Sunday, 30 September 2007

Unusual boats

Both seen on the South Oxford. I rather like the top one, but I'm not so sure about the floating shed. I'm particularly bemused by the front lawn of greengrocers' grass!

Thursday, 27 September 2007

September Cruise: Part Three

Day 13 - Wednesday 18 September

The lock keeper opened his office at Godstow Lock at 9am, and we were there to buy our one day licence. It cost £26.50, which is quite a lot for one day. It includes a second day free, though, although we had no time to make use of it. We were soon going up in the lock, then dodging Godstow Bridge, and negotiating the sharp bends up towards King's Lock. King's Lock was open, so we went straight in, and the lady lock keeper emerged to do the hard work. Then it was a right turn into Duke's Cut, and eventually to Duke's Cut Lock, which has a railway bridge right over the chamber, and back onto the canal network.

We stopped for lunch at the Boat Inn at Thrupp. As we approached the visitor moorings by the main street, a coach disgorged its load of pensioner passengers. We must have had our photo taken a dozen times. It seems that once aboard a narrowboat, you become public property! After lunch we moved onto the water point to fill up, then continued retracing our steps for the rest of the afternoon, mooring for the night just below Dashwood Lock, before the railway line gets too close for comfort.

12 miles, 10 locks. (148, 101)

Day 14 - Thursday 20 September

A short journey to start the day, to the water point at Lower Heyford. While the tank was filling, Adrian and his mum went to the shop at Oxfordshire Narrowboats. It turned out to be very well stocked (certainly much better than the one at Aynho Wharf), if rather expensive. It seems that since the Heyfords both lost their village shop, the boatyard has taken over the role.

Stopped for lunch just after Somerton Deep Lock, with its pretty cottage, just as the rain came down.

The rain sisn't last long, and the afternoon was actually quite sunny. Between Bridge 190 at Aynho and the Weir Lock we continually saw a kingfisher darting in front of the boat. He flashed past in a blaze of blue at least a dozen times. Our mooring for the night was just past Bridge 172, almost exactly the same spot as a few days ago.

14 miles, 8 locks. (162, 109)

Day 15 - Friday 21 September

Various boaters who'd passed us the day before had told us about a very heavy lift bridge just before Banbury. It's usually chained open, but the farmer was working in the fields on the other side of the canal so it was down. We'd heard stories of two people hanging on the chain, and still being unable to lift the brigde, so we were prepared for the operation to take some time and effort. In the event, though, Adrian managed it on his own. Either he's exceptionally strong, or the bridge had losened up a bit.

We stopped for water at the point below the lock in Banbury. While the tank was filling, I recognised the boat coming down the lock as Ten Bob Note. I went to say hello the Ernie, as I've been following his journey on his webiste. We had a good chat as we swapped places: we went into the lock, and he moored up at the water point. We tied up in the town centre, and spent a while shopping.

We made good progress in the afternoon. The five Claydon Locks took 50 minutes, and by 6pm we were mooring up at Fenny Compton. In the marina, I spotted Ragdoll, the home of Rosie and Jim, and Waterway Routes, the electric powered boat reviewed in the October edition of Canal Boat.

12 miles, 13 locks. (174, 122)

Day 16 - Saturday 22 September

Woke to a beautiful still morning, which made a nice change from the blustery conditions of the past few days. We left our mooring at 9, and stopped for water a few hundred yards later. As we were pulling away from the water point, a boat stopped behind and a woman dashed off to the BW skip with a bag of rubbish. Within a few minutes, the boat was right behind us. And I mean right behind us. It was so close we could hear its tiller squeaking. As the summit is so twisty, with lots of blind bridge holes, I wasn't happy about having another boat only six feet off our tail, so as the first wide straight section I signalled to them to come past (and gave them a few words of advice as they did so!) It didn't do them much good, as they were just leaving the top Napton Lock as we arrived.

We went down the first two locks in the flight, then stopped for lunch on the well deck in the sunshine.

There were plenty of boats coming up (including three OwnerShips boats in a row), but not too many going down, so we completed the flight in a much shorter time than a week ago. At the bottom, we stopped at the little shop by the Folly pub for an ice cream.

The stretch between the locks and Napton Junction was extremely busy with hire boats which had just been picked up. We turned onto the Grand Union, and moored up on the offside by the BW reservoir for the night. We spent some time cleaning the boat inside and out, ready for the next owners.

12 miles, 9 locks. (186, 131)

Day 17 - Sunday 23 September

After a final cooked breakfast, we moved down to the water point above Calcutt Locks to fill up, then went down the first lock to Calcutt Boats for diesel and a pump out. We shared the remaining two locks with a tiny day boat from Wigram's Turn. The final bits of cleaning were done as we travelled to Stockton Top. As the services there are closed on a Sunday, we moored on the diesel point, as that was by far the closest place to the car, to unpack. Then it was home by car, ready for work the next day.

2 miles, 3 locks. (188, 134)

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

September Cruise: Part Two

Day 7 - Thursday 13 September

Another lovely sunny day which started later than usual with breakfast at the floating cafe, the Gongoozler's Rest. How they can do so much food for £4.50 is beyond me! Then we stocked up at Braunston's excellent butcher (who sells far more than just meat) and the village shop.

We left Braunston after lunch, and made the short journey to Calcutt. As we were struggling to bang mooring pins into the towpath above the top lock, a man called to us from the other side of the canal. He turned out to be Douglas Nethercleft, whom we'd booked for a day of training the next day. We went for a walk down the locks, and spotted Bendigedig at the water point. I went over to say hello to Elsie, whose blog is one of the many I follow. It was good to meet her.

There was lots of activity at the locks, including the usual procession of OwnerShips boats heading back to Stockton Top. We however were staying put, so we did some washing, and rigged up a rather ingenious washing line at the front of the boat.

6 miles, 0 locks. (79, 44)

Day 8 - Friday 14 September

We had an appointment with Douglas Nethercleft at 10, so at about 9.30 we moved across to the water point to fill the tank. Douglas met us there. We explained to him that we'd done quite a lot of cruising, but wanted to learn some of the tricks to help us in difficult situations. We learned how to spin the boat in its own length, the procedure when there's a man overboard, and what to do in the even of an engine failure. Some of the exercises we did in Calcutt Marina, others out on the canal.

At the end of the day, we moored at Calcutt Wharf to wait for Adrian's mother, who'd be joining us for the rest of the trip. Her taxi from Leamington Spa railway station arrived eventually (the driver didn't know where Calcutt Boats were, and went first to Kate Boats at Stockton Top!). We went back up to the top of the locks and moored in the same place as the night before, although facing the other way. The sunset over the reservoir was beautiful.

5 miles, 8 locks. (84, 52)

Day 9 - Saturday 15 September

An excellent day's boating, in glorious weather. We slipped away at about 8.20, and turned right at Napton Junction on the South Oxford. It was very busy with Calcutt, Black Prince, and Napton hire boats returning to base.

We went up the bottom Napton lock without delay, but there were four boats waiting in the pound above. Progress was slow but pleasant, and we finally got to the top at 1pm. We stopped for water at Marston Doles, and had lunch while the tank filled. The summit pound was every bit as twisty as it looks on the map. I can't remember anywhere else where you see a bridge ahead which appears to be at right angles to the canal, only to find yourself going through it a few minutes later.

We arrived at Fenny Compton at about 4pm, and decided to stop for the night. The shop shown in the guide book no longer exists, but another boater told me about a mobile butcher which visits Bridge 136. Sure enough, a few minutes later there it was. I bought chicken, bacon, sausages, all of which proved to be excellent. The van visits the bridge between 4 and 4.45 each Wednesday and Saturday. In the evening, we went for dinner at the Wharf Inn. The food was good, but the service was dreadful.

12 miles, 9 locks. (96, 61)

Day 10 - Sunday 16 September

The Fenny 'Tunnel' with its very narrow section was negotiated without another boat in sight. The five Claydon Locks took just 40 minutes, thanks to a few boats coming the other way. We'd planned to stop for water at Cropredy, but it was chaos below the locks so we kept moving. We stopped for shopping in Banbury, managing to find a space right in the centre of town.

We continued south, and moored for the night just before Bridge 172, before the noise of the M40 became too much. It was a lovely evening, so we cleaned the brass, and cooked on board.

12 miles, 13 locks. (108, 74)

Day 11 - Monday 17 September

A day of many isolated locks, many of them with pretty cottages. Anyho Lock is diamond shaped and very shallow. The next one, Somerton Deep Lock, is very deep at 12 feet.

Lower Heyford was another chaotic spot, with moored boats, boats trying to get to the wharf, and hire boats which didn't seem to know what they wanted to do. We'd planned to turn at the winding hole here, but had a message from OwnerShips on the boat phone to say the owner due to have the boat next week had cancelled. To get a couple of extra days on the boat, we needed to be the first to phone the office after 9.30 the next morning. I managed to arrange a couple of extra days off work. We decided to carry on to Enslow, where there was a winding hole to use if we didn't manage to phone OwnerShips in time and had to head back for Friday morning. If we got the extra couple of days, we'd be off to Oxford.

16 miles, 10 locks. (124, 84)

Day 12 - Tuesay 18 September

Rain overnight, but the morning dawned bright, sunny, and warm. We moved across the canal to Kingsground Narrowboats for diesel (at 50p per litre), and pumpouts (at £12). Adrian phoned OwnerShips on the dot on 9.30, to be told we'd been beaten to it. However, the owners who'd phoned first wanted to pick the boat up on Sunday afternoon, so we rang them and agreed that we'd have it back at Stockton Top by noon on Sunday. Our trip to Oxford was on!

The locks on the southernmost part of the Oxford canal don't seem very well maintained. The bottom gates don't open fully, making the exit very narrow. In addition there are lots of moored boats, so progress was slow. The River Cherwell section was beautiful, and ended with another diamond shaped lock.

We stopped at Thrupp for water, and then negotiated the 90 degree turn under the lift bridge. We'd heard lots about the stretch from Duke's Cut to the end of the canal, with a number of people telling us it was to be avoided. We went along it anyway, it it's really not bad at all. True there are a few lines of fairly scruffy boats, but they're certainly not the eyesore some people make out. Further into town, we passed a huge building site, where waterside flats are going up.

Mooring close to town isn't easy. There's only enough space for two boats, are there were two already there. But we managed to get the bow next to a decently edge piece of towpath, and had to leave the stern some distace from the edge thanks to big stones and shallow water. We all walked into the town centre, to have a look at the shops and the colleges. Adrian's mum has trouble walking too far, so on the way back we sat her at the very end of the canal, and went to get the boat. Having picked her up, we used our newly acquired reversing skills (thank you Douglas), to get us back to Isis lock. Then it was though the lock, and onto Sheepwash Channel.

The Thames at this point turns out to be rather unpreposessing, to such an extent that we didn't know whether we'd reached the actual river or another linking channel. We turned right, hoping for the best, and once we'd gone under a bridge, Port Meadow appeared on our right.

Mooring on this stretch of the Thames are hard to come by. The ones marked on the map were either taken, or non existant. We decided to moor at the end of the landing at Godstow Lock (pretending not to see the 'No Overnight Mooring' sign). It was nearly 7pm by the time we got there anyway, so we thought it unlikely we'd be in anyone's way. It was also too late to buy a Thames licence, so we'd get one in the morning.

12 miles, 7 locks. (136, 91)

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

September Cruise: Part One

Day 1 - Friday 7 September

Arrived a Stockton Top at lunchtime, and the friends Brian and Mike who were joining us for the first part of the trip arrived about an hour later. We unpacked, took a delivery from Tesco, and set off at about 3.30. We were quickly up the Calcutt Locks as there was plenty of traffic coming down. Turned left at Napton Junction, and moored up just before bridge 101 to enjoy the evening sunshine in the Warwickshire countryside.

6 miles, 3 locks.

Day 2 - Saturday 8 September

A fry up for breakfast, then we set off heading for Braunston. We'd left at around 8, so the canal was quiet and still as we approached Braunston Turn.

We moored up in the first space we came to, and walked up into the village for papers etc. Returned via the church and a footpath and bridge over the north Oxford. It was about 10.15 when we set off again. This turned out to be peak time for the locks, as there was a long queue. The canal was pretty crowded, as the Union Canal Carrying hire fleet was moored up two abreast. I noticed that the boat behind us, another OwnerShips boat called Silhouette, had a camera mounted in the front window. I thought this could only mean that Nic was on board. He makes time lapse films of his trips, which are posted on his website. I went to speak to him, to confirm my suspicions. We ended up sharing the locks with Silhouette, and Nic has posted a film of us in the queue and ascending the locks.

We stopped for lunch shortly after Braunston Tunnel, then made the turn onto the Leicester Line. When we got to the bottom of Watford Locks, we found a long queue: we were about twelfth in line, and the feeling was that ww wouldn't get up the locks that evening. So we decided to abandon our plans to go to Market Harborough and instead go down the Grand Union, which would be virgin territory for us. We winded, stopped for water at Norton Junction, went down the top Buckby lock, and moored for the night. Went for a drink at the New Inn.

11 miles, 7 locks. (17, 10)

Day 3 - Sunday 9 September

A misty, atmospheric morning as we made our way down the Buckby flight. While we were preparing the first lock of the day another boat arrived, so we had company to help with the work and were at the bottom in about an hour and a half. Shortly afterwards, we spotted nb Sanity coming towards us. I waved and shouted - they must have thought we were mad!

Stopped in Weedon Bec for shopping, using the moorings on the offside. There are steps down into the church yard, giving access to the village which had a very well stocked shop. Next stop was Bugbrooke, where we had lunch at The Wharf.

The boatmanship of Alvechurch hire boaters left a lot to be desired as we approached Gayton Junction. One came flying through a bridge hole and hit us before crashing into the curved edge of the canal. There was a smashing sound from inside their boat, so I hope they had some crockery left. The second apparently hadn't been told to move to the right to pass other boats.

Blisworth tunnel didn't take as long as we'd expected, but was very wet inside. Although it's longer than Braunston, it seems easier because it's straight. Moored up just south of the tunnel and walked the few hundred yards into Stoke Bruerne. It was packed with gongoozlers enjoying the sunshine. I was glad we weren't doing the locks until the next morning, because we'd have had to have fought our way through to open the gates.

16 miles, 6 locks. (33, 16)

Day 4 - Monday 10 September

Stoke Bruerne was much quieter at 8.30 on a Monday morning. There wasn't a gongoozler in sight. By the third lock we caught up with a single-hander, Kevin on nb Limelight Crew. He was returning from the IWA National, where he'd been technical director. Stopped for water at the bottom of the locks, and the sun came out. Next stop was just after Cosgrove Lock, for lunch. In the afternoon, we went over two aqueducts, one over a river, the second over a dual carriageway on the outskirts of Milton Keynes.

Just the other side of the aqueduct, we winded and began to retrace our steps. This time we stopped in Cosgrove itself, to look at the horse tunnel under the canal, and the elaborate bridge across it.

We carried on for another hour, mooring up for the night in the middle of nowhere, just within sight of Grafton Regis church.

17 miles, 9 locks. (50, 25)

Day 5 - Tuesday 11 September

Woke to a beautiful morning, and set off about 8.45 towards Stoke Bruerne. Brian and Mike walked the two miles to the locks. Some of the pounds were very low, and we had to flush some water down from above.

Brian and Mike also walked over the top of the tunnel, while we got wet inside. At Gayton Junction, we stopped at the water point, and while Adrian filled the tank, the res of us walked down the Northampton Arm to have a look at the first few locks. Having been on the Grand Union, the narrow locks and reedy canal looked very small.

Our mooring for the night was Weedon Bec. We used the same offside moorings as earlier in the week, and walked down to the village for a meal at the Plume of Feathers.

14 miles, 7 locks. (64, 32)

Day 6 - Wednesday 12 September

Our ascent of the Buckby Locks was efficient, even though we had no-one to share with. I walked ahead and got each next lock ready. At one lock, two boats were coming out as I arrived, so they left one gate open and I sat on the balance beam waiting for Debdale to arrive. A boat called Catnap arrived at the top of the lock, and the lady came over to say hello. Shortly afterwards, her husband joined her, to remonstrate with me about setting the locks too far ahead. I told him I hadn't had to set the lock, two boats were just leaving as I arrived. I was flabbergasted when he told me I was lying! I had to smile when he had to rush back to the boat as he he hadn't tied it up properly and it was drifting out to the middle. As I walked past him a couple of minutes later to go to the next lock he had another go at me. his wife just looked embarassed.

We reached the top at about 11.30, and said goodbye to Brian and Mike. They were being picked up at the little BW car park by the top lock to begin their journey home. Adrian and I had lunch on board before setting off for Braunston Tunnel and the locks. Halfway down we caught up with a tiny Ashby hire boat called Badger, and shared the rest of the flight. All went well until the bottom lock, when the wife disappeared into the canal shop. The lock was emptied so I opened the gate and closed the paddle on my side, and Debdale slipped out. As his wife still hadn't reappeared, the man on Badger followed us out of the single open gate. The people waiting to go up must have wondered what on earth was going on.

We moored up in Braunston, a little further down than we would have liked, and went to the marina to do some washing. While waiting, we talked to a Canadian lady who with her husband spends each spring and autumn crusing the canals in the boat, nb Prairie Crocus, and to Julian the owner of nb Vulcan.

9 miles, 13 locks. (73, 44)

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Invisible canals

Our route from home to Stockton Top on Friday will take us up the A34, crossing the Kennet and Avon canal just to the west of Newbury. We'll be going over the bridge you can see in the background, behind Higgs Lock.

On the road, there's nothing to say that you're going over the canal, and I'm sure 99 per cent of the road traffic over the bridge don't realise it's there. But if you know, you can see not only Higgs Lock, to the west of the road, but Guyers Lock to the east.

Later in the journey, we'll cross the Oxford Canal a number of times on the M40. The motorway also crosses the River Cherwell, and each time the point is marked by a big blue sign. For the canal, there's nothing. Unless you happen to spot a lock or a lift bridge, you'd never know. For some reason, canals seem to get second class treatment compared to rivers.

But back to the A34 at Newbury. It wasn't until we walked along this section of the K&A earlier this year, that we realised this very ordinary looking bridge is in fact something special. The Concrete Society, no less, gave it an award back in 1999-2000. I was rather impressed that before the cement holding the award in place had dried, a protestor had been along and etched their own thoughts: 10 thousand trees destroyed.