Wednesday, 3rd January 2007:
In order to celebrate the New Year we took 'Alnwick' for a cruise up the Grand Union Canal to Welford. We had been entertaining Jane's family over Christmas at our house in Woodford Halse but we returned to the boat on Friday, 28th December 2006 and set out later during the afternoon of the same day. As always, 'GC' was not at all pleased about having to travel by car between Woodford and Napton but as soon as we set him down on the canal towpath, he ran straight to the boat and was the first to jump aboard. As we entered Braunston Tunnel on the Saturday morning we briefly celebrated the completion of our first 1,000 miles with 'Alnwick'.
We arrived at Welford Wharf on New Years Eve and stayed there for New Years Day. Graham spent most of his childhood living at Welford so a walk round the village and the reservoir that feeds the canal (followed by a drink at the Wharf public house) was compulsory. The Oliver family lived in the village, at 29 Westfield Crescent, between 1950 and 1967 - at which time transport difficulties arising from the closure of the local railway line caused the family to move to Rugby. Welford has changed a great deal in the last 40 years - in those days there were four pubs - the 'Wharf' (then known as the 'George'), the 'Swan', the 'Shoulder of Mutton' and the 'Peacock'. There were also two butchers and at least half a dozen other shops including two large general stores, Goodfellow's and Gardner's, and a bicycle repair man who also ran a taxi service.
Throughout the 1950s and during the early 1960s the Welford arm of the Grand Union Canal was unnavigable, the locks had fallen into disrepair and a broken swing bridge (which had once provided access to a water mill) prevented craft from passing. The restoration of the arm and its re-opening in 1969 provided a very useful waterways amenity and a new 'tourist' attraction for the village. Nevertheless, even in its semi-derelict state, the canal ,together with its associated feeder reservoirs, had always provided leisure facilities for the locals. Fishing was popular and there were healthy stocks of Roach, Perch, Bream and Pike in the clear waters. The canal and reservoir also provided convenient and scenic walking routes where Kingfishers, Moorhens, Coots, Swans and Water Voles could be observed. During the Summer a dam would be built across one of the feeder streams north of the Naseby Road to create a wide swimming area and, on sunny days, whole families would gather there to dive, swim, paddle and picnic on the banks - this location was always known as the 'Baytho'.
Further afield, Bridge 40 on the main line of the canal was a popular walking destination for older boys - the graceful wooden decked iron bridge over the Rugby to Peterborough railway line, adjacent to the canal bridge, provided an opportunity for train-spotting and during the long gaps between trains there was an old sand quarry to explore. The quarry had been abandoned at the end of the Second World War but the tracks and wagons of its narrow gauge railway were still in-situ together with the heavily built wooden jetty where the side-tipping wagons once discharged into the holds of narrowboats. There had been a turntable on the jetty so that the wagons could be turned at a right-angle and then be pushed along the jetty parallel to the canal. Sadly, more than one of the wagons ended up in the canal when boys rode them down from the quarry and then had to jump clear as it was discovered that there was no effective means of stopping. Today, the quarry is a very private nature reserve and little remains to be seen of the old jetty or of the two sunken narrowboats that had been used for the sand trade and were last seen rotting away in the widened section of the canal near the quarry - the area is now a mass of weed and Willow. Even so, we always give the site a wide berth when we pass it for fear that 'Alnwick' might strike the fairly solid remains of a narrow gauge railway wagon that may be still embedded in the canal bottom!
It is always fun to reminisce and remember how things were but today's Welford has a thriving and very friendly canal community around its wharf - as an example of this we were privileged to be invited aboard NB 'Boston' on New Years Day to enjoy an excellent dinner with Bruce Coleman the well known musician, narrowboat painter and occasional 'Father Christmas'.
'GC' also enjoyed Welford and as we started to head back in the direction of Braunston the intrepid ginger cat showed some reluctance to leave the place - the photographs on this page show some his efforts to 'jump-ship' and subsequently evade re-capture (by hiding in the trees) at Welford Locks on the morning of 2nd January 2007.
We now expect 'Alnwick' to remain on our booked 'Winter Mooring' at Napton
until the end of March 2007 and we expect to divide our time between maintenance
on the boat and work at our house in Woodford Halse.
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© Graham & Jane Oliver 2007