The Journey of Many Junctions – Great Haywood to Braunston

  We left Great Haywood Marina on Wednesday, 16th February, but barely cruised for ½ mile as it was so windy. We moored at Great Haywood Junction in a treeless spot, albeit a little open and exposed. The wind was coming from behind us, up the canal, though, so it didn’t feel as turbulent as it would’ve done had it been coming across the canal hitting the boat side on. We stayed there for three nights, only venturing out from the warmth and comfort of the boat for Sal’s walks – she loves her walks and will go out very happily in all weathers. We reviewed our cruising plans and the stoppages whilst there. There was a stoppage on the Trent and Mersey Canal until the end of March, on the shortest route to where we wanted to be for the summer, so rather than hanging around waiting for that to reopen, we decided to turn south at Fradley Junction and cruise the Coventry and Oxford Canals to Braunston, then go north on pastures new on the Grand Union Canal and the River Soar. We much prefer to be moving, even if it is on canals we’ve already cruised!

On Saturday, 19th, Feb, the wind dropped a little, allowing us to move further along. It rained heavily in the morning, though, so we only set off after lunch. We cruised for 4 ½ miles, working 2 locks on the way, and moored in the pleasant town of Rugeley. We chose a spot as devoid of trees as we could – which is pretty hard to do in most places along the canal. Again, the weather was foul, so we stayed there for another three nights. We did venture out to do a bit of shopping whilst there, though.

On Tuesday, 22nd (22.02.2022), we set off late and did an afternoon cruise again, traveling for 3 ½ miles and mooring near the village bridge in Handsacre. The smell of Fish and Chips in the air announced the presence of a Chippy – dinner sorted! Not only was it dinner that night, but the portions of chips were SO huge, that one portion was more than adequate for the two (three!) of us to share so we saved the second portion to be warmed in the oven for the next day, too. The fish was also enormous – it spanned the dinner plate and hung over both sides by at least an inch – one would’ve been enough for both of us, too, had we known just how big the portions were! I took off most of the batter and just ate the fish – but I’d really rather have just a smaller portion that a normal person could eat! I would defy anyone to eat the whole portion of fish and chips as it was served – and it was only a regular size – they did a large size, too!

We cruised for only 2 ½ miles on Wednesday, again leaving it until late in the day. We moored just above Wood End Lock as it was getting increasingly windy and difficult to steer. It was a lovely rural spot overlooking open fields, but it did have a few trees on the opposite bank.

We toyed with staying at Wood End Lock for another day on Thurs, 24th Feb as, again, the weather forecast wasn’t too good, but decided we’d go just the short distance to Fradley Junction. It was a bit blustery but not too bad when we set off, but as we rounded the corner near the next lock, the wind was much more evident. We had real trouble in getting into the side for Tony to get off to operate the lock – there was a boat moored just before the lock landing so you couldn’t come in at a gentle angle, so we came in bow first at an angle, but the wind was just too strong to bring the stern round and into the side – it blew us right over the other side of the canal onto a vacant private mooring! Tony got off from there and prepared the lock but then we had tremendous fun and games in getting off the side and into the lock. We managed it after several goes when there was a short lull in the wind but I really thought we’d be spending the night on the private mooring! We went down through the third lock and turned at the junction onto the Coventry Canal, stopping at the water point. It was at this point that we had officially completed the whole of the Trent and Mersey Canal, having now cruised the section from Great Haywood to Fradley. The whole stretch from Stone down to Fradley was a very pleasant section, too, and one we would be happy to cruise again at any time. There was a snow shower whilst we filled with water and the wind was blowing a hooley!  We carried on for a while after we’d filled the water tank as there were no decent free moorings at the junction. We stopped in Fradley Village (which has grown hugely since we were here two years ago!) but we were under trees and they were swaying alarmingly, so we moved on a little further to a more sheltered spot.

On Friday, 25th Feb, with my birthday approaching, Tony had identified a canal side pub with good reviews in which to have my celebratory birthday meal, in Hopwas. We set-off and decided to moor, rather than stopping in the village centre, on the quiet stretch just before. Tony phoned and got a booking for the Saturday evening, and on Saturday morning, my birthday, we just cruised the half mile to the moorings directly outside the pub. We all went for a walk in the afternoon (ever since  Covid when the guidelines for exercise meant we could only go out individually to walk Sal, we have stuck to doing that, mostly, ever since. Tony does the morning walk and I do the afternoon) We walked through the Hopwas Woods, which is also a military firing practice range so you have to make sure they’re not practicing when you want to walk. We went a little off-piste on some of the lesser used pathways, though, so it was a little more challenging than I would normally attempt. We all survived, if a little sore and sweaty, and returned to the boat for a nice shower before dinner – I needed one after climbing steep wooded hillsides and scrambling back down the other!  We had a very nice meal but decided we are now officially old as we found the pub was so noisy!! We left as soon as we had finished eating and retired to the peace and quiet of our lovely haven. I enjoyed my birthday but, as I said to Tony, everyday feels like a birthday now!

The weather on Sunday 27th was gorgeous so we decided to do a longer cruise in the sunshine. We stopped at Fazeley Junction and I popped to the nearby Tesco Express to get a few bits, then we carried on, stopping near Alvecote Marina. We had moored at the marina restaurant before in November 2019 and Rhys and Ash had visited, this time we moored just round the corner next to the Pooley Park Nature Reserve – which we both enjoyed exploring with Sal. The weather wasn’t great on Monday 28th so we stayed on our nice spot for another night. 

On 1st March, Tuesday, we only intended to cruise for about 3 miles, so we waited until the afternoon and I walked with Sal whilst Tony steered. We moored in a rural spot, where we had moored before, overlooking farmland. The weather, again, was not brilliant on Wednesday 2nd, so we stayed there for a second night.

On Thursday, 3rd March, we cruised for only 2 ½ miles but worked the first 6, more spread out, locks of the Atherstone flight. The weather was overcast but warm with a nice breeze, so we hung the washing out for the first time this year! It does your soul good to see the washing blowing on the line after months of drying indoors!! It was a town centre visitor mooring, near a road, so we expected it to be a little noisy, but the road wasn’t a problem – the engineering works on the nearby railway line, however, proved to be somewhat different! They started at 11.00 p.m. and finished at 2.00 a.m! It sounded like we were in the middle of a building site with all the associated very heavy machinery! Fortunately, Sal didn’t seem overly bothered, so she slept through it –  and the other two of us got some sleep after they’d finished. 👍

After a trip to the nearby Aldi to get a few meals the next morning, we moved the boat up through the other five locks of the Atherstone flight. Apart from the engineering works, which we thought could well continue that night, the towpath was very muddy, so we thought it best to move on. There were a couple of volunteers on, so we had an easy ride. When we got to the top of the flight, though, the towpath was just as muddy, and another boater told us that the towpath a couple of miles further on was much better, so, after a run round the local playpark, fenced completely so Sal was able to be off lead, we set off again. We cruised for another two miles and stopped in the village of Hartshill – with its non-muddy towpaths! There were lots of pine cones and Tony had read that they were good for burning, so he and Sal went off to do some collecting.

The next morning, Saturday 5th March, we set off. Tony had put some of the pine cones in the stove and we were steering through a nice piney fragranced cloud of smoke blowing towards us. We only cruised for 1 ¼ miles and stopped near to Springwood Haven Marina for lunch, with the intention of getting a pump out. However, it was such a nice spot that we decided to stay there overnight. Tony elected to do the afternoon dog walk as there was an interesting footpath he wanted to explore.

On the Sunday morning, 6th, we pushed the boat over onto the marina’s wharf and had our services. Tony was charming the lady, as he does 😂, and got a discount on some of our purchases – he bought some engine oil and other bits and pieces as well as the pump out. The oil was a reasonable price but it was the most expensive pump out so far, apart from on the Thames – £22! Having dragged him away from said lady, (I could see her eyes starting to glaze over!! 🤣😂) we set off again and stopped about ½ mile away from Marston Junction, where the Ashby Canal meets the Coventry Canal. We weren’t turning up there this time but Sal and I enjoyed a walk up the first section and back. 

On Monday, 7th, we set off to cruise the last section of the Coventry Canal to Hawkesbury Junction. The Canal does continue down to Coventry Basin, but we were not going down there this time. We stopped on the water point but didn’t fill up completely as we wanted to grab the vacant mooring just round the corner, so we put in enough to tide us over, then turned into the Oxford Canal, through the stop lock, and moored up.

We both enjoyed cruising the Coventry Canal again, there are parts of it that we couldn’t remember at all, particularly the part from Fazeley Junction to Hawkesbury Junction, so, in a lot of respects, it was like cruising it for the first time!

We left Hawkesbury Junction on Tuesday 8th March, after a Tesco delivery arrived, and cruised for just over 3 miles, stopping in the village of Ansty. The sides of the canal are not great to moor against along this canal  – they are sloping and rocky, so we looked for Armco – much easier and no bumping!

On Wednesday, 9th, we cruised for a total of 4 ½ miles, stopping for water at Stretton Stop before continuing. We stopped on a good Armco mooring on which we had moored previously – a lovely spot overlooking fields on both sides with nice open views. This, so far, was the only bit of this canal that we could remember! 

The weather forecast for Friday wasn’t too good, so we cruised the last 4 ½ miles to get us to Rugby on Thursday, 10th, with intention of staying there for the Friday, too. We stopped en route to top up the diesel – the prices were rocketing!! It was a lovely bright, breezy day, so we took advantage of the weather and did a “dog wash”. That’s the towels and coats and not the actual dog! 😂 The weather did turn out to be a bit grotty on Friday, so we did stay in Rugby put but pushed the boat over onto the opposite side, the boat that was moored there having moved, as the moorings on that side were next to a picnic area so a bit nicer than just towpath. A trip to Tesco and Homebase saw the cupboards restocked and a new step purchased – our old step had given sterling service but had become rickety. We stand on this step to give us, well, me, in particular, greater height to see the front of the boat over the top box. 

On Saturday, 12th March, we set off intending to stop just below Hillmorton Locks, but we’d put a load of washing on which hadn’t finished by the time we got there, so we carried on and went through the 3 locks, mooring at the top. The Hillmorton Locks are double locks, i.e two locks side-by-side, and are in a very pretty setting. It was a nice area to walk with Sal!

On Sunday, we continued our journey and cruised for just under 3 miles, doing an afternoon walk-and-go. We found another lovely rural spot with Armco overlooking fields again.

On Monday, 14th March, we cruised the last stretch to Braunston Junction, about 3 ½ miles. It was an absolutely gorgeous spring day! We hadn’t gone far before we had to pull over as we had something round the prop – another boater’s pipe fender and rope. It’s a bit annoying as you shouldn’t travel with fenders down as they get lost/torn off and then end up in the water, and get caught up in moving propellers, but at least we gained a free pipe fender! We moored at the junction and were delighted when Alison from NB Little Man Sam walked past and gave a shriek of recognition  – we had shared a few days of cruising with Alison, Paul and doggie Gabby last summer, so it was good to bump into them again! They moved their boat into the vacant spot behind us so we had a good catch up. 

We  thoroughly enjoyed cruising the North Oxford Canal again, it is a beautiful rural canal with gentle views alongside it  – with the good and safe moorings in Rugby being a bonus shopping stop!

It was here that we were due to start a section of the waterways that was new to us – exciting! We planned to cruise a very short section of the Grand Union Canal, then turn onto the Grand Union Leicester Line, taking us north again for our summer destination.