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Foxton to Hillmorton towing 'Black Bottom Girl'

Once again the message on the Internet looked fascinating, this time it was on the Canal World Forum. Someone needed a tow, so just as in 2004 when we volunteered a  tow from Birmingham to Rickmansworth, this time we volunteered a tow from Foxton to Hillmorton. It made sense, after all we were going to Hillmorton anyway so a diversion via Foxton wasn't too much of a problem. We were going there to get our bottom blacked, so when we found out the name of the boat needing a tow, the title for this trip was obviously the "Black Bottom Trip"!

Black Bottom Girl was a 50-foot narrowboat whose engine had seized up at the bottom of Foxton locks, and had a new engine waiting for her at Hillmorton. Luckily the owner was able to bow-haul her up to the top of the locks, so when I arrived there on the Friday night I was able to wind there and moor directly in front for an early start the next morning (which was slightly delayed by having to fix an oil leak from our new gearbox). The biggest problem was that Debbie had to stay at home for the weekend so we were short-handed. I had single-handed up from Milton Keynes in 3 days easily enough, but we really needed an extra crew member. Luckily another member of the Forum was free for the weekend, so she joined us at Foxton ready for a good weekend's boating.

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On cross-straps and ready to  leave Foxton
Towing across the summit (as seen from the side doors)
Towing across the summit in the afternoon sunshine
Fending off at an awkward bridge

The next morning, after a 10 o-clock start in perfect weather, we set off along the long summit pound. After a couple of minor adjustments to the cross-straps, BBG followed dutifully in our wake and we made fabulous time, averaging a steady 2.5 mph. We waited for Husbands Bosworth tunnel to be clear then passed through without meeting anyone, which was good because you have to be extremely careful when towing past someone else in the tunnel. You have to slow right down, whilst making sure that the towed boat doesn't swing across into the path of the boat that is coming the other way; then you have to warn the other boat to look out (they may not yet have seen that there is another boat to avoid) and you must be careful not to apply any power too early as it may suck them away from the wall into your tow. We felt very pleased with our progress and stopped for lunch shortly after successfully turning right at the junction with the Welford Arm.

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Making good progress as the shadows lengthen
Under the bridge ...
... and into the evening sun
Tied up at Crick for the night

There were plenty of photo-opportunities as we sped onwards in the afternoon sunshine, until we reached Crick by 6 o'clock. We had covered 18 miles in 8 hours (including a half-hour lunch break) and felt we deserved a celebratory drink and a slap-up meal so we went into Edwards restaurant and had exactly that, followed by an early night ready for a prompt start the next morning.

It was a another beautiful morning as we set off at 7am, aiming to be at Watford flight as soon as they opened at 8. Inside the tunnel the warmth of the previous day was still quite strong, but it made my glasses mist up and I couldn't see a thing. As it was early in the morning, we had a clear (although very wet) run through the tunnel and arrived at Watford just on 8 as the lock-keeper was balancing the water levels. He helped us a great deal, and we positively flew down the flight; it thoroughly surprised the boat going up at the bottom lock, when I reversed back and chased them to the lock, so that I could wait in the tail with my stern against the bottom gates ready to pick up the tow as soon as Black Bottom Girl came down.

About half an hour later we stopped and awarded ourselves an hour-long breakfast break, with bacon, eggs, mushrooms, baked beans, and fried bread to fortify us for the rest of the day. After that it was not long before we reached the tricky right turn at Norton Junction. nudging slowly forward to let the nose of Keeping Up rest gently against the far bank, the momentum of Black Bottom Girl carried her into our stern and pushed it round, so that a judicious application of some power a few moments later sent us cleanly forwards through the bridge towards Braunston. By now the canal was very busy indeed, and we met other boats at most of the bridges; some of them panicked at seeing a pair of boats and managed to place themselves right across the canal directly in our path but we successfully avoided them all. Pausing briefly to let two boats exit the tunnel, we set forth slowly into the depths. Braunston Tunnel is not particularly wet, but it does have a few awkward S-bends and, true to form, we met another boat right on the point of the most difficult bend. We carefully slid past him without touching, but soon afterwards there was a tremendous bang behind us as he collided with the boat that was following us. We had to slow right down again as we met another boat, and we were thankful to emerge into the warm sun again above Braunston Locks.

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Towing through Crick Tunnel
A tricky bend at Norton Junction
Almost round at Norton Junction
Breasting down the locks

The manoeuvre to breast up as we entered the locks was fairly successful, although one of the ropes snagged slightly so that Black-Bottom Girl slowed too much and only came half-way alongside us before being pulled the rest of the way. There was a steady stream of boats coming up the flight, so we made easy progress downwards until we singled out again to tow through the busy Braunston Traffic.

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Passing other boats in the pound at Braunston
The last lock
Journey's end, the Royal Oak at Hillmorton

The rest of our journey was uneventful. We saw several other boats running aground or hitting the banks, the bridges, or each other; we noted that in every single case it was because they were going too fast for the conditions; we were taking it easy and had a total lack of such excitement on our trip until we tied up at Hillmorton at 5 pm. In just 9 hours of travelling today we had managed to cover 16 miles including 13 locks and 2 tunnels.

All that remained was to sink a pint or several in celebration of a most enjoyable and very successful two-day journey.



A week later we collected our newly-blacked boat, looking very smart indeed, and headed for home. We shared a couple of locks at Buckby, then on the way to the third lock, guess what, the other boat broke down so we ended up towing again, well breasted up anyway, down through the other 5 locks to the chandlery at Whilton where he was able to buy a replacement gear-cable.


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Breasted up through Buckby
They don't, do they?

And finally (as they say on the news) I'm still puzzling over the sign on the tree near Gayton. What could it possibly mean?



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