Friday 31 August 2018

The bottom was too near the top

Wednesday 22nd August; Aynho to Slat Mill lock

Apart from NB Dolcie Blue passing an hour or so earlier, all was peaceful as we slipped our moorings at about 9.  It was cool, but soon warmed up.  We met no-one as we rose up the shallow Aynho lock and cruised towards Nell Bridge lock, crossing the quiet Cherwell, which flows across the canal from the centre of the picture - 1 quiet cherwell at aynho lock

and passing the raised towpath over the river where it flows off to the left, with its associated soggy bits, though nothing is very soggy at the moment.

2 raised towpath over river

We met our first boat at Nell Bridge lock, then passed NB Derwent 6 moored opposite the Pig Place, but no-one was about.  A couple of boats passed us going south so we had high hopes that King’s Sutton lock would be in our favour, but no such luck.  New hirers were making a meal of entering the lock – all the crew got back on board to go in, though one realised quickly he needed to get off!  The women had disappeared inside.  I went along to help but with a boat coming down I didn’t seem to be needed so went back down where NB Juggler had arrived behind us.  She is a very attractive boat and the owners haven’t had her long.

4 juggler

I was particularly taken with the flower troughs on the roof, which came from the little shop at the top of Buckby locks.

3 juggler's flowers

We were happily chatting when we realised nothing much was happening up above.  The boat coming down turned out to be a day boat from Twyford Wharf and the puzzled crew was very grateful for some help.  Eventually we were on our way and into the long and very shallow pound above.  The boats at Twyford Wharf were even more at a tilt.

5 aground even worse at twyford wharf

Dave was only able to cruise at 1200 revs where normally he would expect to be nearer 1400.  Luckily we didn’t meet any deep-draughted boats, which would have needed to hog the middle of the canal, and wondered how Juggler would get on.

It was lunchtime when we moored for a quick zoom up to Morrison’s, but we didn’t want to stay there to eat because of the smell and noise from the factories.  At the other end of the moorings was this unusual pairing, which looked to have been specially made for each other.  Follow the left side of the cratch cover down and you will see where the front section, complete with little cabin, has been strapped to the bow of the boat behind.

6 unusual pairing

It was almost 2 as we approached Banbury lock, and we planned to stop for water, etc, at the facilities block below before having lunch.  However, the boat that had nipped out in front of us as we left our Morrison’s mooring had got there first.  We had the last laugh though – we went up the lock before them, got our water at the second water point, which is between lock and lift bridge, and Dave could take the cassette down to the Elsan point on the trolley.

However, to get to the water point …. lots of Oxfordshire Narrowboats were on their way back towards Heyford Wharf today and they all seemed to have had lunch stops in Banbury.  One came out of the lock, and we went in.  Three were waiting!  I told the second and third that we needed the water point, so the one sitting on the water point (as there was nowhere else to go) moved across as soon as there was space to do so.  I felt morally obliged to open the lift bridge for the boat we had beaten to the lock as another arrived behind us and came up ahead of them too.

Good deed done, and the lunch moorers finally gone, we moored outside Castle Quays just ahead of NB Hardy, the old boat which sank on its mooring after it had apparently been hit by a passing boat.  Since we were here last, it has been raised, put in Tooley’s dry dock and caulked.  The hull on both sides was fairly covered in chalk marks and black where caulking or other repairs had been made.

7 caulking

9 the raised nb hardy

There is a great deal of work to be done.  Someone must have the know-how and vision to carry restoration through – just look at the state of the inside.

8 inside nb hardy

After a very late lunch I disposed of some plastic bottles and papers in the handy recycling bins along the towpath side as NB Dolcie Blue, which we had seen moored at Aynho, left the mooring opposite.  it was far too noisy and busy in Banbury so we decided to leave too, catching them up at the first lock.   We watched one of those long long goods trains crossing the railway bridge before the lock.  This one was taking some of those car transporters off the road.  It took a long time to pass.

10 car transporter

Neither boat wanted to go as far as Cropredy – Dolcie Blue moored below Slat Mill lock, but we preferred to be on the Armco piling above the lock so continued for a little longer.  The railway is not too near and the motorway is only a distant rumble, so it was fairly peaceful. 

We were surrounded by swooping swallows taking insects from above the canal.

9½ miles, 8 locks, 11 lift bridges - 10 open, 1 operated twice – once for another boat, once for us.

Thursday 30 August 2018

Fake news, and a long-held ambition achieved

Tuesday 21st August; Kirtlington to Aynho

What a lovely spot this mooring is, just a couple of hundred yards north of the pipe bridge.  I have marked it for future use on our Nicholson's.  It was still cool at 9 as we pulled pins, and although the canal didn’t seem to be very busy we met boats at all the locks.  There was something behind the bottom gate at Dashwood lock – Dave went slowly in but oh dear, it turned out that there wasn’t quite enough room for us and the boat was stuck fast.  Reverse gear was no help, reverse gear and pulling the stern rope wasn’t either.  Then I remembered reading about someone who flushed their boat out by opening a top paddle, so with some trepidation I started slowly opening one of them …. I can report that it works!  I tried the gate again and it opened, so whatever it was had shifted.  I called CRT to report it, when I eventually got a signal.  This lock definitely needs a bit of work.

1 dashwood top gate

I’ll send a comment to CRT via the website as they are asking people to report leaking locks.

The bad bunny/horrid hare is still in position at Heyford Wharf bridge, as is the golfing frog though he is somewhat obscured by vegetation.

2 bad bunny at lower heyford

I was a bit worried that the overhanging offside vegetation opposite the visitor moorings above the bridge would sweep my plants away if we suddenly met an oncoming boat, so I brought them all into the well deck.  But the moorings were empty and with no-one coming towards we had no problem at all.  And I was looking forward to a good old moan!

The ease of opening Mill Lift bridge is still a novelty.  You can now enjoy looking at the pretty cottages beyond it instead of having all your attention on holding the beams down to keep the bridge open.  The metal cable run and the control panel (and the rubbish bins) spoil the view a bit.  I should have stood closer to the edge to take the snap.

3 pretty cottages at mill lift bridge

4 coming through mill lift bridge

We picked some blackberries at Allen’s lock, but a boat arrived to come down so we had to leave the rest for them. 

We were told that there were huge queues and delays at Somerton Deep lock as a boat had got stuck for half an hour.  The original source said it was an unpleasant man who had refused to take his fenders up, and had made himself unpopular on the Thames by poor driving, scraping along other boats and refusing to apologise.  We had heard about him before, but FAKE NEWS! it wasn’t him.  In fact it turned out that  a very nice lady with a 7’ boat had got stuck because of the clump of weed behind the gate, which was duly removed with her grateful thanks and apologies to all involved.

Anyway, it was getting on for lunchtime so we stopped on the meadows where Meg leapt off the boat immediately to follow an interesting trail while we tied up.  Then it was playtime!

5 waiting  7 wheres that ball gone

Wait ……                                                          yippee!

After a relaxed lunch we guessed any queue would be long gone, and as we approached the lock there was just one boat waiting for another to come down.  There were no troubles with the gate, we helped the novices in front of us getting in then the gentleman from a boat waiting at the top helped with the heavy gates, so a very positive experience all round.

8 into somerton deep lock

We went on to Aynho, where we moored up on the visitor moorings near the lift bridge, away from the road. 

9 moored at aynho

Boats arrived later on but there was still room when we left for a long-awaited meal at the Great Western Arms.  It has a well-deserved reputation for decent food but this is the first time we have been able to stop and there to be a table free.  It is a tad on the expensive side, especially if you want a steak, but we enjoyed our meal very much (even though we chose from the cheaper end of the menu).  Dave had a look on tripadvisor when we got back and was amazed at the grumbling and nit-picking of some of the commentators, one of whom was expecting ‘fine dining’ at those prices.  Well it was fine for us.  I had Glamorgan sausages, which are vegetarian – leek, cheese, breadcrumbs in a sausage shape, dipped in egg and crumbs and fried.  They were delicious.  I tried to make them once and they fell apart.

5 locks, 9½ miles, 1 open lift bridge, 1 key-operated lift bridge, a lovely meal

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Clean and Jerk, and some joggling

Monday 20th August; Oxford to Kirtlington

We knew we would be awake early as the trains can be very noisy on these moorings.  But it was a traveller with a loud wheely-case click-clacking past at 5.30 that woke us up!  We still didn’t leave till nearly 8 o’clock, meeting just one boat which was going down to turn below Isis lock, but otherwise it was very quiet.

We have already commented on the overhanging and encroaching vegetation on the offside; this example is less than a boat’s length past the end of the Aristotle moorings – the edge of the first moored boat can just be seen.

1 end of aristotle moorings

We had just tied up here the other day when a chap asked us if we had seen ‘a fallen tree’ blocking the canal.  We had only just arrived at the other end of the mooring, so no, we hadn’t.  He had a badge on saying he worked for part of the Oxford council so maybe we shouldn’t grumble about CRT for this one.

It is a slow journey out of Oxford past all the residential moorings.  Some of the boats look as though they have been abandoned for years even though someone still lives there, but others have plants and imaginative artwork.  This gentleman could be looking at the mermaid painted nearer the bow,  but we though he was trying to squint in the window!2 he's looking at a mermaid or in at the window

We were not looking forward to the three lift bridges on the outskirts of Oxford.  The first behaved perfectly, but the second, no 233, was the one that I couldn’t get high enough to balance last week and I needed the help of a walker to raise it.  With no-one around, and the thing coming down too quickly for me to get a pole under it to hold it up, I had to heave it up part way, quickly switch my grip, complete the move and stand there like an Olympic weightlifter at her moment of triumph.  Of course Dave had to go quite slowly as it was only just high enough to get underneath and my arm muscles were beginning to tremble with fatigue as I lowered it.  I have reported it to CRT.  No pictures of course, I was rather occupied at the time!

We arrived at Duke’s Cut in the nick of time to take the lock ahead of two old working boats travelling together – the second was still coming up the lock on the cut and we were waved through.

3 just in time at duke's cut

We knew they wanted water so left the tap free for them.  Drinkwater’s lift bridge opened easily but I couldn’t release the key once I’d lowered the bridge.  Luckily the resident boater there was just returning to his boat – the problem seems to be that the mechanism doesn’t always release properly when you try to raise the bridge, or lock properly when you bring it back down.  Much joggling worked in the end.

It drizzled a bit during the morning but the sun was coming out as we stopped on the noisy mooring by the main road just south of Thrupp.  I walked into Kidlington.  I thought I’d catch the bus back with the shopping but got the wrong one, which turned off the main road after only a few hundred yards!  Still, while I was doing that Dave had been T-cutting and waxing the port side of the boat, so now we have two shiny sides.

Maffi was moored near the Boat as we cruised through Thrupp but we didn’t see him – other matters were pressing by now.  We have two spare – now full - cassettes but the critical point on the third was imminent.  I don’t know what we would have done if it the Elsan had been out of action.  The water tank was pretty low too.  There was plenty of time to nip across to get some cake from Annie’s Tea room and to take a photo.

4 thrupp facilities

The last lift bridge for the day was the dodgy warped one.  Since we passed last week tape has been wrapped around the sides but it hasn’t done much for the deck!

5 dodgy lift bridge no219

We passed through Shipton Weir lock onto the Cherwell.  The flow was very gentle in spite of the recent rain so we were soon approaching Baker’s Lock back onto the canal and catching sight of the radio telescope dishes across the fields.

6 radio telescopes bakers lock

The rain had washed some of the dust from the cement works off the leaves, but it is still clinging to the veins of the bigger leaves.

7 cement dust

The footbridge carrying the towpath over the river always makes a nice picture.

8 cherwell bridge bakers lock

Rather than stop by the quarry at Kirtlington we continued on a bit to moor on a quiet stretch a few hundred yards on.  We needed to bang in pins but the edge was good.  9 fab mooring bridge 212

The Cherwell flowed just a few yards away on the other side of the towpath. 

10 and the view of the cherwell

11 miles, 7 locks, 6 lift bridges (1 electric, 1 open, 3 dodgy).

Friday 24 August 2018


Sunday 19th August; Oxford

As it’s Sunday we knew we wouldn’t be woken unduly early by the trains.  We had a very relaxed breakfast, then walked over to the Botanic Gardens before the main streets started to swarm with tourists.  It was very pleasant strolling through the quiet streets as the ringers of Christ Church Cathedral called the faithful to prayer.  We spent a couple of hours enjoying the planting at the Botanic Gardens. We started in some glasshouses.  You may well be aware that the pineapple came from South America, and was grown in hothouses in the UK for rich people in the nineteenth century;  but did you know that its current shape was developed by breeders so that it would fit in tins?  the long thin leaves in the picture belong to the pineapple plant; the leaves with the white central rib belong to something else.

3 pineapple

Glasshouses are always fascinating.  As well as a banana whose flower spike was turning into little bananas …..

4 banana

there was the amazing Amazon waterlily, Victoria amazonica.  The largest leaf here was about 4 feet across; the plant was grown from seed this spring.  Eventually the leaves can reach 2.5m across and can bear the weight of a small child.

6a amazon water lily

And the wonderful carnivorous plants.  I love them.  We knew that sundews and pitcher plants need extra nutrients because their normal growing conditions don’t have sufficient for them, and they trap insects to supplement their diet – like this one, clearly needing similar temperature and humidity as the water-lily.  We could just see into one of the pitchers; there was a dead wasp in it.

7 nepenthes in foreground

But shrew poo?

9 tree shrew toilet pitcher

Outside in the gardens, we had a view of Christ Church cathedral as we strolled past vibrant borders of late summer flowers.

5 christ church cathedral from botanic garden

Then it was cake and hot chocolate as we watched the punts calmly glide by ….

10 punting so calm

though it wasn’t calm for long, with a pedalo in the mix!

11 maybe not

We went back to the boat for lunch, as we’d had to leave Meg behind this morning, then spent a lazy afternoon with the Sunday paper in the shade of a tree on Christ Church meadows.  Meg was happy, she found a tennis ball lost by some other dog.

12 on christ church meadow

We managed to avoid most of the crowds by taking a back alley, Bulwarks Lane, which leaves George Street beside the Four Candles.

14 bulwark's lane

15 bulwarks lane

A pleasantly lazy day before we start the journey north.

Thursday 23 August 2018

Another lovely family day

Saturday 18th August; Aristotle bridge to Jericho

After waiting for a while to ensure the boats moving on from Jericho had gone, we cruised down to Isis lock.  The winding hole at the end of the canal in Oxford is for boats 50’ or less;  we are 55’, more when you add fenders, so down the lock we went to wind in the Sheepwash channel, which leads to the Thames itself.  There is an electronic board now at the lock showing the river levels, and beside the indicator lights is a series of diagrams showing a recommended method for turning.  I think the title is somewhat misleading though – these are instructions for turning back onto the canal, not what you would do to turn onto the Thames!

1 how to turn on the river

It took a while to see what they were getting at, but it was easy enough when we tried it.  We winded here before some years ago, just turning in the stream in the normal way, but this was an extremely easy and fuss-free method.  I took this picture after I released the bow rope and Dave was letting the stern drift round in the current.

1 turning below isis lock

and here he is coming back towards the lock.

2 completing turn

We moored opposite the fencing obscuring the land behind St Barnabas church.  It hasn’t changed in the two years since we were last here!  Still all grand plans with no action.  We rushed up to town to get a bit of shopping in, leaving instructions to our daughter on where to find the key.  By the time we got back Jen had arrived with Will and young Finn and made a cup of tea for us all.  We packed up our picnic and walked down to pick up the Thames path, passing the derelict rail swing bridge on the way.

3 derelict rail swing bridge

We pitched up at the same picnic place as yesterday, as it’s an excellent spot.  No boats running aground to keep us entertained today, so instead we played at skimming stones, though the pebbles here aren’t flat enough to skip more than once or twice.  Finn wanted a go – I think he did quite well for 18 months, don’t you?

6 stones

On the way back Meg managed to drop her ball in the river, just where the bank is too high to recover it.  But luckily there was a passing canoeist to help ….  I took this just as he was picking it up and before he threw it onto the bank – not the best picture I’m afraid.8 ball rescue

Across Port Meadow we went and into Aristotle Gardens with its wonderful little playpark.  This is deservedly popular with the locals - and visitors too!

10 playground

Once we got back to the boat there was time for tea and cake before they had to get their train.

A while later there was a bit of a commotion as a crew of pirates moored in front of us.  Yes, it was a stag party group!  Meg entertained them for a while, rather getting in the way but they didn’t seem to mind.

13 pirates

They promised to be quiet when they came back tonight ….

We just went to the Four Candles (the Wetherspoon’s) to eat and did not go clubbing.  We didn’t hear the lads come back to their boat either.

About 1½ miles, 2 locks (Isis lock, down and up).

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Family time

Friday 17th August; Aristotle Bridge, Oxford

The Aristotle Bridge mooring is an excellent place to stop if you don’t want to go right down to the end of the canal.  There is virtually no noise from the trains, and a lovely little park.  We’ll have to remember table-tennis kit next time we are down this way.

2 aristotle gardens

I walked over the bridge to the little deli first thing, to get something for lunch – we are expecting my sister and brother-in-law today.  The shop is hilariously middle-class.  Jericho is becoming gentrified so it has a ready market.  It stocks organic veg, wholefoods and artisan food items.  It sells papers too – only broadsheets, mind, no riff-raff tabloids here.  Winking smile

           2a the achingly middle-class deli


All it needed was a hipster beard or two posing around the place, but there were none to be seen!

As guests were expected, I felt I ought to do a bit of cleaning inside the boat.  Dave however hauled the spare cassettes out of their locker and started clearing out the loose rust and bits of rubbish that had accumulated.  Philly and Richard arrived on time, having walked from Wolvercote village where they had left their car.  After a restorative cup of tea we took our picnics and strolled through the park, over the railway and through Port Meadow to the river where we crossed at Rainbow Bridge and walked upstream past the Perch to find a picnic spot.

3 picnic by thamesWe had a lovely time.  There was plenty to watch, what with the swans, and the cattle and horses on the meadow.

5 port meadow 

Runners passed on both sides of the river, with lots of walkers, dogs and cyclists too.

4 port meadow

Lagging behind the herd was this mare with her foal.  Perhaps the youngster was busy feeding when the rest moved off.

6 port meadow

There was boat interest too, of course – this cruiser was aground for quite a while, presumably refusing the offers of help which must have come from the boaters going by.  Eventually he managed to push his boat free.

7 aground

A narrowboat ran aground too, just downstream from our spot – it was the one which had been moored in front of us at Thrupp.  As we were walking back across Port Meadow we could see they had freed themselves.  After tea and cake our guests left.  To round off a lovely day we walked down to the Old Bookbinders later on for an excellent meal.  Very French, apart from the real ale.