1973 – 4 Bexhill, Bittern, Grebe,(Guillemot)

Bexhill and Bittern

A three-boat trip, two Salford, one Newcastle,  Bittern and Grebe left the Rugby base at 16.30 on the first day, when it would be already dark and proceeded as far as Braunston, including the passage of Hillmorton locks.  Bexhill set off from Braunston and met Bittern at Stockton Brook. Martin Tordoff kept brief diary notes of Bittern’s trip, which are reproduced below.

I particularly like Martin’s diary entry for the evening of New Year’s Day: “Meal, Pub, Indian Meal”!  No slacking there!

The notes also contain a reference to a hold up at Stockton Brook due to dry pounds and presumably this was the occasion that we went to the Boat Inn and drank some excellent Draught Bass.

The “Newcastle” boat, Grebe,  broke down two miles from the boatyard and had to be replaced by Guillemot, which was clearly not ready for action, having a broken toilet, a broken water heater and flat batteries! This caused a considerable delay as it had to be brought from Rugby and it took Guillemot until New Year’s Eve to catch the other boats up.  It seems remarkable now that the Navigation at Lapworth was happy to accommodate 29 scruffy boaters on New Year’s Eve! The batteries were flat in Birmingham so were taken on to Bexhill, which then went on a trip round the Soho loop to charge them up.

The crew on Bittern decided to take in the Tame Valley Canal and had a very difficult time (see Martin’s notes below) at one point being two days behind schedule!

Dates: 29th December 1973 to 5th January 1974 (6th January 1974 for Bittern!)

Boats:  Bexhill, camping boat from Union Canal Carriers at Braunston, “Bittern”  cabin boat from Willow Wren, Rugby and “Grebe” (replaced by Guillemot) also from Willow Wren.


Bexhill – Jim Davies, Hugh Mowat,  Gwen Trippett(?) plus three others (6)

Bittern – Steve Bacon and Heather, Pete and Sally Challis, Phil Clarke, Mark Doran, David Goatman, Martin Tordoff, Mike ?, Gill ?, Frank ? Karen? (12)

Grebe (Guillemot) – Susie von Bergen, Martin Bird, Ian Brown, Steve Greenfield, Ken Harrop, Nick Holt, Mike Piet,  Duncan Roberts*, Hilary Smith, Suszanne Wood, Grahame Yard, Jill? (12)

*Martin’s notes say that Duncan was on “Bexhill” but Hilary’s notes and photos show him on Guillemot. I have a recollection that Duncan may have changed boats at some stage?


Bexhill:  Braunston, Grand Union, Wigrams Turn, Stockton Brook, Hatton, GU route to Birmingham, BCN, Soho loop, Birmingham, Birmingham & Fazeley to Fazeley, Coventry Canal to Hawkesbury Junction, Oxford Canal to Braunston.

Bittern:  Rugby, Oxford Canal to Braunston, Grand Union to Wigrams Turn, Stockton Brook, Hatton, GU route to Birmingham, BCN New Main Line, Wednesdbury Old Canal, Tame Valley Canal, Salford Junction, Birmingham & Fazeley to Fazeley, Coventry Canal to Hawkesbury Junction, Oxford Canal to Rugby.

Grebe: Rugby. The boat broke down two miles from the boatyard. It was replaced by Guillemot the following day and the trip resumed at 11.00am.

Guillemot: After replacing Grebe, Guillemot followed the same route as Bexhill, catching up with the other boats at Lapworth on New Year’s Eve.


Saturday, 29th December: A pub in Braunston (not recorded). The crew on Grebe “tramped”  to the Jolly Abbot on the outskirts of Rugby.

Sunday, 30th December: Stag’s Head, Offchurch. Grebe, which hadn’t caught up yet stopped at the Blue Lias, Stockton.

Monday, 31st December: Navigation, (M&B) Lapworth

Tuesday, 1st January:  The Longboat and the Prince of Wales (both Ansells) in Birmingham, followed by a curry on Broad Street. Some of the crews went to the cinema instead.

Wednesday 2nd January Bittern: Unknown pub near M5 aqueduct on Tame Valley Canal. Other boats: Not recorded but they stopped for the night at Curdworth.

Thursday, 3rd January Bittern: Bexhill and Guillemot at the New Swan, Atherstone followed by a fish and chip supper.

Friday, 4th January Bittern: Stuck in middle of channel at Polesworth! Guillemot stopped for a lunchtime drink in the Greyhound at Sutton Stop and for the night at the Railway Arms at Brinklow. Bexhill’s stop is not recorded.

Saturday, 5th January  Bittern: Not recorded. Other boats back at base and handed over in morning.


Jim’s rather poor quality and Martin’s much better photos are on this Flickr link. I’ve also now added some of Hilary’s prints and scanned slides from Steve Bacon

Martin’s Diary 

  1. New Year 1973/74 – Rugby – BCN– Coventry Canal – Atherstone
  •  Sat 29th Dec – Bus [from Cleckheaton] to Leeds, 0822 to B/ham, Cl 47. InterCity to Coventry, emu to Rugby. Looked round, then found boat “Bittern” 12-berth 70’ X 7’. 3-cylinder air-cooled diesel. Left at 1630 Oxford Canal; to Hillmorton Locks and on to Braunston. Meal. Pub.On the boat: Me, Mark Doran, Phil Clarke, David Goatman, Steve Bacon & Heather, Pete & Sally Challis, Mike ? & Gill, Frank ? & Karen (12)
  • Sun 30th Dec – Oxford Canal to Napton Jct. G Union to Offchurch, Rain at first. Walk into Stockton. Lock pounds dry. Met Duncan Roberts and five others on camping-boat. Waited for locks. On to Offchurch (Nr Leamington). Meal. Pub. Mark poorly.
  • Mon 31st Dec– Clear, bright & frosty, Leamington, Warwick – walk round. Up Hatton Locks (21) to Lapworth for night. Newcastle Uni boat caught up. Meal. Pub for evening (29 of us). There until 1215 [presumably 0015!] [Which pub? This question answered in 75/76 notes.] (The Navigation at Lapworth, Jim)
  • Tue 1st Jan– Cold & frosty. Broke starting-handle. Ran to catch other boat. Grand Union to B/ham. Digbeth Branch, Ashted Locks, Left up Farmer’s Bridge Locks to Gas St Basin. Meal. Pub. Indian meal with Jim Davies and others.
  • Wed 2nd Jan  – (The day the trouble started) Very cold. Icy. “Main Line” of BCN & W/Hampton Level to Tame Valley Jct. Very low bridge at foot of eight locks. (Ryders Green, Jim) Pete cut face – hospital [a flying windlass!] TVC frozen. Boat grounded repeatedly. Prop fouled then stuck in ice. Hauled by rope to Stone Cross (aqueduct over M5) Meal. Pub. (No further mention of Pete!, Jim)
  • Thu 3rd Jan – (More trouble) Very cold again. ½” ice. Stuck again in TVC. Bought wire-cutters, drained pound in Perry Barr Locks and freed prop. Salford Jct. down Fazeley Canal to Curdworth. Stuck repeatedly . Pub. Small meal. Karen poorly.
  • Fri 4th Jan– Warmer. Two days behind schedule. Down to Fazeley. Right up Coventry Canal to Polesworth. Prop fouled again. High winds, blowing boat into bank. Unmanageable. Spent night stuck in middle of canal by WCML. Very heavy rain. Meal. Had to stay on boat.
  • Sat 5th Jan – 0600 start. Freed boat, but still wet and too windy. Got to Atherstone Locks for lunchtime. Had to leave for home. Emu from Atherstone to Nuneaton. I/City to Rugby, Emu to B/ham. 1550 to Leeds (Cl 45). Bus home.

Mike Piet’s Diary


Canal 1973-74 (Birmingham Circuit) Grebe > Guillemot from Rugby
Saturday 29 Dec Train from Euston 10.06. Rugby 15.00. Engine failure 2 miles from boatyard. Tramp to ‘Jolly Abbot’.
Sunday 30 Dec Boat change Grebe to Guillemot. Set off 11.00. Braunston. Stockton flight in dark. Stopped at ‘Blue Lias’ in Long Itchington – aircraft in car park.
Monday 31 Dec Frozen up (did they give us the wrong gas and we had to defrost the cylinders?). Travelling with Helen on Petrel. Shop in Leamington. Water at ‘Cape’. Hatton flight in 1 hour 35 minutes with Petrel – 5 minutes more than record (boats never stopped moving horizontally or vertically as all the locks were fully manned!). Met Bexhill & Bittern at Lapworth. New Year’s Eve in ‘Navigation’.
Tuesday 1 Jan Bexhill as icebreaker until prop fouled. Rubbish in Birmingham. Stopped top of Farmer’s Bridge. Some went to cinema. Ken, Steve, me and Bexhill crew to ‘Longboat’ & ‘Prince of Wales’ & curry place on Broad Street.
Wednesday 2 Jan Shopping in Birmingham. Fiddled with pump. Batteries flat – Bexhill took them for ride to charge. Late away. Low pounds on Aston flight. Dark under Gravelly Hill. Press on to Curdworth. Bexhill further behind but caught up. Bittern on Tame Valley.
Thursday 3 Jan Early start. Fish & chips in Fazeley. Stuck in Polesworth. Caught up camper in Atherstone. Walk into town. ‘New Swan’. Fish & chips afterwards.
Friday 4 Jan Early start. Water at top of flight. Caught up by camper. Rain. Pass through ‘Civilia’ (this was a planning project to create a new city on derelict land in Hartshill Quarry – it did not happen!). Lunchtime drink at ‘Greyhound’ in Hawksworth. Stop at ‘Railway Arms’ Stretton – piano and singsong. Passed by camper.
Saturday 5 Jan Latish up. Rain. Arrive Rugby 9.40. Wait on Rugby Station for an hour for 11.20 train to London.
Crew: no crew list in diary.

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