Friday, July 22, 2016

Across the summit level and halfway down Napton

We were away at eight yesterday morning. Hazy sunshine and a cool breeze started the day, the breeze stayed with us but the haze cleared, although it was sometimes cloudy. Still warm, though.

The feeder from Boddington Reservoir joins the canal under a towpath bridge.IMG_0894
Two reservoirs supply the canal at the summit. Apart from the 65 acre Boddington Reservoir, there is also the much smaller Wormleighton Reservoir. Both are well stocked and popular with anglers, and the larger boasts a sailing club!
Contrails in the sky
Remember April 2010, when that unpronounceable Icelandic volcano blew it’s top and grounded all flights into and out of Europe? We had clear, unmarked skies for days.

Boundary Lift Bridge appropriately marks the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire county boundary.IMG_0896
Although the beautiful countryside doesn’t look any different!

We wanted to get going early to get through Tunnel Straight before a lot of boats were on the move.

Approaching Fenny Compton Wharf is a cutting, narrow and overgrown, which was originally a tunnel. In 1868 the roof was taken off, leaving it open to the sky but still narrow.IMG_0902

We did meet two boats, but only in the wider cutting.IMG_0904
The whole length of the South Oxford could do with some serious pruning…

The moorings at Fenny Compton were busy as usual, and the water point had two boats on it so we didn’t stop there. I did pull in just beyond the bridge to dash to the bins with the rubbish, though. Then we pushed on, around the extravagant bends that are characteristic of this contour canal.

Only grass-grown humps and hollows mark the site of the original village of Wormleighton. The new village is over the hill to the right.IMG_0909
The “Old Towne” was deserted in the late 15th century, caused by enforcement of the Enclosures Acts which allowed landowners to “enclose” large areas of land for grazing, thereby displacing the Middle Ages agricultural system of ridge and furrow let to peasants. It’s believed that sixty villagers here lost their livelihoods, and this went on all over Warwickshire and Northamptonshire.

It was starting to get busy on the water as we reached mid-morning. There are several very pleasant overnight moorings on the summit level, and these emptied as the day wore on.

Wedding Footbridge crosses the canal just before it goes around a hairpin bend at Wormleighton Hill.IMG_0911
The a CRT workboat and push tug coming under the bridge. The guy on the towpath is on the lookout for oncoming boats, a wise precaution due to the many blind bends.

If you’re going to meet a boat…
…it might as well be on a sharp bend!

More overhanging greenery, but the shade was welcome!IMG_0916

I finally got fed up with dodging oncoming boats and pulled in just before Bridge 124, Spurfoot Bridge.

Rain came on in the evening, which did freshen and cool the air a bit, so we had a better night’s sleep than of late.

Up early again this morning to avoid the madding crowd, we were off at eight o’clock.

Spurfoot Bridge this morning

Poor little moorhen chicks haven’t got webbed feet, so they have to paddle furiously against the flow of the water as we go past.

One way to avoid having to pay for a CRT license – “sorry guv, not connected to the canal, see.”

About forty minutes took us to Napton Top Lock at Marston Doles, and for once the plan worked! One boat just pulling off the water point, and no-one else waiting for the lock just around the corner.

While we filled the tank another couple of boats turned up from behind us, but it wasn’t too bad as boats coming up the locks had started to arrive as well.

As well as the reservoirs supplying water, back-pumping up the locks from the pound below Lock 15 helps keep the levels up.

Water coming back up to be reused
Considering that each boat using the locks here and at Claydon take around 150,000 litres (33,000 gallons) of water from the summit pound, you realise that every method of conserving water must be considered. This water is taken from below the second lock, and above the third is a canal arm, now truncated, that used to run to a steam-powered pump to raise water from lower down. This brought water, through a series of pipes, all the way up the flight of nine locks, and the arm was used to supply coal for the engine.
When the reservoirs were opened on the summit pound, around 1805, the backpumping fell into disuse. The remains of the arm are now used for moorings.

Lock 15, the modern pumps are at the end of the chamber on the rightIMG_0930

Adkin’s Lock, No 14, water buffalo grazing in the field

They produce milk and meat…

…and babies!

We’d never intended to go all the way to bottom of the locks, so stopped on the straight pound between L11 and L12, soon after noon. IMG_0936

It’s been busy, boats up and down all afternoon, and there’s still one or two around this evening.

So tomorrow, after a visit to the village stores, we’ll be off down the remaining four locks then on towards Braunston.

Locks 5, miles 3½

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Queueing up Claydon

This morning the first boat went past at 06:15! I know early starts are the order of the day at the moment, but that’s beyond the pale!
We, on the other hand, took it easy. The plan was for the others moored near us to get away, then we would follow on, hopefully before boats started to arrive from Cropredy. Well, that went completely wrong of course, you just can’t rely on folks to do the reasonable thing. 
A steady stream of boats headed up to the locks while we were still thinking about getting ready, so we had another cup of coffee. Then there was a gap, so we decided to join the queue. You’ve got to go sometime…
Actually it wasn’t too bad. There were three boats ahead of us at the bottom lock, so it was only 45 minutes or so before we got our turn.

At the bottom of the locks IMG_0883

The locks are all close together, in fact the whole flight of five takes up just over half a mile.We met boats coming down at the first three, so were swapping as we went.

The second one up…
Mags going sleeveless again!

It’s been a bit more tolerable today, we’ve had the sun again but a breeze has kept it feeling cooler.

There were no boats coming down the last two locks which was a bit odd, but it does make it a bit quicker, not having to wait for someone to come into the lock before it’s emptied.

Claydon Top Lock

The reason we were in no rush to get going is that we intended to moor above the locks, rather than push on across the summit level. There was a spot just beyond Bridge 144, so we slotted in there.

Why there was a gap in the traffic became apparent as soon as we pulled in. Three deep-draughted ex-working boats arrived, leading a convoy. Seven boats in all overflowed the lock landing and through the bridge behind us.IMG_0888  
Some pretty glum-looking steerers amongst the followers-on, I can tell you!

It was half-twelve by this time, so we had lunch and then I set to with an engine and gearbox oil change. Not my favourite job, working on a hot engine on a hot day, but needs must.
I was going to do it the other day, but found I’d run out of oil filters. There’s a motor factor opposite Morrison’s in Banbury, so I popped in there on Monday morning. Three Fram filters cost me less than one Isuzu one from a boatyard!
Anyway, that’s done for the next three months.

I think we’re planning on an early start tomorrow. I‘d like to get most of the summit level covered, stopping somewhere near Stoke Prior.

Locks 5, miles 1 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Just another Manic Monday… and a bit of a mishap.

The improvement in the weather has seen a proportional increase in the number of boats about. We had a quiet weekend outside of Banbury, just watching them all go by, but on Monday morning we had to join the fray!
We had guests meeting us in Banbury for a bit of a cruise, so were off at 9 o’clock to give me time to get some consumables from Morrison’s before they arrived.

Looks like these quiet moorings outside the town won’t be quiet for much longer…IMG_0847
There’s a lot of development either side of the lane up to the main road from Nadkey Bridge. One plus point, it looks like one of the new buildings will be a small supermarket.

Into Banbury

We filled with water and disposed of rubbish, then went up Banbury Lock, under the lift bridge and found a space on the Castle Quays side of the canal, not far up from Tooley’s Boatyard. There wasn’t a lot of room besides…

Our guests arrived, Jan, daughter Michaela and son in law Johnny, we had lunch then set off in pursuit of several boats heading the same way as us. I had a feeling that our 2½-hour cruise might take a little longer… the moorings had thinned out a little.IMG_0850

I quite like Banbury; a town that embraces the canal that runs through it, rather than turning it’s back.

Fine day for a cruise.

As expected, we joined the end of a queue at Hardwick Lock. But it gave me a chance to give brief instructions on lock management to Johnny and Michaela. If you’ve got extra crew, why not use ‘em, eh? And they did volunteer…
Michaela is from around here and has a passing acquaintance with canals, but Johnny is from Gibraltar. I think his nearest canal would be the Suez…

Anyway we slowly hotched up to the lock, and then it was our turn. No-one coming down, so we emptied the lock, struggling with the very heavy gate paddles, opened the gates and I went back and brought Seyella in. With the gates closed behind me I shouted up to close the paddles. And this is where the wheels came off. Johnny’s hand slipped off the windlass as he was lowering the paddle. It rapidly unwound, belting him on the arm, before going airborne and clouting him on the side of the nose. Blood everywhere. I thought he’d done some serious damage but luckily it’d missed his eye and his teeth, but his nose took the brunt which caused all the blood. And at least the windlass didn’t finish up in the cut!
Anyway, he had to go and have a lie down, feeling a little out of sorts. Michaela lifted the top paddles then went in to administer first aid in the form of cold compresses while I, and crews waiting below and above, finished off the lock.

We couldn’t abort the trip, they’d left a car at Cropredy where we intended to stop, and once the gore was removed Johnny didn’t look so bad and claimed to be alright. So we pressed on.

Inconvenient mooring on a blind bend

Mags took her usual spot on the tiller at Bourton Lock, now we’d disabled half our volunteer crew!IMG_0853   

Meg finding shade from the hot sun at Slat Mill Lock…IMG_0855

…and Mags practicing her duck-speak!
I don’t mind her talking to the animals, it’s when she reckons they talk back I get worried!

I didn’t take many pictures before we arrived at Cropredy, other things to think about. I was concerned that we’d struggle to find a space there, but we got in below the lock, opposite the canoe centre. Handy for our guests as they’d left the car near the Red Lion.

We had cake and a rather splendid bottle of wine that J&M had brought back from Gibraltar, then it was time for them to depart. I had to get a picture of the damage… the bruising was just coming out.
It could have been a whole lot worse…

Michaela, Jan and Johnny at Cropredy, after a really good day.IMG_0858
Well, it was for most of us. I’m not sure Johnny will want to join us again!

The mooring was handy for them to get to the car, the only problem was they’d left the keys for it in the car they’d taken to Banbury! Oops! So a taxi was called to take them back to Banbury, so they could retrieve the car there and bring it back to Cropredy, with the other set of keys. I did offer to turn around and take them back by water, but they could tell it was a bit half-hearted. And anyway, we might have nobbled someone else!

Looking at the forecast for today we decided we’d get off reasonably early and be tied up again before lunchtime. Everybody else thought so too, the first boat went past us at 06:45, and by 07:45, when I took Meg out, another 5 had gone by!

Cropredy was the scene of a battle early on during the English Civil War. Sizeable forces on both sides, Sir William Waller for the Parliamentarians, Charles I himself for the Royalists, faced each other across the River Cherwell, each trying and failing to get a foothold on the enemy’s side. The stalemate continued for several weeks, during which time many dispirited troops on the Parliamentarian side slung their hooks. The King’s forces were then free to head south west and face the threat posed by the Earl of Essex in Cornwall.

Cropredy Bridge, fought over by detachments of dragoons and cavalry on the Royalist side, and Parliamentary cavalry and infantry.IMG_0861

There was a bit of a pause in the passing traffic, so we cast off and motored up to Cropredy Lock. The overhanging willows could do with a trim…IMG_0863

Cropredy Lock

We caught up with the queue at Broadmoor Lock, but there were only two boats in front of us, so it wasn’t too bad.

Something you don’t see every day, Mags in short sleeves!IMG_0870
I don’t know what she’s done with her hair this morning…

Above Broadmoor the small boatyard specialises in wooden boat restoration.IMG_0874 


As we approached Varney’s lock there was a commotion in the weeds on the bank, then a ginger tom shot out, followed by a loudly quacking, wing flapping mallard. She’d successfully and very bravely protected her brood of ducklings from the cat.

Looking a little smug, have-a-go hero mum standing on the stump.

Varney’s and Elkington’s Locks were passed without drama, the queue had now broken up and there were boats coming down.
There are the five Claydon Locks next to take the canal up to the summit level, but it was 11:00 and getting pretty hot, so we pulled in on the end of the straight below the locks. We’ll tackle them before it gets too warm in the morning.

Moored below Claydon Locks.

I didn’t envy those still out cruising this afternoon, it got very warm indeed!

Wow, thirty-five outside, and with all the doors and windows open, thirty-three inside at five o’clock.
Even Mags said it was a bit warm!

Locks 7, miles 8 over two days. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Busier towards Banbury

After the last few days being pretty quiet, there was a fair few boats around today. We set off towards Aynho Weir Lock following another boat that had passed 10 minutes before, and caught them up at the lock.

Belcher’s Lift Bridge was replaced in 2000…
Several of the movable bridges around were replaced around the same time.

Aynho Weir Lock has another lozenge–shaped chamber, to drop more water than normal down from the river.

Meg and I walked the length of the river-fed section up to Nell Bridge Lock, but Mags had to hold off while a boat came down.

Nell Bridge Lock, you can just see Seyella’s bow as Mags waits to come in.IMG_0833
The narrow tail bridge has restricted headroom at normal water levels; when the river is up it can be impassable.

The Pig Place, just above the lock, offers overnight moorings as well as home-grown produce.IMG_0834

There’s a narrow, twisty section from here to the new M40 bridge, the site of an old lift bridge presents a challenge, trying to see where the masonry ends and the vegetation begins…

Bridge 183 and the M40

King’s Sutton Lock has a keepers cottage on the towpath side and a workshop on the offside. IMG_0840
Although the village of King’s Sutton is only a stones-throw away, there’s no direct access from the canal because the Cherwell is in the way.
The village is recorded as Svtone in the 1086 Domesday Book, and is noted as being mostly owned by the crown, but the royal connection wasn’t included in the name until the 13th century, when Suttun Regis and Kinges Sutton came into common use.

Forty minutes (and a drop of rain) saw us at and through Grant’s Lock, then under the M40 again, mooring just short of Nadkey Bridge.
We’ll stay here for the weekend. It’s out of the way and there are some pleasant walks around.

Locks 4, miles 4½