Day 12 – Thanks For The Memories

Our final morning on Oliver, and yet again, Toby was happy to stay in bed! After wiping the bird mess off the front cratch cover, we set off just after 9am for the short hop back to Weltonfield Marina.

Apart from the locks, Toby and I have been no further than 60ft apart all holiday.

We arrived back at 10am for a pump out – time to cross our legs or use the onsite loo from now on!

We couldn’t resist taking a photo of this lovely little boat in the marina called Toby – it’s just had a fit out and the owner is proud as punch and keen to show it off.

We needed to get Oliver ship shape for sale, it’s times like this when you wish you owned a shorter boat! The mooring is really handy as the bank is at the water level, so we were able to reach the low bits. We washed the roof, and the side of Oliver.

Toby’s favourite job and cleaning the water tank at the bow of the boat! Luckily we have a water pump to drain the tank, and Toby did some rust busting, tomorrow Toby will paint the inside with a rust protector – it gives you an idea of the size of the tank.

I was on painting duty, and blacking the side of the boat. It’s where all the bumps and scrapes are, so a nice shiny side makes all the difference.

We’ve had six wonderful years with Oliver, travelling around the canal and river network, and making the most wonderful memories. We couldn’t have done it without our network of family, colleagues and friends old and new – thank you.

Oliver has been a safe haven during tough times and a place for celebration during the good times. I’ll miss the whistling kettle, the care free days in the sunshine, and most of all the endless hours spent at the stern with Toby.

This is post number 341, the last with Oliver. Here’s to new adventures in 2021 and new blog posts……

Day 11 – Last Night on the Cut

Tonight will be our last night aboard Oliver out on the cut, as tomorrow we’ll be back in the marina, and then Oliver will be up for sale. But worry not, new adventures await us for next year!

It was straight to T-shirt and shorts this morning, it was a lovely balmy warm start to the day with the sun shining and the birds singing.

Everyone is making the most of the canals, it’s been crazy busy with boats and the empty hire-boat moorings give testament to that. We spoke to a couple of different hire boaters who both said they’d looked to hire elsewhere, but couldn’t get a boat anywhere except on the Oxford. Poor old Oxford canal, it’s not feeling the love but it’s certainly busy!

We had a nice little stretch before Braunston with no locks, but boats not far in front and behind so we all moved along like a grand procession.

It wasn’t just boaters all moving together, these sheep were too. All that space and they’re nearly falling in the canal to fit around one tree!

There was a nice sense of order looking at these fields. We’re not sure why they’re in stripes like this but it looks good and we like it. There’s some pretty impressive machinery out and about too.

Sarah thought that the first boat below looked like it was really cool back in the day, slightly reminiscent of the A-Team. I preferred the second boat, what an awesome name 🙂

All too soon we reached Braunston and the locks. We went up the first lock with a hire boat and 3 crew which was great, but then in front of us another boat which had been coming down decided to turn and head our way. So we ended up going through the locks with them instead, but worry not, there were more boats coming up behind so the other crew still had company!

After the locks it’s only a few minutes until the tunnel. Sarah steered, and was quite lucky in that we only had to pass one other boat. We wondered why their light kept appearing and disappearing… as we got closer it turned out that the guy was just using a hand-held torch in one hand, and tiller in the other – although he did have port and starboard lights which greatly helped. It was a brand new sail-away, i.e. the boat was fitted with an engine and not much else! We also had another boat quite close behind us, which helped light our way quite nicely.

Once through the tunnel we moored up for the day. Plans of doing any chores went awry when Sarah had a bit of a fall putting the engine boards back – she’s ok but got a cracker of a bruise on her leg. So we had a bit of a rest instead – plenty of time for chores another day!

Day 10 – September Sunshine

We heard the first boat cast off at 6.45, I saw Toby look at the clock and knew there was no chance of Toby moving! It was a get up and go morning for us, with a cast off of 8.15, all done by Toby while I did breakfast and get the inside of Oliver sorted. There was morning dew and low sunshine, a wonderful September morning to be on the canals.

There is quite a lot of evidence of HS2 on the Oxford Canal, some boaters see it as much needed, although the majority seem to hate it.

Toby’s back is still sore, so I locked and Toby helmed. I did some helming on the non lock bits, it lovely this time of year to see the hawthorn berries, rosehips, sloes, blackberries and crab apples.

We reached the top of the flight at 10am which is when we thought the lock keepers opened the top lock, it was in fact 9am so there was only a queue of three boats in front of us – one was a hireboat called American Thrush, what a name, we did chuckle to ourselves.

Enjoying the sunshine in the queue. We were glad of our hats.

It was one up and one done at all but the very last lock. There was some interesting steering by some boaters, including a couple who were new, they were even wearing life jackets which seemed a bit over the top when the pounds were low and boats were running aground, you’d be able to stand up no problem.

We went past the field with the water buffalo, it looks like this fella cooled off with a nice mud bath.

I was fast turning in to an oompa lumpa and getting hotter and redder after each lock. We decided to moor up not long after the bottom lock at about 1.30.

Cake supplies were running low so I made a batch of brownies, I’m afraid it is a packet mix, but sometimes needs must, we’ll let you know if they’re any good tomorrow.

An evening planned watching the last two episodes of Cobra Kai……with a piece of cake, yum!

Day 9 – Squash at the Lock

Today was a day of fruit and veg, and lots of sunshine. You’d think it was the height of summer, I even had to get my shorts out (luckily found lurking at the back of a cupboard).

We started out from Cropredy after lingering a while in bed for morning tea and coffee. I’m not one for early starts, as Sarah might have hinted at once or twice in previous posts!

We had a bit of a queue at the locks – a small backlog of boats had built up whilst the CRT guys held a lock open to let some more water through, as the pound below Cropredy was still pretty low from the day before. There were only a few of us though so we weren’t delayed for long, and we had a very friendly crew ahead of us who often stayed back and helped Sarah out which was lovely of them.

At one lock we met a guy with some impressive dreadlocks, who didn’t seem too happy with all the boats on the South Oxford, let alone all the new boats that would be coming to fill the new marina basin at Cropredy. I guess we should all just leave it for him to enjoy in peace!

The vlockie at Claydon also seemed to believe in leaving people in peace; he spent most of his time sat in his chair texting his mates or whatever he was doing. He did open one paddle once, in about 3 or 4 rotations of boats through the lock!

Not that Sarah was bothered – she still loves doing the locks, luckily for me 🙂

Once through Claydon, it’s a clear run of about 11 miles before the next locks at Marston Doles. We met a fair few boats coming the other way, including one going rather too fast around the blind bends for his ability, but we managed to put on a burst of speed and dodge out the way in time.

Luckily we didn’t have any oncoming boats through the narrows of the old Fenny Tunnel, it looked a bit of a tight squeeze for two.

After a quick “I do” under the wedding bridge (no idea why it’s called that – anyone know?), and another couple of big bends, we moored up for the day at “Interlude.Drooling.Crate“.

Tomorrow we have a nice easy start with no locks for an hour or two until Marston Doles (which don’t open until 10am due to water shortages); the weather looks like it’s going to be scorching hot and full of sunshine so we should be in for a cracker of a day.

Day 8 – Toby To The Rescue

Today’s plan was a short hop to Cropredy, with an ETA of lunchtime. As always, it’s not easy getting Toby to get his lovely little bottom out of bed! We were just getting ready to cast off and a single handed green boat went past us – very much on the go slow – I did remind Toby of the early bird catching the worm!

We slowly made our way to Banbury following the green boat, we made it to the first lock and luckily for us, he wanted to go through the lock, wind and come back down – perfect! I had two willing little helpers, and dad to help push the gates.

We were soon through Banbury and out in the countryside again. Toby’s back is playing up, similar in location to his slipped disc, we we were back to our usual roles of Toby helming and me locking.

We came across this huge field planted densely with young trees. A local gentleman sat on the bench at the lock said it was HS2 who are planting new forests to replace those lost with the works.

Every passing boat advised of a very low water pound between Slat Mill Lock and Cropredy lock, and to keep to the middle channel. We could see how low the water level was with the exposed banks.

Some way back from the lock, we could see a queue of boats. Toby dropped me off at the bow and I went off to investigate , it was an old working boat with a deep draught that had got stuck, it had taken them 2 hours to travel between locks, something that should have taken only 15 mins. Three of us were pushing the boat using poles, and boat in front called Toby (sorry, no picture), was in full throttle and pulling the boat forward. We all made it round the next bend to chaos with another boat stuck and going from left to right, but unable to go forward. Once past the Cropredy lock, the water level was fine and we moored up.

We moored and had lunch on board – Toby’s freshly baked bread from this morning, some hummus and cheese. We wandered up to the local shop and topped up essential supplies (milk, bananas and 2 x choc orange fingers!). We couldn’t resist an ice cream on our way back to Oliver.

It was then time for some chores and getting Oliver ready for sale. I washed down the cratch cover and cleaned the kitchen cupboards, while Toby spruced up the bathroom radiator using crushed aluminium foil (an internet find) and brasso.

Day 7 – Bacon Saved…Or Not!

It was a chilly morning, and probably the coldest we’ve had so far. We both woke up to the sound of grass being torn, I peered under the blinds to see a cow looking at me – I don’t know who was more shocked!

Today we’ve had two hire boats who have really pi$$ed us off! Below are the first lot who watched while I helped a single-hander up the locks, they finally came over and I said it’s encouraged to help each other (thinking they were new), she then tells me they’ve been boating for 20 years! She then goes on to tell me what an awful year they’ve had having to work through Covid and not having a holiday – I really had to bite my tongue – try having to shield, continue your cancer treatment and then get brain tumours… I can trump you any day!! But unusually for me, I just smiled as she whinged on.

We had only one lock to ourselves today, all the other locks had boaters either side.

This boater was moored on the other side waiting for the lock, goodness knows how they managed to get over to that side, we heard quite a few knocks as the boat went in the lock.

We found the other welly!

Toby identifying a tree using google lens, the tree is a white willow.

The other hire-boater pulled out right in front of us – bad form when you’ve got locks in front of you. We got to the lock and Toby got off, He just sat on the seat with his arms crossed not entering into conversation, and waited for them to finish the lock. It’s not often Toby is hacked off, but when he is, you know it.

The lock below is of an unusual design in it’s diamond shaped. It’s that shape to allow more water to flow through the lock (it’s only 8 inches), as the next lock is Somerton Deep lock which is 12 ft.

We came across three lovely young single-handers travelling back to London. This is Caitlin, she moved on to her boat at 18 and is studying at UCL, we loved the footstool in the bag of coal, but I think she could do with another to see over the plants.

We stopped for lunch at The Pig Place which is on the canal bank and was started by a couple on a narrowboat. We had to raft up to the offending boat as there was no space, the lady said she was OK with it, to which I said well you’ll have to be as you pulled out in front of us. We didn’t speak again funnily enough! We enjoyed the most delicious (think M&S advert music) pork and apple burger with smoked cheese and onions on a brioche bun. It was fun to see chickens at our feet, and I was particularly taken by the building made of old doors.

We decided to moor up before Banbury but after the M40 as it’s really quite noisy with the constant hum of the traffic. I came across the perfect spot, but no, Toby wanted to carry on. We turned the bend and could see Banbury! Toby tries to come alongside, there’s no chance as it’s too shallow. He then decides to have a go at reversing back to the original spot (c200m), no chance, it’s too windy and Oliver won’t go where Toby want’s him to go! So onwards we go, and find one last space – Toby’s response was phew…my bacon’s been saved!

I was intrigues by this boat and the shape/direction of his tiller. That was as high as it went, and most of the time it was lower with his foot on it. How you see where you’re going and steer, I’ve no idea!

We moored up at 4pm (What3words location My night for a shower, and in my PJs before 7pm. What a find – chocolate orange fingers. We’re going to watch Cobra Kai (a spin off from the classic karate kids films) and will no doubt demolish the packet.

Day 6 – Turn Around

What a glorious morning to wake up to at Aynho Wharf. We’ve somewhat been caught out on this trip, we were expecting to be eating bowls of soup while wearing our thermals – we haven’t go any shorts (or more to the point ice lollys) with us – doh!

We had a lovely catch up with Sarah and Tabitha before saying goodbye, we only went round the bend to the water point, it was great timing as soon after two other boats arrived. Sarah works in the shop at The Wharf (great commute from home to work!), she was just opening up so we had one last quick hello/ goodbye.

We were lucky enough to spot some Kingfishers today, but not quick enough to get the camera out, we also saw our first Heron. Some other sights just baffle us 1) why is there a post in the middle of nowhere 2) how does a single welly end up on top of it? Maybe it’s an ingenious cap to stop the rain getting in to the wood?!

We saw some of the CRT contractors cutting the verge, there seemed to be many chiefs and not enough indians…. a lot of standing around and shaking of heads.

Men at ‘Work’

We continued on our way, with some queues at the locks, with such wonderful weather and great scenery, it didn’t bother us.

We seem to take it in turns with helming and locking on this trip. I think it’s because I’m not allowed to drive a car now, so I’m loving being able to steer – I never thought I’d say that! I think the novelty of locking has definitely worn off on Toby, he ends up in the main with the older females chatting away (not many girls helm). They all think Toby is a real gentleman as he offers to open and close the gates for them all.

This is Somerton Deep Lock, with a drop of 12ft. We were quite impressed with how shiny the rubbing board has become over time.

Another lock was a tight squeeze, all the fenders were up apart from one at the front left which had dropped down. We got stuck, a bit of reversing and Toby getting on the roof to pull the fender up, and we were soon on our way.

We winded (turned) at Oxfordshire Narrowboats at Lower Heyford. Toby did a fab job, not touching the banks or the moored boats. Even though we had only just come down the stretch of canal, it all feels so different when you’re facing the other way.

We found a lovely place to moor overlooking an open field, which is quite unusual as often the towpaths are bordered by high hedges. This field was full of cows this morning, we may get an interesting wake up call!

As we moored up relatively early, Toby donned his working clothes and gave the engine bay some TLC.

We couldn’t finish today’s blog without a link to the epic 80’s power ballard by Bonnie Tyler. I’ve only just found out it’s called Total Eclipse of the Heart – to us, it will always be ‘Turn Around’

Day 5 – Happy Third Wedding Anniversary

Three years ago today, we both said ‘I do’. It’s leather for year three, I was somewhat predictable with the leather wallet, Toby gave me a lovely leather keyring for my bike. We also received some lovely cards.

We were in for a longish day as we were meeting some paddling friends (Sarah and Tabitha) who live at Aynho Wharf. We cast off at 9am with the morning provisions at hand – three of those cups are me and tea!

It was a busy day with lots of boats on the move, and again, quite a few queues. As soon as we arrive, off I go with my windlass in hand shimmying folk along to open a paddle/open a gate. I forget that they’re on holiday and taking it nice and slow. Pictures below are of 1) a disused lock keepers house – we like the quote in the boarded up window 2) a Selfie blown up and put on the side of the house (weird!) and 3), maybe the bottom half of the guy we saw getting out of the shower yesterday!

I think the novelty of locking has worn off on Toby and he’s back to steering. He’s realised that you have to talk to folk at locks, which is just too much like hard work. So here I am, waiting for the lock to empty.

Our first stop was Banbury, we were both shocked by the amount of building work that’s going on, it will be transformed when it’s finished. We had a quick stop off and I walked to Waitrose to get some supplies for our BBQ this evening – I was on dessert duty which is hardly a chore!

It was quite sad to see this lock keepers cottage and the arson attack, the roof has collapsed, and you can still see the personal possessions. The local view is that it will be pulled down.

We had a couple of squeaky fender locks which were very tight. Toby had to breathe in, and walk down the side to lift the fenders – yes he ended up with a filthy bum.

We’d not seen a green gas bottle before, it turns out to be patio gas. The owner can’t be a sailor, as they should be the other way round.

The afternoon’s progress was sooooo slow and we were stuck behind a hireboat going slower than tickover. We kept catching them up at the lock. In the end, I offered to work the lock and they stay on their boat (which they accepted and were back on board before I finished my sentence!). It was quicker for me to do it myself, than their faffing…..and I mean some serious faffing!!

We arrived at Anyho Wharf at about 5.30 , we were able to reverse on to one of the pontoons at The Wharf which was lucky as there were no towpath moorings. We had a lovely socially distanced BBQ with Sarah, Tabitha, Steve and Janet.

Day 4 – Role Reversal

We switched roles today, with Sarah doing the helming through the locks, and me doing the locks. I was all over the shop, even walking off leaving a gate open at one point – obviously short on practice!

The morning saw us cast off at an earlier than usual 8am, aiming to reach the Claydon flight not too long after their 10am opening time. With all the queues yesterday, we didn’t want to get stuck at the back and risk not getting through.

Getting up early does come with its risks – today a gentleman decided to dry off by the window, and hurriedly covered himself with his towel when he saw us go past. Sarah waved hello and then he swiftly closed the curtains with a big swish of his hands. Luckily we only saw his top half!

We were glad we’d stopped yesterday where we did, but there were plenty of moorings further on. Why one boat decided to moor on a bend, and a rather shallow one at that, was a mystery. They definitely weren’t going anywhere though, well secured for the night even if it were at a bit of an angle!

We passed through Fenny Compton, hoping to get rid of our rubbish but couldn’t find the bins anywhere, so carried on up through the narrows. A few boats had moored in the narrows, probably attracted by a rare stretch of armco railing. They didn’t leave much room for anyone to pass, but we breathed in and squeezed through.

We reached Claydon top lock at 10:30, only to find no queue at all. Rather surprised but delighted, we carried on. The next lock was closer to our original expectations, with a queue but only a few boats so very little delay compared to yesterday and we made short work of it, Sarah helming and me doing the locks

There was a very cute little tractor in the garden of one of the lock cottages, we both thought it quite sweet.

By the end of the flight, I was a bit more into the swing of things, kicking one gate open behind me as I stepped over to the other side (no jumping allowed!).

We stopped just after Cropredy marina, where it looks like they’re expanding to a third basin and just putting in some clay for the bottom. We remembered visiting the (new at the time) second basin when we purchased Oliver six years ago, but in the end Heyford Fields won out. Cropredy is going to absolutely massive when the third basin is done.

We moored up and headed to the shop for a much needed ice cream given the lovely warm and sunny day we’ve had, plus a few supplies. Then it was back to Oliver for a few hours to chill out, and then back into Cropredy for a pub meal in the evening – our first meal out for a very long time!


Day 3 – Queuing Like Only The British Know How

Just in case you were on tenterhooks last night, and wondering if we went for pudding, well the picture below gives it away. I might add that it was Toby’s idea to go half and half with custard – something he regretted soon after finishing!

We’re monitoring the hair loss from the radiotherapy, Toby thinks it’s getting bigger (great!). I do feel for those gents with bald spots, it gets quite chilly. At least the baldness is a reminder that it’s working.

We knew we couldn’t get out of the top lock until it was unlocked at 10am due to the water shortages in the top pound, we heard three boats go past us, and cast off just before 10am to a vlovkie and no queues at the first lock – perfect I thought, we’re on a roll.

We followed the bend and that’s where we ground to a halt with some 11 boats in front of us, all queuing politely of course! The bank was shallow so we couldn’t pull the boat in – I couldn’t even jump ashore. We had quite a bit of entertainment with some of the hire boats ending up diagonally across the canal coming out of the lock

Toby didn’t go without supplies, I handed over his smoothy and when it started raining, his coat using the boat hook.

Some two hours later, and we reached the front of the queue. I think we all would have made much quicker progress had folk gone and helped. Some of us did, but many didn’t. We made light of the locks and were soon at the summit (the summit special title just didn’t feel appropriate today, so it will probably appear on the way back).

With lock-free cruising ahead, we had lunch on the go to try and make up some time. It was quite windy and very bendy with a couple of hairpin bends which were quite tricky to manoeuvre and stay on the right side.

Fancy a stay at Hill Farm Glamping and their tipi with a hot bath? It will set you back £120 per night mid week off season.

We’re comfortably back in our ships routine. Conversations are peppered with toilet habits, battery levels, water savings and how we can save on washing up. It’s Toby’s shower night tonight, so all that water saving goes out out of the window while he drains the hot water tank!