Thursday 9th August; Calcutt Marina to Marston Doles, South Oxford canal
Yes, this is the 50th time we have cruised with Chuffed. Who’d have thought it 6 years ago? And it’s all been great, even the less great bits.
After a difficult journey up the M5, clotted with holiday traffic, for a family weekend last Friday, we were a bit trepidatious as we left home this morning! We planned an early start and managed to leave a whole hour earlier than usual, well ahead of most of those dratted holidaymakers (though the local businesses couldn’t do without them, or at least their money, in our neck of the woods). We had left Chuffed on the workshop wharf at the end of the last trip, as the alternator had to be sent away for repair, so Dave wasn’t looking forward to the reckoning in the office…. so to delay the inevitable, and as the engineer had moored us bow in on the pontoon, we pulled the bow as far forward as we could and Dave replaced the somewhat squished old bow fender with a smart new one – which looks a lot more robust to say the least. We got the old one from a well-known fender maker on the cut, and it was his son’s first completed effort. With hindsight, perhaps we should have suggested a reduced price – it went out of shape pretty quickly.
As we left, I spotted the source of the persistent cheeping I had been hearing. It was a young Great Crested Grebe, still with its stripy neck but old enough to be practising its diving – just not very good at it yet!
Luckily two boats had just emerged from the bottom lock so it was ready for us. There was nobody around to join us in the lock, but we went straight up as we could see a boat coming down the next lock. There are large CRT notices on the top and bottom lock regarding water saving so we were glad we only had to turn one lock, and even then someone was arriving to come in as we left.
We had though of cruising the Leicester Ring this time, but Watford, Foxton and Hillmorton locks are about to go on restricted hours. The Grand Union is OK water-wise at the moment, but we didn’t want to go that way. This may not have been a wide decision, but we decided to make for the South Oxford even though the Napton flight will soon be restricted too. As we cruised we spotted a couple of young coot practising diving – like the young Great Crested Grebe, they were not very good at it, weren’t finding anything to eat, and couldn’t stay down very long.
A steady processions of Kate Boats passed us on their way back to Warwick as we cruised towards Napton. Of course I had to take the obligatory photo of Napton Mill. On day we will get around to walking up the hill to see it.
We arrived at the bottom lock to find the flight deserted – just one boat on the usually crammed Folly moorings above lock 1, and no-one coming down the flight. And all the locks were in our favour! The second lock in the flight is quite narrow and there are signs telling you to lift your fenders. Years ago we were held up by a cruiser who thought he knew better – he was suspended above the water until the narrowboat crews above and below the lock realised what was happening. Yet he still didn’t believe his fenders were the problem, until we ignored his protestations, refilled the lock, pulled his fenders up and got him going again.
The pound above the next lock was very low and we were a bit concerned we would get stuck. But the rest were fine (a bywash was even running at one of them) and we carried on up, past the famous water buffalo. They must have to graze all day to get enough to eat after the dry weather we have had.
I walked most of the flight with Meg. There will be a good sloe crop this year.
We came under a very dodgy-looking bridge
before we finally met another boat as we approached lock 15 and Marston Doles. Luckily they spotted us in time to open the empty lock for us to use and avoid wasting water. It was getting late, and the mooring above the top lock is limited, so we moored between the two Marston Doles locks – on a bit of a bend, but at least there is plenty of depth.
11 locks, 5 miles