Here is his account of a great trip with the party.
LNBP at Braunston’s Booking Officer, Nigel Smith
In my joint project role as Booking Officer and Skipper, I take numerous calls from clients looking to book a residential stay on our boats. This story is no different.
In late 2015 I received a call from Jenny, a Girl Guide Leader from Hastings asking about LNBP and looking to book a seven night stay in August 2016.
Following the telephone calls, I met up with Jenny and her husband Alex as they travelled to Braunston to physically examine the boats as part of her risk assessment. Satisfied with what she had seen, Jenny chose what boat she wanted and the booking was confirmed. Sometime later, I was allocated the booking in my role as a skipper.
I again spoke to Jenny this time as skipper, and options were given to Jenny on where we could go. It was agreed that our trip would be ‘The Warwickshire Ring’ with a day at Drayton Manor Theme Park, a new trip for me as well. Initial schedules were planned, we knew an issue that would arise was transport for the girls and limited space to pack food, nothing we couldn’t overcome, their booking was to be a Friday-Friday booking.
Friday (One Friday in August 2016)
I am expecting the party to arrive at about 12.30pm, so I get to Braunston around the 10.00am mark to make sure the boat is ready, check my fuel, my gas etc, all in order. The 12.30 arrival was lightly optimistic, let’s not forget Jenny and the girls have to negotiate the M25 and M40 on a summer’s Friday! The girls arrive a little late but nothing untoward, I have a party of 11 passengers, Jenny, her husband plus six guides and three leaders, nine new faces for me, going back to my time working in a school, I set myself the target of knowing all names by Saturday lunchtime (it is more polite to speak to someone by using their name!).
A fitting out of life jackets, a safety briefing, and telling the girls the two things they need to know about me (my name is Nigel, my first drink of the day is tea, the second is coffee, a sweetener in either and after that I don’t care what order they come!) and the girls are champing at the bit to get moving, off we set, Warwickshire Ring – clockwise, here we come. A bright sunny late afternoon and evening, I am immediately joined on the stern by a couple of the girls wanting to steer, feel free girls, a couple of hours and we reach Napton and up to Calcutt locks, time for a lock briefing, soon delivered and the first three locks of our 100 are done.
I have my mooring planned in my head but about fifteen minutes before hand, I see an ideal place in front of me, “Take it now” I say to myself and so day one comes to an almost end, we settle down to a fish and chip supper cooked on board. On a selfish note, I now knew all the girls by their first name, my target achieved early!
Our day starts, we soon hit the Stockton flight and our decent towards Leamington, the girls immediately get into the swing of working locks and setting locks in advance. We descend the flight in the company of a working boat with a single person on board. He was grateful of the girls help.
Twenty locks later, we hit the Regency town of Leamington Spa. By early afternoon, it was very important to find a mooring close to the supermarket Morrison’s, (other supermarkets are available as the BBC would say, in fact the shopper is spoilt with Lidl and Tesco both on the canal side).
We stock up on provisions and we continue our journey, now climbing the two “Cape” locks where we stop for water, then find the last available mooring for the night. Day 2 comes to an end.
The only request I had of the girls was for an early start on this day (and they knew that in advance! – I had only climbed Hatton once before and done it in a temperature of 30’+, not advisable!).
We were at the bottom lock for 7.00am, we are first in the queue, our plan was to be at the top by midday, five hours, twenty one locks over about two miles. We wait as a matter of courtesy and are soon joined by another boat. Let the climb begin, about seven locks up, we set another boat in the pound in front of us almost (note this word) broadside across the canal, the canal is narrower that the length of the boat but they are still trying to turn the boat! They come and asked our advice. They didn’t want to go to the top, the choice is explained to them, go to the top and turn at the first winding hole or reverse and pull the boat back down the locks.
The boat moves to the towpath, thrown overboard is the bow, middle and stern lines, off get three passengers and the pull begins. We hit another slight delay on the flight as there is a shortage of water coming down but the lock keeping team soon have the matter sorted, we carry on.
We leave the top lock and shut the gate three hours and nine minutes after we entered the first, WELL DONE GIRLS.
Ahead of schedule, we walk to the nearby Hatton Country World, a cup of tea and an ice cream later, we are on the move, A few miles of lock free cruising then we reach Knowle flight, five locks, we join a family also doing the “Ring” a friendship for the rest of our trip is forged, we would meet and speak every day until next Friday and the Guides now expert at locks and setting prepare everything to a point that this flight is taken almost like climbing a staircase.
The boat with us is highly impressed, a water stop at the top of the flight and onto Catherine-De-Barnes for our night stop opposite the “Boat Inn” and a late night/early morning SPAR shop. Day 3 comes to an end.
Remembering a conversation from Sunday evening, I am up early, we need some milk and some toilet rolls, the shop opens at 6.00am, I’m in there five minutes after opening, get what we need plus they have a tea machine, a cup of Tetley’s then back to the boat, we are under way by 6.15am. The sun is shining and not a cloud in the sky BUT this first six miles /two hours are in a ‘V’ cutting lined and sheltered by trees, standing on the stern it is quite chilly!
On reaching Tysley, the trees disappear just in time for me to hone in my steering skills, I never touched that three seater settee dumped in the cut!
We arrive at the first lock of the morning at Typhoo basin, all locks are now single and being someone who was born and lived all my life in Birmingham, I’m on home ground.
A queue at the locks mean I can give the girls a short history lesson on Birmingham and the canals and the fact we are at the old Typhoo factory explaining how the tea would arrive in England and be hauled up the ‘cut’ to Birmingham, my history lesson is followed by an apology, knowing the girls are from a long way away, I am saddened that their memory of my city being dirty and tatty, but the canals contributed a lot to my city.
Skirting the city we meet a holiday maker who had managed to get a ‘Keep Left’ bollard wrapped around his prop! Bordesley Green, Saltley, Spagetti Junction and Erdington pass us before I know the whereabouts of a fast food chain (the one with the big yellow ‘M’). All the girls get off and treat themselves to an ice cream.
A little further down the canal we have another stop to use ASDA at Minworth before finally making our way to Bodymoor Heath for another water stop and our overnight mooring. Meeting up with a local boat owner, he allows us access to his allotment and we go scrumping his green beans! Day 4 comes to an end.
My schedule gives me about a ninety minute and two lock run to reach Drayton Manor Theme Park.
We set off at 8.00am after having cleared he propeller of all the rubbish collected coming through Birmingham, the girls prepare their lunches and work the locks and we arrive at the park prior to opening.
All my passengers get off (enjoy your day, you have earned it). I moor outside Fazeley Mill Marina, a great spot, near a water point and access to the marina. I know that I will need to pump out the toilets, I have the luxury of a nice long shower knowing that I can easily top up the tanks.
I enter the marina for the pump out, a 70’ boat and a tight turn but I did it without touching the sides (where is my trainer when you want him to see you turn!). I am grateful to the staff who help me with the pump outs and I recommend this point when touring the route.
Being relatively close to home, my wife comes out to see me for the day along with the dog. It’s not long before the dog jumps in the canal, so the next hour is spent drying him off!
Approximately 5.00pm all my passengers come back excited, no need to cook today, within a five minute walk is a Chinese, Indian and fish and chip take away along with a Tesco metro. The chip shop got my trade that evening, what a fantastic meal and the same was said by those eating a Chinese meal. Day 5 comes to an end.
I take my turn, I can see boats but no lock! I ask one of the guides to walk to the lock and count. A short while later she comes back, “You are number 10” a case conference takes place with me and Jenny and some of the leaders, my immediate concerns are laid out, my schedule has gone out of the window, to compound matters the sun is above and burning. We hold the boats on their ropes and huddle under the shade pulling the boat slowly to the locks.
Seven hours and several conferences later we have climbed the eleven locks spaced over about a mile and a half. The guides in true guide fashion are helping me and helping others climb the locks by doing most of the lock work. A late water stop and daylight finally beats me, I find a mooring BUT I am nine miles and three hours short of Hawkesbury. Jenny has cooked a beautiful evening meal, and guess what, mine came with green beans and fresh at that! Day 6 comes to an end.
There is nothing I can do about yesterday but it does mean another 6.00am start. Jenny is shuttling the length of the boat with tea, coffee and food. It felt like lunchtime getting to Hawksbury, but in reality my watch says it was just after 9.00am!
Another queue for the lock and Jenny is showing her new boat handling skills, holding the boat before making the 180’ turn onto the Oxford Canal. A meandering cruise for most of the day, a short stop at Stretton-under-Fosse for a visit to a shop for ice cream and continuing to our night stop at Rugby. I get a little frustrated as I look for a water point as indicated in my canal guide. Try as I might I cannot find it, I continue, to find it past the location in the book and on the opposite side of the canal… but we found it. I moor near to where the girls can have some retail therapy, as it is our last night. No cooking tonight and we decamp to the nearby Harvester for a meal and they serve my favourite drink, diet vanilla coke. Day 7 comes to an end.
A little cloudy for my 7.00am departure, then a hint of rain, on goes my coat for the first time in a week. It is not long before it is driving rain, understandably no one now wants to have a go at steering!
However, I was very grateful for the skippers hatch keep opening and a hand with a hot drink would be handed to me. We climb our last three locks at Hillmorton and the long Barby Straight before we reach Braunston, for the final two minutes. I simply said to Jenny, “The boat is yours, moor it” and that is exactly what she did, perfectly. All that was left was for me to do was tie the boat up. The Warwickshire Ring completed! Our trip is at an end.
Would I do things different? I would give consideration next time to an anticlockwise run to try an avoid queues at some lock flights.
This was not just an adventure for the girls but one for me, my planning had in the main been accurate and having a contingency plan got us where we needed to be… eventually.
I would like to place on record my thanks to the Leaders and Guides of the 13th Hastings Girl Guides, you were simply a credit.