summer 1996

caff winding a guillotine
How many turns?

A 2-week trip from Alvechurch Boats at Gayton via the Grand Union Northampton Arm and the River Nene to Oundle, returning the same way, then on the Grand Union main line to Norton Junction and back. Total 97 miles and 100 locks.

This was our most expensive hireboat cruise so far, for our tenth wedding anniversary, a fortnight in August in a 16-metre narrow boat and just the two of us. The boat had 240V power, a proper bedroom with wardrobe and mirror, kitchen, dining and sitting areas; nothing that had to be converted, or compromised for space.

I'm fond of saying that I don't like rivers, the levels change too much, there is a current that complicates everything, and mooring is usually a problem. However, they are often more scenic, and being deeper and wider they make handling the boat more fun. We found only one guide to the river (Imray), which was good, but a little out of date on moorings; several times the mooring we were aiming for was not there, and others were not marked. We got by, and of course we were a lot more planned on the way back.

Unlike many canal boats, which are cooled by conduction through the steel hull, this one used river water through an intermediate heat exchanger. The water was sucked in through a mudbox, which had become full, which made the pump suck so hard that it collapsed the inlet pipe. With the extra effort of going upstream the engine overheated and started to squirt steam out of the water exit hole. Fortunately we were able to make it to a lock mooring, and didn't have to throw out the anchor.

The contrast on getting back onto the canal system was huge. On the Nene we saw maybe half-a-dozen boats in a day. On the GU there'd be that many stern-to-bow in one convoy. But there is the New Inn to compensate.

Extracts from the diary...

Fri 1996-08-02
Away 15h25. The boat has 24V for lighting, 12V for engine and cellphone charging, and 240V via inverter for microwave, fridge, coffee maker, hair drier, toaster. Water heated by either engine or gas boiler, which also can heat the cabin via radiators. Nice fittings, little wall lights and ceiling fluorescents, clock and barometer, TV and radio/cassette. Adequate cupboard space, as there should be for 2 on a 4-berth boat. From front, day room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom. BMC engine, stopped by keyswitch, a bit noisy. 14 locks today, ending between locks 14 and 15, moored to an overgrown bank. Saw 2 other boats moving and one moored. Stopped at 18h25. 2.25 miles, 3 hours. Locks a bit arduous with 2, but good ladders so I could get off and help, and also closed the far-side bottom gate with the boathook to save Caff walking round. Dull, but still shirt-sleeve weather.
Sat 1996-08-03
Start 0840 in sunshine. Through the three remaining Grand Union locks and onto the Nene, with wide and heavy locks. Stop for lunch at Britannia Inn, 1140..1330, large, trendy pub with food. Evening stopping before Cogenhoe lock at 15h45. Many boats here, by a caravan park. Locks are very heavy, paddles taking 70..80 turns, though so far the guillotines have been electric. From here, they're manual and about 100 turns. Eve walk up the hill to Royal Oak pub. Facilities on the river are sparse, no water point spotted yet (there was meant to be one at Northampton) and none listed till Wellingborough. There is a tap here, but not for hoses, only for containers.
Sun 1996-08-04
Sunny and very hot all day, little wind, except for a single, isolated gale-force gust that blew spray off the river and carried away my 16-year old VIA baseball cap. Start 1015, slightly aground, liaising with friends by phone and meeting at Wollaston lock, where moor above at 1335. By car to Stags Head in Great Doddington. Arrive at moorings in Wellingborough at 1715, watering after arrival. Today 6 miles, 7 locks, 4h20m. Mooring at Wellingborough by a public park, busy during the day, fishers and lovers as it gets darker. The lock where I counted, Barton, took 92 turns to raise or lower the guillotine. Another lock had about 70 for the paddles. Passed about 6 or 8 boats today, but none here in Wellingborough with us, and suspect many today were local and out for the sunny weekend.
Mon 1996-08-05
Sunny and very hot all day. To Tesco for more food, booze and mineral water. Checking oil, discover that the dipstick hole has disappeared (this took me a while to believe) - in fact the dipstick tube had come away with the dipstick. While finding out where it was supposed to go, I discovered the cause of yesterday afternoon's failure to start until the 3rd turn of the key - the lead to the solenoid had a crimp corroded through and now it's broken off. So the man comes out and fixes both the dipstick and the starter. Start 11h15, after more water as I had a shower which used an incredible amount - it shot out, and control was only off/cold->hot, no flow control. Another, private, boat watering here as well, keeping track with us and mooring close eve. Leisurely run, to moor at new 48-hour moorings being constructed upstream of Irthlingborough lock. Here 13h45..15h00, having lunch and watching a man putting up the posts for a new sign. Ditchford lock has a radial gate rather than guillotine (deep) and is very heavy. Fisherman here said he'd been there since 6h and seen only us. Altogether today we've seen 4 boats moving, and passed none. Shared one lock (Lower Ringstead) with a small noddy boat. We expected to be able to moor downstream of lock at Lower Ringstead, but no way, so a great panic to find a mooring. We found a moorable spot just upstream of Denford lock, at 18h30. Cock Inn at Denford nearby, but no food Monday evening, eat on boat. Today 11.33mi, 7 locks, 6 hours.
Tue 1996-08-06
A little rain during the night and a few spots while cruising, rest of the day dull but warm, with sunny spells; hot and humid PM. Thunderstorm after mooring. Leave 09h45. Not possible to moor for Thrapston, except one place at the pay-for linear "marina", so we didn't. Met "London Pride", a short narrow boat, with whom we did all of the remaining locks. Lunch at Kings Head, Wadenhoe at the junction of the lock-cut and backwater. Awkward, shallow mooring, but beautiful pub and garden, basic food and good beer (free house), young people starting a business, presume had been closed or run-down before. Stop 12h30..13h40. Take on water at landing stage above Upper Barnwell lock. Turn into the marina, but no overnight mooring, so we end up just above Lower Barnwell lock at 16h05. Walk across field into Oundle, and have coffee in a tea-shop. Last boat through the lock was a narrowboat, whose crew watched the level stay down as they raised the paddles, as they'd left the guillotine about a half-metre up, then left the guillotine down on leaving, and then got themselves across the canal.
Wed 1996-08-07
A pottering day. Started cold and very windy. Start out at 09h10, turning the boat above Lower Barnwell lock (tying the bow to a mooring post and just swinging the stern in the width), then lunch again at the Kings Head, Wadenhoe, 11h30..13h00. Only one other boat here this time. PM warmer, less wind, some sunshine later. Moor at Sailing Club 48-hour moorings at 14h45 and walk into Thrapston. Town dead or dying, lots of boarded shops, charity shops, estate agents. Not clear if killed by bypass or otherwise, but a great contrast to Oundle, which had lots of small real shops. Rest of PM lazing. Seen about 6 boats today. Today 8mi, 4 locks, 4h5m. Water at Upper Barnwell lock while finishing lock.
Thu 1996-08-08
Again a dullish morning, brighter and warm in the afternoon, when out of the wind. Start 09h35, pass a boat at the first lock, second on our own, and the next four with a private boat from Wigan. More boats than before - at one lock we (2 boats) followed one up, passed 2 NBs going down, and there was one waiting behind us. Stop at the new moorings by the football club by Irthlingborough at 14h00 and stop there for the rest of the day. Walk into the town (dull) and scramble across fields back to the lock, then back via the Nene Way. Eve on boat, watching it get dark, the lights coming on and the floodlit church spires. Today 6mi, 6 locks, 4h25m. Note that height of the superstructure of the guillotine locks and the distance the gate is raised is independent of the fall of the lock - it's always raised by (depth of water downstream) + (headroom) - which is constant. What changes is the relation between bottom of gate in up position and top of lock chamber - it's above on shallow locks and below on deep ones. Since we moored, only two cruisers and one NB have passed in 6h of daylight.
Fri 1996-08-09
Anniversary. Start 09h15, after some rain last night and this morning, and a little during the day. Always warm, and a little sunshine in the afternoon. Pass at one or two locks, stopping on embankment at Wellingborough at 11h50. Water here, and shop at Tesco, as does "Royal Tern". Depart 13h45 and moor above Wollaston lock at 15h. Then break out the 1st bottle of fizz, and watch the world go by (or 2 narrowboats plus a hotel pair at least) and listen to the cricket. 2nd bottle of fizz with celebratory meal on board tonight. Today 6.67mi, 5 locks, 3h50m.
Sat 1996-08-10
Dull to start, with one heavy shower falling on us (after several in the night), brightening to a mostly sunny and warm afternoon. Start off at 08h45, through the last few manual guillotine locks, helped by crossing at one or two. Enforced stop below Whiston lock when the engine temp gauge went up to >100degC, and the clouds of steam in the exhaust increased. Cooled, and added water, engine was boiling off coolant. The boat with the Welsh name came alongside and offered to go behind to rescue us if it happened again, but slowly we made it to Cogenhoe without going over 85degC. Repair stop was 10h40..11h30, arrive above Cogenhoe at 12h15. Lunch here. Several calls to boatyard in this time. Discovered at Cogenhoe that filter was clear, but tube from filter to pump was being sucked almost flat when the engine ran. Further investigation found that the cooling intake in the mud box was underneath a pile of grey-black ooze. Groping inside at full stretch I got most of this out, and now cooling water is more copious and gauge stays down <80degC. Start again at 13h20, now hot, and proceed through the 3 electric guillotines and the 3 conventional river locks, and onto the canals again, mooring between brs 14 and 13, at 17h30. Canal feels slow and constricting after the river; the power turns in the deep wide river were very satisfying. Though even here on the canal mooring is difficult, need the plank tonight. Today 11mi (10 on river, 1 on canal), 13 locks (11 on river, 2 on canal), 6h50m.
Sun 1996-08-11
Rain overnight, then dull, building to hot and sunny during the flight. Remaining so until after mooring, when rain with distant thunder. Start 09h45. We did the first lock on our own, but at the next the Welsh-named boat caught up, and they helped us by closing behind, as they had 2 on the bank. Centre couple of lock pounds very short of water. Hot work. Got to boatyard at ~1245, for water and pump-out, leaving ~1310, then mooring for lunch just round the corner at br 47 at 13h30. On again at 14h30, and moor just beyond br 35 at 16h00. What a contrast from the river; boats everywhere. After we moored, a couple of dozen must have passed, most so fast that the spikes needed attention. A failed attempt at mooring after br 36, had us holding on while a convoy of 6 went past. Eve to "Old Wharf Inn" a new and fairly horrible pub by br 36. Bass not too bad. Canals advantages: towpath, moor anywhere, lots of pubs, no current, no panics; disadvantages: too many boats, so less friendly to each other. Today 7.5mi, 15 locks (all narrow), 4h40m. There are still boats going past here at ~21h.
Mon 1996-08-12
Lots of rain overnight, but dry during the day. Overcast, but warm, mostly, with the occasional sunny spell. Walk into Bugbrooke for paper, then start at 10h45, heading slowly N. Two boats roared past us, unable to keep to our pace, which was not much less that 4mi/h, if at all, away from moored boats and anglers. Stop after br 26 for lunch at the Narrowboat (good) 11h55..13h00. Then on, through lock with "Rosedale", a private boat. Locks heavy, some bottom gates that I could not move unaided. Arr at Norton junction at 16h50, take on water, then moor at 17h00, on the 48-hour moorings. The boat behind us had one crewman on a bike, rushing up and down the flight, helping no-one. He put his bike down at the best mooring at the top, but we ignored this (boats being better at bagging moorings than bikes) and moored there. Another boat then came and took his next choice, and finally he got into the last possible mooring, not quite on the water point. Eve watch an engine being lifted in through the roof of a trad-style NB here on the 48-hour moorings by a mobile crane. Moored next to a couple who've been out since Easter, trying to decide if they could retire to the boat and sell their house. Eve to New Inn, which was just as ever, good beer (good food, but we'd eaten first), good atmosphere. Today 8mi, 7l, 5 hours.
Tue 1996-08-13
Dry all day. Cool and overcast to start, then working up to a warm and sunny afternoon and a warm evening. Late rise, then walk to Watford flight calling on the way at Watford Gap Motorway services for a paper. Then lunch at the New Inn, before starting at 13h05, turning in the junction, and going down the flight. Went down with "Tumbling Water". Stop below flight 14h40..15h05 to buy Caff another revolving-handle windlass, then on to moor near br 26 again eve at 16h30. Evening to the Narrowboat Inn in their Cantonese restaurant. Excellent, though quantity a bit much for us. Today 5.5mi, 7l, 3h.
Wed 1996-08-14
The first day, as I recall, that the sun never appeared, though dry and still and warm. Walk towards Flore to see River Nene and mill, and back via Nene Way path through wheatfield and over the river again. Lunch on boat, then to water point 200m or so away at br 26. Start 13h20, and stop at Bugbrooke between brs 34 and 35, at virtually the same spot as Sunday eve at 14h30. Run he engine on a little to make 2h total running. Re-clean intake, as flow decreasing, inlet pipe more pinched and a little steam starting to appear in exhaust. Aft reading and exploring. Today 3mi, 0 locks, 1h10m. Eve to "5 Bells", public bar, very pleasant.
Thu 1996-08-15
Last full day. Overcast to start, then the sun broke through so most of the day hot and sunny, then overcast and hot from late PM. Walk into Bugbrooke for paper, then start 09h45, going to accommodation bridge by footpath to Gayton (br 46) at 11h00. Walk along FP to village, and a quick drink at the Queen Victoria Inn, before coming back via the roads. Then a lazy day reading in the sun, and cleaning the boat. Engine run 1h before starting and again in eve to keep 24V system charged and to get hot water tomorrow morning. Eve on boat. Today 3.25mi, 0l, 1h15m. While sitting on the boat in the sunshine, no wind to speak of, there was a turmoil in the water that at first I thought was an animal swimming, but it suddenly moved rapidly across the canal, clearly spinning violently and throwing off spray - a sort of micro whirlwind.
Fri 1996-08-16
Up at 6h30, watching a heron fishing for its breakfast in the early mist, just starting to lift in the watery sunshine. Sheep and cows in the fields, and nothing else moving, nothing else audible (between the trains). What a contrast to the latter part of the day. Start about 7h55, to arrive at the boatyard 8h20.
                    Summary of canal trip August 1996

Day	Date	Hours	Miles	Locks	Water
Fri	960802	3h00m	2.2	14	-
Sat	960803	5h25m	7.3	9	-
Sun	960804	4h20m	6	7	Wellingborough
Mon	960805	6h00m	11.3	7	Wellingborough
Tue	960806	5h10m	9.7	6	Upper Barnwell lock
Wed	960807	4h05m	8	4	Upper Barnwell lock
Thu	960808	4h25m	6	6	-
Fri	960809	3h50m	6.6	5	Wellingborough
Sat	960810	6h50m	11	13	-
Sun	960811	4h40m	7.5	15	Boatyard
Mon	960812	5h00m	8	7	Norton junction
Tue	960813	3h00m	5.5	7	-
Wed	960814	1h10m	3	-	Bridge 26, Weedon
Thu	960815	1h15m	3.2	-	-
Fri	960816	0h25m	1.2	-	-
Totals		58h35m	96.5	100


Day	Lunch				Evening
Fri	-				SP723587 Nth arm, locks 14 and 15
Sat	SP779595 Britannia Inn		SP830613 Cogenhoe, 'Royal Oak'
Sun	SP888644 Wollaston, 'Stags' Hd' SP902667 Wellingborough
Mon	SP958711 Diamond Cntr mrg	SP991769 Denford, 'Cock Inn'
Tue	TL011834 'King's Head'		TL041873 Lower Barnwell lock
Wed	TL011834 'King's Head'		SP993794 Thrapston (Sailing Club)
Thu	SP958711 Diamond Cntr mrg	SP958711 Diamd Cntr mrg Irthlingborough
Fri	SP902667 Wellingborough		SP888645 Wollaston lock
Sat	SP830613 Cogenhoe lock		SP735596 Nth arm, brs 14 and 13
Sun	SP716555 br 47			SP669575 br 35 'Old Wharf Inn'
Mon	SP638590 br 26 'Narrowboat'	SP605657 Norton jn 'New Inn'
Tue	SP605657 'New Inn'		SP638590 'Narrowboat' (Cantonese)
Wed	SP638590 br 26			SP669575 Bugbrooke 'Five Bells'
Thu	SP709555 br 46 Gayton		SP709555 Gayton
Fri	-				-

Day	Notes
Fri	Northampton flight
Sat	Apostrophe pub
Sun	Hat lost
Mon	Tesco; starter rewired; looking for somewhere to moor
Tue	"London Pride"; Oundle
Wed	Turn; Thrapston
Thu	-
Fri	Anniversary
Sat	Heavy shower; engine boiled; back to canal
Sun	Northampton flight; pump-out
Mon	Whilton and Buckby locks; watch engine craned in
Tue	Walk to Watford flight; turn; Whilton and Buckby locks; new windlass
Wed	No sunshine; walk to mill
Thu	Walk to Gayton; micro whirlwind
Fri	-

			Locks -------		Speed ------
Day	Hours	Miles	River	Canal	Formula	Ave	Adj
Fri	3.00	2.2	-	14	2.29	0.73	1.52
Sat	5.42	7.3	6	3	4.27	1.35	2.03	
Sun	4.33	6.0	7	-	3.75	1.39	2.33
Mon	6.00	11.3	7	-	5.52	1.89	2.66
Tue	5.17	9.7	6	-	4.73	1.88	2.64
Wed	4.08	8.0	4	-	3.67	1.96	2.60
Thu	4.42	6.0	6	-	3.50	1.36	2.05
Fri	3.83	6.6	5	-	3.45	1.72	2.56
Sat	6.83	11.0	11	2	6.34	1.61	2.85
Sun	4.67	7.5	-	15	4.17	1.61	2.50
Mon	5.00	8.0	-	7	3.44	1.60	1.89
Tue	3.00	5.5	-	7	2.61	1.83	2.48
Wed	1.17	3.0	-	-	1.00	2.56	2.56
Thu	1.25	3.2	-	-	1.07	2.56	2.56
Fri	0.42	1.2	-	-	0.40	2.86	2.86
Summary	58.51	96.5	52	48	50.5	1.65	2.40

Formula is: miles/3 + canal_locks/9 + river_locks/4
Average speed is: miles/hours.
Adjusted average speed is: miles/(hours - canal_locks/9 - river_locks/4)


Craft:    White Stork; 54-foot.
Boatyard: Alvechurch Boats, Gayton Marina

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