The First Rainy Day

It was a bit gloomy when we first looked out this morning and the forecast was showing a gap in the rain between 9 and 11 so we took our time and started out at 8:45.  After 15 minutes there was some light rain but it was not worth worrying about.  The water seemed a little higher this morning but two boats going towards Cropredy still found the ground on a couple of corners.

Rather dull compared with last night

We reached our mooring just before bridge 124 at about 9:50 and surprise, surprise there was Straight ’N’ Narrow.  They had passed us yesterday evening and decided that this was a good place to overnight.  We joined them for coffee and Romy provided some of her super duper home made cookies.  They said they were going to head off to Napton this afternoon which they did in spite of the by now fairly persistent rain.

Cox and Box

Looking out from our bow brings to mind The Elephant’s Child, in the Just So Stories, in which he described the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River.  The Oxford Canal at this point may not be greasy but it does look grey-green and not very appetising.

Grey-Green ….

Peter seems to be accident prone and can never get to the end of any trip without losing something.  This time it is Oliver’s tiller pin which is a lovely chromed figure of Oliver with his begging bowl from Dickens’ Oliver Twist.  There will now be a world wide search for a replacement.  A search of the very muddy canal bottom with the sea magnet and a very small fishing net was not successful.  All I fished up was black mud.

6pm and it’s still raining.

I felt a need to put in a more cheery picture and this one is at Slat Mill Lock late on Sunday evening.

Slat Mill Lock

Bottoms up or water’s down

We were awake quite early this morning.  As we spotted a boat coming down “our” lock we decided to take advantage and set off at 7:35.  This turned out to be an excellent choice as we had every lock in our favour.  They were either ready to open, had just a couple of inches of water in them or another boat just coming down.

Some of the locks had had a bit of first aid (plastic tape bandaid) but apparently were still awaiting  proper attention after several months.  We again noticed some very strong water flows pushing Oliver forward in the locks and the ground paddles needed to be raised cautiously.

Bandaid

We reached the Top Lock (17) having seen three boats queuing at one lock to come down and another three or four at different places.  There was only one boat behind us during the entire flight.

At the summit
Crikey, this one’s a bit tight (Bridge 142)

We had been warned that the water levels were very low all along the summit and particularly in Fenny “Tunnel”.  This news was accurate.  Passing other boats was a bit fraught with one or the other often ending up aground, though the bottom seemed quite soft in many places.  On some corners the very shallow water made turning a bit like steering a car on ice.  Full rudder, a goodly number of revs on the engine and the boat just went straight ahead!  Somehow we miraculously avoided actually getting stuck or hitting anything.  We heard stories of others who were not so lucky.

Fenny “Tunnel”

After the trials of the Fenny “Tunnel” we had considered stopping in Fenny Compton.  We moored up briefly on the outskirts, checked out the opportunities and decided to move on.  We tried a few places in the area of bridge 132 but all were too shallow.  We kept going until 14:35 when we found some Armco barriers with a reasonable depth of water just before bridge 129.  By 7pm this had become a very popular stopping place but boats were still passing by in both directions.

Black clouds gathered not long after we arrived but the rain predicted for much earlier in the day has still not arrived.

Darkening clouds and strong wind

We think we will probably move up to the moorings just before bridge 124 tomorrow and sit out the rain.  This will not be very demanding, will charge the batteries, heat the water and position us very nicely to get through Napton on Wednesday.  We will then be ready for Braunston Locks and Tunnel on Thursday.  But hey! Who knows?  Perhaps the sun will shine again tomorrow.

Fake News

The canal at Banbury was as busy on Sunday as it was on Saturday with the first boats on the move at 7am.  Not us this time we didn’t leave until 12:55 after replenishing supplies at M&S.

Unusually for us on this trip we met boats at each of the two locks one in front going up and one or two waiting to come down.

We found the ground paddles at Hardwick and Bourton Locks quite vicious and having taken some care opening them still needed quite a bit of reverse to maintain position.

We saw a rather spectacular display of Rosebay Willowherb in a field next to Bourton Lock and could not resist a photo.

Rosebay Willowherb, by Bourton Lock

We had asked several people who had come to Banbury from Cropredy about moorings out in the country on the way.  They had all been quite negative saying there were very few places and shallow water in the banks.  Fake News – well mostly.  We tried the banks in a few odd places and they were shallow but just before Slat Mill Lock (26) we were surprised to find a fairly long run of steel clad bank with deep water all along.  It is in fact several inches deeper than we need. We moored here, at 14:45, and walked into Cropredy taking a depth gauge (aka long stick marked with gaffer tape).  On the way we found numerous similar places ideal for mooring and with lots of water.  We were rather surprised at the sate of some of the boats moored just on the edge of Cropredy a few of which looked sadly neglected.

In need of TLC

We stopped at the Brasenose Arms for a drink and when we walked into the bar there were the Straight ’N’ Narrow crew Billy and Lynda.  We had a couple of drinks and a couple of words.  None of us is very talkative so there wasn’t much to discuss!

A very attractive village sign

We had a very enjoyable stroll back to Oliver although some cows challenged our rights to the canal on the way.

Get that boat out of my drinking water

We arrived just in time for our evening meal and found one other boat had joined us in this excellent spot.

Troubles there are so much rarer ……

Anyone recognised the song yet?

Banbury by boat

The first picture today shows the view we had last night from Oliver as the sun finally set.  What a lovely setting!  Then this morning it was another bright and sunny day and as you can see not too many people around.  Well it was only 7:30 when we left to go to Banbury.

Silence apart from the birds and a few sheep
The perfect morning

It was not such a pretty journey as yesterday’s although the banks were, in places, lined by a good variety of flowers including meadow sweet, purple loosestrife, greater and rosebay willow herb and some we could not identify.

Say what you will the countryside is still ….
We really should buy a vase!

The lock at Aynho is another of those strangely shaped ones.  Although shallow its gates were quite resistant.

Aynho Weird Lock

We had decided to moor at the first opportunity at Banbury as were not sure how easy it would be to find a space but … the visitor moorings on the outskirts of the town were really pretty dreadful, one lot right opposite a smelly iron works of some sort.  We found somewhere just about acceptable and out came the bike again.  After a short distance it became clear that there were about five or six places left on the main visitor moorings in town so we moved on to one of those.  This is a much more pleasant environment altogether but very busy.  We had intended to stay in Banbury tomorrow but may move on, after replenishing our food stocks, to another rural idyll, if we can find one close to Cropredy.

Banbury, Castle Quay

We took our laundry to Cotton Clouds in Broad Street and had a quick lunch while we waited.  We have not done this for years but decided to try the local McDonalds.  The food was OK but we will not be repeating the experiment for a good many more years.

During our wander around Banbury we found a special treat for Sarah, a Victorian letter box that has been in service ever since 1857.

For Sarah

A Rural Delight

We cast off at 7:45 today.  It was another lovely morning with a sky that looked as if it was stuffed with cotton wool balls.

Cotton wool sky

In fact the whole day was most enjoyable.  It remained hot and quite sunny up until around 3pm but there were always a few clouds around and quite a number of shady areas under the trees so there was some respite from the sun.

Shipton Weir Lock, which could perhaps be Shipton Weird Lock, is hexagonal, or octagonal if you count the gates, and has warning lights which are doubtless very helpful when the Cherwell is in spate.  As we passed it was very sedate.

Shipton Weird Lock

Northbrook Lock was really hard work and an earlier user had put a notice on the gates saying how they were unable to fill it until a wave came from the lock above.  Being a honed athlete Peter managed to crack the gate open enough to let some additional water in!

Just to prove that Peter is superhuman and does everything, Romy took some pictures on her latest beloved gadget.

Jack of all trades? No rude comments! Dashwoods Lock

We saw a few more boats today but not many hire boats.

Oxfordshire Narrowboats. Shouldn’t you be out?

In fact every lock had been in our favour until Allen’s Lock.

We had planned on stopping somewhere around Heyford Common Lock but Straight ’n’ Narrow, who we caught up with at Allen’s Lock,  and a couple of other boats had said that the gates at Somerton Deep Lock were extremely hard to move.  So we decided to push on past this while there were several boats around rather than face that obstacle early the next morning.  Straight ’n’ Narrow’s owners have a grandson named Oliver and had been trying to get a photo of Oliver since they first saw us several days ago.

Entering Somerton Deep Lock
Looking back from Somerton

Pearson says that the Oxford Canal is at its most charming and sublime between Thrupp and Heyford.  We certainly found it a most attractive section all the way to the other side of Somerton Deep Lock where we moored just beyond the lifting bridge 193.  This is a quiet rural place just far enough from the railway.

Qunitessential English countryside at Dashwoods Lock

 

 

A day of “R & R” or was that yesterday?

The forecast predicted thunderstorms so we had already decided to stay in Thrupp for the day.  Fatigue may have been an additional factor but we can’t admit to that.  In reality apart from a few drops of rain on three occasions it was hot, dry and sunny all day.  We were however quite happy doing not a lot.

We had a walk including a brief visit to the co-op about a mile or so along the towpath.  This gave us another chance to check out the moorings and the situation was  similar to yesterday with very few free spaces anywhere desirable.

We sat in Oliver’s folding chairs reading our books in the evening and that was strenuous enough for us with the temperature at 8pm still 26C.

As it is looking as if it might be another scorcher tomorrow we are considering an even earlier start, maybe.  So we wish you all a very good night.

Meeting the locals

Wednesday morning and another early start as we were scheduled to meet Rosemary at Sandford Lock.  Abingdon Lock took a little longer than we expected as, even though we had discussed the workings with the Lock Keeper the previous day, the lights were a tad confusing and we were all on our own.  A steady red light next to an instruction saying “Close Sluices”.  What does it mean – actually it means Open Sluices they are already closed!  They then open very slowly (as the notice says) but even then it is surprisingly slow and in about 4 separate stages.  Phew!  Safely through after about half an hour and we were on our way.

The sign says Oxford 8½ and we took this to be miles but by the time we reached Thrupp it was around 8½ hours.

A sign of the times?

We passed an enormous motocross track that we subsequently found is called Culham Park and holds championship races.

Culham Park – an unusual sight from the river

We were just about spot on time at 10 am to meet Rosemary and were, of course, delighted to have a third crew member join us.  The day was really starting to warm up now.

It was too hot for this heron to bother to fly away as we went by.

Can’t be bothered

We took the Port Meadow/Duke’s Cut route to join the Oxford Canal and greatly enjoyed the very different scenery this provided.

The Camargue?

The Lock Keeper at Godstow managed to confuse us by saying he had heard from Sarah that we had some very tasty cookies.  He meant Sarah from the previous lock at Osney who had phoned him specially to make sure he was at the lock to get his cooky and not out mowing grass!

Although we were pleased to have chosen this route all the wiggles and sharp bends, some made extremely sharp by the placement of red buoys, meant we travelled pretty slowly after Godstow.  The numerous moored boats, some in a dreadful state, and a tree three quarters of the way across the river made the journey “interesting”!

Sharp practice

Duke’s Lock added two additional features.  A fox calmly walked across the lock gates while we watched and the lower gate would not open fully so we had to have fenders up to get in.

It really was HOT and it seemed to take an age to reach the outskirts of Thrupp where we started looking for a mooring.  We took the first one after bridge 244 but it was a bit scrubby and within yards of the busy A4260 so not very desirable.

Out came the bike and Peter peddled off along the tow path.  Things looked rather unpromising as there were long stretches with signs saying permanent moorings permit holders only.  The places where there were 2 day or longer moorings were all full.  Richard and Jane had suggested trying the Cruising Club to see if they had any spaces that we could use.  Peter found their office and an extremely helpful warden found that they had two spaces that were large enough for us.  This enabled us to move on to a delightful mooring just past the lifting bridge 221.

Another fine mooring

We met Toby and Sarah here later in the evening, divested ourselves of the anchor and had a very convivial dinner at The Boat Inn.  Thank you Toby and Sarah for dinner and thank you Rosemary for your company on this somewhat hot and tiring day.

Abingdon by boat and boot

Our first and only lock today was Culham Lock and the keeper arrived just as we were getting ready to operate it ourselves which made it nice and easy.  A few more red kites and herons but little else moving on the river.  This gave us lots of time to set up selfies!

Hand in glove

We had decided to get a pump out at Abingdon and used the Abingdon Boat Centre just before the bridge.  Very nice thorough and pleasant service if a trifle expensive at £19.  It’s a good job we did not need diesel as their price averaged out at £1.15.  We topped up the water while waiting.

Although there are lots of moorings in Abingdon there were not all that many vacant spaces but we found a most acceptable spot on the right bank as we look at it.

We wandered into town for lunch and had a decent meal at The Broad Face before a walking tour of the locale.  Part of our walk took us along the side of the river opposite Oliver and gave us an opportunity for a picture we are rarely able to get.  On the way back we returned over the weir and lock.

Oliver in his element
A closer look
The Weir
A great place for a spot of fishing

We had a good chat with the lock keepers who take a pride in the appearance of their lock and seem to get lots of fun enhancing the garden with interesting carvings.  They have obviously had trouble with some boaters lacking understanding of rudimentary navigation.

Wood you believe it?
A hint for non navigators?

A Great Spot

Today’s plan was to stop off in Wallingford (aka Causton in Midsommer Murders), do some shopping and a bit of site seeing and then find a nice country mooring.  There are plenty shown in Pearson.  But on this stretch of The Thames Pearson is about as much good as a chocolate teapot when it comes to moorings.  They may show lots but they simply do not exist and many of the banks are very shallow in the edges.

So the first part of the plan went very smoothly.  It was a lovely day.  There were very few boats and we almost had the river to ourselves.

Alone on The Thames

We had a relaxed lunch on board while moored in Wallingford and then started to meander our way along the river.  We passed yoghurt pot heaven at Benson the home of Le Boat.

Wallingford Bridge boasts 17 arches but only 5 span the river and I could not manage to get any more than those shown below in one picture.  I think I managed 11.

Wallingford Bridge
The Town Hall, Wallingford
Le Boat – Plastique

At 15:15 Romy experienced, what for her, has been the highlight of the whole trip.  She saw the first kingfisher she has ever seen.  This highly cooperative bird actually made a circuit of Oliver just for her.  We also saw quite a number of red kites and a couple of herons.

We were happy in the knowledge that moorings were numerous until, one after the other, we realised that they were figments of someone’s imagination.  Passing Clifton Hampden we had visions of carrying on to Abingdon.

At Clifton Lock we struck some bad luck.  The lock was self service and the previous boat had messed it up so the electrics were not working.  It took a lot of turns of the wheels to work it manually but we managed.  While we were waiting Peter was looking at the possibility of mooring on the lock bollards after exiting the lock and to his great surprise and joy he found that there was an official 24 hour mooring with space for two boats.  A yp was already there but there was just room for Oliver.  It is a lovely mooring in a delightful well protected spot, probably one of the best of the trip so far.  We reported to the Lock Keeper, as there is supposed to be a charge for the mooring, but he said he was on leave!  He said if we leave early, which we do most days, we will be gone before the morning shift arrives at 9am.

Clifton Lock
Oh! What a lovely mooring
And it’s legit!

The hickory smoked beef bought earlier from Waitrose made a very tasty dish for dinner.

A Tale of two rivers

We left our mooring at 8:20 this morning with the somewhat infamous Fobney Lock a few hundred metres ahead.  Toby performed an immaculate pick up at the tricky exit and we were on our way to Reading.  It was early enough in the morning for the crowds to still be in bed and we hardly saw any gongoozlers.  One press of the button and the traffic lights turned to green and at Blake’s Lock we caught up with a boat that had passed our mooring earlier in the morning. We have some nice little pieces of GoPro video of this section which may eventually see the light of day!

Reading beach
Ladies in charge

The turn onto The Thames brought a completely different feel to the day and a change to the scenery.  We were into deep wide water and soon there were some elegant waterside properties to admire.  At Caversham we met Toby’s friend Praveen and his wife.  They declined our offer of a short trip but kindly supplied us with some very tasty and spicy bread.

Our first Thames Lock at Caversham

We had considered mooring at Goring (wonderfully poetic) but it seemed that other boats wanted to race, in a competition to get any available spaces there.  We just relaxed and let them play silly whatsits.  Toby and Sarah had to catch a train or bus back to Oxford and Goring was the best choice for that so they helped us through the unattended Goring Lock and departed for the train.

It was sad to see Toby and Sarah leave as we had had a great couple of days together and had really appreciated their help.

Hand in hand

Now we are going to have to get back to working a lot harder!

We continued through Cleeve Lock, which was still attended, and found a delightful spot on the bank almost opposite the Leatherne Bottel after threading our way through a sailing race.  It was very hot and sunny so we sat and relaxed watching the wild life and quite a variety of boats passing by.

A delightful spot
Where’s my dinner?

It seems we were lucky to pick a spot where the water was quite deep near the edge.  A passer by remarked that she had never been able to moor here except about five hundred metres further on where there was a gate, that they used as a marker, and the water there was consistently deep near the edge.