Today is our last full day of the honeymoon period…we had another somewhat lazy start but got going a little earlier than yesterday to try to beat the rain and get a mooring at Stoke Bruerne.
Sarah commented that we don’t normally get to see haystacks when we’re on the canals in the summer time, but they make a lovely sight all stacked up neatly.
About an hour away from the locks at Stoke Bruerne and we had another boat on our tail. Sarah was determined to not let them pass, in case moorings were in short supply, so I pushed the revs up a bit and we stayed in front.
As we reached the bottom lock, we caught up with another boat that was just going in, so we slipped in next to them and went up the locks as a pair. I’m sure the boat behind was somewhat disappointed to now have to wait for us to go up, and then have to go through themselves on their own. I was just glad I’d followed Sarah’s orders and not let them past, or I’d have had an earful!
We went out for a very pleasant curry at the Spice of Bruerne before returning to Oliver for our last night out on the cut.
We came aboard Oliver for our honeymoon, to the wonderful sight of the whole boat bedecked in balloons! (thanks to Lorraine and Sarah’s mum)
It took a while to unload the car, and once done we opened the remaining wedding cards and investigated a couple of wonderful hampers we’d been given – one Yorkshire themed and the other Welsh. Let’s just say we won’t be going hungry this trip!
We stayed put in the marina on Monday night – both of us were too tired to go anywhere, and we also wanted to take Lorraine, Brian and Matt out for dinner to say thank you for all they’d done. The table flowers and canal boat silhouettes were amazing!
Tuesday morning we woke up to lovely sunshine, so we started the engine and set off
We moored up after a few hours in Stoke Bruerne; there’s some strong winds forecast overnight so we wanted to be somewhere secure and it was also perfect for visiting the canal museum there, which we’ve always meant to visit but never quite got around to.
We also enjoyed a wee snack in the cafe there, and a short walk up to the blacksmith’s and along a woodland trail with some sculptures.
A quiet afternoon on board and then we’ll batten down the hatches for overnight – by tomorrow morning all should be calm again, we hope!
With Ann and Martin aboard for the day (see yesterday) we now had extra crew to take on duties. Ann and Martin both tried their hand at steering Oliver; Ann decided it was more relaxing to watch but Martin ended up steering most of the day. Other than a little bump with a hire boat full of drunk blokes on a stag do (more their fault than his!), we got through unscathed!
From Bradford-on-Avon to Bath it’s certainly a lot busier and more touristy than we’ve seen along the rest of the K&A.
We stopped for a very civilized lunch by Claverton visitor moorings. Sarah made some salmon and cream cheese rolls (freshly baked in the oven from part-baked), we had some hummus and dips, and a nice cold glass of wine. Yum!
We saw a few interesting boats too
The Lady Lena is is believed to be the oldest electric launch in existence and still powered by electric. Seeing it serenely pass by in almost total silence was a real treat.
On reaching bath, Ann and Martin got out their folding Bromptons to cycle back to the train station, but not before Sarah and I had a little go on them. It felt a bit wobbly with the little wheels but they’re great little bikes if you have the space to stow them.
It was lovely to have had their company for the day, more converts to the canals perhaps?!?
We made speedier progress today, thanks in part to meeting more boats in either direction which helps with the locks. The locks are definitely a little easier now too, the super-size variety seem to be behind us.
We still had one more of the “turf” locks to go through; these are interesting in that the top sides are just turf banks, weeds and all – so rather leaky but there’s enough water from the Kennet that water supply is rarely an issue. You have to leave the lock empty so the plants can survive.
There are relatively few moored boats alongside except at the official mooring sites – largely perhaps because good mooring spots can be hard to find, and the official moorings are often full by the time we’re looking to stop. So not having to slow for moored boats, and having nice long straights like below, all helped whiz us along today.
We still kept up with using both fore and aft lines though; Sarah multi-tasking both operating the paddles and holding the bow line in.
We had a brief stopover in Kintbury for water, and liked this sign enough to take a picture!
We’d hoped to stop there for the day – there’s a lovely sounding pub that does wood-fired pizzas, but sadly there was no room to moor, so we moved on and ended up in the countryside in a nice quiet spot – provided the trains don’t start too early!
Progress was a little slow today – we certainly notice the difference going upstream on the Kennet compared to downstream on the Thames. The locks along here are enormous, and the gates big and heavy along with it. Sarah found the “stirrup” steps for getting up / down from the lock beams a bit tricky too, missing a couple of times on the way down!
The boat got knocked around a fair bit in the locks; we found the centre rope just wasn’t enough so ended up using both bow and stern lines to keep Oliver steady.
On the plus side, the scenery is very pretty, with most of the river / canal surrounded by countryside up until Thatcham.
We moored up around 4pm, which gave time for Sarah to nip to the co-op to buy even more food supplies, and Toby to give the boat roof a bit of a much-needed wash.
No chicken dinner tonight – but a lovely lamb tagine instead – and then some more America’s cup sailing to watch in the evening.
Today we made it onto the Thames – instead of joining from the end of the Oxford canal, this time we took the turn down Duke’s cut.
The turn off is a little overgrown and an uninspiring start, and some rather derelict looking boats moored up (or not, in the case of one we found adrift!)
but it soon opens out into some lovely river scenery with meadows full of buttercups alongside.
We were happily suprised to find a lock keeper at King’s lock, having thought it wasn’t manned, and for the bargain price of some of Rosemary’s superb chocolate cake, she did all the hard work for us. She also sorted out our EA Thames seve day licence (though that cost us a bit more than just cake!) and then we were ready to go.
The next lock at Godstow was unmanned (one lock keeper manges both, so one or other will always be unmanned), so we had to go self-service. ‘Lancer’ had follows us from King’s lock so we went through together, and had great fun working out what buttons to press, and in what order.
After a lovely journey down through port meadow, under Osney bridge and the Botley road that we so often pass over in the car, we moored up for some dinner, and Barry joined us before taking Rosemary home.
It will feel strange tommorrow just being the two of us once more.
Today we had a good opportunity to train up our new helmswoman Rosemary. The forecast was for some rain later, so she came prepared and wrapped up warm
Luckily conditions started off warm and dry though, and after a few S-shaped courses down the canal Rosemay soon had it cracked and was helming unassisted – or at least until any boats came the other way!
We were entering familiar territory today as we head towards Oxford. We passed the now massive Cropredy marina where we’d once considered basing our boat, and then going through the centre of Banbury made us a bit of a mini tourist attraction for a few minutes, as Sarah and Rosemary stopped the foot-traffic to raise the lift bridge by the shopping centre. We then headed past Aynho and through Somerton deep lock – the deepest narrow lock on the system (along with Tardebigge)
The rain hit us hardest towards the end of the day, but Sarah was well prepared with her Dryz-a-bone jacket from Anne, and her bush-hat from Keith – looking like the consummate Aussie we reckon!
We finished up in Heyford, where we enjoyed a short walk up the hill to The Bell Inn for dinner, which Rosemary kindly treated us to. The pub may be familar to some of our readers from a previous trip doing the Thames ring!
The paint job is nearing completion now, and Dave Moore’s done a fantastic job on the new signwriting as you can see in the picures below. The reflection of the scaffold boards makes it a little confusing to look at mind!