The Hunt For Harnser

Page published 9 February 2015

This tale of 30 May 2011 was originally posted to my blog. I've moved it here as I have decided it's worthy of appearing on a conventional web page.

Go to TopA Wet Weekend!

It was Bank Holiday Monday and I was in Kenilworth, so what did we get? Drizzle! Of course, I teased Diana that we wouldn't be getting rain in Norfolk. We spent a damp morning shopping for a rubber dinghy or canoe. The latest Lidl Newsletter said they'd be on sale from today at under £30. Obviously, not a boat worth getting too excited about, but I hoped one or other might provide an amusing way of getting up the barely navigable stretches of the North Walsham and Dilham Canal.

The Old Oak Inn, HillmortonTowards the end of our search, I inspect the moorings around the Inn at Hillmorton Wharf
In the distance Diana lurks with Izzie, her 15 year old Whippet, keeping dry under the bridge.

After an almost complete failure in the shopping department - is there a branch of Sainsburys anywhere in the country that has a copy of "The King's Speech" - we returned home for a bite of lunch. It's all very well advertising a product at a ludicrously low price, but there should be a law against luring you into a shop when you don't even appear have the goods at the warehouse, let alone your shops!

Nicholson Guide

Had it been better weather I'd have taken Diana to Hawkesbury Junction, shown
on the front cover of my 2003 Edition of Nicholson's Third Guide.

It didn't really look as if it was going to stop drizzling, but having received a set of emails saying that Brian and Diana were "out on Harnser again" and they seemed to be tantalising us by staying within half an hour of where we were I suggested that we we may as well attempt a meeting. The latest information I had was that Brian planned to be "somewhere near Hillmorton tomorrow night after filling with diesel at Lime Farm, Brinklow late afternoon."

I turned to Ordnance Survey's Get-A-Map site to try and locate the Farm. No Joy! Googling, I found a reference to Lime Farm Marina, but it was at Cathiron, the neighbouring village. Never mind! There was a postcode given and I fed that into my Sat Nav.

With hindsight, I discover that one more click at either Google or Get-A-Map would found my way to the marina's own web site or a map showing "Lime Farm". However, in spite of my previous experience of Finding Marinas on my Sat Nav, I thought I had taken adequate precautions. I found, on Google Maps, the short lane at the junction of Rugby and Harborough Roads indicated by the Sat Nav and sure enough it was right adjacent to the canal and there was one property with a commercial looking yard extending right down to the canal. Admittedly, it didn't look like a marina, but I had a hunch that this place was new and maybe the Google satellite images weren't the most recent. While I cursed myself for not bringing my Nicholson's with me this trip, I found out later that my 2003 edition would not have helped as it did not list or show it.

View Larger Map
I hadn't noticed that Google marks three roads as "Cathiron Lane"!
(If this shows as a satellite image, click the "Show Street Map" button (lower left) to see the road names.)

So with great optimism we start out on what should have been a 30 minute trip and a short wait for nb Harnser to turn up at the marina. The route the Sat Nav took us had us in ever narrower lanes, and ended by turning us onto track that rapidly turned into something fit only for tractors. My front wheel drive clawed us up the the verge and central strip, towards what I later learnt was Bridge 44 on the Oxford Canal, while the rear wheels slipped into tractor-deep wheel trenches so we proceeded at an angle with the danger of ripping off the exhaust pipe.

We drove beyond the bridge to a gateway, turned round and parked on the bridge. I stared over the parapet. From what we could see of the off-side of the canal, which looked exactly like the Google images, and from the lack of signs at any of the cottages we'd passed, The marina was not where we had been taken by the Sat Nav. There was a narrowboat approaching. I descended the rough steps beside the bridge and waited under the bridge, out of the rain, for it to pass through.

As it arrived I called to the helm asking if he knew where Lime Farm Marina was. He didn't know. Just as I was about to turn to walk to the steps up to the track that runs over the bridge, I spotted the name on the side: Petulka. It was in the same uncertain daubed hand I recall seeing it over 10 years ago. "Did your boat come from Littleport", I yelled. "Yes" came the response. "I used to know the previous owner, Tony Clarke" I said. "Hard luck!" was the last words I heard, as the boat proceeded up the cut. Hardly fair! Tony had taken on a project that turned out to be more of a project than he bargained for.

I returned to the car on top of the bridge to find Diana in conversation with a woman who'd walked up from the cottages at the entrance to the road. It seems that many try to get to Lime Farm Marina that way and often get bogged down in the mud. She had come to see if we needed rescuing and to give us directions.

"Left and Left again" had been the instructions from the woman. "Like going round three sides of a square", she had explained. Of course, we failed to make one of the lefts and went off into the wide blue Warwickshire countryside (only on this day it was very grey and very damp!) Eventually, we did find Lime Farm Marina - to be greeted by locked gates. They were low enough to climb over, so I did.

Lime Farm MarinaThe bridge at the entrance to the marina was a disappointing brick, steel and wood affair.

The marina turned out to be created from one of the remnants of the old contour route of the canal, before it was straightened with cuttings and embankments in the mid-1800s. I made my way to the bridge at the where the towpath passed over the entrance to the old route. Given its history I had hoped to see one of the marvellous cast iron bridges, like the one at Hawkesbury Junction, but this was a modern brick affair. There was no access under the bridge on foot and no steps - no way to look up and down the canal to look for Brian's boat.

I had just given up and turned to return to the car, when a bushy beard, with face behind, appeared from a narrowboat resting high on supports, as if for maintenance. "Can I help?" the face said. I explained that I was looking for nb Harnser which I was expecting to be fuelled at the marina this afternoon, and was told that she had re-fuelled some time ago and would be in Coventry by now - or Hillmorton when I told him she was going the other way. I thanked him and returned to Diana. Once back over the gate I gave her the news to be told that Izzie had taken full advantage of the stop in the way that dogs owners do. There was nothing else for it but to make our way to Hillmorton.

Lime Farm MarinaIt was a surprise to see one boat fitted with a wind turbine in such a sheltered site.

I hadn't done enough research about this possibility, so I fed "Hillmorton" into the Sat Nav. That took us to a nondescript place on the outskirts of Rugby. We carried on as I knew the road would take us to the edge of town and that we must cross the canal at some point. That happened as we passed the "Old Royal Oak". We parked there. First I explored south beyond the pub and then walked under the two railway bridges in the hope that we were heading towards the locks. I had assumed from the email that Harnser might stop before the locks for the night. On the other hand, the much earlier fuel filling could mean that he would make it through the flight before night.

The drizzle showed no sign of relenting. Diana was worried about Izzie getting cold and muddy. I volunteered to walk on alone for a bit and see if I could find the locks. The canal wiggles a fair bit at this point and after five minutes or so decided this could be a wild goose chase. I did ask the helm of a passing boat if he recalled seeing Harnser but, unsurprisingly, he couldn't recall it. After another minute walking. I turned back.

Once in the car again, we did make one more attempt to find the locks but ended up at Clifton Wharf instead. I recalled visiting that wharf years ago when looking for a boat to buy, but this time we didn't even bother to get out of the car. So ended the Hunt for Harnser.

Emails that followed indicated that Harnser had got much further that had originally been intended and he was moored at Willoughby, just short of Braunston. However, later that evening, before I saw them, I was surprised by a phone call from Brian. He'd seen my emails reporting how I had spotted Petulka and hadn't realised I had been chasing him.

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