The end of another chapter

We spotted a Canal Boat Club boat, “Mad As A Hatter”, heading for the lock and we were in Romy’s words “off like a rocket” to share the heavy load down the Buckby Locks.  We were just in time as another boat came round the corner just after we had set off.  He thought he was going to go down the locks with us until we pointed out another boat was actually waiting in front of us.

Although not frantically enthusiastic about helming into locks with other boats Romy managed the whole flight very skilfully.

Romy shares a lock with “Mad As A Hatter”
Another faultless entry

A single hander entered lock 11 and emptied it, just after Oliver and Mad etc. left lock 10.  He was still there unable to open the gate to get out when we arrived.  For some strange reason he had closed the bottom paddles before opening the gate and the lock had started to fill up again because he had not closed the top ground paddle properly!  He claimed “these locks have been a problem for years”.  He did the same thing at the next lock, so we rescued him again.

At the Bottom Lock, number 13, we were surrounded by staff from Santander who were on a team building day.  It seems a shame that they were just pulling up weeds rather than something a little more challenging and helpful to the boating fraternity.

What a crowd, Lock 13

We stopped at Rugby Boats for diesel and a pump out.  Our estimate was 100 litres and we actually squeezed in 108.9.  Unfortunately the attendant, Josh, dropped the pump out adaptor in the canal and didn’t have a spare.  It was comforting to know that we could use the facilities at Heyford Fields.

We turned neatly into the marina and proceeded to reverse onto the services pontoon until the wind caught the bow and absolutely refused to allow it to turn in the direction we wanted.  We changed tack and went in forwards.

If we reversed down to Oliver’s mooring perhaps we could get into that without having a similar problem.  No chance.  When we were half way there the wind caught us again and so we entered the berth forwards as well.  At least there were no dramas!  Just two failures.  In defence the wind was probably gusting between Force 5 and 6 so it may have been a tad over optimistic to even try.

That’s the end of another lovely holiday with Oliver who has served us admirably.  Only one day of rain in a whole month, fantastic, and no dramas this year.

Thank you Toby and Sarah for allowing us to share Oliver once again.  He is not as black as he was when he left his home but he probably will be after the weekend.

Braunston and Buckby

We headed towards Braunston, at 8:15, aiming to get there in time for the chandlery to be open.

Braunston Junction

We were able to find a 48 hour mooring just after bridge 1 which gave us a short walk to the chandlery where we bought a tin of Epifanes mutiforte.  We are now poised for the great black op.

We saw a few boats that need a lot more touching up.  Why are they allowed on the canals?

Safety certificate? Licence? Really?

We saw a rather odd procedure going up Braunston locks.  Two boats were coming down together but they only opened one gate.  One of the boats then had to move from one side to the other to get out and took ages doing it.  When he came out and Romy was nicely positioned, where she should be, to enter the lock, he had the cheek to say that’s where he wanted to go and she was in the way.  The boats following this odd pairing were tearing their hair out as they had refused to modify this bizarre approach in the previous four locks and a queue was building up behind them.

Some of the Braunston locks seem to have racks sticking up everywhere.

Two ground paddles and four gate paddles

Although Romy expressed a desire to “do the Braunston Locks” they were just too heavy so she had to revert to being helmswoman once again.

Romy enters the last of the Braunston locks

The tunnel was uneventful apart from a small bump with an oncoming boat just after we had entered and before our eyes had adjusted.  The language from the other boat, particularly the “lady” was not very demure.  We passed two other boats without incident.

Peter must have suffered a memory lapse for the expected mooring between bridges 7 and 8 after Braunston Tunnel failed to materialise.  An effort to test out the water depth at the bank led to a hasty retreat and a decision to press on for a bit.

We finally ended up just past bridge 12 after the first of the Buckby Locks and just in view of the second lock.  This is not an official visitor mooring but is a good spot with Armco rails and loads of deep water.  It is also close to a small memorabilia shop (which also sells ice creams) and a pub.  We have come to a sort of conclusion that the place we are most unlikely to choose to moor is on a visitor mooring shown in Pearson!

We moored at 13:45 just in time to miss the next rain showers – excellent.

Wind in the willows (and poplars)

We walked back to The New Inn for our second pub meal in a row.  Well it was so close it seemed a shame not to take advantage.

Off The Top

Waking early seems to have become an ingrained habit.  We cast off at 7:35 this morning.  It was dry but grey and quite chilly.  Soon  patches of blue appeared and it was not long before it became another beautiful day.

What a lovely day

As we approached our first lock at Marston Doles another boat, that had been at the water point, shot out in front of us, they were in such a hurry that they had to come back to get their key!  A few locks down another boat told us they had a similar experience but the boat that leaped out had forgotten to untie their rear rope.  That must have been very funny to watch.

There were volunteers on the Napton Locks and they were extremely helpful to  us rather than the boat in front, perhaps because of our tale of disgust or perhaps it was the cookies Romy gave them.  One of them went ahead and prepared several of the locks for us.  This meant we made very good time to Napton so we had a good lunch at the somewhat eccentrically decorated Folly Inn.  We then had a walk up the hill to the village store.

Helpful volunteers replete with cookies
Is it a Folly?

As we passed Black Prince Marina a 70ft boat came hurtling out of the marina without seeming to look in either direction.  The owner was clearly not pleased when we made it clear that we expected him to stop.

We thought it would be good to get clear of Braunston early on Thursday to avoid returning hire boats and considered stopping at the moorings either side of bridge 102.  Another bike recce showed that there were numerous excellent moorings all the way down to just before bridge 100 so that’s where we eventually tied up.  This we thought provided an excellent starting point for our journey through Braunston tomorrow, not forgetting we have to stop at the chandlery to accomplish a black operation.

Pretty as a picture

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.


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.