Saturday 11th August; Fenny to Banbury
Our intention was to leave quite early, fuel up at Fenny marina and get a new gas bottle, before cracking on to get through Cropredy, but it didn’t quite work out as planned. I woke quite early as the sun was shining, and got the bike out to cycle up to the village for the paper and some milk. It’s a long walk and the bike makes a real difference. I had discovered that the wharf doesn’t open till 10, but we could just move up to the wharf and get on with some jobs while we waited. We were about to move when the first of three boats came round the bend. It was nearly 9.30 by the time we could finally cast off, only to discover that one of the three had nicked our idea and taken first place in the queue. So we went on.
It was warm in the sunshine. We knew there were two boats ahead of us so were in no hurry as we entered the Fenny Compton ‘tunnel’. The cross-over bridge marks the start of it; the roof was removed in 1868 and the tunnel converted to a cutting. It’s very narrow and has few passing places, so we were glad there was a boat in front of us.
We considered stopping at Wormleighton reservoir to see what the water level was like, but there is no Armco piling or rings and we couldn't be bothered to bash in pins. There is a disused railway running along one side of the reservoir, and where the bridge used to span the canal there was a couple videoing our approach. So I got my own back.
It wasn’t long before we were waiting to pass under the first of the many lift bridges of the South Oxford.
At the feeder bridge a gentleman had set up his day’s relaxation.
We arrived at Claydon top lock as the single-hander in front was starting down. The boat behind us was single-handing too but was much more efficient than the one in front and even though I was helping the first boat out the second kept catching us up – so effectively that he closed up for us while I went on to help the one in front. What with waiting for boats coming up too it was quite slow going, and it continued like this right down through the three locks before Cropredy.
The farm at Clattercote Wharf still has its scarecrows to protect the sweetcorn and pumpkins, though they are looking rather faded now. Dave thought they looked like something out of Night of the Living Dead
or perhaps Texas Chain-saw Massacre!
I wouldn’t know.
Further along, work was continuing to try and get the harvest in before the rain forecast for later on today.
We had no expectation of a mooring in Cropredy, as it’s the weekend of the folk festival. We hoped to get to Banbury tonight, as did the boats in front and behind. As we approached the lock the moorings were full and the towpath busy. Dave gave a lesson in lock operation to a couple of fascinated festival-goers who ‘wanted a go’, then we started the long slow crawl out of Cropredy. Two cruisers were on the facilities mooring, which is awkward at the best of times, so there was no question of emptying a cassette. We could hear snatches of music playing, and the chattering of people on the towpath or crossing the bridge, and everyone seemed to be smiling and waving. We’ve never been here at festival time and were astonished at the size of the camping fields and numbers of boats (though someone told us they didn’t think it was particularly busy this year).
Eventually we were approaching Slat Mill lock and you could see the banks again. A boat had slipped off their mooring at Cropredy and got in front of us, and our procession continued to Banbury where we all found space to moor. The single-hander behind us was on his way to moor nearer the railway station, so I went to open the lift bridge for him as he had helped us so much. As I walked back to Chuffed I fell into conversation with Darras, who we thought was a CRT boat-checker, but no – he is a boat-spotter. Like a train-spotter, but obviously with a more interesting subject. A reference book is published listing all the CRT-registered boats in order of their registration number. He notes down all the boats he has seen in a notebook, using the reference book to tell if he’s seen them before because when he gets home he underlines a new one in red. He showed me – he hasn’t seen us before, but we’ll have our red line in his book by now.
We do not have the most enthralling view from the window in Banbury. (I took the picture later when it was raining.)
But Meg loves it here, because of Spiceball Park. She knew exactly where she was going when the lead and ball came out, made straight for the park and had a lovely time. Then the rain started as forecast and the evening turned out very wet. Some of the towpath walkers on their way to the events at Cropredy had been wearing wellies – probably a wise move! I’m glad we’re not camping.
10 miles, 12 locks. A long and slow day.