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May bank holiday weekend

Friday The forecast is good for the Bank Holiday weekend, so we are off! Leaving Hinckley just after two o’clock, we head for Marston Junction, destination Ansty. As we pass The Limekilns pub, we see Jim sitting at one of the garden tables near his boat. He asks us where we are going and we tell him that we are hoping to reach Napton, he tells us that he is heading in the opposite direction, up the Ashby to Shackerstone. We pass “Little England” but there is still no sign of the owner. The journey to Marston Junction is pleasantly uneventful in the afternoon sunshine. As we approach Hawksbury we are aware of a cruiser behind us which is getting closer by the minute, we are on tickover as we pass moored boats on both sides so it will have to wait. Round the corner and through the stop lock and then it starts to rain but we press on anyway, Ansty is only an hour away. The rain only lasted for twenty minutes or so but we have to change plans when we see that there are no mooring places free at Ansty. We carry on for another hour and a half before finding suitable moorings near bridge 26 which is about a mile away from Stretton stop. The time is now just after seven thirty so we have some dinner and a drink and then watch the sunset from the rear deck before retiring for the evening.

Saturday The sun is shining already as we have breakfast before setting off at half past eight. Through Stretton stop and past Rose narrowboats twenty minutes later, we pass Ian Birks on board nb “Nobby” before we reach Newbold on Avon. A few minutes later and we are beyond the furthest point that we have previously cruised to. The canal runs around the outskirts of Rugby before reaching the locks at Hillmorton. We take on water before negotiating the locks and Sue starts chatting to the crew of the boat in front, ten Australian girls who have hired for the weekend. They say that it has taken three hours to get here from Rugby and as they pull away towards the locks, it is easy to see why! At the first lock, Sue meets Ben who offers to assist us up the flight. Teenager Ben explains that he has been fascinated by the canal and the locks for years. He helps people through the locks and by being rewarded financially has raised hundreds of pounds for charity. We are grateful for his help and tell him that we will see him the next day on our way back. The weather is still good, bright, some cloud cover and warm. The canal soon opens up into the long straight stretch at Barby, a few bends then straight-ish for a while before approach Braunston. We have been to Braunston a few times by road and walked along past the marina, however today we will be turning before then on to the Grand Union (Oxford section). We reckon it should take about two hours to reach Napton Junction so we expect to be there before six. We pass a lot of moored boats near Braunston and then it is out in the open again. The sky is darkening and pretty soon it starts to rain heavily, we are still about an hour from Napton but with the length of time we have already been travelling today and the fact that there was no compelling reason to get to Napton, we decide to tie up for the night just beyond bridge 102. The rain only lasts for an hour so after dinner we sit out on deck again, thank goodness we have a boat with a cruiser stern.

Sunday After a solid night’s sleep we have breakfast and set off for the turning point at bridge 107. It is windy today, as forecast but the turning point is very exposed and as soon as we turn into the winding hole, the wind just takes us sideways. After a couple of minutes being heavy handed on the throttle, the boat comes around and we are off again. The trip back is fairly uneventful, we are encountering more traffic today but nothing serious. A few light-hearted moments when we encounter an oncoming boat under a bridge on a bend when Sue tells the helmsman that his friends sitting at the front of the boat had said that the encounter had been his fault because he was inexperienced! He took it in good part and agreed that it was because he had only been doing it for thirty five years! Ben helped Sue through the locks again which was much appreciated and we then head back for our next stop which we have decided is going to be Newbold again. We have been here before of course during the winter months and we are looking forward to mooring early enough to take a walk to the shops and sample the local pubs. After collecting some groceries from the Co-op we head towards the first of the local hostelries, take one look in and turn around. Next on the now shortened tour is the Barley Mow. It looks a bit more promising so we buy a couple of drinks which are very expensive and sit outside on the terrace. Soon we are joined by a group of youths having a playful fight which is rapidly getting out of control. Another customer then says hello but he is a weird character so we finish our drinks and return to the boat. The boat behind us is owned and occupied by Amy and her dog Dylan. Dylan is a collie who was rescued and just wants to play. Amy it would seem has rescued herself from her own entrapment and just wants a peaceful life. We spend half an hour chatting and throwing sticks for Dylan while having a glass of wine before we have our evening meal. As for Newbold on Avon, we are disappointed and will not be hurrying back.

Monday The last day of our journey dawns bright and clear and we head for home, it will be full day’s cruise from here but the sun is out and the forecast is for the same all day. By the time we get to Hawksbury we are tiring, a combination of the long hours we have been cruising and the exposure to the sun is making us give consideration to the idea of stopping now and finish our journey in the morning. In the event, we push on. As we get into the last half an hour of our trip, we catch up with another, smaller boat travelling quite slow. This isn’t a problem since we are passing a lot of moored boats, with two boats behind us we now have a convoy. Entering the stretch between the Limekilns and Nutts lane, the boat in front speeds up a little but is not doing much more than we are doing on tickover. With such a short distance to go to the marina there is no point in attempting to pass it. The boat owner behind has different ideas and signals that he wishes to pass and as he draws up alongside he mutters something about sitting behind the slowcoach in front. A few seconds later and he starts to drop back, presumably he grounded himself in the shallows. Anyway the convoy continued with the boat in front also turning into the marina before us. We are both shattered and agree that we will need to be more realistic with the hours that we cruise in future.