Tuesday, 20 August 2019

It got rather windy …

Sunday 18th August; Banbury to Somerton Meadows
It rained overnight, and it rained over breakfast.  But it stopped, Meg got an early play in the park, and I had the joy of a Tesco visit.  It was only for a few things, but as the wine was 25% off if you bought 6 bottles, I was jolly glad I’d taken my shopping trolley!  On the way back I noticed a Waitrose had opened at the road junction – noted for future use, as it’s half the distance to Tesco.

Dave had spent the time with some Sikaflex, stopping the leak that had developed under the cratch board.  We didn’t leave till about 11, in sunshine, pottering gently past the almost empty Spiceball moorings.  The town centre moorings were fairly busy, in spite of the building sites on either side.  Not pretty.

There was a bit of a to-do at the lock.  I had the lift bridge open for Dave to come through to the lock which was just being vacated by a cruiser.  The crew was closing the gate – I yelled, but he probably couldn’t hear.  Meanwhile, the boater on the water point above the lock had spotted the bottom paddles being opened before the gate was even closed and the top paddles still open, so she yelled too, and got an earful back from the lady on the bottom gate.  But the bottom paddles were closed; I opened the top gate again and was profuse in my thanks.  Talk about two sides to every question – though we had been told she was abusive to the crew on the water point, she was now full of apologies for ‘not having seen’ us.  Whichever, we parted on friendly terms.

It was perfect cruising weather as we left Banbury, with puffy clouds and a light breeze tempering the heat of the sun.  The M40 was busy with people speeding along on their Sunday outings.

There were enough boats on the move to make life interesting and friendly at the locks.  As we’d had a late start, we continued to Nell Bridge before stopping for lunch.  By now the breeze was stiffening, and although it was quite sheltered going through Aynho it was very noticeable on the more open areas.  Between Nell Bridge and Aynho we spotted an enclosure of what looked like wild boar in the middle of a field of goats.

At Aynho lock we had a bit of a wait while some young teenage lads faffed about with the gates while their Dad had trouble holding their day-boat in the wind.  Eventually we were in.

Once we had come through Aynho itself, the wind had become very strong, and by the time we got to Somerton Deep lock it was so bad I could barely hold the boat on the centre line as we came into the lock moorings.  Dave had to come and take over.  A boat was just coming in from below, and I went to help close the bottom gate, wondering if my arms still worked!  They did luckily, as the top paddles were extremely stiff and the other crew was unable to shift them with an ordinary length windlass. 

We were a bit worried the wind would prevent us mooring on the meadows, but the canal had curved round a bit, and a belt of trees was sheltering the canal, so it was easy after all.  As we came under Somerton Road bridge just before the meadows, Meg suddenly sat up and whiffled her nose – she loves it here and was out waiting for playtime as soon as she was off the boat.

10 miles, 6 locks, 2 lift bridges (Banbury, and Chisnell which was down for a change).

Monday, 19 August 2019

Smells and planes in Banbury

 Saturday 17th August; Cropredy to Banbury
Sunshine as we woke up!  No rain! Though it was rather cloudy at times, it was a relief to have dry weather.  I took Meg for a wander round the village, dumped some rubbish and bought the paper and some milk before we set off.  Though the moorings were pretty empty, we still managed to be behind a boat at the lock, with a boat coming up behind us – and it was still only 9.30.  We stopped at the facilities block to empty a cassette and top up the water, and then off we pottered past the permanent moorings and the sparsely populated towpath side till we were out in the country again.  What a lovely day.

The canoe club at Cropredy was out and about.  We were startled as this group shot past us – we had no idea they were there till the first ones overtook, lightly splashing us as they sped by.

Before we were at the lock, they had turned, there was a shout of ‘Go!’ and they were off again.

Then it was a gentle morning’s cruise, with a few boats coming up and a few going down.  From miles out, we could smell the ‘burnt’ coffee/chocolate cake smell from (we imagine) the Fine Lady factory.  By lunchtime, we were mooring at Spiceball Park in Banbury and the factory smell had changed to bread.  As soon as we had eaten it was Meg’s time for a good play in the park.

We took her right round the wilder parts of the park, with a break at the river for a drink.  We went a bit further than we had before, as far as the underpass under the main road which leads to a little car park, where we found a touching memorial to a faithful friend.

Isn’t that a thoughtful thing to do?  When we got back to the boat, we dropped Meg off, refreshing her water as she had drunk it all, and went for a wander round the town.  I was pleased to find a sewing shop as I need to replace the elastic in my tracky bottoms!  Mission accomplished, we walked up to St Mary’s Church, the one with the huge Doric columns on Horsefair, the main road.  Unfortunately it is only open for a few hours each day and we were too late for today. So we spent a bit of time admiring the fossils in the columns.  From what I can find out, the stone is
Hornton Stone or Banbury ironstone [which] is an iron-rich limestone up to 10 metres thick, quarried from the Middle Lias (Lower Jurassic) of north Oxfordshire.
It weathers to a distinctive golden orange/brown colour …. It contains abundant shelly fossils, usually clusters of brachiopods.’
There were certainly abundant fossils in the orange-brown, well-weathered stone, though a lot of them have fallen or been picked out.

As we wandered round the side of the church, we were delighted to hear the Carillon, which plays ‘Victorian tunes’ several times a day.  As it played, we marvelled at the huge plane trees surrounding the church.  They are magnificent.

 and have lovely bark

The path leads round the back of the church and back through to the town streets.  As we returned to the canal we passed this interesting artwork – not a Banksy, I think, but amusing nonetheless.

We cut through Castle Quays back to the boat and for the first time ever (we tend to dash through) we found the entrance to the museum.  So in we went, and up the stairs and over the canal, passing some canal-related displays, mostly targeted at children.  I didn’t think to take any pictures.  The main part of the museum was local history, focusing on the Civil War.  The poor folk of Banbury had a pretty miserable time of it by all accounts.  We left by the other entrance, on the quiet road on the other (non-Tooley’s) side of the canal.

We returned to relax on the boat, and ate on board, but Meg still managed to wheedle another good walk in the park.  The aroma of white sliced was still in the air come evening – a bit too much now, thank you very much.

4½ miles, 4 locks

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Good and bad timing along the summit pound

Friday 16th August; Priors Hardwick to Cropredy

The forecast for today was light rain from late morning, then heavier this afternoon.  So we were on our way by 8.30, relieved we had finished Napton locks yesterday.  We hadn’t been going long when we came across a swimming cow.  She had been paddling along below her friends in the field, and before we got to her was right under a bush, having a nibble.  Suddenly, she turned into the canal and swam – unfortunately no picture – to return to the shallows and her friends.  There was a low bit at the end of the Armco where she could walk out, so we didn’t feel we had to notify anyone.

A little further on, a long way from habitation, was a small tent.  No fishing gear visible, so we thought it was probably a long distance walker having a lie-in.  He should have been up and about to beat the rain, we thought, and get a few miles under his belt.  But before long it had started – light, but enough to need waterproof jackets. 

Then we reached the super-bendy bit between bridges 126 and 127, and the depredations of HS2.  Here, if the huge machines weren’t whizzing back and forth, you might not notice it across the wheat field -

But a little further round was this enormous heap of subsoil, getting higher by the minute.

The rain was now hard enough to need over-trousers too, and boaters were mostly suitably dressed, though some hirers clearly didn’t have waterproofs, or couldn’t be bothered to put them on.  Not NB Tyseley and the Mikron crew though, on their way towards Calcutt for a performance.  It’s a shame our timing couldn’t coincide.

There hadn’t been a lot of boats coming from Fenny, till, naturally, the most awkward bridge – 131, Griffins Bridge, where the canal turns almost through 180°.  We knew there was a boat in front of us and they had gone through ok – or so we thought.  Suddenly a boat came through far too fast and ended up on the towpath side of the canal, clearly not realising there was a tight bend to be negotiated.  We had time to safely change course and passed him on the ‘wrong’ side (starboard to starboard) only to see, just through the bridge, the stern of the boat in front which must have been pushed into the trees.  They didn’t have anywhere else to go though, as another boat had arrived.  Luckily no contact was made at all, though both boats had to be passed on the ‘wrong’ side, and the usual comments about meeting boats in bridgeholes were exchanged. 

We called in at Fenny chandlery for a gas bottle, and continued in the rain through the ‘tunnel’.  The collapsed towpath repair we saw last trip has been completed.

The rain had eased a bit and we were enjoying the cruise round the sweeping bends on the way to Claydon locks.  On one, an oncoming boat was on the wrong side and appeared to be changing course to get back to where he should have been.  Luckily we were going very slowly, but realised, too late, that he hadn’t changed course at all and was still coming towards us!  A quick slam into reverse was not enough to prevent a collision.  We were annoyed, as none of the four people at the stern had made any sign to show that they were in trouble. In fact they had positioned themselves wrongly and were trying to change course while ploughing through the shallows.  They apologised profusely of course, and we were very nice back to them, but at the very least they could have indicated that we were to pass to starboard.  We didn’t get stuck although they had pushed our bow into the shallows.

After a quick check inside – open cupboard doors, tilted glasses (but thankfully no breakages), and a TV that was perilously close to the edge of the shelf – we continued to Claydon locks.  The renovations at the top lock cottage were continuing, with a new ‘Private’ sign by the gate.

I hope they keep that lovely orange climber (Campsis, I think).  We were fortunate to meet boats emerging from all the locks except the last, and moored below the locks for a late lunch. The rain got worse for a while, and then eased off again, so we opted to drop down to Cropredy.  Not the best decision it turned out – the rain got harder and my jacket turned out to need reproofing.  At one of the locks was a boat that appeared to have no steerer - without proper waterproofs, the steerer was crouching down to try and avoid the rain as he came out of the lock.  He then proceeded to zig-zag his way towards the bridge, luckily managing not to hit anything as he went.  Dave was waiting between the bridge and the tree but can't be seen in the photo.

We got to Cropredy and were astonished to have a wide choice of moorings.  So, easily finding somewhere that wasn't under a dripping tree, we moored, on went the Mikuni, and I could dry my sodden jumper and waterproof.

We had been thinking of having a meal in one of the pubs, but the weather was so miserable we stayed on board.

11 miles, 8 locks.  Rather a lot for such a wet day!

Friday, 16 August 2019

Here we are again, happy as can be …

Thursday 15th August; Calcutt Marina to Priors Hardwick, bridge 123

Yes, we’re on the South Oxford again.  There is a good reason for this which we hope will become clear in the next few days.

We had an easy run up and were able to leave Calcutt by 3.  Calcutt locks were either nearly empty or had a boat coming down, so we were quickly at the top.  Meg is a happy dog – she knows exactly where we are round here.

The sun was out most of the time, so it’s still shorts weather, though it was cool when the cloud came across. We had decided to go up Napton locks as the batteries needed a few hours’ charging.  Just as well, as the Napton moorings were rammed.  So I took the obligatory photo

before snapping yet another boat where you wonder how on earth they can see to steer.

And up we went.  There had been a procession of boats coming towards us, and we guessed there might be more – and so it proved.  One boater we met said they had been 10th in the queue at the top!  We met boats at every lock, right up to number 13, the third from last.  The buffalo were totally uninterested in the activity on the canal.

The wind had been increasing all afternoon, and the temperature was dropping too, so we were glad to stop.  We made it to Priors Hardwick bridge 123 just before 7.  We have lovely neighbours.

And for the first hour we were on our own.  Another boat arrived at 8, and then, in the dark at 9.30, a Napton hire boat came by.  You don’t often see boats cruising in the dark, and we’ve never seen a hire boat at it before.  Bit dangerous, if you ask me.  We think they pulled in behind us, but we couldn't be bothered to open up to have a look.  There was no shouting or engine revving so we guessed everything was under control.

6 miles 12 locks

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Back to Calcutt

Thursday 19th July; Napton to Calcutt marina
I’m writing this a week after the 19th on the hottest day of the year (so far!).  But last week we awoke to a cool-ish grey day for our trip back to Calcutt.  The drizzle started before we had finished breakfast, then it rained properly for an hour before going back to drizzle.

So we did our packing and tidying on the mooring.  It’s a much prettier outlook than the side of another boat.  The other benefit here is that the Elsan point is closer than if we were in the marina!  So when the drizzle looked as though it was clearing up Dave dealt with the cassette.

The little flotilla of Mum and 11 babies is still intact.  Fingers crossed most of them are still surviving, at least for a while, though some will doubtless soon be tasty morsels for a pike or other predator.

When the rain cleared completely we had a pleasant cruise back to our summer base.  Dave reversed neatly onto the visitor moorings next to NB Perspective whose new owners had just come on board for the first time.

We quickly packed and got away for a trouble-free journey home.  My pot waterer had left the hosepipe in a lovely pattern.

Our next trip won’t be for a few weeks as we have to juggle family visits, village functions, hospital visits (me) and a significant birthday (not me!).

Today’s journey by boat was 2½ miles and 3 locks.  A lot more miles by car!

Trip stats
100½ miles, 84 locks,
98 miles, 7¾ furlongs of narrow canals; 1 mile, 3¾ furlongs of broad canals; 76 narrow locks; 6 broad locks (thank you Canalplanner); plus Isis lock twice and a little bit of the Sheepwash channel where we winded.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

A blot on the landscape

Wednesday 17th July; radio masts to Napton
This is a lovely spot, one of the best on the South Oxford.  Moored a little further on from us was this boat, with an ‘impossible’ name – I wonder if the owners are two mathematicians?

We left soon after 9, in hot sunshine.

Looking back at our lovely mooring
We dawdled our way along the summit level, deciding this was perfect boating – a bit of a breeze to temper the sun, beautiful views, birdsong, wild flowers …what could be more wonderful?  Certainly not THIS!

Preparing for HS2
The vehicle might look like a farm tractor, but was twice the size and had a massive blade underneath to level the earth.  I wonder how the noise of HS2 will affect our lovely mooring?  We still haven’t looked up the full route, but this stretch of the canal will certainly lose some of its attractiveness.

Quite a few boats were coming towards us by now, some on bends and in bridgeholes, naturally.  It was a good thing we were going at little more than tickover as we needed to avoid the shallow edges.  As we got to Marston Doles we caught up with a boat going down, and one soon arrived behind us.  With boats coming up too, and everyone helping each other, it was easy work in spite of the heat and humidity.  At lock 13 was a notice about damage.

Someone has given that a bit of a wallop, haven’t they?  We pulled in between locks 12 and 11 for lunch, and when we spotted the first of the post-lunch rush at lock 11, we were off again.  Once more the work was shared, though below lock 10 the water levels were very low and Dave only just got over the cill.  We reported it to the CRT men at the bottom lock – they were about to go up to sort it out.  There wasn’t space for us above the lock, so we dropped down, stopped at the Elsan for the necessaries, then went across to the water point.  I strolled over to the pub to see if they had ice-creams – but nothing!  Now the little shop by the pub has closed, it is the village shop or nothing.  So, after finding a part-shaded mooring round the corner, we set off up to the village and had a pleasant time eating our ice-creams at the tables outside the shop and watching the world go by.

As we were getting ready to go to the pub, this little flotilla went by.  11 little bumble-bees!  I wonder how long they will all survive?

We had to eat outside as the tables inside were fully booked.  It started to rain so we and the other diners all went under the big marquee.  Dave’s chicken pie was outstandingly good, but my spinach canneloni was less successful.  Pie for me next time!
9 locks, 5½ miles

Monday, 22 July 2019

Not a wise move ….

Tuesday 16th July; Claydon locks to the radio mast mooring
This is such a lovely peaceful mooring!  We have stayed here many times.

 We washed the starboard side before we left.  Two boats passed on their way to the locks before we set off, shortly before 10.  By the time we got there, the bottom lock had nearly emptied itself, and the next was half full.  There is still a great deal of work needed here to stop the loss of water.  Thereafter, we met boats coming down at each lock.

By the time we reached the top there was a queue developing to come down.  Three workmen were hard at work at the top lock cottage, so it looks as though it has at last been sold.  With the only road access two locks down the flight, a lot of potential buyers would have lost interest.

Boats passed us regularly on their way to Cropredy and though we weren’t counting we guessed there had been more than 20 during the morning.  Some boats clearly don’t move much though – how do the owners even get around the boat with all those plants?

The bottom of the top pound was rather too close to the top in some places.  I don’t think cattle cooling off helps matters as the silt they disturb will eventually find its way into the main channel.

We made our slow way through Fenny ex-tunnel, and paused in a wide bit to let an oncoming boat get by; he warned us about the ‘road works’ up ahead, where the boat following him had grounded.  New piling is being installed along a section of towpath which slants quite steeply toward the edge anyway but I seem to remember the edge was breaking up too.

The large gap is being filled by dredgings (hurray!)  so I imagine it will be taped off for a while as it settles.  But then maybe it will be suitable for mooring.

Squishy dredgings by the armco
Both the piledriver and dredger had to stop work each time a boat passed – they must have had a very disrupted morning’s work.  We stopped at Fenny Marina to fill up with fuel and dispose of rubbish, then moored a little way further on for lunch.  It was pretty hot now, so we were hoping to moor for the night at the footbridge between 131 and 132, the ‘Wedding Bridge’, where there is shade.  But water levels were at least a foot down

And some people clearly had had difficulty getting moored – no armco, stern hanging out, mooring pins are such a faff – why not use those handy branches? 

Filling the fuel tank it transpired, had been a foolish thing to do.  We found we couldn’t get within a foot of the bank at Wedding Bridge, and as Dave wanted to do some work on the port gunwale we moved on.  We tried 5 places in all and were getting a bit concerned by the time we had got to bridge 130 and were delighted – and astonished – to find the shady mooring at the radio masts stretch not only free, but with enough depth to pull right in to the armco!  As it was shady the boat was not too hot for me to get some baking done.  Dave prepped and masked the gunwale and gave it a coat of red-ox.

Boats continued to pass in both directions till the evening and we were rather surprised to still have a fifty yard gap between us and the next moored boat.  These moorings are often pretty crowded.  We had some little visitors who were getting their feathers but are still quite a way from being able to fly.

Dear little stubby wings
I was just ten minutes away from dishing up our evening meal when the gas ran out.  Dave was conveniently putting his painting things away at the time so the canister was quickly changed.

5 locks, 6½ miles