Monday, September 01, 2014

Damp day to Braunston

I thought we were only going to get rain first thing, but it seems we’ve had light drizzly stuff most of the day. It’s cleared up now though, a bit of sun just peeping out from behind the clouds.

There was a steady stream of boats moving past this morning in both directions as we set off.

A bit murky over Flecknoe way.
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Unusual NB Alice, with the tender Alice Too pushed along rather than towed.IMG_1434
Beyond is the skinny Bridge 100, proving that you don’t need a parapet…

The last mile or so to Braunston Turn always has gives some interest, with a variety of boats old and newer in various states ranging from pristine to decrepit.

Wooden butty on the bottom with a wide-beam Dutch barge behind.IMG_1436

First glimpse of All Saints, Braunston, a landmark for miles around.IMG_1441
The stump of the old windmill is also visible. It’s actually behind the church from the road.

The much-photographed twin towpath bridges at Braunston TurnIMG_1444

Straight on takes you onto the North Oxford Canal, a right turn goes through the boaty bit of Braunston.

Into Braunston
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We used the al-fresco services near the main road bridge after cruising past several mooring spaces, then got a bit worried with how busy it was near Butchers Bridge. Just one space available beyond the bridge, and it was ours.

Moored near Butchers Bridge.
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We had lunch while waiting for the rain to stop, then I went up into the village to collect the mail, and top up with provisions from the Co-op and the butchers.

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This is what I’ll be sporting up in the north-east next Sunday…

The “GNRMILLION” refers to the fact that one of the runners crossing the finish line this year will be the millionth to do so in this event since it started in 1981. The Great North Run is the first mass-participation running event to reach this landmark figure.

Locks 0, miles 3½

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Watching the boats go by.

We didn’t cruise today. We don’t seem to have had a day just doing nothing for a while. In fact since last Monday when we waited out that wet, windy weather. It’s been quite pleasant, just pottering about. I had a bit of paint repair to do, a couple of minor chips and two short scratches on the cabin side acquired on a lock landing on the river.

I made some choc-chip cookies (mostly gone now!), a shepherds pie for dinner (we’re a bit short on supplies) and finished off the last of Terry Pratchett’s Rincewind books, Unseen Academicals. The guy has a remarkable imagination…

I also had my last long run before the Great North Run in a week’s time. 10½ miles and I didn’t get lost once! If you’ve not already done so you can sponsor me to help MacMillan Cancer Support. Please. Check out the side-bar on the right for details.

We’re booked in to Crick Marina for the weekend, and I’ve a car organised to get us up there. It’s a bit of a heavy day; just over 200 miles (around 3½ hours) to South Shields, arriving around 06:00, then catch a bus into Newcastle Upon Tyne, do the race (it finishes in South Shields), then drive back again. It’s difficult to get out of the car when we get back… I sleep well afterwards.

A picture that Chas (Moore2Life) took the other day when they helped us with the locks out of Cropredy. This is Mags, me and Anne at Varney’s.1408Cropredy3

Last evening the canal along here was busy with moored boats, but the vast majority have cleared off now. It looks like it’ll be quieter tonight.

Not wanting to waste such a fine day Meg and I had a good walk this afternoon. We don’t do so many long ones these days, since we was diagnosed with arthritis we’ve had to cut back the exercise a bit.
But she was up for it today, so we had an hour’s walk away from the canal up towards Flecknoe and back.Panorama_1

This fabulous fungus was lurking under the hedge by the road.IMG_1431

Mags has just taken one of her signature ginger cakes out of the oven. Smells glorious.

Mooching about on t’interweb earlier I came across this Daily Mail article. Some great pics of Foxton Locks and the Inclined Plane, then and now.

Hi Adam, thanks for the comment. I’d never looked at it that way…

Locks 0, miles 0

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Quiet morning, busy afternoon.

Rain overnight had cleared by the time we were ready to go today. One or two boats had passed first thing, and Spey, the tar boat we passed yesterday, went down the locks at 11:30 last night!

Just one lock down was Lock 10, the one with the damage to the wash wall. Yesterday there were a couple of volunteers directing traffic, this morning we were on our own.

Lock 10, NaptonIMG_1408

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It takes longer to empty this one, leading to the queues yesterday. This is why - IMG_1409

We met boats coming up at the last two locks, then got rid of the rubbish and emptied a loo at the services at the bottom.

Napton Bottom Lock, Lock 8IMG_1413
It’s odd, this is Lock 8, but there are only four locks to the terminus at Hawkesbury Junction. this is because the 3 at Hillmorton are paired, and numbered 7&6, 5&4, 3&2. The Trent and Mersey paired locks on the Cheshire flight both carry the same number, and are identified by the suffix east or west.

From here we had a steady cruise around Napton Hill and past Napton Narrowboats at Coventry Road Bridge.

The obligatory picture of Napton Windmill…IMG_1416

Change over day at Napton Narrowboats.
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At Napton Junction AKA Wigram’s Turn the Oxford Canal shares it course with the later Grand Junction Canal.

Wigram’s Turn
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In 1805, when the Grand Junction was completed, it formed a fast route from the Midlands to London. This was superior to the old Oxford, being a more direct route and avoiding having to use the River Thames downstream from Oxford. But in order to head west to Birmingham on the Warwick and Napton Canal (1800), it had to use 5 miles of the Oxford Canal, from Braunston to Napton. The section was improved by the Grand Junction Canal Co. but still remained under Oxford Canal ownership. They repaid the investment by charging exorbitant tolls for traffic using “their” bit of the new route.

In an effort to stimulate declining canal trade the whole route from London to Birmingham, including several branches and arms, was amalgamated into what we now know as the Grand Union Canal. In the 1930’s some flights of narrow locks were rebuilt to broad standard, the navigations were dredged and widened and bank reinforcement installed to withstand the projected increase in boat movements. IMG_1424

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All in vain, of course. Following WWII there was a huge surplus of ex-army trucks available for knock-down prices, the road network was improving, and it was deemed to be more cost effective to use wheeled, rather than canal-based, transport.

We pushed on, past Shuckborough, and moored near Flecknoe Fields Farm. It’s a popular length of piling here, I was surprised that we were on our own. But only for a while. By this evening there were boats moored all along the next ½ mile of canal.

We’ll be staying here tomorrow, then cruising into Braunston on Monday. Our mail, including my race pack for a week on Sunday, should be at the Post Office by then.

Locks 4, miles 4½ 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Halfway down Napton

Cool and blustery today, with just odd glimpses of the sun. There were several boats passing before we got going ourselves, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if there had been a queue at Marston Doles, at the top lock of the nine Napton Locks.

Two miles of the beautiful summit pound before the locks.IMG_1383

This culvert must require a lot of work, they were at it when we went south!IMG_1384

We arrived at Marston Doles, having passed two or three boats heading the other way in the intervening distance. No-one was on the water point, no-one was waiting for the lock. Amazing!

So we filled up with water, filled the lock and set off down.

Dropping down Napton Top LockIMG_1390

The pound below was low, it always seems to be. One time, coming up, we couldn’t get closer than three feet to the lock landing.

Low pound…
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Keeping quietly to the middle of the channel saw us round the corner to the next lock, but I had to jump the gap to get ashore as I couldn’t get the stern in. A boat was coming up, drawing even more water from the shallow pound, but he should have been alright.

Below here the pounds were flush with water, and boats were steadily climbing the flight.IMG_1399

We passed tar boat Spey, once part of Thos. Clayton’s fleet from Oldbury, Birmingham, near the Engine Arm.IMG_1397
Built in 1937, the wooden hull was decked over to carry liquid cargoes, tar, crude oil or creosote. Several of these boats still survive thanks to the nature of the payload preserving the timber.
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Mags passing the Napton savannah, water buffalo happily grazing alongside the canalIMG_1405

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We pulled in above Lock 11. Five of the nine locks done, the rest we’ll leave till tomorrow morning. The damaged Lock 10 is still crewed by C&RT volunteers, and, with a bottom paddle also out of action, is causing a bit of a backlog.

We heard the drone and rattle of mowing equipment coming down the towpath, but I wasn’t quick enough to adopt my usual practice of standing alongside the boat, daring the strimmer operators to come near. Inevitably the gunwale and up the cabin side got a good coating of grass, which I had to spend 40 minutes brushing off with plenty of canal water. If you leave it it sets like fibreglass.
Unfortunately for him the lawnmower man came back, while I was cleaning, and I told him to relay a message to his colleagues – if they came back they’d likely need a powerful torch and a skilled surgeon to locate and remove their strimmers from where they’d go… I was not a happy bunny!
The contractors have been told by C&RT not to strim alongside moored boats, following a string of complaints and claims for damaged paintwork and cracked windows. But they don’t always listen.

Of course, now the cabin side was covered in khaki-coloured Oxford Canal, so I had to set to and clean it properly with fresh water.

Tomorrow we’ll head down the last bit of the flight, empty a loo and the rubbish at the bottom and then cruise the four or five miles to moor near Flecknoe for the rest of the weekend.

Napton Hill from above Lock 11IMG_1406

Locks 5, miles 3½

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Making up a bit of time…

Not a lot, but a bit.
In order to avoid getting involved with the queues today we were off at 9 o’clock, heading straight for the bottom of Claydon Locks. We’d had rain overnight which slowly petered out first thing, leaving us with a breezy but mainly bright day.
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Although we were following about 45 minutes behind an earlier boat, the first three locks were no more than half full, leaks at the lower end losing the water. Then again, they are getting on a bit. It’s a common problem (I’ve been told), a bit of a leak from the lower end as you get older…


Heading up Claydon LocksIMG_1353

We met two boats coming down but at the right time, and were leaving Top Lock just 50 minutes after starting. Rather quicker than it would have been yesterday, I fancy.
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Claydon Top Lock (the property, not the chamber!) is for sale, a beautiful, out of the way ex workshop and warehouse for the canal company. IMG_1359

The website doesn’t suggest a guide price, but does make it clear that there’s no road access, pedestrian only from Middle Lock, no mains sewage, no mains electricity and no mains water if the new owner’s negotiations with the supplying farmer go wrong! Nice place otherwise.

Changing shires, Oxfordshire to Warwickshire at Boundary Lift BridgeIMG_1361

Traffic was starting to build as we approached Fenny Compton and the narrows which were once a tunnel.

Fenny Compton “Tunnel”
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Luckily we only met one oncoming boat, and that was at one of the wider bits.

Mags took over the tiller for a bit while Meg and I stretched our legs, re-boarding at the wharf.

We slowly overhauled a boat as we wound our way around the hilly bits near Wormleighton. Why soon became apparent. It was a hirer from Kate Boats and he was going a little too fast which meant that he regularly ran aground on the bends. He just couldn’t react quickly enough at the speed he was going. It was even more interesting when he met another boat, on a bend crossed by a bridge. I think this shook him up a bit, he pulled over and waved us past.
I do wish boaters would cruise the way they (should) drive. I’m sure most drivers don’t approach a blind bend without slowing down…
When I’ve mentioned this in the past (not just to hirers, either) the stock response is “But I’m only doing 3mph”. Mine is - “Fine, if you’re responsible for a 1 ton motor car with disc brakes all round, but not if you’ve a 16 ton narrowboat with no brakes and only a propeller the size of an egg-whisk to stop you”. Some even get the message…

Beautiful moorings near Ladder BridgeIMG_1365

It’s around here that the HS2 rail link is intended to cross the superb scenery.IMG_1369
Taken just past Willison’s Bridge, the way the land falls in the above picture makes it look as if the canal is running downhill. Or is it just me?

We pulled in near Priors Hardwick, just before Spurfoot Bridge, at around half-one, 4½ hours fine cruising.
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Around mid afternoon we had a short sharp shower, but it’s cleared up again now.
After tea a boat went past, pulled in then there was a knock on the side. It was Mike and Christine, NB Take Five.IMG_1371
We had a bit of a chat but they couldn’t stop, they have to get to Lower Heyford for some paintwork. They don’t hang about anyway, have a look at their blog! Thanks for stopping to say hello, you two. Hope the paint goes on OK!

Probably part way down Napton tomorrow. We’ll see how we go. Mike and Christine said it was very busy on the flight earlier today.

Thanks everyone for the messages about Mags’ beanie hat. The general consensus seems to be that it doesn’t matter what the headgear is, what’s more important is what’s under it. I quite agree.

Hiya Jacqui, Tony. Sorry you didn't enjoy the Llangollen, after 14 years of anticipation, too! It's a lot quieter in the winter, join us then.

Hi KevinToo, glad to see you missed us! Shame about the old Hyperion, isn’t it.

Simon, hope you and the kids are well. Thanks very much for the donation to MacMillan Cancer Support.

Just 9 days to go before the Great North Run. Plenty of time though for those donations… See the side-bar on the right for a couple of ways to part with your hard earned cash.

Locks 5, miles 9

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A bit behind…

It struck me this morning that I haven’t posted for a while, checking back it seems that it’s been nearly a week!
To be fair, not a lot has been happening…

Now, where were we. On Saturday we moved the short distance to Banbury, intending to do a shop stop on the Tramway moorings, then move into the town proper and moor for the weekend. We timed our departure well, just as the mowing crew came around the corner…

Leaving Nadkey Bridge
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We got moored near Tramway Bridge, handy for a couple of trips to Morrison’s to top up the larder. By the time I’d done that we decided that we’d stay put. Another reason was the forecast; Monday was supposed to be very wet (true as it turned out), so we chose to move on on Sunday instead.

We were a little later off in the morning than planned, my route finding on my long (12 mile) run went a bit awry putting an extra couple of miles and 15 minutes or so on the planned course. But we were still on the move at just before half-nine.

We arrived at the bottom of Banbury Locks to see a couple of boats waiting to go up, but needed to use the service wharf conveniently located there, so made use of the delay.

Tank topping up at Banbury LockIMG_1305

Up the lock, then there was the lift bridge to negotiate alongside the historic Tooley’s Yard.
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Tom Rolt, a significant contributor to the waterways preservation and restoration movement, had his houseboat Cressy refitted here, before embarking on a cruise which helped to highlight the plight of the nation’s neglected canals.




I wish more canal towns appreciated the importance of the navigation passing through as much as Banbury does.
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Heading out of Banbury there are a couple of old canal arms, Grimsbury Wharf, now moorings, was actually the route of the canal until the the building of the bypass (Hennef Way) necessitated a diversion.

Grimsbury Wharf, once on the navigation, now a truncated arm.IMG_1312

The diversion is clear on Google Maps -
The canal went straight on at the lower fork, heading for the new traffic island, then rejoined the current line at the short stub alongside the north-bound Southam Road.

We had three more locks to deal with, Hardwick, Bourton and Slat Mill, and all were a doddle, with boats coming down.

Our destination was a bit of piling just north of Slat Mill Bridge, we got in but struggled with the depth of (or lack of) water. We’d noticed on the way up that the pounds were low.

Slat Mill Bridge, the lock of the same name just through the arch.IMG_1316

After an afternoon and evening of scraping the bottom every time a boat went past we moved on a couple of hundred yards the following morning, to a recently vacated (and deeper) spot nearer Keens Bridge. The rain had started in earnest now, and continued, almost none stop but at varying intensity, until yesterday lunchtime.

We stayed put, but there were quite a few boaters braving the elements. At least the rain replenished the canal…

The ducks, opposite our mooring, were pleased. Their paddling pool had turned into Southport beach while the pound was low!
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So, yesterday we moved the mile into Cropredy, stopping at the services and then going up the lock to moor on the 24 hour moorings above.

Into busy CropredyIMG_1321

It was busy on the water, luckily for us all coming downhill. The normally busy moorings were almost empty when we tied up at around noon.

We had a motive for hanging about here; we were expecting visitors. Chas and Anne had berthed their boat NB Moore2Life here over the winter, which with one thing and another turned into a nine month stay. They were coming up and we’d arranged to meet.
We had a drink, ate, and a good old catch up before they left us at around nine to walk back to their boat in the marina.
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Today we’d planned a slightly later start. There were a lot of boats moored in Cropredy overnight, so we thought we’d let the queues die down a bit…

After my morning run Meg and I took a walk around the village. Cropredy Bridge, over the River Cherwell, was a strategically important crossing, and became the focus of fighting between Parliamentarian and Royalist forces during the First Civil War.
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June 1644 saw the two armies face each other across the river, and various skirmishes in the fields around Cropredy failed to deliver a decisive result, one way or the other. The battle ended in a stalemate, although the Royalist troops did capture a number of Parliamentarian cannon.


I had a look around the churchyard to see if I could spot any gravestones relating to the battle, but couldn’t find anything specific. There are, however, rows of these small grave markers alongside the path, but the inscriptions were too eroded or lichen-covered to read. IMG_1333

The church tower sports a corner tower, several churches around seem to have this additional bit of masonry. A lookout in the event of trouble, maybe?IMG_1332

Alongside the church there’s a row of thatched cottages, partly occupied by the Red Lion. The thatcher’s trade-mark seems to have been a large-eared cat…IMG_1331

Looking back at Cropredy LockIMG_1334
We were just winding up to go over a cup of coffee when a familiar dog jumped onto the fore-deck. Molly was vanguard to Chas and Anne, who’d walked down to give us a hand up the first couple of locks. What a pleasant surprise after we’d said our goodbyes last night.

Chas poised as we head for Broadmoor LockIMG_1335
I don’t think he’s chewing the handrail…

A familiar boat in Cropredy Marina
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Going up Broadmoor Lock, gongoozlers looking on.IMG_1341

A very uncooperative buzzard. He was almost overhead when I got the camera out…IMG_1340

Our friends left us at Varney’s Lock, we moved on while they helped a following boat up before heading off back to the marina.

Above the lock the Hesperus is still forlornly sitting on the bottom, although the pump indicates that some attempt has been made to refloat her.  IMG_1342

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Our intention today was to “do” the 5 locks at Claydon, then moor above, ready for the summit pound tomorrow. But when we turned the bend below the locks…IMG_1348
..there were at least 5 boats waiting at the bottom of the flight.

It was getting on towards lunchtime, so we decided to pull in and have a brew and a butty, while waiting for the queue to shorten a bit. We waited, and a boat came past, heading for the locks. So we waited a little longer – and another couple came past. The queue didn’t appear to be getting any less. So we stayed here.

A nine o’clock start in the morning should get us up the locks before the traffic starts to build up. Hopefully. Maybe.

Locks 8, miles 7 (since the last post)