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.


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.

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”
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.

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

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.


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.

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!

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.

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.

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

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


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)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Short day? No chance!

Well, today was supposed to be a shorter day than yesterday, but it didn’t work out that way. You know what Robbie Burns said – “The best laid plans of mice and men [oft] gang aft a-gley”
I don’t know about the mice, but ours certainly went a-gley!

The day started off well, dry after a drop of rain overnight, a bit overcast but looking promising. Meg and I took a short walk up the hill to the east, over the lift bridge.

Looking back at the canal, Chisnell Lift Bridge to the left, Seyella about in the middle.IMG_1271

Two impressive viaducts carry the West Coast Main Line over a couple of shallow valleys.

This is the southern one…

We’d heard machinery over the hill last night, it must have been a combined harvester.IMG_1279

We got away around 09:15, with just a mile or so to Aynho Wharf.

More evidence of the changing season…IMG_1280

Mags wants to know if she looks daft in a beany-hat.IMG_1285
Answers on a postcard, please.

The village of Souldern lies a mile away from the canal, but had it’s own wharf next to Souldern Bridge.
There’s only this building left now.

We arrived at Aynho and had to wait while another boat was sorted out on the wharf, then it took us another 45 minutes to get fuelled up and do the paperwork. Meanwhile several boats had passed us, going our way.

Waiting across the canal from Aynho Wharf.IMG_1286

We had a short wait at Aynho Weir Lock while a preceding boat went up, then shared the diamond-shaped chamber with a short boat, single-handing.

Ayhno Weir LockIMG_1287

The wheels came off big-time at Nell Bridge, apparently there had been problems getting the lower lock gate right back, so C&RT had a small dredger in the chamber, clearing the silt from the cill. Of course, a 15 minute job took over an hour, by which time we’d a queue of four below.

Waiting for Nell Bridge Lock

Finally in the lock.IMG_1290

We had to wait for boats ahead at King’s Sutton, and we were tempted to pull over for the day soon after, but decided to press on.

Up King’s Sutton Lock

St Peter and St Paul’s Church at King’s Sutton is a familiar landmark hereabouts.IMG_1298

Scrooby’s Lift Bridge
I wonder who, or what, was Scrooby?

The queue of boats had filtered through by the time we reached Grant’s Lock, leaving the lock full, and there was a boat heading towards so I topped up the chamber and opened the gate. I thought the chap looked familiar, but it was only when the boat came in that the penny dropped. It was John and Fiona, NB Epiphany.

We’ve passed on a couple of occasions, but never had the chance of a proper chat. This was another of those times…

Grant’s was the last lock today, and we moored up about a mile further on, just past Nadkey Bridge. Today’s trip should have taken maybe 3½ hours, in fact it took nearer 6. Such is life.
Tomorrow should definitely be shorter, just 2 miles and 1 lock to moor in Banbury. Or maybe I’ve spoken too soon…
Just for info, I reckon on about 1 litre/hour fuel consumption cruising on the canals, 4 weeks on the river has increased that by 18%. Still, we were doing around 1200 rpm instead of our more usual 900.

Hi Carol. I've been keeping an eye on your journey down the GU, you'll feel more relaxed on the Thames, I guess. Apparently, according to Tom, it's warmer up north! Thanks for the donation, much appreciated. Now I just need a few more folk to follow your example. or text SEYE98 to 70070.
See the sidebar on the right

Hiya Tom, I bowed to pressure and put a match to the fire last night, we've been sweltering all day!

Locks 4, miles 6

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Still hanging on in there…

Well we’ve not cracked and lit the stove yet, but it’s been a close run thing. Those of you who know Mags will know that that she likes it warm, and, to be fair, she’s not shivered AT me yet. When she does I’ll know it’s time to reach for the matches…
This morning, as I set off for my run, the roof thermometer was reading 3.1°. I was cold by the time I got back, mainly because I got lost and had to wade across the Cherwell to regain the towpath.

But the sun was rising over the trees and the temperature was going the same way as we pulled pins and set off.

Sunny morning but still cool in the shade.IMG_1247

The locks come regularly spaced on this section of the canal as it slowly climbs up the Cherwell valley. Our first today was Northmoor, about 25 minutes after setting off.

Approaching Northmoor Lock

We made good time overall; we had to turn the first two locks but after that traffic coming the other way had left them set for us or were on the way down. And there was often another boat waiting to come down as we left.

Lower Heyford was surprisingly quiet, only three or four boats occupying the visitor moorings.

Mags passing under the stainless steel Mill Lift Bridge.IMG_1252
You have to sit on the beam or else it drops again…

Dozing duck

Allen’s Lock at Upper Heyford was the only one where we had a bit of a wait. There was a boat coming down and a day-boat waiting to go up.

Allen’s Lock
With only one top paddle working and considerable leaks around the bottom gate it was taking some time to fill, hence the short queue.

Heyford Common Lock was quick and easy, then it was just over 2 miles to the notoriously difficult Somerton Deep Lock.

Looking out across the Cherwell ValleyIMG_1257

Somerton Church tower visible above the treesIMG_1263

A boat was just leaving Somerton Deep, and another was waiting to come down, so I only had to close that very heavy bottom gate. It’s more difficult to open it. The downhill crew looked after the paddles and top gate, so we were quickly on our way.

The “wild rhubarb” above Somerton Deep is going over now.IMG_1267
I think this is butterbur (Petasites Vulgaris), which starts in the spring with spikey lilac-coloured flowers. It’s long been known for it’s medicinal properties, from a cure for plague and leprosy to the common cold and bronchial complaints. It contains the active chemical Petasine which is used in migraine medication and is being trialed as asthma, blood pressure control and anti-inflammatory treatment. How did the old ‘uns know?

We pulled in just past Chisnell Lift Bridge after quite a long day, but we needed to make up for yesterday’s early stop.

Moored near Chisnell Lift Bridge

Tomorrow we’ve to stop at Aynho Wharf for diesel, gas, a couple of bags of solid fuel, and some bits from the chandlery. I can hear my wallet groaning from here!

Locks 5, miles 8