Atherstone to Hinckley, 13 miles, 0 locks
Woke up to shining sun—completely contrary to today's weather forecast—and decided to make the most of it. I'd decided that I was going up the Ashby Canal because various people have told me that it's shallow but pretty and I figured that if nothing else I could get to Marston Junction which is where it joins the Coventry. On a whim I tried the Internet and it was working perfectly—certainly well enough for me to partially update my blog and download the 50 e-mails I had pending (mostly junk, but also some pictures from the London Tattoo Convention, which I've obviously just missed). If you've been wondering what's happened recently, well now you know. I think the deluge of e-mail must have tired the internet out, though, because it stopped working after that.
Once I finally set off it was all fairly plain sailing, with the weather being well behaved but the wind chilling me down a bit. Once you're out of Atherstone it's all quite rural, with strange conical hills on either side of the canal—presumably old slag heaps. There are also several farms and a lot of cattle and horses grazing right down to the canal edge. The canal itself is pretty, but very shallow—at one point I passed another boat only to find that Oothoon's stern had grounded. I managed to get free, only to find that the prow was grounded on the opposite side of the canal. The railway is never far away either and there's the constant taunt of Mr Branston's trains whizzing by—at one point past a goods train that looked like it was crawling along at canal speeds by comparison.
By the time I'd reached the good moorings by Boot Bridge in Nuneaton I was cold enough that I decided to stop and the weather agreed by starting to rain. One lovely lunch of Herr Aldi's salmon tortellini later and with the sun shining, I was ready for the off again, only this time with a sensible coat, gloves and my flat cap.
After Boot Bridge, which is pretty much as close to beautiful downtown Nuneaton as the canal gets, you're soon back in rolling countryside and with the sun shining you realise what all this boating lark is about. There's even some history, where former arms of the canal that are now disused still exist as winding holes. I pootered along enjoying the scenery and the quiet until I went round the final huge bend to reach Marston Junction.
Now I had expected this to be quite a big affair with lots of boats, as Fradley and Fazeley junctions are, but no—it's basically a winding hole and a bridge, with a small sign welcoming you to the Ashby canal. It doesn't even look like there's anywhere to moor on the Coventry, since both approaches are on bends. The bridge spanning the Ashby is...well 'narrow' is being more generous than the bridge builders were and you really need that winding hole in order to line yourself up. Coming down the Coventry is much easier because the hole under the bridge is slightly facing you; from the Coventry end it must be a complete pain.
Once through the bridge and the narrows on the other side, it's suddenly extremely rural. There's a tiny road dogging the canal for the first couple of bridges and then that's it—you're in countryside. There's a bit of civilisation on the opposite side to the moorings past Bilking Road bridge, where static 'mobile' homes form a community along the steep right bank. Several of these have claimed the bank for themselves, building terraces, precarious-looking log steps and even a little fishing hut in the style of a 'weather house', with the England flag and colours on one 'door' and Liverpool FC's flag and colours on the other.
Once you're past the narrowboats at Bramcote Wharf, it's countryside all the way to Hinckley. Yes, there's Burton Hastings on one side, but it's only a village and set well back from the canal, from where you get the best views of the listed church dedicated to St Botolph. Actually, the main fascination with this section of canal is the power pylons, which are right next to the canal from where you can gawp up at their fragility and beauty. In one field, two power lines cross, with one on a huge pylon and the other split across two much smaller pylons, one on either side—the whole thing looking like an electric version of daddy taking the kids for a walk.
More good moorings at Hinckley. Nicholson's says that to avoid grounding you should always moor at a designated spot and even bothers to mark them on the map—something it normally reserves for rivers only—so I'm doing as told. The ones below Limekiln bridge—which has our old friend Watling Street going over it—were full, but the ones afterwards were empty so that's where I've stopped. It was about 5pm.
Dinner, you'll be horrified to hear, was Toad in the Hole with mash and onion gravy. All home-made too. It was what I had in mind when I bought the sausages in Alrewus, not expecting that I'd be eating it in a pub first. I have to say that it was great and there's enough left over for dinner tomorrow night too. The fire has stayed in all day and I'm hoping it'll still be alight tomorrow, because the rain is stotting off the roof and I'm not expecting good weather. It's funny: coming along the Ashby this evening was just perfect—the sun making things warm but with that low-angled autumnal light that makes everything shimmer and cast strong shadows—and from my privileged position on the back of my own boat in the middle of this unspoilt countryside, it seemed like you could see the whole of the sky. Bet it's rubbish tomorrow.