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)


Nic said...

So you decided to follow us down the GU rather than up the Leicester branch :). We did Calcutt to beyond Foxton in March, a nice week if you get chance (we did it fairly leisurely and did both arms so you should be fine from Stockton Top) next year.

A 90 degree turn!!! Not that hard, unless you are going full speed :)

Adam said...

Hi Nic -- We did the Leicester Circuit last year. We'd decided to go to Market Harborough again as I enjoyed Foxton so much and wanted to go back, and one of our friends who was with us has been there as a gongoozler but not on a boat. In the event, I'm glad we went down the GU, because it's nice to do parts of the system you haven't done before. Hope we bump into you again!