Saturday 30 July 2016

Napton and home

Wednesday 20th and Thursday 21st July;  Wedding Bridge to Napton, Napton to Calcutt

It seems odd to be writing about the sweltering heat of last week now we are back at home and the weather has changed to drizzly and comfortably cool.

Tuesday night was uncomfortably warm and another hot day was forecast, but we decided to let the early birds get out of the way and clear the Napton flight ahead of us.  So we got on with some jobs while the traffic went by, then set off at about 10 when it had quietened down a bit.  It was hot, but with a pleasant breeze which made for lovely cruising.  The canal winds around all over the place and bridges appear in the most unlikely places.

1 bridge across fields

As we got closer to Marston Doles boats began to appear at regular intervals, indicating that the locks were busy, at least with boats coming up.  When we arrived at the top there was only one boat waiting, a very slow hire boat we had been behind before – a young lad with his grandparents.  I went along to help, as one does, which was lucky as they only had one windlass.  We stopped near the old Engine House arm for lunch.

Under the scorching sun it was a bit of a slog down the rest of the locks, with boats ahead of us again.  The water buffalo didn’t seem particularly bothered by the heat.

2 water buffalo unfazed by heat

There were lockies around – one was off to check water levels at the summit, then another came along and after he’d helped us into one lock I suggested the hire boat, who’d had a longer lunch stop, might appreciate some help.  At one point two planes flew over very low.  Don’t know what they were or where they came from.

3 big plane

The boat ahead of us had nabbed the last spare mooring above the bottom lock, with the front third of their boat in the shade of the big tree there.  The lockie had prepared the lock so we could go straight in.  We stopped at the service point to dispose of rubbish and empty a cassette – much more convenient than waiting till we get to the marina tomorrow, where our berth is likely to be a long way from the facilities.  We crossed over to take on water and I popped up to the shop for ice-creams.  The shop only had yesterday’s papers and not a lot else.  He scoffed at me when I said it had been slow down the locks – I think we were probably lucky in our timing.  His opening hours are now 12 – 8.

Kath and Neil from nb ’Herbie’ waved from their comfy seats on the towpath round the corner but as expected, the Folly moorings were jam-packed so we went on.  The canal had been so busy we were concerned that the moorings at the Bridge would be full so we pulled in before then at Brickyard bridge where there was a bit of shade.  The short stretch of piling here had an unattended boat slap in the middle leaving insufficient room for us.  The rough bit we used is not a good spot and we won’t stop here again.  The industrial fan at the works by the bridge was switched off before 5, but there is also a lorry depot of some kind which clanged and banged for an hour or two after that.  It was still boiling hot but we noticed that the barometer is dropping.  The indicator has been over to the right for most of this trip.

4 pressure is dropping

After tea we walked up the hill to try and find the windmill.  It is a long drag up the hill past those big modern properties so beautifully situated above the canal.  The views are wonderful but I bet they suffer from the factory noise below.  Further up the hill the local yoof were having fun at a motorbike scrambling course.  Hard to get a good action photo as we were looking towards the setting sun.

5 motorbike scrambling

We passed some beautiful stone cottages and a lot of more modern houses some of which were not beautiful at all. We walked on and on and eventually found the church and walked round the extensive graveyard.  But no sign of the windmill behind the huge trees and high hedges.  We had to turn back as dusk was coming on and with no lights or torch we wanted to get back down the lane before dark.  When we looked at Nicholson’s later, we realised the lane wound round the side of the hill and we had chosen the worst possible route to the village!  Never mind, another time ….

9 locks, 8 miles.

We had a very quiet night. On Thursday morning the lorry place was active at 7.30 but we were already up, anticipating that the factory would be on the go by 8.  In the event we left before they started work.  This was not a good mooring at all – we discovered a couple of places where mooring pins had pulled out in the past and the bank had collapsed along the whole length, leaving the towpath narrow and leaning towards the canal.  Looks quite tempting though doesn’t it?

2 grotty mooring 2

I dropped a note to CRT as I reckon it will get worse over the summer but am not holding my breath for repairs!  We were at Calcutt locks by 9 and moored up above to wait for Jane at the marina office to arrive so we could sort out a mooring – we are only temporary moorers here and can’t be sure where we will be put.  So a lot of the cleaning and packing got done while we waited.  We were safely on a pontoon by 11 and left for home at 2.30.  We hope to be back some time in August.

1 and a half miles, 3 locks

I have just looked back in our old logs to find out when the winding hole at Somerton bridge was still open.  We used it in October 2007, very carefully and without touching any other boat I am glad to say.  We were on our share boat nb Padworth, 58’.  One of the people moored there was watching, and said he once was hit so hard at the stern that his boat needed a welding repair so it’s hardly surprising the moorers wanted it closed.

Thursday 28 July 2016

It’s all the birds’ fault you know …..

Tuesday 19th July;  Slat Mill lock to the Wedding Bridge

…. the vegetation on the offside, that is, of which more later.

Well, the forecast was for even higher temperatures today so we were on the move by 7.30 and straight up Slat Mill lock, leaving the top gate open for the approaching boat.  

1 another early riser enters slat mill lock

By 8am, including ourselves and the early bird who had crept by at 6 am, we had seen (or heard) 9 boats.  By 8.15 we were in a queue at Cropredy lock and had seen our 12th boat.  So that was that for our plan of avoiding the queues!

I nipped off at the bridge to go up to the shop while Dave pottered on to the lock.  Seyella was moored between the two, but it didn’t look as though anyone was about so I didn’t stop.

By the time we got to the next lock the boats in front had spread out a bit, and there were no more hold-ups.  Along the way to Claydon locks we watched two horses galloping down a hill and then back again.  They might have been pestered by flies but it looked more like they were running for the sheer joy of it.  Of course by the time I was ready to take a picture they had stopped.

2 horses galloped away

We were helped up a couple of the Claydon locks by some CRT workers who were taking two workboats down to Aynho to do some piling.  Waiting to come down behind them was a narrowboat whose crew ruefully told us the workboats had gone by just as they were putting their hose away at the Fenny water point.

The CRT men warned us that visibility was poor at the Fenny Compton ‘tunnel’ because of the vegetation.  They explained that they weren’t allowed to do any trimming work till the end of August to avoid disturbing any nesting birds.  That’s good obviously for the wildlife though rather inconvenient for boaters.  It wasn’t quite as bad as they had warned, but jungular nonetheless.

3 fenny compton tunnel jungle

And very pretty in the dappled shade too, as well as giving welcome respite from the sun.  We stopped at Fenny marina for fuel, and Dave got some anti-freeze at a good price to replace that which was lost when we had our engine problem a couple of weeks ago. 

Plan A was to moor at Fenny, where the sun eventually goes behind the trees, and eat in the pub.  But as it was just about lunchtime there were no spaces.  So we topped up the water tank, noting the shiny new Yale lock replacing the broken one we reported -

4 shiny new yale on fenny water point

and disposed of rubbish, and looked for a mooring beyond the bridges.  But with just one space on the bend and one more beyond the piling in full sun, we went on to a guaranteed shady spot at the Wedding Bridge.  This is the un-numbered footbridge between bridges 132 and 131.

5 wedding bridge words

The words often go un-noticed now, but when we came this way on our old share-boat nb ‘Padworth’ in autumn 2009 the bridge cladding was new and the carving clear.  We thought then that the happy couple must be connected to the farmhouse on the offside, and guess they are still there – and still married – because I found the tell-tale remains of a little bit of ribbon which must have tethered an anniversary balloon a little while ago.  I did a quick Google but no-one on the first page of results knows either!

After a late lunch out on the towpath we spent a relaxing afternoon in the lovely shade, where it was cool enough for Meg to chase a ball  which she lost in the canal more than once. Dave is just getting the broom from the roof to retrieve it.

6 dave gets the brrom to recover a tennis ballThe heat was overwhelming if you exerted yourself so we read and watched the boats going by, including several old working boats.  Here is Cassiopeia coming through the Wedding Bridge.

8 cassiopeia in purloined shades

Eventually it was cool enough, and so was the engine, for Dave to lift the engine boards and do a bit of cleaning up.  While I was preparing tea by the side hatch a passing boater asked if I had seen a particular working boat (which I won’t name as this is just hearsay).  The two had been moored near the top of Napton locks and the passing boater said its owner had not only pinched his expensive sunglasses from the top of his boat but left an inferior pair behind.  ‘And I have a witness’ so maybe a confrontation happened when he caught it up!

Apart from an hour in the early evening the mooring was in shade all the time and we were astonished that no-one else joined us, though there were a couple of boats under the trees a few hundred yards further on.  There is plenty of room here and an excellent piled edge.  Apart from the main road to Fenny several fields away, which was a bit noisy at times, it was very peaceful.

9 miles, 10 locks

Wednesday 27 July 2016

A ruckus at Banbury

Monday 18th July; Chisnall Lift bridge to Slat Mill lock

Phew what a scorcher!  We made a rather belated ‘early’ start – 8am – though it was still cool.  We only saw one moving boat for more than an hour.  By 9 we were approaching the farm shop at Nell Bridge and made a quick stop for some meat.  Their whippets were already beginning to droop in the heat.  It was tempting to take our ease on the settees and armchairs set about on the slope but we resisted.  They have a nice little van parked under a shelter.

1 pig place nell bridge

Under the motorway bridge, and then we came to Coles lift bridge which is normally left open.  The chain was swinging - it had just been used by the farmer who had crossed to check his cattle.

3 at coles lift bridge farmer just crossed it

By the time we were approaching Banbury it was very hot.  Another marina or at least a ‘basin’ is planned – we are certain this sign wasn’t there when we passed over a week ago.  Will it mean this canal will get even busier?

4 below banbury didnt see this on the way out

We stopped to go up to Morrison’s, then on the service block to fill and empty.  We moved across the canal to wait for the lock and I went up to set it, to find an alkie amiably resisting two security men’s attempts to move him on.  Reinforcements were arriving as I closed up for the boat in front of us, and suddenly the two new security guards took off running full pelt down towards Dave – then straight past, phew.  A visitor to Banbury was shouting the odds at the inoffensive boat waiting behind us and his companion had over-reacted.  After a lot of shouting and arm-waving everything calmed down again.  Two women from the arts centre came out to watch and commented how disturbances were ‘getting worse’ in the area.  Meanwhile the alkie had crossed the lock and was chatting peaceably to a couple watching me working.

Our plan was to moor at Spiceball Park and take Meg for a walk under the trees.  But there was no room at all so we carried on, snacking on the onion bhajees and vegetable pakoras which we’d bought in Morrison’s.  The sun was scorching and every patch of shade was welcome, but we wanted to get away from the noise of the motorway.  There was a queue at Bourton lock, and I went up to find Seyella in the lock and a crew member injured, already reported by Geoff.  Only time for a quick hello as he was rather occupied! Eventually all was well.

There was plenty of willing help as boats went up or down the lock and once we were through we gave up the idea of getting to Cropredy and looked for the first decent shady spot to moor.  Here it is, below Slat Mill lock.

6 small patch of shade below slat mill lock

We were joined by a couple of other boats but many more went on up the lock.  Dave washed and waxed the starboard side, which hadn’t been properly done for a while.  It was so hot again that we spent most of the evening sitting out on the towpath.  Meg was off her food, which is most unusual, but we hoped it was only because of the heat.

11 miles, 7 locks, 1 lift bridge

Tuesday 26 July 2016

The scent of hay in the sunshine

Sunday 17th July;  Pigeon Lock to Chisnall Lift Bridge

Later yesterday evening a hire boat arrived and in spite of 100 yards of empty mooring they tied up 4 feet from our bow.  Anyway they were quiet and were just getting up as we left at 9am.  We were soon into Pigeon lock.

1 entering pigeon lock

You know those rows of bricks you brace your feet against when you open a gate?  Well I wonder if the chaps who put them in place have ever opened a heavy gate in their lives!  I know my legs are a bit short but I couldn’t use either set at Pigeon lock – one was outside the arc of the beam and the other not close enough to the business end for the smaller person to use.

2 just where should those bricks have been laid   3 so in the wrong place

Anyway the weather was glorious and on we went.  We waved to Jane and said how much we enjoyed our tea yesterday.  I wonder if her morning tea was as enchanting as the afternoon version?

4 jane having morning tea

Further on, we have noticed the murderous rabbit before (has it just shot the frog in front of it?) but not the golfer…. watch out, you could be next!

7 murderous rabbit

At Lower Heyford we found ourselves behind two dayboats.  Our hearts sank but there was a big benefit; at Mill lift bridge, which is really heavy, the first crew was being helped by a local chap who held it open for the second dayboat and us too. 

8 mill lift bridge

At Allen’s lock we had one dayboat in front and one behind.  I went up to see if the first wanted any help.  The second crew rushed up to watch and between them they made me feel as if I were giving a masterclass.  With equally sympathetic boats coming down I think we got them off to a confident start.

Farmers work hard this time of year don’t they?  We couldn’t see if they were cutting silage or harvesting grain below those wonderful skies. The machine on the left is cutting the crop, sucking it up and shooting it into the trailer on the right, which was nearly full.  The two other tractors in the picture have empty trailers waiting their turn.

9 harvesting below constable skies

As we passed, the full trailer turned and went off with its load, the second was in place within seconds and the work continued.

10 changing trailers

There was space to moor at Somerton meadows but we wanted to get through the Deep lock before we stopped for the day.  There used to be a winding hole at Somerton Bridge – we remember turning with Padworth, our old share boat, when the boat moored there had car tyres all around the stern and sides.  Now it is all private.

12 ex winding hole somerton bridge

Three boats were waiting at the lock.  The first had pulled so close to the lock that the boat coming down had trouble getting out.  Would the waiting boat move back?  No.  So it took a while.  The day boat in front of us was worried about getting back to base in time as they would have had to join the queue to come back down too.  The other boaters in the queue reckoned we could just turn them round, and so it proved with the rear fender lifted, some poling at the bow and hauling on the stern rope.  In spite of it all, the crew had decided to book a canal holiday when they got home.

Eventually we made it through the lock and moored a few hundred yards past the lift bridge.  We have stopped here before and it’s beautiful.  There was a tractor turning the hay in the field next to us and when he finished it was very peaceful.  The M40 is far enough away to be ignored.  It was far too hot to do much – I did some baking and made a quiche for tea, and when it cooled down a bit Dave took Meg for a walk up the towpath.  When the boat traffic stopped there were just two boats moored in the distance.

14 wonderful mooring

We sat out for ages as the shadows grew across the field with the lovely warm scent of hay on the air.

13 late shadows in hayfield

8 and a half miles, 6 locks, 2 lift bridges

Monday 25 July 2016

An enchanting tea

Saturday 16th July; Thrupp to Pigeon Lock

Dave walked back to Kidlington in the sunshine to get a paper before we set off this morning.  For a summer Saturday it was very quiet as we went through the lift bridge, and in spite of the stiff breeze Dave had no problem getting round the sharp bend.

2 turning at thrupp

At Shipton Weir lock we caught up with NB Hilarity, owned by a family out on their first trip.  They knew how to do everything but of course it all takes a little bit longer while you get used to it.

When we came out of Baker’s Lock after the section on the river Cherwell we met a large crew of sailors.  We asked who was getting married – but it wasn’t a stag group, they just though it would be fun to all wear the same!

3 sailors at bakers lock

We moored below Pigeon Lock and had lunch before setting off to walk to the quarry, which we’ve not visited before.  It was great!  We walked up Mill Lane, the track leading from the lock to Kirtlington village, and found the entrance just past Jane’s Enchanted Tea Garden – which was heaving with noisy families.  We walked along shady woodland paths

11a woodland

and found our way to the offside quarry moorings.  We have never stopped there, fearing damage to paintwork from the rocky edge, but Hilarity, who were moored there, had found it too shallow for that to be a risk.  After a stop for a chat we walked on uphill and eventually found ourselves high above a vast area – the quarry floor – with a labyrinth below us.

7a labyrinth kirtlington quarry

Naturally we both walked the labyrinth.  (it’s not a maze, as it has only one entrance and one route to the centre; a maze may have more than one entrance and dead ends).  You just follow the path which takes you in surprising directions and you think you are about to go out again till suddenly there you are at the centre.

7b walking the labyrinth

It would be lovely to think that the labyrinth is ancient but of course it can’t have been constructed till after the quarry had ceased working!

There are still exposed quarry faces.  The rock is limestone which, as it was formed in warm clear seas, contains fossils of ancient creatures.  We only spotted some fossil shells but the Natural England website says ‘the quarry is the richest mammal-bearing locality of Middle Jurassic age known anywhere in the world.’

10 quarry face  11b fossils

Back into the woods and the cool shade, and the chattering from the tea rooms seemed to have lessened, so in we went down a shady path 16 approach to tea garden

to find pretty tables under canvas roofs, all hung about with bunting and garlands of exotic climbing plants (artificial but pretty nonetheless).

17 tea garden from lane

We easily found a table and had delicious cake from the extensive choice, and tea in bone china cups.

13 janes enchanted teas

Jane's Enchanted Tea Garden is only open a couple of weekends a month.  If you switch off your cynicism and suspend your urban sophistication (we didn’t have to do that last bit) you will be able to enjoy a delightfully retro experience, if a little twee for some tastes.  We loved it.

Around the quarry we saw some interesting flowers.  Without a close-up lens between us, and by a process of elimination with the flower identification book back on the boat, I think this is a pyramidal orchid.

4 pyramidal orchid

It was too hot to do much when we got back to the boat.  We saw the large number of boats passing in both directions as we had our tea, and didn't fancy queueing at locks, so we stayed put.

3 miles, 2 locks, 2 lift bridges

Sunday 24 July 2016

Back to the ditches, hurray!

Friday 15th July;  Newbridge to Thrupp

We took our time over breakfast, watching the swallow broods on the bushes over the river.  They took off to practise catching insects and drinking on the wing before returning to the bushes and begging food from the parents.  We left at about 9.30, passing the Maybush where we had our memorable meal last night.  We ate outside looking up-river, as it was hot and stuffy inside.  Wonderful.  There was a fire-pit thing near our table, like a giant wok on legs inside a guard, burning large logs, which was pleasant as it got cooler.

1 maybush at newbridge

The road crossing the bridge is narrow and on the upstream side there are V-shaped pedestrian refuges like the ones on Essex bridge near Shugborough, but larger.

We were on the look-out for cattle at Northmoor which is where the Maybush gets its beef from.  And there they were, Devon Ruby Reds like the ones we see at home.  They are entirely grass-fed on the meadows by the Thames.  I think if you are going to eat meat you should make an effort to buy from local businesses that rear their animals with similar care.  We are fortunate that we have the opportunity and can afford to.  This link explains how their system is good for the beasts, good for us and sustainable.

4 lovely steak beef at newbridge

There are some very sharp and narrow bends along the river with a lot of reeds and overhanging trees, and we met a boat today just as we came round one of them.  It would have been fine except for the group of five or six canoes all over the place.  We ended up with a fair bit of willow decorating the top of the boat, but neither boat made contact with the other nor, more importantly, the canoes.  The canoeists had no idea about the dangers of getting in the way of 16 tons of steel coming downstream and were dithering about across the channel, and I had to go to the bow to ask them to move over to one side so we could pass safely.

5 DOE canoe expedition

At the next lock we had to wait for a boat coming up, so the canoeists caught us up and joined us in the lock.  Fortunately a lockie was on duty and could ensure they behaved safely.  They were doing their expedition for the silver Duke of Edinburgh award, and were camping overnight.  They didn’t have much idea about boating though; as we left the lock they were tying up all along the lock landing and going off for a picnic or a wee or something.  I suggested they should move some of the canoes to give boats coming upstream room to moor for the lock and they looked utterly baffled.  Luckily the lockie would have sorted them out pdq.

As we neared the end of our time on the river I tried a bit of wildlife photography; a cormorant on the lower branch and a crow on the upper.

9 cormorant and crow

And a little egret too.  These used to be pretty unusual in this country but are now often seen.

10 egret

Soon we were at Duke’s Cut and left the Thames.  The hundred yards below the lock taking us back onto the canal was very overgrown and lined with continuous moorers on both sides. 

12 bit thin

As I got off the boat I could see someone was just turning the lock, and as there was so little room for them to pass us I nipped up to explain and asked if he would mind letting us up first.  He did mind but understood and agreed.  The arrangement to hold the paddle open is unusual and it took me a while to work out how to do it.  The business end of my windlass is vertical, underneath the white arrows, and its handle is sticking out towards the camera.  The horizontal bar attached at the three o’clock position is hooked over the windlass handle to stop the paddle dropping.

13 unusual pawl-type mechanism

Anyway, we were soon up and thanked the waiting boat politely.  They barely acknowledged us and certainly hadn’t gone back and opened the bottom gate of the next lock.  Oh well.  While I took Chuffed up the lock, Dave took the mallet and went back over the junction to re-moor a boat which was drifting across the canal and had lost 2 of its 3 pins.  Entirely unattended, it was there when we went into Oxford six days ago.  The owner had tied the ropes securely enough to the pins – perhaps s/he anticipated they would be pulled out and trusted that other boaters would replace them.

14 dave re-mooring empty boat

We stopped at the water point in thick drizzle, had a quick lunch while the tank filled, and were approaching Thrupp by 3.30.  There was one space outside the Jolly Boatman’s extractor fan, the air already heavy with the stink of chip fat – no thanks – then one just big enough between the Boat and the lift bridge.  The mooring warden was just passing and said there were no spaces at all the other side of the bridge so we gratefully slotted in.  The posts along the road have been yarn-bombed with the flags of various countries…..

17 yarn bomb uk  21 yarn bomb wales  22 yarn bomb scotland

and this one ….. I wonder whether it was placed there before or after the referendum?

23 yarn bomb EU

The weather was fine again, so I got the brush out to clear the roof of the bits of willow collected when we met the canoes, then we took Meg and went for a lovely drink in the Boat.

16 the lovel boat pub thrupp

13 miles, 7 locks, 1 lift bridge