Friday 24th October. Next week is half term, with today an inset day, so we initially think about visiting Coventry. Then staff shortages mean that Fiona needs to be at work on Thursday, so we set our sights on Market Harbourgh or at least the top of the Foxton Flight. I’m still in Ireland on Thursday, and by the time we set off for the boat we know we won’t make MH due to the short days, so take our time in settling in and visit the Queen Victoria in Gayton.

Saturday 25th October. The usual journey to the bottom of the Buckby flight in decent weather. The prop seems to be fouling and at one point I pull over to clear it only to find it totally clean. This is a trend that continues over the whole trip and I wonder if something is wrong with the gearbox instead. Dropping it into reverse for even a few seconds normally clears the problem. I’m later to be educated by the contributors of UKRW that it is leaves – we haven’t been out this late in the year before and I’m surprised how they fall off so easily! We were going to stop at Millar Marine, but they have closed down, so visit Whilton to fill up the diesel, do a self-pump-out and replace the empty gas bottle. We share the Buckby flight with a family on board a Weed hireboat; there are regular hirers and good progress is made. At the top we turn off to the right and make for The Stags Head, only to find it closed down and being turned into a Thai restaurant. Hummm… – by the time we get to the bottom of the Watford flight, there is still half an hour of daylight left. About turn, and back to Norton Junction, so we can visit The New Inn – turning at the junction so as to be facing the right way tomorrow.

Sunday 26th October. A leisurely start, (even though the clocks have gone back) and then as we are just past the ex-Stag (again) the alternator belt snaps. I’m prepared, and while changing it – a tricky job as the raw water pump needs to come off first – Fiona walks into Watford Gap services to see if she can get a spare to replace the spare, if you see what I mean. They look at her as if she has two heads when she asks, apparently. The spare is one that has already seen service, and once we set off again, snaps almost straight away. We are stuck. Phone RCR, who contact an engineer, who then phones for details, and turns up with a replacement belt in not much more than an hour. However, once fitted, things look grim, as the new one starts smoking at high revs. It’s not the alignment of the new alternator, but the fact that the new alternator has broken up a bearing. The engineer now gets us a new alternator from Foxton and fits it in the dark – what service! The guy at Foxton swears that it’s because I’ve fitted an alternator controller, and increased the alternator’s workload. I’ve still got to get to the bottom of this! The Engineer goes, with our great thanks. We have bow-hauled the boat to be near the bottom of the flight, but with hardly any charge going into the batteries today we decide to spend the strangest night out yet – dinner in the motorways services (dearer than the New Inn!) and a room in the Travel Inn. We all make the most of the shower. Highlight of the meal was people nearby laughing at the questionnaire they were given – “How did you travel here?” – “By boat!” one of them jokes. “Actually, we did” I cannot help myself from saying. Long explanation ensues……

Monday 27th October. We should of been first up the Watford flight, but we weren’t, as a cheap breakfast was thrown in with the room, so we sat and eat as much as we could. Returning to the boat, I started her up and looked, smelt and listened very carefully for some time before deciding to carry on rather than turn round.

Nice passage up the staircase, throught Crick tunnel (always wet, it seems) and an aborted stop at Crick Marina – closed Mondays – in case they had a belt. We now made a mistake by stopping at Yelvertoft for lunch. The pub is closed Monday lunchtime, but we get some fresh bread, straight from the oven at the shop by way of compensation. Elizabeth is being a bit cranky today, bored from yesterdays lack of activity, which slows the walk down, and by the time we are back underway, it’s quite late. Progress is slow – shallow summit and leaves – and we realise we are not going to make Welford before dark. The wind is up, too. Welford lock is reached before dark, and we nearly moor before the marina, but there is a rough looking boat there running a loud genny, so I persude Fiona to risk the end of the arm. Sadly, no space at all, we turn in complete darkness and return to our original spot. The genny has stopped. A difficult towpath walk to the pub at the end of the arm, but log fires, good beer and tasty food soon cheer us up.

Tuesday 28th October. The lost day means we don’t get a chance to explore Welford, we ought to be heading back. The summit is again slow, and we just pull over to the bank for a spot of lunch. Now the weather is starting to deteriorate, but the alternator belt is showing no signs of wear, so we push on to Watford again. Elizabeth has realised she can cope with opening the well maintained. narrow gates and enjoys working us down the flight. Now the rain is really kicking in, and any thoughts of starting the Buckby flight are forgotten. We are at Norton Junction nice and early, but get one of the last spots on the main line. Boats continue to turn up, and even as we walk to the New Inn again people are working up, hoping to find a mooring near the pub.

Wednesday 29th October. Our trip down Buckby is in the company of a boat covered in leaves – moored in the bushes after a late trip up the flight, they have decided to turn round and not visit Braunston. There is quite a bit of traffic and the work goes quickly. At the bottom I pop into the Chandlers for a spare belt – they have put one aside for me. And now we are on the final stretch….. the weather clears up, but I’m still worrying about the gearbox (or leaves!).

50 miles and 30 locks.

Our least successful trip so far, but with lots of lessons learnt. I’ve some time to sort things out on the boat now before draining everything down for the winter. The new radiator in the saloon is a success, but there appears to be a small leak in my plumbing, so I’ll fit another in the bedroom while the system is drained down. I need a high quality alternator and new batteries before reconnecting the controller. And then there is the paintwork…..

Next year? We want to go somewhere with narrow locks, for Elizabeth, but not the Oxford.

These last two paragraphs show that even now we were not considering sell Polly Anna, but sadly this was our last long trip. Circumstances were changing….